Finals are coming!

This morning I dropped my Promise Book, and when I reached down to pick it up and looked at the page it was open to, my eyes fell on the very same scripture I had just read in Devotions for Morning and Evening with Oswald Chambers. 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

“‘Build up your character bit by bit,’ says Jesus. Then when the supreme crisis comes, you will stand like a rock,” Chambers writes. “The crisis does not come always, but when it does, it is all up in about two seconds, there is no possibility of pretense, you are unearthed immediately.”

Has that been your experience? Everything seems to be going along fine, and then suddenly your feet are knocked out from under you, and you can’t even pretend everything is fine, because it’s not? It might be a terminal diagnosis, an unfaithful spouse, a debilitating illness, the loss of a loved one, financial problems, rejection, an unhealthy habit, betrayal by a trusted friend–and all with one thing in common. It has the potential to take you down so low to a place where even denial is no longer possible and the only choices left are to give up or stand up.

Chambers offers the solution. “If a man has built himself up in private by listening to the words of Jesus and obeying them, when the crisis comes, it is not his strength of will that keeps him but the tremendous power of God. Go on building yourself up in the word of God when no one is watching you, and when the crisis comes, you will find you will stand like a rock; but if you have not been building yourself up on the word of God, you will go down, no matter how strong your will.”

I have seen this happen again and again–even by people who have gone to church all of their lives. It happened to my mother when my dad died. Dad had steadily declined for a year after having been diagnosed with cancer, but when he died, my mother’s world fell apart. She was in a cloud for months, as she struggled to come to grips with the fact that he really was gone. It was sobering to see my usually strong-willed, confident mother smothered by her grief; and had it not been for the resolute faith and constant encouragement of my grandmother–who lived, ate and breathed the Holy Bible–my mother might never have come out of it.

Chambers ends with, “All you build will end in disaster unless it is built on the sayings of Jesus Christ; but if you are doing what Jesus told you to do, nourishing your soul on His word, you need not fear the crisis, whatever it is.”

I think it must sadden Christ when someone who professes to know Him is overwhelmed time and time again by the uncertainties of life, sometimes even choosing to wallow in their misery. Do you know people like that? Adults in body but still little children in their spiritual walk, angry at God one minute, full of self-pity the next? The good news is it’s never too late to grow up.

It took the death of my father for my mother to learn that she wasn’t alone, that God really was there with her. In her later years, Mother told us many times that as her feet hit the floor each morning, she would say, “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” As she became more frail, life became increasingly more precious to her. When we laid her earthly body to rest, I quoted Mother’s favorite scripture, which had sustained her for 102 years, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.Isaiah 40:31

I thank God for his Word a lot, because it was His Word in me that was there with me when my grandmother had a cerebral hemorrhage, when my child was fighting for her life, when my son was diagnosed with autism, when my husband left, when the three people I was closest to died within three years, when my doctor said I had lost the battle, and countless other times when, frankly, I didn’t think I could go on living.

What got me through was, pure and simple, the Word I had hidden in my heart from the time I was old enough to understand Sunday school songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and stories from the Bible about people who triumphed because of their faith. It was the Word of God that led me to Christ when I was six and heard the evangelist say that no one is born into the family of God, but all are adopted into His family, everyone is equal, and no one is better than anyone else.

So many times I hear people ask, “Why am I going through this? Why is this happening to me?” All I can say is, “I don’t know but God does, and, believe me, you can trust Him.”

Perhaps you’ve been knocked off your spiritual feet or maybe you’re just dealing with ordinary challenges like everyone faces. In any case, you have two choices: you can feel sorry for yourself, and maybe even throw a pity party to which no one really wants to come; or you can come out of denial, brush yourself off, and find out what God’s Word says about your situation.

The Gospel of John begins with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him all things were made; without Him, nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Did you hear that? The light of God in us cannot be overcome by darkness. God’s Word shines in the darkness. It really is true what Psalm 119:105 says: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. I don’t know about you, but I gave up wandering around trying to find my own way a long time ago. It just wasn’t worth the pain of all that bumping into obstacles in the dark.

When I was at Manchester College, I lived on 3rd east, Oakwood Hall, my freshman year. At that time, Oakwood was a rambling wood structure with L-shaped halls on each side and attics at the ends where we stored suitcases and other bulky items. I hadn’t been there very long before bruises started appearing on my legs. It was a mystery until I told my roommate that I was a sleepwalker. A few nights later, Shar heard me stirring and followed me down the hall to the attic, which I entered and started to walk through, as if I were looking for something, all the while bumping into all the obstacles in the dark.

It’s interesting that I knew while asleep how to open the door but neglected to turn on the light. I think that’s how it is when we accept Christ but don’t grow in our relationship with Him. We open the door to Christ, but then continue to wander around in the darkness only to emerge bruised and sometimes broken.

The night Shar followed me to the attic, she didn’t turn on the light and she didn’t awaken me. She was a psychology major, after all! She just turned me around and gently led me back to our room. That wasn’t the last night I slept-walked, but it was the final time I hurt myself doing so, because locks were installed on the attic doors the next day.

Do you know someone who has been wandering around in the dark without the Light of God to illuminate hidden dangers? Is it you? Have you been in a situation so intense that you’ve asked in desperation, “Where is God in all this?” Would you describe your walk with God as ‘a lot of stops and starts’? Do you find the Holy-Spirit-will-guide-you concept a little out there, choosing instead to wing it?

Chambers was right in his assertion that “the crisis does not come always, but when it does, it is all up in about two seconds, there is no possibility of pretense, you are unearthed immediately.” And he also was correct when he said that if you build up your character a little at a time, when the big crisis comes, you will remain standing.

There is no way to do that other than by doing the coursework–reading the Bible–and the best way to do that is little-by-little, with time to think about what you have read and apply it to your life. A crash course may get you a grade, but you will retain little of what you read; and never cracking the Book and cramming for the final exam is equally ineffective.

The fact that John said “and the Word was God” has been largely overlooked. In verse 14, we see that the Word isn’t an idea or even a book but a Person. “14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Why anyone who professes to know Christ, particularly those who need constant remediation, would not read the textbook of the only course with eternal consequences is beyond my understanding. So, today I want to encourage you to open your eyes, rise up, and do your homework. Finals are coming!

Growing up…

God expects His children to be so confident in Him that in a crisis they are the ones upon whom He can rely. ~ Oswald Chambers

For approximately 25 years, I’ve been reading the same book almost every morning. More than anything, it has been responsible for my growing up in the reverential awe and admonition of the Lord. That last part is a mouthful, but that’s what growing up in the ‘fear of the Lord’ means. The book is Morning & Evening Devotions with Oswald Chambers, which comprises two books, My Utmost for His Highest and Daily Thoughts for Disciples.

I was one of those kids who loved Jesus from an early age. My favorite song as soon as I learned it, probably at four years old, was ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ and somehow even at such a tender age, I began to believe it. So it was only natural that I would respond to an altar call at our church when I was six. From that time on, I came to understand more and more about how Jesus loved me, mainly from my Sunday school teachers.

My family went to church every time the doors were open, but, until I was 12 and received my own Bible, no one read the Scriptures in my home except on Christmas Eve. That’s not an indictment, just a fact. Mother’s Bible was precious to her, so it was kept on a shelf in the living room unless she had to prepare devotions for a club meeting or if it was Christmas Eve.

However, that was not the case at the home of my grandmother, who read the Bible every day and often would read it to me when I was at her house. I faced some harsh realities as a child, but because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, those hardships only drew me closer to Him. And, in the process, though I was still a child, I began to grow in my understanding of God–and in my faith in Him.

Please know, I am not saying my childhood was dreadful. It wasn’t. I grew up on a farm with an older brother and sister, and a dad who was an encourager and advocate, so there were times of laughter and fun as we explored woods, creek and barns with the freedom few kids enjoy nowadays. There were, however, big challenges of discrimination because we were adopted–even from those who were supposed to love us–as well as harsh discipline by a mother who had been raised with the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ mentality. Couple that with her fear that we three kids might somehow disgrace her by what others might judge as merely childish behavior, and unreasonable discipline was bound to become the norm at our house.

My life as a kid growing up in the 50s and graduating in the early 60s was pretty normal for a kid raised on a farm in Indiana. Field trips and concert band in the fall, pep band and basketball games in the winter, band contests and track in the spring, and instrumental lessons in the summer, along with Bible School and church camp, swimming at Matter Park, day trips to places like Lake Maxinkuckee and Mounds State Park, and frequent Sunday afternoon picnics at Francis Slocum. Around home, there were always chores to do–chickens to feed or butcher, eggs to gather and clean, gardens to weed, produce to can, and 4-H projects to work on–all before we could go fishing, climb trees or read.

Although we were maturing physically, in many ways we weren’t really growing up, mainly because of my mother’s fear of letting us make our own decisions, and, likewise, learn from the consequences of our choices. I was married at 19, because that’s what most girls did, continued with college, and had my first child at 23. However, it wasn’t until I began to face the experiences of my childhood in the Light of God’s Word that I even began to grow up emotionally and spiritually.

In Genesis 22:2, God’s promise to give Abraham a son has been fulfilled, but God tests Abraham: “And He said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.”

God’s command (to Abraham) is,“Take now,” not later, Chambers writes. It is incredible how we debate! We know something is right, but we try to find excuses for not doing it immediately. If we are to climb to the height God reveals, it can never be done later—it must be done now. And the sacrifice must be worked through our will before we actually perform it.

“So Abraham rose early in the morning…and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3). Oh, the wonderful simplicity of Abraham! When God spoke, he did not “confer with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:16). Beware when you want to “confer with flesh and blood” or even your own thoughts, insights, or understandings—anything that is not based on your personal relationship with God. These are all things that compete with and hinder obedience to God.

Please listen carefully. There are some of you who are right where Abraham was. You know what you should do, but you’re trying to find excuses for not doing it immediately; and all that stands in the way of you obeying God is your will. You can think and think and think about what you know you ought to do, and you can talk and talk and talk it over with others, but just know that all of your thinking and talking puts the focus on what you want and not on what God wants.

Remember the story of Jesus sleeping in the boat as the storm rages? Even though Jesus said they were going to the other side of the lake, when the storm came up, fear rose up in the disciples, and they woke up Jesus. Listen to this from Chambers’ Daily Thoughts for Disciples:

When we are in fear, we can do nothing less than pray to God, but our Lord has the right to expect of those who name His Name and have His nature in them, to have an understanding confidence in Him. Instead of that, when we are at our wits’ end, we go back to the elementary prayers of those who do not know Him and prove that we have not the slightest atom of confidence in Him and His governing of the world. He is asleep–the tiller is not in His hand, and  we sit down in nervous dread. God expects His children to be so confident in Him that in a crisis they are the ones upon whom He can rely.

1 Corinthians 13:11 says, When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.…”

What childish things are you refusing to abandon? Are you taking responsibility for your choices? Are you insisting on your will, or do you want His will?

You can hold tight in your fist what you want, but just know this: If you hold onto what you want, ignoring what He wants, yet praying for His will to be done, God will pry open your hand and remove it from you–and with a whole lot more pain and trauma than if you just willingly open your hand and surrender to His will.

Prayerfully…  Sara