Just a thought or two

                                                                                                  by Marla Bentien

Just Don't Do It                 September 20th

What do you think is the most repeated command in the Bible? You might guess “Love your neighbor” or “Give praise to God.” Maybe it’s to pray often, or be holy. Oh wait, it must be “Repent!” These are mentioned more than once in Scripture, to be sure, but they don’t come close to the one which is stated in form more than 200 times: “Do not fear.”

I’d say the Lord understands our human condition! Psalm 103:14 says that “He knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust.” Of course He knows, since He Himself formed us. But I’m so glad He remembers and takes our weak and frail humanity into account.

When I was in my twenties, I had fears about decisions and plans concerning the future. Which job should I take? Should I live here or there? Should I become a missionary? Will I get married? How will I support myself? Now, with gray hair and creaking knees come thoughts about health, finances and aloneness, which can easily turn from concern to fear. The content of my fears has changed, but my faithful God has not.

Time and time again along the years the Lord has so lovingly comforted me with Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Because we read Scripture rather than hear it orally as originally intended, we can’t always be sure of the emphasis. Read this verse- any verse- aloud, several times emphasizing different words each time and you will notice different shaded of meaning. It’s like the differences between HE loves you. He LOVES you. He loves YOU.

I cannot forget a specific time when the Lord put the Isaiah passage into my heart emphasizing each “I” much stronger than any other word. Do not fear because I- the All Powerful and All Knowing God, Creator of all that exists, your Loving Father, your Savior and Friend, your King, your Guide- am with you. Ah, THAT’S why I should not fear. Because THIS God is with me. THIS God will strengthen me. THIS God will help me and uphold me. Not my neighbor, not my boss, not my finances or the government. Not my intellect or resources, not even my friends or family. THIS God loves us more than we can imagine and holds us tightly in His hand…whatever comes our way.

 

Truth or Lie                       September 13th

Have you been part of a gathering where they make you do one of those “ice breaker” activities? Notice I didn’t say you “get to” do it. Being on the quieter end of the social scale, I usually groan inwardly (or not so inwardly), wishing I could make a mad dash for the nearest fire escape.

I must confess, though, that as a teacher, I have used them myself. I even went to a workshop a couple of years ago for Adult Ed teachers and the topic was solely on “ice breakers.” I bet you can guess that I didn’t attend that workshop of my own free will! I don’t like the activities that require physical coordination, nor the ones where you have to think on your feet. One that isn’t too terribly painful though, is Truth or Lie; where you share a few details about yourself, with one item being untrue, and the others in the group try to separate fact from fiction. Let me give you an example.

Which one of the following is not true about me?

  • I can’t stand the smell of lavender.
  • I loathe dark chocolate.
  • I once tripped and fell in an outdoor venue and was helped to my feet by Kenny Rogers.
  • I can write backwards.
  • I was on the staff of Billy Graham’s “Decision” magazine.

Those who know me even a smidge should be able to easily spot #2 as a cruel joke. (I’m hoping that in heaven dark chocolate will be re-classified as a vegetable!) Friends from my college years could tell you #3 is true, but not quite. I was a no-name freshman and Kenny Rogers (not the singer) was a handsome senior who did indeed help me all the way to the infirmary, with both my ankle and my heart throbbing.

According to the Bible, there’s one “person” who ALWAYS lies. We don’t even have to wonder or guess. We know that Satan is a liar, even the “father of lies.” Truth for him is a foreign language which he has no clue how to speak. Like my list, some lies from our adversary are easy to detect, whereas others might sound okay but in reality are deceptive.

How do we spot a lie? It’s by knowing the truth. Our heavenly Father speaks only truth. In fact, He is Truth. As we stick closer and closer to Him and His Word, focusing on Truth, the lies become easier to see.


Just and Unjust         August 30th

You’ve probably heard something like this before: Someone shares some unfortunate news such as “My friend lost her job” or “Bill had a car accident last week.” And the reply: “Well, the rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

How about this conversation: “I’m so happy I got a raise last week.” Or “We have a new grand baby!” And then this response: “Well, you know, the rain falls on the just and the unjust.” Never heard that before? Neither have I!

Let’s take a look at Matthew 5, where Jesus is teaching about loving your enemies. “I tell you, Love your enemies…that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?...Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Do you see it? We need the sun and we need the rain. They are both GOOD things. We know God blesses His children, but He is so kind and loving the He even gives gifts to the unjust. None of us “deserve” anything. I imagine, though, if He wanted, God could share His kindnesses only with His children. But everyone gets to share in some measure of His goodness.

Luke says it this way in chapter 6: “Love your enemies and do good to them…Then you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just a your Father is merciful.”


The ROCK                          August 23rd    

When you hear “The Lord is our Rock,” what image comes to your mind?

How about this: You are standing nervously on a stone not too much longer than your feet, in the middle of a body of water, vigilant of your surroundings because of your incessant fear. That was the pathetic picture that formed in my mind for many years. Did I reflect a lack of faith, or perhaps a hidden fear? I never asked those questions, and sadly, never even wondered at the image. I just accepted it as it came.

Then one day, alone with the Lord, I read a familiar passage from Psalm 62: “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." Suddenly, onto my mental screen was pasted a postcard-worthy snapshot of Yosemite’s Half Dome. Now that’s a rock!

In my mind’s eye, I had the perspective from the bottom, a couple of miles away. Gazing upward, I could barely see a teeny-tiny little dot on the very tippy-top of Half Dome. Can you guess? That was me! Ah, what a change in perspective.  A Rock so big, so strong, so immense, so firm, so everlasting, that Me,  Myself and I are eclipsed. It’s not ME on a rock, but me on THE ROCK!

Of course, no earthly comparison can come close to the greatness of our God. But how kind of Him to give me a new and improved picture when I didn’t even realize the old one needed to be thrown out!



God is in Control

                                                                                        August 16th

I have been drawn to the songs of recording artist Twila Paris since the 1980’s. It’s not so much her voice that captures me, but the lyrics, most of which she pens herself. Her songs go deeper than most, not only encouraging the listener, but also challenging and provoking in the Christian life.

The first time I heard these lines, I had to stop and take in the meaning. Could I too, give thanks? “Thank you for this thorn, embedded in my flesh/Thank you for this thorn, fellowship of pain/Thank you for this love, planted in my side…”

One song I have returned to often over the years is “God is in Control.” There have been times when I had to hear those words. It’s not that I forget this truth, but that I need to remember. Like in the year 2020! When everything, EVERYTHING, appears absolutely out of control…I need the encouragement, yes; but I must be fortified by truth. And I have to fortify myself over and over and over again so that I am not swayed by what I see or feel.

I share the lyrics here, but listen to it if you aren’t familiar with it. It isn’t a soft ballad but rather has a hard-hitting sound which for me adds to the strength of the message.


GOD IS IN CONTROL (written in 1993)


This is no time for fear

This is a time for faith and determination

Don’t lose the vision here

Carried away by the motion

Hold on to all that you hide in your heart

There is one thing that has always been true

It holds the world together

 

God is in control

We believe that His children will not be forsaken

God is in control

We will choose to remember and never be shaken

There is no power above or beside Him, we know                        God is in control

 

History marches on

There is a bottom line drawn across the ages

Culture can make its plan

Oh, but the line never changes

No matter how the deception may fly

There is one thing that has always been true

It will be true forever

 

He has never let you down

Why start to worry now?

He is still the Lord of all we see

And He is still the loving Father

Watching over you and me…

Watching over everything

Every little sparrow

Every little king

God is in control…




Answers

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      August 9th

I was familiar with the name Ravi Zacharias, but had never heard the renowned Christian apologist speak. I knew he had recently passed away, so I was intrigued when I ran across his voice on James Dobson’s radio program.

He was obviously a brilliant man and had dedicated his life to sharing Christ with other in many settings around the world. He had debated the truths of Christianity with some of the greatest minds, and yet I was struck by how he simplified those truths for the rest of us. When he started speaking, I grabbed pen and paper and scribbled as fast as I could this profound truth he related so succinctly;

There are four basic questions of life that form our worldview, questions that each of us must face.

  • Origin: Where do I come from?
  • Meaning: What is the meaning of life?
  • Morality: How do I differentiate good and evil? (What is truth?)
  • Destiny: What happens when I die?

He then paraphrased a quote from the famed Christian author GK Chesterton, explaining that for the Christian, joy is central to life and sorrow is peripheral because the fundamental questions of life have been answered. The peripheral questions may not be. For the unbeliever, however, sorrow is fundamental and joy is peripheral, because the fundamental questions of life remain unanswered, and at best only peripheral ones may be addressed.


Though I already knew these statements to be true, the words that Ravi Zacharias used penetrated my mind in such a way what I felt a strengthening in my spirit. It’s as if the Rock upon which I have built my life became a firmer Rock. Or perhaps it’s that my own footing became a bit more secure, and I stood a bit straighter and more assured. I grasped anew that LIFE’S MOST URGENT AND VITAL QUESTIONS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED FOR ME!


I don’t need to worry, seek, wonder, question, drift or roam around the world trying to find THE ANSWER. It’s been settled for me. We all have questions to deal with, and sorrow touches each life in some way. But if these foundational questions are answered for us from the One who always tells the truth, we can go about life free from that burden and quest. And whatever comes, joy is always there for us because Joy is always there for us.

Flowers part 2                                       August 2nd

My friend Jack was a self-taught agronomist, and a brilliant one, I might add. When I met him about 25 years ago, I was nearing the ripe old age of 30 and he was in his early 70s. I knew he was in the ‘older’ category but I never really thought of him as ‘old’ because he was constantly on the move. Younger people were challenged to keep pace with him. But more than that…his heart was always light, he went about whistling or humming, had a quick and hearty laugh, loved God and man, and was willing to share his knowledge with anyone eager to receive it. Old? I should be so old!

Jack and his wife Gladys lived in Central California where Jack had experimented with grafting trees and had plantings of all kinds to his heart’s content. When they both retired from teaching, they decided to move several hours north to Willits to be near their children. Well, I should say, Jack decided. Gladys followed, of course, but it wasn’t at all easy to leave behind her friends and clubs and church and home and garden and flowers. I think perhaps we women get more attached than men do and it is hard to uproot ourselves and think about starting all over.

The first time I visited my ‘older’ friends at their home was early one March. I turned off the main street of the small town, headed west through an older neighborhood, wound around some trees and over a creek, and finally spied the address on the mailbox. As I drove up the long driveway, my mouth fell open! The hillside in front of their house was a welcome mat of bright, smiling daffodils. It was several years later when I learned that Jack had planted hundreds of his beloved wife’s favorite flower at their new home- his way of saying ‘thank you’ for her willingness to come north.

I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than a flower. Well, maybe just one thing…A flower planted with love.

“A friend loves at all times…” Proverbs 17:17

Flowers part 1                                                        July 27

Flowers make my heart sing…and dance…and smile…and jump for joy. God didn’t have to make flowers, you know. In fact, He didn’t even have to make a world filled with color. He could have made it simple and just gone with your basic black and white, or perhaps a muted gray. But wasn’t He kind to splash the world with riotous color, and even make a season each year for us to revel in it.


On my little farm, the daffodils pop up their cheery heads in February. I always say, “They are so early this year!” but I suppose they are on time and I am the one who is racing to catch up with the calendar. I am, of course, delighted to see them again. They share their sunny color for such a short time. Every summer I fill a long raised bed with a mass planting of zinnias, creating a jewel-toned entrance to my vegetable garden. I plant them close together, and the four-foot wonders stand tall next to each other, like soldiers ready to obey their marching orders. I don’t fuss over them much and they easily out-give me, filling my heart and spirit every time I pass by. Sometimes I just stop for a couple of minutes, rest my eyes upon them, and try to take in their beauty, simple yet intricate.

What forgiveness is not

                                                                     July 19th


About a decade ago I was sitting under the teaching of a young pastor who decided to preach a sermon on forgiveness. Admittedly, I wasn’t too interested, thinking I’d heard plenty of teachings on the topic and had no need to hear it now. (Um, I think that’s called pride?!) But I was soon enthralled in his message when he began explaining what forgiveness is NOT. Looking at it from this angle seemed to bring clarity to the issue, and I also found the insights very practical. I was so impressed that I met with him in his office later in the week to thank him for the sermon and ask for his notes, something I can’t recall ever doing. I went home and typed it up in summary form and have since shared these thoughts with quite a few people.

He told me that the ten points were not original with him, so I’m not sure where he got them, but I want to share them here in hopes that someone will be encouraged and maybe even make a start on the road to forgiveness. Our Lord commands us to forgive others. It is an act of the will and can set us free. We must not let bitterness take root in our hearts. “…Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).


Ten Things Forgiveness is Not


Approving or diminishing

To forgive does not mean that you are giving your approval to what was done, nor does it in any way diminish or lessen what was done to you.


Enabling sin

To forgive does not mean that you are enabling the sin of another person. It does not mean that you are saying their sin was okay or doesn’t matter. The offender is still accountable for his/her sin.


Denying of wrongdoing

To forgive does not mean that you deny what was done to you, or pretend it didn’t happen.


Waiting for an apology

Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to wait for an apology. That may never come. The ball is in your court, not theirs.


Forgetting

Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to forget what happened. “Forgive and forget” usually doesn’t’ happen. Most of the time, we can’t forget what happened, and that is okay. We just have to keep forgiving.


Ceasing to feel the pain

Forgiving doesn’t mean the pain goes away. Maybe it will, but many times it doesn’t, at least not for a while. That’s okay.


A one-time event

We may have to forgive over and over again. Satan may throw it in your face again and again. That doesn’t mean you didn’t forgive. It just means you have to forgive again.


Neglecting justice

To forgive doesn’t mean the person gets away with something. Forgiveness does not mean that justice is put aside. On the contrary, justice should be served where it is appropriate.


Trusting

Forgiving isn’t the same as trusting. You may never be able to trust the person again. But you can still forgive them.


Reconciliation

Praise God if reconciliation happens, but sometimes it doesn’t, or perhaps it isn’t even possible (for example if the offender is deceased). You can forgive even if the reconciliation doesn’t or can’t happen.