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May 26, 2016

Enjoying God

“O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” – Psalm 34:8


Man’s chief end, according to the first question of the Westminster Catechism, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Simple and succinct. But did you ever think that the two actions, glorify and enjoy, are the very same thing? To glorify God is to enjoy Him; to enjoy Him is to glorify Him! You know, one gets the impression that not many people enjoy God. There are many kinds of actions and feelings toward God, but how many equate with the pleasure of enjoying Him? Many succumb to just ignoring God because of the press of life itself, and because of that pressure, being inattentive to the One who must be acknowledged by faith and never sight, at least for now. God is actually enormously present, but only to those whose faith is intensely focused upon Him. Life moves forward whether or not you take God into account, but it will not move forward favorably for you, in this life and beyond, without acknowledging, glorifying, and enjoying Him. The key ingredient in your life is missing if God is missing.
Enjoying God is never relegating Him to a last thought or no thought status. He is most rightfully the One who ought to hold the premier place in your thoughts, for without Him nothing is or will be. In the time you spend alone, fellowship with God ought to always be preeminent; for He will always elevate your thought life in and through acknowledging His presence.
In your time spent with others always introduce God into the mix. After all, He is there; why not be the One to remind everyone He is. The more this becomes your habit, the more you glorify Him, and, of consequence, enjoy Him. Though God is always present, your own benefit is never manifested until your faith actively and purposefully embraces His presence. “You are here, and I love that You are.”
In sorrowful and painful times, you may draw back from enjoying the comfort of God. You may feel anger towards Him, or just feel like suffering alone. It is perhaps in suffering and pain that the enjoyment of God is most poignant; the pain may be so severe that enjoyment is the last thing you want to be thinking or feeling. Yet He is uniquely the One who can most comfort a forlorn soul. Enjoying His medicine may be your only, your most satisfying, your most healing salve. In fact, it is.
In happy times there is no better One to prolong the experience, especially when you are alone and others are gone, than to share the joy you feel with your true Father and relish your companionship. It is the nearest and most intimate relationship you can know. No other knows you so thoroughly, delights in your company, and loves you so completely. It is the first and the last of your enjoying anything. At least it ought to be if it isn’t. You miss the best if it is not so with you.
Of course, all this requires faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God, to draw near to Him, believing not only that He exists, but that He delights in rewarding your seeking Him out (Hebrews 11:6). Faith in God must be constantly refreshed, utilized, strengthened, and put to good use in staying near Him. Faith is the disciplined, personal exercise which glorifies and enjoys the God who not only made you but takes care of you, sustaining your very being.
The Epistle of James encourages the focus of your faith, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” This is a promise, and also the place for you to be and stay; glorifying and enjoying Him forever. Your home!


“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above; praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of God’s unchanging love.”
(1st verse of Robert Robinson’s hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” 1758)


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May 25, 2016

Recharge

When I first had my son, people would say to me, “Make sure you’re taking care of you! I always wondered how they thought I could possibly have time to do that. Between the seemingly constant feedings, diaper changes, baths, rocking, consoling, and of course snuggling, there wasn’t time to even utter the words “self-care. And if there was, I certainly had to take advantage of that brief window to catch up on the laundry, dishes, vacuuming, cooking, thank you letters, emails, work assignments…Oh, and maybe I should grab a shower since I haven’t had one in who knows how many days. I would like to have at least half of a conversation with my husband at some point as well. And seriously, when was the last time I went to the grocery store? There is no food in this house. Fingers crossed my son stays asleep long enough for me to do one of these things – probably the grocery store because I just realized I forgot to eat lunch.
The days blurred together, and time was measured simply by when my son would need to eat again next. Of course I wanted to do the things necessary to take care of myself (I longed for more naps and dreamed of more showers), but there was simply no time. My son needed me constantly, and the rare spare second I happened to find had to be used to catch up on the accumulating housework and growing to-do list. I decided that my chores were far more important than a nap or a shower. It was easier to let go of those things because they only benefitted me; I took care of my son and our home for our family, so I couldn’t skimp on those responsibilities. Other people depended on me. It took me a while to understand that in order to serve them to the best of my ability, I had to prioritize taking care of myself.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “self-care, it has a negative connotation with it. Shouldn’t we always put others above ourselves? Doesn’t prioritizing ourselves accomplish the exact opposite? We feel selfish and consequently guilty if we even think about doing something for ourselves, but the reality is that we will serve others better if we have taken care of ourselves. Think about rechargeable batteries. Just as these batteries cannot fuel a device if they haven’t been charged themselves, we cannot serve others the way they need us to if we have not stopped and recharged ourselves. We need rest and nourishment to do our jobs sufficiently, just like these batteries do.
I would be lying if I said I don’t still struggle to prioritize self-care. Looking after my son, husband, home, and work seem so much more important, and they are, but I cannot be the mother, wife, and employee I need to be if I ignore and suppress my own needs. When I am exhausted and burned out, I become short. I snap at my husband and get frustrated with my son; I may check off some of my to-do list, but at what cost? If I allowed myself a necessary break every now and then, I would be better equipped to serve my family graciously and work more efficiently.
Maybe you can relate to my situation. We all get caught up in different things, many of which originate with truly noble intentions. We want to work as hard as possible to provide sufficiently for our families. We want to keep our houses clean so our spouses have a welcoming atmosphere to relax in after a long day at work. We want to have well-planned and nutritious meals on the table at 6:00 every night so that our children have the proper nourishment. These are all wonderful things, but in order to do them, we have to be physically, mentally, and emotionally recharged. Otherwise, we won’t be able to do them to the best of our ability.
Even Jesus went away to rest. Luke 5 says, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. He was the most selfless man to ever live, and he knew that in order to be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to serve, heal, and minister to these crowds, he needed time away to rest, pray, and recharge. This was not selfish – it was necessary for him and beneficial for those around him.
Learning to prioritize self-care when it is usually the furthest thing from your mind can be difficult; forming new habits is certainly easier said than done. To help you take better care of yourself, Mental Health America recommends the following five tips:

  1. Live healthy – Eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid drugs and alcohol. Manage stress and go for regular medical check-ups.
  2. Practice good hygiene – Good hygiene is important for social, medical, and psychological reasons in that it not only reduces the risk of illness, but it also improves the way others view you and how you view yourself.
  3. See friends – Spending time with positive, loving people can ease stress, help your mood, and improve the way you feel overall.
  4. Do something you enjoy every day – This could include activities such as dancing, watching a favorite television show, working in the garden, painting, or reading. Anything that you like!
  5. Find ways to relax – Meditation, yoga, getting a massage, taking a bath, or walking in the woods are good places to start.

Heed Jesus’ example. Make it a point to recharge. Remember that you don’t have to do everything. Practice the five tips for self-care. If they seem overwhelming to you, start with just one. Give yourself grace. Let the guilt go. Leave your child with his grandmother for a couple of hours to get some “you time. Put the work phone and emails away when you get home at night. Read a chapter of your favorite book, take a walk with your spouse, or meet your best friend for dinner. As you do, remind yourself that doing these things will enable you to take care of others and your responsibilities more successfully, and enjoy them!
Emma Payne
Advancement Associate
Paul Anderson Youth Home


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May 19, 2016

Measuring Your Life

“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am.” – Psalm 39:4


How do you take a yardstick to your life? By what means do you measure it? David asks this of the Lord, to both know his end and the measure of his days. He reflects on the brevity of  life, particularly in relation to the infinity of God’s existence. It is humbling to consider the brief length of average human life, even considering the many years of such lives as my father’s, whose extended to 98! Methuselah’s life lasted almost a thousand, yet even his is brief in terms of eternity. What does the Scripture say? A thousand years is but a day on God’s clock, and one day is as a thousand years. The relative brevity of your life, even if you live what is considered a “full” life, is humbling; it is but a mere breath according to Psalm 39.
So how do we measure our life. Psalm 39 goes on to say: “Behold you have made my life a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath. Surely a man goes about as a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather.” We cannot measure our life by its length, its turmoil, or by the wealth we obtain. The Lord says our life is but a shadow. Of what does its real substance consist? Something by which it can be measured? The Psalmist gives the answer in verse 7: “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” The Psalmist says we best measure our lives by the time spent waiting on the Lord in whom is our genuine hope.
In Psalm 130 it says, “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” During the Vietnam War I palpably learned what it was to hunger for the dawn, yearning for the first rays of sunshine as if my life depended on the light. I had taken out a night patrol of about 18 of my men and set up an ambush. We set our claymore mines in the direction of a foot path to our front, with our unprotected rear up against thick jungle, so thick we thought we would never have any enemy advance on us from that direction. It was the dry season and the cracking of dry branches and foliage would announce any enemy from a long way away. About midnight we suddenly heard Vietnamese voices, multiple voices, and the crackling of radio transmissions. It was not from the trail before us to which our weapons were aimed, but it was from our immediate rear, our unprotected rear. Any movement by us to reverse our positions would immediately give away our presence and close location, inviting immediate, deadly fire from the enemy. We were not prepared to defend ourselves in that direction.
Our salvation lay in keeping dead silence, staying awake, of course, and praying we remained undetected. We knew at the light of dawn the enemy would retreat back into the tunnel system from which they had come out into the night air for “a breather.” Unfortunately, it was very close to our location, only the wrong direction to engage them at the time. The light of dawn would send them back into the tunnel from which they came. The remaining hours of the night were spent with fast beating hearts, hoping passionately no one in our ambush would make a sound divulging our presence, and waiting earnestly and fearfully as “watchmen wait for the morning.” No one so learned the power of those words like I did that night.
Such is the passion and earnestness with which we are to wait on the Lord. Not lackadaisically, in drowsiness and slumber, or dullness, but with the full intent and focus of relishing and treasuring the presence of God, waiting on His word, with bated breath. As a beloved dog who depends on his master looks steadily on his face for the slightest movement or sign that it is time to go or to do something, so our gaze should be on the face of the Lord. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him…..” Waiting on the Lord is the time spent in connection to Him in private, in the alone time with Him, conversing, worshiping, listening, adoring, learning. Just as Moses came from the “tent of meeting” back into the presence of the Israelites with a radiant face where they knew he had been in God’s presence, so should your time alone with God radiate into the lives of others from the time you have spent with Him, waiting on your “Abba” Father.
This is the measurement of a life well served, measured in the time spent with God, and radiated into the lives of others. It is the measurement of your prayer life, your fellowship with the Savior, eating with Him around His Word, feeding your soul on His presence. There really is no other means of measuring your life and contemplating your end. Your end is to be forever in His presence. Your life now ought to be measured by the action of your faith to protect time with Him in the midst of all that clamors for your attention, but will never supersede disciplined time with Him.
Nothing should be allowed to steal that time with Him by which your life is measured.


“How sweet and aweful is the place with Christ within the doors, while everlasting love displays the choicest of her stores.”
“Why was I made to hear your voice, and enter while there’s room, when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?”
(1st and 3rd verse of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place,” 1707)


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May 12, 2016

Opinionated

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!…Therefore, as the tongue of the fire devours the stubble, and as the dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness , and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 5:20 & 24


Everyone has an opinion on most everything, do we not? We may keep silent about it, or, on the other hand, make it known, even if only to selected audiences. Yet, if we are silent, we still harbor an opinion in unexpressed thoughts. The dictionary defines “opinion” as “a belief, a judgment, or way of thinking about something: what someone thinks about a specific thing.” The Scripture, knowing the nature of man, expresses a judgment on some bad personal opinions: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” To do this one must have an opinion which turns the right (godly) value to its opposite. Your opinion on a matter or thing is a moral judgment; it is a matter of integrity, whether or not you have sought the truth, the facts, of the thing or person upon which you render an opinion.
Too often we are far too quick to verbalize opinions without searching out the matter. We do not see the issue or the person fully. We need to be prone to think and meditate first, instead of quick to speak, thinking, often erroneously, that we know already all there is to know. “Judge not less you be judged,” is not an indictment upon holding an opinion. This Scriptural admonition is too often misunderstood. We all must develop our belief system; a right belief system. It is the nature of being human to hold beliefs about things and people with which you come in contact. The sin arises when you judge a person negatively who does exactly what you also do at other times. This is why this verse is put in the context of the speck or log in your own eye as you judge another for what is in theirs. This warning does not in the least forbid you from seeking out a true judgment or opinion; it does warn you about avoiding hypocrisy in coming to a judgment. Opinions are not trivial matters; they guide the thoughts and actions of your life, what you do with your time and with whom you spend it.
Often we use the description “opinionated” negatively, especially about those people who are very quick and outspoken to tell you what their opinion is. But the fact is, we all are “opinionated” to some degree, either giving our opinions thoughtfully on one hand or precipitously on the other. In so doing we need to be cautious to have a good opinion of what is truly good, and an evil opinion of what is evil. Reversing them brings the proper judgment of God. The only way to render honest judgments and opinions is to draw near to the heart and mind of God. The only way to do that is to read often and meditate upon His Word. You must judge what others tell you about a matter or person, whether it is true, reasoned, carefully vetted in light of the value system of God. You cannot despise (i.e. ignore, lack knowledge of, dislike, hate) the Word of the Holy One of Israel, and come up with a correct opinion. Those who do despise His Word are those who call evil good and good evil. In our present day culture it appears that a majority think this way.
Those influenced in their thinking by a fallen culture, by the popular way of the world, rather than by the knowledge of the Creator God, will form an opinion that meets the world’s standards. Such will put good for evil and evil for good, darkness for light and light for darkness, sweet for bitter and bitter for sweet. It will turn upside down God’s view of the gold standard of His world in favor of stubble and dross, gussied up to be appealing to the rebellious. Those whose opinions are so formed will inherit what they sow, roots of rottenness and blossoms of dust. The sudden realization of this will be absolutely devastating. On the other hand, for you who revere His name, your end and results will be dramatically the opposite; as proclaimed in the final chapter of Malachi, “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings, and you will go out like calves released from the stall,” leaping for joy, skipping and jumping in the wondrous freedom of true sons and daughters of the saving God.
It matters what you think, the opinion you draw of things and people, the judgment you have of this world and its practices, and the opinions you form of the righteous things and people guided by the Word of God and its standard. There is a difference!


“Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, and to take him at his word; just to rest upon his promise, and to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”  Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him! How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust him more!”
(1st verse of Louisa Stead’s hymn, “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” 1882)


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May 05, 2016

Irksome Prayer

“We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:5


“Prayer is irksome.” So admits C.S. Lewis in writing to his brother about prayer. He says, “An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish. While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a crossword puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us…”
Why is this? Is it that you have a very real Enemy who wants nothing more than for you to stop praying altogether? Is it that your nature is wearied by the very activity, the very labor of prayer? Is it it that you feel something much, much more is needed to solve a problem than mere words offered up to an unseen God? Prayer, unlike anything else you do, is a discipline which requires the utter commitment of your will no matter how you feel about prayer at the moment, that you will do it, and you will always take the time to do it, until it becomes like breathing; especially when you do it first and always, because what else could you ever do before it? Quite a conundrum! It is irksome, yet, absolutely essential. It is the one thing you can never give up.
Today is the National Day of Prayer. Do we need a special day for this? The very reason a special day is planned for, advertised, and set aside is that prayer must be so encouraged and cajoled else it might never happen. And, even then, how many who claim to believe in prayer will never enter into prayer on this particularly planned day of national prayer? Or, enough other days in the course of a year? How much of your 24-hour day is normally devoted to prayer?
In the course of everyone’s life there is a great deal of time involving personal, private thought; far more than you can imagine. If one took seriously the Spirit directed admonition of Paul in 2 Corinthians to take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ, all private thought would be in conversation with Christ and His interests, which, of course, always involves your own interests, for He cares for you. The difference is, as you think of your relationships, your work, your desires, your history, your present, your future, you converse with your Savior in connection with all those things, praying for your and His interaction with each thought. This is the nature of the Apostle Paul’s guidance to pray without ceasing. Your thought life practicing the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the nature of the never ending prayer life of a genuine believer.
But then the Lord Jesus also set before you the example of His own discipline, observed in His frequent practice while in this world of going to private places to spend concentrated time with His Father in prayer. There are two types of prayer to practice; unceasing, an intentional part of your constant thought life, and also a set-aside time for concentrated communion with your Father, a time of prayer focused on worship and specific intercession for yourself and others.
We are all by nature accustomed to immediately think, “I am too busy with my necessary responsibilities to afford that.” But the fact is, you can not only afford it, you can’t afford not to. Such prayer discipline will make all the difference in the course of your life and in your affairs. Prayer is irksome because we live in a fallen world, and our sin-nature is still in a battle with our process of sanctification. But overcoming the world, as we are directed to do in all of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, requires the power of God in your life which is fueled by none other than the vitality and frequency of your prayer life.


“O may my hand forget her skill, my tongue be silent, cold, and still, this bounding heart forget to beat, if I forget the mercy seat.”
(6th verse of Hugh Stowell’s hymn, “From Every Stormy Wind That Blows,” 1828)


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