July 19

“The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” John 18:11

To have a sympathizing God we must have a suffering Saviour, and there is no true fellow-feeling with another save in the heart of him who has been afflicted like him. We cannot do good to others save at a cost to ourselves, and our afflictions are the price we pay for our ability to sympathize. He who would be a helper, must first be a sufferer. He who would be a saviour must somewhere and somehow have been upon a cross; and we cannot have the highest happiness of life in succoring others without tasting the cup which Jesus drank, and submitting to the baptism wherewith He was baptized.

The present circumstance, which presses so hard against you (if surrendered to Christ), is the best shaped tool in the Father’s hand to chisel you for eternity. Trust Him, then. Do not push away the instrument lest you lose its work. (Streams in the Desert)

My grandchildren have become interested in the game of chess to my great delight. I taught myself to play fifty two years earlier at age six by checking out a picture book from my elementary school library. I played each week at the Fire Station on Lewis Drive in Port Arthur, and although I have continued playing occasionally through the years, my grandson’s interest that emerged last fall led me back into enjoying the game on a daily basis. As a result, all the grandchildren want to play when they come to visit, and last night was no exception.

Five-year-old Hannah has recast the mold on the strong-willed child. The good news is that she will likely never know peer pressure; she marches to her own drumbeat. She burst through our front door last night announcing, “I want to play chest.” We attempt to teach her the correct way to pronounce it, but she invariably relapses into calling it “chest.” Hannah is bright and learns quickly, but her frustration threshold is quite low. Halfway through last night’s lesson her shoulders slumped and she gushed, “I want to win. When am I going to win?” My own childhood predates the receive-a-trophy-for-showing-up generation, so I told Hannah what I tell all the grandchildren: “I enjoy teaching and playing with you, but I will never just let you win. When you beat me, you will know that you earned it.”

All-too-frequently I brandish my own version of slumped shoulder resignation: “When am I going to win? I want to win!” I stoop to view hardship as divine collusion, and interpret difficult circumstance as disfavor—God could make my life easier, if only He wanted to do so. Suffering is a cruel joke with me as the punchline. Discipleship, on the other hand, demands I look beyond hurt and heartache to find someone else in the same boat who needs a helping hand up, or at the very least, a listening heart. Suffering is never a dead end street; it qualifies me for ministry on a deeper level. Setting our sights on others when dealt what some might deem a cruel hand delivers us from down spiraling into a perpetual pity party.


July 18

“The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9

God is looking for a man, or woman, whose heart will be always set on Him, and who will trust Him for all He desires to do. God is eager to work more mightily now than He ever has through any soul. The clock of the centuries points to the eleventh hour.

“The world is waiting yet to see what God can do through a consecrated soul.” Not the world alone, but God Himself is waiting for one, who will be more fully devoted to Him than any who have ever lived; who will be willing to be nothing that Christ may be all; who will grasp God’s own purposes; and taking His humility and His faith, His love and His power, will, without hindering, continue to let God do exploits.

In an address given to ministers and workers after his ninetieth birthday, George Mueller spoke thus of himself: “I was converted in November, 1825, but I only came into the full surrender of the heart four years later, in July, 1829. The love of money was gone, the love of place was gone, the love of position was gone, the love of worldly pleasures and engagements was gone. God, God alone became my portion. I found my all in Him; I wanted nothing else. And by the grace of God this has remained, and has made me a happy man, an exceedingly happy man, and it led me to care only about the things of God. I ask affectionately, my beloved brethren, have you fully surrendered the heart to God, or is there this thing or that thing with which you are taken up irrespective of God?” (Streams in the Desert)

God knows, the heart is a battle field. Surprisingly, the foe standing across the way strangely resembles what I desire most. My chief struggle is not against legions of demons or Beelzebub himself, but all the good things in life that compete for my attention. Tillich is right when he defines God as “ultimate concern”; whatever or whoever I grant ultimate allegiance is my god. God’s will itself becomes a deterrent when we substitute “doing” for “being.” Our primary calling is not to a task, but to a Person—Jesus Christ must hold my heart and highest fascination or I will waste my life pursuing any number of good causes or pleasant pastimes.

July 13

“God… calleth those things which be not as though they were.” Romans 4:17

Be willing to live by believing and neither think nor desire to live in any other way. Be willing to see every outward light extinguished, to see the eclipse of every star in the blue heavens, leaving nothing but darkness and perils around, if God will only leave in thy soul the inner radiance, the pure bright lamp which faith has kindled.~Thomas C. Upham

(Streams in the Desert)

Faith is an adventure of intimacy. Doctrine and dogma are beneficial for the believer, even necessary, but confidence in Providence comes from relationship. Faith, by definition, cuts against the grain of logic, which means the life of faith will always remain slightly out of step with a world dominated and characterized by reasonable expectation. Deep diving into dependence will even come across as queer to many in Christian circles, especially among those more attracted to Christian culture than to Christ. Faith is unnecessary for those who interpret ease as divine leadership. Beware the popular theology of the “open door” that equates God’s will with the easy way out. Know Him, and act accordingly, regardless of all evidence to the contrary. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him; but I will maintain my own ways before Him” (Job 13:15).

July 9

“I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Isaiah 48:10

Does not the Word come like a soft shower, assuaging the fury of the flame? Yes, is it not an asbestos armor, against which the heat has no power? Let the affliction come—God has chosen me. Poverty, thou mayest stride in at my door; but God is in the house already, and He has chosen me. Sickness, thou mayest intrude; but I have a balsam ready—God has chosen me. Whatever befall me in this vale of tears, I know that He has chosen me.

Fear not, Christian; Jesus is with thee. In all thy fiery trials, His presence is both thy comfort and safety. He will never leave one whom He has chosen for His own. “Fear not, for I am with thee,” is His sure word of promise to His chosen ones in “the furnace of affliction.”~C. H. Spurgeon

(Streams in the Desert)

Henry and Lois were not highly educated, nor were they experts in the field of child psychology, but their love for me and my sister was flawless. Henry worked as a boilermaker in a Port Arthur refinery; Lois rose early every morning to cook biscuits from scratch and do all the other tasks that once fell unapologetically under the term “housewife.” Their love for one another was strong, but what they wanted more than life itself was a child of their own. For whatever reason they could not become pregnant, so they turned to Sellers Baptist Adoption Services in New Orleans. Hope arrived in the form of Melody Ann. In those days, couples were fortunate to adopt one child, but the unthinkable happened three years later when Henry and Lois were approved to adopt a baby boy. Their joy was complete, and it was contagious.

Our parents loved us relentlessly. I will never know how or why they knew to do so, but our parents communicated clearly from the beginning that we were special because we were adopted. I cannot recall ever not knowing I was chosen. ‘Adopted’ was never a label to eschew; on the contrary, my sister and I flourished with love and security in knowing we were chosen. Election is the grandest gift imaginable. Nothing can separate us from the measureless love of our Father who tells us we are special because He chose us. Grace means nothing more and nothing less than relentless electing love.

July 6

“Neither know we what to do; but our eyes are, upon thee.” 2 Chronicles 20:12

A life was lost in Israel because a pair of human hands were laid unbidden upon the ark of God. They were placed upon it with the best intent, to steady it when trembling and shaking as the oxen drew it along the rough way; but they touched God’s work presumptuously, and they fell paralyzed and lifeless. Much of the life of faith consists in letting things alone.

If we wholly trust an interest to God, we must keep our hands off it; and He will guard it for us better than we can help Him. “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.”

Things may seem to be going all wrong, but He knows as well as we; and He will arise in the right moment if we are really trusting Him so fully as to let Him work in His own way and time. There is nothing so masterly as inactivity in some things, and there is nothing so hurtful as restless working, for God has undertaken to work His sovereign will. ~A. B. Simpson (Streams in the Desert)

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 | NRSV

The root of patience is love; the foundation for love is grace. Love and grace are inseparable. God does not extend grace out of exemplary pity, but inexhaustible love. “Love covers a multitude of sins” sounds trite and more akin to a homespun yarn than eternal truth; yet, love is the right posture for any response. Through the eyes of love I recognize grace. Through the eyes of grace I respond to all manner of grievance and ill treatment with love.

“To say that love is God is romantic idealism. To say that God is love is either the last straw or the ultimate truth” (F. Buechner)

I wait on the Lord because I believe He loves me and wants the best for me. I take up the cross of compassion when my heart sees others the way Father sees me. Love does not eradicate failure or ignore inadequacy; God wills to work through my shortcomings and self-centered tendencies because He has chosen to love no-matter-what. We are called to the same enduring ministry of love.

July 4

“For the Vision is yet for an appointed time…though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Habakkuk 2:3

Do not grieve Him by doubting His love. Nay, lift up your head, and begin to praise Him even now for the deliverance which is on the way to you, and you will be abundantly rewarded for the delay which has tried your faith. (Streams in the Desert)

I could rattle off regrets until the chickens come home to roost, but I will share only one of them today. The one most on my mind on the 4th of July is that I never served my country. I passed on a golden opportunity to attend West Point after high school graduation, opting for college and a fast track into vocational Christian ministry. Time in the pastorate and years invested in Africa and India as a missionary precluded the opportunity for military service of any kind. When life finally became conducive to part-time service, I inquired about entering the National Guard as a chaplain, but was denied because of my age. I will live and eventually die without having known the honor of serving this great entity known as the United States of America.

My father saw active duty in the Korean Conflict, and I proudly display his military items and the American flag presented to my mother at Dad’s funeral. I am humbled by his and every person’s sacrifice to defend the liberty I enjoy. We live in an era where many decry mixing nationalism with Christianity. I understand their philosophy—I am not a Christian because I am an American citizen; however, I thank God this country was founded on the bedrock of Judeo-Christian values, and refuse to recognize an inherent conflict between patriotism and my faith in Almighty God. Separation of church and state does not mandate an entirely secular state. I may be unable to don a military uniform, but I am able everyday to honor those who do, to pray for the leaders of this nation (whoever they may be at the time), and faithfully fulfill my responsibility as a citizen of both God’s kingdom and this country, without seeing the two as mutually exclusive.

July 2

“When thou goest, thy way shall be opened up before thee step by step.” Proverbs 4:12, free translation

The Lord never builds a bridge of faith except under the feet of the faith-filled traveler. If He builds the bridge a rod ahead, it would not be a bridge of faith. That which is of sight is not of faith. (Streams in the Desert)

I wonder what it felt like to be Epaphroditus?  He was often near the action in the early church, but never the center of attention. Although he hung out with the rock stars of the Way, he never headlined a show or even opened one. Suffice it to say he had more in common with the roadies than those on stage. His name appears in only one book of the Bible (Philippians), unless he happens to be the individual that the apostle Paul addresses briefly with a shortened version of the name, Epaphras, in two other New Testament letters (Colossians & Philemon). At first glance, we may have high expectations of someone whose name means “lovely;” until further asking around reveals that it was quite a common name, derived from Aphrodite. “Hello, meet John Smith.” It seems our rather nondescript friend was a courier of sorts who multi-tasked as valet for St. Paul, but that tells what he did and says nothing about how he felt.

Did Epaphroditus ever deal with a twinge of regret or even jealousy over never getting the chance to do something particularly memorable in the church other than deliver messages? What was it like to be important enough to be mentioned by name in Scripture, but just barely mentioned? Actually, I think I know. I have reached the place in life where no matter what I do, I know someone who does it better. In fact, it would be delusional at this stage in life to think that I can best anyone at anything. No matter how hard I work, how well I preach or teach, how skilled I am at word smithing, how adept I am at facilitating strategic relationships, I stand in the shadow of giants.

The same was true of Epaphroditus, yet he has lasting merit because of his relation to Paul and others in the church at Philippi and beyond. In other words, worth in God’s kingdom is never determined by performance. Instead, the import of my existence consists of the quality of my relationships. If my wife knows the joy of an adoring and supportive husband who helps her celebrate each moment as grace, I have great value. If my children and grandchildren look to me as an example of how to navigate the tragedy and ecstasy of living, I leave a legacy of exceptional worth. If my church finds in me a sacrificial shepherd willing to lay down his life for his sheep, I have an investment in eternity. In other words, relationship trumps accomplishment every time.

Beware the performance trap in Christian ministry. Step forward in faith, not because you are an intrepid adventurer of exceptional spiritual fortitude, but in failsafe reliance on a Father who receives and keeps you with endless love.