Battling to keep walking with the Truth

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Jesus proclaimed: ‘I am ..the Truth’. Aren’t you glad that Truth is a person who takes a very intimate interest in each of us, His brothers and sisters? Without Him, we would never be able to withstand our enemy, that liar who seeks to discourage us by attacking God’s Word.  Our greatest daily, if not hourly, temptation that we must resist is our bent toward doubting God.

In these two reflections, I describe two types of suffering that accompany our difficult calling to believe Jesus.

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Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 NASB

I have a sweet friend eager to be with Jesus.  Days dark with death exhaust her. Her son’s marriage is dying and she lives with him and his wife.  Another son’s own son is in jail for murdering a man.  Somber and sobering shadows press in on her.

But the darkness is passing. Her Savior, Jesus, the good Shepherd is walking with her through the dying. She doesn’t dwell there.

King David, too, suffered the death of relationships and dreams.  And King Jesus led him back into the light. David never forgot the comforting presence of this Shepherd.  He felt the guiding, bounding presence of rod and staff, until relief came on the other side. Do you suppose he was able to trust His shepherd, having been one himself?

Joy returned including feasting and fellowship when God restored his rule.  Prophetically and with bracing frankness, he proclaimed that as good as temporary relief can be, what awaited him AND us is permanent joy and love forever.

My friend needs to cling to this truth, as do we.

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Fight the good fight of faith 1 Timothy 6:12 NASB

Mike and I have been rewatching The Lord of the Rings.  So, when I read this chapter today, ‘The Last Battle’ lingered in my mind.

What if you and I woke up daily fully expecting another day of warfare? Isn’t that what Paul is teaching?  Most assuredly, there are many possible conflicts in life, but they are worthless compared to this one.  What is our one major conflict? The fight for our faith.  The ongoing struggle to trust Jesus.

As long as our enemy persists, we must engage in daily war. Satan’s primary objective continues – to cause us to doubt God’s word.

What should Christians expect, then?

In God’s good providence, He plans daily battle training to strengthen us.  Furthermore, we should prepare for enemy skirmishes, probing our resolve.  Occasionally, frontal assaults test us. And some of us will be engaged in a lifetime-long war. Think ‘The Hundred Years War’.

If we go to bed still trusting God, then we can celebrate the victory. Restorative sleep prepares us for another day to fight, divinely equipped.

What you focus on tends to dominate

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Have you found this to be true? What we pay attention to grows bigger, more significant? I’ve experienced that both with sound and sight.  When Mike was in the market for a Saab way back in the 80s, I couldn’t picture what one looked like. But as soon as he pointed out several, I started spotting them easily.  Similarly, when he helped me identify a particular bird by its call, I immediately grew aware of how many there were.

This principle of focus and attention applies to our problems and broken situations as well. What I listen or watch out for grabs the spot light.  But do you and I really want to fill our minds with what’s wrong?  We don’t have to deny reality, but as believers, God’s reality is the canvass upon which we live out these temporary circumstances.  They are not the only facts of life. More significant is His planned provision.  I want to keep watch for His help, His guidance, His grace. They are just as real as the suffering.

To that end, some of the psalms have helped me calibrate my focus this week.

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I have set the LORD always before me…….I shall not be shaken. Psalm 16: 8 ESV

That’s my problem!  Verse 8 flashed like a strobe light, helping me see I did not have God front and center in my thoughts.

Little things niggled away at any peace as soon as I awoke. I rehearsed temporary things like worries about my weight, a busy Sunday afternoon, now that I’d accepted a spur-of-the-moment lunch invitation for after church, options for the summer, what to choose for birthday gifts coming up in May.  All of them hung around the edges of my mind when the morning alarm startled me awake.

On top of those pesky problems buzzing in my head, one of the cats had missed the litter box and there was pee on the baseboard.  Like I said, little things.  Collectively these thoughts dominated my mental space, causing me to feel, ‘rocked’ and grumpy.

When I sat down to immerse myself in His word, God ‘spoke’.  Psalm 16 made me ashamed of my peevishness. Because I hadn’t started my morning looking at Him, the world rushed in. What a sad way to greet the day and our Father, by ignoring Him.

You have given him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips. Psalm 21:2 ESV

Can you articulate your one heart’s desire?  The question sobers. When I started writing in my journal, nothing circumstantial came to my mind. Neither money, stuff, adventures, changes in house or town called me. Even the idea of travel.  Sure, I can fantasize about living in Switzerland, but anything here on earth that I could name as a heart’s desire will vanish pretty soon anyway.  I don’t want to waste my one desire on something that won’t last.

I pondered further. What would I ask for that both changes my life now and forever?  I read on in the Psalm.  Then I saw it in verse 6: you make him glad with the joy of your presence, followed by verse 7: ….for the king trusts in the LORD

That’s what I want! I immediately wrote down and prayed, “Father, cause me to exercise firm and complete reliance on You so to be cheerfully content in any circumstance!”

The good news is that God WANTS to do just that. He wants us to enjoy His closeness.

How do we ‘get’ close to God? The only way I know how to feel close to someone is to talk and listen to them constantly.

Why is life so hard?

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Why are we surprised by hard things, by suffering? How many times have I thought, “If we can just sell the house!  Maybe when God heals Mike! Once he finds a new job!  Once I get to leave this job!”  But then, on the other side, new situations await.

I just want to be real with myself.  Life is hard because:

  • The world is broken due to sin
  • We have an evil enemy
  • God puts His family members through difficult times to burn away all that is impure, unholy and not of Him.

I am now letting it sink in that there is always another issue, a problem, a crisis, a sticky relationship.  Christianity is honest about life on Earth 1.0 but God doesn’t just leave us with truth, He reassures us that He has overcome the world and that His Spirit is with us to help us.  Remember, too, that suffering is not for naught. May we keep Romans 8:28 front and center.

I selected these two reflections from the past week, a series of days that ‘felt’ hard. But looking back, they were no more challenging and frustrating and painful than most weeks.

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Necessity teaches the naked woman to spin. Danish Proverb

God’s truth has many sources.

Roberto, a fellow language learner and friend, works on his English as I do with Spanish. But there’s a difference. Yesterday, I complimented him on his progress. He sadly demurred, adding: “I don’t need English here!”

“What do you mean?”  Listening, I realized the blessing of necessity. I volunteer weekly at the local pregnancy center. Growing numbers of Hispanic gals seek counsel and assistance. My intermediate Spanish makes a difference.  This week I spoke Spanish in all three appointments, delighting me. And I long for improvement.

Years ago, a school hired me to teach logic.  Me, a French teacher. I had never heard of logic as a subject, so I Googled it.  You can imagine how motivating a classroom of 8th-graders can be when you have to teach.  Slowly, day by day, I learned about logic and loved it.

If God is calling you to do a difficult ‘something’, about which you know nothing, thank Him!  A new skill is His gift to you.

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The LORD tests the righteous Psalm 11:5 ESV

Let’s admit it, life is very hard. 

My friend Lisa has a son undergoing a painful life experience. Her favorite promise from Jesus is: “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 NIV

Today’s assurance from God is that He is going to add more pressure to the righteous, and that on top of the normal suffering on Earth 1.0. What?  Yes, as a good and wise Father, He is training us to resemble the Family. Only by treating us like precious metal needing to be rid of impurities, can we be made pure.  High temperatures!

The rest of the psalm provides two contrasts. How He reacts to the wicked is the first. He hates them!  And second, those He loves (another name for those being tested) will see His face.

Seeing God’s face is Hebrew for finding favor with God! So, take heart.

A bit of vulnerability

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Our Father is a very personal parent.  He treats each of us differently, according to what we need. In His holy judgment obviously. I like to think of His discipleship training course as an IEP, an individual education plan, in ‘educator speak’. 

This week has been no exception to tailor-made lessons for Maria.  Painful ones, yes, but kind.

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May the God of peace…(be) working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ….Hebrews 13:21 ESV

I woke up feeling blah today. Usually cheery, I checked the usual suspects (sleep, pain, problems).  Fact is, I didn’t sleep well and my body feels off. But the REAL issue is that my heart is cold.

Two days ago, I read an email from a ministry we support. Once a year, they launch a focused prayer season.  I didn’t print out the attached guide.  It just felt too much, to add something else to pray for every day.

Then yesterday, our pastor sent out his weekly email detailing the upcoming Sunday. This year, 2021, we’re back worshipping in person. And two other services are planned for Passion Week.  My reaction?  Not interested.

Now THAT is the real reason for ‘the blahs’.  God made me look fully into a picture of my unholiness, my sin.

But, God prompted a friend…..who just ‘happened’ to send the above verse. Firmly nudged by the Spirit, I made a ‘deal’ with God. “If that Good Friday service is during the day, I’ll go!”

I checked the email. Sure enough, it’s scheduled for noon.

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He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35 NASB

God’s timing, as always, was impeccable. I listened to an interview with a Christian comedian while cleaning yesterday. He described how his comedy improved once he changed the question (and purpose) from ‘How can I get people to laugh?’  to ‘How can I give people what they need?’

This morning I felt hurt when Anne texted, cancelling Spanish class for Noah because of her surgical appointment.  I have been longing for more contact with her.  So, not even knowing that she had scheduled a procedure stung.

I sat quietly with God, journal open.  Providentially, I had been on the cusp of writing down that comedian’s advice.  By grace, the Holy Spirit prompted me to ask, “What can I give Anne right now in this relationship?” Then I knew!  I can write her a newsy, encouraging card.

Immediately, I felt happy, hurt feelings dissolved. I had let go of “I’m not getting what I want” to something better and more freeing.

And you know what?  About an hour after I experienced the bigger blessing of looking at how I could serve this dear gal, she texted and suggested we face time tomorrow. A sweet smile from my Father.

Jesus really wants us to be care-free!

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I have gone back to reading Oswald Chambers’ devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.  A few years ago, someone gifted me with Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. So, I put Chambers’ book aside.  But a friend quoted him a few months ago. I dug out a copy and have so enjoyed and been challenged rereading his thoughts.

This morning I copied down a Chambers’ teaching: “Worrying means we don’t think God can look after the practical details of our lives and it is never anything else that worries us” (May 23)

That admonition ties together today’s reflections about worry and relying on Jesus.

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If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5 ESV

Being an ‘ezer’ to my husband is a serious responsibility.  Yet, I know God has assigned me to be Mike’s helpmate. I pray a lot, though still succumb to fretting over possible ‘wrong’ advice.

Mike had been experiencing frustration at work. So, I encouraged him to seek other local jobs in his field. Boeing had an opening.  He applied and Monday was offered the position at a salary way more than he even asked for. All along we prayed for God’s wisdom. But, when I suggested that he let his boss know about the offer, we moved out on a limb of faith, being unsure of the reaction the email would spark. Would he write back: ‘Good luck and in touch!’ or something worse like, ‘After all we have invested in you, you search out another job!!!!’

Brad did not respond the day Mike pushed ‘send’ on his email. It wasn’t until the following day that he connected with Mike. But Mike did not let me know until he came home.  In suspense that lasted until early afternoon, I wrestled with doubts and fears. “Father, did I ill-advise Mike?” Peace came only after throwing myself on God’s sovereign control of even my ‘wrong’ decisions.

Being a wife stretches my faith!

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Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Philippians 4:5 NET

I keep re-reading this teaching.  Like you, I am aware of the many cares and burdens that loved ones have. If God is sovereign, then these problems are planned for the good of His people. And He alone gets to define ‘good’!

How are we to handle suffering?  By casting our ‘unsolvable’ burdens on Him.  We specifically ask His help and then hand over the matters.  That means we are CARE-free.  Freed from cares that are too much for us, those situations for which we have no visible resources.

Our mental space then is freed up to reflect God’s desire: ‘Let your gentle carefreeness, which is due to Jesus’ nearness, be evident to all’ (my translation).

I can follow Jesus this day, serving others in love, doing my assigned tasks BECAUSE I know who this Jesus is. He is none other than the loving, faithful, sovereign Creator and Lord of the universe.

If He, the Almighty One, is handling my issues, no worries. But help me, Holy Spirit! It’s far easier to know how I am to handle life’s issues, than to follow through.

Unlikely ‘teachers’

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I read some good advice last night.  The author advised being on the lookout for each day’s teachers.  Her experience of being guided and taught by God includes His use of diverse events and people she encounters each day.  It could be the annoying or ‘boring person who teaches me courtesy.’ (Marilyn McEntyre, Word by Word)

My first offering to you, fellow pilgrims, comes from an unlikely teacher, the singer Carole King.  My other schoolmaster this week has been the Spanish language.  Reading the Bible in a different translation always brings new and delightful insights.

May we gratefully receive whatever the Lord gives us, trusting His creative way to bring us encouragement and training.

You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running, running, yeah, yeah, to see you again. Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call. And I’ll be there, yes, I will. You’ve got a friend. (The ‘gospel’ according to Carole King)

Driving into the pregnancy resource center today, I was listening to a podcast when this familiar song from the ‘70s came on.  Listening to the lyrics, one would have thought it were Jesus talking.

Jesus is the optimal, perfect friend.  He never uses, abandons or shames us. He knows just when and what we need, tailoring His provision to our personality and situation.

Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you. Psalm 50:15 ESV

A friend of mine texted me this morning. “I wish I had a nearby friend or that you lived down the street!”  I knew what she meant. Sometimes we need a real flesh-and-bone person who will cry with us and hug us.  But Jesus is always available, 24/7.

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Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest. Exodus 28:3 NIV

I read my Bible in Spanish.  This morning, I saw the repetition of the word ‘para’ in the three places underlined above.  Para can mean: in order to, so that, for the purpose of.

Friends, we have a Father and Lord of Purpose! Everything our God does is according to His good plan. In verse 2, right before this one, God tells Moses:

And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. ESV

God is not just a utilitarian, one-size-fits-all Creator.  No, He purposefully acts on behalf of individuals, providing what is pleasing to the eye and honoring to the person.

Moreover, our Maker includes us, ‘em-purposing’ us to craft beautiful and functional art.

Finally, God dignifies us through stirring our hearts and gifting us with talents.

What a Master!

What is something fresh or different you see in Scripture?

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Don’t you love it when the Holy Spirit shows you something new in His Word? I have chosen two of my ‘devotional bites’ (what I call each day’s writing practice) that talk about new insights or discoveries.  The first offers a different way of thinking about Christian liberty.  And the second describes a new practice I am implementing.

Whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.  But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  Now the Lord  is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image. 2 Corinthians 3:15-18

Taken in context, Christian freedom communicates a meaning different than most talk about. This is not a liberty to do as one pleases.  Paul is writing about being emancipated from an incorrect understanding of God’s Word. Before Jesus came, we were not at liberty to comprehend God’s plan.  It was hinted at, but ‘kept under wraps’ until the right time.

‘Freed’ from wrong conclusions, we now can grow in knowledge of Jesus by means of the Spirit. And most amazing and wonderful of all, this release or freedom from the custody of the law, as Paul explains in Galatians 3:23, means we are growing to be more like Jesus.

Grace frees us to be holy.

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(Jesus) wrapped a towel around his waist. John 13:4 NIV

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:15 that we are to live FOR the One who died and was raised FOR us. Jesus modeled what it means to center one’s life on someone else.  It’s called service.

As an illustration, Jesus put on the ‘uniform’ of a servant when He grabbed and attached that drying cloth to himself.

‘Just what is MY uniform?’ I pondered this morning.  The idea came, ‘What if I put on one of my 4 necklace crosses?’  That day-by-day deliberate act of fastening the clasp would remind me that I am Jesus’ servant, with tasks He assigns.

And for whom are these daily duties?  Jesus Himself isn’t physically here. However, we know that when we serve others, we are serving Him.

But what should we be doing? Hebrews uses the term ‘sacrifices’ to describe our service.  In Hebrews 13:15-16 the author explains that we are to praise God continuously, do good, and share with others. All and only in Jesus’ power, of course.

Wearing a cross reminds me I have a Master.

Jesus is not who we think!

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Jesus startles. He is NOT whom we expect nor does He act like ‘normal’ people. Sometimes He’s not even whom we want. But we don’t get to choose our particular flavor of our Savior.  He is God.

Martha and the man in the crowd want personal ‘justice’.  The disciples want reassurance as protection against future suffering.

Father, give us the desire to want to receive Jesus just as He is!

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Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Luke 12:13 ESV

This request has got to be the ‘male version’ of Martha’s complaint to Jesus in Luke 10.  I can’t quite picture a gal this focused on land and wealth.

Jesus responds with ‘anthropos’, translated by my Bible as ‘man’, although the Greek word can mean either man or woman. 

Just as Jesus rebuked Martha for focusing on cooking and serving dinner, our Lord here points out to the complaining brother that life isn’t about collecting riches or ‘stuff’.  Jesus suggests a better way in verse 21:  Man, don’t be rich for yourself; instead, be rich toward God, by offering Him your abundance.

Likewise, I can picture Him gently reproving Martha in a similar fashion: Martha, don’t do your household tasks for yourself, do them for God, to please Him!

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“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered?” Luke 13:2 NLT

I was telling a non-Christian friend about a woman I had recently who had suffered trauma in the past two years: the sudden death of her husband, a double mastectomy and now she was facing more cancer.  My friend reacted with a rhetorical question, but one you hear a lot these days: “Why do bad things always seem to happen to good people!”

This sentiment is the opposite of that held by those in Jesus’ day and even earlier. (Consider Job’s friends.) Furthermore, because of God’s Law handed down through Moses, people reasoned differently: “All this bad stuff happened; ‘they’ must have sinned!”

In either case, whether one hails from the western world in the 21st century or from Jesus’ day and earlier, the conclusion is the same: Good people deserve favorable circumstances.

Jesus responds in the next verse, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish!” Luke 16:3 ESV

There are no good people, by nature.

I’m not in charge and it’s not about me!

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Haven’t you found this to be true, that the Lord can teach us via a variety of His sources, such as Scripture, books, podcasts, nature or counsel from other mature believers?  If we seek Truth and Wisdom, Jesus provides. One caveat, for other than the Scriptures themselves, we must evaluate and compare, as did the Bereans, all advice and input about spiritual matters with what the Bible says. This week, I’ve chosen a vignette from a conversation and one from Scripture.

Now, I’m praying I retain AND apply both.

The Lord is my shepherd….he leads me. Psalm 23: 1-2 ESV

I caught up with Cousin Terry today. Bible-saturated with God’s wisdom, she’s the spiritual mother of our family.  She described how she knows when God wants her to take on a ministry.  He never pushes, He invites. “Maria, God never drives His sheep!” 

We mentioned the difference between cattle herders, those men who herd their stock toward grazing fields or to the stockyards. They use dogs and men on horseback to push toward the intended destination.

Jesus is not our herder, He’s our shepherd.  Shepherds position themselves ahead of their little flocks, calling to them personally, gently guiding, encouraging and sometimes pulling them out of danger spots with the hook of their staff.

“How does it feel to you, Terry, when God is leading and guiding you to a place of service?” She paused, then mentioned, “I sense a growing interest that energizes and excites me, plus a sense of immediacy. As in ‘get on with it!’.”

Aren’t you glad our Father doesn’t push us around?

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“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;” Luke 10:41 NASB

Here’s a painful diagnostic question I read in some Sunday School material for our middle school girls: ‘What would those who know you well say is your focus?’

And just how would they know?  One way to discern would be from your conversation.  Everyone’s favorite topic is themselves, but what aspect would stand out?

Like Martha I often elevate tasks and having ‘enough’ time to that number one place in my life.  When I struggled with bulimia and body obsession, I would talk a lot about food and exercise.

Recently, I asked Mike to stop asking me about my sleep.  Good rest has eluded me for years. But Holy Spirit conviction is changing my focus.  I don’t want my daily goal to be about optimizing life for Maria.

That new desire has its roots in something I read in Vaneetha Risner’s latest book, Walking Through Fire. She described a Holy-Spirit thought that caused her to pivot.  She had been churning over the future when unbidden He communicated: ‘It’s not about you!’.  Those words have continued to settle me with His peace and recalibrate my day.  Life is meant to be about God. 

I sin against our Holy God when I place myself ‘front and center’.  I want to be like Martha’s sister Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him.  It would have been easy to spot what she valued most. I hope others will be able to know that about me as well.

Are you weary of thinking about yourself or the world?

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Last night I was reading Vaneetha Risner’s latest book Walking through Fire.  One comment she made stayed with me through this morning.  She sensed God say to her, “It’s not about you.”

So often I flit between three emotional sinkholes (they don’t get me anywhere):

  • evaluating what will make me content
  • wondering if what I am doing is the best use of my time
  • pondering whether someone I care about is saved since I don’t see much ‘fruit’

All three keep me locked up thinking about me or others. When all along it’s not about me, but about God.

The only solution is to focus on Him and trust His plans.

I offer these two short devotions from my daily writing.

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For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed… he has done great things for me. Luke 1:48-49 NLT

Usually, I boast about my accomplishments in order to impress others.  But sweet little Mary, all of 14 or 15 years old, doesn’t.

I can imagine her marveling at how God noticed her, she a ‘nothing special’ among many other rural backwater Hebrews. To boot, she’s a young girl in a patriarchal society, with no status at all. The fact that God singles her out, sends a mighty angel to speak personally to her, announcing an unimaginable future must have stunned her.

She proclaims her future fame as an insignificant participant in God’s story by bursting into praise for how people will one day make a big deal over her.  Not for anything she has done. It’s all about the Almighty and the great things He has done for her.

Has done’. She knows that Gabriel’s announced future event is already recorded in God’s history book.

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…Don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. 1 Corinthians 4:5 NLT

Sometimes I feel discouraged about the few changes I see in the lives of those for whom I care.  I’m thinking particularly of believers, in whose patterns of daily living I would like to see more Christlikeness.  They view me the same way, no doubt. 

This exhortation from Paul should relieve us greatly. The story is not over! Do you remember Polaroid cameras?  A simple click and a picture would emerge.  Someone, something caught for an instant.  That is how our evaluations are; we base them on ephemeral snapshots.  We use too little information each time we draw a conclusion.

Not only is this way of thinking not based on God’s reality, it is sin. I defame someone when I make a negative judgment formed from one of those earlier captured moments.

Today’s scripture both rebukes me AND encourages me.  I can leave the judging to God who sees all, and keep on praying in faith.

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