NOTES FROM THE VALLEY
August 9, 2009
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil for you are with me." Psalm 23.
TIME FOR SOME MORE "HOMEWORK"
I live constantly in awe of Jesus. There are times when that awe becomes deep discouragement. Here I am, a professing Christian, but I have trouble getting through even an hour without thinking, saying, or doing something sinful. Jesus? He lived his entire life without ever sinning. I can't even begin to imagine a life like His. And yet, that is exactly what I'm suppose to be striving to do - live my life like He lived His. But I don't. Probably my toughest struggles are with pride, anger, and impatience. Anger, in particular, seems to find me a ready target anytime something doesn't go just the way I think it should go. For some reason, that seems to be happening more frequently lately. It's pretty pathetic. And with my failure comes the guilt that makes me feel so frustrated and ashamed. Shame that leaves me reluctant even to pray anything beyond, "God, You must be so disappointed with me."
God has been so very good to me. The evidence of His love and grace abounds in my life. This week has certainly been no exception. Cathy is and has always been a source of love and grace in my life, even during these "grouchy" spells I've been going through. I begin to realize just how connected and needful I am of her when she's not around. So God, in His infinite wisdom, arranged for her to be working nights at the senior board and care home in South Fork this week. After she hustles off to work and things settle down with Sierra (our dog) and I, I find myself alone in our empty bedroom. In the darkness and silence, the nagging sense of dissatisfaction with myself returns in stark contrast to the brightness of the daytime hours with Cathy. I feel disconnected from God and from the people I care deeply about. And that's when God finally has my undivided attention and lovingly reminds me about the failings of some of my heroes in the Old Testament.
Many of those heroes shared my feelings of dissatisfaction with themselves and their failings. Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, and Jonah are just a few of the more notable examples. And yet, God never gave up on them, never stopped loving them. And because they didn't give in to their failures, but continued to place their faith and trust in God, He was able to use them in mighty and wondrous ways. Each of their uniquely different experiences with God is a testament to His unfailing love and grace. The love and grace He freely offers each of us, even when we fail.
Another lesson I found in the Old Testament comes from stories like Daniel in the lion's den. In the story, men conspire against Daniel because of his faith in his God. Daniel trusts his God, even in the midst of the darkness and fearful circumstances of a night in the lions' den. God responds to Daniel's trust with an angel who protects him. Daniel was saved, the conspirators destroyed, and God was reverenced "throughout all nations" by decree of the king. Through this story and others, God is saying, "I'm in control. Trust me and I will take care of you."
When I read the Bible, I have this image in my heart of God, my Father, standing behind me, leaning over my shoulder and personally guiding me as I read. The Bible says it's the Holy Spirit, through the power in God's Word, opening the "eyes" of my understanding. To me, it's my Dad helping me with my homework! My Old Testament "homework" is His gentle way of reminding me that my foundation is not who I am or what I have done, but Him. He has given us Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, and Jonah to teach us that in spite of our human weaknesses and failings, His love and grace towards us is eternal and unfailing. And He has given us Daniel and others to teach us that even in the darkest of times we can have faith that He will provide for our needs and turn even the most impossible situation to some eternal good. But the key element in both these lessons is us giving our trust and lives to Him.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
My thanks to all the dear friends God has given me to encourage me and remind me of His faithfulness and His love when the reflection in the mirror becomes disturbingly unclear (1Corinthians 13:12 NIV). And my thanks to Cathy for putting up with this grumpy old man. Be patient Sweetheart, God's not done with me yet.
The Sparrow at Starbucks
(Author - John Thomas Oaks)
It was chilly in Manhattan but warm inside the Starbucks shop n 51st Street and Broadway, just a skip up from Times Square. For a musician, it's the most lucrative Starbucks location in the world, I'm told, and consequently, the tips can be substantial if you play your tunes right. I was playing keyboard and singing backup for my friend who also added rhythm with an arsenal of percussion instruments. During our emotional rendition of "If You Don't Know Me by Now," I noticed a lady sitting in one of the lounge chairs across from me. She was swaying to the beat and singing along. After the tune was over, she approached me. "I apologize for singing along on that song. Did it bother you?" she asked.
"No," I replied. "We love it when the audience joins in. Would you like to sing up front on the next selection?" To my delight, she accepted my invitation. "You choose," I said. "What are you in the mood to sing?"
"Well . . . do you know any hymns?"
Hymns? This woman didn't know who she was dealing with. I cut my teeth on hymns. Before I was even born, I was going to church. I gave our guest singer a knowing look. "Name one."
"Oh, I don't know. There are so many good ones. You pick one."
"Okay," I replied. "How about 'His Eye is on the Sparrow'?"
My new friend was silent, her eyes averted. Then she fixed her eyes on mine again and said, "Yeah. Let's do that one." She slowly nodded her head, put down her purse, straightened her jacket and faced the center of the shop. With my two-bar setup, she began to sing.
Why should I be discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
The audience of coffee drinkers was transfixed.
I sing because I'm happy;
I sing because I'm free.
For His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.
When the last note was sung, the applause crescendo to a deafening roar. I embraced my new friend. "You, my dear, have made my whole year! That was beautiful!"
"It's funny that you picked that particular hymn," she said.
"Why is that?"
She hesitated again, "that was my daughter's favorite song." She grabbed my hands. By this time, the applause had subsided and it was business as usual. "She was 16. She died of a brain tumor last week."
I said the first thing that found its way through my silence. "Are you going to be okay?"
She smiled through tear-filled eyes and squeezed my hands. "I'm gonna be okay. I've just got to keep trusting the Lord and singing his songs, and everything's gonna be just fine." She picked up her bag, gave me her card, and then she was gone.
Was it just a coincidence that we happened to be singing in that particular coffee shop on that particular November night? Coincidence that this wonderful lady just happened to walk into that particular shop? Coincidence that of all the hymns to choose from, I just happened to pick the very hymn that was the favorite of her daughter, who had died just the week before? I refuse to believe it. God has been arranging encounters in human history since the beginning of time, and it's no stretch for me to imagine that he could reach into a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan and turn an ordinary gig into a revival. It was a great reminder that if we keep trusting him and singing his songs, everything's gonna be okay.
Out of the Mouths of Babes
(Jonathan G. Yandell. Garden Grove, California. Leadership)
Gladys Aylward, missionary to China more than fifty years ago, was forced to flee when the Japanese invaded Yangcheng. But she could not leave her work behind. With only one assistant, she led more than a hundred orphans over the mountains toward Free China. In their book The Hidden Price of Greatness, Ray Besson and Ranelda Mack Hunsicker tell what happened:
"During Gladys's harrowing journey out of war-torn Yangcheng . . . she grappled with despair as never before. After passing a sleepless night, she faced the morning with no hope of reaching safety. A 13-year-old girl in the group reminded her of their much-loved story of Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. 'But I am not Moses,' Gladys cried in desperation.
'Of course you aren't,' the girl said, 'but Jehovah is still God!'"
When Gladys and the orphans made it through, they proved once again that no matter how inadequate we feel, God is still God, and we can trust in him.
Copyright © 1998 - 2009 by Stephen J. Hall - Letters of encouragement to Christians written by Stephen J. Hall unless otherwise indicated. Notes from the Valley and Humor from the Valley are meant to brighten your day and encourage you along the way. If you are blessed by them, please feel free to make copies and pass them along to others. If you have something you'd like to contribute to a future edition, would like to ask a question or make a comment, please contact us at: steveh.rbis@...
Your love, God, is my song, and I'll sing it! I'm forever telling everyone how faithful you are. I'll never quit telling the story of your love . . . (Psalm 89:1-2 The Message)