Sanctuary, Lord, I find, for my heart and for my mind. Thanks be to you, God, for my salvation. I rejoice, for when I was lost, you found me. Lasting peace, of inestimable value, I now possess. Light, you’ve made all my earthly burdens, that can’t measure with the treasure of you.
Honestly, the book of Habakkuk was not on my radar. It’s a small book near the end of the Old Testament, written by a prophet we don’t know much about. A theme in much of the Old Testament is man’s relationship with God. In a nutshell, man has always had a habit of forgetting God when things are going well and complaining when the situation worsens. The reigning king at the time of Habakkuk, Jehoiakim, was described by the prophet Jeremiah in this way: “your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion” Jer. 22:17 It was against this backdrop, during a time of increasing evil in Judah and oppression by the Babylonians, that Habakkuk writes of praise in chapter 3. I quote chapter 3:17-19 here: “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds feet, and makes me walk on my high places.”
It’s easy to praise God when the sailing is smooth and complain when we are buffeted by storms. The self discipline required to stop for a moment to consider how we might grow and learn during those times is neither automatic nor easy to come by. However, God is always worthy of our praise and deference, and although we may not always be able to understand His ways, He remains on the throne. Of that we can be certain.
God, please accept my worship. Let my song be lifted high. When I focus on what’s difficult in my life, help me remember the times you’ve renewed my strength and joy, carried me when I couldn’t walk. When my foundation felt unstable You were always my solid rock. Increase my understanding, in the darkness let it be my light. Give me the same breath to sing in the valley that I breathe when I sing on the heights.
Covid 19 has led to many changes in our lives, for instance how our church meets. Indoors, we’re spaced further apart and wear masks. We also broadcast our services online. That’s all good, but since it’s Summer and the weather is pleasant, we decided to take advantage of it and have services in back of our church building, something we call, “Church in the Field.” For the last several weeks this enjoyable alternative has reminded us that necessity really is the mother of invention, and there’s no reason church can’t be fun, even in the middle of a pandemic. The neighbors in back of our church have a variety of farm animals that we get to see during our services. We’ve purposely left out slats in that rear section of chain link fence so we can see them, and so the animals form the backdrop to our outdoor services. At any given time one might see goats, chickens, or horses. Then, there’s one animal that we’ve seen up close while having church that, because of the way they operate, didn’t bother with checking us out from the other side of a fence. Although gophers do have a purpose in nature, most people consider them a pest, because of their tendency to produce random mounds of dirt in the landscape, in the process often destroying garden plants. Some church goers have taken videos of gophers happily tossing up hills of dirt while the service can be heard going on in the background. We haven’t had this much animal induced excitement during church since the “bats flying out of the belfry” incidents. All this causes me to wonder: What if the animals had their own story to tell? If they had some understanding of what was happening on our side of the fence, and could successfully communicate it, what would they say? Today, the first installment of, “Animals Discuss…”
Horse #1: I want to thank everyone for coming to the meeting tonight. It was really hot today and I know you guys are probably beat. Goat #2: You said it. Even my hop is gone. I’m so drained. And you know us goats, we usually have hops for days! Goat #1: H1, did you and H2 actually get to run in the surf at Centerville today? Horse #1: It was glorious! G1, I hope you and the other goats get to run in the water the next time it gets super hot. Goat #2: Not likely. The best we can hope for in the way of travel is getting lent out for landscaping. Mind you, I’m not complaining. I had a rose bush once. It got blamed on deer though, he said, snickering. Chicken #1: I wanted to brief everyone on my notes from last week. I believe we’re continuing in Nehemiah, and if anyone missed it I’ll catch you up. Thanks C1. Before you do that though, I think it’s important we hear from Gopher 2. Is it true you all are calling yourself the Underground Church? Gopher 2: That’s not official. Although attending church can be hazardous at times (there was the tent stake incident). The risks we take don’t really rise to that level.
Though a heavy blanket of darkness threatens to overwhelm me I search through its suffocating fabric for a spot of light and tear it open.
Someone needs Jesus.
When I’m bound up in my troubles and can’t seem to get out of my own head, when my biggest issue is my list of issues, I set them aside.
Someone needs Jesus.
When any effort I make seems to be just a drop in the ocean of the world of troubles, I take up an oar anyway and row with the strength I do have.
Someone needs Jesus.
Walking down a crowded street people part around me like water swirling round a stone. How many are really drowning while pretending they can breathe? How many? God could use me to lift them out of the water and point the way home. Will I reach out? Lord, give me the courage to reach out.
Women who feel weak and used, men convinced they’re not enough, children forced to grow before they’re ready need real help and compassion fueled by Jesus. For those cast aside by those who should have cared, for the people even advertising ignores, let them know they are precious in the sight of Jesus.
Lord, please keep in the front of my mind names of those I know who don’t know you. Help me take down barriers while it is day and there is time.
God of wonders, author of the world, each soul is precious to you. Give me a heart with a burden to share and proclaim your good news. This is my prayer, Amen.
Prayerfully seek your heavenly Father. Earnestly engage as you seek Him. Ask intentionally and specifically when you pray. Cry out your heart’s desire. Enter, walking in faith the path God has prepared for you.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NLT
Who are you? The answers to this question might range all the way from simple to deeply philosophical. We are more than our name, our parents, where we live, who we love, or what we do. We are more than any of the traditional definitions of identity, whether grouped together or set apart. Proverbs 22:6 says, Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. One interpretation of this verse is to encourage children in the way of their natural talents and abilities. Yes, parents should provide godly instruction and moral foundational training their children take with them the rest of their lives, but just as important is the insight a parent can give that will help a child fully develop the unique qualities God has planted within them. While we all spend our lives searching for and developing what it is that makes us special, those most responsible for our growth and development should give special prayerful attention in this way. Has a parent or someone else in your life made an effort to help you grow your talents and discover your best self? What an invaluable gift!
What’s in a name?
Often there’s a story behind someone’s name. Were you named after your parent or another family member? Do you have an unusual name? Does your name reflect a wish from your parents that you would inhabit a particular quality or trait? In some cultures the strongest driving force motivating individuals is protecting the honor of the family name. Last names are often changed following marriage. Sometimes people change their names to change their story. There are many instances in the Bible where God changed an individual’s name for just that reason.
“You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram, your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you” Genesis 17:4-6
“That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”The man asked him, “What is your name?”“Jacob,” he answered.Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” Genesis 32:22-28
Later, in the New Testament we find Jesus has changed the name of a fisherman named Simon, revealing the new course his life will take. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” Matthew 16:18-19
No matter what your name is now, God has a plan for you. That plan may not involve a legal name change, but without a doubt, there are many names he will give you, like: loved, overcomer, redeemed, chosen, forgiven, son, daughter, saved.
Who do you call me, Lord? A name I didn’t know, that didn’t know me. Who do you call me, Lord? I’m full of joy and expectation because you call me Free. If you’d asked before I knew you and the moment you called me friend I might have said the only hope I had was someday it would end. But now that you have named me, I’ll never face this life alone, for all of my todays and the day you call me home.
By the time most of us reach adulthood, we’ve probably spent numerous hours in waiting rooms. Waiting room. Now there’s an appropriate name, right? And who waits in waiting rooms? Patients! Even though it’s spelled differently, that’s a pretty appropriate word. Most of us like to know how our time is going to be spent. If something is supposed to take an hour, we can get a little irritated when the hour comes and goes. What about lines? Whether you’re standing in line at the grocery store, or stuck in the middle of hundreds of cars on a freeway, waiting can be a challenge to our cheery nature.
Patience is one of those virtues God instructs us to develop in our walk with him. In 1st Corinthians 13 patience is mentioned in a description of love: Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, … Romans 12:12 says further: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Certainly the pandemic we find ourselves in the middle of has strained our patience. “I can’t wait” seems to be a constant theme in our discussions. People say things like, “I can’t wait until I don’t have to wear this mask,” I can’t wait until everything is back to normal,” and “I can’t wait for all this to be over.” No matter what the issue is in our lives, there’s no doubt patience will continue to be a lesson we have to brush up on. If you’re like me, while you’re busy relearning it, one of the people you’ll have to be most patient with is yourself.
God, thank you for being patient with me, one of your many works in progress. Help me replace my impatience with prayers you’ve yet to answer with gratitude for those you have.
“They’ve finally come up with the perfect office computer. If it makes a mistake, it blames another computer.” Milton Berle
“I must tell you I take terrible risks. Because my playing is very clear when I make a mistake you hear it. If you want me to play only the notes without any specific dynamics, I will never make one mistake. Never be afraid to dare.” Vladimir Horowitz
Not to compare ourselves with God but an average parent can imagine how God might feel about the human race. You could nickname most of us Will because we have a tendency to exert our wills throughout our lives for better and for worse. I will study this subject until I have it down. I will grab that hot skillet at an age when I’ve yet to know for myself what hot really means. I will use prayer, love, and reason to grow healthy relationships or I will engage in selfish and unhealthy behavior to the detriment of myself and those around me. To be sure, all of us Wills will make mistakes, some intended and some unintended. How do we deal with the mistakes we and the others around us make? What reaction should we then expect from God, and how should that model prepare us to meet the challenges mistakes pose in our lives?
When I consider how God feels about our mistakes, I think he’s the perfect example of an ideal parent. First, he gives us plenty of room to grow and learn from our mistakes. A good parent is able to set boundaries while creating an environment the child can thrive in. Learning our way into being our best selves always involves some trial and error. For some of us, a lot of trial and error. Sometimes we even have to go to trial for our errors! God’s grace, forgiveness, and attitude of forbearance do not remove natural consequences. That hot stove will still burn. Traffic school might be the best you can hope for if you decide to set your own special speed limit. Your spouse may have married you for better or for worse but not, for example, felony murder. What you will find with God though, is he never runs out of grace. His love and forgiveness are always enough and more. If you trust in Christ, you’re part of the family. Period.
if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14NIV
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9NIV
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9NIV
God, there you are before and after my mistakes. I learn. I grow. Always you forgive. When I’m afraid to move on and lack faith in myself, I lean deeply into you because you live.
“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” C.S. Lewis
The story of Jesus Christ, his birth, life, death, and resurrection has often been referred to as the greatest story ever told. As beneficiaries of the gift of life Jesus made available to us through his sacrifice, we have become a part of this wonderful story.
We’re all born to live our own particular story. Think of your story as being like one of those Russian nesting babushka dolls. The biggest doll could represent God and his creation of the whole thing. We’re all somewhere down the line, the smaller dolls, if you like. If you’re a guy and you’re bothered by the idea of being a doll, be a… G.I. Joe. Whatever floats your boat. You get the idea. It doesn’t take any special effort to narrate your story. We all do that automatically from the moment we have an awareness of our own existence. As we grow older, the story going on in our head grows in size and complexity but our tendency even as adults is to make it mostly about ourselves. We call people who have little concern for the stories of others narcissists. I was watching a documentary the other day which mentioned an act of bravery by a soldier involved in our troops’ landing on Tarawa during World War 2. The soldier saw a grenade land in the middle of his group and immediately jumped on it to save his fellow soldiers from being killed by the blast. Miraculously, he survived and recovered from his wounds. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, but never told his family. When asked about his act of bravery, he said there was no time to think about what he did, he just did it. When he came home, he put the medal into a drawer and never talked about it until he was interviewed for the broadcast. This man carried with him an innate sense of the greater story.
One of the most difficult things to truly do is put yourself in another person’s shoes, especially if their feet are smaller than yours. Seriously though, even if we recognize the value of empathy, and our experience is significantly similar to another’s, we can still only go part way toward knowing how they feel. There are just so many variables in the human experience.
Right now, we seem to be in the middle of a most calamitous time in our history. Not long ago it would have been hard to imagine anything pushing covid 19 off the front page. Then in quick succession the killings of two black Americans highlighted some of the great inequities in our society’s handling of racial differences. It’s clear we have a long way to go to make our democracy truly available to all its citizens; much farther than many of us realized. While we may not truly be able to place ourselves in the shoes of another, we must try, and with the knowledge gained from trying, we must act.
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40 ESV
Setting aside that I don’t know you, do I care? If my world works for me, do I see you standing there? Am I my brother’s keeper or even a reliable witness? Where’s my responsibility in inequity’s redress? How much energy have I wasted toward what didn’t count for your kingdom? When you return, let me not be found wanting, considering what I was given.