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Open Doors

Acts 16:25-28

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Well, we’ve been quarantined for awhile now, and much of Texas has gotten restless. So restless, in fact, that as of Friday, May 1, many restrictions have been lifted here (with the exception of a few guidelines regarding capacity and whatnot). But for our family, I can’t say that much has changed—if anything. It can be hard to put into words exactly why this is. But I just listened to a sermon that I think will help.

Long story short, Paul and Silas had been flogged and beaten and thrown into jail for delivering a woman from an evil spirit (no good deed goes unpunished, right?). And as any of us would (not) do when wrongfully accused and detained, they spent the night singing hymns. But they were interrupted by a huge earthquake that shook the prison’s foundations and flung the doors wide open.

Now, the obvious thing to do with this fortuitous freedom would be to flee. That would have been the fair thing to do, as they were being wrongfully imprisoned in the first place. It would have been the convenient thing to do, because they could have gotten back about their mission more quickly. It would have been the comfortable thing to do; I mean, who wants to be sitting in a nasty, stinky prison full of God knows what kind of vermin. But they didn’t flee…why?

Because of the jailer. He had already been threatened with his life should anything happen to the prisoners, and to avoid this, he was all ready to take his own life instead. So one way or another, he was going to die. And worse, he was going to die without Jesus. We know this because when he found out that the prisoners were still there, and that they had willingly given up their freedom to save his life, he “fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:29-30). Ultimately, he and his entire family were saved and baptized, and were filled with joy.

Paul and Silas could have chosen to act in their own self-interest. But they didn’t. They followed their own advice: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). And that’s my reason, too. If one person, or one family, has an opportunity to live one more day—a day that may by God’s grace be the day of their salvation—because of what I do with my freedom, then who am I to be behindhand?

And look, I fully recognize that staying home is a privilege that is not afforded everyone. Some are essential workers and have been fighting on the front lines for the rest of us this whole time. And now that other industries are opening back up, I realize that some who have been struggling to make ends meet finally have the opportunity to begin providing for their families again. Still others are probably being forced to go back to work, against their will, for fear of losing their jobs.

But I can’t help but feel (and see the evidence around me) that this is not the case for everyone. That sermon I mentioned, it highlighted the point that Paul and Silas both had and took the opportunity to choose a better story, and a better outcome—a better YES, if you will. When this is all said and done, I have hope that my temporary disappointments, struggles, and sacrifices will have amounted to a better story—and “a glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17)!

Be well. Be safe.

Shelter in THIS Place

I’m not gonna lie. I miss the days of endless chips and salsa brought to my table at a Mexican restaurant. I look forward to a future when the Happy Hour specials are back in force and I can sit across from (or even NEXT to!) a friend to enjoy them. But for the moment, we—like so many—have been ordered to SHELTER IN PLACE.

Huge caveat there, though, because this order (at least for us) doesn’t apply to “essential” products and services. And let’s be honest, the nature and extent of what we consider essential is an indictment against our society and our way of life. But that’s a topic for another day.

For today, I know there are many people who are a little anxious over being saddled with any restrictions on their personal freedoms. A word to the wise, though, from the wise, tells us that “the prudent see danger and take cover, but the simple keep going and suffer the consequences” (Proverbs 22:3). If that isn’t a poignant commentary on our time, I don’t know what is.

Consequences notwithstanding, the current conditions may have you sheltering in a tiny studio apartment, on a sprawling ranch, or somewhere in between. You may be quarantined with a large family or all alone, or again, somewhere in between. You may be lonely, overwhelmed, or stir-crazy. You may be working from home alongside three “coworkers” under the age of five. In any event, I want to share some encouragement with you today.

The Scriptures are jam-packed with verses reminding us that no matter our earthly living arrangements, GOD HIMSELF is our true shelter, our refuge, and our hope (see Psalm 34:8; Psalm 46:1; Psalm 59:16; Psalm 61:3; Psalm 62:8; Psalm 73:28a; Psalm 91:1; Proverbs 18:10; Nahum 1:7). To highlight just a few of these:

Psalm 46:1

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Psalm 61:3

“For You have been my refuge, a tower of strength against the enemy.”

Psalm 73:28a

“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the LORD GOD my refuge.”

Psalm 91:1

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Proverbs 18:10

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

Nahum 1:7

“The LORD is good. A strong

hold in the day of trouble,
and He knows those who take refuge in Him.”

So then, let us affirm with Paul that “if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” Yes, wherever you find yourself—in body or in spirit—may you find shelter in THIS place.

 

 

Mike

Mike McGregor

Psalm 23:4

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Where to begin…I guess the best place would be December 10, when I noticed a Facebook post from my friend Victoria in the wee hours of the morning, saying that her stepdad, Mike, had had a massive heart attack the previous afternoon. Her plea was for prayer, and it was clear that she and her family were praying nonstop, and believing for HUGE miracles. I know they prayed without ceasing, and they recruited so many others into this prayer effort, including myself. I found myself logging on to Facebook specifically to check for any updates. Those updates were very specific, as were the prayer requests. I believe that, throughout this trial, Victoria and her family have embodied 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 2 Samuel 12:15-23, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Let me elaborate.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Bible tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In each of Victoria’s posts, she shared praises and prayer requests. She petitioned for an around-the-clock covering of Mike in prayer. And people responded—family, friends, and strangers. It was beautiful to see just how bathed in prayer he was.

In 2 Samuel 12:15-23, David has learned from Nathaniel that his first child with Bathsheba—the one conceived in sin—would die. Nonetheless, David “pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground.” After seven days of this, the child did die. And then, “David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” When asked about his strange behavior, David responded, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’” At one point, Victoria shared that the doctors were only giving Mike a 5% chance of living. Her response? “Our God is bigger than 5%!”

Later came the update that: “Our precious Mike is fully healed. He is celebrating his victory in Heaven….Our God is GOOD. He is very good. And while this doesn’t feel good, HE is good. And He did not leave 1 prayer unanswered, down to the very last minute.” Amen. Such faith, such strength in Jesus, such a testimony of what it means to mourn, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

This blog is called, Fathoming Heaven: Living a Life Inspired by Ecclesiastes 3:11, and Victoria and her family are living that out right now. God has set eternity in the hearts of Mike and his family. And that makes a victory of what otherwise would be a tragedy. We pray for comfort, peace, and JOY for Victoria and her family, even in the midst of this great sorrow. God be with you (Psalm 23:4). Amen.

The Cost of Sacrifice

2 Samuel 24:24

“But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it.
I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and
paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

In 1988, Bobby Michaels released a song entitled, “Anything that Costs Me Nothing.” It’s a great song–you should check it out. Surely, he was inspired by King David’s response to Araunah in 2 Samuel 24:24. You see, Araunah had offered to give the king a threshing floor and oxen that he planned to use for a sacrifice to God. But King David replied, “‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

Whenever illness strikes a friend, a neighbor, or a family member, I think to myself, “That should be me.” It must sound morbid, I know, but I have always longed so deeply for heaven and have been so anxious to meet my Heavenly Father, that I know my response to such a diagnosis would surely honor and glorify Him. I’m sure of it. But maybe that’s why God hasn’t chosen that path for me. Oh, of course, it would require some sacrifices. I would give up the chance to watch my children grow up and to have them know and remember me. I would give up the chance to someday meet and hold and love my grandchildren. But truly, it wouldn’t be the same for me as I know it is for some. And just as they must offer their lives as a costly sacrifice for the God they love and serve, so must I.

For me, that sacrifice may mean a lengthy stay here on earth, in a land that is foreign to me and one that could never feel quite like home. It may mean many years of hoping and trusting in what I cannot see. It will surely require me to rely and lean on God in my weaknesses and amid my failures. And when I feel that unbearable sense of separation from Him and long to be closer, to be held in His strong but gentle arms, I must remember that this is my sacrifice, and that its value lies in its cost. I pray always that it would be a cost that I would bear gladly.

A Tent on This Land

John 14:2-3 (KJV)

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.
I go to prepare a place for you. 
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again,
and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

Twenty acres. 220,000 dollars. And what can best be described as a shack. Seriously. They didn’t even include this ‘structure’ in the property listing. But no matter. Every time we drive by, I think to myself (and often say out loud), I would gladly live in a tent on this land. It is SO perfect, so beautiful. It overlooks a gorgeous river valley and the green of the trees is absolutely vibrant. You probably wouldn’t even know there are that many shades of green without seeing them with your own eyes. Even in the winter, when bare and brown branches take over the once-lush foliage, the view brings me peace.

IMG_0076IMG_0079 IMG_0074

It was this land, and the recollection of a popular country song by Florida Georgia Line, that birthed the hashtag #DreamDirt. Do you know what occurs to me, though? Any plot of land that I might find on this earth, no matter how beautiful and serene, is probably like a trash heap compared to heaven. And so, when I look ahead to eternity, I find myself thinking—with the utmost assurance—that I would gladly live in a tent (or a shack, or a trailer, or a lean-to, or an outhouse) on that land.

And yet, I read John 14:2-3 and realize that, in heaven, we won’t have to choose. Now, the mansions that John speaks of may not be literal. Rather, he may be referring to that with which we clothes ourselves. That is, they may be the heavenly counterpart to the earthly ‘tents’ that, according to Paul, are our bodies (http://www.tedmontgomery.com/bblovrvw/emails/mansionbodies.html). But even so, I look forward to that day, when I will arrive in heaven, stand next to Jesus, and sink my toes into the dream dirt that will no doubt be like none other I’ve ever seen. If it weren’t so, He would have told us. Believer, believe this promise!