Perfect Timing!

(This is an article I wrote for the Fall 2012 edition of wec.go magazine.)

God is never late. Yet, He is usually not early. He has impeccably perfect timing. I have seen this many times in my life. One morning several years ago, I awoke to find that my refrigerator was dying. My husband and I prayed for God to provide another one. That morning, I attended a Bible study class. One of my classmates mentioned that she had an extra refrigerator in her basement that she wanted to give away. My husband gratefully picked it up later that day.

Recently, I had a day when I couldn’t stop thinking about my faults. While driving home, I prayed that God would help me take my eyes off myself and put them onto Him. I asked Him to remind me of His love for me. When I got home, I looked through the day’s mail, which included one envelope with no return address. I opened it and was literally reduced to tears by what I saw. The card stated, “One of the nicest things in the world is knowing someone cares. If it helps to know someone cares, I do.” It was signed “Your Heavenly Father.” I would have been thrilled to receive the card any time. But I was overwhelmed to receive it that day. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that the note arrived then. What an awesome and personal God we serve!

Many people have had similar experiences. Wendy used to work with children in crisis in Brakpan, South Africa. The area was very dusty in the dry season and muddy when it rained. There was no electricity or running water in the homes, no sewage system or garbage collection. One day, as Wendy arrived home from working with the children, she noticed how dirty, dusty and smelly she was. Her clothes were stained from holding children who had runny noses and messy hands and who were not wearing diapers. Looking in the mirror and laughing at her condition, she asked God if she would ever look or smell like a woman again. Much to her delight, a package arrived that day—one that had been mailed months before and should have reached her earlier. It contained bubble bath, fragrant soap, lotions and perfumes. Wendy says, “I had to laugh again at the goodness and miraculous timing of the Lord!”

Sometimes God’s perfect timing is not just to delight His children—it literally saves lives. A pastor from El Salvador was kidnapped by gang members who mistook him for someone else. The gang members tortured him, and finally decided to kill him. The pastor cried out to the Lord for help. Just as the leader pulled out a machete, his cell phone rang. He learned that this truly was the wrong man! He set the pastor free, warning him to run away as fast as he could.

At other times God’s timing provides our daily bread—or our daily pizza and donuts. Patty was familiar with the Los Angeles freeway system. But one Saturday she found herself making several wrong turns. She took an exit ramp and stopped at a red light. While waiting, she noticed an unkempt man sitting on the curb. Grabbing the boxes of leftover pizza and donuts sitting on the seat next to her, she offered them to the man. He limped toward her, shocked by her generosity, and gratefully accepted the food. Patty said, “May the Lord bless you.” He looked astonished, placed his hand on his chest and emphatically replied, “Oh, He already has! Thank you! You have no idea what this means!” As Patty drove away, she could hear him shouting “Thank you” repeatedly. She realized that she had not been going the wrong direction after all. God had arranged this appointment.

God’s perfect timing is also shown to children. Jonathan was a young boy who wanted to go to soccer camp but his parents did not have the money for enrollment. His family prayed about the need. Several days later they received an envelope in the mail containing $100 – exactly the amount needed. No message was attached, and the envelope was postmarked from a town where they did not know anyone. Jonathan was thrilled! He had often seen God provide for his family, but this time was for him alone! Off to camp he went.

The next time you find that things aren’t going as you planned, take time to thank God for what He is planning to do—in His perfect timing!

Can I Really Trust God?

“You mean the God who created the universe was big enough to answer your prayer request?” I had to laugh when I read this response to someone’s praise report on Facebook. It’s a good question to ponder. I don’t know about you, but I really have been surprised at times when God has answered my prayers. Why should I be surprised? He is, after all, the creator of the universe, including little ole me, someone He took the time to knit together in my mother’s womb—someone He keeps such close track of that He knows how many hairs are on my head. He promises that He will supply all of my needs (Philippians 4:1). God cannot lie. He is Truth incarnate. He says what He means! We need never doubt that He will come through.

Doubt is not a new thing. In spite of all the miracles Moses saw God perform, when God promised He would provide meat to the Israelites, Moses wondered how it was possible. Numbers 11: 21-23 records Moses saying, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”

“The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.’” In verse 31, we see God’s provision—“Then a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction.” In Deuteronomy 3:24, Moses declares, “O Sovereign Lord, you have only begun to show your greatness and the strength of your hand to me. Is there any god in heaven or on earth who can perform such great and mighty deeds as you do?” This is the same provider we pray to today!

We may not even be aware that our faith in God’s ability to provide is weak. Yet I am amazed at how many Christians complain about finances, or talk as if God is not able to provide their needs. Many people look more to the government for handouts than to God’s hand for provision. I recently heard someone say he would look into government assistance “if the Lord doesn’t provide.” Those words made me feel sick and sad at the same time. Let’s think about this logically. Who should we look to—a man-made establishment that is trillions of dollars in debt or the One who created and owns everything. When we take help from the government, which has no way of producing funds except in taking them from other people, we are forcing other hard-working people to pay our bills. When we look to God, He has the choice of providing through outright miracles (I have experienced some of these!), through better jobs/wages, or through the giving of other believers—in this case, people willingly sharing what God has inspired them to share. This is a blessing to both the one who gives and the one who receives. And God receives all the glory—just as He deserves. There is no Robin Hood plan in God’s kingdom. Why spend hours making phone calls and filling out paperwork hoping to get government assistance, when we can spend that time talking to the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings—whose resources are unlimited?

God challenged my husband and me years ago to trust Him completely for our needs and to live within our means. He has been teaching us the difference between needs and wants. We have never had a need that was not met, and He has provided many of our wants, too. He has also taught us that beyond a shadow of a doubt He is able and willing to provide. The beauty of this is that every time He answers a prayer for a need, our faith grows. Instead of being surprised, we are delighted at His response. We are learning to pray with thanksgiving instead of just petition—“Lord, you know we have this need, and we are excited to see how you will provide it.” Then we take time to praise Him—before and after the need is met. It’s been an amazing and exciting adventure. Psalm 147:5 reminds us, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.” You can trust Him to care for you! Seek His will above all else, praise Him no matter what, then “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7.

“Ah Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” Jeremiah 32:17.

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” Matthew 6:31-33.

Reviving Hospitality

(This is my devotional that was printed in Making Space: Welcoming God’s Presence, a Lenten devotional book compiled by West Shore Evangelical Free Church, Mechanicsburg, PA. The book is available in print and e-book form on amazon.com.)

“The art of hospitality is dying!” many say—and yet God’s Word tells us to practice hospitality without grumbling (Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 5:10, 1 Peter 4:9). Perhaps we grumble because we associate hospitality with flawless entertainment. Magazine covers feature beautifully-decorated tables and delectable-looking food, and we hesitate to offer what we have to share. But this worry puts the focus on us rather than our guests. This is not a new problem. Martha was stressed because she was more concerned with herself than with the One she wanted to serve. Jesus didn’t need a fancy meal—He could take two fish and five loaves and feed thousands! What He wanted was time with her.

Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is the key to hospitality. According to USA Today, 25% of Americans have no close personal friends. Since research links loneliness to mental and physical illness, perhaps the most loving thing we can do is open our less-than-perfect homes and offer to others what we have—a simple meal and our friendship.

Penny and Sandra (copy)

A missionary friend once told me, “We must never apologize for the Lord’s provision—even if He only provides bread and water.” That reminds me of the widow in 1 Kings 17. She had only a handful of flour and a little oil, yet she shared what she had with Elijah when he requested bread and water. The Lord honored her sacrifice in that “there was food every day.” Her flour and oil never ran out!

What do you have to share? A cup of tea? A warm smile? A listening ear? “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have” (Hebrews 13:16). Perhaps we can revive the precious gift of hospitality—one person at a time.

Questions to consider:

What makes you hesitate to exercise hospitality?

Can you think of someone who would appreciate your offer of friendship?

Prayer:

Dear Lord, thank You for the many ways You bless and welcome us. Help us see our homes and our lives through Your eyes, and joyfully share what You have given us. Lord, may our homes be places where Your love is shared freely. In Jesus’ Name and for His glory, Amen.

 

 

Amazed!

This week we did a science experiment to show the value of light in our lives—something I fear we take very much for granted. The boys each created a maze of chairs, tables and other furniture for their brothers and friends to navigate blindfolded. It was interesting to watch them grope their way through, some returning over and over again to the same corners, others going through more quickly. Some came so close to the exit, only to turn and head back into the maze. Eventually everyone made it out. Then their blindfolds were removed and they went through again. It was amazing how quickly they ran through the second time. Some of them stopped to explore the areas they had been stuck in, and wondered how they could have so easily been tricked. We certainly got the point of the experiment—life is a lot easier with light!

Image

The boys love a challenge and continue to repeat this maze experiment. If I stop by to watch, they always warn me not to give any hints to the captives. I’m so glad that when life seems like an impossible maze, with many twists and turns along the way, the One who can see every detail is only too happy to provide tips to guide me. His “word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” Psalm 119:105. Viewing life through the light of His Word, I look back and wonder how I ever could have believed the lies that once entrapped me. Now that I have His light to guide me, I rejoice that He allows me the privilege of helping others along the way. Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. . . . let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” Matthew 5:14, 16.

So who is up for a challenge? Let’s open His Word to light up the path before us, shine His Light brightly to help others along the way—and prepare to be amazed where God leads us!

Pray Without Ceasing???

My view of prayer has changed quite a bit since my family began serving with WEC USA. I used to wonder how people could pray for hours on end. I thought only pastors and missionaries had time for such things. I’ve learned that pastors and missionaries also struggle with finding enough time to pray. Now I attend a Half Day of Prayer each month, and realize that at the end of those four hours, we have barely begun. My boss, Kay Negley, wrote this about the room we use for our prayer meetings:

The US headquarters’ main building, dubbed the “Castle,” is a lumbering Victorian stone mansion complete with jutting turrets and cavernous fireplaces. The Great Hall where we meet, and the adjoining dining room, are covered in sumptuous paneling–craftsmanship rarely seen these days. Throughout my tenure I’ve attended numerous weekly prayer meetings in this room and heard the pleas of God’s people on behalf of the unreached, listened to amazing stories of answered prayer, and been captivated by the stories of God’s redeeming work in the lives of His people. As I’ve listened, I’ve often had a visual of how these paneled walls must appear from a heavenly perspectivesoaked in prayer, steeped in tears and glowing with a patina of God’s glory. If these walls could talk!

After reading this, I began to wonder what my prayer life would look like from a spiritual viewpoint. How about yours? Is it more like a Christmas wish-list, one request after another? Or perhaps it is more like the complaint/suggestion box—all the ways God should change your life, the world, etc. Is it just an obligation—one more item on your to-do list? Make my bed—check. Brush my teeth—check. Pray—check. Perhaps it is like the Hallelujah Chorus—one long, glorious praise session. Honestly, my prayer life has resembled each of these things at different times and has been a big mixture of each of the above at other times. I think my favorite prayer time was a half day of prayer when we determined to present every request to God with thanksgiving. Instead of telling Him the needs of various countries and missionaries (needs He already knew very well) we praised Him for knowing these needs and for walking with each of His children, reveled over passages of scripture that pertained to each request, and praised Him for what He was going to do on each person’s behalf. It was exhilarating! Instead of walking away thinking about all the problems there are in the world, I walked away thinking about what a powerful God I have!

I believe the Psalms give us a good picture of what our prayer life should look like—David sharing freely from his heart, no holds barred—the good, the bad and the ugly. God wants to be our best friend. Best friends share all the details of their lives. They laugh together, cry together, wrestle through tough issues together, and can be entrusted with the deepest thoughts of each other’s hearts, even those that aren’t very pretty.

We are told to “pray continually” 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Yet surely God does not want us to quit our jobs and sit in a corner praying all day. Have you ever worked on a project with your best friend? Maybe you were building a deck on your house or scrapbooking or organizing a school event. You didn’t have to stop working to talk to each other. It just comes naturally. As you work side by side, you share whatever comes to mind, you laugh at “inside jokes” nobody else would understand—you simply enjoy being together. God has given us the privilege of working alongside of Him in whatever work we are doing. He wants us to be aware of Him at all times. When we see a beautiful rainbow or enjoy the feel of the wind blowing through our hair, He wants to hear our praise. When our hearts feels like they are being ripped out, He wants to be the shoulder we cry on. He wants to share personal jokes with us, wants us to delight in Him and delight in being His delight.

Recently on Facebook I saw this post—“Best friends. It actually hurts when we don’t talk.” Is God so much a part of your day that it would actually hurt if you could not talk to Him? When the spiritual world views my prayer life, I want them to see it stamped with BFF—a blatant reminder that nothing—“neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [me] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus [my] Lord” Romans 8:38—39.

A Costly Collection

Our God is so very personal. I am always amazed at how He brings verses to me that I really need to hear. He did it again today! As a bibliophile, I have too many books, yet have a hard time departing with any of them. Each book seems like a friend, since we have learned, laughed and cried together. I need to go through my children’s lending library, which is already full—and I still have many books I would like to include! I must also tame my schoolroom, where books and project supplies are overflowing. I’m giving myself a pep-talk on trusting God in these tasks. Most of the items I part with, I will probably never miss. And if I find some in the future that I truly need, the Lord is able to provide them then. Despite the pep-talk, my heart was not in the project—until I had my quiet time this morning!

During Lent, I’m reading the daily devotionals from “Making Space: Welcoming God’s Presence.” This morning, I felt compelled to read two. Now I know why! Margaret Stoddard shared something her brother-in-law used to say, “I was happiest when I could fit all my possessions in the back of my pickup truck.” How freeing that would be! Imagine being able to literally “pack up and go” so quickly. I realize that my books alone would more than fill a pickup truck, front and back. Margaret continues, “As I have grown older and amassed a huge collection of stuff, I begin to appreciate the wisdom in these words. Possessions have a way of ensnaring our hearts and lives in ways we never expect. The single teapot becomes one of many that need a china cupboard to house them, then tea cups to accompany them. Next, you need a seasonal rotation of teapots based on colors and motif. Before you know it you have a collection that requires much more time and space than you ever wanted to spend on teapots. Like the man who built barns to store his surplus of grain, you are consumed by your abundance, finding you have little time to sit down with a friend and share a cup of tea. Isn’t that the point of having a teapot?”

 Hmmmm. Maybe I have so little time to enjoy my books because I’m so busy trying to organize them—or to find the ones I have misplaced in the piles. I had to laugh as I read another devotional from “Making Space,” this one from Gene Barry Chase. I totally understood his dismay in not being able to find something he had saved for years—his lost item was ironically a Bible study on simplicity. “I save things to show that I remember, to show that I care, to show that I’m accomplished, to help me to remember, to help me to care. But the lost Bible study on simplicity proves that I don’t control my things. My things control me. . . . I think of all the time that I’m investing in things, mere stand-ins for people at best. According to the Bible, only two things will last forever like God himself: people and God’s word.”

I ended my quiet time by reading Psalm 23. The first verse seemed particularly appropriate today, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Like a good shepherd, the Lord provides all that we need. I am not in wantin need of—anything. Yet I want many things I do not need. I am thankful that the Lord sometimes says no to my wants. He cares enough to keep me from burying myself more deeply in the things of this world. So, I’m off to tackle some piles. May these lessons stay fresh in my mind as I consider what are truly needs, and what are just burdensome wants.

“Watch out, and beware of greed; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” Luke 12:15.

 

Adopted!

I was asked recently why the Bible would record the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph’s side, since Jesus did not have one drop of Joseph’s blood in His body. As I pondered this question, I began to think of all of the adopted children I know. Even though they do not have their parents’ blood running through them, they still belong to their family. If I adopted a child, he would call my parents “Grandma” and “Grandpa” and would inherit many aunts, uncles and cousins as well. In the United States, an “adopted child is treated by law as if he or she had been born to the adopting parents upon the entry of the final adoption decree. The adopted child, therefore, gains the right to inherit from the adoptive parents.”¹ Along with inheriting material things, the child inherits the genealogy of the parents. Granted, this will not help in determining genetic makeup. But in every other way, the child belongs to the family.

The Bible is one big love letter from God to us. Every detail recorded is there for the purpose of teaching us about the majesty of God and about His great love for the nations. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, He allowed Abraham (and us) to have a glimpse of how much God would suffer when He gave His only son as a sacrifice for men. Because this is a human father being asked to sacrifice his son, we feel the pain more keenly. It brings the picture of a perfect God sacrificing His perfect Son down to our level, down to the heart of the matter. This is how much God loves me. Do I love Him enough to sacrifice my greatest treasures for Him?

Jesus was adopted by Joseph. Through Jesus, we have been adopted into God’s family. There is such a beautiful analogy here. When Joseph decided to marry Mary in spite of her unexpected pregnancy, he sacrificed his reputation—he suffered disgrace. There is no doubt that people noted the birthday of Jesus, and that it was less than nine months after the wedding. We know the rumors were there, because the Jewish leaders made a slur to Jesus about His genealogy, “We were not born of sexual immorality,”² the obvious implication being that in their minds Jesus was. Yet Joseph took on the shame and scandal for the joy of marrying Mary and raising the Son of God. He knew the cost of adoption and willingly accepted it. We can enter into Joseph’s feelings and pain and love—and it gives us a glimpse of God’s great love for us.
Victoria and Aunt Penny

We are also adopted. Although God created each of us and we rightfully belong to Him, we silly humans decided that we knew better than our Parent. We wanted things our own way and ran away from home. God could not simply bring us back home. A price had to be paid. And so, in spite of our pride and rebellion—in spite of the shame and scandal and deep pain that would be required—God adopted us back into His family. He did not do so grudgingly. We are given a picture of His great forgiving heart in the story of the prodigal son.³ When the father saw the son returning, “Daddy” ran to meet his son, embraced him, and threw a party to celebrate. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”⁴ His only Son, Jesus, also suffered willingly. Just as His earthly father had done, Jesus looked not at the pain and cost necessary for adoption, but at the great reward at the end. “For the joy that was set before Him, [He] endured the cross, despising the shame . . .”⁵ The joy that was set before Him was the ability to save us from ourselves, to adopt us out of the miserable lives we had created—and into His family forever.

I can’t give some deep theological reason for why Joseph’s genealogy is included in the gospel of Matthew. But I am so glad it is included. It gives me yet another reminder of the great love that God has for me. I am overjoyed to think that I am listed in His genealogy, as a beloved daughter, who receives the full inheritance of all of His children, “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”⁶

¹U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/inheritance.cfm)

²John 8:41, English Standard Version (2001), emphasis mine

³Luke 15:11-32

³John 3:16, English Standard Version (2001)

⁴Hebrews 12:2, English Standard Version (2001)

⁵Romans 5:21, English Standard Version (2001)