As part of my morning devotions, I was reading an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian in the 20th Century most well-known for his book entitled, The Cost of Discipleship. He has a number of other writings including the one I read during the devotion. In the passage, he was reflecting on Psalm 63, particularly 63:3. The Psalmist writes, "Your steadfast love is better than life." It's a beautiful passage. But to some who experience the deepest woes of life, or are in the midst of difficulty, might find these words to be glib or trite.
However, as Bonhoeffer reflects, these words were not written on a day when the weather was nice and all is well. Rather, these words were penned when the "pillars of life had crumbled away. Where the [Psalmist's] hand thought it had firm support it reached out into an empty nothingness." In other words, the author finds himself looking for support only to discover all the things he had counted on are gone. The author's enemies stood at his doorstep lying in wait for him to fall, and he felt alone and helpless. And yet, from the depths of his soul comes the phrase, "Your steadfast love is better than life." Bonhoeffer states, "That is one of the words that does not let you go once you have understood it, a word that seems to shine gently...from the world of the Bible not from our own." All the other pillars on which he had hoped had disappeared, except for those words. Those words held the Psalmist in hope of a new day. And they were words based on God's faithfulness in the past which uphold one in the present.
I'm often reminded of life's difficulties. Life certainly has its many bright spots. It is full of wonder and love. But we are also met in this life with heartache, pain, and difficulty. Such can feel like a lonely endeavor. We may even purposely distance ourselves from the ones we love and cherish. Even God at times may seem at a distance. However, God's steadfast love is better than life. God's love isn't dependent upon us. Rather God's love is dependent upon God. And God remains steadfast and faithful to us. And because of this, God's love is truly better than life. Such a love comes not from our willpower to make it happen, or our ability to earn it; it comes from God's willingness to give it. And God in Jesus Christ throughout history has proven God's faithfulness toward us.
Today you may be struggling in some manner. You may feel alone. You may feel overwhelmed. Or you may know someone who is. Know God's love is better than life. God is indeed faithful. You or they may not feel it. But it's not based on our ability to feel it. It is based on God.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And do not lean on your own understanding." Proverbs 3:5 I don't think that God has ever proven this verse more true to me than He did this summer.
A couple of years ago our previous Children's Director applied for and got a job at the Central District Office of the United Methodist Church as the Central District Administrative Assistant. Even though at that time I was not looking for a job, I remember thinking, "Man, if I had known about the job opening I would have applied. That sounds like an awesome job that I would enjoy." At the time I was volunteering in all aspects of the Youth Department, helping with some of the finances in the Church Office, and was SPRC chair.
Over the past year, this chapter in my family's life had begun to change. All of my children are now teenagers (Lord please help me and keep me in your prayers) and are getting jobs and taking on more responsibility. They can, for the most part, take care of themselves. I started thinking, I don't need to be home for them all the time anymore. So I decided that I wanted to go back to work. Then when I heard this Spring that the very position in the Central District Office that I had thought would be perfect for me was becoming available again, I jumped at the chance to apply. I sent in my cover letter and resume and waited. And waited. And waited. I finally decided to find out if they had started interviewing for the position. Much to my dismay, the position had been filled. I was very disappointed that I didn't even get an interview. I decided to take advantage of the rest of the summer with my girls swimming, going to the library, and resting, and then when my kids started back to school, I would look for a part-time job somewhere in town. My kids and I were enjoying our summer, and one day, while we were home watching a movie, I got a text that read, "Are you still interested in the Administrative Assistant job?" My heart skipped a beat and I texted back, "Yes, definitely!" Then came, "Can you come in tomorrow for an interview at 10:00?" "Yes, I can!" The next day I interviewed and, I would later come to find out, that I had all the right answers to their questions. I got the call while still driving home that they wanted me for the job and could I start the next day! Of course, I could start the next day!
So what does the Administrative Assistant for the Central District do? Well, I do all of the things that you would think an Administrative Assistant would do like answering the phone, composing emails, scheduling appointments, filing, scanning, etc. In addition, I also have the privilege of speaking with and welcoming into our Office our Pastors from central Arkansas. I get to see someone go through the process of answering their call to become a United Methodist pastor. I get to help with pastor assessments, all aspects of the District Charge Conference, and beyond. I have the opportunity to network with not only pastors, but also, church office staff, children and youth ministers, administrators from the other four Arkansas Districts, lay leaders, and many more people from the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist connection is my favorite part of living and working as a United Methodist. What an amazing opportunity it is to serve God in this way!
The road I took to where I am now was a long one, with a lot of speed bumps in that road. I still don't understand why God let me be disappointed in not being called in for an interview the first time, but He knew that being the Administrative Assistant was what I was supposed to do. And, God has His own timeline for things to happen. I will leave you with this: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether living in plenty or want. I can do all this through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:12-13
The worlds' problems are endless - terrorism, poverty, pandemics, domestic violence, racism and hunger. And no one seems to be able to fix them. Not governments, foundations, education, businesses or religion. Yet God is audacious enough to say to you, "You can make a difference." And, believe it or not, you can.
You can speak a word of love in the face of hate, sanity in the midst of insanity and hope in times of absolute despair. You can mentor a child, spend time with a home-bound senior or help fight childhood hunger. You can pray with someone and share how God has made a difference in your life. This is not just some nice-sounding faith cliche about how things might be one day. It's something you can actually do today. And it's something you need to do today. Because if you don't, who will?
Bishop Robert Mueller
September 4, 2019
"Christian Joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as He causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world."
John Piper, author of Desiring God
My father was an exceptional man - loving, honest, generous, and hard working. But, he was not a man of faith for most of my life. When his two-week old baby daughter died suddenly, he decided that he wanted no part of God.
In 1984, he was diagnosed with cancer, and his prognosis was not good. Well meaning co-workers began stopping by his office to pray for him. He was embarrassed and felt obligated to accept their invitation to church. Against his better judgement, he attended a Pentecostal worship service where an entire congregation laid hands on him. The result was an encounter with God that was life altering. He recommitted to Christ and came home filled with the Holy Spirit. He began studying Scripture, attending church, and praying. Over the next two years, he faced a terminal illness with grace and dignity. Towards the end, he had an inner peace and a glow that can only be described as ethereal. We were shocked to see how many people came forward at his memorial service with stories of my father witnessing to them and how they were inspired by his faith.
As Christians, we have a reason to find joy in all things, regardless of our circumstance. We have a God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to walk in human form and teach us how to live. He suffered for our redemption and promises us eternal life. All He asks for is our faith, our devotion, our prayers, our praise, and our obedience. He wants to be in relationship with each of us and our response should be to take joy in the life that we've been given. It is not about enduring the present because the future is brighter. Instead, we are to celebrate each day and look for God's presence in the world around us.
It is easy to be a spiritual giant when all is working according to our plans. It is more challenging to be joyful when life goes in an unexpected direction. We live in a broken world that can be overwhelming. If we are not careful, we can fall into a state of anxiety and despair. But this is not what God wants for us and it is not how we should respond to His indescribable Love. Joy is a conscious choice that we get to make each day.
In 2013, I reached a crossroad in my life. I was spinning out of control and could not fix myself. In desperation, I fell to my knees and cried out to God for help. This prayer came from the depths of my soul in a moment where I fully understood that I was nothing without God. He responded, and I experienced a miracle. When I am tempted to get caught up in the chaos around me, I remind myself that everything I am today is the result of an answered prayer. At such moments, I shift my focus to gratitude and praise. I trust that a God who has shown me so much grace in the past is not going to abandon me now. Do I do this perfectly all the time? Absolutely not!
We are all works in progress and all fall short. We have hope because God assures us that all things are possible with His help. Sometimes, the best we can do is to pray for stronger faith and the willingness to find joy in our present situation. Our ability to be joyful in the face of adversity is a powerful witness to others. I think that God wants us all to be more like my father - a broken person who found strength and hope in Christ. And who, despite his own challenges, was willing to share his joy with anyone who would listen.
Cindy Kyser Buck
What a time of year it is! Children getting ready for school. Parents buying clothes, shoes, and school supplies! Department stores packed with people trying to get everything done and buying all kinds of items.
We all too often get caught up in the anxiety of it all. Anxiety is like an itch. Simply deciding we are not going to think about it, does not make it go away. It is a byproduct of human freedom.
Anxiety is almost a universal art form. It is cultivated by people of all generations and cultures. It does not matter how old you are; it does not matter what gender you are; it does not matter where you live; and what country you are from. Anxiety is universal. It is not limited to just one group of people.
If you are in a group of people that don't have much to live on, you are anxious about those things that might help you live. If you are hungry, you are worried about food and maybe shelter.
In my younger years I had anxiety. It seemed that I needed to move up the corporate ladder in order to take care of my family. The more I moved up, the more anxiety I had. It wasn't until I was in my 40's that I realize that God always provided what I needed at that moment (Yes, I was a slow learner). I lost my anxiousness about that time and just accepted the way that life was going, because this thing called church really was starting to move in my life BIG TIME.
My friends, there are opportunities for a better life and there is no solution to anxiety except - Jesus. Jesus knew the answer. Jesus knew that there was a cure for anxiety and it is Faith. Faith gets tested all the time, and no one is immune from it. Not even you, me or Jesus. Jesus was tested continually, but He was not anxious.
What I have found is that Faith in Jesus Christ awakens the spiritual awareness in our lives. Faith, allows us to see our lives in a new perspective. Faith allows us the ability to see that some of the things we are concerned about are not really all that important.
The relationship you have with your family; with your loved ones; with you friends; with your God and with Jesus Christ is what life is all about. Isn't that why we, you and I, attend church every Sunday? It is to get filled with the Spirit and to be filled with God's Word. As Christians, the Holy Spirit works in strange ways in us. The Holy Spirit is going to call attention to what you NEED to hear and think about. Faith is the gift that God has given us and there is no need to be anxious, because the followers of Jesus Christ should be the freest persons in the world.
God sent his son to die for us so that our sins are forgiven, and we might live forever in eternity. What a gift! God calls us to take up the Cross and follow Him. His promise is eternal life. We need only to follow, and He will lead the way. We must remain steadfast in our Faith. To be joyful in our ministry. To be at peace in all that we do. There is no anxiety to hold on to. To be helpful, hopeful for the future and to be loving in all of those around us. There is no need for anxiety to have a place within us.