Busy Bodies

Eph5-16--AMP

Busy Bodies

By Patricia Knight

To qualify that we live in a society comprised of busy people is an understatement of major proportions. Frantic to the point of distraction may be a more appropriate consequence of the activities that crowd our lives. We are proficient at multi-tasking. Dates on our calendars are filled months in advance. We are slaves of the ever-ticking clock, attuned to a shrieking alarm each morning. We are tethered to a cell phone and addicted to texting, both alerting us to instant updates of personal and newsworthy nature. 

Whether we tap our toes to the beat of music or an engineer calculates the exact orbit of a space rocket, we function in a time-space perimeter. Work weeks are identified by specific hours. The world is divided into established time zones; multiple time pieces line airport walls, identifying current hours for each country on an international scale. Clocks and calendars are integral components of our daily lives.

Do we feel the stranglehold of time commitments threatening our sanity like a speeding train out of control? We are finite beings; our time is limited, prompting us to use every hour to its full advantage. “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time” (Ephesians 5:16, NAS). We are instructed to walk paths of spiritual wisdom, looking toward Jesus, revealing the urgency of our time and the necessity of obediently serving God each day.

Have you ever wondered how God manages His time? He maintains the solar system, answers incessant prayers, solves myriad crises, assigns angels to divine message delivery, interacts with believers, fulfills prophesies, and restrains Satan, just a smattering of our Lord’s functions. God is bound to neither clock nor calendar, exclusively human devices.  “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8-9). God has an eternity behind Him and another in the future. Why should He hurry? Though our Lord could have created the world within seconds by merely issuing a decree, He purposely savored the experience, accomplishing miraculous handiwork each day for a week.

Our heavenly Father is patient with His children. He is delaying future prophesied events to provide the opportunity for everyone, everywhere, to come to know Jesus personally. God is long-suffering, tenderly waiting for all people to respond to His unconditional love, constantly involved in our lives, everywhere present simultaneously.

Do we envision our prayers stacked up in a heavenly e-mail file, waiting for God to read in chronological order? “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139: 4;13-16). Our Creator knew each of us before we were born, He formed each individual, watched over the development of each cell in utero, and is now intimately familiar with each life. God has full view into our hearts, aware of every thought and intent, knowledgeable of the words we will say before tongues utter them.

God is immortal and infinite. He existed in eternity past and He will live forevermore. There is no need for Him to count minutes or days. He alone created time and matter. Our heavenly Father designed, created, and now maintains the entire universe. He accomplishes everything with patient purpose. Our Lord is immutable, not subject to change. His character is inconsistent with errors, displaying only purity and holiness. We are commanded, “Be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15), set apart, separated from sin and impurity, and devoted to God.

Ps118-24--AMP

Since we aren’t going to change our time-oriented world, how can we attain a more God-like approach to daily life? This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). We are commanded to “pray without ceasing” (Ephesians 6:18), “rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4), and to offer “thanksgiving in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), thereby adopting Jesus’ priorities.

God is our Protector. “He who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:3; 7-8). Our Lord is the unsleeping guardian of our souls, the One in whom we are commanded to confidently place our trust.

In our time-space framework, we confront limits. Because we are finite, we must be cognizant of clocks and calendars to responsibly manage our predetermined amount of time each day. Not one of us possesses the ability to be all things to all people at all times. Only God is described as omnipotent, all-powerful; omniscient, all-knowledgeable; omnipresent, responsive to everyone at one time. Our heavenly Father is infinite, with no limits to His presence or His person. He is timeless—eternal.

It is impossible for our mortal minds to grasp the idea of timelessness. Eternity is not an abstract term that describes a place somewhere out in the fuzzy hereafter. Eternal is a Person who was incarnated to live among us on earth. The Son of God taught us of His Father’s faithfulness and of His trustworthy promises. Jesus Christ is eternal; He has no end. As co-heirs with Christ, believers inherit the gift of eternal life that our Savior sacrificially earned for us on the cross of Calvary.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples after He arose from the dead, His resurrection body was not constrained by time or travel, unrestricted by walls or doors. He appeared and reappeared at will. When we live eternally with our Savior in heaven, the time-space limits we now experience will disappear; not a clock or a calendar will be needed. What a magnificent reward eternity will be for believers currently bound by finite obstacles.

King David wrote Psalm 31 during terrifying times when his enemies conspired against him using such overt, powerful intimidation tactics, David’s friends abandoned him. Even so, David admitted, “’I trust in you, O Lord,’ I say, ‘you are my God. My times are in your hands’” (Psalm 31: 14-15). Like David, do we desire to place our time and our lives in the Almighty’s capable hands, with unwavering trust against powerful enemies and unknown forces, relying implicitly on His faithfulness and power? Earthly time produces significant consequences when God’s characteristics permeate our lives. Readily accept the reputation as a busy body for Christ!

Divine Protector

If the Lord delights in a man’s way he makes his steps firm;
though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.
—Psalm 37:23-24

Divine Protector

By Patricia Knight

Following our son’s tonsil and adenoid surgery at age seven, one of his young friends presented him with a spider plant as a get-well gift. On the upper window frame above our son’s bed, a bracket was mounted from which to suspend the plant. It flourished in the sunshine and within months required transplanting into a larger pot.  

One night before his dad and I retired, we entered our son’s room to check on him. What a terrifying sight met us! Our son was sleeping peacefully on his back, buried in dirt. Wet, clumpy potting soil was scattered over his body. What dirty chaos!

It appeared our son sustained no bodily damage, but we awakened him to check his mental alertness. One of us gave him a midnight bath while the other vacuumed his bed and floor and changed his bed sheets. Piecing together the events, it was apparent the plant had grown too heavy for its support system. After pulling away from the wall, the heavy pot then dropped, careened off the upper shelf of the bookcase headboard, smashed the pot, and disgorged its contents directly onto our son. We gently brushed the clinging soil away from our child’s face and eyes, impressing upon us just how tragic the accident could have been. A concussion or a skull fracture may have resulted had the plant pot crashed into his head instead of the shelf, only inches away.

Once we determined our son was unhurt and alert, we viewed the scene with far less panic and much more gratitude. Decades later, whenever that memory flashes onto our mental screens, we are grateful for our son’s divine protection from injury. We thank God profusely for His miraculous deliverance.

Imagine how many times each day God oversees and protects our lives. There are instances when we are fully aware of God’s actions to shield us from catastrophes. But what of the times when we are oblivious to God’s interventions to protect us?  Often we are divinely deterred from potentially perilous scenarios before they impact our lives. “If the Lord delights in a man’s way he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24).

Pharaoh refused to emancipate the Israelite slaves. After Moses’ repeated negotiations failed, God inflicted all of Egypt with ten increasingly horrendous plagues, while safeguarding His own people from collateral damage. God then freed the Israelites to walk away from their captors. When Pharaoh realized the ramifications of losing his entire slave workforce, he and his army pursued them. “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians marching toward them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10).The marchers were trapped between the expanse of the Red Sea in front and the Egyptian chariots behind. 

Only a few hours before, the Israelites had witnessed God’s mighty hand creating disaster among the Egyptians while preserving their own lives. In spite of their disbelief, God was faithful. A million or more people walked on a dry path as God divided the sea, forcing walls of water up each side of the walkway. The Egyptian army followed directly behind them on the dry Red Sea bed. Precisely when the last Hebrew reached the far shore, God returned the Red Sea to its normal configuration. The walls of water crashed down, sweeping Egyptian horses, chariots and their riders beneath the sea forever. “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” ( Exodus 14:31). They sang and praised God for His great love and mighty power, vowing to follow and fear Him in the future.

The Israelites were suddenly free of servitude for the first time in four hundred years. God had heard their cries of oppression and He responded with miraculous deliveries that only He could orchestrate. One month had passed since their exodus from Egypt and the nations’ walk through the Red Sea. Then, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt’” (Exodus 16:2-3). They reflected on the good food available in Egypt, accusing Moses of leading them into the desert to starve.

Although God had shielded and delivered His people, as soon as the immediate danger had passed, doubt and fear transformed their attitudes to bitterness. How quickly they forgot the miracles and blessings of God! Their faith was shallow; their motives selfish. How fickle we humans are! We are inclined to forsake God due to fear and complain to Him when faced with challenges. Yet, God is always faithful, protecting us and advocating for us.

Many of the trials the Israelites endured during their wilderness walk were tests God used to determine their faith. His purpose was to strengthen their trust and to draw them close to Him through unquestionable submission and obedience. But the Israelites usually opted for the path of least resistance. They found it easier to complain than obey; grumbling was effortless. Obedience requires energy and discipline. The Apostle Paul admonishes us, “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). Being discontent with God’s will leads to unbelief.

We may resemble the ungrateful Israelites more than we care to admit. When was the last time we glorified God for specific and constant protection? When we narrowly avoid an accident, is one of our first responses to thank God for shielding us from danger? Let us praise Him for our lives of spiritual prosperity and protection!

“I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Psalm 57:1). David sought safety in a cave when King Saul relentlessly pursued him. We know David wrote Psalm 57 while sequestered in a cave, but we don’t know if he viewed avian life in a nest tucked into the crevice of the rock. Perhaps as David observed a mother bird’s protective instincts shielding her offspring beneath her wings, he was inspired to write the metaphor of God’s great protection and power when He shelters us, unencumbered from the perils of this world. The bird and her hatchlings may have provided the object lesson, illustrating God’s protective character.

God grants strength during trials,
not immunity that spares them from happening,
so that His glory and splendor are exalted by our worship.
In His shielding sanctuary, our Lord is our refuge and fortress.
Snuggle beneath God’s protective wings in your time of need.
What a privilege, to be sheltered by the sovereign hand of God!

Storms of Life

Storms of Life

By Patricia Knight

Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your feet from being snared.
—Proverbs 3:25-26

The sky was camouflaged by black blankets of menacing storm clouds, warning of impending turmoil over coastal waters. So defeated were the roiling, crashing ocean waves that even the raucous calls of the seabirds were subdued. The wind hushed. Shoreline trees stood at focused attention, awaiting a signal. Undeniable calm and quiet prevailed. Surely a gargantuan storm was threatening to eviscerate the tightly sutured clouds with scintillating bolts of lightning.

Then mysteriously, tiny holes of blue light peeped through the grotesque yellow-black storm clouds. The potential pandemonium lessened with every tiny slice of light. Without a crack of lightning or a drop of rain, fissures of blue sky opened among the disturbances. It took little time for the entire sky to transform. Soon puffy white clouds bounced around on a cerulean blue trampoline.

“Caw, Caw,” rejoiced avian life. Gradually all appearances and activities normalized as if no threats once loomed. The clouds rolled back as a scroll, quickly revealing the beautifully clear firmament beneath. The dark, menacing clouds would hover over the deep ocean waters again, but not today.

There are times when similar gloomy, black clouds stall over our lives, transforming our positive demeanor into negative attitudes. Fear and anxiety rule our decision-making. Frustration and anger take precedent. Like so many times when we’ve been inconvenienced by a situation beyond our control, the approaching storm paralyzes our mental reactions, convincing us of the worst possible outcome. When ineptness overwhelms us, failure often ensues, forcing us to merely hunker down until the threat has passed. We are assured, “Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your feet from being snared” (Proverbs 3:25-26).

Joseph was born in Jacob’s old age and was greatly loved and favored over his other siblings. His brothers were insanely jealous of Joseph because of Jacob’s favoritism, accentuated by their father’s gift of a richly ornamental robe. When Joseph’s dreams revealed that his brothers would eventually bow down to worship him, animosity grew more extreme.

Joseph was seventeen years old when his brothers plotted to kill him (Genesis 37:19). Instead, they stripped him of his multi-colored coat and threw him into an empty well. When Midianite traders passed by, the brothers sold Joseph as a slave. Potiphar, the captain of the guard for the Egyptian king, purchased him for palace duty for twenty shekels of silver. “From the time he {Potiphar} put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph” (Genesis 39:5).

One day Joseph was accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Into prison Joseph went for two long years, seemingly forgotten. Even while in prison, God protected His faithful servant, putting him in a position of leadership over his fellow prisoners.

Such tragedies as Joseph experienced in his young life might tend to destroy a weaker man’s faith, but Joseph’s strength grew as he learned to depend upon God for all of his needs. Jesus taught, “ ‘Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered’” (Matthew 10:30). Surely, if our Lord makes it a point to know such intimate details about His children, we are assured that He loves us, cares for us, and that He is constantly moving in our lives to accomplish His purpose. “‘Because he loves me’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in times of trouble. I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation’” (Psalms 91:14-15).

Joseph was put in charge of collecting grain supplies during the seven years of plenty when Egypt had carefully stockpiled their rich harvests. Joseph then approved the sale of grain to their starving neighbors as famine ravaged the known world during the following seven years, leading to a reunion and reconciliation with his siblings, who had planned his demise twenty years earlier. Though Joseph had suffered injustice and humiliation, he didn’t harbor bitterness toward his brothers. His faith was firmly planted in a God who guided his entire life.

“Shout for joy, O earth; burst into song, O mountain!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (Isaiah 49:13).

Joseph forgave his brothers when he revealed his identity to them through tears of joy. “ ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold to Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. But God sent me here to preserve a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance’” (Genesis 45: 4-5, 7). God’s ultimate mission for sending Joseph to a foreign country was to establish the nation of Israel in Egypt and to use the famine to reunite Joseph’s family.

Does adversity create mental chaos and meltdowns in your life?  Suffering affliction can either turn our thoughts upward toward God or inward toward self-pity. We are assured by God, “ ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’  So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”  (Hebrews 13: 5-6). Joseph’s life demonstrates God’s faithfulness.

Like Joseph, let us depend upon God, the faithful One, who has kept every promise from the beginning of time. Faith is not based on ragged emotions borne on desperation, but on trust and confidence. God loves us so unconditionally, He sent His only Son to die for our sins, granting forgiveness for our many temporary lapses in faith over a lifetime. Joseph forgave his brothers for an inhumane act that surely would have led to a slow, agonizing death until God converted the injustice to His sovereign purposes. 

The initial clamor of the atmospheric storm over the ocean initially created fear and havoc, but gradually the development of a full-fledged storm system was replaced with a tranquil sky. How many storms in our lives begin with boisterous, threatening circumstances, but as we pray and trust, God works out the details, calming our spirits.  When we give our fears to Jesus, we routinely experience blue skies of peace lingering on the horizon of our emotions. Our perspective is modified as we view life through the lens of Almighty God, who is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV).

Take Jesus on every excursion of life. He is the only one in whom to solidly place your trust for all of the big and little problems that assail. “He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him” (Proverbs 2:8, NLT)

Faithful, Fabulous Promises

Faithful, Fabulous Promises

By Patricia Knight

On Resurrection Sunday, Jesus approached two men walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. When He joined the duo, He noticed their sad countenances and detected they were raptly engaged in conversation. When Jesus walked beside Cleopas and his friend, neither recognized their Master’s resurrection body.

Jesus questioned them about their comments regarding occurrences around Jerusalem in the past few days, so the men assumed He was a stranger. The men were incredulous that the stranger hadn’t heard the news. Such a verbal exchange of current events would be comparable in our day to interrupting a conversation between two people excitedly discussing the first moon landing, while the entire world was abuzz with the chatter. So it was two centuries ago around Jerusalem: all conversation surrounded the local news of how the Jewish religious leaders handed Jesus over to be sentenced to death. They crucified Him as King of the Jews and buried Him in a borrowed tomb.

Cleopas characterized his Master to the stranger:  “‘A prophet powerful in word and deed before God and all people…we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel’” (Luke 24:19,21). It is likely Cleopas meant the Israelites were hopeful Jesus would militarily mount a coup to defeat the Romans, establishing the kingdom of God. Now it seemed all hope was dashed.

Cleopas also lamented that women who were at the garden tomb early that morning found Jesus’ tomb empty, with the stone at the entrance rolled away. They met angels there who reported their Master was alive. Though other disciples confirmed the women’s story, no one had seen Jesus.

If only the men had known that Jesus himself was the stranger with whom they were speaking and witnessing in the flesh!  “Then Jesus said to them, ‘You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?’ Then Jesus took them through all the writings of Moses and all the prophets explaining from Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27,NLT).

The two men invited the stranger to dine with them that evening. As Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them, then their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31). Their recognition was more than mental recall: their eyes suddenly developed spiritual sight to discern what divine intervention had previously prevented them from knowing. Their hearts were suddenly on fire with the familiarity of their Master’s characteristic love and divine authority. When a mortal interacts with the immortal, a change of heart naturally occurs.

At the moment the men’s hearts and minds acknowledged Him, Jesus disappeared from their presence. Immediately the duo walked back to Jerusalem to announce to the eleven disciples that they had met their Savior after His resurrection. When the two men finally arrived to join the other disciples, “while they were still talking, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (Luke 24:36).

Imagine the advantage of having a camera mounted inside the Emmaus Café to record body language, the utter wonder and amazement registered on the men’s faces when they suddenly discerned Jesus’ true identity. Or if Jesus had been equipped with a listening device in his tunic pocket, their entire conversation would have been captured for all posterity.

But wait! There was no need for modern technology to preserve the interaction of the resurrected Savior and His devout followers. God has equipped us with his written Word filled with inspired dialogue and prophecies. The Old Testament is interspersed with myriad covenants promising a future Messiah. The Magi who followed the supernatural star in the east were apprised of an ancient prophecy that the King of the Jews would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The prophet Isaiah described the Savior’s humble beginnings, His divine ministry, and His amazing triumph over sin and suffering as the Lamb of God, centuries before Jesus’ incarnation on earth (Isaiah 53).

Our heavenly Father is faithful, sharing His most vital plans with His children. His integrity is impeccable; what God promises, He delivers, even when a covenant is established centuries in advance. Every detail is meticulously followed with no last minute changes. Many prophesies have already come to pass, exact in every detail as the Lord specified through His prophets. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

With such numerous promises from Almighty God, we need only open our Bibles to access the prophecies that assure us of a marvelous future spent in heaven in the presence of our Savior. Although we anticipate the grandeur of heaven, worshipping our Savior face-to-face, we need not wait until then to celebrate a daily walk with Jesus.

Consider the staggering reaction of Cleopas and his friend, whose downcast spirits were suddenly exalted to a pinnacle of emotional triumph when the truth of Jesus’ identity was revealed. Take heart; God still promises unsurpassed victory to believers today. “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). A new age of grace and mercy was initiated when Jesus suffered and died for us. All of God’s plans for His Son, who willingly accepted His role in the salvation of mankind, were carried out as prophesied.

How do we plan to respond to Jesus? As Cleopas and his friend did, with wonder, amazement and action, or do we shrug Him away with disinterest, thinking matters of the world are more important? Jesus is patiently waiting for you to seek Him. Let us follow the disciple’s example, who upon learning of Jesus’ true identity, prayed with Him, loved him, served Him, and sought every opportunity to tell others that their Messiah had come. In light of Jesus’ sacrifice and the fulfillment of His faithful, fabulous promises, how can we offer any less than our love and our lives to Him?

Worrywart or #Worry Not

Worrywart or Worry Not

By Patricia Knight

As recorded in the Old Testament, Abraham and Sarah lived in the advanced civilization in Ur of the Chaldeans when God asked them to leave their comfortable home, family, and friends to follow Him. They unhesitatingly obeyed God and traveled to an unknown land for an unspecified period of time, giving up all things familiar for an obscure future.

The couple worshipped God faithfully and He blessed them with wealth, expansive land holdings, and burgeoning animal herds. God himself was Abraham’s greatest treasure. God promised him further greatness, but Abraham questioned what God could possibly give him of value since he had no heir to inherit his estate. What Abraham and Sarah desired most was a son, but Sarah had remained barren all of her life.  God then promised the couple an heir and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and sand on the seashore.

Years passed without the promised child. Both Abraham and Sarah were aging. Abraham was 85 years old; Sarah, 75. Were they worried? Though the Bible doesn’t specify such a reaction, we can assume both fear and worry were involved. Wondering if God had forgotten His covenant to them, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Abraham fathered a son, Ishmael, with their maidservant, Hagar. For the purpose of producing a male heir, such an arrangement was acceptable in their society, but Abraham and Sarah had blatantly disobeyed God’s law. The Lord’s characteristics of purity and holiness made it impossible for Him to renege on His promises. It was important they learned that their God was unequivocally faithful.

When Abraham was one hundred years old, angels visited, promising him that Sarah would give birth to their own son within a year. It had been fifteen years since the initial promise, sufficient time to worry about how, when, or if God’s promise would come to fruition. When God’s prophecy was concluded, all details were fulfilled exactly as He promised. Because the couple had irresponsibly implemented their own plan by ignoring God’s covenant, animosity arouse between the two sons, Isaac and Ismael, extending to all future generations of their descendants, the Israelites and the Arabs.

Worry is mental distress or agitation usually resulting from a pending or an anticipated situation. One pundit explains: “Worry is useless. If you worry that a bad thing is going to happen, and then it does, you’ve been through it twice” (Anon). Who wants double trouble?  Most of us practice discipline in areas affecting our health, and yet we implement worry, a health wrecking ball. Worry compromises our spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being, displacing the peace of God.

Worship and worry are mutually exclusive; they repel like similar poles of a magnet. Worry is a spiritual handicap that casts doubt on the sincerity of our Christian faith. If we profess to trust our loving God, who plans every aspect of our lives, and we worry about how the features of every day are going to develop, what does that communicate about our commitment to our Lord? As Jesus taught His disciples, “‘You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule’” (Matthew 5:3, Msg.). Why do we always wait until we are desperate to call upon God?

Worrying reveals selfishness of character, a need to have one’s own way. When we allocate our time to fretting about circumstances over which we have no control, we waste precious moments that could be spent in prayer and Bible study, both drawing us closer to God.

The Apostle Paul understood the human tendency to spiral downward as we focus on worry during stress, grief, or emergencies. He advised, “‘Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life’” (Philippians 4:6-7, Msg.). Paul urges us to concentrate our minds on things with eternal value and release our worry through prayer, leading us into deeper spiritual territory where God transform us with power and grace.

Anxiety is created from the incapacity to deal with worrisome details. If we feel we must continually ruminate an issue, God provides the productive alternative: 

“Cast all your cares upon him {the Lord}, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

The ideal remedy involves admitting our sin of disobedience, asking forgiveness, and giving God preeminence in all areas of our lives. Jesus asks, “‘Can your worries add a single moment to your life?’” (Matthew 6:27, NLT).

Worry stalls the growth and development of our personal relationship with God. Jesus advises that we not worry about what we eat, drink, or wear. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the kingdom of God above all else; and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:32-33, NLT). We have all of God’s promises before us in his Word. Like Abraham and Sarah, do we catch ourselves worrying about God’s timeline and jump ahead of His plans for our lives?

Jesus is the Prince of Peace, who gives wholeness and well-being to those who trust in Him. Peace is the tranquility of spirit believers experience when they commit their troubles to God in prayer and worry about them no longer. Jesus is engaged in the business of transforming insecure lives of worry to the enduring stability of peace. He cultivates peace in individual lives. Depend upon Jesus always and in all ways! Forsake fickle, frail worry for Jesus’ promise of peace!

Mud, Fun, and Worship

Mud, Fun, and Worship

By Patricia Knight

One drenching rainy day in the summertime our toddler son teased to play outside. Finally I relented and dressed him in his long rubber-coated pants, his rain jacket, hood, and boots, wondering if he could possibly move in such restrictive clothing.

Never underestimate the will of a toddler! Our son possessed the tenacious energy of most children his age. He grabbed his bicycle and rode it the length of our driveway, braking abruptly before reaching his boundary. In the narrow strip of land dividing adjoining house lots, a large, shallow mud puddle had formed. It was at that spot where he parked his bicycle with the training wheels straddling the murky circle.

He hopped onto the bicycle seat, then leaned his body forward into a horse jockey’s riding position, and peddled with all the muscle power his little legs could amass. His frantic peddling produced a cascading arc of thick mud, slathering slime all over his body like a spouting geyser. My little boy had been transformed into a chocolate Easter bunny replica, with only his white teeth exposed through a wide, satisfied grin. He was immersed in childhood ecstasy, and enjoyed sitting at the center of a mud blizzard, loving every minute of the onslaught.  

It is no surprise that Jesus instructed us to maintain child-like faith in Him. When His disciples assumed that little children encircling Jesus were usurping their Master’s limited time, He reminded them of the value of all children: “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’” (Matthew 21:16). Children naturally know how to laugh and play with unprecedented joy as they explore the wonders of their surroundings. Verbal squealing reveals their delirious delight, as they express bubbly glee with each new discovery. Almighty God, whose glory and authority remains on display throughout heaven and earth, gladly accepts the exalted praise of playful children.

Centuries ago, when a remnant of God’s people returned from a seventy-year exile in Babylon, their long separation from everything familiar left them with spiritual apathy reflected in disobedience, doubt, and disdain for the worship of their Lord. God assigned His prophet, Malachi, the task of confronting the Israelites with their sins and guiding them into a renewed enthusiastic, committed relationship with their heavenly Father.

And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall” (Malachi 4:2). Utilizing a vivid mental picture of frisky, frolicking animals released from the confinement of an enclosed pen, Malachi attempted to instill renewed passion, eagerness, and exhilaration into his countrymen’s lifestyle and worship.

2 Samuel 6:1-22 provides a graphic description of King David vivaciously dancing in the street. It was no ordinary occasion. Years earlier, the ark of God, the physical representation of God’s presence in Israelite worship, had been confiscated by their enemies, the Philistines. When King David located the ark, he immediately arranged for it to be reclaimed and transported to the temple. As the ark was ceremoniously carried through the streets of Jerusalem, David could no longer contain his excitement.  With grateful animation, “he danced before the Lord with all of his might while he and the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets” (2 Samuel  6:14-15).

King David jubilantly offered a spontaneous gesture of praise to his gracious Lord when he performed his solo dance. Because God knows the intent of our hearts, it is apparent He approved of the King’s unapologetic zeal in celebrating the return of the ark of the covenant, a constant reminder that God resided in their midst, encouraging a zealous expression of worship. David’s impetuous dance must have resembled the unpenned calves’ leap of joy in Malachi 4:2.

David’s wife, Michal, criticized what she considered an immoral act, calling her husband vulgar. David responded, “‘In God’s presence I’ll dance all I want! I’ll dance to God’s glory more recklessly even than this. And as far as I’m concerned, I’ll gladly look the fool…I’ll be honored to the end’” (2 Samuel 6:20-22, The Msg.) Michal was a sourpuss, and like her father, King Saul, a victim of jealousy and bitterness. She represented the opposite attitude of her husband, King David, who defended his courageous dance of ecstasy to honor the return of the ark of God.

Contrary to the world’s view of Christianity as a negative religion consisting primarily of “thou shalt not” regulations, there exists undeniable freedom in following Jesus. Christ himself said, “‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10, KJV). It is God’s plan that His children live an unsurpassed, fullness of life secured by Jesus at Calvary.

“Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad, let the sea abound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing with joy” (Psalm 96:11-12). Is there any reason we should not join all of creation in praise to our Creator?

Perhaps a playful mud bath, kicking up your heels, or dancing in a street parade offend your worship preferences. If so, contemplate approaches to glorify Jesus with heartfelt jubilation. Or follow the example of my friend who surprised me by answering my recent phone call not with a typical “hello” greeting, but by belting out the Hallelujah chorus, an unequivocal reminder for both of us to praise God for an extravagant, abundant life.

May we join the Psalmist expressing exultation for God’s rich blessings!

I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart.
I’m writing the book on your wonders.
I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy;
I’m singing your song, High God”
(Psalm 9:1-2,The Msg.).

Perilous Poison

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The warning, “leaves of three, let them be,” is good advice when approaching unfamiliar plants. Poison ivy is a vine that possesses three potentially dangerous leaves.

As a young girl walking to school each day, I detoured around a large elm tree growing adjacent to the sidewalk. I gave the tree a wide berth due to the prolific poison ivy vines winding around the trunk. I had heard horror stories of the reactions people contracted from touching poison ivy. I’d also heard it rumored that some individuals could be exposed to poison ivy without experiencing an adverse response. Each day when I walked past that mass of vines swirling around the tree, I wondered which poison ivy theory applied to me. The suspense was more than I could tolerate. One spring day I broke off several leaves, crushed them in my hands, and rubbed them on every exposed area of my skin.

Occasionally children are guilty of impetuous, irresponsible behavior, unfamiliar with the art of predicting consequences for their actions. Fortunately, I was unaffected by the poison ivy rub down, causing me to conclude that I would be one of the few who were immune to the toxic effects of poison ivy for life. Had I possessed the courage to admit my reckless experiment to an adult, I may have learned that the first reaction to poison ivy merely exposes the immune system to a new substance. If I were confronted with the tainted chemicals again in the future, the urushiol oil on the plant would cause an immediate response.

Later in life, I accidentally brushed against poison ivy leaves in the woods while clearing brush. It wasn’t long before an itchy, red rash developed. Poison ivy was the farthest diagnosis from my mind due to my neutral childhood experience. The second exposure triggered my immune system to recognize the chemical and it produced an allergic reaction. By the time I sought medical evaluation three weeks later, the rash was profusely covering my limbs. The itching was so intense, I couldn’t sleep at night, eventually requiring aggressive medical intervention to treat the tenacious rash.

Urushiol oil is the poisonous chemical of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac plants. Brushing against the berries, flowers, roots, or stems of the poisonous plants leaves a smear of oil on skin, clothing, garden tools, or heavy equipment, remaining viable on those items for years, even surviving freezing temperatures.

There are many other poisons in our lives that carry the potential for causing greater harm than poison ivy, leaving permanent scars and sometimes irreversible damage. What instills more fear than poisonous snakes, the venom of which may cause nerve paralysis within minutes?

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No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil,
full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

Expressed alternately, “This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—It’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image” (James 3:8, The Msg.).

When a friend’s confidence is betrayed, poison has been emitted from the tongue. Some people feel they can justify “a little white lie.” However, the color of a lie has never been determined.

The Lord detests lying lips,
but he delights in men who are truthful” (Proverbs 12:22).

Our tongues can be  dangerous muscles, spouting harmful poison. Unlike poison ivy, the vitriol a tongue spews is not always reversible. Its poison multiplies in creative, unimaginable ways.

Poisonous plants should never be burned in an inside fireplace or an outside bonfire.  Urushiol oil attaches to smoke particles that can be breathed, causing swelling of the respiratory tract,  compromising breathing, or perhaps shutting down respiratory muscles. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire; a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire” (James 3:5-6).

An area of forest desecrated by a raging inferno is a chilling sight, killing every living thing in the vicinity. Fire annihilates, toppling giant trees, displacing wildlife, and destroying underground plant roots as it paints the surrounding environment black, the color of death. The ruinous effects of a consuming blaze cannot be reversed for decades, much the same as the destructive injury caused by sinister words. Damage remains both in the path of a fire or gossiping words, frequently lost to redesign forever. “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” (Proverbs 26:20).

“Rumors are the vehicles that turn life into a demolition derby, and gossip and slander are the tracks on which they travel. The tracks of gossip and slander are paved with careless, idle chatter as well as the malicious intentional sharing of bad reports…..Having a tongue is like having dynamite in our dentures—it must be reckoned with” (Tongue in Check by Joseph M. Stowell).

If I had known poison ivy was potentially dangerous, I would have learned to recognize and avoid the trifoliate plant. Our words function in much the same manner. If we monitor our negative emotions, admitting that anger, jealousy, and bitterness have the potential to inflict immeasurable heartache, we might be motivated to hone our ability to control hostile verbal outbursts. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

Have you ever wanted to retract a comment you made in haste, but instead of apologizing, you offer the feckless excuse, “ I was only thinking out loud?” Thinking is purely a mental function. Once uttered, our thoughts have been transformed into words. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Soothing, comforting words serve as a balm to heal.

From the inside out—our heart to our tongue—our inner monologue is filtered.  Noble words are first purified mentally. Only God can assist with such an important mission, as we pray in humility and obedience:

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).