Today's devotional was not written by anyone from GospeLines Ministries. However, the story seemed so profound and poignant to all of us that we wanted to share it with you. We hope you enjoy this little "change of pace."
"Strengthened by our Wounds"
Po Bronson, in his book, Why do I love these people? (Random House, 2005), tells a true story about a magnificent elm tree.
The tree was planted in the first half of the 20th Century on a farm near Beulah, Michigan (USA). It grew to be a magnificent tree. In the 1950s, the family that owned the farm kept a bull chained to the elm. The bull paced around the tree, dragging a heavy iron chain with him, which scraped a trench in the bark about three feet off ground. The trench deepened over the years, though for whatever reason, did not kill the tree.
After some years, the family sold the farm and took their bull. They cut the chain, leaving the loop around the tree and one link hanging down. Over the years, bark slowly covered the rusting chain. Then one year, agricultural catastrophe struck Michigan in the form of Dutch Elm Disease. It left a path of death across vast areas. All of the elms lining the road leading to the farm became infected and died. Everyone figured that old, stately elm would be next. There was no way the tree could last, between the encroaching fungus and its chain belt strangling its trunk.
The farm’s owners considered doing the safe thing: pulling it out and chopping it up into firewood before it died and blew over onto the barn in a windstorm. But they simply could not bring themselves to do it. It was as if the old tree had become a family friend. So they decided to let nature take its course.
Amazingly, the tree did not die. Year after year it thrived. Nobody could understand why it was the only elm still standing in the county! Plant pathologists from Michigan State University came out to observe the tree. They observed the scar left by the iron chain, now almost completely covered by bark and badly corroded. The plant experts decided that it was the chain that saved the elm’s life. They reasoned that the tree must have absorbed so much iron from the rusting chain, that it became immune to the fungus.
It’s said that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Or, as Ernest Hemingway put it, “Life breaks us all, but afterwards, many of us are strongest at the broken places.”
The next time you’re in Beulah, Michigan, look for that beautiful elm. It spans 60 feet across its lush, green crown. The trunk is about 12 feet in circumference. Look for the wound made by the chain. It serves as a reminder that because of our wounds, we can have hope! Our wounds can give us resources we need to cope and survive. They can truly make us strong.
– Steve Goodier
≈ Devotional for Tuesday, January 29, 2008
"I Am God-Enough!"
"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better."(Ephesians 1:17 - NIV)
Something has come to my attention recently.Some of my sisters and I are in a strange and uncomfortable period in our lives.I wholeheartedly admit that my spirit is restless and I am dissatisfied with my life.I’m searching for a better understanding…
As Bishop Eddie Long said in his message, “you aren’t comfortable and you know you’re in the middle of a trial because you can’t even put your pain into words…all of this is to wake up something in you that you hadn’t realized was there before.God is using Satan to bring something about and it’s time for you to rise up and be who you actually are!”
Sisters, we need to wake up!Are you aware that we have been so preoccupied with trying to live up to others’ expectations – trying to cook and entertain like B. Smith or Martha Stewart; trying to resemble the women in fashion magazines, adorning ourselves with all sorts of trinkets, makeup, plastic surgery, etc., trying to be what our mates and dates “see” in others – that we have lost sight of pleasing God?And, with all that we’ve tried, there are still empty places and spaces within us.
There was a time when virtuous women were treasured."Who can find a virtuous woman?" The term "virtuous" is from a noun meaning strength, efficiency, ability. It refers to strength of character as well as moral strength and firmness. A virtuous woman is both rare and beautiful.(Proverbs 31:30)Sisters, do you know how precious and costly you are?
Godly women are rare and hard to find.Even in these trying times, God, in HIS infinite grace and mercy is still trying to raise up godly men and women.One often wonders if some of our brothers truly understand God’s gift to them… this rare and precious find.
Sisters, we are God’s warriors and often, in conformance to the world, we allow ourselves to be beaten down because we have settled.When is the last time a man prayed with you and for you instead of preying on you?When is the last time he wanted the God-anointed woman you are instead of what he perceives others have?
Remember Sisters, that to find a virtuous man (a man of strength, a man valiant for the truth, a godly servant of Christ), we need to trust God that HE will supply our needs.We need to dare to be different, dare to not follow the crowd and stand ready and armed to fulfill the purpose and design that God intended for us.Be transformed according to Romans 12:2 (NIV):
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will."
GospeLines Prayer:Heavenly Father, I rejoice that I have been spiritually awakened.I thank you for the nudging that says “enough is enough!”I want to become the woman YOU say I am.I am a work in progress, but I am YOUR work in progress…
"And now, with God's help, I shall become myself!"
I may not be good enough for some, but I am God-Enough!
In His Love,
≈ Devotional for Wednesday, January 30, 2008
"Too Average to Belong"
Our group of teens desperately wanted to do something special for the adults of our church, to show appreciation for all they had done to make our summer program memorable.Through their sacrifice and hospitality they encouraged and loved us toward the best summer youth program we had experienced in a long while.But it wasn’t done with money.It came from their hearts.
We decided that we would put on a talent show at summer’s end.Mind you, there wasn’t a lot of talent in our group but that didn’t matter to anyone.Our do-it-yourself summer would end on just the right note.We scurried around building sets out of cardboard, and spotlights made from tin cans we got for free at the cannery were hung precariously from the ceiling with much worn extension cords.Every one of the kids got involved but few had any real gift of performance to offer.There was “singing” and poetry-reading; one group did a pantomime, and another lip-synced a favorite hymn.
The audience clapped and cheered each number as though it came straight from the Lawrence Welk Show.We couldn’t have been more pleased at the turn-out and the reception.Those wonderful church leaders didn’t show up because we were the most talented, they came because we belonged together.What an evening to remember!
Right after moving to Tennessee Sherry and I spent the better part of a year visiting different churches in preparation for a project I am still working on.We were particularly interested in discovering as much as we could about congregational worship.One thing we noticed was how little participation there is in the public presentation of the service.Seldom do churches allow the laity to become involved in activities such as public prayer, reading of scripture, or even making key announcements.It’s all done by paid staff in most places.
And the music is mostly presented by paid performers or super-talented individuals.Usually there is a group of three or four gifted vocalists who “perform” while the words are splashed on screens above what we once called a choir loft.You will seldom hear anyone with an average voice lift their vocal praise in church anymore.
What about all of us who are marginal in talent?Have all the average poets, artists and singers been handily excluded from sharing what we have to offer in celebration and praise?
Mark Pierson, a Baptist Pastor, writing on the subject of excellence of performance versus increased congregational participation, has this to say, “If excellence is a primary goal (rather than participation), then the weak, the timid, the depressed, the disabled, the unskilled, the sick, the introverted, the overweight, the less attractive, the poor and the untalented aren’t going to get a look in. They’ll be relegated to being spectators for someone else’s worship performance… It’s only in being open to as much participation as possible that community can be built.”
The church should be a place where everyone fits in.No wonder so many average church members who have been faithful stewards (in life AND finances) through the years are now looking for someplace to belong.Let us be careful that the rules of membership and worship do not become so exclusive that the majority feels left out because they are simply too average.
GospeLines Prayer:Heavenly Father, What an awesome experience to have the freedom to worship You in spirit and in truth.Thank You for the gifts You have so lavishly showered on your children; may we serve You with all that is within us and not be accused of compromising You or Your Word.Amen and amen
Have you ever heard the comment, "I'll talk about anything except politics and religion"?Where religion is concerned, you can take it another step.Most Christians would say, "I'll talk about religion; but, I won't talk about "tongues."
"Tongues" (in scripture) can mean several different things.However, whether you interpret tongues in some scripture as different (human) languages or as a "heavenly" language, we can all agree that communication is the intent - the common thread.Communication cannot occur unless the listener understands the speaker.
Paul addresses this in 1st Corinthians 14:8-10 (NIV) when he says: "…if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?So it is with you.Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?You will just be speaking into the air.Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning." He was telling us that unless the listener understands the speaker, communication does not occur.
What "communication" is scripture concerned with?Jesus said: "'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.'By this He meant the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified."
(John 7:37-39 - NIV)
He also told us to "Go into all the world and preach the Good News to all creation."The Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ; the Good News of the Gift of "Living Water" to share with the world: "And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth…" (John 14:16-17 - KJV)
But, as Paul said, unless we're speaking intelligible words - words the listener can understand - how will anyone comprehend when we share the "Living Water"?They will only comprehend if we speak in "tongues" they can hear.Therefore, we need to prepare ourselves to speak so that the listener can receive the seeds of the Good News.We need to prepare ourselves through study.
We study so that we may be able to… "Remind [the people] of these facts and [solemnly] charge them in the presence of the Lord to avoid petty controversy over words, which does no good but upsets and undermines the faith of the hearers.Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth." (2nd Timothy 2:14-16 - Amplified Bible)
To give understanding we must first have understanding.Study the Word.Study from your favorite translation.Study from several other translations (tongues) as well - not because one may be more correctly translated than another; but, because one may give you insight you may otherwise have missed.However, as you study, pray!Pray for understanding!Pray that the Word you receive, filtered from Hebrew and Greek, through centuries of transcriptions and translations, will be moved into your heart and mind by our Lord, the Author and Finisher of our faith so that you may become a… "Tongue of the (Living) Water."
"Then opened He their minds to understand the scriptures…" (Luke 24:45 - NLT)
"…we can face Him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world."
Our faces stung with the cold night air as Benji and I stood in the thick darkness, drinking in the beauty of the midnight hour.The hair moved on his neck and his nose lifted toward the top of the trees.A growl from deep within his throat warned that something unusual was in our backyard.I glanced upward in time to see a large owl gracefully lift itself from the branch and fly silently to a roost in the next tree.
Amazed at the size of the night predator, I was stunned by the grace and silence of its flight.After a few minutes he silently stretched his wings again and flew away to a place of safety, out of view of Benji and myself.“How does a creature that large maneuver through the trees without a sound?” I wondered to myself.
Silence is a blessing in this boom-box overcharged, amplified society of ours.But there is a time for silence and a time for action.
A few years ago a prominent pastor was invited to speak at a University on the East Coast.As he was being introduced the President of that school asked for a moment to say a word to the student body.It was the ninth day of November."For you," he said, "today is a day like any other day but it is an extremely important and painful day for me." Silence fell over the room and the students noticed that as the old gentleman spoke, tears were streaming down his face.
He said, “Today is the 50th anniversary of Kristal Knacht, the night of the broken glass.”On this day in 1938, Nazi thugs moved through the cities of Germany smashing the windows of German homes and shops, burning the synagogues.Innocent people; men, women and children were beaten and killed simply because they were Jews.
"I was there as a young man," he sobbed, "and I can still hear the sound of the shattering glass. There were many of us who were Christians then but we did nothing. We looked the other way and we did nothing. That was the beginning of the Holocaust because the Jew haters knew then that no one would stop them, no one would stand in their way." The old man went on to quote the words inscribed at the Auschwitz memorial in Poland, a place where so many died. "Never again," he pleaded, "Christian young people we must never let it happen again."*
But it is happening again.Look around you.Our world is moving headlong through the night, helplessly blinded to the moral and spiritual decay in our neighborhoods.Children are exposed to indecency; families are destroyed by a morality that is turned inside out.What was once considered wrong is now right.What we once found intolerable is now embraced by the pride of our non-sectarianism. The Bible has been assaulted as just another myth in the classrooms; prayer is an estranged discipline of a forgotten society.
In the face of this onslaught of evil the church has stood silent; preachers have abandoned the Truth of God’s Word in favor of success and popularity.
Beloved, God has called us to stand firm on the wall of Zion and bravely call the Church to battle against the degradation of this wicked wasteland.We must not fly away silently in the night!We can no longer afford to vacate our mission to which Jesus Christ so valiantly implored us to follow: “GO and make disciples,” he said.
As in no other era, the common people find every religion to be true; philosophers find all religions to be false; and the politicians find all religions to be useful.Christians are the only people in the world who can bring an end to this mockery.But by our silence we have abdicated the authority which Christ has placed in us.TODAY, we must find it within our souls to stop the silence!We can no longer afford the luxury of cowardice while hiding silently in the night.Let us stand tall… and become the Nation of Saints for which we were born in Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen and amen.