Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Seat-belt Checks

“Seat-belt check!” The cry rang out in the station wagon. Immediately I whipped my head around to see which of the kids did, or did not, have their seat belts on. Some of my kids cheered, but others groaned.

It was a tradition in the Montgomery family. These random “seat-belt checks” went out from either Alan or myself. If the kids had their seat belts on, they got to go to 7/11 to get a treat with Dad. If they didn’t, they knew they had no one to blame but themselves. It was a way to motivate our kids to remember, on their own and without reminding, to put those important seatbelts on.

seat belt

Plus, Alan loved his own 7/11 runs, and this gave him an excuse to not only reinforce an important safety lesson, but to bless his kids—and himself—with a fun time together.

Our heavenly Father also delights when we do what He asks. And He loves it when, because of that obedience, we are in a position where He can bless us. With more of Himself. With a greater understanding of His word. With greater joy in His presence.

It isn’t that God loves us more when we obey. Nothing we do—or don’t do—will change either the fact or the measure of His love (Psalm 13:5-6). But one of the blessings resulting from our obedience is that it opens our hearts and minds to recognize more fully the wonderful things He has already given us. A cool breeze on a warm summer day. A rich conversation with a good friend. The soul satisfaction of offering worship to the unchanging Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). The deep delight of walking in the richness of fellowship with our Father.

Our kids had glimpses of blessings with their earthly father, but they don’t even begin to compare with the blessings that come from obeying our heavenly Father. So buckle up!

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Psalm 54:10

Further reflection:

  1. Have there ever been times when you did not obey God?
  2. Think of a time that you did obey even when you did not feel like it.
  3. What was the outcome of each?
  4. What were the blessings you found as a result of your obedience?

Father, You are a great Dad! I want to walk with You, hearing and obeying Your voice, in such a way that my heart and mind are open to see all the many blessings You give. Thank You, that whether I do that or not, Your love for me is unfailing and unchanging.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

DOINK!

It was a sound he’ll never forget, and it still gives him nightmares.

To say that our oldest son, Eric, is competitive would be an understatement. You name the sport, he wanted not only to play it, but to excel in it. Football, baseball, soccer—he loved them all.

Eric and his younger brother Derek both played competitive soccer. One Saturday Derek’s team was scheduled to play right after Eric’s, and on the same field. All the guys on Derek’s team knew Eric, so even as they were warming up they kept an eye on the game in progress. That certainly motivated Eric to run faster and work harder to put the ball in the net. Because of that, he had a great game going, but the other team still led 1-0 going into the final minutes.

When the other team fouled, Eric’s teammate sent a ball arcing towards the net. Adrenaline pumping, Eric looked up and saw his chance. He dribbled around the last defender and found himself going one-on-one with the goalie. Derek’s team stood watching, cheering his certain goal. Eric went wide, cutting the angle off the goalie, and shot—a powerful, curling rocket.

DOINK! It was the sound of the soccer ball as it ricocheted back off the crossbar. Falling at the feet of the defender, the opportunity was lost.

soccer goal missed

Eric was so very close. Just a fraction off, but it meant that the goal never happened. Not only did his team lose that game, but the embarrassment of missing in front of Derek’s team was heartbreaking for him. But that’s the rule of soccer; if the ball doesn’t go into the net it doesn’t matter how good a shot or how close it was. It doesn’t count.

As God of the universe He will accept nothing less than perfection. Now, we all miss that mark! Some of us miss it by a little, some by a lot. Some fail very publicly, others fail privately, in the deep, hidden things of the heart. And it doesn’t matter which it is, God sees all of it. If the goal is perfection none of us will achieve it.

Which is why I’m grateful that God, in His richest mercy, allows another way. He doesn’t keep score of our failures. Instead, if we come to Him in genuine sorrow for our sin, He offers forgiveness. His promise is that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. “ (1 John 1:9)

No matter what I have done, no matter how far I have wandered, nothing is beyond the reach of His grace, for it is “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning...” (Lamentations 3:22-23). He not only forgives us, but “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12).

Unlike the sound of “doink” as Eric’s goal was missed, I hear ““Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Romans 4:7-8)

Which sound would you rather have ringing in your ears?

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:1-2, 10

Further reflection:

1. Describe an experience where you sinned, either publicly or privately.

2. Did you go to God for His forgiveness for it?

3. How did receiving forgiveness feel?

Father, I know how often I fail, and how far short I fall of Your standard of perfection. But I also know that You love me, and are always ready to forgive. May the time between my sin and coming to You for forgiveness be short, that I might not live with regret.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Hope is in You

I walked in the door after working at church, and with just one look at my husband knew something was wrong. Alan’s a great non-verbal communicator. I didn’t ask him what it was, though. Once you ask, “What’s wrong?” you have to deal with the reality of the answer. And I instinctively knew I didn’t want to.

We chatted for a minute and I wondered if I had been wrong. But I still could sense his tenseness. And I was still avoided asking why. After about ten minutes he came and sat next to me on the couch.

“I got a phone call from Matt.” He started. “They had to call 911 and take the baby to the hospital.”

Matt is married to our daughter, Lisa, and the baby is Ethan James. He was only eight days old. They live in Indiana, and our first time to even hold him was still two weeks away.

I cannot explain how much you can love someone you’ve never met, but our newest grandson had already become very dear. My heart skipped a beat at this news.

newborn Ethan

Alan went on to explain that Ethan had quit breathing twice in rapid succession, and was turning blue when they called for an ambulance. Lisa rode with her new son to the hospital.

Once there they ran every test that made sense. An EKG checked his heart and blood work screened for abnormalities, but nothing showed a red flag. They were all sent home a few hours later with a diagnosis of reflux. The theory was that when Ethan was laid down after eating the milk was coming back up and gagging him, causing his breathing to stop.

“Don’t put him down for a while after he eats. Prop the head of his crib up. And keep a close eye on him.”

That’s all they got. Watch to make sure he’s breathing. Not much comfort for parents of a newborn.

First thing the next morning they went and bought an apnea monitor, so that they didn’t have to spend another night listening to see if Ethan was still breathing. It was a very wise investment.

While I was relieved to hear about the monitor, this is what went through my head: “That’s good. But our trust is in You alone.”

God is the Author and Creator of life. To some of us He grants many, many years. Others live only days, or minutes.

Frankly, I don’t understand that. Those who long to be parents but miscarry and will not know their children this side of heaven. Babies dying of SIDS. Parents burying their kids. Everything in me cries out how wrong that is. And I am again reminded how differently God sees things.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

It’s the struggle of the imperfect, finite mind to even begin to comprehend the holy and infinite. I cannot fathom it. But feelings lie, and I can only cling to what I, in the very deepest part of my soul, know to be true: God is good. Those babies are not lost—they are with Jesus. However short, their lives have meaning that is not measured by the length of it, but by the One who loves them most. Grief and faith wrestle; God alone is constant.

Ethan’s apnea monitor went off a few times the next few nights, but hasn’t since. We will get to hold him and count his fingers and toes for ourselves in six days. God is good.

He would be good even if He had chosen to take Ethan.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:13-16

Father, help me to trust what I know is true about You more than I trust what I feel. You love each person created. You grieve with us when our babies die. You are the only One who truly understands—You watched Your own Son suffer and die. Hold those who grieve close to Your heart. Heaven becomes more precious as those we love wait there for us.

Further reflection:

  1. What hard thing has God allowed in your life that you don’t understand?
  2. Do you believe that, in spite of it, God is good?
  3. Take your hurt, your pain, and your suffering to Him. Cry and wail and tell Him how you feel. Then rest, knowing that He understands your feelings, He loves you, and He is indeed good.

Father, You are good. Even when I don’t understand why You allow tragedy and such deep sorrow, I know You are good. I believe that. Help my unbelief.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

In the Midst of the Storm

Ka-boom! The crashing thunder blasted a mere split-second after the lightning flashed. Hard on its heels another volley ricocheted. Again and again and again the sound and the noise exploded in dramatic harmony.

We don’t get thunderstorms like that very often in southern California. Cocooned in a downy comforter on my couch, I was kind of enjoying it.

lightning 2

My dogs, however, were a different story.

My puppy, Duchess, was badly frightened. This was her first thunderstorm, and she did not like it. Each blast caused her to cower in fear, whimpering. I held her on my lap, calmly speaking words of encouragement. Though I pet her soothingly, neither my touch nor my words were of any consolation to her. She only felt her fear, and refused to be comforted. Only as the storm subsided did her quivering calm, and she relaxed.

On the other hand our older dog, Daisy, had been through a few of these storms. She was definitely on alert, and sat tucked close into my side, eyes firmly fixed on me. When lightning lit up the room and the thunder exploded, she just kept looking at me, confident that if I wasn’t worried, she didn’t need to be either.

In the midst of the storms of life, we each get to choose how we react.

Some of us react like Duchess, who was needlessly afraid. I was with her, but as she reacted to her circumstances she could not even hear the encouragement I offered. My touch didn’t even register, because her fear of the storm was bigger than her trust in me.

Others react like Daisy, who allowed my presence to determine her reaction. My touch and my voice were what she listened to, far more than she listened to the tumult around her. She certainly didn’t sleep through the storm, but it didn’t cause her turmoil, either.

The storms of life are hard, and they are inevitable. They bring noise and confusion and scary possibilities. But our reactions are determined by what we focus on. We don’t have to like the storms, but the only way to have peace through them is to listen for the voice of the One who controls it. To recognize His presence in the midst, close to us. To draw near to Him and take comfort from His whispers of encouragement, allowing Him to still our fear and determine our response.

Ultimately, God wants us to trust Him, not—like Duchess—after the storm, but—like Daisy—in the midst of it.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.                                        John 14:27

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”                             John 16:33

Further reflection:

1. Have you endured one of those storms in life yet? If so, describe it.

2. Did you react in fear, or by focusing on God?

3. If you reacted in fear, what could you do differently next time to respond in faith instead?

Father, You have indeed overcome the world. During all the storms of life You are there, near and offering solace. Please help me be more aware of Your presence than I am of the storm itself. Deepen my trust in You, help me hear Your voice, and allow Your presence to determine my response.