Could I Say That?

The perception of favoritism is one of the biggest factors in sibling rivalry,” said Dr. Barbara Howard, a developmental behavioral pediatrician (“When Parents Have a Favorite Child” nytimes.com). An example would be the Old Testament character Joseph, who was his father’s favorite son, which, made his older brothers furious (Gen. 37:3–4). So they sold Joseph to merchants traveling to Egypt and made it appear that a wild animal had killed him (37:12–36). His dreams had been shattered and his future appeared hopeless.

Yet, along Joseph’s journey of life, he chose to be true to his God and rely on Him even when it seemed to make his situation worse. After being falsely accused by his employer’s wife and imprisoned for something he didn’t do, Joseph struggled with the injustice of his situation but kept trusting the Lord.

Years later his brothers came to Egypt to buy grain during a famine and were terrified to discover that their despised younger brother was now the Prime Minister. But Joseph told them, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . . It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:5, 8). 

Joseph’s kind words cause me to wonder if I would be ready for revenge. Or would I be gracious because my heart had confidence in the Lord?

Playing in Concert

During our granddaughter’s school band concert, I was impressed by how well this group of 11- and 12-year-olds played together. If each of them had wanted to be a solo performer, they could not have achieved individually what the band did collectively. The woodwinds, brass, and percussion sections all played their parts and the result was beautiful music!

To the followers of Jesus in Rome, Paul wrote, “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom. 12:5–6). Among the gifts Paul mentioned are prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, and mercy (vv. 7–8). Each gift is to be exercised freely for the good of all (1 Cor. 12:7).

One definition of in concert is “agreement in design or plan; combined action; harmony or accord.” That’s the Lord’s plan for us as His children though faith in Jesus Christ. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (v. 10). The goal is cooperation, not competition.

In a sense, we are “on stage” before a watching and listening world every day. There are no soloists in God’s concert band, but every instrument is essential. The music is best when we each play our part in unity with others.

Rhythms of Grace

A friend and his wife, now in their early nineties and married for sixty-six years, wrote their family history for their children, grandchildren, and generations to come. The final chapter, “A Letter from Mom and Dad,” contains important life-lessons they’ve learned. One caused me to pause and take inventory of my own life: “If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying a relationship with Jesus Christ. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life” (Matt. 11:28–29).

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’s invitation in this passage begins, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? . . . Walk with me and work with me. . . . . Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

When I think that serving God is all up to me, I’ve begun working for Him instead of walking with Him. There is a vital difference. If I’m not walking with Christ, my spirit becomes dry and brittle. People are annoyances, not fellow humans created in God’s image. Nothing seems right.

When I sense that I’m practicing religion instead of enjoying a relationship with Jesus, it’s time to lay the burden down and walk with Him in His “unforced rhythms of grace.”

Fifteen-Minute Challenge

Dr. Charles W. Eliot, longtime president of Harvard University, believed that ordinary people who read consistently from the world’s great literature for even a few minutes a day could gain a valuable education. In 1910, he compiled selections from books of history, science, philosophy, and fine art into fifty volumes called The Harvard Classics. Each set of books included Dr. Eliot’s Reading Guide titled “Fifteen Minutes A Day” containing recommended selections of eight to ten pages for each day of the year.

What if we spent fifteen minutes a day reading God’s Word? We could say with the psalmist, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (Ps. 119:36–37).

Fifteen minutes a day adds up to ninety-one hours a year. But for whatever amount of time we decide to read the Bible each day, consistency is the secret and the key ingredient is not perfection but persistence. If we miss a day or a week, we can start reading again. As the Holy Spirit teaches us, God’s Word moves from our minds to our hearts, then to our hands and feet—taking us beyond education to transformation.

“Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end” (v. 33).

Everything We Need

I often feel completely inadequate for the tasks I face. Whether it’s teaching Sunday school, advising a friend, or writing articles for this publication, the challenge often seems to be larger than my ability. Like Peter, I have a lot to learn.

The New Testament reveals Peter’s shortcomings as he tried to follow the Lord. While walking on water to Jesus, Peter began to sink (Matt. 14:25–31). When Jesus was arrested, Peter swore he didn’t know him (Mark 14:66–72). But Peter’s encounter with the risen Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit changed his life.

Peter came to understand that God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). An amazing statement from a man with so many flaws!

“[God] has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (v. 4).

Our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is the source of the wisdom, patience, and power we need to honor God, help others, and meet the challenges of today. Through Him, we can overcome our hesitations and feelings of inadequacy.

In every situation, He has given us everything we need to serve and honor Him.

Dysfunctional

The word dysfunctional is often used to describe individuals, families, relationships, organizations, and even governments. While functional means it’s in proper working order, dysfunctional is the opposite—it’s broken, not working properly, unable to do what it was designed to do.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul begins by describing a spiritually dysfunctional humanity (1:18–32). We are all part of that rebellious company: “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:12, 23).

The good news is that “all are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus . . . to be received by faith” (vv. 24–25). When we invite Christ into our lives and accept God’s offer of forgiveness and new life, we are on the path to becoming the person He created us to be. We don’t immediately become perfect, but we no longer have to remain broken and dysfunctional.

Through the Holy Spirit we receive daily strength to honor God in what we say and do and to “put off [our] old self . . . to be made new in the attitude of [our]minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22–24).

Prepare the Child

A phrase on many parenting websites says, “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.” Instead of trying to remove all obstacles and pave the way for the children in our life, we should instead equip them to deal with the difficulties they encounter on the road ahead.

The psalmist wrote, “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes . . . which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children” (Ps. 78:4, 6). The goal is that “they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (v. 7).

Think of the powerful spiritual impact others had on us through what they said and how they lived. Their conversation and demonstration captured our attention and kindled a fire in us to follow Jesus just as they did. 

It’s a wonderful privilege and responsibility to share God’s Word and His plan for our lives with the next generation and the generations to come. No matter what lies ahead on their road through life, we want them to be prepared and equipped to face it in the strength of the Lord. 

Scattering Seeds

I received a wonderful email from a woman who wrote, “Your mom was my first-grade teacher at Putnam City in 1958. She was a great teacher and very kind, but strict!  She made us learn the 23rd psalm and say it in front of the class, and I was horrified.  But it was the only contact I had with the Bible until 1997 when I became a Christian. And the memories of Mrs. McCasland came flooding back as I re-read it.”

Jesus told a large crowd a parable about the farmer who sowed his seed that fell on different types of ground—a hard path, rocky ground, clumps of thorns, and good soil (Matt. 13:1–9). While some seeds never grew, “the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it” and “produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (v. 23).

During the twenty years my mother taught first grade in public schools, along with reading, writing, and arithmetic she scattered seeds of kindness and the message of God’s love.

Her former student’s email concluded, “I have had other influences in my Christian walk later in life, of course. But my heart always returns to [Psalm 23] and her gentle nature.”

A seed of God’s love sown today may produce a remarkable harvest.

The Ministry of Memory

Our experiences of loss and disappointment may leave us feeling angry, guilty, and confused. Whether our choices have closed some doors that will never reopen or, through no fault of our own, tragedy has invaded our lives, the result is often what Oswald Chambers called “the unfathomable sadness of ‘the might have been.’” We may try to suppress the painful memory, but discover we can’t. 

Chambers reminds us that the Lord is still active in our lives. “Never be afraid when God brings back the past,” he said. “Let memory have its way. It is a minister of God with its rebuke and chastisement and sorrow. God will turn the ‘might have been’ into a wonderful culture (place of growth) for the future.” 

In Old Testament days when God sent the people of Israel into exile in Babylon, He told them to serve Him in that foreign land and grow in faith until He brought them back to their home.  “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jer. 29:11).

Instead of ignoring or being trapped by events of the past, God urged them to focus on Him and look ahead. The Lord’s forgiveness can transform the memory of our sorrow into confidence in His everlasting love.