400 Years

What can happen in four hundred years?  Well, considering that in 1612, the Pilgrims had not yet landed in Plymouth, an entire continent can change radically in four hundred years. Yet to God, for whom “a day is like a thousand years,” four hundred years is barely a half-day.

Now consider Israel:  major periods of Biblical history can be divided into four hundred year spans, give or take, depending on whose reckoning you go by.  What happened during those paltry half-days of Almighty God’s time?  Let’s take a look and see.

Day 1:  “God heard their groaning and He remembered…” Ex: 2:24

Groaning. Imagine a people who had been enslaved four hundred years!  God had made a bunch of promises, and then abandoned the whole crowd, apparently.  If you were in their sandals, an Egyptian whip at your back, would you demand that God account for His whereabouts the past four centuries? Today what are you groaning about? Does it seem God’s gone deaf or taken a hike? Write your issues in large letters and hold the paper up for Him to see.  Or shout them aloud, if you dare.  Then watch and see what our God who hears will do.

Day 2:  “Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them…They were in great distress.” Judges 2:15

Frustrated. Now imagine yourself among a people who marched into the Promised Land in great victory, only to have all expectation fizzle pretty quickly. Imagine you’re a wife, hauling water and tending babies and milking goats. You’re frustrated that after four centuries of judges, your husband is still out fighting battles he knows he can’t win. Today, are you frustrated? Do you wish God would show up with something besides defeat? Then do what the people finally did in Judges 20:14-23. Go to a holy place, take some encouraging people with you, and ask God for victory.

Day 3: “Elijah…said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions?’” 1 Kings 18:29

Indecision.  If any one thing characterized God’s people during the centuries of the Kings, it was their inability to decide, once and for all, that God is Sovereign.  Time and again, God revealed Himself and His purposes, yet the people remained unconvinced that God knew what He was doing.  Today, are you plagued by indecision? Not sure what God’s telling you to do? My wise friend, Melanie, taught me this: Go back and do the last thing He told you.  God may withhold a new revelation until you have been obedient in the last one.

Day 4: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:14

Silence. Four hundred years, God was completely silent.  Not a single word for the people from the prophets until The Word, Jesus.  Meanwhile, the people waited, longing and watching for the promised Redeemer. Today, have you been endlessly waiting, watching, while God has remained silent? Fix in your mind that Almighty God doesn’t answer to you.  Write a prayer of praise, and continue to acclaim His worth, no matter how long He remains silent.

Day 5:  “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son…” Gal. 4:4

Here are some facts we can glean from God’s half-days. God is faithful, and His grace is astonishing.  He is all-powerful, mighty warrior, and within His will there is always victory.  Rest your soul in these facts.  No matter how disappointing, confusing, frustrating your situation may seem, your God knows what He is doing, and it will all work out for your best, even if takes a half-day or so.

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8 SECONDS

I’m certainly not a paradigm of time management, but I will say that back when I was super-busy, I was also more productive.   These days I don’t really work full-time, yet I hardly seem to find time to…do whatever.  And why do we think we must find time anyway?  Exactly how did time get itself lost?

Perhaps what we’ve lost is perspective.  For the next couple weeks, let’s consider that most valuable asset, TIME.  Let’s look at 8 Seconds; then let’s ponder 400 Years.

Day 1:  “…and looking up to heaven, He [Jesus] gave thanks…” Mark 6:41

Just recently, a billboard gal was trying to sell me on digital billboard advertising. “The read is eight seconds before it changes to the next ad,” she said.  I must have blinked because she hastily added, “That doesn’t sound long, but studies have proven nowadays eight seconds is a very long time to look at anything.”  Eight seconds… really?  Try it.  Whatever your focus is today—staring at a computer screen, overseeing a classroom of wiggly kids, watching the road while hauling young’uns to soccer practice—look up.  (Or glance up if you’re driving.) Turn your focus to heaven, with gratitude, for eight seconds.

Day 2:  “…’Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks’…” Neh. 8:10

Be honest:  when was the last time you truly enjoyed a meal?  You’d think we only had eight seconds to eat, the way we inhale our food.  Right now, we’re in Lent season, and I’m not eating bread (or any wheat, but that’s another story).  Last week, at a church meal, I was sawing my way through a rather dry burger, no bun, while my tablemates were smacking their lips over their flour-laden desserts.  I chose to slow down and savor the baked beans for eight seconds.  Try it.  During your next meal, no matter what you’re eating, truly enjoy your food, with gratitude, for eight seconds.

Day 3:  “…And the woman was healed from that moment.”  Matt. 9:22

Have you ever noticed the immediacy in Jesus’ ministry?  People are healed at “that moment.”  He rebukes the storm, and the wind calms down “then.”  He’s right on time, yet never in a hurry.  Oh, how urgent our requests are!  I want my friend healed now, at this moment, not in eight seconds or eight weeks.  Try this:  for eight seconds, whisper His Name, Jesus, Jesus.  Let Him calm your storm this moment.  Draw strength from His Spirit to trust Him for healing, at the right moment.

Day 4:  “The Lord says…’their hearts are far from me.’…” Isaiah 29:13

According to my billboard gal, “Eight seconds today is the same as thirty minutes was to my grandmother.” If that’s true, then Our Father’s anguished cry through Isaiah is meant for us! He desires our single-minded focus, yet we are an eight-second people, all of us attention-deficit. Yet what do we have besides this moment in which to be attentive to His love?  And what mysteries about the Creator can this moment unveil?  Try it.  Give Him your full attention for eight seconds and see what He reveals.

Day 5:  “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”    Psalm 139:16

If my billboard gal thinks eight seconds is a long time, she should try being married thirty-eight years!  Lord have mercy!  Lots of good years, and then, a few of those moments.  You know the kind of moment I mean?  Believe this:  the God who ordains the good years will redeem the lousy moments.  Try this:  Gaze upon your loved one an interminably long eight seconds.  Fix in your mind the worthy, the good, the lovable things…and love on, for another eight seconds.

Next week, we’ll consider 400 Years.

THE NAME

What do you call your Heavenly Father?  God?  Lord?  The reality is that the Great I AM has revealed Himself through many names.  It is His desire that you, His child, come to understand who He is—more than that, to know Him personally—through the Names He has shown us.

This week, you won’t be asked to DO anything.  Instead, just BE, who you are, in light of His glorious Name.

Day 1:  “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’” Exodus 3:14

I AM, or simply THE NAME, deliberately rendered unpronounceable in Hebrew, today translated YAHWEH, tells us that He exists.  THE NAME was so reverenced that the people dared not speak it. Why?  Because the One it represents is so beyond our comprehension, beyond comparison, so exponentially holy, so very other than we are, that mere mortal lips were not privileged to speak it. But behold:  THE NAME was perfected in Jesus, The Word.  Be still and comprehend : I AM.

Day 2:  “The LORD passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD …abounding in steadfast love…’” Exodus 34:6

His Name, Abounding Love, RAV-CHESED, love filled to capacity, surely defines Him as no other.  This is intense zeal that leans in toward you, His beloved, and breathes after you with the fire of arduous pursuit.  RAV-CHESED also breathes into you the fragrant aroma of His promise.  Be still and breathe with the Holy One who stands near you.

Day 3:  “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious…” Exodus 34:6

RACHUM VE-CHANUN, Merciful and Gracious God, allowed His goodness to pass before Moses, and the knowledge of His good heart stirred Moses to intercede on behalf of the people.  Grace, you see, is a force to set things right.  Mercy stirs from within His unbelievably generous heart.  Combined, Grace and Mercy flood you with restorative favor.  All the evidence you will ever need to prove how greatly we underestimate God’s mercy and grace can be found on a bloody cross.  Be still and witness Jesus.

Day 4:  “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’” Exodus 33:18

Moses was boldly asking to see the spectacular splendor of EL HA-KAROD, God of Glory, face-to-face. Already Moses, the priests, and the elders had witnessed the beautiful representation of the Eternal One as through a sapphire rainbow (see Ex. 24:10 & Eze. 1:28). Excruciatingly dazzling, piercing in flawless perfection, God’s majestic glory would consume human flesh.  And yet, we are created to see God’s glory, intended to give Him all glory, and compelled to share His glory with the world.  Thus, Jesus:  glory we can behold. Be still, with eyes wide open.

Day 5: “…for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exodus 34:14

This Name, EL QANNA, Jealous God, was the most difficult of all the Names for the people to comprehend.  They had seen the Mountain of God smoke and shake, had heard the thunder and trumpet blast:  God wooing them and scaring the wits out of them simultaneously.  Picture the most powerful force imaginable—volcano, tornado, hurricane, tsunami—unswerving, unstoppable, bearing down on you with you alone within its sights—that would be Jealous God.  With intent and passion, He initiates an intimate relationship with you, and then guards that bond jealously. Why?  Because the One who created you knows what’s best for you and offers only life at its fullest to you.  Be still.  Just be still.

AS BEST YOU CAN

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:3

Have you ever wondered how the Disciples could possibly have operated as a cohesive unit?  Talk about contradictory group dynamics!  Just look at the two Disciples who eventually wrote Gospels.  Matthew started out as a hated tax collector, yet with single-minded intent portrayed Jesus as Messiah; John,  “Son of Thunder,” was apparently a hot-tempered youth, yet became a contemplative mystic.  Then there are the two Simons:  Simon the Zealot wanted to overthrow the government, and Simon Peter was over-zealous in self-confidence.  The only thing that seems to connect these men is their love for the Master.

This week, let’s explore what unity is like.

Day 1:  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition…but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  Phil. 2:3

If we ever fall short of accord with each other, could it be because we are short on humility? In particular, do we not sometimes take pride in our convictions, waving them like a banner, and assume our Lord is proud of us for it?  Today, choose an apple, core it, and carefully slice it into several equal pieces. At the core of our faith is absolute Truth, definitely; yet every single believer, even if her views differ from yours, is a precious, equal slice of the whole. This is what unity of the Spirit looks like.

Day 2:  “Make every effort….”  Eph. 4:3a

For a season, our group of ladies assumed we knew all about unity, as we cried and laughed together, prayed and thought we could conquer the world together. But our congregation went through a transition, and soon we were scattered among several churches. It was devastating. But God (don’t you love a sentence that starts but God?) scoops us back together from time to time; now our laughter and prayers, and even our tears have a sweeter, purer ring.  This is what unity of the Spirit sounds like. Have you experienced separation from a Christian sister?  Regardless who or what is “at fault,” make the effort today to restore your unity.

Day 3:  “…to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Eph. 4:3b

One of my Christian sisters is now active in a church whose pastor publicly slung mud at my church, and I took it pretty personally.  That same week, my friend requested prayer for a ladies’ class she was beginning in her church.  What do you think I did?  I gave myself a good shake, and I prayed with fervor!  Today, check your rear-view mirror.  Is there some conflict in your wake that has prevented your fervent prayers?  Give yourself a good shake and get over it! This is how unity of the Spirit prays!

Day 4:  “…The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Gal. 5:6

Is all my talk of separation and conflict making you feel tense?  Take a deep breath; inhale the sweetness of the Spirit.  There’s work to be done, and we’re commanded to do it in love.  Today, get some more apples and bake a pie (or buy a pre-baked one).  Deliver the pie to someone in need of encouragement, and add some words that you know will lift them up. Add a good hug while you’re at it. This is how unity of the Spirit moves.

Day 5:  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Rom. 12:18

As best you can, says Paul, live at peace, not war.  How often have you heard the expression, “Pick your battles?”   And how often has that adage applied to battles of words?  Today, pick your battle.  Arm yourself, not with weapons, but with a medic’s kit. You know someone who is embattled, fighting for the Kingdom, maybe losing heart. Bring that person the ointment of healing words, and find a way to pour over them the oil of joy.  This is how unity of the Spirit fights.

STAND UP STRAIGHT, GIRLS!

I think posture might be my nemesis.  When I was a kid, my mother was always telling me to stand with my shoulders back!  Sit up straight!  She must have been on to something, because as an adult, I’ve crimped my back bending over and pinched my neck slouching in front of the computer.

Over and over, Scripture tells us we are “in Christ,” but what does that mean, exactly?  What posture are we expected to maintain “in Him”—lying down, sitting, standing, leaning, what?  Let’s explore our stance in Christ this week by reading Ephesians 1.

Day 1:  Ephesians 1:3 tells us we’ve been blessed “in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” and 2:6 promises that we are “seated” in those heavenly realms “in Christ.” Our position is seated, sitting down.  Now Jesus is seated because His work is completed, but I’m definitely still a messy work in progress, far from complete.  So for now, “seated” implies I’ve been asked to stay.  What greater blessing could there be than to be invited to sit down and fellowship with the Almighty Creator and King Jesus!  Today, whatever you’re doing here on earth, picture yourself seated in Christ’s heart, in heaven, holding an armload of blessings.

Day 2:  Next, Ephesians says we are chosen “in Christ” to be holy (set apart) and besides that, we are predestined to be adopted and guaranteed an inheritance.  (Eph. 1:4, 5, 14) That means that before the world was created, before you were ever born, God’s intention has been to set you apart and make you His daughter.  This is absolute Truth that you can stand on.  Let your habit today be to stand up straight, shoulders back, knowing that you are the dearly loved daughter of the Eternal Father!

Day 3:  On top of that, we are accepted, given the gift of God’s grace, in Jesus, “to the praise of His glorious grace.” (Eph. 1:6) As long as you believe this, God sees you in Jesus and accepts you and loves you exactly as He loves His own Son Jesus.  Your position today must be one of praise, in whatever posture you picture Jesus praising the Father, because you are praising “in Christ.” Standing with your hands lifted?  Lying face-down on the floor?  However you choose to praise, maintain that posture in your attitude today.

Day 4:  Today you are going to dance, because you have been set free.  In Christ, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins…” (Eph. 1:7)  God’s justice demands that the guilty (you and I) must be punished, but Jesus “redeemed” you, bought you with His own blood, so that neither you nor I have to be chained to our guilt.  We get to live eternally free, rewarded just as if we were blameless and good.  Dancing may not seem to be a posture to you, and maybe you think you can’t dance, but Sister, once it hits you what you’ve been set free from, you’ve just got to cut loose!

Day 5:  You have purpose!  Everything, from your hope in Christ to the times in which you are living, is part of God’s larger purpose, and it all, even your particular circumstance, is “for the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1:12)  Here’s my circumstance:  My aging parents live two hundred miles away, my husband’s elderly parents consume quite a bit of his time; we have a cherished, busy adult daughter whose time we covet, plus a business to run, church activities, and gatherings with friends.  It is a balancing act between knowing my life is intended to glorify my Lord and the reality of the daily grind.  Today you will balance on one foot, as best you can, as you contemplate your own balance:  eternal purpose against earthly reality.

WATCH YOUR STEP

Do you ever have to remind yourself to watch your step?  Like the night I was hurrying in to church and apparently stepped in some cat poo in the parking lot.  There I sat prissy in my own righteousness, wondering who around me smelled like cat poo.  Yes, I should have paid attention to where I stepped!

This week we’re going to consider carefully where we set our feet.

Day 1: “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped…” Psalm 73:2

Our river neighbor, Cotton, tells about weed-eating close to the steep river bank, his feet firmly planted so he wouldn’t fall. Thinking his weed-eater cord kept hitting his pant leg, he finally looked down to discover he was standing on a coiled snake, which was repeatedly striking at his leg.  He stepped in a treacherous place, wouldn’t you say?  Today, for as long as you can stand it, wear your most perilous high heels to remind you that we risk stumbling from the godly path unless our focus is on our God.

Day 2:  “…He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.” Hab. 3:19

I love to hike in the mountains!  Besides enjoying the scenery, mastering a ridge makes me feel exhilarated, strong and capable.  Do you know that the One who formed you wants you to feel this way?  He is all about your well-being.  He wants you to challenge yourself, try new things, and He wants you to succeed within His purposes.  Today, tie on your hiking boots and dare yourself to try something new!

Day 3:  “…He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Psalm 40:2

No matter the distress you’ve experienced in the past or might be enduring now, know that your Awesome God is aware of your trial, and He will make it His business to see you through it until you are on solid footing.  And once you’ve gained some traction, then you’re in a better position to reach out and help another person out of their mess.  Wear your work shoes today, and keep an eye open for someone who could use your help.

Day 4:  “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Prov. 16:9

Have you ever had this to happen—you’ve sought the Lord and discerned your path with every intention of doing His will, only to have your situation end up an apparent misstep?  What did you do next?  Did you freeze in place, afraid you had missed your life’s course?  Look at the second part of our verse.  The Lord can’t determine your steps unless you’re actually moving forward.  Trust your Sovereign God enough today to put on your walking shoes, pray for guidance, and take the next step you’ve been afraid to take.  His plans for you will never fail.

Day 5:  “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.”  Psalm 89:15

As I write this, I confess I’ve been a bit out-of-sorts this day.  It’s been a challenge to sustain the image of keeping my feet within His light, because with my mind distracted, the circle of light seemed so small.  Yet only within His light can there exist Shalom:  peace, wholeness, all as it is supposed to be.  And so I began to “acclaim” Him by praying blessing over the very people and issues that sidetracked me.  Guess what?  The light of His presence spread! Try it today as you enjoy some time in your bare feet, on holy ground.

IN THE COOL OF THE DAY

“Then [they] heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” (Gen 3:8)

Imagine walking side-by-side with the Creator Himself as He delightedly, even excitedly, urges you to engage yourself completely in the wonder of His creation.  This week’s assignment is to use all five of your senses and truly be a participant in this thing we call life.  If at all possible, you must get outside and allow yourself to indulge in a sensory retreat.

At the end of the week, record here your favorite day, and how that sensory retreat helped you experience God in a fresh way.

Day 1:  Observe the sky.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”  Ps 19:1

So simple, to take a break and really look at that veil that separates earth from heaven.  The view can be spectacular or subtle, but there’s a message written above us.  Just look up; what is the sky telling you about the Creator?  What do you notice that you’ve never thought of before?  What one word would you use to describe God now that you’ve meditated on His sky? (My word is SPECTACULAR!)

Day 2:  Listen to the birds.  “…He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”  Zeph 3:17

This one grabbed me.  Once I began to listen, I couldn’t get away from bird noises… from tweets to caws to repetitive songs to flutelike melodies…they were a constant in my day.  A city park bench, a walk through your neighborhood or your own back porch can be a front-row seat to the clamor of God’s creation.  Listen with perceptive ears as if the Creator Himself were listening with you.  What chorus do you hear Him singing over you?

Day 3:  Taste a peach.  “Taste and see that the LORD is good…” Psalm 34:8

My goodness…a peach in season—is there any fruit sweeter, juicier or more like taking a bite of Heaven itself?  Whatever fruit is freshest right now, splurge; pick out the finest sample you can find.  Now splurge on that most priceless thing, time; sit down and savor the sweetness of both the fruit and His presence for fifteen minutes…as a gift from His hand, a juicy sliver of His goodness, a foretaste of what you will enjoy in Heaven.

Day 4:  Sniff.  “All your robes are fragrant…” Psalm 45:8

‘Stop and smell the roses’ might be cliché, but really, don’t scents stir you?  I think heaven will smell like a bubby bush (you may know it as Sweet Betsy or Sweet bush).  I guess it’s that heady, spicy fragrance that only a lavish Creator could come up with.  Whatever fragrance smells heavenly to you, stick your nose in it and breathe in as if it were the perfume of the Creator Himself!  What will heaven smell like to you?

Day 5:  Feel the breeze.  “He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.”  Psalm 104:3

Ever in a hurry, aren’t we?  And yet the Creator who balances the universe on one finger, holds YOU in the palm of His hand and invites you to linger.  Revel in His presence.  Absorb His reality in the caress of a breeze.  Is He stirring the gentle wind just for you or has He commanded the wind to be still?  What is He saying to you through the breeze?