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On the wall of the classroom in bold, beautiful font were the empowering words:

“turn your cants into cans and your dreams into plans”

After correcting the grammar*, my next thought was the proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Can’s and plans are good, and godly ambition is a worthwhile pursuit, but whether you are a believer or not, your life is held in God’s hands (Daniel 5:23) and He is sovereign in all of your life. So heed the advice given in James 4:15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Good may come of your efforts, but difficulties may also come of them and both good and ill will come anyway (Job 5:7). Don’t be discouraged by it. Yield to God and learn from it and prosper in it. I have had a measure of trouble, not so great as many others nor so slight as some others, and I have not always been patient, but trials are a constant and consistent teacher. I hope the following poem may encourage and strengthen you rather than drag you down.

In this life and on this path
There is strife and sometimes wrath
Difficulties small and great
But nothing ever left to fate

We have dreams and we make plans
Some have even help and fans
All of your ambitions dear
Wait for God’s directions clear

Paying forward, looking back
Outward viewing, keep on track
In your life reflect on how
Before His will you may bow

The when difficulties come
More than an unhappy sum
Of trials and loss and joys ban
They are part of His good plan

 

*I was first drawn to the visual aesthetics of the display, but almost immediately questioned in my mind why such a poorly constructed phrase would be on the wall of an English classroom. I considered that our students don’t know grammar because we don’t know or model grammar. We are all caught up in texting language, which is understandable for texting but deadly to the language and good communication. If you ignore the contractions, which should not be in formal writing (I use them in this blog to increase the conversational tone of my writing.), then the wall display should have read more along the following lines: “Turn your can’t’s into can’s and your dreams into plans.” The subject is understood because this sentence is a command, but students need to have this modeled along with punctuation.

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I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

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If desperate times call for desperate measures, then tremendous provision calls for tremendous thanksgiving. Our youngest grandchild was born just over a year ago with heart problems. He had major heart surgery about 9 months later. Though small, he is now growing and happy with good skin color. It is amazing that he is alive and progressing. His father decided that in the light of God’s gracious provision of his child’s safety and health and the many people who showed concern, helped out, and prayed that a birthday party might not be enough. Instead, he decided to invite anyone who had been even distantly involved to come for a half day celebration of his son’s life and God’s goodness. 50 people responded that they would come. In the time my wife were able to be there, from 1-5:30 PM, the people came and went at a steady but reasonable pace for meet and greet. Good conversations, good food, and many stories of God’s goodness abounded.

After a year of multiple hospital stays, procedures, tests, and surgery, it is good to see the little man at home, content, and growing. God is good even when things are hard, but we celebrate His goodness when He is gracious to care for us with such largesse. His all sufficient grace is good and praiseworthy and full of joy.

In retrospect, I wish that I had taken pictures of the many people who came, but my few good pictures are of my own family gathered to encourage and give thanks. Also, notice that the little guy is almost always serious. He will go to anyone, probably because he is used to being held by nurses, but he takes a serious look at whoever picks him up.

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First Arrival Greeting

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Mama Talk

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Very Involved Sister

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A Few Moments Together

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Close Siblings (He smiles more often with his sister than any other time.)

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A Story and An Inquiry

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Intense Little Video (Uncle Time)

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With Uncle and Aunt

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With Those Swingin’ Uncles

Gift from a Pilot

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Odd picture: It must be blurred because I was shaky. Her face must be in focus because her movement matched my shakiness. That gives it a cool sense of motion.

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Healthy and Happy

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Mamaw Loves Those Grandchildren

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Recently, I gave each of my older grandchildren (that’s 4 out of 6, who are old enough to understand what I am saying) a polished black rock. I told them that every time they look at it or rub it with their thumb to keep it shiny, they should think, “Jesus is  like a rock that is unchanged.” He is firm. He is sturdy. He is dependable. He provides for us. The Scripture describes Him as a rock in I Corinthians 10:4: “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from the same spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

The illustrations for Paul’s comments in I Corinthians are found in Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:1-13, and Deuteronomy 8:15, 32:1-43 (The Song of Moses). If you read the Numbers passage, you will see that God got angry with Moses and Aaron for striking the rock this second time instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. Even though Moses’ anger showed a presumption on his part, what God says to them reveals the source of God’s anger as resulting from them not treating (or representing) God as holy before the congregation. They had disobeyed God’s direct command. I have long wondered why God got so angry. I believe ultimately it may be because Moses’ careless and angry action destroyed a symbol God had designed to explain His work with man. The first time before a rock (Exodus 17), God commanded Moses to strike the rock. The second time (Numbers 20), God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. The first time Christ came He was struck on the cross to deliver us from sin, for “in that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.” (Zechariah 13:1) Just as the rock poured forth life giving water for the people when Moses struck it, so Christ poured forth life giving blood when the nails were struck into his hands and feet. The second time Christ will come “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await him.” (Hebrews 9:28) He will gladly provide all we need and more for those for whom He was struck to rescue them. “Ask, and it will be given unto you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the it will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened to him.” (Matthew 7:7-8) 

In Deuteronomy, Moses teaches Israel a song about the dependability, consistency, strength, perfection, faithfulness, righteousness, and jealousy for His people of Israel’s God, their Rock.

David helps to solidify our understanding about God as our Rock. His most direct explanation of the rock metaphor comes in Psalm 18. In verses 1-3 he sets forth the idea of the Lord as his rock:

“I love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

The rock metaphor becomes a shorthand for David of security, protection, salvation, strength, victory, and all else that God means to him regarding physical, mental, and spiritual rescue from all variety of enemies. God is for him a firm place where his foot doesn’t slip and his enemies don’t overcome him (v.36-37)

I know that my grandchildren can’t understand all of that right now, but learning dependence upon God is a good lesson to begin early. We will always need to come around to learning it at a deeper level and life provides many opportunities to review that lesson.

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Why Me? There are generally two ways to answer that question.

Why me? Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?

         Or…

Why me? What is God trying to teach me? How is He using these circumstances to guide me?

On a very pleasant, sunny afternoon my wife and I were preparing to go for a walk on our local Greenway. We were talking and enjoying conversation and she was understanding well. You see, she is a stroke victim and most days communication is poor and ponderous. We went to the car, talking away as we went. I distinctly remember enjoying the moment.

I pulled out of the driveway, looking both ways. In my blind spot a car had pulled up on the opposite curb. I looked in my rear side mirror and reacted just soon enough to dent his passenger door no more than about four inches. Two inches less and a toilet plunger would have fixed the problem, but the main beam was damaged and irrepairable. It was an expensive mistake.

Now two months later I was at the body shop paying for the repair. I had planned other business nearby. When I came out of the shop, my truck would not start. After a half hour cleaning the battery cable, I was underway, too late to do the other business I thought so important.

Why had all of this happened? Why was I prevented and redirected? What chain of events is God orchestrating for His glory and my benefit through these less than pleasant events?

I may never know, but I do know that the Scripture says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I lived a good portion of my life frustrated by annoying sidetracks and roadblocks, but I have come to understand what the Psalmist means when he says, “It is vain to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2) I want to end my days trusting God, as the Psalmist says, “The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; and those who know Your name will put their trust in You. For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” (Psalm 9:9-10)

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I have the same question as Gideon when God’s messenger said to him, “The Lord is with you”: “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:12,13) The prophet Habakkuk feels a sense of desperation as he surveys the landscape of difficulty before him. He pleads, “LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear, O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (3:1-2) And Ethan the Ezrahite asks, How long, O LordWill You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire?” (Psalm 89:46) And he questions, too, Where are Your former lovingkindnesses, O Lord, which You swore to David in Your faithfulness?” (v.49) The sons of Korah, a designated group of Levites for praising God, wrote, O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us the work that You did in their days, in the days of old.” (Psalm 44:1) But they are discouraged and ask, Why do You hide Your face and forget our affliction and our oppression?” (v.24)

Some of the questioning that people do may well be jeering unbelief that says, “prove it”, similar to “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35) For others it may be more like Gideon, who said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground. God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.” (Judges 6:39-40). 

There is a decided difference between these two types of questioning, for The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger, but He will reject the craving of the wicked.” (Proverbs 10:3) I believe that the verse refers to both physical and spiritual hunger. God will help those with doubts who really want to believe. In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus heals a boy possessed by a demon. He is clearly frustrated by the crowds unbelief (v.19), but shows patience with the struggling father whose belief is faltering: “But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us! And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”” (v.22-24) Jesus casts out the demon and raises the son.

So, what do we do with the times when we need direction, help, or rescue, but God seems not to show. Were His works only in the past as stated and implied by the prophets I quoted above? A somewhat frequent saying I hear among Christians is “God has to show up” or “God showed up.” I understand the sentiment in these statements, which is similar to the questions of the prophets, but it is not as though God is not continuously present.

And so Samuel places an Ebenezer; Joshua erects a monument; the half tribes of Manasseh and Reuben erect a facsimile altar. Others like Laban put up monuments for self-protection or like Absalom for self-aggrandizement, but properly intentioned markers are good to reduce spiritual forgetfulness and faltering faith. It seems as though we modern believers should have much less need for markers, because we have the completed Word of God to strengthen us. We also have far more distractions and false voices. Perhaps rather than a stone edifice,  each time we see God work, we could hang a representative picture on the wall or have a book of remembrances we could pass down to our children that reminds us of God’s faithfulness. Maybe this blog is my attempt to remind myself, my readers, and one day my descendants that our Creator and Savior is He who rescues and sustains and directs even when the path seems winding, dark, and without destination.

And God seems to like markers, too:

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’” Revelation 2:17

“you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” I Peter 2:5

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I Need You

My Lord, I need you in so many ways
In this moment and all of my days
For You give me purpose and hope that stays
Help and direction when I pray

There is no other God besides You
All that You are, do and say is true
Why do we make idols and them pursue
When our glorious God is in view?

How so, you may ask, can we see Him?
With eyes of faith that are not dim
From what He’s made His unseen attributes
Through His Word and salvation He imputes

So I will ever serve this kind and mighty Lord
And seek to make Him known and His grace afford
Cling to Him when by difficulties floored
Follow after Him to blessings and reward

 

You need Him, too. You just may not know it at this time. I pray that you will come to serve Him. We all serve a master; there is no true autonomy. We either serve the devil and his world system resulting in death or we serve the God of heaven through His Son Jesus resulting in life. Plead with God to save you; He will. He is a kind and gentle Master.

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