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Eye’s-Off

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you.” Exodus 3:11-12 (NIV)

The story in Exodus 3 and 4 is fascinating. Moses, tending his sheep in the desert, sees a burning bush, but the bush isn’t consumed. He goes closer to check it out and hears a voice. “Moses! Moses!” It’s God. Realizing he’s standing on holy ground, Moses removes his sandals.

Then God reveals his great plan: “I’ve seen the misery of the Israelites. I’ve heard them crying because of their slave drivers, and I’m concerned about their suffering. It’s time to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Good news, Moses! I’ve chosen you to make this happen.”

If Moses hadn’t been barefoot, he’d be shaking in his boots. “Wait a minute, God. You’re sending me? Who am I to do a job like that? I’m just a grownup basket case. I can’t do it. Can’t you ple-e-e-e-e-a-se send someone else?”

God’s response? “I will be with you. It doesn’t matter who you are, Moses. It matters who I am.”

Once Moses took his eyes off himself, he accomplished amazing things for God.

I’ve had many “Moses moments” in my life. When asked years ago to play piano for Bible Study Fellowship, I questioned why God didn’t choose a better musician to do it. “I’m a scriptural pianist, Lord. My left hand doesn’t know what my right hand is doing.” God reminded me that he didn’t call someone else; he called me.

When God made it clear he wanted me to write, I said, “Lord, how am I supposed to write? I can’t even talk without problems.” God reminded me to trust him.

When God wanted me to become a speaker, I protested. “But Lord, don’t you remember the excuse I gave for not writing? You know how I get tongue-tied.” God reminded me of the time he used a donkey to get his message across.

Each time I’ve feared my inadequacies, my underlying thought process was: “What if I fail or look like a fool?” And God reminds me that it’s not about me; it’s about him. If it’s about him and for him and by him, doesn’t it just make sense that he will help me do his work?

God doesn’t need our help. He can get the job done with us or without us, but he chooses us to carry out particular works so we might be blessed and bless others. We can take courage in the fact that God never gives us a job without equipping us for it. He doesn’t want our competence. He wants our obedience. And if we walk forward, hand in hand with him, he will come through for us every time. Guaranteed.

God, I have big problems when my eyes are on myself instead of on you. I see my insecurities, my weaknesses, and my shortcomings, and I forget that it doesn’t matter who I am. It matters who you are. You don’t want my competence, and you certainly don’t want my excuses. You want my willingness to do what you ask. So rather than questioning, “Who am I?” like Moses did, would you help me to say, “Look who God is”? Lord, I want to accomplish big things for you. The only way for me to do that is to step out in obedience and to trust you for the results. 

Power Statement: When God asks me to do something, I will say yes, even if it’s scary. Who I am doesn’t matter. Who God is, does.

Reflection and Response: Has God ever asked you to do a particular task that was scary, or that you didn’t feel competent to do? What was it? How did you answer God and how did it work out? What is he calling you to do right now?

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Don’t Be Too Sure!

Every day I walked along the concrete walkway that led from our condominium unit to the stairway. And each day I was annoyed by the sight of a bedraggled, overgrown plant hanging over the edge of the walkway above, down to the second floor where I lived at the time.

“Why doesn’t David do something about that thing?” I asked half aloud. “It’s an awful sight and it’s practically dead anyway.”

I complained to my wife about it.

“Don’t look at it,” she said. “It’s his. Leave it be.”

I should have listened, but I didn’t.

Later that week, I could no longer resist the urge to clip, clip! So I did. I reached over the railing with my pruning shears and snapped them shut around the ailing limb. It dropped into my free hand and from there I sent it down the trash chute! I felt better–almost heroic. I had put this poor thing out of its misery.

I went on with my day. About 11:00 I returned home from some errands, picked up our mail, and ran through the tetraces, suddenly stopped by the sound overhead of a man crying. Then I heard the soothing words of another woman. I looked up and there stood David, my neighbor on the third floor. His neighbor Nancy stood with him, as the two commiserated about the plant that had been pruned.

I felt like a criminal. My heart pounded so fast, I could hardly talk. But I knew what I had to do. I had to confess or someone else in the building, and I knew who it might be, would receive the blame for something I had done.

I ran up to the third floor, breathless. “David,” I said, “I’m the culprit. I’m the one who cut your plant. I’m so sorry. I should have asked first. But I thought it would be okay to prune it a little since it was hanging over the railing all the way down to the second floor…and….”

I couldn’t stop. I was mortified, embarrassed, apologetic, and defensive all at the same time! How right the Bible was in reminding me that

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Proverbs 3:34 (NIV).

David stood listening with eyes wide in disbelief. And Nancy didn’t know what to say. I stopped. David spoke. He told me how she had worked so hard to get that little plant going. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would be so cruel. Of course he was right. It was a cruel thing to do–even though I didn’t see it that way at the time. I was so caught up in my opinion of what looks good that I took action regardless of how it might affect another person. I certainly did not consult with the Lord about what to do. I simply had done what I wanted to do.

I apologized profusely, hoping David would understand that I wasn’t motivated by spite (though I wasn’t sure at that point). I was only tidying things up a bit!

He thanked me for being honest, dried his eyes, and we parted. The rest of the day was pure misery for me–not so much because of the plant. I knew it would keep growing. I hadn’t destroyed it. But I had hurt a neighbor. Someone I like. A person who lives close by.

I couldn’t let it rest. I prayed about what to do. And the Lord spoke clearly. I needed to make amends. There was no second guessing his guidance. I ran downstairs, jumped in the car, and drove directly to the local nursery. I spent some time selecting a beautiful, thriving, flowering plant that looked similar to the one I had cut. I bought it, wrote a note on a card, acknowledging my fault once again, and asking for David’s forgiveness.

Within moments of leaving the gift at his doorstep, I received a phone call. David accepted my apology and thanked me for such a thoughtful gesture. I was stunned at how easy–and how difficult–that experience had been.

That day had turned out differently than I expected, but still, it had turned out. I had made things right when I had been wrong—by asking for and receiving forgiveness–and in turn, my neighbor did something for me. He, like the Lord, gave me the gift of a second chance.

“Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” Luke 6:37 (NIV)

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Cry It Out

Traveling 60 miles-per-hour, I glanced to the right just in time to see a white sedan heading right for me — right into my lane as if I wasn’t even there! I jerked my steering wheel to the left to avoid getting hit. Next thing I know, I’m in a crazy spin and three lanes over, looking at the panicked face of a man driving toward me. My hands clenched the steering wheel as I cried out, “JESUS!”

The fact I’m writing this article is proof I am still on planet Earth. I did get control of my car. All I know is I was headed for a bad wreck, I called on Jesus, my car stopped hurtling toward another car, and I found myself between the white dotted lines heading in the right direction. I was panicked. Jesus heard my cry. Peril became pure astonishment.

I pulled over into the emergency lane to still my soul. “Thank you, Jesus!” I said over and over. Tears fell down my cheeks.

It was surreal. Like what the disciples experienced when Jesus came walking across the sea. Their boat was in serious trouble, fighting the wind and waves, and they were struggling. They were afraid. And what does Jesus do?

“Jesus spoke to them at once. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘Take courage! I am here!’ Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, …” Mark 6:50-51 (NLT)

Take courage. He is here. This is the same message He sends to each of us who call on Him. He will calm the storm that frightens us. His presence alone brings peace. The verse says “he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped.”

When I was headed for a collision, Jesus climbed into my red car and it stopped spinning out of control. He was with me. He set my car back between the lines. He demonstrated His mighty power over physics and his tremendous love for His children. And even if He had chosen to allow our cars to crash, I know He would have been with me to bring peace to my soul in that outcome.

Oh, Lord Jesus, thank you for your great love and mighty power. Please help us to remember how freely you come into our desperate moments and bring peace. When we call out to you, you are near. Give us the confidence in you we lack, so we have courage. You are here always through the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to fear.

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Each Fear Of Inadequacy

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you.” Exodus 3:11-12 (NIV)

The story in Exodus 3 and 4 is fascinating. Moses, tending his sheep in the desert, sees a burning bush, but the bush isn’t consumed. He goes closer to check it out and hears a voice. “Moses! Moses!” It’s God. Realizing he’s standing on holy ground, Moses removes his sandals.

Then God reveals his great plan: “I’ve seen the misery of the Israelites. I’ve heard them crying because of their slave drivers, and I’m concerned about their suffering. It’s time to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Good news, Moses! I’ve chosen you to make this happen.”

If Moses hadn’t been barefoot, he’d be shaking in his boots. “Wait a minute, God. You’re sending me? Who am I to do a job like that? I’m just a grownup basket case. I can’t do it. Can’t you ple-e-e-e-e-a-se send someone else?”

God’s response? “I will be with you. It doesn’t matter who you are, Moses. It matters who I am.”

Once Moses took his eyes off himself, he accomplished amazing things for God.

I’ve had many “Moses moments” in my life. When asked years ago to play piano for Bible Study Fellowship, I questioned why God didn’t choose a better musician to do it. “I’m a scriptural pianist, Lord. My left hand doesn’t know what my right hand is doing.” God reminded me that he didn’t call someone else; he called me.

When God made it clear he wanted me to write, I said, “Lord, how am I supposed to write? I can’t even talk without problems.” God reminded me to trust him.

When God wanted me to become a speaker, I protested. “But Lord, don’t you remember the excuse I gave for not writing? You know how I get tongue-tied.” God reminded me of the time he used a donkey to get his message across.

Each time I’ve feared my inadequacies, my underlying thought process was: “What if I fail or look like a fool?” And God reminds me that it’s not about me; it’s about him. If it’s about him and for him and by him, doesn’t it just make sense that he will help me do his work?

God doesn’t need our help. He can get the job done with us or without us, but he chooses us to carry out particular works so we might be blessed and bless others. We can take courage in the fact that God never gives us a job without equipping us for it. He doesn’t want our competence. He wants our obedience. And if we walk forward, hand in hand with him, he will come through for us every time. Guaranteed.

God, I have big problems when my eyes are on myself instead of on you. I see my insecurities, my weaknesses, and my shortcomings, and I forget that it doesn’t matter who I am. It matters who you are. You don’t want my competence, and you certainly don’t want my excuses. You want my willingness to do what you ask. So rather than questioning, “Who am I?” like Moses did, would you help me to say, “Look who God is”? Lord, I want to accomplish big things for you. The only way for me to do that is to step out in obedience and to trust you for the results. 

Power Statement: When God asks me to do something, I will say yes, even if it’s scary. Who I am doesn’t matter. Who God is, does.

Reflection and Response: Has God ever asked you to do a particular task that was scary, or that you didn’t feel competent to do? What was it? How did you answer God and how did it work out? What is he calling you to do right now?

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Perpectual Beauty

Voluptuous blonde actresses and famous well-built athletes: What do they have in common besides million dollar salaries? One common denominator I observe is the illusion of perfection, modeled by their outward appearance.

This philosophic thought came to me at the post office. Long lines of impatient customers and rows of tiny post boxes do not usually produce an atmosphere of contemplation. But today, I gazed at the stamp designs, enlarged and framed. The splashy illustrations showed perfectly formed bodies. The drawings ignored inborn flaws of ordinary people. As I inched forward to mail my package, I pondered the committee’s choice of stamp heroes.

Did a special stamp commission or maybe a government bigwig vote from a list of persons whom they emulated and revered? Let me describe a person they should have chosen. She is not a glamorous blonde, but has been a beautiful redhead for her 47 years. Or, she did have red hair, before radiation and chemotherapy. She has had brain surgery and a bone plate removed from her skull. She now sports a large hollow spot, her scalp sinking in a four-inch wide circle on the side of her nearly bald head. A large U-shaped scar surrounds that indentation.

This description doesn’t match the images on those postage stamp portraits. But I am certain my sister is more beautiful than any Hollywood legend. She is better qualified to be honored on a stamp than any big-name athlete.

My sister Marilyn has an inner beauty that a scalpel cannot mutilate. Radiation may destroy her hair follicles but they cannot destroy her soul. She models her life as a Christ-follower and has her eyes fixed on a crown. She gives glory to God in all her circumstances. Her earthly tent may be stricken with brain cancer, but the core of her being has not changed. In the face of terminal illness, she has strong faith—even on the hard days.

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV)

In spite of physical misery, she remains motivated to help others. She’s wheelchair bound, so she phones: Ordering gift books, giving words of encouragement; words of witness that everyone can be made whole and forgiven through Jesus Christ.

And I have overheard her side of a phone call with a friend. I have seen her smile when she answers, “Fine! And how are you?” She was not stretching the truth because deep in her soul she is fine. Her healing will come—she knows it. She has told me Jesus may heal her exactly as He did the lame man of the Bible. One moment in time, from broken to whole, instantaneously. Or, she said, He may choose to heal her when she sees His face in heaven. She has come to the point that she is fine with either outcome. This is what makes the anguish of disease bearable. The hope of heaven, walking in The Way, even when a tumor steals your legs. Marilyn knows she is on the right path.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30 (NIV)

So I shall write the Postmaster General: “In hearty recognition of a person who should be featured on a commemorative stamp, I do hereby nominate Marilyn Grimm Sturm.” But, hey! I forgot. If you have your tiny portrait printed millions of times on thin paper with zigzag edges and a sticky underside, it’s no comparison to your name printed once in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Marilyn Sturm has already received the greatest recognition of all.

Who’s There?

Although I love the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem in particular, this name of God speaks to me in a very unique way. First, let’s examine the meaning of this name and then seek to apply it to our lives.

Jehovah-Shammah is a name for God that is symbolic of Jerusalem. We find this name for God used in Ezekiel 48:35:

“The distance around the entire city will be 6 miles. And from that day the name of the city will be ‘The Lord is There.'” (NLT)

At the height of the idolatry of God’s chosen people, God withdrew His presence not only from the temple but even from the city of Jerusalem. Such was his anger and displeasure over the repeated rebellion of the Israelites that He said, in effect, “I’ve had it. I’m out of here.”

When God’s presence departed the temple, it signaled to the Israelites and all who dwelt around them that God had removed His hand of protection from them. They would ultimately be scattered to the four corners of the earth and taken captive by surrounding nations.

God did not completely wash His hands of the Israelites, however. His love and mercy were always with them, continually drawing them back to Himself. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God promised a restoration of the nation and a return of His presence to Jerusalem. In that day the city would be called Jehovah-Shammah. That very prophecy came true when the exiles returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls. God’s presence returned to the temple in the form of a tiny baby brought to the temple to be offered back to God by his parents, Joseph and Mary.

Let’s think about how this name, Jehovah-Shammah, applies to us. So often you and I live our lives looking ahead to some event, some time in our lives, some potential disaster, some looming date. We may wonder what that date will bring to our lives or how we will survive it. Perhaps it is a doctor’s appointment or a court date or your child leaving home or your mate passing away. It could be a new job, a divorce or moving from a place that you have called home for many years. Whatever this future event is, it causes you to have a knot in the pit of your stomach every time you think about it. Be it real or imagined, this future occurrence causes you huge amounts of stress, angst, and worry.

Jehovah-Shammah. THE LORD IS THERE! Our God is already in your tomorrow. He already knows what your future looks like and He has complete control over it. We are told in Jeremiah 29:11 that Jehovah-Shammah says,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (NLT)

THE LORD IS THERE! You cannot be in your future now, but He can. You can’t control the future events of your life, but He can. Jehovah-Shammah will walk with you into whatever tomorrow holds because of His great love for you. God is THERE in your tomorrow and in my tomorrow. He simply desires that we trust His heart.

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Of Blessed Reminisce

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NKJV)

My grandmother was 91-years-old when she passed away. I meditated on this scripture for several days after her death. When the Bible speaks of someone who has fallen asleep, it is referring to someone who has physically died. If the Bible uses the word dead or death, it is typically referring to spiritual death or a state of being separated from God. And in this sense, a person could be physically alive and quite healthy, but dead – meaning they are separated from God.

The apostle Paul said he didn’t want us to be ignorant. Ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge. Paul was saying he did not want us to have a lack of knowledge (or understanding) concerning those who have fallen asleep, or passed on from this life, like those who have no hope.

I am thankful to say that Grandma was a believer. A few nights before she passed, I asked her if she would have ever thought I’d grow up to be a preacher. She couldn’t talk, but she smiled as we laughed at the thought. Because the thing is, life is not about where you start but where you finish. Grandma had been a widow for 37 years (as long as I am old). Grandpa passed away two weeks before I was born. Grandma had remained steadfast and strong. Besides her husband, she had also lost a daughter, two infant sons, and several siblings. But, as Paul wrote, we don’t have to “sorrow as others who have no hope.” As Christians, we have hope! Yes, the pain of separating on this earth from someone we love is very hard; but I honestly can’t imagine the pain of separation if I did not have the Spirit of the Living God abiding on the inside of me as a believer.

“We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you… because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, …” Colossians 1:3,5 (NKJV)

There is a difference between natural hope and spiritual hope. With natural hope, we can be disappointed. But in spiritual hope, we can have confidence. And that’s actually what the word hope means; it is a confident expectation of things to come. This is why the scripture says,

“Now faith is the substance of things HOPED for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)(Emphasis mine)

And following the example of Abraham, the father of our faith, we must believe in spiritual hope, which is contrary to natural hope (Romans 4:18).

But remember, embracing spiritual hope doesn’t stop our tears or the pain of loss. We are simply comforted with the thought that our believing loved ones who have fallen asleep are with the Lord Jesus and we too shall join them someday. In fact, Paul continued in Thessalonians to tell us:

“…whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him [Jesus].”1 Thessalonians 5:10 (NKJV)

So, we don’t have to wonder where our loved ones are – they are with Jesus our Lord!

The best news of all may be that they are only a few minutes ahead of us. Because you see, we find another beautiful promise in the Word of God:

“Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”2 Peter 3:8 (NKJV)

Our minds have a hard time wrapping themselves around the idea of eternity, but it cannot be compared to our seconds, minutes, and hours. So, even if I lived another 100 years, and Jesus tarried in His return, my Grandma would only have been with Jesus a few hours before I joined her!

So as you remember your loved ones, hold on to your spiritual hope. And all the more – share your faith so others will have hope also, as we all look “for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:13(NKJV)