Michelangelo found a piece of rough marble cast aside as useless. He was told that no good thing could come from it, but Michelangelo said, "It is not useless. Send it to my studio. There is an angel imprisoned within it, and I must set it free." Jesus went about freeing angels from within seemingly useless or sinful human beings: Zacchaeus the tax collector, Mary Magdalene, Saul, the thief on the cross, the woman of Samaria--and us. Jesus sees what we can be and He treats us accordingly. And He asks that we do the same for others: treat them as they can be, through His transforming grace.
"Well, we have left our all and followed you. Now what are we to get?" (Matthew 19:27 Moffat). Here we have Peter asking "What's in it for us?" They had little to forsake when it came to worldly goods, but Peter needed reassurance that even that was worth the leaving. Jesus did not upbraid Peter for He knew that, like the widow who gave her all, they had done the same. Jesus overlooked Peter's vain hopes to assure the disciples of the blessed hope: "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life." (v.29 NAS).
"Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost" (John 6:12b NAS). God is particular about our bits and pieces and what we do with them: fragments of time and opportunity, thoughts and actions. Jesus asked His disciples to gather the broken pieces that represent what is left over from His bounty. When God feeds us, He feasts us. He is able to do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine," even (Ephesians 3:20). But He does not want us to waste the fragments from His abundance. He plans His universe to the last jot and tittle.
The newspaper told the tragic story of the murdered teen. Four weeks passed and still no one came forward to identify the body of the girl, so she will be buried in an unmarked grave. We weep at stories like this. Surely somewhere there is a family who loved this precious life. Who has murdered her? Who is not missing her? "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be...without self-control, brutal..." (2 Timothy 3:2,3). There is an empty chair in some family's home. Every parent's heart cries to God for the salvation of this child so ruthlessly murdered.
"Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me" (Luke 12:13). Jesus tells the man He is not his judge, and then warns him against covetousness. Jesus' concern is with the man's attitude toward his brother, as well as his envy at the brother's good fortune. He tells the man his life does not consist of his possessions but his values, for "where your treasure is, there your heart will be, also" (Luke 12:34). Apparently the man did not listen to Jesus' discourse. He was engrossed in what he perceived to be his need, so he lost that blessing, also. The man might not have been a good steward, either.
"When a diamond is found it is rough and dark like a common pebble. It takes a long time to polish it, and it is very hard work. It is held by means of a piece of metal close to the surface of a large wheel, which is kept going round. Fine diamond dust is put on this wheel, nothing else being hard enough to polish the diamond. And this work is kept on for months and sometimes several years before it is finished. If the diamond is intended for a king, then the greater time and trouble are spent upon it" (Old Testament Anecdotes). Jesus is polishing His jewels with fine diamond dust of trials to make them beautiful.
It's so easy for us to try to settle our own accounts with those who hurt us and hurt those we love, but God is the ultimate Accountant. "Do not say, 'I'll pay you back for this wrong!' Wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you" (Proverbs 20:22). There are people full of hate who do not get angry, they get even. It will help us to know that God will get even with those individuals. He takes the responsibility from us. We all have an account with someone that we would like to balance but, for our own peace of mind, we'd best let God do the examining and interpreting and concluding for us, for He is a fair Judge, too.
It's nice to have things--until they have us. One can sleep in only one bed at a time, live in only one house at a time, listen to so many tapes and records, and read only so many books in a lifetime. And then there's the time spent arranging and dusting all our possessions, keeping the files in order, etc. "...The ambition to buy everything that appeals to [us], and the pride that comes from wealth and importance--these are not from God" (1 John 2:16 TLB). Let us ask ourselves if we want this, much less need it, before we spend too much money on our next purchase.
We all have Great Expectations in life--of others. Perhaps we would be more content in life if we change that to Great Exceptions. Rather than "I expect" my spouse or child to do this or that, we might say to ourselves, "I except" my spouse or child from this or that, because I'm so good to myself and except myself from duties when I'm tired, or pressed for time, or whatever exceptional excuse I can conjure up. Of course my excuses are reasonable and should be accepted--not excepted--by my family. We demand of others and demean ourselves in the process with gripes. May God deliver us from our petty criticisms.
We are not spared troubles but we can be strengthened by them. The athlete can't hope to win the prize and privileges without the perspiration and perseverance. So it is in life: "Tribulation brings about perseverance, and perseverance, proven character..." (Romans 5:3,4 NAS). Chuck Swindoll said, "If you ask directions to your destination, and you are told that the road you have to take is full of potholes, then every bump along the way is your assurance you're on the right road." "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial..." (James 1:12a). There are lots of different bumps; at times we even manage to cultivate our own!
"But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position..." (James 1:9 NAS). Kneeling keeps us on an even keel of life, and it keeps us from keeling over when the road gets rough. The hardest thing in life is to come down gracefully but, if we can do that, then we can come back up gracefully. With God's grace, we will. Humility is not humiliation. One is full of grace and the other is a disgrace. So let us not worry about humble circumstances, for Jesus Himself had not a place to lay His worthy head.
"Walk, do not run, to the nearest exit." Walk! Don't rush for, if you do, you may slip. "He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:29-31). The progression is fascinating: wings for early youth; running for the young and vigorous; and finally walking for the mature who have settled into life and need patience, endurance and hope.
Moses had a temper. He crashed the Ten Commandments and later on he twice struck the rock he had been commanded to only speak to. Moses was the moral authority who represented God and, when he disobeyed, God told both him and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them" (Numbers 20:12). Moses and Aaron paid a terrible price for a moment of weakness and anger. Moses spoke in bitterness to the people and smote the rock, completely contrary to what God said to do. Let us not think that our sins are minor!
Moses pleaded, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent...I am slow of speech and tongue" (Exodus 4:10). Moses was to speak for God, not as God. God chose Moses, slow of speech, rather than the eloquent Aaron, to pray for Joshua (Exodus 17:12). It is the grace of the tongue that finally prevails for victory. The disciples were not orators, but the Holy Spirit came upon them and they became His witnesses to all the world (Acts 1:8). God will qualify us as He commands us to do for Him. "Every good and perfect gift is from above..." (James 1:17). For that reason, we cannot be proud of our talents, only grateful.
"But let your statement be, `Yes, yes' or `No, no'; and anything beyond this is of evil" (Matthew 5:37). Words are deeds of the lips, and an overactive tongue translates into overkill and, oftentimes, death by boredom. A multiplicity of words can also degenerate into duplicity. Jesus' "verily, verily" was His veracity. His simplicity of conversation assured His listeners they could totally trust Him. His Word was indeed His bond and their security, and ours, as well. Do we give to others this invaluable gift of total honesty?
"But he went out and began to talk freely...As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly, but stayed out in lonely places" (Mark 1:45); "Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it" (Mark 7:36). In satisfying a personal need to tell the world in our own way, we sometimes hinder God's work. We must be very prayerful and careful of how and when we present God and His marvelous works. A grandmother who had years of experience in such things told her grandchildren, "Always tell the truth, but don't always be telling it." Discretion is the better part of common sense.
From the London Christian: "Some witty person once said, `There are three kinds of givers, the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb.' To get anything out of a flint you must hammer it, and then you get only chips and sparks. To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it, and the more you squeeze, the more you will get. But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness." "...He who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully...for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:6,7 ); "For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38c).
Someone defined an optimist as "one who makes the best of it when he gets the worst of it." Two people saw the same half a glass of water. The optimist rejoiced that the glass was half-full; the pessimist grumbled that it was half-empty. "A cheerful heart is good medicine..." (Proverbs 17:22). "An optimist is a fellow who takes the cold water thrown on his ideas, heats it with enthusiasm, makes steam, and pushes ahead" (Megaphone). Some folk degenerate into chronic melancholia as old age sets in. Instead, let us read the cheering Word so we may keep from falling into the slough and slouch of despondency.
"Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it" (Ezra 10:4). Courage and encouragement, operation and cooperation are within this sage advice. God raises up men and women to sustain the burdens for us all, and it is the group's duty to be with the person in heart and mind. The leader, whether minister, captain, manager, employer--whatever--has the duty to be courageous and to operate on the needs; it is for the rest of us to cooperate and encourage so the person in charge may be successful for us all. We make or break each other. Father, help us to be aisles, not isles!
"I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat" (John Milton). There can be no cloistered virtue. For one to be virtuous, one must have tests. It's impossible to steal if one has nothing to steal, and it's impossible to adulterate if one has no one with whom to commit adultery! It is only when we have come through the battle with our garments still white that we can praise and thank God for His grace; it isn't ours that gets us through.
In The Crisis of Our Age, P.A. Sorokin spoke of intellectual chewing gums. Somehow our inconsistencies of ideas and tastes manage to coexist. Our current chewing gums have become quite tasteless. We seem to be slipping into one huge common denominator where voices sound alike, all using the same curse words and silly expressions. We are uncreative in our demise, even. The headline read, "College Literary Standards Are In Dangerous Decline." Writings that used to be considered the touchstones of refinement for international civilization are now relegated to a common grave of the modern scholar's pride. God must weep.
"By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures" (Proverbs 24:3,4). A house built upon the Rock has a firm foundation. "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain" (Psalm 127:1). The "rare and beautiful treasures" are memories built on prudence, patience, dedication, discernment and strength of mind, heart, and body: all gifts bestowed by a God who wants us to succeed. But we have a work to do, too. If we don't, then "Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks" (Ecclesiastes 10:18).
"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14). If warring husbands and wives, siblings, co-workers, church members--all who have battles going on within hurting hearts--would only come together before their God, who is Peace, and allow Him to destroy the barriers of misunderstanding and hatred, how much more worthwhile and enjoyable our lives would be. God wants to inscribe this verse on our hearts with His engraving tool of love. It is God Himself who will destroy that terrible dividing wall for us and make us one again.
"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed" (Proverbs 16:3). That word commit means to roll our burdens to God while we still work; to quit our fussing and fretting and get on with life. We waste valuable time either trying to fit circumstances to ourselves or fit ourselves to our circumstances. It is best to commit ourselves to God and let Him take care of the circumstances before we have to be committed because of frustration. It is befitting that we trust God's plans for us, for they are already established. We don't need to hang in suspense on the gossamer thread of doubt.
"For they refreshed my spirit and yours also" (1 Corinthians 16:18). We all crave human companionship and sympathy. Here Paul recognizes--and asks that the church fellowship recognize--his friends who visited and encouraged him, and restored his faith in the church members, as well. We need to be with our like-minded Christian friends who are truly interested in our welfare and who understand the battles of mind and heart. Perhaps there is another message here: our faithful ministers need encouragement and the support of the church members. They are human, too, and they need to know that their love and work is not in vain.
"If you will extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman" (Jeremiah 15:19b). God asked Jeremiah to distinguish the Spirit from the flesh, and to recognize the good without compromising with the evil with which he was surrounded. There are always those who have not bowed the knee to Baal, the proverbial "7,000" who keep faith with God and principles. Jeremiah was to forget his doubts and remember his duty to these people who he perceived as ungrateful and hopeless sinners. Jeremiah was also to separate what was divine from what was the dross of his own human passions; only then could he speak in God's name.
Albert almost died in the accident. God, he and his mother worked to get him back together--almost. He was left brain-damaged but not heart-damaged. Now, with halting but loving tongue, he does not hesitate to share his triumphant story of God's grace and goodness with the less aware who take their health so much for granted. It is a grand story of conquest over what seemed impossible, a bringing back from death to a life that found the pearl of great price. Albert shares his pearl with those fortunate enough to come his worthy way. Do we thank Providence daily that we are healthy and without pain?
Sometimes we miss those who would help us. Charles Spurgeon told of the minister who collected the rent for a widow. When he took it to her house, there was no answer. Later he met her and told her what happened. She said, "I thought it was the man who came to collect the rent." We, too, sometimes limit what God can do for us by believing the possible is impossible. Our lack of faith is what keeps us from answering His knock, just as the widow misunderstood who was at her door. God asks us, "Was My arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you?" (Isaiah 50:2b). "Ah, Sovereign Lord...Nothing is too hard for you" (Jeremiah 32:17).
Walter Marshall Horton, in Our Christian Faith, tells about the pious deacon who vowed publicly to kill the man who goaded him beyond endurance. His enemy heard about the vow and waited to see what the deacon would do. Actually the deacon sought out every possible opportunity to do the man good. One day the enemy's wife was drowning and the deacon saved the woman's life. The deadlock was broken and a new relationship formed when the man said to the deacon, "All right, you've done what you said you'd do, and I admit it. You've killed me--or at least you've killed the man I was. Now, what can I do for you?"
"If we wished to gain contentment, we might try such rules as these: 1) Allow thyself to complain of nothing, not even the weather; 2) Never picture thyself to thyself under any circumstances in which thou art not; 3) Never compare thine own lot with that of another; 4) Never allow thyself to dwell on the wish that this or that had been, or were, otherwise than it was, or is. God Almighty loves thee better and more wisely than thou dost thyself; 5) Never dwell on the morrow. Remember that it is God's, not thine. The heaviest part of sorrow often is to look forward to it. `The Lord will provide.'" E.B. Pusey.
"Why does He eat with tax-collectors and 'sinners'?" (Mark 2:16c). Jesus endured the hostility and insensitiveness of sinners (Hebrews 12:3). Jesus said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7); "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Luke 6:41). When we concentrate on getting the planks out of our own eyes and heart, it's amazing how we no longer see others' specks. We don't have a gentle enough heart to remove others' sins. It's best to focus on eliminating our own.