And Their Hearts Were Stirred

Isn’t it amazing when God shows you something new in a scripture you’ve read so many times that you thought you had the message down pat?  It happened to me again this morning as I read about the contributions for, and construction of, the Tabernacle.  Moses had come down from Mount Sinai with his face shining from being in God’s presence and he assembled the congregation of Israel to lay out the things the LORD had commanded them to do.  Long lists of materials and instruction followed—not too inspiring unless one is digging into the significance of each item, or has a heart for design details.  But suddenly phrases started popping out at me…

And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him…All who were of a willing heart brought [gifts]…All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill…All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded…everyone whose heart stirred him up to come and do the work.” (Exodus 35:21, 22, 26, 29; 36:2)

These people didn’t give or serve because they were forced to do so—they didn’t act out of legalistic guilt or obligation—they came freely and willingly as their hearts were touched by God, and they were so generous that Moses had to tell them to stop bringing gifts because more than enough had been accumulated to build the tabernacle.

What an example for us!  We need to give and serve out of a willing and joyful heart as God leads us; not because someone has told us it is required.  Oh how the LORD loves a cheerful giver!!!

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.   And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.   As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”   He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.  By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water

David—shepherd boy, youngest son, killer of Goliath, companion of King Saul, warrior, king—a man who loved God passionately, a man who committed the most heinous sins yet turned to God in repentance and received forgiveness, a man who poured out his heart as he wrote many of the psalms that grace the pages of our Bibles.  He had the ability to assign words to his thoughts and feelings that would endure for thousands of years, remaining as relevant to our lives today as they were when he penned them.

I was pondering how I could adequately describe David’s writing talent—how could I put into words his ability to communicate the thoughts, feelings and emotions that can often be so hard to express?  I asked the LORD, and immediately as Simon and Garfunkel’s song, Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water, began playing in my mind I realized I could come up with no better description.

More times than I can count, in the midst of my despair, I have turned to David’s words for comfort.  And, also more times that I can count, when my own words have seemed inadequate to express the majesty of God and His creation, David once again so clearly illustrated my heart.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalm 19:1-6

Is God Big Enough?

The first week of nursing school and we were a little scared, excited, and hopeful—all at the same time.  Several of my new friends and I gathered around some seniors who would soon graduate and enter the workforce as registered nurses; hanging on every word, listening in awe as they spoke of diseases and treatments that were far beyond our comprehension.  Yet, even as we sat spellbound, longing for such wisdom, they began talking about how unprepared they felt to leave the safety net of our school and enter the world of nursing on their own.  But how could these smart, efficient women doubt themselves?  They seemed so knowledgeable and competent to our untrained minds.

Fast forward just a few short years, as my roommate and I were getting ready to go to our own graduation ceremony, sitting on our beds with those brilliant white caps in our hands—caps that for the first time ever were adorned with the black velvet stripe signifying that we were no longer just students but graduates of the LA County School of Nursing.  Our conversation mirrored that of those other seniors—we felt so unprepared; we didn’t know enough; we weren’t experienced enough; and what if we made a mistake that harmed someone?  Yes, we were excited, but at the same time overwhelmed—the responsibility just seemed too huge to contemplate.

Recently I came across my photo of a giant chair that is displayed in front of a home furnishings store somewhere in New England.  It reminded me of those old nursing school doubts, as well as the many challenges since, when life’s issues seemed beyond me; because as big as that chair is, I know that it’s still way too small for God.  He is sufficient to handle all that concerns me, as well as all that concerns everyone else in the world, without even lifting a finger.  Nothing is too big for Him.

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.  But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”  Mark 4:37-41

Yes, who can this be?  If He can calm an angry sea with a gentle command, surely He can calm the storms that threaten to wreak havoc in my life.  Surely He is big enough.  His name is Jesus.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.  Psalm 55:22a

Melodies of Love

“It’s the time of the season for loving.”  The phrase played over and over in my mind like a broken record, and I had to laugh—who’d ever think the LORD would use the Zombies’ song from the 60s—a song that exemplified the “summer of love”—to croon a message to one of His children.

Often, especially when life seems difficult, the LORD comfort’s me with music; sometimes a whole song and other times just a phrase.  While it may be an old hymn or a contemporary worship song, it’s just as likely to be popular music with no seemingly spiritual message; at least not until He sings it to me.

On one occasion, my life was in turmoil and I awoke to hear selected phrases from two songs.  First, “…angels doing cartwheels in the sky…” set to the music of Freddy Hayler’s, Song of Angels; followed by a lullaby, “…and the living is easy…hush little baby, don’t you cry,” from Gershiwn’s Summertime.  Just God’s way of saying, “Relax, calm down, laugh, be patient,” I guess.

On another morning, He professed His love as I heard His voice, sounding remarkably like Nat King Cole, crooning, “I Remember You; You’re the one who made my dreams come true…You’re the one who said ‘I love you too’…Didn’t you know?”   Who ever knew God is such a romantic?

One night I had a dream in which I was surrounded by a bunch of friendly, soft, cute, furry, little smurf-like creatures in a worship service.  I’d never seen anything quite like them before.  There were all ages—one adult especially seemed to be an old friend, and there were lots of babies; even three sets of triplets.  What fun!  As I awoke I heard, “All creatures of our God and King; lift up your voice and let us sing; Hallelujah, hallelujah.”  Hallelujah Indeed!

Another time, waking from a dream involving cars it was, Baby You Can Drive My Car.  How could I not begin the day laughing with “beep beep’m beep beep yea” echoing through my mind?

Six years ago, as I was battling breast cancer and feeling overwhelmed, it was Let’s Get Away From It All, and I’d soon find a quiet place of rest in my LORD.  Or I’d make it through a difficult day and hear, “There She Goes; there she goes again.”

My Father always keeps his eye on me.  Indeed,

I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.   He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121)

My response is to sing back to him in praise and thanksgiving, “How great is my God; sing with me; how great is my God; all will see; how great, how great is my God.”

Stormy Seasons

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It has been a dark and stormy season in my life, yet each time I feel like I just can’t go any farther, the light of my LORD shines through to illuminate my path.

Several months ago, after an unwelcome emergency hospital stay, I was advised to have a major surgical procedure.  Needless to say this was not a concept that I embraced with joy; but finally a wise and compassionate doctor said to me, “Barbara, you’re a walking time bomb—you really don’t have a choice.”  So I reluctantly agreed and scheduled a date for surgery, but once the decision was made I fumed and complained to God almost nonstop.  Then I began to wonder how Jesus could have handled the knowledge of what lay ahead for Him at the cross, even as He ministered to others without complaint.  How did He keep from getting so depressed about His future that He couldn’t function or, at the very least, go around with a grumpy why-me attitude?  Yes, I knew He spent many hours alone in prayer, as evidenced repeatedly in scripture, but there seemed to be something I was missing because no matter how much I prayed I didn’t seem to be finding a lot of comfort.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  Mark 1:35

And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.  Mark 6:46

Finally one day I “happened” across Hebrews 12:1-2, a scripture I’ve studied more times than I can count:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

But now the phrase, “Jesus…for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,” jumped out at me as never before.  Jesus was focused on the joy that was ahead, not the agony.  So I determined that if Jesus is really my example and if my life is really about being conformed to His image, then I’d better just get over it and start focusing on:

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:8

Amazingly I immediately lost the sense of dread and, while I still didn’t like the idea of surgery, I was able to look beyond it.

So now I’m finally about two weeks post-op, yet all around it seems dark and stormy again.  My recovery continues to be difficult and I’m certainly not where I’d hoped to be by now, so here I am “preaching to the choir;” reminding myself once again that I can still trust God, and I’m pressing into Him to try and figure out what it is I’m supposed to be learning now.  But my experience is nothing new.  Over and over the psalmists cried out in their distress to God, and over and over they proclaimed His faithfulness in every situation.  And so once again I too stand in faith on the Word of God.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.  Psalm 37:5-7a

Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.  Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.  Psalm 112:3-5

Hurry Up and Wait…

Hurry up and wait often seems to be the theme of my life, and I have to remind myself of the multitude of scriptures that encourage us to wait upon the Lord.  I turn on my computer and want instant responses from people around the world; or I hop on a plane for a five-hour trip across the continent, moaning all the while about the lines at the airport, the uncomfortable seating, the trip that seems to take forever…  It’s easy to forget the snail mail of my youth and become impatient with the few businesses that require a check in the mail instead of an easy online payment; or my grandmother who could recall traveling across Nebraska in a covered wagon.

In slower times were people more patient? Did my ancestors who were farmers have a better handle on the truth of James 5:7?

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.  See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.

Maybe…or maybe not.   I think of Abraham and Sarah who were not willing to wait for God’s promise and tried to speed things up; and the world is still reeling from the error of that decision as tensions between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael continue to escalate.  Or then there’s King Saul, God’s anointed choice to lead Israel, who became impatient and decided not to wait for Samuel but offered his own sacrifice—effectively putting an end to the reign of himself and his heirs.

Hurry up and wait remains a theme in all of our lives.  It’s the rush to get in those college applications and then be forced to wait months for the responses.  It’s the expectant mom who has readied the nursery and feels like she’s about to explode, but her child is two weeks late—the longest two weeks of that mother’s life!  It’s the person who is unemployed, rushing to apply to job after job, enduring one disappointment after another as the bills pile up and the bank account shrinks.  Or it’s as simple as driving like crazy to make it on time to a doctor’s appointment, only to be kept waiting for an hour.

My life has been consumed for the last several months with a hurry up and wait situation.  While far from home, I was hospitalized for an acute condition and was advised to consider major surgery with my personal physicians.  It was a scramble to see several doctors and make a very difficult decision whether to do it or not.  Finally, with the decision made to go ahead, there were a staggering number of tasks to complete before I could even consider a surgery date, but I was finally on the schedule for last Wednesday.  But wouldn’t you know?  Three days before, I was hit with virulent cold virus that required the surgery to be postponed for another week—such timing since it’s been almost three years since I’ve even had the hint of a cold.  So here I sit, writing on Monday morning, once again anticipating surgery on Wednesday.  Will I finally be able to just get this over with?  I certainly hope so, but I’m not counting on it this time.  I finally just gave up last week and told the Lord that it’s His problem—not mine, and I wait to see what happens next.  It’s comforting to know that He is in control, and that even as I wait He is faithful.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.  Lamentations 3:24-26

I recall the advice we give to our kids as they learn to cross a street, “Stop, look and listen.”  We must stop rushing blindly ahead, look to Jesus, and listen to the direction of the Holy Spirit.

The Chase

Night shift at the Los Angeles County Hospital, around 3AM, and it was very busy.  The docs on call were all tied up with emergencies and even though I kept calling for help with one of my patients, we were definitely on a back burner.  The young man in question was huge—built like a football player—and out of control because his fever was so high he hadn’t a clue what was happening.  Paranoid and confused, he finally tore the IV out of his arm and ran off down the back stairs.  Young and fearless (and dumb!), I told the night clerk to call security and raced after him.   Down from the 4th floor to the 3rd, to the 2nd, and my patient took off through the morgue—such a pleasant place to be chasing a crazy man around in the middle of the night!  I grabbed a phone and called my clerk so he could update security about where we were and then continued the chase.  Finally, I had him cornered at a bank of elevators and as he frantically punched the call buttons, with all the authority I could muster, I looked up at this towering, angry giant and told him the elevators didn’t stop on this floor (well, it was just a little fib).  There were a couple of visitors also waiting there—and what they were doing outside the morgue in the wee hours of the morning I haven’t a clue.  My patient angrily demanded of them, “Is that right?  Is she telling the truth?”  Those poor people shrank back as far as they could get, eyes wide, and responded, “We don’t know man—whatever she says.”  About that time the elevator dinged and the doors opened, fortunately carrying two security guards who were able to subdue my patient and escort us safely back to his room.  All this was enough to finally convince the intern on call that he really was needed on the floor, and the patient was finally medicated and restrained in his bed.  A few days later the young man had recovered and he turned out to be a very nice guy.  He didn’t remember anything from that night, but had been told of our escapade and he apologized profusely.

We confront a much greater threat to our well being every day of our lives than I did during my middle-of-the-night romp through the morgue.  At every moment, our adversary prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Fortunately though, we have lots of scriptures that assure us that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.

You are my hiding place; you shall preserve me from trouble; you shall surround me with songs of deliverance.  Psalm 32:7

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.  Deuteronomy 31:6

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.      Psalm 9:9

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4