Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Meditation on Trees

Psalm 1: 3 states: “And he (the blessed man) shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”


As I am typing, out our front window I can see the gorgeous blooms on our Cleveland Pear and Autumnalis Cherry that we planted a few years ago. God could have designed trees so that they would all resemble telephone I used to remind my children when they were little. But He wanted us to enjoy them...even use them.

Probably all of us have read this Psalm many, many times. In my devotions, I have been meditating on it word by word. We will just talk about verse 3.

“TREE” - The very word brings the idea of longevity, beauty, usefulness, shade from the heat or rain, protection or shelter, privacy, wood for heat or building, fruit for food. Wow! All from a tree!

A tree can also be steadfast through storms and drought...why?

It is “PLANTED.”  Being planted properly is necessary for growth. A tree almost always is planted on purpose as a seedling. This planting is very important...

“BY RIVERS OF WATER” - This implies fresh water. Even in times of severe drought, the tree will have already been growing from the nourishment it has been receiving.

“BRINGS FORTH FRUIT IN SEASON” - This is an ADAMANT statement.  If the tree has received the proper planting and fresh water, fruit will come. This might be edible fruit or just beautiful leaves that bring joy to the observer.

“LEAF WILL NOT WITHER...HE WILL PROSPER” - Hmmm! “Not wither”... Green, fruitful, beautiful...”pro” in “prosper” implies looking forward. The tree has a long future of beauty and usefulness if it stays nourished.

Of course, you can see the analogy! Are we beautiful trees growing steadfast and bearing fruit and blessing others with our lives? We must be “planted” firmly in the Word of God so we can receive nourishment. Then others will see our beauty, usefulness, fruit, vitality, and even steadfastness during times of drought and storms.

God’s Word can also help us to grow with fresh ideas and challenges, like shiny, healthy green leaves on a tree, to make us more useful for Him. The marvelous part of reading God’s Word is that the Author is present with us and can enlighten us as we read...if we only ask! season...Perhaps this will encourage you today. We will have periods in our lives when we are more fruitful than others. We have to be careful with fruit. Some folks might be “allergic” to our “fruit” if we are overly zealous. On the other hand, if we don’t use the fruit (gifts and abilities and qualities) God gives us, it might “spoil” or be wasted when there is a place for all of us to serve. Team work is when we “mix our fruits” together for the Lord and othersJ.

Prosper - I must be looking “forward.” A Christian should “ live in the now” but also flourish and thrive to have a “leaf that does not wither” no matter the season of life.

Make sure you are getting your daily nourishment so you will be a “tree” that is green, fruitful, and beautiful.

--Maylou Holladay

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Dan and I recently returned from a weekend away. I had forgotten to pray ahead about the weather, but God was gracious anyway. Sandwiched between two dreary days, He gave us a warm, clear day to hike – in February! For me, outdoor activities are worshipful experiences. I admire all that my Father has made and marvel at His creativity and incredible power. On this particular hike, we saw five glorious waterfalls! (For the curious, this was near Asheville, NC.)

As you may have guessed, I LOVE outdoor activities (Dan loves me). We ride bicycles, paddle kayaks, climb rocks, and hike mountains. There is a whole community of outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s easy for me to identify with them. There’s the gear and the clothing, and whole stores that cater to people like me. We carry certain bags, drive certain vehicles, wear Chacos (haha). So, my worshipful activity toward God slips into idolatry if I’m not careful. After all, I get great enjoyment from these activities, and soon it becomes about me. How many miles can I hike or bike? What level do I climb? What image do I project? (ouch) These blessings I receive from the Almighty rise up and take the throne of my heart. I forget to worship God and give Him glory. I forget to use our recreation to bless others.

Psalm 17:15, “Because I am righteous [through Jesus], I will see You. When I awake, I will see You face to face and be satisfied.”

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Just seeing God’s face satisfies. Do you ever choose to just be with Him? To talk to Him without a list of requests? To listen quietly to Him? To seek Him in Scripture? Do you make time for reflection on what He has said? These things take time, but what could be more important? What could be more important.

Hiking, paddling, rock climbing – these things are fun, but they don’t satisfy. An opportunity to worship our Creator? Yes. An opportunity to build relationships with others? Yes. To satisfy my soul? No. Maybe you too have a hobby that’s enjoyable, but doesn’t satisfy? It might be time to throw it off the throne.

joyce hague

Sunday, March 4, 2018

God's Bigger Picture

            Sometimes I am tempted to believe that if I could see what God is doing or why a particular trial is happening, then I could endure with more contentment. However, as we discussed and learned in our Bible study, When God Doesn’t Fix It, that is simply not the case. Instead, it comes back to my attitude and trust in the Lord. One of my favorite thoughts from the study went something like this: Are you trusting in God only if He changes your circumstances (the way you want), or are you simply trusting in Him?
            Still, I do believe that realizing that God is up to something so much bigger than we can see really helps with my attitude and faith, even if I don’t know what that is exactly. Think of the story of Joseph. Here is a young, cocky guy who sees visions that God is going to put him in authority over his brothers, so he brags about it to them. The brothers are so tired of him being daddy’s favorite, and now he says that he is going to be greater than they. At first, they plot to kill him, but then decide to sell him into slavery.
            What must Joseph have been thinking? God, You told me I was going to be in authority and be greater than my brothers. Now they have forsaken me, and I am a slave?! You didn’t mention this part of the plan. IS this part of Your plan?
            What a betrayal! What a crazy departure from what Joseph was expecting. Have you had moments like this where you don’t know what God is doing or how something so terrible could be a part of His plan? The great thing about history is that we can see the whole story and how it worked out!
            God is with Joseph, and He raises Joseph to be the right-hand man of a very important guy named Potiphar. Joseph begins to prosper, and perhaps he feels some hope that God is going to fulfill his dream. Enter Potiphar’s wife: after a failed attempt to seduce Joseph, she accuses him of trying to seduce her. He is thrown in prison for YEARS!
            Again, perhaps Joseph was better than all of us, but it would have been tempting to ask where God was in all this and if He had forgotten His plan for Joseph that He had shown him in his dream. Yet, even in prison, Joseph remained faithful to the Lord, and the Lord prospered him there too. God also gives Joseph the opportunity to interpret dreams of a couple of guys, which much later, leads to the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Because God allows Joseph to interpret that dream, Joseph becomes the right-hand man of Pharaoh. Although Pharaoh is ultimately the ruler, he gives Joseph complete rule over all Egypt. What power, authority, and honor!
            As the story goes on, Joseph’s brothers do bow before him because they need food from Egypt during the terrible famine, and God fulfills the dream that Joseph originally had. While young Joseph potentially would have lorded it over his brothers, a now mature Joseph who has seen God’s faithfulness to him through so much, proclaims that he sees God’s hand in even the cruel act of his brothers selling him into slavery; “Now do not be angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life(Gen 45:5).”

            When we are currently in trials and cannot see the bigger picture or when we have been through something tough and still have no answer as to why, we can look back at our own lives and remember God’s faithfulness to us. We can look at how God used difficulties in the lives of His people through all time to accomplish great, eternal things and to ultimately bless and shape them. God never leaves us or forsakes us. While we may not be able to see what exactly He is doing, we know His character and how He is always faithful to His people. He is the God who brings beauty out of ashes and resurrection from death. We can trust Him through our greatest trials, and we can rest in His unchanging character when our circumstances are constantly changing.

~Judith Graham

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Seeing a Familiar Passage in a New Light

Do you know the feeling when you read a passage that is so very familiar to you, and you notice something you’ve never noticed before? That happened to me a few weeks ago, and the passage was the well-known chapter 40 of the book Isaiah. Interestingly enough, I’d even memorized portions of this passage in years past. On this particular morning as I opened my Bible, I was longing to sense God’s presence, to be reminded again of his care for me as an individual. My devotional had me begin reading at verse 12, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in balance?”

I am sure you know this passage; it goes on to explain that God is far above us, that he is not like us, that he needs no counselor to tell him what to do.  “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales. […] It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers” (verses 15 & 22). While this is an incredible passage of God’s “otherness,” showing us his power and his glory, it makes us feel small and unimportant. If I am a “grasshopper” or a “speck of dust,” what do I matter to a God to whom earth is just a footstool?
But the beauty of this passage is that it not only shows us God’s “otherness” but also his nearness. This is what my heart needed that morning.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (verses 27-31).

Yes, God is far beyond us in every way. We are as nothing before him, but he cares about us as individuals in our nothingness. Ultimately he showed this in sending his Son to be our rescuer, but even before Christ came, his care is seen. It is seen all throughout the stories of the  Old Testament, but also in passages like this one that remind weary and needy hearts that the same God who is transcendent and sovereign is also near. He sees us and cares.

Your way is not hidden from God. We may not understand everything he does in our lives, for “his understanding is unsearchable,” yet we can know that he is near and that he gives power, strength, and perseverance to those who wait on him.  Be encouraged, my dear sister in Christ.

[As a side note, for further encouragement from this chapter, meditate on verse 11: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”]

--Amy O'Rear

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Unencumbered: Running the Race

My son-in-law is a runner.  I say that with pride because I never have been one, not in my entire life, as far as I can remember.  Bill began training for a marathon about a year ago.  He was running, but in June he got serious about that training.  He began running between 15 and 40 miles a week, running even in temperatures of 95 degrees and up.  The race came, and he finished!  But the running didn’t stop there.  He’s still running, down now to 9-15 miles a week.  That’s hard for me to even imagine.  I’m lucky to walk a mile right now.
I thought of Bill because of a couple of verses, Hebrews 12:1 and 2, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  There is so much in those two verses, but the two words that caught me are “weights” and “sins”.
First, weights, and I’ve had a hard time distinguishing between weights and sins.  Perhaps we can just say there is an overlap.  The Amplified version says, “stripping off every unnecessary weight.”  The New Living translation says, “strip off every weight that slows us down.”  The Good News Bible says, “Let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way.”  That’s means the things that slow us down or keep us from running the race well.
My list of weights includes memories of the past, fear, weariness, physical weakness, even a lack of faith.  Sometimes memories hold me captive.  A line from Martha Snell Nicholson’s poem, Judgment Day, says, “While memory runs like a hunted thing down the paths I cannot retrace.”  I admit that this is one of my weights.  I grieve, I weep, I regret things that I cannot change.  Those memories can handicap me, stop me from being and doing what I should.  Do you have those memories that are weighing you down? What about fear, fear of what might happen as you run this race, fear of what others may think of you, fear of consequences?  Perhaps physical pain or weakness has kept you from running the race.  No two races are alike.  You are not a clone of anyone.  God does not expect you or me to run anyone else’s race, but we are to strip off the weights that slow us down in our races.
Sins.  Now that’s a heavy one.  The Amplified Bible says, “the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us.” The New Living Translation describes “the sin that so easily trips us up,” while the Good News Bible talks about the “sin which holds on to us so tightly.” Each of us has personal sins that entangle us and cause us to trip.  If you’ve been a Christian for a longer time and have had more time to take care of the sins that are easy for others to recognize, your sins have probably gone underground.  I think those are actually harder to get rid of.  Sin is anything, no matter how “small,” that separates you from God.  These could include self-righteousness or pride, judging, laziness, gossip, discontent, self-centeredness, prayerlessness. . . . Fill in your blank.  I think these could be summed up as lack of love.  Jesus said the first commandment was to love God with all your heart and the second was to love your neighbor as yourself.  (Matthew 22).  I Corinthians 13 says if you don’t have love, you are nothing. Wouldn’t love take care of pride and self-righteousness?  Would we need to compare ourselves to others?  Wouldn’t gossip disappear if we truly loved?  Wouldn’t we pray more for others if we loved them?  But without that love we will be tripped up, will be easily entangled, will be thwarted in the race God has given us to run.
            Verse 2 of chapter 12 gives us the ultimate coaching for a well-run race.  We are to run with endurance, fixing our eyes on Jesus (NASB). We are to run with endurance and active persistence (looking away from all that will distract us) and focusing our eyes on Jesus (AMP).  Reliance on Him is the key to a well-run race.

            Are you ready to run your marathon?  Will you run with me in the race? My goal is to be found faithful at the end of my race.  Paul said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”  (II Timothy 4:7) May I be able to say the same when I have run my race.

                                                                   ~~Faith Himes Lamb

Sunday, February 11, 2018

About Face! March!

When I was a youngster, though we attended churches of several different denominations for several years each, my family couldn’t seem to find a Bible-believing church in our small rural Midwestern community.

I wanted to know the Bible, so I wanted to go to a Bible college. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to visit a Bible college in Minnesota for a weekend, where an older girl from our church was a student. I was very excited, as I knew this was what I wanted for my future.

The visit was a disaster. My older friend and her friends, both guys and girls, had no interest in the Lord. Their behavior in class was disrespectful; their behavior in the dorm and at work ranged from ungodly to criminal. I was heartbroken. I tried to make good decisions. I wanted to please God. So I made a good decision. I decided never to go to a Bible college. I would go to a Not Christian College, where I expected people to act like that. I couldn’t bear to be hurt like that again.

My plan worked well. There were all kinds of people at the Not Christian College and I found places to fit in and found a small church to attend. But by summer, I was feeling spiritually lost and lonely. My parents had finally found a Bible-believing church, and, as I had no transportation of my own, I had to go with them, though I was tired of moving from church to church. The pastor and young people there kept talking about their nearby Bible college, which was not the one I had visited earlier. But I was going to stick with my plan. I was firmly resolved to ignore them. I would never go to Bible college.

So I went to summer church camp. I truly wanted some Bible knowledge. I’m pretty sure all the teachers knew about my resolution, which I had never told anyone, and they were all plotting against me, even though none of them knew me. In every class, every teacher, at least once that week, said, “If you want to know the will of God, you have to know the Word of God.”

I cried out to God in desperation. “God! You KNOW I want to know your will! And I know I don’t know your Word.” I went home from camp on Saturday, talked to our pastor on Monday, and was living in the dorm at Bible college on Thursday. I think I was at least as surprised as the Apostle Philip who was told to go to the desert road toward Gaza, performed a baptism, and suddenly “found himself at Azotus.” I loved everything about Bible college, every second of it, the whole time I was there. And it has profoundly affected my life.

That was not the first time nor the last that God has upended my plans and moved me in a totally unexpected direction. Not always has the change been happy. One of the most recent startling turns in my life took me on a hard road. Because I absolutely knew the Lord was leading (or pushing or dragging) me, I kept on, but I still wonder about the significance of it. Surely it was more important than is evident so far. After all, God had to put so much direct effort into it.

You have had your own turnarounds. Wonderful surprises. Disappointments. Fizzled plans. New developments.

As we read the stories of real people in the Bible, we realize that most of those participants never did see the significance of the happy, terrible or ordinary events in their lives. But we also see that God was relentlessly directing.

Bible contributor James, a rather practical fellow who has quite a bit to say about living a Godly life, advises, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring….  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15). Well, of course. Centuries earlier, God had said, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9). Job said, to his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). 

If we can accept the changes, bad or good, as from His hand, we can learn and grow. Otherwise, when things go “wrong,” we may choose to be hurt, angry, or rebellious. When we have “good luck,” we may choose pride and idolatry.

We can spend all the time we wish drawing blueprints, filling in the daily planner and arranging our people, schedule and stuff. But we are not in charge. God is our immediate supervisor, the plant manager, and the company owner. Let us not just say, “If the Lord wills…” Let us desire it, pray it, live it.

--Lynda Shenefield

Sunday, February 4, 2018


My favorite Shakespearean sonnet is #29.  I'll let you find it and read it for yourself if you're interested, but the main idea is that the speaker is unhappy with his lot in life. He feels that other people are better looking, smarter, and more skilled. He claims that even God isn't listening to him.

I think most of us have felt that way at some point in our lives. It's so easy to put ourselves down and notice how well others are coping, how well-adjusted their children are, how nicely their hair is done. I generally have a pretty good self image, but I can't help wishing, at times, to have "this [woman's] art and that [woman's] scope," as the Bard says. This is one reason I enjoy the poem; it's so completely universal.

But it gets better. The speaker, in the midst of his gloom, happens to remember someone who loves him, and it completely changes his mood. He likens his situation to that of birds singing and says he wouldn't change places with kings.
What a blessing to have someone who can make that kind of difference. But what if you live alone? What if your family won't talk to you? What if you have no friends?

While it's hard to imagine that there isn't one single person who raises your spirit this way--a person who cares for you and would love to hear from you--it is possible that you feel completely alone. Hebrews 13:5 says this: " . . .be content with what you have, for He has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" It's true that the context in Hebrews is speaking primarily about being content with the money you have, but the reason for this contentment extends to every area of life: God will never leave you.

I Timothy 6:6 says that "godliness with contentment is great gain." Contentment. Not wishing to be someone else, have someone's else's job, house, kids, husband, wardrobe. This kind of life is priceless.

I hope you have a great week, but in those rare moments when discontent begins to creep in, I pray you remember One who loves you. He is the one who gives you all good things, and He knows best.

--Sherry Poff