Each time by choice we fail and fall, because of selfishness and greed, by hurtful word and sinful deed. When we by faith reach up to grasp his hand of mercy, we all may find a hope anew!
Think of all the good that would not be! The Jesus born in Bethlehem has changed the world far more than most now living comprehend.
When is the last time you’ve been served by a slave? For me it was two days ago as I was spending a few days of vacation with my family on the island of Catalina off the coast of California.
We walked into a restaurant and were shown to our table. Menus and snacks were distributed while the food server asked us what we’d like to drink. A few minutes later a different food server brought us our beverages, but I had changed my mind on the choice of beverage.
“I’d like an iced tea instead of water, please,” I said to the waiter. He looked at me blankly. I restated my request and waited for a response. It was clear he hadn’t understood. I know this isn’t P.C., but I took in the features of his face and thought, “Maybe he speaks Spanish.” “Un té helado,” I repeated a third time.
A smile flirted on his face and my request was quickly granted. The main food server returned, we placed our order with her. Our meal progressed without incident until it was time to go.
The restaurant had quieted down as it was approaching 9 p.m. and the same man was wiping down the table next to ours as we got up out of our seats to go. I made a little small talk with him and he said to me in Spanish, “God bless you! I’m thankful you could explain what you wanted in Spanish.”
“God bless you, too. Have you been here long?”
“A week? Where are you from?”
“Isn’t that in Mexico?”
“Yes. And you guys? Where are you from?”
I told him we were from the opposite side of the nation here on vacation and wished him well. But as I left the restaurant there was a shadow over my heart.
Could it be our waiter was one of the multitudes of undocumented workers here in the U.S.? It was clear he didn’t have the familiarity with English or the geographical area to be able to secure a job and an apartment in a week. He probably also didn’t have the $35 for the ferry ride over from the mainland.
These are presuppositions of mine. Others could just as easily reach different conclusions, but I also took note of the general tenor of the female food server who did speak English but who never smiled.
I wondered if this restaurant routinely made use of a work force that they could underpay and overwork…all to cater to the likes of me: an overfed, upper-middle class tourist.
Were these twenty-first century slaves…workers who couldn’t come and go at their own volition? Workers who had no rights to a weekly day off or sick time because they worked under the table and didn’t have green cards?
What was at the root of this problem? Was it the difficulty of obtaining a steady workforce, the lack of affordable housing for Catalina’s workforce, the greed of the restauranteur or the incessant demands of mainland tourists?
For me the issue of human exploitation is of no small consideration, and I’m sure I will continue to mull this one over.
In the meantime, it is Thanksgiving week. Perhaps we should take time to appreciate all the “little people” who make our first world living possible…from the Chinese factory worker who makes our dollar store merchandise, to the transportation and restaurant personnel active this weekend, to the nurse who got called in on a holiday because another was sick - all to guarantee that our sick or elderly loved one was taken care of.
Tip big this Thanksgiving, and express thanks lavishly. It’s not just Mom and Dad who deserve a word of praise or an action of thanks.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” Isaiah 58:3
Your life line is fast dwindling in the computer game of your life. God understands that “epic fail” that you experienced not long ago. Even though you’ve tried to reboot, the injuries still linger. Consider now this: the Almighty is a life-line extender, and His reboot can heal your heart.
Have you ever swum to the middle of a lake, and then relaxed and commenced floating? Maybe you were surrounded by water up to your neck, doing as little kicking as possible to stay afloat. Have you ever been eye level with the waves as they rock up and down?
If so, you’ve had the experience I had this evening. My eyes took in the lingering light and the lap of the waves. My limbs felt the gentle swirl and swoosh of the water as I treaded water. And my brain contemplated the words, “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
These are amongst the opening verses of the Jewish and Christian sacred writings. Relaxed and floating in the middle of the lake I contemplated how my experience out there is like God in my life.
Just because God is not obviously discernible in your personal world, does not mean He is not at work.
Scientists say that water currents are among the hardest dynamics of nature to study. And I think that must also be true of the workings of the Holy Spirit.
How we long to see Spirit of God at work!
How we long to see Spirit of God at work! Instead of firm footprints in the sand, the Spirit’s workings are more like the kiss of the summer breeze on my cheek…now here, now gone. Or like the swirling current of water my kicking feet make when treading water. Obviously felt, but just so quickly gone.
Just because God is not obviously discernible in your personal world, does not mean He is not at work. Maybe he’s there hovering. Maybe he is just about to make his move.
You can be sure He’s ready to cradle you in the tough times and rock you to sleep in the peaceful times. Practice perceiving Him in the little things. Be still. For once, just be still.
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** Photo courtesy of Belle Co at pexels.com
One of my sons struggles with organization, like me. So much so that I once joked, “I have a lot of admirable qualities…why couldn’t he have inherited one of those from his mother instead of my messy streak?”
The other son is so super efficient in how he approaches life, I sometimes wonder how he came from my loins. If I hadn’t been there myself, I might have doubted his provenance!
Witticisms aside, it’s often painful to take out the magnifying glass and apply it to my own character defects. And yet if I want to change, it’s useful to analyze how I want to change.
“Free me from evil so that I will not be in pain!”
“Free me from evil so that I will not be in pain,” an ancient pleaded with his Maker. The scribe who jotted down those words also noted, “Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.” If I read between the lines, a life of examination can equal a life of greater effectiveness, and therefore greater honor.
But it doesn’t always feel good to form new habits.
But it doesn’t always feel good to form new habits. It takes extra time. It’s not streamlined. It’s not easy. It doesn’t go with the flow. There is often no wind in our sails.
What to do? Just put one foot in front of the other.
Do it again.
But don’t forget to look up - literally and figuratively! A skyward glance gives us great perspective. When you turned your life over to God, you turned it over to a Way-maker. He can make your paths straight.
Indeed, your Higher Power can do more than that. Jabez, who name means “pain”, found out his cries were not in vain. At the end of his short mention in the ancient writings we learn that God "gave him what he prayed for.”
He can grant your request to make a way, too. And perhaps, just perhaps, there may be more honor at the end of that path than you ever expected.
*Jabez’s short mention in the Scriptures is found in I Chronicles 4 verses nine and ten. The above quotes are from the Names of God version.
Photo by Sindre Strøm from Pexels
For me, these are annoying puddles, but for this boy, it's a whole playground full of fun possibilities. What do you see when the only way between two parked cars is wet?
Signs sometimes create more questions than they answer. Were I to ask you which driving regulations were most important for the interstate/highway, you might list:
- Obey the speed limit and keep up with the traffic
- Slow down in road construction
- Don’t drive under the influence
- Look out for motorcyclists
- Use your blinker when changing lanes
- Respect police cars, both those pulled over and in traffic
- Give disabled vehicles wide berth
The one rule I can almost guarantee you wouldn’t mention is this: Animals are prohibited whether ridden, driven or led. And yet numerous times I have seen this very rule posted on a sign on a US highway.
Isn’t it stating the obvious? Interstates are designed for getting from Point A to Point B quickly. Apparently those riding a horse, driving cattle or leading a flock also want to get from Point A to Point B in a streamlined fashion, necessitating a sign to prohibit them.
Signs sometimes create more questions than they answer....like the interstate sign announcing "North 95 to South 295" located close to where I grew up. It calls for a context, doesn’t it? It calls for an understanding of where on the map you actually are.
This is a lot like life.
Sometimes we find ourselves having no inkling of how we wound up in a particular predicament. We feel stymied, stalemated, squelched or squeamish. And somehow our conscience whispers, “Your choices led you here.”
“Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you,” says the Psalmist David.
This strongly worded admonition is surprisingly hidden among the amazing Psalm 32 - a psalm about the willingness of God to forgive. Two sides are contrasted vibrantly. Those “wasting away”, “sapped of strength” and “groaning all day long” are the ones who do not understand how willing God is to pardon. They say with David, “I kept silent.” Silent about what?
The whole tenor of the psalm changes the minute David says, “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” Now are mentioned “songs of deliverance”, “a loving eye” and “a hiding place.” We are furthermore told, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”
But what did we trust Him with? The truth that we screwed up?!? Is that what we were silent about that kept us in such turmoil?
Yes!!! You can trust your admission of wrong-doing to God. He’s God, so He knows it anyway. Why run the opposite direction at full gallop hiding your shame and carrying your weighted-down spirit? Why be like that horse that has no understanding of God's loving character?
Don’t be like a mule. Have it out with God! Don’t keep silent anymore…and leave with a lighter heart. Here; take this. Read the promises of Psalm 32 for yourself.
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.
Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!
The Project: A picnic. The Occasion: A special thank-you. The Destination: Historic Walnford, a revolutionary-aged estate turned county park tucked away in a forgotten corner of NJ along Crosswicks Creek. Funny thing - Walnford was once a hub of activity with two grist mills, a sawmill and a shipping wharf to send the wares downriver, to the Delaware, on to Philadelphia and then the world.
It was hard to imagine that anything busier than a plodding ox ever passed through Walnford the day our party of three spread our lunch fare on the picnic table under a stately tree. Acres of green stretched before us. Ours was the only car in the lot other than that of the maintenance person mowing the lawn.
After eating we moseyed along the gravel lane under the mature trees enjoying the scent of freshly mown grass. There were lilies in front of the grist mill. Flowering bushes graced the 200 year old home. All was peace. All was tranquility. “I need a place like this,” my friend said, “A place to escape to when the pressure of the job catches up with me.”
Is there nowhere else to find pockets of peace in our over-taxed, under-playful, stressed-out lives? Do we have to search out the Walnford’s of our neighborhoods to find tranquility? Not a bad idea, but King David found another retreat just as viable. He maintains, “How blessed the man you train, God, the woman you instruct in your Word, Providing a circle of quiet within the clamor of evil...”*
A circle of quiet. The rest of that psalm laments a world turned wrong where the innocent get blamed and the wicked get away with murder. But David asks us, “Do you think Ear-Maker doesn’t hear, Eye-shaper doesn’t see?”* All the while he maintained that his connection with God connected him to sanity during this difficult time.
More sanity...I’m all for it. Grab it where you can, whether in the natural world or in the circle of quiet that God’s Word provides. However, there is a hint provided in the words ‘you instruct’.
Maybe there exists a better way to live. Maybe all it takes is a willingness to be taught it.
After all, Christ invites, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Apparently a gentle spirit grants as much rest as rolling acres of parkland. Why not find one and hang out with him or her for a while? Maybe God has something for you to learn.
* from Psalm 94, The Message
* from Psalm 94, The Message
* Matthew 11: 28-30 NIV
Can you live with a ruptured appendix? I have a friend who did. Admirably she put up with the belly tenderness and pain for over ten days. She thought she was getting better.
Ever cry when an onerous task is finally through? I have. As recently as yesterday.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” wrote a family member to my graduate. These words rose like the noon-day sun above the more familiar “paths straight” and “plans to prosper” selections. This, I thought to myself, contains a pearl of wisdom, a pearl born from someone’s experience.