The Big Little Word “If”

If

Definition of if

a – in the event that
b – allowing that
c – on the assumption that
d – on condition that
Doing a study on 1 John in the Bible, I noticed how many times John used the word “if.”  That started me thinking about all the “ifs” in the Word of God.  It seems to me that there are many promises of God that we claim without taking into account the “if” that is associated with it.
It is clear that we can never earn our salvation.  We can never do enough good on our own to earn that gift of eternal life.  John 3:16 makes it clear that if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, he grants us forgiveness and eternal life.  Paul the Apostle also stated very plainly in Ephesians 2:8-9 that:
 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
But once we begin that walk with the Lord, it is clear that if our relationship is to grow and we are to develop as true disciples, there are conditions to be met.
The “ifs” seem to indicate that there is something required from us.  How we respond to these “ifs” will determine our receiving from God what He has offered.
Here are just a few for you to consider:

For IF you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…Matthew 6:14

forgiveness

We talk a lot about how God forgives us if we ask.  But we must remember that forgiveness is tied to our forgiving others.

IF you are faithful to what I have said, you are truly my disciples…John 8:31

OObeying Word

So — if we are not faithful to God’s Word, how can we claim to be His disciple?  And how can we be faithful to His Word, if we never read it, never study it, never really know what it says?

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, IF you love one another…John 13:35

 

One another

Interesting – the mark of a disciple according to Jesus is not all the great sacrifices we might make, the many talents we might use, but the love that we have for others.

IF anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our abode with him…John 14:23

obeying

We love to talk about desiring the presence of the Lord in our life, in our family, in our church.  Many of our worship songs are all about how much we love God.  But again, that big little word “if” says we only really love God and we only can expect His presence, if we keep His Word.

One of the biggest IF’s I think is found in Matthew 16:24

IF anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.

cross

Again, we love to talk about our commitment to Christ, but we are only committed when we truly deny our-self, take up the cross and follow Christ.  The idea about a cross is really lost to most in our society.  To us a cross is a decoration on the wall of the church or on the steeple.  It is a piece of jewelry we wear or hang on the wall of our home.  But to the society to which Jesus spoke these words, the cross represented death.  To truly follow Jesus requires a willingness to die to our own desires and be led by Him.

But one of the greatest “ifs” in the Bible is found in Revelation when Jesus said

Behold I stand at the door and knock.  IF anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him.

jesus_christ_image_117

What a great promise!  To open the door – to invite Him into our life, that is all we have to do and He will be glad to come in, to have a relationship with us.  Notice that we are the ones to open the door.  He is a gentleman and does not force Himself on us.  But he extends that wonderful invitation.

If you have not done so, I encourage you to open the door.

 

 

 

 

 

Can I Get An Amen?

blessings

Thank God for music!

I love music!  My best times of devotion are when I listen first to a praise song and sit and meditate on God’s presence before I pick up my Bible or my devotional book.  In times of great joy or great sorrow in my life I have often gone to my piano and played a song expressing that joy, that sorrow.

One of my favorite musical groups is Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  This morning listening to one of their songs, “So You Would Know,” once again my mind roamed back to all the times God has been there for me in times of great sorrow or tragedy.

Thank God for help in times of great need!

I have shared in other blogs many of those times God helped!

The Day That Changed My Life

Coincidence or An Act of God?

I’m thankful for those times when God’s presence and help were so needed – and He was there.  Those times when I was weak and He carried me.  Those nights when he wiped my tears away.  Those times when pain racked my body and He sent healing down to me.

When you walked on this problem
Didn’t I step right in on time
When you got weak along life’s journey
My angel carried you

When the pains were racking your body
Didn’t I send a healing down to you

How many days must I be a fence all around you
How many nights must I wipe your tears away
How many storms must I bring you safely through
For you to know just how much I love you

Thank God for the everyday blessings!

However, while I thank God for help in difficult times, sometimes I forget to thank Him for day-to-day blessings, the many things I take for granted.

Didn’t I wake you up this morning
Were you clothed in your right mind
Didn’t I put food on your able
Show UP! when your bills were due

So today I thank God

  • that I woke up this morning still in my “right mind.”  (And at my age, that is a blessing!)
  • that I was able to walk all by myself
  • that I was able to see the colorful fall trees
  • that I was able to hear as I watched the news and now as I listen to the music
  • that I had plenty of food to choose from for breakfast:  bagels, cereal, bacon and eggs
  • that I had a hot cup of coffee waiting for me fixed by my loving husband (and at our age, to still have my husband alive and well is a blessing!)
  • that I have a warm house and warm clothes as these fall days turn colder
  • that while I am not rich by any means, all my bills are paid
  • that I have clean, running water

And the list could go on and on.  Things I just take for granted.  Things that a majority of the world does not have.

Today can I get an Amen?

I want to encourage anyone who reads this to take a few minutes to think about all the things God has blessed you with.  And recognize how many times we complain about our very blessings.

  • We complain about our “busy” schedules instead of thanking God for the children we have or the friends we have that take up so much of our time.  That we have a house to clean or a grocery store and money to buy food for our family.
  • We complain about the weather instead of thanking God for the air conditioning and heating that makes life so comfortable on those hot or freezing cold days.
  • We complain about our jobs instead of thanking God that we have employment (if we are still young enough to work) OR
  • We complain about our aches and pains and loss of energy as we age in retirement instead of thanking God that we have lived long enough to be retired.

Thank God for the greatest gift of all!

But the greatest blessing in my life is not that He delivered me from cancer, He strengthened me when my husband died or all the material blessings He has given me.  The greatest blessing is that as a young child He helped me to see my need of Him and to understand how much He loves me.

When you were lost in sin and sorrow
I died to set you free
So you would know just how much I love you

Can I get an Amen?

Join with me in praising God today for His blessings – both the BIG ones in times of GREAT need but also the EVERY DAY blessings we take for granted.  And as you count your blessings, let it be a reminder of HOW MUCH GOD LOVES YOU!!!

 

Am I Really Desperate?

desparate

I’m desperate! Or, am I?

In Sunday’s worship we sang a Michael W Smith song entitled “Breathe.”  This is a song I love.

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me

And I –  I’m desperate for you
And I –  I’m lost without you

When I hear it I sometimes become quite emotional.  Tears may fill my eyes and my heart is filled with a great longing and love for the Lord.  Memories will flood my mind as I remember all the times I was desperate for the Lord – and He was there.

  • When my parents were divorced
  • When my husband was killed in an accident
  • When my grandchildren died
  • When my husband had a heart attack
  • When I was diagnosed with cancer

Oh yes, I was desperate then!

But as I sang that song Sunday, I questioned myself.  Am I only desperate for the presence of the Lord when I am in a crisis?  And, if so, is that really being desperate for the Lord – or desperate for Him to help me?

The dictionary says the word desperate means

feeling, showing, or involving a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with.

With that definition I was desperate in those situations because they seemed hopeless and impossible to deal with.  That is why my eyes often feel with tears and a great sense of love for God fills my heart because I remember how He was there in those times of desperation.

But as I listen to those words, I think am I desperate for God for more than just deliverance from a hopeless situation?  Do I really realize how desperate my life would be without His presence – not just in difficult situations but in every day, every aspect of my life?  Do I really grasp how much I need Him?

Does my daily actions reveal my need for Him?  Questions run through my mind:

  • How much time do I spend seeking His presence?
  • How much time do I study His Word to know His will in my life?

It’s easy to sing how lost I would be without Him in church on Sunday morning surrounded by fellow believers.  But the question really is:   Does my life Monday through Saturday reflect that sense of need for Him?

May I like the Psalmist truly say:

I am always aware of the Lord‘s presence;
    he is near, and nothing can shake me.

May I like the Psalmist truly say:

As a deer longs for a stream of cool water,
    so I long for you, O God.

May I truly be desperate for God not in the sense of wanting someone to help me out of a difficult situation – but desperate in the awareness of how truly lost I would be without His presence.

What is the “Joy of the Lord?”

Jesus laughing

We hear a lot from Christians about “the joy of the Lord.”  Often a verse from Nehemiah is quoted when speaking of joy.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

But I wonder what does that mean?  What is the joy of the Lord and how does it give me strength?  I have found many times in my life when I was going through a difficult time and struggling with pain or sorrow that well-meaning people would quote that verse to me suggesting if I would just be “happy” I would find strength from the Lord to get me through this difficult circumstance.

If I would just adjust my attitude.

If I would just think positive thoughts.

If I would just “put on a happy face.”

Then, God would give me joy.

So – strength from God depended on me.  If in this time of despair I could just either “pretend” to be happy (“fake it ’til you make it”) or if I could somehow find some inner strength to think positive thoughts, God would give me joy and strength.  Our culture (and many TV preachers/teachers) tell us having the right attitude, having self-esteem, is the road to the joy of the Lord.

Yet we know that many great men of God did not always have a positive attitude.  Look at the Psalms.  They are full of times when David and others even questioned if God cared.

for you are my God, my only safe haven.  Why have you tossed me aside?

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.

As I look at the verse in Nehemiah what stands out to me is that the joy Nehemiah is talking about is not some feeling I produce by my own ability to “put on a happy face” and adjust my attitude.  Rather, this joy is the joy OF THE LORD.  It is something that comes from God.  True joy, I submit, does not come from within me – it comes from without.

The joy of the Lord is not dependent on me adjusting my attitude or thinking positive thoughts.  I am not disputing that our thinking, out attitude does many times needs some work.  Paul wrote in Philippians:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

And the writer of Proverbs told us:

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

But if having God’s joy is simply me thinking on things worthy of praise, then the joy of the Lord is not really from the Lord.  It is simply having a good philosophy or a good outlook on life.  That benefits those of us who have a tendency by nature to be positive, who bounce out of bed each morning ready for the day and get excited about the new coffee favor we just bought at Target.  However, it puts those who have a more melancholy personality and basically say “don’t talk to me until I have had my coffee” at a great disadvantage.

So – what is the joy of the Lord?  And how do we get it?

Take a look at the times Jesus spoke about joy.

In the Beatitudes he told us:

 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy!  For a great reward awaits you in heaven. 

One reason for joy, then, is the hope we have of what awaits us.  This life is not all there is for us.  Regardless of what is happening to me right now, I have a great future awaiting me and when I realize that I have something to look forward to it can give me a sense of peace and comfort.  This present circumstance may be terrible but it is not the end.

But how do I find joy in difficult times for the “here and now.”  Does this mean my only joy is in anticipating what will come in the future?  Can I find joy in this life now?

The Psalmist gave us the secret when he wrote:

in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

When we learn to stop running about and trying to solve everything ourself, when we take time to be still and quiet with the Lord, when we allow our minds to dwell on Him and His Word, we will find that joy that Peter wrote about that is:

At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express

The joy of the Lord gives us strength to face those difficult circumstances because it is the joy that comes from a real relationship with Him, not from something we can create.  I submit if you are lacking joy, ask yourself these questions:

  1. When was the last time I spend some time just sitting quietly reading God’s Word or listening to a good worship song and just remained quiet and allowed God to speak to my heart?
  2. When was the last time I took some moments to sincerely make a list of all the blessings God had given me and then took some time to truly thank Him?
  3. When was the last time I looked at the difficult situations in my life and asked God to show me where/how I could use these times to grow more like Him?

As we take time to focus on God, to allow Him to speak to us, as we come into His presence, there we will find the joy of the Lord.

Help us all Lord in the midst of our busy and crazy lives to take that time and allow You to minister to us of your love and fill us with your joy.

 

 

 

Please Mr Postman, Is There a Letter For Me?

Letter

Recently I was doing some clean-up on my computer getting rid of files that I no longer use.  I found a file that I created several years ago when I wrote down some memories of my life growing up to share with some of my grandchildren.  In that file I found a letter I sent to them encouraging them to love God’s Word and let its principles guide their life.

As I grow nearer to the end of my life, I have even more conviction that what I wrote them several years ago is still true today.

Here’s what I wrote.  Hope that my readers will take a moment and think about how they view the Word of God.

“I’m amazed at how we say we love God, but we seldom read His Word.  When I was engaged to Lonnie (their grandfather, my first husband who is now deceased), he was in Vietnam.  I wrote him almost every day.  He was not as good at writing (fighting for his life n the jungles of Vietnam might account for that), but usually wrote once a week.  My place of employment was five blocks from the apartment where I lived with my mother.  Every day at lunchtime I would walk home to see if I had a letter.”

Please Mr Postman, Is there a letter for me?

“Mail was delivered in our block around noon.  Some days the mailman would be there about the time I got home.  Other days if he had a lot of mail he would not make it to my apartment by noon.  Since Lonnie only wrote about once a week and sometimes the mail was held up getting out of the jungle, I might not get a letter for a couple of weeks.  Still, every day I walked home on the CHANCE that the mailman would have made it to my house, on the CHANCE that there would be a letter from Lonnie.”

Please Mr Postman, Say you have a letter for me!

If there was not a letter, I would walk back to work so sad.  When I had a letter, I would open it immediately and read every word before I returned to work.  Then, on break, I would get it out and read it again.  As soon as I got home from work, I would read it again.  Why were these letters to important to me?  Because they were from the one I loved.

Well, God’s Word is a love letter to us and when we fall in love with God, we will want to know His Word.”

The Psalmist said,

Thy Word is a light to my path and a lamp to my feet.

My dear grandchildren, I encourage you to devour the Word of God.  Read it over and over and over again.  Read the same portion in different versions.  Memorize it.  Take notes as you read.  Mark verses that stand out.  Wear it out.  A person whose Bible is falling apart from use will never fall apart from the cares, temptations, and difficulties of life.

We do not need or want to be legalistic about it.  If we read a chapter a day just because that’s what good Christians do, we have gained nothing.  There may be days when we find it hard to find the time to study the Word, but we should never be so busy that days and days go by and we fail to get into God’s Word.  I hope you will learn to not only read the Word on a consistent basis, but learn to really STUDY it.  There is a difference between reading and studying the Word and we need to do both.  If you don’t know what I mean, check out the Bible bookstore.  There are several good books out there to help you learn to study God’s Word.”

Mr. Postman, Thanks for the letter!

 

The God Who Sees Me – Part 3

Hagar_finds_refuge_51-15

Studying the names of God, I continue to reflect on the name Hagar, the Egyptian Slave of Abraham and Sarah, gave to God in her encounter with Him.  It was a moment of great despair and hopelessness for her.  Despair and hopelessness until she realized that God saw her and cared about her.

As I continue to think about this concept that God sees us, I continue to be reminded of times in my own life when things seemed hopeless, but then God reminded me that I was not alone, that He saw me and He cared.  I shared the first two times in my life – at ages 14 and 33 – when God revealed Himself to me so vividly in The God Who Sees Me – Part 1 and The God Who Sees Me – Part 2

Perhaps the greatest time God showed up for me was when I was fighting for my life in a battle with an aggressive cancer.  After a mastectomy, the surgeon apologized to me because he said he had to cut a lot more nerves under my arm than he wanted to, including the main nerve running through my underarm down my side.  He had found so many lymph nodes full of cancer and he wanted to make sure he got all of them so he cut away more than he preferred to do.  He said I would have more pain than normal, but he felt trying to save my life was more important than inflicting some pain.  I totally agreed with him.  I wanted to live.  If that meant some pain, so be it.

Meeting the cancer doctor for the first time he told me my cancer was a very aggressive type and far advanced.  The type of cancer they found would also not respond to any further treatment after chemotherapy and radiation.  His first words to me will never be forgotten.  He said:

The odds are not in your favor!

After undergoing 16 chemotherapy treatments with three different powerful drugs, I began a radiation treatment which would include 35 sessions radiating not only the chest area where the cancer had been removed, but my underarm, the left side of my neck and the left side of my upper back.  Because so many lymph nodes had been cancerous, the doctors wanted to radiate all the lymph nodes in that area of my body to make sure any cancer cells left were destroyed.

Starting the first radiation treatment I was already exhausted from almost nine months of chemotherapy.  Several hours on two different days were spent in the radiation department as they worked to set up the computer to deliver the radiation to all four parts of my body.  They had to be careful to avoid my heart and my lung as the cancer had been on my left side.  Then the day arrived to begin treatment.

As I entered the room where the treatment would be given, I saw a sign on the door “Danger!  Radiation!”.  The technicians helped me on the table, working to get my body placed in the exact position needed so the radiation rays would reach the right places.  They then left the room and the heavy door slammed shut.  I lay on the table in a very painful position and watched the big x-ray machine begin to descend toward my chest.  Feeling so frightened, I never felt so alone.

As tears ran down my cheeks, I cried out to God telling Him I felt so alone.  At that precise moment, the elevator music they had been playing stopped and a song from my childhood came over the sound system.

Yes, Jesus loves me!  The Bible tells me so!

The song was so comforting reminding me that I was not alone.  When the treatment was finished I thanked the technicians for playing that song.  They did not know what I was talking about.  The music they were playing was canned music already programmed and that song was not on the program.  They also said they did not hear that song.

But I heard it.  The God Who Sees Me – the God who saw Hagar – was there.  He saw me, heard my cry, He cared.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

 

The God Who Sees Me – Part 2

Hagar_finds_refuge_51-15

In our small group Bible Study we have been looking at the names of God in the Bible.  One of those names is El-Roi, “the God who sees me.”  I wrote about the basis for that name recently in The God Who Sees Me – Part 1.

Reading that story led me to think of times in my life when I experienced that same sense that God had seen me.   Times of my own fear or suffering when God ministered to me in a clear way that let me know He saw me.  He knew my distress and He gave me assurance that He was with me and would help me in this time of difficulty.

The first time was when I was 14 years old and grieving over the father who walked out on me and my mother and left us to get by the best we could.  That story is told in The God Who Sees Me – Part 1

Almost 20 years later, God again assured me that He was the God who sees me.  While working at the University of Missouri Extension office in Perryville, Missouri, I anticipated the daily call from my oldest daughter.  My two daughters would ride the bus each day from school to our home in the country.  Their father who worked the midnight shift would be getting up and waiting to greet them.  Although he was always there to meet them, I still had my daughter call me just to let me know they were home and see how their day had gone.

When the phone rang at work, I picked it up happily awaiting my daughter’s voice.  But as soon as she began speaking, I knew something terrible had happened, something that would change our lives forever.  I will always remember that little girl’s voice saying

Mommy, I think Daddy is dead!

My two daughters – only 6 and 11 – had come home to find their father laying in the driveway underneath our car.  He had been working on the muffler and the jack had apparently slipped and crushed him.  He had always been very careful when he worked on the car and to this day I do not understand why he raised the car with the jack and did not use anything to stabilize the car or the jack.  It was not like him to be so careless.  I always remind my family to be careful because it only takes one moment of carelessness to bring disaster.

Hanging onto the phone, I felt my heart would stop!  It was hard to believe it was really true but the moments that followed showed me it was true.  At 33 I was a widow with two little girls to raise.  All kinds of questions flooded my mind.

  • How would I get through the days, the years to come without my best friend?
  • How would I help my daughters cope with not only their father’s death but the horror of finding him crushed beneath the car?
  • How would I be able financially to take care of them with the loss of my husband’s salary?
  • Who would be there to take care of them when they got home from school since I would be working?
  • How would I pay for the funeral?
  • Should we stay in Missouri or move back to be close to family?  Could I make it on my own far from family’s support?

On and on the questions raced through my mind as I tried to grasp what had happened.  It still seemed like a bad dream.  Surely I would wake up soon and be in my own bed with my husband beside me and I would laugh at it all.

But it was not a dream.  For the next few days I was numb.  Planning the funeral, trying to comfort my daughters, trying to find answers to all those questions, slowly the sense of being in a dream began to leave and reality hit me hard.

Blessed to have family and friends who loved me and supported me, still the time came when everyone went home and back to their lives and I was left with my daughters to face the future alone.  This realization came to me the first night after everyone had left.  I fixed supper for the three of us and started to place the dishes and silverware on the table for us.  Turning from the table to get the food from the stove, I realized I had put four plates and four setting of silverware on the table.  With tears streaming down my face, I picked up the extra plate and silverware and returned them to the cabinet.  In the future, we would only need three sets of dishes.

I did what I had always done in times of despair.  I cried out to the Lord telling Him I did not see how I could make it through the months and years ahead, how alone I felt.

Instantly a verse of scripture came to my mind.

Lo, I am with you always…

While I know in this instance Jesus was speaking to His disciples – and through them to the church, I also realized this scripture had come to my mind by no coincidence.  God saw me – this young widow living in the middle of the country – and He cared.  He assured me I was not alone and that I would make it because He was with me.  He was the “God who sees me.”