Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Imminent departure

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
2 Timothy 4:6 (NIV)

Tombstones speak volumes. The words carved into the hard rock markers say a great deal about the life that a person lived. Take for example the headstone of Gussie. "Here lies the body of a girl who died. Nobody mourned and nobody cried. Nobody knew and nobody cared." Quite a sad commentary on the life of a young, unloved orphan girl.

Then we have the more amusing inscription that commemorates the life of inquisitive Harry Edsel Smith. "Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was." Harry's curiosity was short lived.

Arrested again, after ministering freely for several years, the Apostle Paul's second letter to his young assistant Timothy indicates that his life here on earth was nearly over. In one of the three letters called the Pastoral Epistles, Paul writes to his disciple in order to support and encourage him in his ministry. Tradition has it that soon after writing what has been called his swan song, or his last will and testament, Paul was beheaded on the Ostian Way, west of Rome.

Referred to as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13), Paul's moving letter provides a glimpse into the heart of the man and missionary. After a lifetime of service and suffering, with no self-pity and no regrets, he faces death without fear and without doubt.

It stands to reason that a person is remembered at life's end by how they lived the years since their birth. Modern day author and speaker Linda Ellis describes it as "living our dash"--ensuring that we live to the fullest the years between the beginning of life and the end. In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul gives us insight into what drove his dash--his life's mission. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

How do you think Paul's tombstone would read? Would the inscription call out "In Christ Alone" (2 Timothy 1:9-10) or perhaps "Never Ashamed" (Philippians 1:19-21). Maybe the solid granite would shout, "Free at Last" (Ephesians 6:19-21) or possibly "Finally, Home." (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

I've thought about the words that will, by the grace of God, one day sum up my life. I'm working toward, "She loved Jesus. They knew." Or possibly the epitaph will be a bit on the lighter side, "Construction complete. Thanks for your patience."

How's your dash, dear friend. Are you preparing for your departure by living each of your todays to its fullest?

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

PS My mission - To give God the glory as I become worthy of His trust and come to know and make known His Son Jesus, The Christ, in the world that I serve. (Philippians 1:19-21)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Shore up the low points

Therefore, I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows."
Nehemiah 4:13 (NIV)

Throughout its history, ancient Israel's obedience to God led to blessing and disobedience led to trouble. When the kings of Israel and Judah failed to live up to the kingship covenant that was made with David, God declared through His prophets that He would judge His people's faithlessness.

Consequently, after centuries of repeated disobedience, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians (722 B.C.), and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians and the southern kingdom of Judah taken into exile in Babylon (587 B.C.). In His mercy, however, God declared that after He judged His people, He would bring them back.

And so it went. The Babylonian Empire was eventually overthrown by Cyrus, king of Persia in 539 B.C. Through the Persian rulers, God brought favor to His people and the exiles not only were allowed to return home but encouraged to practice their own religion. The Jews could at last restore their temple at Jerusalem; work that was completed in 516 B.C.

Fast forward circa 445 B.C. Despite several abortive attempts to construct Jerusalem's city walls, they remained in ruins. (Ezra 4:7-23) Without protective walls the city was vulnerable to numerous enemies. When word reached Nehemiah, who was living away in Babylonia, about the sorry plight of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, the royal cupbearer to king Artaxerxes was distressed at the news. He prayed to God about the situation. Convicted that God wanted him to ask the king if he might be released from his post and be given authority to go to Jerusalem and organize the rebuilding of the city walls, Nehemiah prayed that Artaxerxes' heart might be favorably disposed toward him. God answered his prayer, the king consented, and Nehemiah set out on the 1,100 mile journey home.

Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah made a personal inspection of the city and organized the project. He found the people willing to work; and with his dynamic leadership, people of all sorts--priests, perfumers, goldsmiths and merchants--joined together in the rebuilding. Nonetheless, they faced first ridicule and then blackmail, intimidation and threats from powerful opponents.

Nehemiah's reply to the opposition was prayer and faith, plus practical action: "we prayed...and set a guard...Remember the Lord...and fight." (Nehemiah 4:1-20) His unshakable confidence came from the certainty that "our God will fight for us." A practical man, an organizer and leader, a man of courage, determination and deep spiritual resources to draw on, it took just 52 days, despite all opposition, to build 1.5 miles of wall.

Some days, exhausted and anxious because I've been pushed to my limits, I feel weary clear down to the marrow of my bones. My nerves are shot, my emotions vulnerable; I wonder whether I will ever accomplish anything of value.

It's at those moments that I station my Help at my exposed places. Taking up the Sword, which is the Word of God, I remember the Lord who is great and awesome. And, determined to fight, I dig deep into the spiritual resources of His Truth and declare my longing to remain faithful to what He has called me to.

What trouble do you face today, dear friend? Are you challenged with a difficult decision, hurting from a broken relationship, or drained by a rebellious child? Are you burdened with financial matters, concerned about a health issue, or fretting at the days ahead?

My friend, God answers prayer. He protects those who trust Him. His means of deliverance are never exhausted.

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Joy in His presence

I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord."
Psalm 122:1 (NIV)

I chuckled as I opened the bathroom door that led into my bedroom. There lay Sarah Marie Otis at the door's threshold. Greeting me with a soft "meow," she stood up and brushed tenderly against my leg as she sauntered through the open doorway. The tabby-tortoise cat then leaped to her spot on the bathroom ledge for what had become a daily habit and settled in to watch me as I finished dressing.

In that brief encounter, I was transported back 22 years to a time when my husband and I both held full-time jobs outside the home. Each morning as we dressed for work, our then two-year-old son would climb out of his bed, grab his favorite pillow and blanket, and strategically position himself on the hallway floor outside his daddy's bathroom.

"Well, hello, son," his father would say with a smile as he opened the lavatory door. Then for the next few minutes as he watched his dad complete a morning routine of shaving, brushing teeth, and styling hair, our young son rested in his daddy's presence.

Psalm 122 is part of the Psalms of Ascent, songs ancient Israelites sang as they traveled to the Jewish festivals in Jerusalem. On his arrival, the pilgrim is overwhelmed by the scene and occasion. With a full heart, he thinks back to the anticipation he had for the event and the excitement he feels being in the holy city.

Like that ancient traveler, I love church. I've never attended a perfect one; and no, something monumental doesn't happen every time I go. Still I am blessed. There is delight when I gather with others who love to praise God for His greatness. (Psalm 122:1) The encouragement, care and unity that occurs when believers meet together is motivating. (1 Corinthians 12:25) The instruction, edification and challenge that comes from the teaching of God's Word builds me up in spirit to tackle another tough Monday morning. (2 Timothy 4:2)

I wonder, however, at our Heavenly Father's delight when we simply choose to spend time with Him in the quietness of each new day. "Good morning, my child," I hear Him say in my heart. "I watched over you during the night. Not one thing will happen to you this day that I don't already know; for as I promised, I am with you always." And, then, I rest in His presence.

I pray you also find joy in His presence, dear friend.

Faithfully Following