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Play the Game

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...because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do… Ephesians 6:8a

We all like little rewards, right?

We were raised on charts that showed how many stars we’d earned throughout the school year. Trophies sat on our bookcases and medallions hung from door knobs. Achievement certificates were slipped into the proverbial black “document” frame from the dollar store and hung on the wall. Now they probably sit in a box on the closet shelf or at the back of a filing cabinet.

I like to play word and solitaire games on my smartphone. They offer me coins and treasure chests, which in reality mean nothing. It’s not like I can cash in my 15,783 coins for real money or even a prize like a blender or an e-reader. Still, these little attaboys make my day start off well. I did something. I achieved a goal and I have something to show for it. Well, virtually that is.

At times I wish God worked that way. I know, He does bless me when I am obedient and follow His will. Yes, He forgives my sins. Yes, when I need something like a new desk, tires, or a cavity filled. the money appears just at the right time in the sale of books, a small honorarium for speaking, or a new work to edit.  Occasionally someone will write and tell me a devotional spoke to their needs that day. At the end of my life, I know I will kneel before the throne and Jesus will speak well of me because I proclaim Him as my Savior. I pray I will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

But every now and then, I’d like to see something more tangible. A ding-ding and a few animated coins landing in my mental slot. I hope I am not sounding ungrateful or irreverent.

Perhaps I need to look more often for a rainbow, feel a soft breeze on my cheek like a celestial kiss, or notice a special white moon with the face smiling down at me.  And then continue to write about not only where I found God that day but how He found me and patted me on the head in the special way only He can. Better than virtual coins, right?

OK, Lord. Game on.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, Hebrews 12:28

My pastor stated in our adult Sunday school class that many of us have forgotten what worship should be all about. We so used to sitting in an audience to be entertained, be it in a theatre, concert, or on the couch binging on Netflix that we have a tendency to treat church like that.  We “watch” what is going on near the altar. We may participate by saying amen or sing a hymn. maybe nod when the sermon has a rhetorical question in it. Perhaps we feel a stirring in our hearts over the words of the hymn or what the preacher said. But often times, conversations on the way our the doors is whether or not worship was “any good” that day.

But that is not what worship should be about. It should be us entertaining our Lord, telling Him how much we love Him, honoring Him and giving Him the glory. It’s not about how well the choir sang, or if the preacher got off track, or if the service went off without a hitch. We are not to be the critiques and whine that the church just doesn’t do it for us. If we do, perhaps our focus is on the wrong thing.

It’s not about us. It’s about Him.

Then we are to go into the world, filled with His Spirit, to be His hands and feet to a hurting, confused world filled with lost people. Instead, we crawl into our air-conditioned cars and go out to lunch to be served by a waiter (who didn’t get to go to church but had to work instead) or to the store to be served by a floor clerk and cashier. When we make it home, there is laundry, or the game on TV, or projects to be completed before we hit the ground running on Monday. And church became just another check mark on the to-do list. That’s not worship.

I’ve mulled over his message all week like a cow chewing on its cud.  Not only did it challenge me to check my motives in the pew, but my private worship time as well.  Do I judge my quiet time with God by how I feel at the end? Do I rush through it so I can get to my other errands? Is my time less about praising God for who He is and more about what He can do for me? Is my daily Bible and prayer time just another check mark on my things-to-do-today list?

Euginia Herlihy, an author and spiritual leader from Capetown says, “Praise and worship shouldn’t be a few hours of church service entertainment. It should be our heartbeat and should never depart our lips. ‘Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song’ (Psalms 95:2).” *

Lord, is my worship time all about me…and then You somewhere in the mix? Forgive me if I have slipped into that pattern.

 

 

*https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/praise-and-worship

See? Good.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good!” Psalm 34:8

This verse had always confused me until I saw something in a restaurant. A mom carved off a very small piece of her meat and put it in her toddler’s mouth. The tiny eyes widened as a smile spread across the little girl’s lips.

The mom nodded. “See? Good.”

Toddlers taste everything. They judge what is good and bad by how it reacts on their tongues. Are we any different? How many of us have asked someone to taste what we are cooking to “see if it is good”?  Even though smell and taste are intertwined, we describe food as yummy or yucky more by its taste than its smell, appearance or texture.

So, why should we not taste and see that God is good?

And how good is He? The yummiest thing ever. Better than gooey caramel, a chocolate candy bar, or a fresh-from-the-oven bread. Better than lobster dripping in butter, chowder on a cold night, or ice cream…well, anytime.

Jesus often used food as a conduit to fellowship. One of his miracles involved multiplying a simple lunch of fish and bread. It wasn’t until He served the disciples fish that they recognized him on the beach after the resurrection. At the Last Supper, He said the bread represented His body and the wine His blood and commanded us to remember Him whenever we broke bread together.

Recently, I had not been physically able to attend church in months. A person from the congregation brought me a small, tasteless wafer from the communion service. That way I could be “a part” of the community of believers that had gathered at the altar table. As it dissolved on my tongue, it truly was the best thing I’d ever tasted. I instantly felt the connection of the Cross…vertically to God and horizontally to the people in my church.

I could almost picture God smile and say, “See? Good.”

Yes, Lord. I have tasted Your goodness and now I see. Let me always hunger and thirst for Your righteousness and for the fellowship with others who believe. Amen.

 

 

 

Portable Eden

In Bible study on the Book of Exodus, our lecturer said the Ark of the Covenant was a “portable Eden”. It was where God chose to dwell among His people on earth.  Placed in the Holy of Holies inside the Tabernacle, God recreated Eden in a golden box so He could travel with His believers and be in covenant with them.  Once the temple in Jerusalem was built, God dwelled there, in the midst of the land He’d promised them. It became “Eden.”

That sent a flutter through my chest. Why? Paul told the Corinthians that their bodies were the temple since the one in Jerusalem had been destroyed. It has never been rebuilt, by the way. Not that it needs to be because God now dwells in the hearts of believers. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1Corinthains 3:16).

That makes you and me portable Edens!

In Eden, there was love, goodness, peace, calmness, and serenity.  Mankind freely communed with God. They shared time and space. Sin was an outsider.

Eden is not a lost world. It still exists. The peace that passes all understanding still resides there like a gorgeous flower that is always in bloom. Faith, trust, and compassion flourish in lush fullness. This wondrous place now travels with us wherever we go in this un-Eden-like world. It is our “go to” spot whenever we need it. Better than comfy pants or chocolate.

So, if this portable Eden is always with us, and thus God is, why are we not more serene and content?  Why aren’t our lives centered more in Christ?

And…If our hearts contain that marvelous, fruitful place called paradise, why do we try to bring the seeds of worry, strife, anger, and bitterness through the garden gate? Those need to stay outside. We don’t need to haul them inside to dwell where only God should.

Where can we find God today? He is in Eden, a heartbeat away.

 

A-ward

What is a ward?  A hospital wing? An orphan you’ve decided to financially support, especially if you live in Jane Austen’s time in England?

The word “ward” brings to mind an act of caring and being responsible for the welfare of another. If we assign a meaning to each letter, I see W-A-R-D as “with all resources directed.”  It becomes our focus.  And that is important.

Now, let’s add a syllable in front of the word. Award, for example.

Awards are nice. We all like to take responsibility for something we have done well. Bow at the sound of the applause. Maybe blush a tad bit as the chest swells with pride. Nothing wrong in that. We should be recognized for our accomplishments.

As a believer, the ultimate award awaits me in Heaven. Paul told Timothy, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…” (2 Timothy 4:8). But Paul also knew who provided the means for that award. It was the Lord and to His glory that all of Paul’s resources were directed.

Backward, forward, toward. By adding the syllables “back”,  “for“, or to””, it switches from being a noun to a verb. It implies action. And we are responsible for our actions, right?

Backward? Hmm. John Grant, former Senator from Florida, said in a recent devotional from Thoughts About God, “In life looking back is not going to help you…Never look back; nothing ever changes there. Don’t look back because you are not going that way.”

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, stated it this way: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (3:1).

When we look backward, our resources are directed to a past we cannot change. It stagnates us, like a river that has lost its current. So, we need to find another “ward” to go. Another direction to utilize our resources.

So, should we go toward? or forward? The Apostle Paul chose the word forward. Why?

If we go toward, we are being drawn. It is a passive movement. Someone or something else is pulling us.  But if we go forward, then we take the action and decide to move. We take ownership.  We are “for” whatever lies ahead.

Forward, by using the definition above, is a positive responsibility. We are moving with all of our resources in a future direction that holds meaning and purpose. And for Christians, it is to become more Christ-like, to give God the glory, and to help others along the way. That is the way to go.

Are you moving forward in your faith walk?  Or have you stopped, because you keep looking back? Are you wanting to move forward but aren’t taking action? Are you being pulled by the momentum of someone else’s faith instead?

It’s okay to lean on Christ when you are weak, but when you are again ready to run the race, He will move you forward like a parent watching his child wobble on a two-wheel bike, always there to catch you if you fall but encouraging you to keep peddling forward.

A friend of mine posted a picture of how well her new solar lights worked in her yard.  When I saw it, the double meaning flashed across my brain.  So, I asked her if I could use it.

Solar lights work because they store up the sunlight during the day. It’s very easy to correlate the storing up of Christ’s Light through His word in us so we also can shine.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:6

But what was unique for me was how each lamp shined in a circular pattern.

We all have a circle of influence. First, are the people with whom we are in close contact. These are the people who see us day in and day out and with whom we have the most influence. Close friends, coworkers, family. It’s hard to hide our true self from these people. The more we have Christ’s Light in us, the more we will reflect Him in our day-to-day lives and shine into theirs as well.

Moving out in the spiral, are the people with whom we have casual contact. Notice the specks of light are further apart and do not touch. Perhaps these represent friends on social media or distant relatives. Friends we went to school with or old neighbors that moved away.  We occasionally keep in touch with them, especially if there is news to share.

Further out still may be the people on the peripheral edge of our lives. Perhaps those who benefit from our charitable donations, or the cashier who notices we actually smiled and called them by name. They get tiny snippets of light, but it can be enough to encourage them to draw closer to the Source.

Now, notice that each lamp has its own circle of influence, and the spiral they cast barely touch. It brought home to me that God has me planted where He wants me to be, and in touch with those I should be.  It’s my job to shine His grace and mercy, and to keep replenishing the Source so I can still be of use, lest I grow dim.

It’s a dark world out there, and it’s growing darker. Let’s all work harder at shining into other people’s lives, whether it is most of the time or a chance encounter. Let us never pass up an opportunity to shed a bit of God’s love.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  2 Corinthians 4:6

Turning

“God does all these things to a person—twice, even three times— to turn them back from the pit that the light of life may shine on them.” Job 33:29-30

A dear friend gave me a pothos ivy. The kind with wonderful green leaves that stretch into strands to dangle down bookcases, shelves or stair rails. I placed this one on top of my bookcase near a window so it could get some sunlight. Soon, the tendrils began to grow longer, curling down the side of my bookcase, leaves angled toward the light streaming through the blinds. After a while, all the leaves exposed to the light had turned toward it. Their leaves were lush and full.

However, on the “darker side”, the leaves stop growing, and several died. I decided to turn the plant so that side could receive the light. And sure enough, the thriving side’s leaves still began to turn toward the light, even though they were further away. They had gotten used to it and knew it was what they needed.

Now the botanists among you will nod, saying this is common. For plants, yes. But is it common for us humans?

Once we receive the light of the Son, we thrive on it. We know we need it to grow in our faith. To flourish, we need to be near Him daily. But Jesus wants all of us exposed. That means even our darker sides. The side that harbors our bad habits we try to hide from the world. The sins we have pushed to the back of our hearts and minds because we simply do not want to deal with it right now. Perhaps we gossiped, or unkind words slipped from our mouths. Maybe we left off some tiny thing on our tax return so we could get a bigger refund. Perhaps we told a lie because it sounded better, or we didn’t want to reveal the truth. Maybe worse.

Eventually, Jesus will nudge us to turn those darker things to Him so His loving mercy can expose them. Once that happens, His grace can pour in. We can begin to flourish again where we were once stunted, and in fact, shriveling.

My ivy taught me that though I may not wish to do so, I must expose my whole being to my Lord so I can reflect His Light in my life. All my thoughts, fears, desires, and doubts need to be turned toward Him. Full Son exposure!

Do you dare turn your darker side to His glory?

 

 

 

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