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Time to Rejoice
Devotions Celebrating God's Love
By Patsy Clairmont, Mary Graham, LISA HARPER, Mandisa, Marilyn Meberg, Luci Swindoll, Sheila Walsh, Lisa Whelchel
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Patsy Clairmont, Mary Graham, Lisa Harper, Mandisa, Marilyn Meberg, Luci Swindoll, Sheila Walsh, Lisa Whelchel
All rights reserved.
The Soft Center of God's Greatness
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One of my all-time favorite pastors is a man named Roy Carter. I'm partial to Roy partly because he doesn't fit the Saturday Night Live stereotype of a man of the cloth. While he is a brilliant theologian—well versed in both ancient languages and modern-day application—he isn't stiff, joyless, or "religious." He doesn't have soft hands; he doesn't use corny, sentimental language; and he doesn't have a comb-over. Roy is garrulous and gregarious, a former semi-pro baseball player who-used-to-scout-for-the-Yankees kind of spiritual leader.
Not too long ago, he got distracted in the pulpit by the unmistakable sound of a cell phone ringing. At first Roy kept preaching and tried to ignore it, but within a minute or two, everyone in the congregation had become distracted too. People began shifting in their seats, eyeing suspiciously those sitting near the front of the sanctuary—where the ringing seemed to be coming from. One of the older members muttered audibly, "Good night, would somebody just turn the darn thing off!" Pretty soon the tension had become palpable. But then Roy grinned sheepishly and pulled the shrill culprit out of his own pocket.
In addition to that kind of charming authenticity, Roy tells really interesting stories that help me see God more clearly. He told one recently about a demanding professor, whom we'll call Dr. Impossible-to-Please for the sake of his tenure. Roy said Dr. Imp was the most exacting teacher he ever had. His subject matter—mastering the Hebrew language—was extremely difficult, and his standards were all but impossible. He assigned students a mountain of obscure texts to read and required every paper to be written according to literal publishing standards, complete with extensive annotated bibliographies.
Then, if they read the mounds of hieroglyphics until their eyes bled and they drank copious amounts of coffee to fuel multiple all-nighters in order to write an intelligent and comprehensive response that perfectly adhered to publishing protocol but just so happened to be a fraction of an inch off on the margins of said paper, Dr. Imp knocked a full letter grade off before reading it. Suffice it to say, he refused to even accept papers that students tried to turn in late.
Which is why Roy and the rest of his classmates winced when a fellow seminarian humbly asked Dr. Imp for an extension on his final thesis, which was due the following day, explaining that his wife was hospitalized with complications stemming from her first pregnancy. Of course, as they all dreaded, Dr. Imp said, "I'm sorry, son, but you'll still have to turn in your paper tomorrow." He refused to budge on his no-tardy-assignments rule.
The next day, after most of the class had gathered in little indignant clumps in the hallway and skewered the professor with impassioned accusations, they found out the rest of the story. How Dr. Imp had approached the beleaguered young husband immediately after class and asked for his address. And how a few hours later he drove across town to the soon-to-be-parents' apartment and typed the paper himself. Dr. Seemingly-Impossible-to-Please set a very high bar for his students, yet he had the mercy to hold it in place with his own hands.
You can imagine where Roy went next. He explained that while the Old Testament demands the impossibly exorbitant ticket price of moral perfection in order for us to gain access to God, God chose to pay the price out of his own pocket ... out of his own heart. Before God stretched out the canvas of sky, hung the stars in place, and set our galaxy in motion, he also arranged to satisfy our entrance fee with his only begotten Son. God never relaxed his standard of holiness, but he's the one who fulfilled it on our behalf.
I can't remember the scripture Roy turned to after sharing that real-life illustration, but I can tell you the one it reminds me of. It reminds me of this true tale at the beginning of the divine love story we've been written into:
After this, the word of the lord came to Abram in a vision:
"Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield, your very great reward."
But Abram said, "O Sovereign lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir."
Then the word of the Lord came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1–6 NIV)
Now you probably remember this part of Abraham and Sarah's bio; they're both so old at this point that they're wearing Depends, but then God basically says, "Cheer up and go buy some Pampers because you two are going to have a baby!" And initially Abe believed God's audacious announcement. But then he mulled over Jehovah's projected miracle a little bit more—all the while noticing through the bottom half of his bifocals how dark the liver spots were on Sarah's hands—and his faith began to waver. "But Abram said, 'O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?'" (Genesis 15:8 NIV).
Yet instead of whacking Abraham on the knuckles as punishment for his trust tremors, God tips his hand and lovingly gives the old guy a peek at the Living Hope that's right around the corner:
So the Lord said to him, "Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon."
Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him....
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites." (Genesis 15:9–12, 17–21 NIV)
This dissection ceremony that seems so foreign and repugnant now was actually very familiar to Abraham (you'll notice he doesn't declare, "Say what?" when God gives him directions). He had probably participated in this messy custom many times before because this was one of the ways ancient cultures enacted a binding contract between two parties. By cutting the animals in half and then walking through the blood runoff in bare feet, the two sides were solemnly illustrating what should happen to them if they broke their agreement. Sort of the biblical version of the way when we were young that we'd poke our thumb with a safety pin and press it together with a friend's to become "blood buddies."
The truly unique part of this pact was that Abraham snored through the entire event. His feet never touched the crimson trail. A smoking firepot and a flaming torch—which are theophanies or physical manifestations of God—are the only things that passed between the parts. By walking through without Abraham, God tangibly demonstrated that he and he alone would keep the covenant between himself and mankind. He knew we'd break our vows, get distracted by shiny things, and struggle with submitting to his authority. God knew perfect worship and obeisance were way beyond our ability. So he didn't make Abraham trudge through. Our Creator knew even then that Jesus' blood was the price he'd eventually have to pay to reconcile us into a right relationship with himself.
Just imagine the sigh of relief Roy and his classmates would've breathed if, immediately after explaining the most stringent rules in the syllabus, Dr. Imp had said with a wink, "But don't worry y'all—if you mess up, I've got your back!"
God's mercy is at the very core of his greatness.
"Give thanks to the lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done" (Psalm 105:1 NLT).CHAPTER 2
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For most of my life, I've been nearsighted. I've read the tiniest print without blinking an eye and painted minuscule letters on art projects with no problem. As time went on, I became farsighted. I could spot moving vehicles w-aaa-y down the road and read street signs from a distance. However, now that I'm in my seventies and my eyes are negatively affected by aging, my best vision is hind-sighted. I feel a bit like the apostle Paul when he wrote to the early church, in Romans 15:17: "Looking back over what has been accomplished and what I have observed, I must say I am most pleased—in the context of Jesus, I'd even say proud, but only in that context" (MSG).
Of course, hindsight is the easiest sight of all. We've got the full picture of what went on because we're looking back on what's been accomplished and observed as Paul says. And as I look back on my life, over and over I can see the greatness of God on my behalf, as he has brought me through ups and downs, to the place I am today. Nothing has been a mistake and there are no regrets. Now.
In many ways, my life has been what I envisioned and planned when I was younger, yet different. I can recall times when I was aware God was working in this or that, but I didn't know I'd need to go through what I did in order to get where I am today. As E. M. Forster wrote, "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." I believe that statement in every sense of the word.
Thirty-seven years ago, when I moved from Texas to California, I was going to take the world by storm. Up to that point, I had spent all my life in Texas, and now I would be living in an entirely new and different environment. I had been working in a research laboratory (which I totally enjoyed) and now I would be involved in another branch of Mobil Oil—and had fully intended to enjoy it as well. Boy! Was I fooled! Within two weeks after getting settled in a new apartment and launching into a new job, I was miserable. Nothing was like it had been before. Where there was lots of stimulating discussion in the research lab, there was now a virtual "code of silence" in my new office. Where I had dashed half a mile down the road to go to work in Dallas, I now had to get on the Los Angeles freeway system before dawn to drive for an hour ... and make the return trip home. Where I had numerous friends with whom I spent time after work and on weekends, I now knew only a few people on the West Coast. But God knew all of this.
The battle between my dreams and reality went on for four years, and I can't tell you the number of times I was ready to throw in the towel. I cried, compared, and complained—all the while wondering what had possessed me to make this change in location. I was heartsick when I got up in the morning and when I went to bed at night. I simply couldn't believe my judgment had been so wrong.
One morning on my way to work, I told the Lord once again how dissatisfied I was. I asked him to change my life—any kind of change would do. "I want to do something significant," I said. "I want to make a difference; not sit behind a drafting table forever. And Lord, I'd so appreciate your telling me 'This is it,' when it comes along because I don't want to miss it. Honestly, I'm leaving this with you now, Lord, and I mean it this time."
I'm not kidding, that very night my brother Chuck invited me to have dinner at his home to meet someone from Multnomah Press, for whom Chuck was writing books. It was during that evening that this gentleman asked me to write my first book, and God very clearly said in my heart: "This is it, Luci. Just say yes!" It was as if God had been waiting for me to pray that prayer so he could get to work on this request. After a bit of conversation and being convinced that this was the Lord prompting me, I said yes. That yes opened a whole new world for me. A world I never ever expected, and a new (and very personal) way of looking at how great God is and how he is interested in our welfare and circumstances—the pain in our hearts, the disappointment in our lives, the fear of never getting out of the mess we've made, the longing for something better.
All sorts of doors began to open. When I finished writing that book, I had invitations to write others. And to speak. And to travel. The irony of this whole story is that shortly after my first book came out and while I was still working as a draftsman for Mobil, I was called into the chief executive's office one afternoon and told I was being considered for another job. It was entirely different from the drafting job I had been doing for the past four years. Needless to say, I was very surprised. I'd not been told that particular job was being offered, nor that I was being considered for it. However, there I was, being asked by the big boss if I was interested in becoming a rights of way and claims agent. Mercy! What IS a rights of way and claims agent, I wondered.
"Do you like to meet people?" That was his first question.
"Would you be willing to go back to school to take courses in appraisal, engineering, negotiation, and real estate law?"
And finally, "Will you work overtime when the need arises?"
My answer to all those questions was a resounding Yes! So, I was given the job, worked in it for seven years, and loved it. But here's the ironic part—there wasn't a single day I could have done that work had I not learned what I did in the job I hated. Who knew? God did. Remember ... God knew that, and he never let me out of his sight.
When my rights of way supervisor retired, I was asked to be the manager of that department—the first woman in an executive position on Mobil's West Coast team. God has his own way of doing things, and more often than not, that way doesn't fall into our preconceived category. In fact, I took early retirement from Mobil in order to do what I've now been doing for the past twenty-five years. And sixteen years ago I started speaking with Women of Faith ... the apex of my speaking ministry and one of the best gifts God has ever given me.
That said, my friends, I want to make this point really clear: you have no idea how God in his greatness and love is going to use what he is taking you through now to mature you and bring you out on the other side. Sometimes we haven't a clue "where this is gonna lead," but I can tell you from experience, if God is in it, there are reasons far greater than the dream you have for your own life.
Excerpted from Time to Rejoice by Patsy Clairmont, Mary Graham, LISA HARPER, Mandisa, Marilyn Meberg, Luci Swindoll, Sheila Walsh, Lisa Whelchel. Copyright © 2011 Patsy Clairmont, Mary Graham, Lisa Harper, Mandisa, Marilyn Meberg, Luci Swindoll, Sheila Walsh, Lisa Whelchel. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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