Ready, Set, Go!

If a poll was taken, likely the majority of people would have heard or used the phrase, “Ready, set, go.” I think of adult track and field events I have watched, childhood foot races participated in, and intense school math drills.

While neither an athlete nor a math whiz, I remember the sweetness of the time I beat one of brainiest classmates in a math drill in fifth grade, and another when I smoked a 100 yard dash in middle school with the best time. Both of my teachers at the time were impressed, probably because those results were not expected.

The word “ready” in the phrase denotes attention to the job at hand; the word “set” indicates concentration and positioning; and the word “go” is simply an action word signifying motion. All require physical, emotional and mental involvement.

As I recalled some of these past events and how they utilized total effort, I began to wonder about spiritual involvement, and how those principles might work in my life today. Not in running races now (joints won’t let me), nor doing math drills (too slow I’d time out), but just the practical application of tending to my spiritual life and being healthy there.

The reference to running the race is well known in Hebrews chapter 12 and is frequently talked about in churches. But I was looking for something else, and in my devotions I recently read Luke 12:35-38, and something clicked. The verses describe those Christians who are actively, not passively, waiting for the Lord’s return.

I could see how the meaning of “ready, set, go” just might mirror the same “waiting, watching, ready” of Luke 12, in a spiritual sense. Since I adore words, I had to do some checking into the Greek meaning of a few words in these scriptures with the help of my very awesome Strong’s Concordance.

Verse 35-36(a) of Luke says: “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in…” (NLT) One definition of the Greek word waiting is: to admit someone or be hospitable. Immediately I felt I needed to do some soul searching. Have I always been welcoming to the Lord in my life? Have I quickly admitted him?

Verse 37 reads: “ It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.” (NIV) A definition in the Greek concordance is: to be vigilant, to stay awake. In support of this is a definition from the dictionary: to be on the alert. There is a definite need to be doing this in the days we find ourselves in. Not out of fear-but to be wise, and not caught off guard. Jesus will return for those who love him with their whole hearts.

Verse 38 says: “He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward those who are ready.” (NLT) The definition in the Greek means prepared or adjusted. This brought another round of self-examination. Have I allowed the Lord to adjust my perceptions where they may be skewed? Has my heart been prepared, have I sought adjustment where necessary?

Lots of things are changing in this world-some for the better, some not. It’s easy to get discouraged about the not, but I find strength in this scripture. In waiting, watching, and in readiness. My thoughts are adjusted by reading the Bible, and my heart is prepared by prayer. I can be assured the transformation will continue until he returns, and what a day that will be!

“The principle part of faith is patience.”- George MacDonald

“Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.”-Elisabeth Elliott

In The Silent or Substantial

The ground was so saturated it squished beneath my shoes, and there were plentifully placed puddles everywhere. The Winnebago River nearby and Willow Creek tributary directly behind our house ran fast and furiously, competing for sheer volume. The resulting power of water from heavy rainfall was impressive.

In June 2008, we had a flood. A rain system had parked over Iowa and dumped water from the sky. Some reports claimed up to fifteen inches in a twenty-four hour period had fallen. There was emergency sandbagging all over the state, and in my own hometown, it was primarily focused along the Winnebago River running through the central and northeast sides of the city. A levee broke in one area of the river’s route and blocks of low-lying residences in that vicinity were destroyed. These same residents were evacuated by boat.

The governor estimated fifty-three counties to be disaster areas, so people could get some government help, from needed clothing, toiletries and food, to relocation in safe lodging. Our city’s water treatment plant was also flooded so bottled water was trucked in by the Red Cross and National Guard.

Our home was up on a bluff so thankfully we only had a steady trickle of water from saturated yard and cracked basement window to wet-dry vac. I don’t think we got a lot of sleep for awhile.

For several days after the rain event, it was tricky getting around town. The route that used to be Point A to Point B became Point A, to B, to C, to D, if you were lucky! So many streets were closed it took longer and required more patience to arrive at your destination. It was, however, uplifting to see neighbors helping neighbors all over Iowa.

To say it was a mess is an understatement of enormous magnitude.

This story shows what an over abundance of rain can cause, but in spite of this example, we still need rain. Our yards, trees, plants, and crops need the beneficial, measured rainfall that comes our way. Our bodies need sources of clean water to wash in, cook with and drink. And, ultimately, all rain comes from God for whatever purpose He has in mind.

As I was revisiting the flood that occurred fifteen years ago this June, I also remembered the very dry July through November that followed. My heart still goes out to the people that lost belongings and homes during the flood, but I can see the hand of God during that event. He not only provided ways for their needs to be met, but knew how parched parts of Iowa would become later that year and had a plan. We got an abundance of rain in advance.

I see in scripture that all kinds of disasters occur at different times for different reasons. In Joel 1 and 2 history describes long-time hardships of military invasions, drought and locusts eating what remaining crops the people of the land had, but they endured. Sections of chapter 2 and 3 tells us that those who turned to God as their Hope would see the “northern army driven far from them”, they would have “abundant showers” and that “all the ravines would run with water”. (2:20; 2:23 and 3:18) This suggests possibly heavy rains to come their way. It would wash the ground clean of insects remains and eggs, and crops would again thrive.

I also see in scripture the grace of God in His provision, be it seemingly over abundant or meager. In Proverbs 19:12, King Solomon opines: “The king’s wrath is as terrifying as the roaring of a lion, but his favor is as [refreshing as] dew upon the grass.” Interestingly, the word dew here means “cover” in Hebrew.

Applying Solomon’s wisdom, it is said a lion’s roar can be heard from up to five miles away, yet the favor and grace of God is quiet, as in a gentle dew. You don’t hear it fall, but you see it in the grass in the morning. The dew is a sign of the blessing and care of all creation.

I definitely prefer experiencing the gentle rains and dews in life. I have no desire to repeat the flood of 2008 that “was one for the books”, as oldsters might say. I will try to remember however, that all rain from God’s hand represents the perpetually present grace of Hope.

“When it rains on your parade, look up rather than down.”- G.K. Chesterton

Family Dynamics, About Mom

As appropriate for this time of year, I want to shine a light on my Mom. She was a gentle soul, but that was only one of her good qualities. Mom was a true care giver, kind, intensely loyal, but a strong disciplinarian as well.

The disciplinarian side of Mom was by necessity. My Dad was a salesman in the early years and traveled a lot, he was not there to see most of my shenanigans. My brother made it easy on her—he seemed to inherit the gentle, mostly compliant part of Mom’s nature. I, on the other hand, was what she noted in my baby/toddler book as “fiercely independent”. I gave her a challenge in my youth but she handled it well from my memories of her.

Time has mellowed that independent streak in me quite a bit. Later in life when I told her some of my childhood escapades she knew nothing about—like going into empty, unlocked houses for sale to look around; climbing up an old, ladder like outside antenna on a neighbors house and sitting on the roof; disappearing for an hour or more inside someone’s house to “visit” a neighbor that wasn’t—she closed her eyes in horror.

Every child has those mom-didn’t-know stories, and in my opinion it is God’s grace and a few angels that protected us from what could have gone horribly wrong. Children in those days were more free to roam but it was also safer then. At times, we had to learn a hard lesson that people were not always trustworthy, but we did learn, and I was blessed to have a mom there to help make my world right again.

Another skill my mom had was an ability to sense my moments of insecurity. From peer pressure in my tweens to mean girls in middle and high school, there were several times she gracefully stepped in to help. One instance was when I was unexpectedly asked to spend the night at a friends house, so I called to ask permission. I liked my friend very much but did not want to spend the night, and my mom, with my friend standing right there listening to the conversation, heard what I wasn’t saying. She asked, “Do you want to stay overnight?” to which I replied, “No.” She gave me an out so I wouldn’t lose face and said, “Then come home, honey.”

Another time mom helped me was when I was struggling later in those difficult middle school years, when the aforementioned mean girls made their presence known. I came home from school one day to find mom had made me a little vanity in my room. Oh, it wasn’t fancy—put together with empty orange crates, a thin piece of plywood for the top, and a skirt made out of an old bedspread, with an equally old mirror positioned above, but it meant the world to me at the time. She was kind and I am forever grateful.

My mom also had a love for God that permeated the family. She had a salvation experience in her early thirties that spread to the rest of our household. What a credit to my mother and a great heritage for us! I cannot help but be reminded of the scripture, “Who can find a godly woman? for her price is far above rubies.” “Her children rise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:10 & 28 Thanks Mom, I will see you again in a much better place!

Everything Mum by Joanna Fuchs

How did you do it all, Mum? Be a chauffeur, cook and friend? Yet find time to be a playmate, I just can’t comprehend.

I see now it was love, Mum, that made you come whenever I’d call, Your inexhaustible love Mum, and I thank you for it all.

Tricky Thing About Walls

Walls are built into homes and apartment buildings for structure and protection. In the middle east, they were and in some instances still are, built to fortify entire cities. In our variety of individual abodes walls bring us a sense of security, a place we can shut out the world at the end of a day and rest safely.

But there are other kinds of walls; those that block us, challenge us and exhaust us. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, they all make us stretch. Many obstacles in life have to be gotten around or through, and some just have to be completely torn down.

Physically speaking, removing a retaining wall in a garden is tiring, particularly if that wall is large and goes on forever. The process of digging out the mortar and tossing the stones down by hand is sweat producing, unless you own or can rent and operate excavating equipment, or unless you are God.

In Joshua 6, Joshua receives a directive from the LORD about the conquest of Jericho, the city known to be a fortress city. It had a double wall system around it, the city (inner) wall itself and a lower wall (called revetment) below on the hill. My Bible notes (NIV) suggest that Jericho was thought to be invincible, with walls possibly up to thirty feet high and twenty feet thick. If you imagine the city proper built on a tall hill with the walls around it, the city would actually be well over thirty feet above a person viewing it.

The LORD tells Joshua “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and fighting men.” (Joshua 6:2, NIV) He gives Joshua instructions on the Israelites part of the deal, how they are to assemble, what they are to carry, and that they were to, “March around the city once with all armed men. Do this for six days.” (6:3) Further instructions were given for the seventh day. “ On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.” (6:4-5) This would have been a noisy, scary day for those in Jericho. They were intimidated by the Israelites and their God, as described in (6:1), “Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.” They hunkered down, because they had either seen how the Jordan River had parted for the Israelites or heard of victories and routings from other anxious enemies. Of course, what happened was exactly what God planned to happen, the wall did collapse and the Israelites took Jericho. The falling brick from the inner wall crashed down the hill to the revetment wall and made a perfect ramp for the Israelites to climb right into the city.

I thought about the not-so-beneficial walls I have put up in my life, thinking they will protect me but all they do is keep me frozen, they keep people out, or hinder me from shining the Lord to others. Sometimes we are unaware we have a wall up. Barriers can be so subtle that we buy the idea that they are “part of our personality”, we just convince ourselves they are. In reality walls are there because of anger, misunderstanding, fear or insecurity, and usually as a defense when we have been mistreated and have pain. Commonly heard phrases like; “climb the walls”, “hit the wall” and “off the wall” all can define a difficult experience or relationship.

The remedy is to trust the Lord and stay close to Him. The barriers that frustrate can be brought down by God and by our devotion to Him. Not only because we want a solution, but because in our hearts we honestly want to know Him better and we want to glorify Him more. Joshua and Company had been given the land of Canaan, the promised land, but they still had to fight to claim the cities and strongholds. Joshua was a leader devoted to God and therefore God was devoted to protect and defend. God was and always is a covenant keeper!

I can look back and see how holy power helped me overcome walls in my past; mentally and emotionally when I had to get through my second grade year with a verbally abusive teacher. Confronting fears when going to college late in life and trying my hand at a career. God was there.

I still have some of those Jericho walls to defeat with God’s help. A few of them I swear have been circled for years, but I have not yet received the directive to blow the trumpet or shout. But it’s coming!

Those walls that make us freeze up will be dramatically brought down at some point. For me and you. Keep your trumpet tuned up and your lungs ready. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up: do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19 b)

***** “God does not need your strength, he has more than enough power of his own. He asks for your weakness; he has none of that himself, and he is longing therefore, to take your weakness and use it as the instrument in his own mighty hand.”-Charles Spurgeon *****

Follow the Leader

Among the favorite neighborhood games that were played when I was a child was Follow the Leader. We were also big fans of Tag, Hide and Seek, and Red Rover. Wonderful games because there was no equipment needed, just willing participants. A good number of kids in the surrounding blocks joined when we played. Ages were about six to twelve, but nobody over twelve played. They were usually too cool to play with the littler children. (Some things don’t change.)

I remember mimicking every motion, sound and facial expression the leader made. If the leader went up one side of a set of wide stairs and down the other side, so did we. If the leader wove in and out of a long set of swings at the school ground, so did we. If the leader threw their arms up and gave a wild man yell, so did we.

There were leaders I trusted more than others, as I recall. Some of the older boys came up with ideas that were a little scary. Like crossing the river by stepping on rocks all the way across. If you mis-stepped, you got a soaked pair of shoes, or worse. Or they would wait until a car was approaching in the distance and would have us run across the street before cars got to us. (Parents don’t always know what their kids are doing. I know there were a few things I did on my own as a child that were not good ideas!)

Trust is a big factor in following. Wanting to know if my concept of following was accurate, I had one surprise when I looked up the word, follow. One of the definitions was to chase after. I don’t tend to think of following as that intensely determined, but after some more consideration, it would depend on what you are pursuing and the motive for pursuing it. How important it is to you to obtain it.

My mind segued to the Bible stories about the calling of the disciples in the gospels. All the gospels list the fishermen; Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John sons of Zebedee, as the first called. The gospel of John adds Philip shortly thereafter (Jn 1:35-43). Also, Nathaniel was brought along at that time and joined the group. The gospels of Luke and Mark list Levi (aka Matthew) next. (Mk. 2:13&14; Lk. 5: 27&28). The gospel of Matthew lists himself as the next called after the four fishermen (Mt. 9:9). Of these named he told them to “Follow me”, or words to that effect.

While I find the order of the disciples calling interesting, some by name and some unknown if called by name, the pivotal point is they were called by Jesus. All of the twelve were also hailed and appointed by Jesus at some point, at least as a group. (Mt. 10:1-4, Mk. 3:13-19, Lk. 6:17&18). Of course, Jesus was familiar with all their names because he already knew them, whereas the disciples were only beginning to know Jesus. All the twelve disciples were important to the whole.

Circling back to the definitions of the word follow, I also noted these additional. To adhere to the cause, to emulate, to listen to closely, and to accompany. The meaning most commonly used in Bible verses that include follow, as applies in this blog, is “to accompany” (as a disciple). It also mentions use in the sense of a “road” as in a journey, and “as a particle of union”. How amazing are those last few words? They imply such a close relationship between Jesus and the men who followed. How delightful! And how fitting to describe a relationship those who now follow Jesus still have.

A promise scripture I refer to often is Hosea 6:3, and it is applicable here, I think. “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning: and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain into the earth.” It is interesting in this scripture that the verb, follow, means to chase or pursue.

What or who do you follow? There are so many choices out there. Society, opinions of your friends, politics, your feelings, your intellect? Or multitudes of other things that can change hour to hour? A life following God is the best choice, pursuing he who is steady and unchanging. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Following the Leader this time around requires even more trust. The stakes are higher and there are costs. But this Leader will make sure the stones don’t tip as you cross the river, even if the river is deeper than the one you crossed as a child. This Leader will make a safe way for you across the wide road where traffic is whizzing by at high speeds that overwhelm you. Whatever you may face in life that you feel is just too big for you, Jesus is bigger still!

“To have found God and yet still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love.”-Aiden Wilson Tozer

Hearing Your Own Oyez

Life is loud. Our society offers more and more entertainment and distraction, and it is getting louder and louder about it. As I look around, people seem to be unaware of the possibility of or the need for quiet. They seem to crave noise all the time.

For instance, it’s hard to find a restaurant that does not have television sets on, and not just one television or one area of the establishment, but multiples all over the premises. Some places of business have music playing in addition-so the noise level is waaaay up there! Locating a restaurant where you can have a conversation without straining to hear is a challenge now. Where does quietness fit into our lives?

I posed a form of this question to a social media group I was a part of in the last year or so, wanting to see what the consensus would be. “Are we afraid of quiet?” The responses came from several different age groups.

One respondent said that if there is music playing or the tv is on, they “did not think about what might be in the dark.” Imagine being genuinely afraid of that—and this person was not trying to be funny, they were being transparent. My heart broke for them because between the lines of their comment was so much uncertainty! Other responses on the app were more off-the-cuff, and I wondered if they understood the point of the query or if they just did not want to bother. Or maybe I touched a nerve.

I wonder if silence is sometimes avoided because people don’t like to do too much self examination. If they feel worried or depressed, inadequate or lonely. Maybe they don’t see a way to soothe the savage beast inside. They can’t feel terra-firma under their feet anywhere. One conclusion to draw is that the cacophony of noise and distractions drowns these thoughts out, allowing them not to have to think about it. It’s a possible interpretation.

Many long for peace but many are not willing to do what needs to be done to get it. And that one thing is humbly turning to Jesus, the Savior, for salvation. I am reminded of two scriptural examples of missing what trusting in, and a relationship with, Jesus can give. The first is found in Isaiah 30:15, when God is talking to the tribe of Judah about looking to him as their deliverer. Instead, Judah has made a pact with Egypt for protection against a strong enemy. And God said: “ ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.’ But you were not willing.” (NASB) Judah was choosing to rely on the limited strength of human efforts rather than God’s unlimited power and promise.

The second is found in Luke 13:34, as Jesus gazes over Jerusalem with deep sorrow and says: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” (NASB)

“You were not willing” and “You would not have it”. If Jesus felt that way about resistant Judah and Jerusalem, how does he feel when we hold him at arms length? How often do we ignore what God is telling us? I know there have been quite a few times where I just did not listen. I can use the avoidance tactic with great skill!! It’s so easy to justify ourselves, isn’t it? But that way lies empty. Often we lose our focus on relationship with the Lord and subsequently, we lose ourselves along the way. But he defines and redefines who we are when we need it.

The habit of making time for God is so crucial. We remember that Jesus understood the value of time apart from crowds and demands during his ministry on earth. Whether he sought communion with his Father because of grief (Matthew 14:13), or because he needed to be refilled (verse 23), or there was need for more teaching and opportunity for more miracles (Mark 6:45-52), Jesus sought prayer with hunger!

John the Baptist also was one who knew spiritual solitude and it’s benefits. John was strong in his confidence in God’s ability, so much so that he lived away from everyone in the wilderness, so he could be focused on God. Certainly, John was called to this kind of life. His story is less about being secluded from people and more about being only for God. And Jesus acknowledged the importance of John’s ministry when speaking to the crowds. He explained that John was not a “reed shaken by the wind” (Luke 7:24), he was solid.

Further into Matthew chapter 7, Jesus continues his discourse to the crowd and quotes an Old Testament passage about the forerunner coming before Jesus. The reference to Malachi 3:1 actually reads: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” John the Baptist was that forerunner, he was that messenger. And John knew how to seek the solitude and solace of the Lord.

You may be wondering where the title of this blog came from. Well, I thought about a more practical application of the idea of quietness and the importance of listening as I wrote this. I was reminded of legal protocol when a judge enters the courtroom and how the proceedings continue from there. Long years ago, if you were in the courtroom as a witness, a juror or simply an observer, you might have heard an announcement of “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez. The honorable Judge Jones presiding.” The bailiff is more likely today to say, “All rise”, to announce the judge’s entrance, and everyone quiets and stands out of respect. The most interesting thing about this is the definition of the word oyez [pronounced o-yay]. It is an Old French word and means: to call for silence and attention.

I wonder, do you feel the Lord calling you with his own “Oyez”? Does he want you to pay a little more attention to this most crucial of relationships? Does he want more undistracted time with you? Does he long for you to come to him and listen?

There are still times and seasons when believers are pulled away to be alone with God. There will continue to be until Jesus returns for his bride. In my own experience, this has happened most commonly before large changes in life. Newly out of home in my own apartment, when I became engaged, when I married two years later, when children arrived and then grew up, when college came and a career began, when grandchildren appeared, when we left our home state and went on an adventure. Now in writing and retirement.

I have learned that God is faithful to teach us to know him-but we have to nurture that knowledge. He gives the clear invitation and once you’ve heard it, it is not possible to resist. Heed that “Oyez”! We all need it like sunshine!

Perhaps you need a sabbatical with the Lord. If this resonates with you-please do it. Take a day off and go away with Jesus. Or simply turn off all media, tell everyone you need solitude, close your blinds and lock your doors if you have to, and commit several hours to seek him! Pray, read the Bible, listen and contemplate. Please do it! Oh, the sweetness you will find.

“Silence is a profound melody for those who can hear it above all the noise.”-Socrates

Seven Perfect Words

In retrospect, I can see many events in my life that have had distinctive beginnings and endings. A few examples of those for me are schooling; jobs (I am retired, I think); and some relationships (my parents are both deceased). The only constant, the one ongoing reality, is God—and his sense of order and purpose.

Almost everyone knows at least something of the story of creation, even if they heard it long ago as a child in Sunday school, and have had no real contemplation of it since. Being once again at the start of a new year, I am again reading in Genesis, but I noticed something I have not before.

Were there to be a survey of the most remembered words in the story of creation in Genesis 1, my guess is the majority of those responses would be, “In the beginning…” That was certainly familiar to me as I read, yet another phrase grabbed my attention recently. And wouldn’t let go. The phrase is, “And it was so.” Together those two phrases seem to form seven perfect words, a message of completion. “In the beginning…And it was so.”

Without getting too mystical about it, it is a fact that certain numbers are used more frequently and with significance in the Bible. Some of those recurring numbers are 3,7,12 and 40. For example, the number seven correlates to the number of days of creation, even if God rested on the seventh (and by the way, the word rest in Hebrew in 2:2 of Genesis means not only to stop or cease but also to celebrate); many of Israel’s feast days were seven days long; and the Feast of Tabernacles and the Day of Atonement take place in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. Our own calendar still defines one week as seven days.

The phrase, “And it was so” in the reading is found in verses 7,9,11,15, 24 and 30 of the first chapter of Genesis (ESV). The verses and the wordage may depend on what Bible translation you are using. (Some others that I found use the phrase, “And that was what happened”, or “That is how it was”). These words and phrases share the same meaning—they reflect completion.

Charles Spurgeon, the prolific pastor and orator, opines in his Genesis 1 commentary on the phrase: “…what he has spoken shall certainly be fulfilled…These words are often repeated in this chapter. They convey to us the great lesson that the word of God is sure to be followed by the deed of God. He speaks, and it is done.”

The Psalmist also writes about this in Psalm 33:8-9. “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”

A New Testament scripture both confirms the Old and elaborates on the promise to us: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

And in Revelation 1:8, the concept of God’s complete plan is reiterated once more. “ ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending’, says the Lord, which is and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (KJV)

Interesting to note that the first scripture and the last scripture used in this blog are from Genesis, then Revelation. Just chance? No, just another confirmation of the order and perfection of God’s ways. I did not plan that in my outline. He is ceaselessly amazing!

The proclamation is true. In our lives now and in the future the Lord will do what he says he will do. In our lives too—it (will be) so.

Bookends, Bulwarks and Such

As a true bibliophile I love books, but also all things book related. Along with loving the appearance of books, you can add to the list the feel of them in my hands, and the smell of a new book is the sweetest perfume to me. If there is any other way to absorb them, I want to find it. I am besotted of anything book connected.

When I was younger I collected bookends to contain all my books. I recall scouring yard sales and on occasion, an estate sale, for treasures. One of my first sets was a pair of ceramic praying hands that were in the unfinished stage, which I painted a very pale blue and put to use. I don’t remember if these were found on one of my adventures or given in church camp or Sunday school, but there is a razor sharp memory of exactly how they looked. Sadly, many of my bookends are no longer with me, as downsizing and purging were necessary when we moved out of state.

The genres I enjoyed as a child were: Call of the Wild, Black Beauty, My Side of the Mountain, the Little House series, and many more. I have evolved to others as an adult, of course. I still enjoy an occasional biography or autobiography about how people learned, lived and survived, and a mystery by one of my favorite secular authors is hard to resist. But overwhelmingly, I find I am drawn to the Bible and books about the character and nature of God. The things of the spirit and Christian life are what I hunger for, and what comes first.

I have come to realize that the Lord is representative of my set of spiritual bookends. The Lord is my bulwark. He holds me in order, He keeps me upright, He surrounds me before and behind. Perhaps that is one thing that speaks to me so much in Hebrews 12:2, when it states: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” (NIV) The Lord started me on this journey of faith (first bookend), and He will complete my path (second bookend). The Amplified is further eye-opening and confirming when it says: “Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the leader and Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher…” (Zondervan, 1980 edition).

This was a concept David seemed to grasp, as he prays in Psalm 25:21: “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for and expect you.” And again his statement of faith in Psalm 7:10: “My defense and shield depend on God, Who saves the upright in heart.” Both the understanding of where David’s uprightness came from, and how God looked on uprightness of heart and living were seen clearly by him. And if anyone of us is unsure of what it means, God’s definition of what uprightness means can be found in countless scriptures in the Bible. It is woven throughout.

When I am feeling overwhelmed in general, when I am challenged by illness, or relationships, or making ends meet, when I am fearful and uncertain of my earthly future, my Bookends keep me safe. My Bulwark surrounds me. A bulwark is defined as something strong surrounding or supporting. Its purpose is to provide defense or protection; to fortify. Jesus is and does all of those things.


“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing”—Martin Luther, Hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Wait-Fors and Expectations

Photo by Simon Berger on

In years past, I made a New Years resolution right along with many people. Resolutions are nothing more than set goals with a new title. Some of my yearly goals I actually kept, but many more went by the wayside.

Over the last decade I have begun asking God to direct me to a specific Bible verse to stand on for each year. For example, as 2020 began and sequed into 2021 the scripture was Isaiah 33:6, in part “…and He will be the stability of your times…” We were not yet aware of Covid in January of 2020, but obviously God knew, and I was given the verse for comfort throughout that challenge. I sincerely needed that scripture to cling to as almost everything in our world was turned upside down.

In 2022, there were two scriptures that were graciously given to me for direction. One was, “Pray without ceasing.” I Thess. 5:17 Impossible to do intellectually but very attainable spiritually. I think our spirit prays all the time without our even knowing it. The second was, also in part, “…having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” Ephesians 1:18-19(a) God knew I would need to be reminded that the “eyes of my heart” were enlightened, and his “incomparably great power”was for me in the midst of some health and relationship challenges.

My 2023 supportive verses(s) seem to be leaning toward the concept of waiting. Wait-fors are never easy. All wait-fors are a blend of asperity wrapped in anticipation. We all groan a little when we have to be patient and watch. I remember as a child it seemed torturous to wait for birthdays, then the start of school and subsequently the start of summer break. My list grew with teen years as I waited for new friends, first date, and high school graduation. Adulthood brought the wait-fors of first “real” job, wedding day, children, college and career, grandchildren and yes, retirement. All goals, all resolutions in a sense.

Isaiah 25:9 says, “‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he would save us. This is the LORD; we waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’” I will cling to that in 2023. Psalm 130:5 says, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” My hope for 2023 is grounded in the Bible.

There is a song that has been replaying in my mind lately. It comes from an old Scottish hymn, but has been recorded several times in variations—by Keith Getty, and Shane and Shane most recently. I cannot get the refrains out of my head, and it is appropriately named, I Will Wait. It is so good, I strongly suggest you give it a listen!

The refrains go like this: (1) “ I will wait for you, I will wait for you, On your word I will rely. I will wait for you, surely wait for you, until my soul is satisfied.” (2) “I will wait for you, I will wait for you, Through the storm and through the night. I will wait for you, surely wait for you, For your love is my delight.” This is my prayer for my New Year.

I am reminded that I should look with hope for whatever the Lord will do this year. I should have a feeling of anticipation, not gloom and doom. Whatever God exposes, creates or transforms in this world, or in me—it will be a good thing once completed. I want to please the Lord with the right attitude in this. We will know the favor of God if we do have the right mindset, because he says in Isaiah 30:18(b), “ For the LORD is a God of justice, blessed are ALL those who wait for him.” (emphasis mine). How valued by God is our waiting on him!


“Prayer means not always talking to Him, but waiting before Him; waiting before Him until the dust settles and the stream runs clear.” -A.W. Tozer

The Gift of Presence

One of my most clear Christmas memories occurred when I was 10 years old. I vividly recall receiving a pretty blue robe, and the best thing, a new AM-FM transistor radio. A big deal for a 10 year old back then!

It is possible that I remember this so well because there was a photo of me taken by my parents that somehow did not get lost or damaged. Those visual aids strongly influence our memories.

It isn’t a big leap at this time of year to go from the idea of physical presents, to the deeper concept of spiritual presence. They do connect in a way. While raised in a Christian home, I was too young to fully recognize the amazing presence of God, but I saw it in the demonstration of my parents love and giving, and it has developed as an adult.

In reading through the Christmas story once again, I was drawn to the more peripheral characters involved. I noted Zechariah, who was a priest in the temple in the days that Jesus was conceived and born. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had an encounter with the presence of the Lord during that time, and were chosen to be John the Baptist’s parents. In the flesh and blood sense, Jesus and John were related because their mothers were related. They all played a pivotal place in the Christmas story.

When the angel came to Zechariah and announced that he and his wife, Elisabeth, were going to have a son, Zechariah understandably had some doubts. (Luke 1:8-23) Number one, he was really old. Number two, an angel appeared and told him the news-not exactly an every day occurrence. To his credit Zechariah recognized that God was doing this, and even though he was mute for a time because of his initial disbelief, when John was born Zechariah by faith wrote on the tablet, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63) because the angel had instructed him so.

It would have been fascinating to know Zechariah’s thought processes during the time of John’s gestation. This experience would shake anyone up. In the same sense, what did Elisabeth think in this season of her life? The Bible indicates she recognized God’s presence and His work when she said, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me to take away my reproach among people.” Luke 1:25 (ESV)

Elisabeth also understood and felt God’s presence when she greeted Mary, who had come for a visit. Elisabeth had only to hear Mary’s voice, and her spirit and that of John, yet unborn, reacted to that anointing on Mary and the nearness of their Messiah. She knew that her relative was pregnant and carried Jesus. We probably all know her response by heart. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” In her wonder, she also states: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:42-43 (ESV) There was no previous indication that Elisabeth knew her relative was pregnant beforehand, and no record that they had visited recently. Mary was only three months pregnant at this time. The spirit revealed it to Elisabeth. What an encouragement this must have been to Mary! It was likely confirmation to her at a time she most needed it.

Another peripheral player but still very important was Simeon, known as a righteous and devout man. He had been praying for the Messiah to come for many years, who knows how long- but the Bible says the Holy Spirit was on him too. When Jesus was brought to the temple to present him to the Lord at eight days old, as was Jewish custom, Simeon was there. (Luke 2:22-35) And to Simeon’s joy, he recognized the Consolation of Israel indwelling the baby Jesus. No one anticipated the Messiah coming in this innocent, sweet little package, but by the spirit, Simeon saw. “‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…’” vs. 29-30 (ESV) He had the ultimate visual aid right in front of him-in his arms as he held Jesus. I wonder if he knew that Jesus would die for him one day, and hold him in return?

This blog post has stirred questions in me. Do I recognize Jesus in this season beyond the manger scenes and songs about his birth in Bethlehem? Do I recognize the presence of the Lord every day? Can I say that I not only feel his presence, but see him at work? And if I see Jesus, do I have the reaction that Zechariah, Elisabeth, Simeon and the babe-in-womb John experienced? Oh, I want to! I look for it and I look for him.

It comforts my heart that the Lord promises, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8) The fact that my actions do not always prove pure, simply means I am a work in progress. The footnotes from my NIV Full Life Study Bible simply explains “pure” as someone who lives to please God, not themselves. And the word “see” in this verse is defined in Strong’s Concordance this way: to gaze with wide open eyes, as at something remarkable. My prayer is that you and I recognize his presence this holiday season and every day, so that we can devote ourselves even more to him!

“The whole of our life inside and out is to be absolutely haunted by the Presence of God.”- Oswald Chambers

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