I'm not sure why, but early this morning as I was sipping my coffee quietly, an out-of-the-blue question came to my mind: "What's the benefit of being a Christian?" Within 10 seconds, I came up with 5 reasons why I have chosen, by grace, to walk this daily path.
Read and rest in these truths with me:
Benefit 1: I have a place to "put my junk." So much of the time, the things I think, say, or do are just plain wrong, and I know it. The cross of Christ is the place I can pour out my mess, and then walk away clean. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1John 1:9
Benefit 2: I have a Wise Counselor. And, boy, do I need Him! The wonderful thing about Jesus is: He's always available, He's always right, and He's always free. Truly, His Word is flawless. With Him are wisdom and might; to Him belong counsel and understanding. Job 12:13
Benefit 3: I have a bigger purpose than myself. God wants more for me than this culture's unending, life-draining rat race. Instead, He desires to fill me with His incomprehensible love, and then in turn, He asks me to pour it out all over others. THIS is the true, adventurous, fulfilling life! Get yourself up on a high mountain... bearer of good news. Lift your voice mightily… bearer of good news; lift it up, do not fear. Say to (the people), "Here is your God!" Isaiah 40:9
Benefit 4: I have hope. When, not if, but when, life doesn't make sense, I can trust that God knows what He is doing. If I allow Him to work, then my trials can become the fertile soil of His blossoming glory so those around me will marvel and wonder why I have inexplicable strength, peace, and even joy. Now may the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Benefit 5: I am going to live forever. This life is a passing vapor compared to what is ahead for those who call Jesus Savior and Lord. For those who doubt eternal life, let me ask you this: If even man desires to end most of our entertainment with a "happily ever after" closure, why would God, creator of man, end life with disease, death, and decay? No, He is a much more redemptive Author than that! Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. I Peter 1:3-4
Believer or non-believer, ponder these God-breathed blessings and then consider agreeing with each one with a praising shout, "Amen!" Yes, today and tomorrow and forever, let us all rejoice in His rich benefits.
I have to say, Spring is my favorite season! However, when October rolls around, you might find me saying the same thing about fall. It’s a beautiful toss-up between the two.
In the cold silence of the long winter, it seems as if nothing is happening underneath the ground, no life, no fruit; everything is bare and bleak. But now, as the days are getting longer, the sun is shining brighter, and faint shades of color are attempting to make their entrance from the bushes and the trees, a bud appears, and there’s hope! Something was happening underneath the grave silence after all! Once again, God uses His creation to speak words of truth to our hearts…let’s take hope in what God is doing in our lives “behind the scenes”.
Are you in a place of waiting right now? Do you feel like there is no progress in your ongoing quiet struggle? I encourage you to look at the buds on a tree limb or flower. Learn from their beauty. Study how intriguing this stage is: a vessel of expectancy, a compression of hope, a bowl of pending brilliance. The bud is not quite developed enough to make its grand entrance onto Spring’s stage. The finishing touches of growth need to take place in its protective capsule. Underdeveloped, forced blossoming would only rob the flower of its deserved performance. Learn from the bud of a flower. Rest, mature, be patient; your time is coming.
As you wait to “blossom”, hear the Lord speak His truth to you:
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing. John 15:4-5
You are not alone in your maturing capsule, my friend. Your Creator is with you and knows exactly the right time for you to blossom.
Trust Him in the waiting, and then flourish in His most glorious appointed time.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.
I came across a very familiar story in the book of Mark and it caught my interest again, but in a new way.
The disciples were in a boat arguing with each other over which one of them forgot to pack the lunch for the trip; all they had with them in the boat was one loaf of bread…
Interestingly, Jesus, only hours before this boat-ride with his buddies, had miraculously fed 4,000 people with a mere seven loaves of bread. All the people ate and were satisfied. Jesus’ questions now to his hungry disciples were as follows,
Why are you talking about having no bread?
Do you still not see or understand?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?
And don’t you remember? (Mark 8: 17-19).
I am convicted by these questions because so often I am like the disciples: grumbling, doubting, not understanding, and forgetting. I’m thankful for the Lord’s patience towards the disciples, and I’m thankful for His patience towards me. Through this true story, He is teaching me to simply “be in the same boat with Him.” Just rest. He’s the Know It All, I’m not.
As I have envisioned this picture, I have found myself worrying less about the problems that I’m holding in my lap, and contemplating more on the One who is sailing along with me. This One happens to be the Creator of the sun and sky, and the Commander of the wind and the waves. And this One is sitting by my side? How Majestic and Merciful at the same time. With these thoughts, my heart softens, my eyes see more clearly, my ears hear more distinctly, and I begin to understand. Jesus is Lord of All!
As a result, the answers to His questions are met with my declarations:
*To even be in the same boat with Jesus is an honor. It is amazing grace.
*I must not forget who He is, nor forget the great things He has already done.
*I must keep my eyes fixed on Him, not on my problems at hand; because when the Captain of my boat has my heart’s devotion and my mind’s attention, He can then do impossible things through my simple loaf of bread.
My sister Peggy Lively and I just completed our 16th marathon in our 16th state. We have high hopes of completing one in all 50 states. We are often asked, "Why in the world are y'all doing this crazy thing?". Honestly, we just fell into it. Maybe I shouldn't use the word "fall" when talking about marathons. But truly, we've sorta gone into this adventure blindly (hmmm, another poor word for safely accomplishing 26.2 miles). Before my first marathon, I had never run in ANY race. Well, I do remember the three-legged race on field day in elementary school, and that wasn't very pretty, at all. Peggy and I can't explain it; something came over the both of us at the same time and within only minutes, we both decided to "just do it". And so, the 50 marathons in 50 states began.
With this being number "sweet sixteen", I took a moment to think about the marathons to date, and these are the things we have gained in this journey:
Togetherness. Our marathon weekends, believe it or not, are therapeutic for the both of us. We cover a lot of ground even sitting in our hotel room as we listen to each other's triumphs and trials of life. We laugh a lot, and we cry too. Also, throughout the weekend and the race, we pray for the particular state we are in. We pray for ministries, schools, communities, government, marriages, and families. The 26.2 miles cover not only the roads within the cities we walk, but our words reach heaven's throne with fervent faith. These extra long treks have helped me understand the meaning of "persevering in prayer" (from Eph. 6:18), and it helps me stay the course when I get back home.
Outreach. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). Both Peggy and I have come to realize that the marathon weekends are about much more than the 5 1/2 hour-ish trek on marathon day. It's about the people we meet (airplane passengers, hotel managers, marathon participants) and the friends and family we visit (old neighbors, nieces and nephews, ministry partners). I will not be able to express in a small paragraph the giant things God has done in and through our travels. Our hopeful goal each time we go to these cities is to spread the love of Christ and encourage others in their own personal journey. Just like a marathon, life is not a feel-good-all-the-time-experience, and if Peggy and I can help encourage someone even a little bit, we call it a successful weekend. In our different travels, we've met complete strangers and they are now dear friends. We've reconnected with people from years past. As a result, the blessings of these relationships have been immense. I'm excited for what's in store.
Adventure. I must add here that our dear mother sends Peggy and me off with some spending money each and every trip. Bless her for making these trips doable. She supports "our mission", which is real simple: live full, love well, and pray much. With that being said, who knew we would go to a World Series game in St.Louis, or see the Grand Canyon in AZ, or peer out into the Atlantic ocean in Maine, or go to the Dairy Queen in North Dakota? That's pretty awesome for this introvert who loves her comfy chair in the confines of her own four walls! I'm thankful for each of these trips and eager for more. God knew I needed to GET UP and GO FORWARD...to His people and to His world. I'm thankful for the privilege.
I finish these memorable moments with an encouraging word for your very own marathon of life. Hear the Forerunner say:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
Recently, I read two passages of Scripture that had the same idea in it, yet their meaning was completely opposite.
The first phrase is found in I Samuel 16:49 which speaks of David killing the giant Goliath:
And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.
The second phrase that caught my attention was when I flipped to the passage found in Ezekiel 1:26-28 which gives details of the prophet’s personal encounter with the glory of God:
…there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance…and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain…such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
How interesting…same posture of both the giant and the prophet, yet one face planted due to pride and the other due to humbled awe.
I guess the hard question I have to ask myself is this: which one of these men am I like in every day life? Do I call my own shots, make my own judgments, and plow forward with my own head-strong plans like Goliath intended to do? Or do I sit long enough with the Lord to meditate on His majesty, that is marvelously transposed with His mercy, to where the only thing I can do is, like Ezekiel, fall on my face in response to His glory and grace?
As we know, things did not end well with the prideful giant. Enough said. But with the humble prophet, bowing low was just the beginning:
And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet and I will speak to you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet…” (Ezekiel 2:1)
May you and I be more like Ezekiel today. Let’s bow before our Creator and wait to hear His voice. And then, when we do hear him, let’s be ready to stand on our feet and do exactly what He says, filled with His power, doing all for His glory.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:10
Many years ago, I bought some daylily bulbs from a friend of a dear friend. I picked a special place in my backyard near a stone wall to plant them; and then, I waited. The first bloom was a huge celebratory moment for me (I do NOT have a green thumb in the least, so anything that grows in my yard is a minor miracle). Now, every summer I look forward to the re-birthing of these radiant flowers.
What’s crazy to me is that this flower’s bloom only lasts one day, hence the name day-lily. It’s as if this particular plant embraces this fact however, and puts a hundred percent of its beauty into the time it has been allotted. These brick red, butter yellow, and melon orange blossoms splay themselves open unashamedly, shouting “Beautiful!” and “Majestic!” and “Glory!” in the designated place that they have been planted. Scripture uses the blossoming flower as an anology to teach us:
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” I Peter 1:23-25
So, when studying the temporal flower alongside the above scripture, a wise, yet convicting question can be, What am I doing with my days? Am I shouting “Beautiful”, and “Majestic”, and “Glory” in my designated place?
Be challenged by the Creator of both the fleeting flower and your seeking soul. Take in His word, the imperishable seed, and choose to hear it, and heed it. And then, without fail, you will not only be living in this world radiantly but also at some point, leaving this world triumphantly, having impacted it for eternity. And this my friend, is a major miracle.
Teach us to number our days, that we may enter the heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
I will stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of God! And I will praise the Lord, for it is good; I will sing praises to the Lord for it is lovely.- Psalm 135:2-3
Dear Lord, make our hearts a sanctuary of praise to your sweet name. What a beautiful name it is! You are good, you are righteous, you are holy! You are gracious, you are forgiving, you are compassionate...there is no end to You. Mere words are not enough! May we sing of your love and your name all the day long. Amen