Be Still and Know…by Gus Keiser

October 13, 2014

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, you joy will overflow.

                                                                                                                                   John 15:11

 

Adela Rogers St. Johns was one of the most noted journalists and writers of the early twentieth century. She wrote screenplays for numerous silent films and reported for the San Francisco Examiner, as well as writing short stories for Cosmopolitan and the Saturday Evening Post.  She had a storied career even up until her death in 1988.  She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970.  From one of her many writings comes the following:

 

Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness… happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.

 

One of the things you will find as you read more and more of Scripture is a wealth of God’s promises. All of his promises are vital to our lives, but one that affects our daily life in a more impactful way than others is the one about staying connected to him as branches that are connected to a vine.  In order for us to thrive with joy in this life, we need to remain connected to the source of that joy, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Earlier in this chapter from John’s gospel, Jesus speaks of peace… his Father’s peace. Like that peace, God’s joy is the only real variety.  There is no making it up, no mimicking it, and no measuring it to make sure it won’t run out.  When we have the joy of God for real in our hearts, we have it without limit.  But the only way to experience that joy is by sticking close to God, or as Jesus says, “… by remaining in his love.”

 

In the same way that he spoke these words from verse 11, Jesus emphasized his love again, so it makes perfect sense then that we should connect his joy with his love for us. These two miracles go hand in hand, and they are true miracles because the true versions originate with and emanate from God.

 

We are wise to keep that connection with both God’s love and his joy. But we also need to be aware that this life is filled with threats to both love and joy.  If you continue to read on in this chapter you’ll come across advice from Jesus about the hardships that his followers will have to endure.  So it is smart to remain connected to his words about love and joy along with his prophetic ones about the difficulties of the Christian life.

 

How do the two work together? That joy we experience as a by-product of his love serves as both protection and strength during times of heartbreak and duress.  Joy doesn’t differentiate between good times and bad times because it is never at the mercy of circumstances as happiness often is.  So thrive in joy today by maintaining your connection with Jesus and his continual sustaining promise.

 

Lord, please help me to remain connected to you today through all its ups and downs. Amen.

Be Still and Know…by Gus Keiser

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!

~ Psalm 81: 13-14

Do you remember your parents teaching you how to hear…of course not?  Hearing was something that came along with being born.  Your ears were able to perceive sounds from the time you entered this world.  Of course, later in life those same parents may have taught you how to listen and pay attention.

Our ears are always open and always turned on.  We hear automatically.  Of course, it takes time to understand the things that we are hearing.  But through repetition and instruction, we can discern the differences between words, music, and noise.  Shortly after having been born, your mother’s voice probably became one of the first things you were able to recognize.  And, for parents, there is no greater joy than to realize our child’s response at the sound of our voice.

As we become older, however, we develop the ability to hear without listening.  And while this ability is very evident in children, many adults are just as guilty.  Every day at work we hear ideas with which we disagree and receive job assignment that we really don’t want to do.  We hear the words telling us these things, but we really don’t take them to heart… in short, we just don’t listen to them.

For some people, this same “hearing but not listening” issue invades their spiritual lives as well.  Our spiritual ears can hear God’s Word, but we fail to tuck it away in our hearts where it needs to lodge and take root.  In Luke 8, Jesus tells the parable of the sower.  With that parable, Jesus tries to get the people (and us) to understand that many different forces are conspiring to rob us of our ability to hear and listen… the devil, the cares of this world, the hardness of our heats, and a myriad of other things.

But there is more to it than simply listening and considering God’s words.  He also is calling us to act upon those words.  God wants us to follow him and his ways.  He wants us to do what his Word says.  Otherwise, we are going to end up like the man in the first chapter of James who, after having seen his reflection in the mirror, left and immediately forgot what he looked like.

But if we are truly listening and following God’s Word, then God is going to act on our behalf.  He is going to intervene in situations and circumstances that are blocking his will and purpose for our lives.  God is going to right relationships and subvert the plans of people who would battle against us.  He is going to be our Defender and protect our lives and our reputations.  In short, God is going to be our God, and we will be his people.  It’s his promise to us… and we have his Word on it.

 

Lord, open our ears that we might not only hear but listen to and obey your Word.  Amen.

Be Still and Know…by Gus Keiser

They ate as much as they wanted.  Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. ~ Mark 8.8

I enjoy watching the programming on the Do It Yourself network.  One of my favorite programs is Run My Renovation, on which homeowners agree to allow host John DiSilva and his crew to come into their home and completely renovate a room with the decisions for the finishes, furnishings, paint colors and everything being left up to voting by online viewers.  The homeowners have no say in the matter and the entire renovation is free, or as DiSilva says while driving in his truck in the opening of the show… “zip, zero, nada.”

 Nothing, Nada, Zip, Zero, Zilch.  Unless we’re getting some deal such as I just described above, the concept of nothing scares us.  We don’t like it.  We don’t feel comfortable with it.  To us, nothing means being gypped, left out, overlooked, forsaken, emptied.

 Jesus made reference to emptiness on occasion, but his ideas of emptiness were different from yours and mine, thank goodness.  Think about the miracles in the Bible.  Jesus often showed up when things looked bleakest for people, when they had run out of options.  These miracles were miracles precisely because people had run out of formulas and methods for fixing things themselves.  On each occasion, Jesus was able to turn their nothing into everything they never knew they had always needed.  Their negatives were his opportunities to shine in their lives and to introduce them to his abundance.

 We don’t like that feeling of emptiness, but within it are some blessings in disguise.  Someone whose life is going fairly well, minus a few average-sized troubles, usually can draw on their own coping mechanisms and become accustomed to living with less than God’s abundance.  These are the kinds of people who become programmed to accept half-way living as all they should expect.  After all, life is messy and tough…right?

 Well, yea.  Jesus’ abundance doesn’t negate the many difficulties we’re forced to deal with in this life.  Those thousands he fed with that small amount of loaves and fishes had already gotten hungry.  He didn’t stop that reality.  Instead, he revealed his glory to them by filling up their emptiness, both physically and by filling up their spiritual emptiness as well.

 When you and I truly are running on nothing, by ourselves, we can’t escape that need.  We can’t merely pass it off as that is all there is to life.  We need to recognize that we need help and we need it now if we’re going to make it.

 Reserve some room in your emptiness for a bit of excitement to sneak in, because it’s about time for you to experience a bit of Jesus’ abundance.  He is going to fill you with so much of himself that what you thought you needed wasn’t what he knows you need.  But he is going to provide abundantly for you if you turn your emptiness over to him.

Father God, thanks for your help at the hunger times.  Help us to hang on as you fill our emptiness.  Fill us as you see fit.  Amen.

Be Still and Know…by Gus Keiser

Let me know your ways, so that I may understand you more fully. ~ Exodus 33:13

God loves to hear from us.  He loves to hear the sound of our voice.  He loves to hear us calling out to him, inviting him into our lives.  God loves to hear our prayers, our praises, our problems, our joys and our requests.  But of all the requests we offer up to him, God loves to hear those that ask for more of him.  Everything he does, all his answers to our prayers are his way of showing us his character.  God loves a heartfelt request for more of him instead of for more “stuff” on our behalf.  Would you want to be appreciated as the one who doles out perks and provisions more than for being who you are?  You’d probably end up feeling used, wouldn’t you?  So why should it be any different when it comes to God in our lives?

 Throughout the course of the Exodus, God promised to grant Moses’ request for his presence with the people because Moses acknowledged the people’s primary need for God himself to be with them.  The rescue from Egypt and the manna God provided were wonderful gifts, without question, but the people first needed to know the wonder of who their God was and is… his characteristics as mighty Lord, yet intimate Savior.

 The gift of God’s presence is so precious because he doesn’t ever owe or have to give us the time of day, yet he wants nothing more than to spend time with us.  God continues to woo us with his love, his goodness, his faithfulness, his mercy, and his many other qualities that invite us to love him in return.  It is when he shows himself uniquely to us, that we are able to get a glimpse of eternity.

 God’s presence is the greatest gift we could ever hope for, the greatest one he can make available to us.  Just as he promised Moses, God’s going to tuck us into a safe place and keep u covered by his presence… “And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of a rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”  Today and every day, enjoy the presence of God, and enjoy being safe in his hands.

 Perhaps it was Cleland McCafee who phrased it most appropriately in his words that make up one my favorite hymns…

There is a place of comfort sweet, near to the heart of God.

A place where we our Savior meet, near to the heart of God,

There is a place of full release, near to the heart of God.

A place where all is joy and peace, near to the heart of God.

 

Lord, sometimes I think we begin to understand how precious your gift of you is.  But God, please awaken us to even more of you today.  Amen.

Be Still and Know…by Gus Keiser

“…and that this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.” ~ 1 Samuel 17:47

Christmas as it usually does, provided me with book money and gift cards to Barnes and Noble.  One of the books that I previewed back before Christmas and that I purchased the day after Christmas was Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath.  Rather than being just a sole treatise on the ancient Biblical story, Gladwell explores and relates this event to our modern day lives that are filled with “confronting the “giants” that we encounter on a daily basis.

 So it is here that we take a look at that topic…GIANTS… those larger-than-life fear instigators that attack as health problems, job insecurities, relationship disasters, and grown up bullies, just to name a few.  We all end up facing them, and they are mean and ugly.

 But, like David, let’s, with God’s help, cut them down to size.  After all, God is bigger than any “giant” we may face, and he’s on our side.

 It was with that truth firmly entrenched in his mind that the boy, David, was able to trust God to turn a small pebble into a guided attack missile that provided him with, albeit impossible and improbable, an impressive and miraculous victory.

 I’ve often wondered what thoughts may have been going through God’s mind as he watched the weak but innocent devastate the powerful and wicked.  Did he look at David and say, “That’s my boy”?   Did he grieve the carnage that Goliath and the Philistines had caused?  Did he rejoice with the angels over another victory against evil?  Or perhaps he did all those things, because he certainly cared about David as this young man faced the giant.

 What do you think God thinks of your “giants”?  Be assured that God sees and cares deeply about you as you stand both before and in the midst of them.  He wants them felled, and he has no fear of them.  He knows that he is going to work through you to destroy them, and he know precisely how and when.

 God’s also sure about the courage you should feel knowing that he is always on your side.  You don’t have to know how he will help you win the battles… but you can bet his solution will always be a creative one.  All you really need to know is that you have a Giant fighting for you, and all you need to do is let him be who he will be because he will always be bigger than any giant (problem) that you will ever face.

 When it comes to giants, it isn’t a case that you are small and that your opponent is big.  Really it is that they are small and God is big… your God…your Giant.  So why not give him the blessing of watching you trust in him?

 

Thank you, Lord, for being a gigantic force against problems that tower over us but that are miniscule to you.  Continue to be that conquering Giant in our lives.  Amen.

Be Still and Know…by Gus Keiser

 

And the Lord God commanded the man, “you may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die. ~ Genesis 2:16

Since we are here, poised at the beginning of New Year, I thought that we might take a look at another beginning, that being the start of our world.  But before we do that, I want us to consider an issue that seems to affect, at least at one time or another, all of us… that being the problem of always “following the rules.”

 From the time of our earliest childhood, we have been told that rules have been created for our good, but we constantly complain about rules that seem to limit our freedom and violate our rights.  Do you remember loathing that staid old parental phrase “because I said so”, vowing never to use it with your own children?  But you have, haven’t you?  We don’t like feeling controlled.  It’s in our nature to want what we want, and we typically want the first and final say about our freedoms.  But that’s a problem when it comes to God’s rules, and the reason may surprise us.  For, it seems, our definition of freedom is far too limiting when compared to God’s.

 That having been said, let’s go back to the Creation scene.  God created Adam and placed in a lush garden full of breathtaking scenery and mouth-watering delicacies, precious resources and flowing waterways.  Eden was a veritable heaven on earth, and it was all for Adam and his descendants, including us.  Surely, Adam and Eve couldn’t want for anything.

 God did, however, set one boundary.  They were not to eat the fruit from one special tree.  Far from being a killjoy, God set that guideline in place so Adam and Eve could enjoy more life.  Obey, and they’d thrive in free and open communication with their Maker.  Disobey, and they’d lose freedom.  Of course, they did what any of us would have done eventually and indeed have done in our own ways… they stepped outside of God’s safety net by choosing their will instead of his.  And they paid dearly for it.  Their sin had locked them out of the utopia God had given them… a sin we are still paying for today.

 Whether we like it or not, some things in life are simply “because God said so”.  That will never change, and what a wonderful thing that is!

 So, that, good Christian, leaves you with a decision.  You are free to choose to follow God or take and alternate route.  What will your choice cost you or someone else?  Will you free your grip on your will and trust God’s boundaries for you?

 It was the noted writer, Alan Keyes, who wrote: “Freedom is not an unlimited license, an unlimited choice, or an unlimited opportunity.  Freedom is first of all a responsibility before the God from whom we come.

God, thank you for the freedom you offer.  Please don’t let us be satisfied with anything less.  Amen.

Be Still and Know… by Gus Keiser

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Well, we’ve made it!

More than likely by the time you read this it will be, or at least close to, New Year’s Day and another year will have passed, another year of growing older and, hopefully, just a bit wiser.  Hopefully also it has been another year during which you’ve created some more history with your Lord and Savior.  I don’t know how your relationship began with him this year, perhaps somewhat distant, maybe not even close, or with a confidence that you and he were close until something unusual happened and you discovered that you really weren’t as close as you thought.

 Well, by Wednesday of this week, that year will be behind you, the end of something, and, God willing, the beginning of some new things.  One of God’s amazing qualities is his habit of always having something new in store… more newness beyond your greatest success, more than the sum of even your costliest weaknesses, more than your hugest hurts, and more than the deadliest penalties for your sins.  The God we serve is the God of more, yet, his is a love that is profoundly simple and pure in its newness.

 As you continue your relationship with him into this new year, commit to discover what more his new means in regard to your life.  And remember, you can always count on his thoughts to outshine even your own dreams.

 But keep in mind that this new may include some heartaches; because heartaches often serve as catalysts for new growth in Jesus’ grace, new understanding of his heart, and new and healthy habits.  And as this new year dawns, don’t waste time doubting that new also means fresh reasons for joy and unprecedented depths of peace as long as you remain close to him.

 Learn from the past, but then put away the past so that you don’t trip over it as you keep in step with Jesus throughout the coming year.  End this one well by committing to begin the next one even better.  By doing so, you just may find that it may be the year that God sends his Son into your life once again, bringing his message of hope and promise to you.  Carry the encouragement of that possibility into each moment, trusting that God’s newness will last into eternity.

HAVE A HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!!

Be Still and Know…by Gus Keiser

Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. ~ Luke 2: 10-11

Quite a few years ago someone recorded a song with the title “Happiness Is.”  The lyrics to that song listed a variety of things that make people happy.  People are continually searching for whatever will make them happy.  What has caused me to think about that feeling of happiness is a sign I saw recently at a restaurant here in the area.  The sign in that restaurant window read: We Sell Happiness.  I know the owners of that restaurant were using the message as a way of encouraging people to come in and eat there, but as I thought about that message, it occurred to me just how many people in our world, especially during this holiday gift buying time, are convinced that it is possible for happiness to be bought and sold.  Happiness (joy) is not some commodity to be bought, sold or traded; it is a feeling from within.

 Christmas is that special time of the year during which we celebrate the coming of the one who has brought us that joy: Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  This is the greatest birth announcement of all time, an announcement filled with joy.

 Just think of all the excitement that goes into preparing for Christmas.  But yet for a lot of people, underneath all that glitter and glamour, not all is happy and joyful.  Families and individuals are dealing with economic problems, illnesses and deaths.  We try to masque them with colorfully wrapped packages and bows and outward feelings of happiness.  But true happiness can’t be packaged, found in sentiments on a Christmas card, or at festive holiday gatherings.  Beneath them all still lay the hurts and sufferings.

 But there is a joy we can have, a joy within that completely satisfies.

 This is the message of joy that God sent to the shepherds that night.  “For unto YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!”  Real joy comes from knowing Jesus Christ.  God’s message is a very personal one.  The angel said, “I bring YOU’.  God’s message is a universal one… “Which shall be to ALL people.”

 God’s joy comes from within; the worlds from without.  God’s joy has deep roots in himself; the world’s only on the surface.  God’s joy is unending; the world’s soon fades away.  God’s joy fills us completely; the world’s is only on the outside.  God’s joy satisfies; the world’s cannot.

May God’s joy fill your hearts and your lives at this Christmas time.  May his peace and love sustain you and prosper you during this coming year.  Merry Christmas and Amen. 

Be Still and Know…by Gus Kesier

Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. ~ Psalm 119:133

There is that old malady that most us seem to contend with at one time another… one step forward and two steps back.  Have you ever felt that this is the way your life seems to be working at certain points?  Just when life seems to be progressing at a steady forward pace, suddenly something unexpectedly happens that shoves you backwards two steps or so.  It happens in our everyday lives and, on occasion, in our spiritual lives as well.  One would think that with God’s involvement in our lives, this wouldn’t happen, but it does… but why?  Why is it, even when we feel as if we are doing everything within our power to please God, our life seems to be moving in the wrong direction?  In the first chapter of the book named for him, James offers up these words…”But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desires, he is dragged away and enticed.”  In other words, we allow our own moral weak spots to get caught up in the mix.  The thing that keeps tripping us up and causing us to take those backwards steps is us.

 And very often those “trippers” are our own legitimate needs.  They could be things like our own hunger to be loved, our need to be someone significant, or our longing to feel secure.  And unless such need are ultimately met by God, they have the potential of being easily distorted into “abnormal” (evil) desires, such as the ones to which James eludes.

 It’s these evil desires that Satan loves to turn into illegitimate needs, emotional vulnerabilities and unholy obsessions, twisting the things we long for into lures that can lead us into issues of destruction.

 Much like the fisherman who baits a hook, ties on an attractive lure, and dangles it in front of some unsuspecting, waiting fish; Satan uses his own lures like counterfeit love, false security and tin-plated success to lure our hearts away from God.  As it is with any well-crafted fishing line, the deadly hook is carefully hidden and we are slow to feel the pain of its snare, being so tempted by the beauty and the harmlessness of its lure.  We are further tempted to think that we can get away with just sniffing and not touching, touching and not tasting, tasting without chewing, and chewing without swallowing.  But before we know it, we’ve swallowed the hook

 The prophet Isaiah writes:  They do not know, nor do they comprehend; for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand.  19No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment…”  Our eyes need to remain open, our hearts always attuned to the Word of God and his presence, and our feet ever moving forward with the feet of our Lord and Savior.

Walk with us, God, as you lead us forward along the path to your kingdom.  Amen.

Be Still and Know…by Gus Keiser

Once, we too, were foolish and disobedient… Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. ~ Titus 3:3

One of the people who shared ministry with Paul was a young man named Titus.  At one point in their shared ministry, Paul left Titus on the island of Crete to witness and teach the people there.  Titus was very blunt with his approach to the Cretans which is obvious by the above passage.  The people realized their sinfulness and sought to change their behavior.

 There is this old game that many of us probably played as we were growing up.  I remember it being used by several teachers during my elementary years.  It’s a matching game and it works something like this… A kite string is to a kite as a ladder rung is to a (fill in the blank) or Blue is to sky as yellow is to (pick one: a horse, a tree, a lemon).

 Now that you have the idea as to how this game is played, here’s another one you can try… Love is to hate as humility is to (pick one: timidity, courage, arrogance).  If you chose arrogance, that’s and A+ for you.

 We usually think of arrogance and humility as opposites.  But arrogance may not be the only quality that interferes with our capability for humility.  Both chapters two and three of Titus show that behaviors such as disobedience, evil, envy and hatred also get in the way of one having a humble heart.  This is part of what was plaguing these new Christians on Crete… their hearts lacked humility in the face of Jesus Christ.

 Basically, anything that focuses us on ourselves more than on God and others gets in the way of humility.  Humility is about having a right perspective of ourselves in God’s sight, which means we need to be secure in who we are in Jesus and freed from the need to prove or draw attention to ourselves.  Humility shows wisdom instead of foolishness, favors obedience over disobedience, promotes purity instead of evil, encourages happiness instead of envy, and calls for love instead of hatred.

 There are those who would characterize humility in a person as thinking poorly of themself or  speaking with self-deprecation… characterizations that couldn’t be farther from the real essence of humility.  Humility knows what… or rather Whom… it is about.  It takes pride in its relationship with Jesus Christ.  Humility is a by-product of a true, vibrant, growing faith in Jesus Christ.  Nurturing humility requires self-sacrifice, but the healthy relationships, godliness, and joy that it yields are beyond measure.

Lord, thank you for modeling true humility that puts others first.  Please humble us as needed to be like you.  Amen.