The Letter

Direct your children onto the right path,
and when they are older, they will not leave it
.
Proverbs 22:6 NLT

A solitary letter, addressed and dated, lay among other stuff.

The text from my daughter read, “Hope chest treasures.” Along with it came a picture. My father had made her a small cedar chest she called her hope chest. In it, she placed things she hoped to use when she got married, along with other sentimental items. I recognized the handwriting on the letter as mine. The date was eighteen years earlier.

“What does the letter say?” I texted back.

“You don’t remember,” she responded.

“Of course not.”

“Well, you can read it when you come to the house.”

I hurried my wife, and we made our way to our daughter’s home.

“Where’s the letter,” I quickly said.

She handed it over, and I eagerly opened it. She and I had just finished a five-day backpacking trip. In the letter, I told her how much fun I had had, how much I loved her, and how I hoped she would always feel comfortable coming to me when she needed to talk. I think my hope that she placed in her hope chest came true.

Parenting is tough, but the writer of the proverb says training children correctly has its advantages. The proverbs in the book of Proverbs are not absolutes but norms. Usually when a child is taught the right way, they follow it—even though they may temporarily stray. I am proof of the truth—as is my daughter. My son is still straying.

An African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And it does. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, school teachers, church teachers, deacons, preachers, etc. Training them spiritually is essential, but so is training them to use the gifts and talents God has created in them. This means allowing them to follow their God-ordained employment or professional path, whether it’s the one I’d prefer or not. God doesn’t want a world filled with only preachers, evangelists, and missionaries.

Training children takes time. It’s easier to throw a tech gadget their way, to sit them in front of the television, or to simply bail them out when they get into trouble. Teaching them and creating an atmosphere where they’ll feel comfortable talking requires effort and time.

God is more than willing to give you the wisdom to raise your children. Depend on Him for it. Don’t try to go it alone.

Excited about God’s Plan

After that generation died, another generation grew up
who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10 NLT

“Pa.” “Car.” “Go.” I filled in the blanks and knew what my grandson wanted.

Our second grandson is not quite two years old. The age his brother was when he wanted to start spending the night with Meme and Pop. Sometimes, he would stay several nights in a row. Now his younger brother wants to do the same—but only one night at a time.

One particular night, our daughter texted to say Colton was pitching a fit. He wanted his MeMe. We were at a movie with friends, but my wife promised she would check when we got home to see if he still wanted to spend the night. Sure enough, he did. So off we drove across town to rescue our distraught grandson.

When our daughter opened the front door and our grandson saw MeMe standing at the door and me sitting in the car, his face lit up. He was ready to go. “Bye” was all he had to offer his mom. When he got to our house, he played excitedly, as if he’d not been there in ages. I blew up his air mattress bed, and he slept soundly all night.

My wife and I normally accommodate any grandchildren requests to spend the night because we know one day things will change. They did with God’s Old Testament people. They once followed God faithfully. They were excited to have fellowship with Him. But somewhere along the line, things changed and they began pandering after the gods of the surrounding nations until finally a generation grew up who didn’t even acknowledge the God of their ancestors.

God’s plan for me to follow Him, trust Him, serve Him, and serve others should produce excitement. And it normally does in the beginning. Unfortunately, after years of serving Him, sometimes the new wears off—as it does with children and grandchildren as they grow older and don’t want to be seen with older folks.

Following God’s plan should remain exciting throughout our lifetime. His plan for us may change numerous times, but our eyes should light up when we realize it—as my grandson’s did when he saw my wife and me. Joining God in what He’s doing, and letting Him conform us to His image are the most exciting things we could ever be a part of.

Get excited about God’s plan for your life.

Don’t Fear the Light

No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.
Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

Matthew 5:15 NLT

He saw her standing by the hand-drawn well, and he knew his life would never be the same.

Community residents were converting an old school into a church. Marvin decided he’d visit to see if there was anything he could do. As he approached the construction site, two young sisters stood by the well house. Looking at one, Marvin’s heart skipped a beat. Summoning what courage he could, he approached her, introduced himself, and asked for a date.

The young lady’s response caught him off guard. “I’m a Christian,” she boldly stated. “I don’t go where a lot of young women go, and I don’t do what many young ladies do. Now if you still want a date, you can have one.”

Marvin did, and sixty plus years later, he and Gladys are still together. But he readily confesses he doesn’t know where he might be today had he not followed Gladys’ light.

The purpose of lighting a lamp was to get light. Light to read by, light to clean house by, light to do whatever one needed to do by. Covering the light would defeat the purpose. Covered lamps or candles go out, leaving one in the darkness. Jesus had a spiritual element in mind, but the lesson remains the same. Covering our testimony for Him leaves others in the dark.

Like Gladys, I should not be afraid to speak up about what I believe and whom I follow. My beliefs are based on the Bible which contains commands and principles God wants all people to follow. But many don’t know them. If I don’t shine my light into their lives, they may miss the greatest opportunity they’ll ever have.

Nor should I be afraid of holy living. Gladys wasn’t—even if it meant she might miss out on what others considered having a good time or even on a desired relationship. God is holy and expects His followers to be also. Living that way is not drudgery, but exciting. Holiness leads to abundant life.

Neither should I should be afraid to wait for the right person. Too many relationships end unhappily because they weren’t designed to be entered into in the first place. Pray, hold to your principles, and God will send the right person. He did for Gladys.

Don’t be afraid to let your light shine. Amazing things happen when you do.

Acceptable Sacrifices

Offer sacrifices in the right spirit, and trust the Lord.
Psalm 4:5 NLT

“Jonestown” was synonymous with Guyana, 1978, and suicide.

Jonestown was the informal name for the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, a project of the Peoples Temple—a religious organization headed by Jim Jones. First formed in Indiana in the 1950s, they eventually moved their headquarters to San Francisco. The church’s goal was to enlighten those drugged by the opiate of religion.

Eventually, work began on the project in Guyana. Five hundred members began the construction, and others were encouraged to relocate to the “socialist paradise.” Jones was revered by his followers. Children called him “Dad,” and adults called him “Father” or “Dad.” An on-sight nursery witnessed the birth of 33 infants.

Concern in America surfaced. A delegation led by Congressman Leo Ryan traveled to investigate. After the meeting, and before he could board the plane to return stateside, Ryan was killed. Jones stirred up Jonestown inhabitants, telling them hostile forces would soon infiltrate the town, capture their children, and turn them to fascism.

Only one solution—one sacrifice—was tenable: “revolutionary suicide.” As Jones delivered his “death tape,” some members prepared a tub of Flavor-Aid laced with poison. On November 18, 1978, 918 people made a sacrifice. They assumed it was an acceptable one.

The psalmist encourages us to offer the right kind of sacrifices to God, but what are they?

Repentance must be the first. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness of sins. Without forgiveness, there is no connection to God and therefore no hope. Repentance is more than just sorrow for getting caught. It is an intentional move in a different direction.

In close connection with repentance is confession. Repentance is a one-time act where I move in God’s direction. Confession is my daily practice of admitting my failures and sins. When I repent, I’m given Christ’s righteousness, but I’m not perfect. Confession is my admission of that.

Thanks is another acceptable sacrifice. Thanking God for salvation, for forgiveness, for life, for guidance, for wisdom, for friends, and for family. The list is endless. If not for Him, I would have nothing worth having and life wouldn’t be worth living.

The sacrifice of praise follows closely behind thanksgiving. Everything in life is worth praising God for. Praise for delivering me from hell down to praise that my liver is working properly.

Don’t give God just any sacrifice. Give Him acceptable ones.

Never Too Close for Comfort

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Psalm 34:18 NLT

There is such a thing as being too close for comfort—but never with God.

I love being close to my wife. Sometimes in the evening hours after the grandkids have gone and the kitchen is clean, we sit together and watch M*A*S*H episodes. We snuggle, me with my arm around her and her with her head on my shoulder.

Nights are similar. We only have a full-size bed, but it wouldn’t matter if it was queen- or king-size. We’d still occupy the same space. We lie close to each other, often holding each other throughout the night. She doesn’t want her own space, nor do I.

I also enjoy being close to my children and grandchildren. Although my daughter and son are 30 and 26 respectively, they still get hugs. And so do the grandkids. They get many hugs and kisses. I want them to know they are loved. Especially if they are sad or hurt.

My personal space is different. While I don’t mind family getting into my personal space, I tend to back up when others enter it. If I don’t know them well, they can get too close for comfort.

The person who never gets too close for comfort is God. Never have I felt so close to Him as when I went through an extremely difficult divorce. It seemed I had lost everything, but He reminded me I had not lost Him. My favorite time of the day was when I’d lie down at night and pray. It was as if He was right beside me. And He was. He is close to the brokenhearted and calms those who have crushed spirits.

God is close because He cares. We are His children, His friends, His masterpieces in the making. Sometimes the making requires guiding us through tough times and at other times bringing difficulties into our lives. But He never leaves us. I may not feel His presence. He may even seem far away, but He never is.

God doesn’t deliver me from every difficulty, yet He won’t leave me to walk through them alone. Like a shepherd guiding sheep, He leads me, giving me wisdom and courage to face what is crushing my spirit.

Regardless of how you feel when times are tough, remember God is never too close for comfort.

Ditching Discouragement

abuseI will boast only in the Lord; let all who are discouraged take heart.
Psalm 34:2 NLT

After thirteen years of marriage, her discouragement had reached a new low.

Michelle married as soon as she could. She was looking for a way out and found one in a relationship with a young man her parents disliked. She wasn’t interested in their opinions; she wanted to escape. As soon as she could, she married.

Soon after the wedding, Michelle discovered her mistake. She had married a loser. He migrated from one job to another. Had it not been for her job and her parent’s help, they would have drowned financially. Worse yet, he was an abuser: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Throwing objects at Michelle and hitting her in places where the bruises wouldn’t show was her husband’s normal pattern. He topped this off with a continual barrage of insulting remarks, belittling her while building himself up. And he never supported her spiritual pursuits.

After thirteen years of misery, Michelle was depressed and discouraged. She feared he’d kill her if she left, but she didn’t see how she could stay. Finally, she mustered the courage to leave. While he was at work, she packed her things and headed to her parents’ home. One year later, her divorce was final and she soon married a man who gave her the love and respect she deserved.

According to the psalmist, Michelle went to the right place with her discouragement: the Lord. Now she boasts in what God did for her. She tells people she married the devil the first time but an angel the second time. I don’t feel like an angel, but I’ll take the compliment.

Instances that can lead to discouragement are the bane of living in a sinful world. While there have been a number of occasions when I’ve slipped into discouragement, I choose not to live there. Because I believe God controls my circumstances, I choose to see them differently than I would have had I no one to turn to.

God never allows us into potentially discouraging times without a purpose in mind. What could discourage me can also mold me more into God’s image as well as prepare me for something He has in mind for me. Facing tough times also gives me ammunition to help others who may be passing through similar experiences as I have faced.

Don’t waste your discouragement–but don’t live with it either. Ditch it.

A Taste Beyond All Others

eatingTaste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
Psalm 34:8 NLT

Loving to taste is why I’m where I am.

Though I love vegetables and meat, I’ve always had a taste for junk food. Nothing like sitting down with a bag of barbecue potato chips, a Reese’s peanut butter cup, and a glass of milk. And Little Debbie’s?  Any kind will do. Surely, God anointed the person who invented them. I’d rather eat a few of them than a homemade cookie or cake.

For many years, my taste never led to weight gain—and I wanted to gain weight. I was skinny and often made fun of. So I topped off my junk food diet with things like Weight On. Nothing worked. Around age 38, my wish to gain weight came true. The trouble was, I didn’t want to gain as much as I gained. Twenty years later, I still have to monitor my taste habits to maintain the proper weight level.

I think we’ll still enjoy eating in heaven—but with an added pleasure. I’ll be able to taste and consume anything I want without worrying about weight gain. The psalmist had another type of tasting in mind: tasting of the Lord to see how good He is.

When Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples, He gave them bread and told them to taste it. It represented His body which would soon be given for their sins and for the sins of the world.

Tasting the Lord involves accepting Him as my Savior, which is preceded by recognizing I’m a sinner in need of salvation. But doing this is only the beginning of a lifelong journey. Doing nothing more won’t let me experience how good He is.

On a regular basis, I must taste God’s Word. Like the bread, I must ingest it, let it settle into my inner soul, and then bear fruit in my actions. I’ll never know how good the Lord is without tasting His Word. Tasting is also more than just a quick read. I ingest by thinking about what the Word says and by asking God’s Spirit to lead me into full understanding so I can let it influence my thoughts, actions, and words.

I also taste when I ask God to give me a continual hunger for Him. A hunger to know Him better. A hunger to understand His ways more fully.

Don’t back away. Taste and see how good God is.

Justice Will Prevail

justice1For the Lord loves justice.
Psalms 37:28 NLT

Although it only does so sporadically now, justice will one day reign supremely.

Examples of injustices abound. Justice is infringed upon when someone steals. Perhaps they are poor or are just too lazy to work for it. Either way, they take what belongs to someone else.

Justice hollers every time a woman or girl is raped. Child abuse flourishes, and justice is hampered in each case. Little ones who can’t fend off the fiends who do to them what never should be done. Spousal abuse blooms also. Whether physical or emotional or both, the abuse damages the psyche of the one who endures it, and once again justice is impinged upon.

When someone else gets the promotion I deserve, justice is obstructed. Especially if they got the promotion because they are the boss’s favorite or because of some quota that needs to be met. And when one gender makes less for doing the same job, justice is once again impeded.

Justice also takes a beating when politicians fail to keep the promises to the constituents who elected them.

The psalmist says God loves justice, but God certainly has a comical way of showing it. While love is the most common trait heard when referring to God, just might be a more appropriate characteristic when referring to His nature.

God loves justice, but free will explains why it’s not observed more consistently. God didn’t create robots in the beginning. Just as He gave angels the free will to rebel against Him (Lucifer being a case in point), so He also gave the same to humans. Free will allows us to infringe upon the justice He loves. But just because I don’t see justice displayed consistently and universally doesn’t mean God doesn’t desire for it to be. Or that He is powerless to make it happen.

God allows injustices in His master plan now, but one day justice will prevail universally and consistently. Sin will have no place on the new earth or in heaven. Satan—and all who represent his interests, will be eternally damned.

In the meantime, it is my responsibility to help justice spread. I can do this by setting an example of it through my daily actions. I can also help spread it by supporting and electing those who will represent it in political office.

Don’t get discouraged. God is in control, and justice will reign.

Stepping in the Right Direction

babystepsThe Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the
 Lord holds them by the hand.
Psalm 37:23-24 NLT

Taking steps is a frightening experience.

I remember when my children and grandchildren first began to take steps. First, they pulled up on a piece of furniture. Then they let go and reached for the next closest thing they could grasp, taking only one step to get from point A to point B. But when there was nothing for them to hold, taking a step became a frightening experience. Many falls and stumbles followed, but the expression on their faces when they had mastered the process of stepping was priceless.

My life steps have taken me in many directions. When hiking in the mountains, my steps took me over roots, rocks, moss-covered ledges, narrow paths, and deep ruts. One misstep could have resulted in a broken bone, or even death. My steps—some intentional and some not, have taken me to places where danger lurked. They’ve taken me down roads where I’ve known a measure of success. They’ve also taken me into the company of bad company.

Though the psalmist maintains God directs the steps of His children and delights in the details of their lives, God also won’t force me to take steps in His direction. His endowment to humanity was free will so that following Him was voluntary, not forced.

Stepping in the right direction means I won’t step where I might want to step but rather where God wants me to walk. Prior to knowing Christ, my sinful nature led me to perpetually step in the wrong direction. The new nature Christ gave changed my desires, but I still do battle with stepping in the right direction.

God cares about the details of my life. He cares what steps I take and the direction they will lead me. He is not a distance deity who created me and then left me to figure out life by myself. Even with the best intentions, I’ll stumble.

Trials will confuse me and temptations will tempt me, but God will hold my hand and gently lead me through each one. And I’ll come out victorious if I’ll keep holding His hand. Like the child learning to walk who wants to hold an adult’s hand, God wants me to grasp tightly to His hand through all of my life’s experiences.

Monitor your steps. Step in God’s direction, and let Him accomplish His plan for your life.

Little Can Be Much

grandfatherIt is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and rich.
Psalm 37:16 NLT

Both of my grandfathers were friendly and loved their family, but that’s where their similarities ended.

My maternal grandfather was a farmer who hired out most of the hard work to neighbors who were willing to work for low wages. He drank heavily and smoked the same. In his younger years, he also gambled heavily, which explained how he came by some of what he possessed. I never remember him helping me or my family; he just left us stuff when he died. I received his pocket watch and one thousand dollars. When the strokes finally ended his life, he left behind thousands of dollars in the bank, a home, and hundreds of acres of land.

My paternal grandfather was quite different. He worked hard all of his life, beginning at age twelve when his father died and left him to run the family farm. He was as honest as the day was long, never drank, never lied, never smoked, and didn’t hang around those who did. He loved his family and neighbors with a passion and demonstrated it by giving of himself and his goods. He gave money to those in need, he bought for those who needed and couldn’t, and he used his God-given talents and gifts in and outside of the church. He lived a long life, and when he died he left behind a home and mere hundreds in the bank.

According to the psalmist, my paternal grandfather lived as God intended. He gave up the potential chance to be evil and have much for being good and possessing little.

God measures differently than most people do. Just a little can be a lot when measured by God’s standards. My having possessions isn’t what He’s concerned about. Not that He’s against me having stuff. He just knows what normally happens when I do. My attention shifts from Him to the stuff. I tend to hoard rather than help. Selfishness takes over, and selflessness flies out the window. Life becomes about me rather than others.

Initiative is certainly admirable, but God measures what it leads to. When my initiative leads me to Him, forgiveness, love, service, repentance, confession, and heaven, then I’m a rich man indeed.

Don’t measure your success in life by how much stuff you have. Measure it by how much you love God and others.