Poetry

Just finished a nice book of poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson and I thought I’d share a few maxims with you—

  • “To be great is to be misunderstood.”
  • “Happy is the house that shelters a friend.”
  • “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
  • “A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him, I may think aloud.”
  • “Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait.”
  • “Life is not so short but there is time for courtesy.”
  • “Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk.”
  • “No man thoroughly understands a truth until he has contended against it.”
  • “In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.”

If you haven’t read any poetry lately, I encourage you to give it a try. It sounds/reads differently, but the rhythm and pace sort of sings to your mind and heart as you read it. For Americans I recommend starting out with some American poets like Emerson or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; for you Brits, try some Robert Browning.

Happy reading!

Give It Away To Have More

It seems like we never have enough. Enough time. Enough money. Enough food. Enough friends.

As weird as it sounds—the cure to have enough is to give what you have away.

Imagine a drought … famine … despair. Lakes drying up and wells running dry. The dairy cows aren’t producing as much milk as usual, and the beef cows don’t have as much meat on them as they used to. The wheat fields aren’t growing as abundantly, and the corn is dry and mealy. Men don’t work as much, their wives don’t visit as much, and the kids don’t play as much.

Now, what if you found out you were going to be fortunate enough to host a VIP at your home? How do you prepare a decent meal? How do you think this VIP is going to react to the meager meal set before him? What if someone came from a distance away and brought you 20 loaves of freshly-baked bread?

Do you know how Elisha responded in these settings? He said, “Give it to the people to eat” (2 Kings 4).

Elisha shows up at his guests’ home and says, “Put the large pot on the stove and make some stew.” The large pot?!? Don’t you know we’re in a famine? Don’t you realize that we don’t have very much to spare?

Put the large pot on the stove and make some stew, then serve it to the people to eat,” Elisha said. He didn’t ask for the food to be prepared for himself, but for others. And not just a little stew either—he said make stew in the large pot. It’s interesting to me, too, that the householders had all the ingredients for a stew, but they were trying to stretch it out and make it last longer. They were hoarding what they had.

Then a friend arrives from a distant land bringing Elisha 20 loaves of bread.

Do you know how Elisha responded to this gift? “Give it to the people to eat.” Give it to the people?!? There are over 100 people here and we only have 20 loaves! That seems a bit cruel to just whet people’s appetites with so little; why don’t we just keep it for ourselves.

But Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat. Not only will they all eat, but there will be leftovers too.”

When we hoard what we have, we rob others. We rob ourselves too because we miss out on the blessing of seeing others satisfied, and we miss out on the miracles that God wants to do right before our eyes.

“Why does God bless us with abundance? So we can have enough to live on and then use the rest for all manner of good works that alleviate spiritual and physical misery. Enough for us; abundance for others.” —John Piper

So, when you think about it, don’t you really have enough time to help someone in need?

Don’t you really have enough money to alleviate someone’s suffering?

Don’t you really have enough food to satisfy someone’s hunger?

Don’t you really have enough love to make a new friend?

Don’t rob yourself by hoarding. Don’t buy into the scarcity mindset that looks away from others. The more you give away, the more you will have. Try it, it works!

Fill ’Er Up!

I sort of remember the days of full-service gas stations. My Dad would drive in and say, “Fill ‘er up,” and the gas station attendant would jump into action. Filling up the gas tank, cleaning the windshield, checking the oil level, and even checking the air pressure in the tires.

But, alas, those days of full service seem to be long gone, replaced by highly-efficient, less-personal self-serve stations. And I’m not necessarily talking just about gasoline stations either.

All of our lives seem to have become more efficient and less personal. We are a more do-it-yourself, leverage-technology kind of society today. And I wonder if the result is that many people aren’t getting filled up like they used to.

There is a well-known Bible story in 2 Kings 4. A widow is facing what would amount to foreclosure today. Except this foreclosure was on her sons. Her husband, a God-fearing man, had died and left her with debts she could not pay. The practice in that society was for her sons to be “sold” to pay off the debts. Her sons would have to work all day long for someone else, and whatever money they would have earned for their labors would go to the creditors.

In her desperation, the widow turned to the prophet Elisha. He asked her if she had anything of value in her house, and she replied, “Just a little oil. But not enough to pay off my debts.” The counsel Elisha gave her is applicable for our self-serve society today—

Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few” (v. 3).

Elisha asked the woman and her family to humble themselves—ask all your neighbors. Sometimes this is one of our biggest hindrances: pride which keeps us from admitting we have a need. And this was no small task because she had to ask ALL her neighbors to, “Fill ‘er up!”

Elisha asked them to be persistent—don’t ask for just a few. Not just a jar here and there, but ask for every available jar to, “Fill ‘er up!”

This story shouldn’t just apply to times of desperation in our lives. Because maybe if we worked on being around our neighbors and asking what needs they have, and sharing our needs as well, maybe we wouldn’t get into such desperate situations.

In this story in 2 Kings, the oil stopped flowing only after every available jar had been filled. If I want God to continue to pour His oil of blessing into my life, He has to have room in which to pour. That means that I need to be pouring into others’ lives daily. Listen to the blessings when we, “Fill ‘er up!”—

I want you to know how delighted I am to have Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus here with me. They partially make up for your absence! They’ve refreshed me by keeping me in touch with you. (1 Corinthians 16:17-18, The Message)

In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.(2 Corinthians 7:13, New International Version)

God bless Onesiphorus and his family! Many’s the time I’ve been refreshed in that house. And he wasn’t embarrassed a bit that I was in jail. The first thing he did when he got to Rome was look me up. May God on the Last Day treat him as well as he treated me. (2 Timothy 1:16-18, The Message)

Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people. (Philemon 7, New Living Translation)

Get around other “full” people and let them fill you up.

Seek out “empty” people and pour abundantly into them.

The more you pour out into others, the more room there is for God to pour into you.

God is always pleased when our lifestyle is one of “Fill ‘er up!”

Ditch Digging

In 2 Kings 3 the combined armies of Judah, Israel and Edom set out to attack the country of Moab. To try to take Moab by surprise the armies marched for seven days through the desert.

But there’s a problem with deserts: no water! And when you have three combined armies with all of their soldiers and horses and cattle, no small amount of water is needed. So on the verge of battle, this massive army is unable to fight because they are parched. To find a solution to this problem, the prophet Elisha is consulted, and he gives some very unusual counsel—

Make this valley full of ditches. For this is what the LORD says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink (verses 16-17).

Dig ditches in the desert? Yeah, right, sounds like a great strategy… NOT! But

In the morning—it was at the hour of morning sacrifice—the water had arrived, water pouring in from the west, from Edom, a flash flood filling the valley with water (v. 20, The Message).

The story goes on to tell us that when the Moabites looked out into the desert the water looked to them like blood. They assumed that the armies had a disagreement between themselves during the night and their partnership dissolved into civil war. The Moabites rushed out to the battlefieldthinking they would now have an easy victoryonly to walk right into the newly-invigorated and still-unified armies!

Many times the way God provides for us is contingent upon the level of our faith-filled obedience. Imagine this scenario: The army captains instruct their men, “Start digging ditches! Dig lots of them because we have lots of men and livestock to water.” The obedient soldiers jump to their work and begin digging. Out in the hot desert sun, digging through sifting sands, imagine how cynical the soldiers could have become.

“This is stupid! We’re in a desert, for crying out loud! There’s no water anywhere and not a cloud in the sky as far as the eye can see. I’m already parched and now I’m breaking my back digging ditches?!? I don’t think so! This is pointless: I quit!”

But catch thisGod could only send as much water as they were willing to dig ditches. If they didn’t have the ditches ready when the water started flowing in, none of the men nor livestock could have contained the water to be able to quench their thirst. The floodwaters would have been useless to them!

Many times I think God is calling us to dig ditches so He can provide for us. What do you need to do to be ready for the flood of blessing He wants to send to you? What blessing would be wasted if you didn’t already have ditches ready? What ditches do you need to dig? Maybe you need to…

  • Get certified
  • Finish your degree
  • Make that phone call
  • Setup that meeting
  • Paint that room
  • Train those teachers

Some of those “ditches” may seem pointless nowas pointless as digging water ditches in the desert!but when God pours out His blessing, won’t you be glad that your ditches are ready? What ditches do you need to start digging today?

Routine Weekend Rewind

Whoa, this weekend seemed like a whirlwind! Lots of interesting and noteworthy stuff packed into 72 hours.

Great homegoing celebration for John “Jack” Rivers on Saturday morning. What an incredible legacy he left. We celebrated his life with his wife, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren. Wow!

I love my extended family. Not just those related to me by blood, but those that call me “brother” because of our mutual relationship with Jesus Christ. It was great to see brothers and sisters comforting the extended Rivers family. There’s just something special about having those that truly love you around in times of loss or crisis.

Driving in the rain is just slightly (!) stressful. We were in torrential rain all the way to West Michigan, and most of the way back home. That kind of rain makes a two-hour trip seem a whole lot longer when the stress level is elevated. I’m grateful that God kept us safe.

Short, but sweet, time with my family. Nice to have some of Mom’s cooking and spend time with my folks, my sister and brother-in-law, and my nephews.

Incredible service at Calvary Assembly of God in Cedar Springs! The worship team loves Jesus and they rock! Loved seeing the enthusiasm for worship and for the Word among both young and old. I look forward to getting back to visit this enthusiastic group again!

Great phrase in Switchfoot’s song Faust, Midas and Myself, “And what was once routine was now the perfect joy.” My life is anything but routine, but the “simple” things around me everyday are truly the perfect joy.

Enjoy your “perfect joys” this week!

I’ll Take My Roses Today, Please

My Grandfather used to say, “Give me my flowers while I’m still alive.” I think this was his way of restating the cliché, “Dead noses smell no roses.” It’s true: flowers at a gravesite—no matter how beautiful they are—aren’t appreciated by dead noses. Kind and loving words spoken at a funeral—no matter how eloquent they are—aren’t appreciated by dead ears.

The point is: today is special. Today is one-of-a-kind. Today is the best day to tell someone dear to you how truly special they are. Today may be the last day you have to make something right. Today is the day to send those flowers. Don’t put it off until tomorrow.

How many people live with regrets today because of the things they didn’t say before a loved one passed away from this life? How many people feel guilty today because they didn’t make things right in a strained relationship? How much better to live today knowing that we said and did all of the things we could to express our love, to show how valuable the relationship was.

Job said, “My days are swifter than a runner” (Job 9:25).

His friend Bildad agreed that, “Our days on earth are but a shadow” (Job 8:9).

And James wrote, “Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone” (James 4:14).

We never know how much time is left to send those flowers.

Today…

  • Make that phone call.
  • Ask forgiveness.
  • Write that letter.
  • Apologize.
  • Hug.
  • Go to lunch.
  • Say, “I love you.”
  • Send those flowers.

Don’t live your tomorrows with regrets for the things unsaid or undone—say them and do them today.

God’s Love Song

Aaah, amoré… love! Isn’t it wonderful to be in love? When you fell in love with your sweetheart, I’ll bet you had a special “love song” just for the two of you. Betsy and I did, and it’s still our special song today.

There’s something about music and song that seems to fuel the emotions of love. Something about those words and those haunting melodies that speak to our hearts unlike anything else can. A poem set to music.

Yesterday I wrote about God’s strong and loving hands—powerful enough to provide, loving enough to hold just you.

But did you know that God also sings a love song about you? Check it out—

The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

Isn’t it amazing to think about God being so delighted with you that He sings you a love song?! I believe it is a song written and sung just for you! And I don’t think God has just one song for you.

Think about how music has impacted you. Maybe you’ve cranked up that special tune when you’re out with friends … or the song you played over and over to help you through a tough time … or the love song that is special just for the two of you … or the ready-for-battle song you used to get pumped up for the big game! Special songs for special moments.

In every season of your life, listen for God’s special song just for you and then join in the song with Him—

But each day the LORD pours His unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing His songs, praying to God Who gives me life. (Psalm 42:8, New Living Translation)

 Sing for joy, O heavens, and be joyful, O earth, and break forth into singing, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion upon His afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13, Amplified Bible)

But I will sing of Your strength, in the morning I will sing of Your love; for You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. (Psalm 59:16, New International Version)

Are you hearing any of God’s love songs today? Are you singing along?

God’s Big Hands

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Mahalia Jackson sang it so well, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Beautiful song … incredible truth!

But what does that mean? How can we grasp that concept? The prophet Isaiah tried to capture the essence of this when he asked who else but God “has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, or with the breadth of His hand marked off the heavens?” (Isaiah 40:12).

Hold your hand palm up, fingers tight together to make a “dish” in the palm of your hand. How much water can you hold in that hollow of your hand? I just tried it and I couldn’t even hold ¼-cup of water. Yet Isaiah says that the hollow of God’s hand holds all the water of the earth.

How much is that? According to the US Geological Survey, the total water supply of the world is 326 million cubic miles. A cubic mile is an imaginary cube measuring one mile on each side. A cubic mile of water equals more than one trillion gallons (that‘s a 1 with 12 zeros following it!)—

One cubic mile of water (1 trillion gallons) x 326 million cubic miles =
326 quintillion gallons of water (326 followed by 18 zeros)!!
God holds ALL of this in the hollow of His hand!

Now stretch out your fingers as wide apart as you can. What is the distance from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinky finger? The breadth of my hand is about nine inches. Isaiah says that all of the stars in the universe fit into the breadth of God‘s hand.

How many is that? According to the European Space Agency, there are something like 10 trillion stars (a 10 followed by 12 zeros) just in our galaxy, and they estimate there are something like 10 trillion galaxies—

10 trillion stars in our galaxy x 10 trillion galaxies =
10 septillion stars (10 followed by 24 zeros)!!
God holds ALL of these stars in the breadth of His hand!

To say God’s hands are big and powerful is an understatement of astronomical proportions!

You might be thinking, “With hands that big, I’m so insignificant. I’m lost to God’s sight because His hands are so big.” But there is another aspect to God’s hands—they are not only big, but they are loving.

“Behold, I have indelibly imprinted—tattooed a picture of you—on the palm of each of My hands…” (Isaiah 49:16 AMP). God knows you by name—you are tattooed on His loving hands. His hands which are big enough to hold all the water and all the stars are loving enough to hold you!

Wow, what an incredible God! Powerful enough to protect and provide for us, tender enough to love each of us as though we were the only person in the universe to love!

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The Right Time To Do The Right Thing

I spent yesterday afternoon and a good portion of this morning with a precious family. The 93-year-old patriarch of the family is in his last days on this earth. This family is absolutely wonderful, and it has been such a blessing to spend this time with them.

They laugh, tell stories, sing songs, read Scripture, joke with each other, and cry. The full range of emotions overflowing from a full life.

I have learned something—the human heart is designed to know and to be known. The human heart longs for relationship—deep, meaningful, satisfying relationship. In order to achieve this type of relationship, two things are key: (1) Time and (2) Empathy.

(1) Time. Relationships cannot be microwaved. We cannot just show up, press a few buttons, and—voilá—expect a meaningful relationship. Of course, just spending a lot of time together doesn’t mean a relationship will be successful either. However, the greater the quantity of time that is spent means a greater likelihood of quality time.

(2) Empathy. The Bible says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). It doesn’t say, “If people are low, bring them up; if they are too high, bring them down to realistic levels.” Empathy is all about letting the other person drive the agenda—to match whatever they are feeling. A Swedish Proverb says, “A shared joy is a double joy, and a shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”

Here’s a good pattern to follow—

Right Time + Right Thing = Meaningful Relationships
<or>
Quality Time + Empathy Time = Satisfying Relationships

I’m trying to learn this and apply it to my life. How about you?

Conjunction Junction: BUT

Do you remember the School House Rocks videos? Fun and yet so educational! One of my favorite ones is called “Conjunction Junction.”

Conjunctions are very powerful connectors. Especially when I’m reading the Bible I slow down when I see and, or, or but. These conjunctions can open up a wealth of Scriptural knowledge.

Another thing that stands out to me when I’m reading God’s Word is the (parentheses). Little sidebars that can add so much richness. Today I saw a parenthetical comment followed by one of these powerful conjunctions.

Here’s the parenthetical comment: (There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel) (1 Kings 21:25-26).

Ahab is not just evil—he’s not just bad—he’s the evilest, worst king… ever!

BUT = not one thing, but an entirely different thing.

But Ahab—the evilest king ever—humbled himself before God: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, BUT I will bring it on his house in the days of his son” (v. 29).

I’m so glad God recognizes our humility and then extends His mercy. BUT is a great conjunction! Check out these passages with BUT

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. BUT you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. BUT for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

It doesn’t matter if you were the vilest, meanest, worst-person-ever, when you humble yourself to ask for God’s forgiveness, He pronounces that great conjunctionBUTthat completely cancels your past!!

Wow! What a merciful, loving God! And what a great conjunction He inserts in our lives—BUT!

I’m happy today that I’ve been to God’s Conjunction Junction and He’s hooked a BUT between my former life and my present life. How about you?

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