Witness Well

Witness Well

God Hatches Hope Out of Darkness

We sometimes wonder in life’s struggles, tragic events, or troubling news reports from around the country, “Where are you, God?”  This is especially true during challenging circumstances that we face as individuals or even as a country.

My father in law is a man of wisdom.  Sometimes he will share with me thoughts that seem to a hit a chord with heart and soul.  I would like to share with you his thoughts and prayers during this point in our history as world and as a nation.

“When God first brought the universe into being He himself described it as being תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (tohu vbohu-Hebrew) that is, being without form or function.  It was in a kind of chaotic state.  When I look around me now at the general situation of our country, in the family, in education, in government, in the business world, in many other areas, and even in a large part of the so-called Christian church I sense a bit of chaos.  Instead of fulfilling good functions, there seems to be much disintegration.

After the tohu vbohu statement it says that the Spirit of God brooded (in the Hebrew it means like a hen on her eggs) upon this formless and functionless matter and life came into being. Right after that there was a Word who (not which) was the Light shining in the darkness bringing form and function.

Whenever I focus on what seems to be happening in my country right now I get depressed. I feel a sense of hopelessness. In spite of the encouragement to be “anxious about nothing” I struggle with anxiety especially when I see my grandchildren, unaware of the pressures put upon them, growing up in this tohu vbohu society.

But then I am reminded of the fact that the Spirit is still able to brood upon the chaos. The Light is still able to shine into our situation. That then becomes my prayer. The eyes of the Lord are upon us. Our situation is never out of His sight nor is it out of His control. Our situation did not take Him by surprise. He knew “the end from the beginning.” In spite of the fact that He blessed this nation more than any other nation in the world, He knew that we would eventually at least try to rid any reminder of His presence from being acceptable in the public forum. But, as is evidenced in Jesus, He is a God of mercy and grace, a God of infinite power who can change damnation into salvation. And I long to see that happen again. I long to see Him turn this country around and again use it as His blessing to the entire world. In Him there is hope.”   (Rev. Norbert Meier, 6/05/09)

Seven Ways to Fight Busyness in our Lives

Martha, the patron saint of busyness, typifies most of us in the western world. Her busy preparations removed her from the presence of Jesus. Luke describes her as “distracted” (Luke 10:40). I can think of no more accurate adjective for busy Christians.

When I am busy, I cannot help but be distracted, fragmented, disjointed. Not the difference between busyness and activity: I can be active and prayerful, but I cannot be busy and prayerful. They are mutually exclusive. And make no mistake — it is busyness that rules the day and, all too often, our souls.

When we open up space for God in silence and solitude, we take the teeth out of the busyness that would chew us up. We begin to feel whole because we become centered in a humble awareness of God’s presence moment by moment.

Silence and solitude together form a single path of quiet aloneness before God.  They provide the two sides of the coin of undistracted devotion. Though we can practice them separately, when we empty them together, they place us before God in a special way. We are open, receptive and vulnerable to the Lord. All the outer props are removed. In the quiet of retreat, with all the competing voices stilled, we learn to hear the gentle whisper of God’s Spirit.

winters touch by Marius Neag

The psalmist wrote, “Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). The first voice to be stilled is my own. As Howard Macy states with wit and wisdom: “To approach God with only an incessant stream of words is a filibuster, not prayer.”

In reading Evelyn Underhill’s classic book Christian Mysticism, I observed that for many of the great saints, the contemplative life was previous to and in preparation for an active life of service. We have reversed the order. For us, if we employ silence and solitude at all, we often use them as rehabilitation for those suffering from the strains of the active life they were ill-prepared to handle.

Whether we live it as a home-maker or third-world missionary, life is a spiritual conflict. We oppose the powers of darkness; we embrace God’s kingdom of love and justice. Silence and solitude prepare us for battle.

I’m certain that for some, the possibility of silence and solitude seems a million miles away. How could it be possible for the stay-at-home parent caring for three preschoolers? Or for the computer programmer who has to work seventy-hour-weeks to keep a job? It seems difficult even for those who have some degree of control over their own schedules.

Yet by beginning with a small, even if uncertain step, anyone can walk the path of silence and solitude. As Henri Nouwen has said, “Though we want to make all our time, time for God, we will never succeed if we do not reserve a minute, an hour, a morning, a day, a week, a month, or whatever period of time for God and Him alone.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/yorktone/11223428356/

The drowned and the saved by Tony Cole

To develop a listening lifestyle, we like Martha’s sister, Mary, must begin by sitting at the feet of Christ. We start by setting aside a few moments to intentionally spend in quiet with our Lord.  Here are some suggestions–which build incrementally upon each other–for developing this skill.

1.         Claim the little solitudes that already exist in your day

The morning shower could symbolize a soul cleansing to prepare you to receive the day from God. Commuting could be God’s gift to this culture as a ready-made, twice daily “Sabbath,” if we choose to embrace it by turning off the radio and listening to the softer voice of the Spirit. Nap time for the kids could provide a window of opportunity for a mini-retreat for the parent whose work never seems to be done. “Waiting time” at the store or at the traffic light can be turned into a reminder to “wait on the Lord” in silence. At the end of the day, as you rest your head on the pillow, gently reflect on how God’s presence was with you throughout the day.

2.         Take a coffee break, lunch, or picnic with the intention of being quiet and alone with God

Rather than lunch with your coworker, slip off alone to the quiet solitude of a picnic in the park, even if the kids are along. Jesus did love the little children. Simply be aware of His presence with you, helping you serve the little ones.

3.         Stay up a little later or get up a little earlier to find a few moments of solitude

Possible a husband and wife could arrange to give each other “time off” to be alone with Christ in silence.

4.         When possible, schedule your day more loosely

It can be wonderfully freeing to enjoy fifteen-minute “spacers” between tasks or appointments. You can use this time to reconnect with God’s presence in the midst of a busy day, as well as to gather yourself for the next meeting or task. I have found that I never miss those few minutes and that my awareness of God’s presence is much greater.

5.         Slow down

Often the pace of our lives pulls us away from the Lord. Walk more slowly. Drive more slowly. Eat more slowly. Notice. Pause. Listen. God is here. Slow down. When you do, you can carry a sanctuary in your heart throughout the day.

6.         Use times of physical exercise for silence and solitude

Enjoy the sounds of creation as you run or walk. Let the song of the birds remind you that you are of more value than the sparrows. Invite the Lord to run or walk with you and be conscious of His presence.

7.         More intentionally, arrange to get away for a morning or day or even longer to a retreat center, park or motel

Before you dismiss this idea, think of the many activities in which we participate that we go to great lengths to arrange that are far less significant than time alone with the Lord. Even if it means lining up childcare, losing some time at work, or missing the weekend sports event, is it not worth it?enchanged forest

God desires to communicate His love, grace and peace to us, but sometimes we move too fast to receive them.  In silence and solitude we extend the empty hands of faith to receive these gifts from Him.”

These are notes taken from the book SOUL KEEPING by Howard Baker.  These were condensed into an article entitled, “Take the Teeth Out of Busyness”.

Is God really my co-pilot?

We recognize God as the Master and the Controller of the Universe, Creator of all things, but Christians today have a hard time recognizing God as the Master and Controller of our own daily lives. How can such a big God be concerned about someone as insignificant as me? Yet, the Bible paints a much different portrait of God’s relationship with us.

We can take God at His Word that he loves us and is concerned about our daily lives. We can let go of the temptations to worry, be anxious, or demand control.  All these can become barriers to receiving instruction from God.

President Ronald Reagan often told a story about a newspaper reporter from the Los Angeles Times. He once received instructions from his senior editor to get photographs of a brush fire in the foothills of northern California. The instructions included hurrying to the Santa Monica Airport to board a small plane, take some photos of the fire, then hurry back by noon with the story.

The reporter dressed quickly, rushed to the airport, and saw the small plane waiting on the runway. He parked his car to the end of the runway and climbed on board the aircraft. Within minutes, they were off into the clear blue skies.

When they reached 5,000 feet, the reporter took out his camera and said to the man flying the plane, “Bank right and I’ll take some pictures of this fire.” He then heard the most frightening questions of his life. “Bank right? Why don’t you bank right? You’re the instructor, aren’t you?”

sea

Sometimes we seem to hurry through life not knowing where we are going nor what to do.  Then a crisis comes and we realize that we don’t have a clue. It’s similar to being given the controls of an airplane while having no idea how to fly – or going through life pretending that we do. The reality is the peace, comfort, and assurance we receive when we realize that God has been the pilot all along.

We are not even co-pilots!

We are told in Scripture to buckle up, take a seat in the back and be prepared for some turbulence. Although life can be bumpy, we trust that our Lord will see us through.

The next time we are faced with difficult situations, perhaps it might be best to remember that God is in the control of this universe – even the controls of our life.

The Ambiguous Religion of Abraham Lincoln

“Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), sixteenth president of the United States, has become a mythic figure in America’s civil religion. Born into relative poverty on the Midwestern frontier, he rose from humble origins through self-discipline, honesty, common sense, a considerable measure of ambition, and a ready wit to shepherd the nation through the black days of the Civil War. After his death, Americans found it irresistible to see his achievement in a religious light. It was soon noted, for example, that Lincoln–the “Savior” of the Union–was shot on Good Friday (April 14, 1865), that his efforts to liberate the bond slave and bind up the wounds of war were cut short by “martyrdom,” and that his very name–Abraham–spoke of the father of his people. Although Lincoln himself originally saw the Civil War as a political struggle to preserve the Union, he came to regard it as a crusade for truth and right. He spoke of the United States as “the last, best hope of the earth,” of its citizens as “the almost chosen people,” and of the War as a test to see if a nation “conceived in liberty . . . can long endure.”

Considerable uncertainty arises, however, when Lincoln’s own religion is examined. On the one hand, it is obvious that Christianity exerted a profound influence on his life. His father was a member of Regular Baptist churches in Kentucky and Indiana. Lincoln himself read the Bible throughout his life, quoted from it extensively, and frequently made use of biblical images (as in the “House Divided” speech of 1858). It was said of him, perhaps with some exaggeration, that he knew by heart much of the Psalms, the book of Isaiah, and the entire New Testament. His life also exhibited many Christian virtues. He was scrupulously honest in repaying debts from ill-fated business ventures of the 1830s. He offered tender sympathy to the widows and orphans created by the Civil War. He pardoned numerous sleeping sentries and other soldiers condemned to death for relatively minor lapses. He kept his head concerning the morality of the contending sides in the War, refusing to picture the North as entirely virtuous or the South as absolutely evil. And during his years as president he did regularly attend the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.

On the other hand, Lincoln never joined a church nor ever made a clear profession of standard Christian beliefs. While he read the Bible in the White House, he was not in the habit of saying grace before meals. Lincoln’s friend Jesse Fell noted that the president “seldom communicated to anyone his views on religion, and he went on to suggest that those views were not orthodox: “on the innate depravity of man, the character and office of the great head of the Church, the Atonement, the infallibility of the written revelation, the performance of miracles, the nature and design of . . . future rewards and punishments . . . and many other subjects, he held opinions utterly at variance with what are usually taught in the church.”  It is probable that Lincoln was turned against organized Christianity by his experiences as a young man in New Salem, Illinois, where excessive emotion and bitter sectarian quarrels marked yearly camp meetings and the ministry of traveling preachers. Yet although Lincoln was not a church member, he did ponder the eternal significance of his own circumstances, a personal life marked by tragedy (the early death of two sons) and difficulty (the occasional mental instability of his wife).  And he took to heart the carnage of war over which he presided.

Whether it was from these experiences or from other sources, Lincoln’s speeches and conversation revealed a spiritual perception far above the ordinary. It is one of the great ironies of the history of Christianity in America that the most profoundly religious analysis of the nation’s deepest trauma came not from a clergyman or a theologian but from a politician who was self-taught in the ways of both God and humanity. The source of Lincoln’s Christian perception will probably always remain a mystery, but the unusual depth of that perception none can doubt. Nowhere was that depth more visible than in his Second Inaugural Address of March 1865:  “Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.  It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged.  The prayers of both could not be answered: that of neither has been answered fully.  The Almighty has His own purposes.”  Even more to the point was his reply when a minister from the North told the president he “hoped the Lord is on our side.”  Responded Lincoln, “I am not at all concerned about that . . . But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

(The following post is taken from an article written by Mark A. Noll entitled, “The Ambiguous Religion of Abraham Lincoln.”)

Behind the Mike: Observations of being a radio show host

For almost nine months, I was the host of a daily radio program called “Treasure Valley Spotlight” that concluded at the end of March this year. From my experience, I would like to share four observations.  These observations are:

#1        “The Harvest is Ready and the Workers are Few”
#2        Be thankful for the Truth and nothing but the Truth
#3        There are some good Christians doing some great work
#4        Be Ready

Let’s take a closer look on the first observation. When Jesus sent out his disciples to every town and place, he told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” When Jesus gazed out upon the field, he saw the ready and willing hearts that would be receptive to the gospel message. Unfortunately, we can’t see the open hearts like Jesus.  All we see is the rough exteriors of people that are intimidating, upsetting and causes us to be fearful.  More often than not, opportunities are missed and the message of God’s forgiveness is lost.

Several ministers and lay people came on the radio program to share unique stories of how the Lord used them to share the gospel.  Like me, they struggled with fear, intimidation and busyness.  The encouragement given is that underneath the façade of disinterest in Jesus or God, there are people who are very receptive to know more.  And they are waiting to be asked.

Rarely will a person take the initiative in inquiring Christians about what they believe.  Questions about Christ can be risky either for an unbeliever or someone who hasn’t step through the doors of a church for awhile.  It is often very difficult for a person to become open or vulnerable due to the risk of uncovering old wounds that have served as barriers to seeking a right relationship with God.  However, with a spirit of love, gentleness and patience, God gives us opportunities to share that amazing message of true grace, peace and forgiveness that can only be found in Christ Jesus.

I still smile at the many stories shared both on and off the air of people coming to faith out of the most unusual circumstances.  People hardened by life’s difficult circumstances are transformed by the Holy Spirit through faith.  People largely considered as impossible to reach, are touched by the love of Christ found only in His message of redemption.   And God used normal people like you and me to be that messenger of grace.

It would be nice if we could look inside people’s hearts like Christ and see that the harvest is plentiful.  It would be nice to know a person’s receptiveness to the gospel and if the timing is right to share.  But we don’t have that ability.  All we can do is trust what Jesus is telling us that the harvest is ready and the workers are few.  Perhaps we can both be more mindful and prayerful for those unique opportunities that only God gives us to share that good news with those people whom he places in our lives.  Trust me, they are ready to listen!

Rising Above Our Forefathers

People were asking for a change of course in the White House and they elected an untested, charismatic speaker in Barack Obama. People were looking for a change in the economy and a change in the war on terror. Perhaps our country needs is a total transformation and a change in direction in their lives and in their relationship with God.  Are we a nation that has begun to see the anger of God being played out? Are we a nation that must heed the warning to turn from our idolatrous ways?

It’s funny how things never change.

Much of the same types of issues were found in ancient times when a prophet was raised up by the name of Zechariah.

The word of the Lord came to Zechariah and he said, “The Lord was very angry with your forefathers. Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty.  Do not be like your forefathers, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the LORD. Where are your forefathers now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your forefathers?”   (Zechariah 1:2-6)

It is fathers that not only help to determine the physical characteristics of their children, but also play a huge role in influencing their spiritual characteristics. Children will not only bear family resemblances, but will also model the spiritual pursuits of their father if they are properly trained in the way they should go. When a father forsakes his duties, by providing a poor example not only in their spiritual life, but also in their daily life at home and on the job, he already has built a tough road for any child to embark on. The Bible says that the sins of the fathers can pass down to many generations.

The message given in the verses above is to change your ways. Turn from your selfish and evil ways. Change your minds and your attitudes toward God. Taking the context from the book of Zechariah, he is saying, “Change your minds about what is important in life. Get your priorities straight. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. As your fathers are examples of the wrath that comes and is to come on those I hate because of their sin, so also are they examples of the love that I show to those who turn.”

Throughout the Bible and throughout history, there are many examples of the Lord working circumstances so that they may return to him.  More often than not, it was through great adversity.  By sending turmoil, enemies, famine and destruction, can we get the attention of humans and show that there is a God who does extend mercy and love to those who call on Him.

We live in a culture today where our young generation must turn from the sins of their forefathers, to rise above the sinful and idolatrous examples of their forefathers and turn to God. And this is so difficult to do! It can only be the Lord who makes it possible for children to break loose from the stranglehold their father’s exampled have on them.

It can be done. We see it in the lives of people who live godly and faithful lives in spite of terrible examples at home. And we wonder, “Why do they do it? Why do they come to church?” The answer must lie in this verse. The Lord has impressed upon them the necessity of being better than their fathers.”

I pray for the future of our world and shudder to think of what type of culture and nation will my grandchildren live through. What type of judgment on their forefathers must they endure? I do know, however, that they can only through the power of God. And the future generations will be blessed by the choices and confessions they make today.

My personal daily prayer

Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit, I come to You again with my personal prayer. By repeating this prayer day after day I want to transform within me a right attitude toward You, deliberately placing You, not myself, as the Center of my universe.  I want your will to be my will.  Your purpose to be my purpose.  If my attitude or motives behind this prayer is insincere, or my words and actions are bearing bitter fruit or no fruit at all, use whatever means necessary, harsh and severe if necessary, to prune and correct me.

I want to first acknowledge that You are the one and only God, great and majestic beyond expression. Your creation alone shows that You are a genius beyond all human understanding, and Your love expressed in my salvation is so awesome, not even the angels can fathom. With my whole being I want to praise and glorify You.

Thank You again for saving me.  I recognize the tremendous cost of Your suffering and death.  My sins, no matter how many or how great, have been all washed away.  As far as the east is from the west, they are gone. Thank You for bringing me to believe that You are the Lord of all, my own personal Lord, the One who is in complete charge of my life.

Your love for me is everlasting.  Like a father has mercy on his children, you continue to have mercy on me.  You have adopted me to be Your very own child.  My very life is in Your hands.  Train me and discipline me as a father would, so I may never turn from You.  You have granted me the grace as being your called servant in this life.  It is a thought that is still unbelievable to me and like Sarah, it causes me laughter.  If it is Your desire and will to touch others through me, may I understand that some will reject you and your message of grace.  May I not take it personally or become discouraged, by continue to love and pray for those whom you place in my midst.

My Lord and God, You know far better than I my weaknesses and failings.  Yet, You called me by name, have justified me, sanctify me, and even glorify me.  You chose me to bear fruit that would bring You pleasure. I stand in awe of that.  All my life is filtered through Your will.  My utmost desire is to be placed at the center of Your will, not mine. Because my mind is so apt to be selfishly absorbed with myself and my circumstances, may it please You to grant me a strong sense of Your constant presence with and within me. Help me to repeat this solemn vow day after day that I will seek to honor You in all my life, dying to myself, living for you, whether circumstances be good or bad. And then help me to keep that vow unbroken as long as I am on this earth for I cannot keep that vow by relying on myself.

Your enemy and mine is seeking whom he might devour. Give me spiritual discernment to detect his presence in every matter and also give me discernment to do or say the right thing and the courage to follow through no matter what others might think or say.  May I realize that my words and actions might be Yours.

Lord Jesus, strengthen my faith and desire to share Your life and love with others.  Help me to daily remember my covenant I gave before you to be the loving husband to my wife.  Give me strength to fulfill my vows and place her needs ahead of mine, keeping her a top priority in my life as we strive to create a oneness in flesh, a marriage that is pleasing in Your eyes.  May I also take full advantage of the season in life you have placed me in to be a loving and active father to my children whom You have graciously given to me.  Give me the strength to daily teach and model Your love to them on a consistent basis.  May I limit my regrets and despite my many mistakes, bless them and always keep them very close to You.  Of all my prayers, O Lord, please answer this request above all.

Help me, Lord, to always remember that I am placed here to be a servant and at the same time, a servant filled with your Spirit.  Continue to lay Your hand upon my life and fill me daily with the Spirit, so my cup is always full.  May I pursue excellence in all I do, no matter what or how humble it may be.  Let me never become a slave to my flesh. Teach me self-discipline.  Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from my intense desire for fame and attention.  Save me from bondage to material things. Let me grasp onto each day as a gift from You and not waste my days just frittering away my time. Place the proper awe and reverence of You in my heart, O God, yet acknowledge the close relationship I have in You.  Create within me the gift of prayer, so I look upon it not as a necessary burden, but a time of close communion so that I may come before You in a manner that pleases You.

Grant me a proper attitude that joyfully and sincerely accepts the tasks You lay before me without expecting thanks or recognition from others. If there is opposition or great difficulties outside my control, help me to follow Your example and endure it quietly. Or if I should have times of blessing and abundance, stay closer to me then ever before and save me from my self. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such a way that it will not injure my soul nor diminish Your glory. And if some honor should come, let me never forget the many times I have been severely humbled and the grace of your mercy, so I may clearly see that any honor is simply a result of You living in me.  Do whatever it takes, O Lord, to keep my humble and centered on giving you all glory.  Let me never forget that I am only human created out of dust, a man crippled by the sin that dwells within me, and possessing a nature that is capable of unthinkable evil. I pray therefore, my Savior and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I might do to myself or to others. Please keep me from gross sins that would cause others to stumble in their relationship to You.

And now, my Lord and God, I consecrate my remaining days to You.  Let them be many or few, as You will. My times are in Your hands. I will go where you want me to go.  I will do what You desire me to do, according to the play you promised me years ago.  I exist for you, Lord, and finally, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me in heaven according to Your promise.  I live for the day when you say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, well done” and include me among Your saints in glory. Then with all saints and angels I shall praise and magnify Your name eternally. Amen and amen.

Faith in Christ is not about doing, but trusting in what has already been done

There was a retired man who asked once about his prospects of going to heaven. He felt his prospects were slim and was resigned to going to hell. He said, “You don’t know some of the terrible things I have done.”

There was a woman who spent almost every day at church volunteering for a myriad of activities. You could say that she practically lived at the church. Outwardly, she seemed like a godly woman, but inwardly her motivation was to atone for a secret sin in her past.

And there was the college student who was interested and drawn to the teachings of the Bible and to Jesus Christ. However, he was reluctant to accept the Christian faith. He thought, “It just sounds too easy to be true.”

It is easy for all of us to think that our relationship with God depends on what we do for Him. We picture God in our minds with a clipboard in his hands writing notes on everything we have done or failed to do. Perhaps we picture him waiting to see if we hold up our end of the bargain and prove ourselves worth of His love and approval. There certainly is not much joy in this picture of our relationship with God. No comfort exists and not a whole lot of hope.

In the Bible, Jesus didn’t define our relationship with God as being about what we do for God. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that he would die and would rise again on the third day. The Old Testament had promised a Savior who would suffer for our sins so that we could be forgiven. He would rise again from the dead so that we too could conquer death and live forever in heaven.

So, can I ask you a question? Are you trying to make up for sins of the past to win your way back in to God’s favor? Are you wrestling with despair of knowing that you can’t?

Remember that Jesus suffered for your sins. He suffered for all of them no matter what they are. I urge you to not live under the joyless burden of thinking you owe God anything for the gift of eternal life. Your risen Savior is the certainty that God loves you and has already saved you. Your salvation is not about what you do for God, but it is all about what Jesus had done for you. Trust in Jesus, and live as happy, thankful and free children of God.