Even If

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel 3:17-18 

 

“What if” = fear.

“Even if” = faith.

I found that saying on Pinterest when I was looking last week on what to put on the church marquee (I would’ve put it on there, too, if I’d had one more of the letter Q, since we don’t have an equal sign… sigh).

This quote resonated with me, and immediately brought to mind the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. You’ll remember the three young Jews brought into the service of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in his defeat of Judah. These three were found to have violated the king’s decree of bowing down to the large gold image of Nebuchadnezzar, and were brought before the king to explain themselves, and to listen to the king give them one more chance to bow to his image, or else they would be thrown into a blazing furnace.

I have always been in awe of their response, and frankly, a little envious, too. I never imagined having the comfort and courage with which to say, “But even if…” to any situation I have faced, much less a life-or-death matter such as the ones they faced, straight to the person issuing the decree.

How about you?


Walking the Talk

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

                          Matthew 5:14-16

                          

 

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.  Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  But if anyone obeys his word, love for God truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

                           1 John 2:3-6

 

I have started to follow a Christian satire sight on Facebook by the name of the The Babylon Bee. It’s similar to The Onion, and just as clever. Its satirical articles are maybe 150-200 words at best. Some examples of the headlines include “Church Seniors Involved in Low Speed Race to Golden Corral”, “Church Tech Team Introduces Helpful Bouncing Sing-Along Ball”, “Satan Promises to Match All Donations for Jesse Duplantis’s New Private Jet”, and “Bill Clinton: ‘I thought #MeToo Was a Pokemon’”. The writing is ingenious and witty, and frankly some of the most creative writing I’ve ever read. (On a serious note, though, their Good Friday article entitled “Report: It Is Finished” moved me to tears and demonstrated their beliefs in our Lord Jesus Christ). The articles are clever, and the Facebook comments are themselves treasures.

 

Sometimes the content hits so close to how the world perceives Christians that people jokingly comment that they can’t find the satire in it. One such example is a little blurb I read a couple of hours ago entitled “During After-Church Lunch at Applebee’s, Local Christian Scolds Waiter for Working on Sunday.” It jokingly included such comments as the woman telling the waiter, “Why are you not at church? Don’t you know today is the Lord’s Day?” the woman said, raising a judgmental eyebrow. “Also, bring me another salad. This one’s all wilted and not fresh at all. Honestly, who runs this place?”. She further wonders aloud (after sending back her entrée a third time) why restaurants are open on Sunday in the first place, blaming the phenomenon on “our godless culture”, and later grumbles, “This place we’re eating at should be closed to honor the Lord.” The satire piece ends with “Sources also claim [the lady] left a dollar tip, later revealed to be a gospel tract rather than actual, legal tender.”

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Abba Father

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.

                          Galatians 4:6

                          

And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 

                           Romans 8:15b-16

 

Now that I am at a point in my life where I feel like I’ve at least passed the midway mark, I realize that life’s days have seemed to have flown fly by, like the image of a desk calendar pages rapidly blowing off in old black and while movies to mark the passage of time.

 

My two children are on my mind a lot, especially in my early morning devotional time when I can stare at the various school-age photos of them on the large wall going up the staircase. I’m thankful to recall when each of those pictures were taken, both formal school poses and informal action shots of childhood activity. I’m completely smitten with them, both when they were children and now as adults, and I love them with a fierceness of a Mama Bear.

 

Since they are adults and have their own lives (25 and 20, living in their own apartment and home, respectively), I am always thrilled when I get to spend some quality time with them, either individually or together. The conversations now are obviously quite different. Since they are fewer and farther between than when the boys were young (logistics and stages in life being what they are), so I am thrilled to pieces when they do happen. I enjoy their company so much, and look forward to Sunday afternoons when Greg comes over and we all play games and have fun.

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David

And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.                     

Acts 13:22       

 

With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.

                           Psalm 119:10-11

 

“David is both the man we want to be, and the man we are.” I heard this statement while listening to a radio sermon about David, and was immediately intrigued. I listened intently to the message, and knew that I would have to get into the Old Testament more than I’d ever been before. I wanted to know more about the man who was after God’s own heart.

You may be familiar with the story of how the Lord anointed David future king of Israel while David was in his youth. It is during the anointing that the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.

I’m sure that most of us know the story of how young David killed Goliath with just a single stone when none of the men in Saul’s army took up that challenge for forty days. Righteous anger, confidence, and faith in God were the provisions of his success.

As a young man, David was referred to as one “who is skillful in playing (the harp), a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him.”

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Refuge

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

                           Psalm 91:1       
 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.

 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;”

 Isaiah 43: 1b-3a

 

“Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

                           Habakkuk 3: 17-18  

 

 

I’ve grappled over the past couple of weeks because I was unsure what to write about. I had not gotten a clear message from Him in my prayers and quiet time, and frankly had not had the chance to sit in front of the computer to write because of some health-related and professional challenges of late. Those challenges still exist, and I almost passed on the chance to do so tonight, since I still didn’t have a clear idea of what in the world to write. I sorely missed writing last week’s devotional and wanted to make sure that I sent something out this week.

 

My last devotional was about a temporary loss of the immeasurable joy that comes from above. I would love to partake of my own words and cling to that joy as if my life depended on it.

 

But I struggle at times, and I’m confident that you do as well.

 

There’s a lot going on, y’all: health, family, and job concerns; political and economic woes; societal horrors and injustice. But those aren’t the only ones—there are the small, piddly things that can impact our peace—traffic, a misbehaving pet, a fight with a family member—annoyances that, when combined, have the cumulative effect of making one weary.

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Theft of Joy

 “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Nehemiah 8:10                 

“…He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

                       1 John 4:4

 

My apologies for having not written devotionals the past couple of weeks—I have traveled for work twice in the past two weeks and was not able to get things going. But I’m here now!!

 

I had the opportunity near the end of March to be on a team that worked on a women’s Walk to Emmaus, a 72-hour spiritual retreat that some of you have attended. I was blessed with the opportunity to meet and bond with women I’d never met before. We laughed together, cried together, shared our struggles and our pain, broke bread together, and felt the workings of the Holy Spirit in the mending of broken hearts. It was a cloistered environment, insulated from the distractions of our every day lives. We were unencumbered by perceptions and politics, as we felt God’s love permeating our shared experiences. I drew great strength from making people laugh, and belly laugh we all did.

 

Once we were back in the proverbial wild, returning to our jobs and our families, it was a struggle at times to keep the life I knew before this Walk to Emmaus at bay and maintain the lightness and joy I’d experienced during those three days. Mind you, I’ve done this before—I’ve been blessed to work a number of Walks, each one special and different yet the same, and I’ve handled “reentry” to my regular life just fine. This time, things were a bit different. Work threw me a curve ball or two, and some pruning and conviction from the Lord left me unsettled (add to that some poking from the enemy, and you’ve got a recipe for a quite deflated Laura).

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On the Surface

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.                          

Galations 6:2            

 

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works

                              Hebrews 10:23

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to a conference in Boston last year with a co-worker. My friend “Sally” and I had worked together some, and even shared a cubicle, but I didn’t know a whole lot about her, and vice versa. Having never been to Boston, we planned to get there early to have some time to knock around the city and become “wicked smaht”, taking in a game at Fenway, noshing on “chowdah” and exploring that historic city on foot (I kid you not—my Fitbit recorded over 27,000 steps one day!).

It was at the restaurant and bar of that classic Boston sitcom Cheers that Sally and I ordered a beer and some appetizers on that first evening, and we opened up a bit to each other. I’d always admired her calm demeanor and the pictures of her adult children – a young man and young woman, both of whom seemed to love taking pictures with their adorable parents, based on the number of family pictures on Sally’s desk. Sally’s husband was a believer, and they attended church together every Sunday. Sally never said a bad word, was gracious, and was never afraid to admit a knowledge or experience deficiency, but always sought to learn and grow.

 

Perhaps it was lateness of the evening after a long flight; perhaps it was the headiness of the beer that loosened my tongue, but I told Sally that it seemed to me that she lived a charmed life. She smiled a knowing smile and said that it sure did seem that way. I was either too tired or too slow, but I didn’t pick up on the nuance of what that meant.

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Peter’s Restoration

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these? ”He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Tend My sheep” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep… Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

 

                                             John 21:15-18

I read the last chapter of John last week, thus concluding Pastor Ray’s challenge of reading the book of John for the season of Lent. As I read about the breakfast Jesus made for the disciples on the shore, after they brought their big haul, I started to cry. I wasn’t crying because of the fish, or the thoughtfulness of Jesus to make them breakfast; I was crying for the upcoming interaction Jesus and Peter would have. Peter was a man of great sorrow, I imagine, until the Lord restored him.

 

There is a scene from The Bible miniseries that aired in 2013 in which the producers may have taken a little bit of poetic license, but it showed Jesus and Peter exchanging a look after the guards took Jesus. The cock had just crowed. Peter had such a look of horror and self-loathing at the realization that he had denied His Lord, and had abandoned Him at a crucial moment. Three of the gospels mention that he wept bitterly when he heard the crow; Luke mentions that Jesus looks at Peter as the rooster crows.

 

In the miniseries, the look in Jesus’s eyes was not judgment, disgust, or anger—it was one of understanding, acceptance, and love. That look struck my heart, and has stuck with me for the past five years.

I can’t imagine Peter’s anguish throughout the Passion—I truly cannot grasp how he wasn’t torn apart by guilt, knowing that the last (recorded) interaction with his Savior was one of denial. With the exception of John, Scripture doesn’t record Peter’s thoughts or actions during this time or beyond, until the book of Acts (I assume he was there in the upper room, and he received the Holy Spirit there as well). It is John who writes about how Mary Magdalene summons Peter and John to the empty tomb, and it is only in John that we find the interaction between Jesus and Peter.

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Blind Since Birth

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him.

                                             John 9:1-3

 

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

                                             Romans 8:28

 

As I shared before, I’ve been reading John. I’ve read John countless times before, but I’m trying to read it now with the Holy Spirit’s help (that, and David Guzik’s study guide). I started to read the ninth chapter, where Jesus passes a man, blind since birth. The prevailing thought at the time was that if a child was born with a birth defect or condition, that it was due to his parents’ sin or his own sin, apparently committed before birth. The disciples, curious to know Jesus’s take on this, ask Jesus which person or set of persons sinned.

 

I was stopped in my tracks when I read verse 3: “Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but that the works of God might be revealed in him.” Does this not help explain the purpose of suffering in this world? This man with this specific condition was around Jesus for the sheer purpose in allowing Jesus to glorify God in His divine healing of his blindness.

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Pity Party

So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.

                                             1 Kings 21:4

 

“Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

                                           Jonah 4:3

 

The past couple of weeks or so have been quite stressful at work. I’ve been asked to consider taking on a different role within the same department. It is better suited to my strengths than my current role (as my current role evolves, I am expected to be more strategic minded and less in the details. I love to be in the details!). I’ve grappled with the decision, knowing that while it would be better for my emotional health if I took this job, I’d be overly concerned about potential effects on my reputation (“Oh, she couldn’t cut it over there.”) I prayed about it, and felt that the Lord was leading me to take the new position.

 

Since my decision, I’ve felt an increase in the frequency and velocity with which the enemy’s barbs have been hurled at me. Although no formal announcement has been made nor transition plans set, I’ve felt excluded from discussions and requests that I’d used to handle, as my successor takes over some of my responsibilities. I am the proverbial “man without a country,” and it’s unsettling to me. Self-pity and doubt cling to me, clouding my ability to assess the true state of affairs around me. Self-pity’s twin sister of self-absorption keeps my focus inward, blind to some of the need right outside my door. I feel wronged and resentful, despite the stern talks I gave myself to snap out of it and be thankful for the many blessings I have in my life. Nope—I couldn’t really see past the perimeter of “me” that filtered and shaped my views.

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