Rebuilding With Nehemiah, Chapter 9, Day 6

Saturday: Never Abandoned

Text: 31 But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. (Neh. 9:31)

Neh 9 hebrews 13-5

Teach: Occasionally, I will ask a gathering of believers to share a Bible promise. Inevitably, someone will mention Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” This is what God told Jacob. It’s also what Jesus told his followers: “be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end” (Matthew 28:20).

Neh 9 hound of heaven

Take: Psalm 139 is one of my favorites. I remember when I discovered it. I was in high school and our teacher had us read the poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” The author, Francis Thompson, is described as a tortured soul, one who battled addictions. But he, like David, and the rest of us, realized that God is a relentless pursuer. But he is also gracious and merciful. No matter what we’ve done, how arrogant or disobedient we are, he will never abandon us.

Task: Make time to read Psalm 139, or the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and thank God for his gracious mercy. He will never leave you. Ever.

Where Do You find God?

26 From one man[f] He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring. (Acts 17:26-28)

This sermon of Paul’s is one of my favorite passages. As I was preparing this series and meditating on it once again, I was reminded of David’s words in Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

I used to struggle with the whole ‘hemmed in’ part of this text. When I was little my parents put a fence around our swingset and that was where we were allowed to play. We had a large yard where we could have played, and we could see other children running freely from yard to yard. I spent hours on my swing longing for that kind of freedom.

Fenced in yard

As I grew I had a nagging sense of dissatisfaction and feeling that there must be more–like the best things were being withheld from me. What I didn’t see as a child, or even later as an adult, was that this “hemming in” was for my protection. My parents wanted to keep me away from the busy streets that ran along side and in front of our house. They did it out of love, not some maniacal desire to make my life miserable.

God works the same way.

And when I learn to live contently within those safe boundaries, I’m also able to see God more clearly. When I reach out, I can find him because he’s near and wants to be found.

Have you felt like God is keeping you from something? Do you look at the world with envy, like I did the other kids outside my fenced in yard? If so, here’s your challenge for today. Instead of complaining, thank him for the protection he’s provided. You may never know what disasters or disastrous choices he may have saved you from.

He is here. He is near. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

PRAYER: O God, our Protector. Thank you for the way you ‘hem us in.’ You hold us and withhold the things that would cause us harm. Your Word tells us you do not withhold any good thing. Forgive us our pouty ways and grow greater trust in our hearts. Amen

WPheld in God's hand

Puzzle Pieces

Sometimes it feels like God dumps a thousand-piece puzzle in the floor of your heart. ~Susan Stillwell

I read this quote this morning and it resonated deep in my heart.

I have ADD. Literally and spiritually.

Here’s what I know about ADD and me. If I am presented with a very large task, I have to break it into small, manageable pieces or it won’t get done. For example, when I know I have to “clean the house,” instead of feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the task, I consider each room individually, or even parts of each room (making the bed, cleaning the closet, dusting, vacuuming, etc.). I do the same thing when it comes to writing anything over a thousand words.

I’ve always done the same thing with puzzles. I’ve never been a big fan of jig-saw puzzles, even though I used them often as a counselor. In that setting they were a tool. I could learn a lot about a child by the way they went about putting a puzzle together. They were also useful with adults for group activities.

But to sit an work a puzzle was not enjoyable for me.

So when I read Susan’s quote…I felt a heaviness in my heart. My life looks a lot like a 5000 piece puzzle, spread out before me. And I don’t want to put it together…but I don’t want to leave it undone, either.

As I got quiet before the image of the pile, I remembered a verse in Psalm 139: You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me (verse 5).

The best way for me to begin to tackle a large puzzle is to find the edge pieces and assemble the frame. God wants to be my spiritual frame.

The next thing is to find blocks of portions that go together: a house, a tree, flowers, or a quilt. In my spiritual life this looks like finding the identifiable parts like fellowship, worship, study, prayer and making sure those parts are put together and active in my life.

Finally, I have to trust that the rest of the pieces will fit together. It works the same with God in my life. It often takes time and even trial and error to put all the pieces together–but nothing happens until I try.

Then, what seemed overwhelming at first, becomes something beautiful and amazing.

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I wrote all that but somehow I just couldn’t push the publish button.

I was so in my head…so Madame Counselor…so preachy…I nearly made myself sick. (Maybe that’s why I was throwing up in my dreams last night…and my house was overrun by cats…or maybe I should have taken my omeprazole.)

It was truth for me. It is how I do puzzles. When I do puzzles. But I don’t like to do puzzles.

And I don’t like when God dumps a puzzle in front of me. Especially not a 1000 piecer.

And the ones I really don’t like are the ones that are all one color, or designed on both the front and back so you can’t hardly tell where anything goes. And I can’t ever imagine tackling a 3-D one.

I want the 25 piecer, or better yet the wooden frame or cardboard kind that have the pieces outlined. You know, the no-brainer type.

That way I can’t mess it up…and I might get it done. God knows to do that, doesn’t he? He knows I get bored and tend to give up easy. He wouldn’t call me to something bigger than myself…would he?

To be continued…

Advent 18: Aromas of Christmas


When you think of the aromas of Christmas, what comes to mind?

Pine. Peppermint. Fresh baked bread. Snickerdoodles. Honey baked ham. Mulled cider. A warm and cozy fire.

All pleasant. Cozy. Enveloping.

What about poop? What about cow, donkey, and the ever odoriferous pig?

Once upon a lifetime ago, I worked at a Shell Gas Station, ringing up customers in the convenience store. We were a farm community. The local large animal vet would work with students from a nearby college. Everyday they would come through the store for snacks and sodas–and their odor always proceeded them.

And lingered long after they left…way too long.

As I listened to a customer complaining about the pungent smell one day I found myself thinking about the stable where Jesus was born. I don’t imagine it smelled of pine and cinnamon. No it smelled like a barn, with animals…and manure.

About the closest most folks get to that is once a year when they traipse off to the county or state fair.

Why would God choose to be born in that manner, in that kind of place?

He’s not afraid of or put off by any mess in our lives.

Psalm 139 paints the clear picture that there is no height or depth that God will not go in pursuing us. He loves us that much.

He is not repulsed by the stink of our lives, the rottenness of our sins. His love is relentless as it it lavish.

There’s a funny thing about poop. We try and mask the smell with pretty smells. But all we end up with is cinnamon poop.

Perhaps God sent his son into the world, to a stable, to lay in a manger so that we would realize his amazing love for us and so that we would find him and quit trying to cover our messes.

For God so loved…