The Power of Place

The gravel crunched under my hiking boots as I stepped out of the car.  Water seeped up a bit as I strode on the ground; the air was wildly sweet and fresh; the sun shone in hopeful springtime rays.  This was going to be a good hike.

Horse Thief Lake was my go-to hike.  Challenging enough but not exhausting; never meet another human soul; breathtakingly beautiful; God’s peace and joy.  I opened the back door of my car and pulled on first my jacket and gloves, then my backpack.  Zipped up, locked up, I started out.

Entering the Black Elk National Forest is entering a different dimension of enveloping beauty and quiet.  An occasional swish or crack alerts to small woodland presence unseen.  Birds are hushed, silently sweeping from branch to branch, protecting their families and feeding their young.  Looking down at the trail and looking up through the trees yield disparate and exquisite vistas.

The trail is single-file width.  Mostly dirt, it often offers rocks and boulders in or out of the way.  Sometimes one must climb using sure footing techniques, sometimes using clamber-like-a-toddler on all fours techniques.  Springtime hikes ‘most always include moist patches, puddles, or downright watering holes.

The upward vista is always glorious, sun, rain, or snow.  The trees vary from birch to pine to oak, and present their various colors throughout the year: sunlight dapples down through naked branches, vibrant springtime leaves, full summer foliage, brilliant autumn colors, or pine needles.  One’s gaze may be drawn up rugged cliffs or down into woodland draws, carpeted with leaves, branches, and mosses.

This is easily a ten- to twelve-hour hike, beginning to end, but you can make it in seven and a half if you really hustle.  The highlight is a turn-out offering a spectacular view of Mt Rushmore.  On this particular day, I was taking it easy.  A few hours into my hike, I settled onto a cozy boulder for a snack and some water.  Carefully positioning myself, I remained still for several minutes.  It was then that tiny creatures revealed themselves.  A shrew scuttled across the trail.  Two chipmunks chased one another through the underbrush.  Two deer alerted and dashed up a slope.  I knew that a hot shower was going to feel oh, so good upon my return; but, for now, I relished the moments and God’s creation.

Ashes to Ashes

‘Tis bitterness bound up

In this urn full of ashes,

Anger and madness

Conflict and clashes.

 

In life you defeated me,

Now I defeat you.

In life you controlled me,

In your death I control you.

 

I stomp on these ashes,

I kick and I sprawl.

In a fever, in passion

I crumple and fall.

 

It’s my bitterness bound up

In these ashes, still;

Controlled yet by you

Against my will.

 

I have a choice,

A truth to cut through:

To take back the control

I gave up to you.

 

Will I be bound

And yearn for release;

Or choose forgiveness

And freedom and peace?

Our Strength

My devotional reading this morning was in 1 Samuel 15. That’s the chapter with the well-known passage in verse 22: “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

But later in that chapter come verses 28 and 29, which were what caught my attention. In verse 28, God refers to Himself as the LORD (Yahweh). In verse 29, He refers to Himself as The Strength of Israel.

Having recently read Judges, I referenced back to Samson. God gave Samson his strength through his hair: as long as Samson grew his hair, he retained his strength. The hair was Samson’s outward reflection of God with him. When the hair was cut, Samson lost his strength.

God was the Strength of Israel. When that nation cut off God, they lost their strength.

This Memorial Day weekend, I am reminded that God was the foundation of America. He was our Strength. As we continue to chop away at our Christian foundation, we lose our strength.

Jeremiah has some comprehension of where we stand with God: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.” – Jeremiah 10.23, 24. He knows that it is possible for God to bring us to nothing, and that He would be completely justified in doing so. He also knows God is a God of mercy and love – and perfection. In God’s perfect design, He created us and leads us. As long as we follow, we have the perfect unity of obedience and peace.

That works for individuals, as well, as it did with Samson. All us peoples make up our nation. We either walk in obedience or not. God always blesses obedience. (Look it up in the Bible. I did. I had a big, long study with a concordance on obedience. God ALWAYS blesses obedience; even stiff-necked obedience.) As the people walk, so walks the nation.

Understand that God is the Strength of America, the Strength of Each Nation. Will we walk with the LORD, or away from Him? Because, if I read God’s Word correctly, it’s up to me and you.

Charles Spurgeon on Trials

Charles Spurgeon: “The eclipse of your faith, the darkness of your mind, the fainting of your hope, all these things are but parts of God’s method of making you ripe for the great inheritance upon which you shall soon enter. These trials are for the testing and strengthening of your faith—they are waves that wash you further upon the rock—they are winds which waft your ship the more swiftly towards the desired haven.”

https://www.biblegateway.com/devotionals/morning-and-evening/2018/05/22?utm_source=Cultural+Commentary&utm_campaign=ecb1ec5cdb-Jim%27s+Daily+Article+%281%2F12%2F18%29&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_51f776a552-ecb1ec5cdb-273038809&mc_cid=ecb1ec5cdb&mc_eid=65ebefba18

Who Decides?

I was reading in 1 Samuel 8 this morning, where Samuel is old and his sons walked not in his ways. So the people came to Samuel and said, “Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” I thought, well that’s good: the people at least recognize that Samuel’s sons are not following Samuel, and they want someone different to rule over them.

Then I read God’s response when Samuel inquired of Him: “…They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.”

I wondered how the people’s response was against God. As always, when I find (what I think is) a discrepancy in God’s Word, I know Who to go to, to set me straight. As I prayed over this passage, I thought it was likely that the people did see that Samuel’s sons were unfit to lead them. But, the people were also cognizant of the cultures around them, and how other people handled their affairs. They were enticed. This was something they wanted for themselves.

Isn’t that the way we so often are in our own decision-making? Don’t we do this in our families, in our communities, in our governments? We see how the rest of the world is running, we pick out what we think are the best parts of it and what works, and we fashion a decision that we think fits us best.

The people were asking for something that didn’t involve God. It broke His heart; not just because His people, whom He loved, were turning away from Him, but also because He knew that, by turning away, they would start down a path of destruction. Samuel knew this, and it broke his heart, too. The chapter continues with Samuel’s warnings to the people about the consequences of their decision, but they waved him off and stuck to their guns.

 

We all face decisions: whether due to circumstances beyond our control or because we want to change an existing condition, we must decide what is the best course of action.

Remember to involve God. Use Him as your plumb line and source of wisdom. It’s easy to look around and see what everyone else is doing. Don’t be enticed. Ask God. He’s right there, and He wants ever so much to guide you and be included in your life

Trusting God’s Work in the Storms of Life

This is one of my favorite stories from Daily Living for Seniors:

Trusting God’s Work in the Storms of Life

May 18

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12

A story is told of a young boy in China who wanted to learn about precious stones. So he went to study with an old teacher. The teacher put a piece of jade into the youth’s hand and told him to hold it tightly. He then went on to lecture the boy about philosophy, history, and a vast array of other subjects.

This procedure was repeated for weeks until the boy became frustrated. When would he be taught about precious stones? But he was too polite to interrupt his elder.

One day, the boy came to class as usual. When the old man put a stone in his hand, the boy, without looking, cried out, “That’s not jade!”

When it comes to the difficult circumstances and situations we face in life, it can be hard to determine what God is doing. Our first inclination is to get out of our situation as quickly as we can. But the truth is that in those storms, He’s up to something. Every storm has a purpose.

Perhaps today you’re coming out of a storm and you’re starting to realize why God took you through it. Or, maybe you’re in the middle of a storm and are clueless as to what God is doing. Stay faithful and hold onto the hope that in every situation, God is working for your good.

Prayer Challenge

Pray and ask God to give you the patience and trust to believe He’s doing something great in the midst of life’s storms.

Questions for Thought

Why do you think God often uses our hard times to do His greatest work in our lives?

How have you seen God at work through the storms you’ve faced?

Courage and Obedience

One of my daily readings includes The Denison Forum, written by Jim Denison. While I don’t always agree with everything he writes, his posts are most often thought-provoking and worth the read. This morning he quoted CS Lewis: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Mulling that over, it seemed to be a good point.

I moved on to my next devotional reading, Daily Living for Seniors, which dealt with overcoming fear. It used 2 Timothy 1.7 as its springboard:” For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” and quoted Gen George Patton: “I have learned early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.” Hm. There’s a pattern here.

My final reading was from the book of Ruth, in Quiet Walk. Her mother-in-law instructed her to lie at the feet of Boaz after he’d finished with his food and wine and merry-making. I think Ruth was a courageous woman. She showed it when she chose to follow Naomi to a foreign land. She chose courage when she followed Naomi’s instructions to glean in Boaz’s field. I think it took enormous courage to obey Naomi and lie at the feet of a man whom she hoped to marry.

So, yeah: I think CS Lewis was right in that courage is the form of every virtue at the testing point. If we want to live as Christ lived, we must first believe that what He says is true: He will be with us, protect us, and love us always. When prompted by the Spirit, we must believe it to be true. Then, we must step out in courage to obey Him. Sometimes that path is easy and we find immediate reward. Sometimes the path is full of rocks, gullies, mud, and darkness. It’s scary. In my life, instances of asking forgiveness from someone have been the most knee-knocking. But it comes down to obedience. God’s Holy Spirit impels me to the act: does it take courage to follow through? I simply know that I will have no peace until I obey. God always blesses obedience. It’s worth the heart palpitations to just do it

A Wagon in God’s Hands

We went as far as the car would take us.  As it started sputtering again, I pulled over to the side of the Interstate, where it promptly died.  I turned off the key and looked at my 14-year-old son.

“Well, let’s get out and stretch our legs a bit, shall we?”

This old Honda wagon had been with us since Jonathan was two.  It had taken us far and wide, and had been good to us.  Unfortunately, I no longer had the funds to be good back to it.  I had pushed this poor thing ‘way past its potential, and we had been riding in God’s grace for the past few years.

The sun would be going down in a couple of hours on this summer Sunday.  At least the weather was good.  We got out, stretched, and ambled a few kinks out of our legs and backs.  I walked off a bit, and looked over at the car.  We had been homeless for a few years, had found lodging with others for a few years, and now were on our way to perhaps a new life.  We both had felt that this was where God wanted us to go.  All the doors were open, and this was the first shut door we’d encountered.

We joined hands and prayed.  “Lord, we really think this is what You want for us.  We’re going by faith, since we don’t have much else to our names.  Just You.  We wouldn’t be headed in this direction if we didn’t think it was Your desire for us.  That car can’t get us there, but You can.”

A few minutes later, we got back into the Honda.  It started up, and we took off.

And that was the beginning of how we got to South Dakota from Michigan.

In a Dark Place

In my devotions this morning, I read in “Daily Living for Seniors” about being in a dark, locked room. The room may be financial or relational difficulties, health issues, or any other “dark place” in which we find ourselves. We want out, we want it to be all better again, we want God to climb in with us and unlock that door. But, the writer says: “When we’re locked in that dark room, God still climbs in. But instead of quickly unlocking the door, He sits with us because spending time with Him is more important than quickly getting on with our lives.” That sentence really gripped me. “What an excellent point!” I thought to myself: He sits with us because spending time with Him is more important than quickly getting on with our lives!

I’ve meditated and written on suffering in our lives many times. From a previous writing of mine:

“We are to expect suffering. We learn through suffering. Our faith grows through suffering.

“Why suffering? Why did God design us to learn our important lessons, to grow in Him, to increase our faith, through suffering? Couldn’t He have designed us to learn in times of ease?

“He did. We can learn important lessons any time we choose to put our time and effort into learning. But when we got ourselves kicked out of Eden because of sin, God knew we would all face a life of suffering because of that sin. We hurt ourselves in sin. We hurt others through sin, and we are hurt by others through sin. Sin is all around us. We’re gonna get hurt! We’re gonna suffer!

“How kind of God to turn our suffering into joy. Just as in Genesis 50.20, when Joseph tells his brothers that God turned their sin to good. Just as in Romans 8.28, all things work together for good. God has the power to do that, and He does, because He loves us so much.”

Another previous writing brought out the sufferings of Job. His friends sat with him for days before uttering a word.

God sits with us in dark times. He knows intimately what we are going through. In His love, He holds us tenderly in His hands and teaches us and comforts us. Let us receive Him.

Reflections: Which Mirror?

I looked at myself in the mirror this morning as I got ready for the day.  I worked on my teeth, face, hair and clothing until I was satisfied.  I even grabbed my hand mirror, so I could turn around and make sure the back of my person was as acceptable as the front.

Every morning, and most evenings, I see myself in a mirror, usually the bathroom mirror.  When I was a little girl I would perform the daily washing and tidying.  Back then the mirror was not just affirmation of my physical self, but also a springboard of who I wanted to become, enveloping visions of myself as a dancer, actress, teacher, wife or writer.  As I grew into a young woman, I decided that I liked who I saw in that mirror as I caught reflections of independence, authority, ambition, courage, and drive.  I often despaired that beauty was not one of those reflections, but figured I could overcome that through sheer force of personality.

I had 26 years of looking at myself, in my own mirror, before God got ahold of me and gave me another mirror.  To my shame, I found that God’s mirror was a true mirror, and not the same as the one I had always liked to look in.  In this new mirror, I saw that I had been using my own plumb line, drawing my own boundaries, and deciding my own values and morals based on what I wanted.  Things I had been blind to, like bitterness, pride, and jealousy, were revealed.  I saw that I had been wrong for those many years.  But, I saw no condemnation in being wrong.  I beheld that it was a simple fact, and that God was lovingly cupping me in His hands as He taught me.

This is an ongoing process, this learning thing.  Instead of looking in the mirror for confidence, a strong façade, and knowledge; I now look for signs of friendship, openness, compassion, peace, vulnerability, kindness, and wisdom.  I don’t have all these things yet, but God does, and I have Him in me.  Because of that, I can now see His beauty in my reflection.

I still use my own mirror occasionally, but every day, as I read His word, God reminds me that His mirror is truth, and I like more and more to look in it.