Monday, November 28, 2011

The Scenic Route

Which do you like better—enjoying the journey or arriving at the destination?

On our way to the Tennessee Smoky Mountains, my family encountered a detour. A major rockslide forced travelers to exit the interstate and take a four-lane highway around the mountains and through small towns. The four-lane highway eventually narrowed to two lanes, as we meandered our way through thick trees and along the side of steep mountains. Fortunately, my family always lets me sit in the front of the car, since I can get carsick on road trips. But I felt sorry for the person sitting in the back. The one hour that it should have taken us to reach our destination, stretched to three.

Breathtaking creeks and rivers greeted us as we made our way through the mountains, and stunning views made us stop and find our cameras. We discovered Little Pigeon River, and took pictures of wintry trees hovering over rushing water. The rockslide that we once groaned about, became a blessing because of the beauty that we saw along the way.

Sometimes God takes us on a “scenic route.” It may not be the fastest way to get there, but He knows that it’s the best way. There may be some goal we want to accomplish or some place we want to arrive at in our lives by a certain time. And we may even have the road mapped out of how to get there. But for some good reason, God takes us along a different path. It may take us a little longer to arrive at our destination than what we expected. But what we see and what we learn along the way can be worth the trip.

Have you encountered any “detours” recently? Or are you on a scenic route now? Even when the path is unexpected or difficult to endure, I hope that you see that God is with you and that you discover the beautiful things He wants to show you along the way. Where God is, joy and beauty can be found. He is the perfect Guide, and very often the longer stretches of “road” are worth the drive.

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11 NKJV).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Grateful List

Painted leaves, mountain scenes, and foggy mornings. Sunsets, double rainbows, and autumn’s first wind. Family gatherings, Christmas music, and memories of my great-grandmother. Friends who are there for you, a church that encourages you, and God who loves you. These are just some of the things that I’m grateful for.

The list goes on…the time when God told me it was going to be ok when my heart was hurting so bad. The time when I received a birthday box from my friend at just the right time. The time when my parents knew just what to say to help me. All throughout the year, and not just on Thanksgiving, we have the chance to see God work in our lives and cause our hearts to be grateful.

His work never stops. In John 5:17, Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (NKJV). God is working in the hearts of people around the world, so that they know the truth and have the opportunity to believe in Him. He is working in the hearts of believers to draw them closer to Himself, heal their hurts, and give them purpose in life. Life is not free from problems, but with God, we have a solution. The ultimate thing to be grateful for, is that God loves us perfectly, and every day we get to know Him and love Him back. That is a life worth living.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving? What would be included in your “grateful list”? I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, wherever you are in the world. Even if it’s not a national holiday where you are, take a few moments to tell God how much He means to you. And keep looking for how He is working in your life.

Thanksgiving Blessings,

Monday, November 21, 2011

1 Planet, 7 Billion People

1930 – 2 billion. 1974 – 4 billion. 1999 – 6 billion. 2011 – 7 billion.* We’re there now! It’s estimated that 7 billion people are scattered across the face of the earth. Think about all the lives, all the experiences, all the heartaches and hurts, all the joys and dreams that are represented by those 7 billion people. And God knows each one. He has created and loves each person, with their unique personality, abilities, and dreams.

I got a glimpse of just how many people are on our planet when I visited Barcelona, Spain. I had the chance to go there with my parents when I was eleven years old. My family and I stood on the corner of two streets that formed an “x,” and all I could see were apartment buildings on each side of the streets. The apartments rose high above us. I felt so small. So many apartments, so many people in one little area.

The apartments directly across from us all had balconies. Some were filled with tables and chairs, bikes, or toys. Some had rugs hanging over the railing. Others had people chatting and sipping coffee. As I looked around at all the balconies, I felt like they represented the people who lived inside. I wondered about them, who they were and what they were like.

We don’t have to go halfway around the world to know that there are so many people in the world, so many people who need to know about God and know His love. I heard a pastor once say that every person has three major needs—to be valued, to be accepted, and to be adequate. Everyone wants to know that they are loved and valued, everyone wants to belong to someone else or to a group, and everyone wants to know that they’re able to handle what comes up in life. In God, those needs are met perfectly. He can also give us other people who will love us and accept us. But only in Him are our needs ultimately satisfied.

My favorite Bible verse is Psalm 107:9, which says, “For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (NKJV). Every person is born with a God-sized hole in their hearts, a hole that only He can fill. We have the opportunity and the privilege to tell others about God, who loves them so much and wants them to belong to His “forever family.” He is the One who can satisfy their hearts like no one else can. As we walk among the 7 billion people on the planet, may we remember that God cares about each one, including us. We may be 1 in 7 billion, but God knows who we are and He loves us. We can tell others about Him…that He knows and He cares.

“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3, NKJV).

*Population statistics come from “7 Population Milestones for 7 Billion People.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Movie Review: Courageous

The opening scene of the new movie Courageous shows the committed love of a father for his son. Throughout the movie, fathers realize the value of their role in their families, and they seek to be more devoted to their wives and children and more involved in their lives. I’ve never cried during a movie like I did during this one. It was hard to keep from crying during certain moving scenes. The depth of feeling of the characters was so real. And it was just as hard not to cry from laughing so hard at another scene. My favorite scenes include the little girl teaching her father how to dance, the “Snake King” threatening the drug pusher, and the main character running with his son.

Tragedy strikes Adam and his family, the main character who is played by Alex Kendrick, one of the writers of the screenplay. Adam’s response to the tragedy determines whether he will let an unexplainable circumstance drive him to anger and regret, or drive him closer to God. His choice affects his roles as father and husband. Adam’s response surprised me. He sought the counsel of his pastor who asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Adam’s answer set him on a course that changed the quality of life not only for his family, but for four other families and more. The resolution of one man moved other men to step up and take their responsibility and privilege seriously.

The call of this movie is for men to have the courage to stand up for what is right and to take an active role in the emotional and spiritual health of their families. But the call isn’t only for men. In our day and culture, God is looking for men and women who will let love lead them to invest in the lives of those around them. Courage backed by love is a powerful force for good in the world. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Am I courageous? Am I motivated by love to make a difference in the world around me?”

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Guide for Life

I saw her walking alone. A woman had come from the neighborhood across the street to walk in mine. We passed each other a couple of times; I was worried about her. I’ve had some near misses with the dogs in my neighborhood. The lady walked by herself, with no umbrella to shoo away the dogs and probably with no knowledge of which houses had dogs. I wanted to tell her to be careful of the house at the end of the street that had the golden retriever. And oh, the boxer is at the end of that cove. And, that house has two dogs that always bark when I pass by. But she had no guide to tell her where the possible dangers were. She was unaware of what surprises might be waiting for her along the way.

As we walk through life, we have a Guide, if we have a relationship with God. He knows where the possible dangers are, which paths to avoid, and where we need to tread softly. He also knows which paths will bring us joy and opportunities to do good. Some things might take us by surprise, but God always knows what will happen. We can trust Him, and He is ready to give us what we need to face each new situation. With God, we have a Guide for life that loves us and walks with us each day.

How does God guide us? By His word, by His Spirit, and by His eye. Psalm 32:8, one of my favorite verses, says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye” (NKJV). When we keep our focus on God and follow His lead, instead of our own reasoning, He will guide us into what is good. The last phrase of Psalm 32:8 refers to when a servant could just look at his master and know what he was thinking. With the wink of an eye, the master could tell his servant what to do.*

As we study Scripture more, we will know what our Master in heaven desires for us to do. God will help us to know which paths to walk in, as we keep our hearts set towards Him and our mind’s eye constantly fixed on Him. He will guide us continually, and make us whole and strong, satisfying our souls and strengthening our bones.

“The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11, NKJV

*Notes adapted from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, quoted in Phil Lindner, Power Bible CD. CD-ROM. Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2007.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Flying in the Wind

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25 NKJV).

This morning I watched the leaves fall as I was sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast. The red and yellow leaves seemed to be at the mercy of the wind. Wherever the wind was blowing, that’s where the leaves were sent. Then one leaf flew straight out of the tree, determined to go in a definite direction, not whirled about by the wind. I quickly realized that it was a bird.

Some of the winds of life seek to push us in directions we don’t want to go. The world pushes us to take on its ways, adversity pushes us to sadness or anger, and other people’s choices can break our hearts or crush our joy. Yet we make the ultimate choice of which direction we take in life. No matter what our circumstances are, our attitude determines the direction we pursue and how we respond to different things. We have the choice to live undaunted by worldly pressure or trying situations. We can respond to difficult circumstances and people with Godliness, still filled with God’s love, still filled with His hope.

In which direction are the winds trying to push you? Which direction does God have for you to take? The winds of life aren’t always bad. Sometimes they push us to draw closer to God, because we see our need of Him, His peace, and His strength. He enables us to “fly straight” in the wind, to keep to His course for our lives and to have grace and strength in difficult times. When we build our lives on His truth, we will be able to stand strong when the winds and the rain beat down on us. So depend on God who takes care of His children. Stay grounded in truth, and at the same time, mount up with “wings as eagles” (Isaiah 40:31 KJV). God enables us to rise above the world and troubles in victory.