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Love the Lord, all his faithful people! The Lord preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full. Psalm 31:23 (NIV)

Mom grew up in rural Minnesota long before cell phones and microwaves and cyberspace were even words in the dictionary. She’d often tell stories of riding to church in the sleigh or buggy with nothing but hot stones to warm their feet. When electricity came to their farm it was an amazing, exciting event!

In mom’s world, frugality was a lifestyle, not an option. The things she learned on the farm prepared her for her life as a pastor’s wife. With five boys to feed and a husband serving small, rural churches like she grew up in, excess was rare and simple things were cherished.

One of the many things mom did to make ends meet was to always have a big garden. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the fresh vegetables and detested the thought of having to help plant, weed or harvest. I don’t ever remember, however, being upset about having the fruit and vegetables mom canned on those cold winter evenings or for Sunday dinner!

I never once complained about having mom’s strawberry preserves on a piece of her warm, homemade bread.

Today, for the most part, people who preserve fruits and vegetables and make jam and preserve other fruit do so for nostalgia or to help make ends meet. For mom (and us) it was a necessity. Rows of colorful jars on the basement shelf in the fall provided assurance of food for the winter regardless of anything else that might happen.

I think of that when I read Psalm 31:23. The Lord ‘preserves’ those who are true to him. We, as his children are protected from the ravages of life. Regardless of what goes on around us, we stay safe in secure in him, like a jar of strawberry jam, unaffected by all that goes on around us.

Today the things I see around me make life difficult. Today I’m confused, frustrated, worried and maybe even angry at times by where I see the world going. But I’m preserved! I know that someday all this will pass and I’ll receive in full measure all that the Father has for me. The Father’s preservation of me means I’m changed so that life’s struggles will not affect me, yet I maintain the basic identity of who I am.

Those who reject his love, the psalmist says, will receive, in full measure, the consequences of their rejection. They will seek fulfillment in things unpleasing to God and suffer the despair of loneliness. They’ll openly reject the principles of his word and continue on a path of hopelessness. Will God punish them severely? I think the psalmist implies that he won’t need to. He’ll simply let the consequences of their behavior run its full course in their lives. Rejecting God carries its own penalty.

For us, though, as his children there is forgiveness, restoration, and best of all, preservation.

PRAYER: Father God, I thank you for preserving me. The things I see around me scare me. The trials I’m enduring now weigh me down. But I rest in your promise and wait for your blessing to unfold because I know that through Jesus Christ I am preserved. Amen.

The Lord corrects the people he loves and disciplines those he calls his own.” Hebrews 12:6 (CEV)

Say the word ‘discipline’ and the picture most of us have conjured up in our minds is a child sitting in the corner or being spanked or some other painful situation. ‘Discipline’ and ‘punishment’ are often considered to be the same thing even though they are really quite different.

Punishment is backward looking. If I get a speeding ticket, it’s not offered to me because I may speed tomorrow, it’s given to me because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my speed in the past several miles. Punishment is intended to cause pain either physically, financially or emotionally.

Discipline, on the other hand, is forward looking. A championship runner is considered disciplined because he/she forces themselves to run every day and push themselves to better themselves every time they step out of the house.

Discipline and punishment have on thing in common. Both are painful. Both are intended to make you ‘better’ but the attitude behind each is tremendously different. Punishment comes without relationship. Discipline almost always comes as a result of relationship. I discipline my children by teaching them standards, principles and skills that will prepare them for life in the future. Why? Because I love them and I want more than anything for them to succeed.

Will the discipline be hard? Sometimes. Will there be pain? Yes, especially if they make choices that are contrary to the principles we’ve established. But that pain will come as a result of the consequences of their behavior, not as a result of my anger.

Discipline, while painful, is necessary if we are going to succeed on the path our journey takes us on. Frank A. Clark states, “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

God, as our loving Heavenly Father, wants nothing more than for us to feel fulfilled in life. Many people see his rules as restrictive, out of touch or even painful. Some focus on the ‘punishment of God’ and refer to it as God’s punishment when, in reality it’s simply the consequences of behavior God warns us against.

If you passionately love someone you will do everything in your power to prepare them for life ahead. You’ll tell them the things to avoid. You’ll warn them of the consequences of certain behaviors. You’ll tell them of the dangers associated with certain places. Why? Because you love them. As one writer states, “discipline is administered by a loving forward looking parent with an eye on helping the child become all that they can become.” Your Heavenly Father feels this way about you.

Don’t mistake the consequences of your choices as God’s punishment. Listen to his direction and realize they are only for your good. Remember that even while enduring the consequences he offers hope, forgiveness and strength to carry on.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for loving me enough to discipline me even though at times it’s painful. Give me wisdom and courage to follow your way. Amen

Those who rush to other gods bring many troubles on themselves. I will not take part in their sacrifices; I will not worship their gods. Psalm 16:4 (GNT)

Several years ago I attended the same church as a State Trooper for the state I lived in at that time. This guy was huge, make no mistake about it. I’m guessing he was about 6’ 8” tall and close to 350 pounds. From the looks of him there wasn’t an inch of fat on him. He was all muscle. His facial features were deceiving. Tom (I’ll call him) was the kindest, most compassionate person I’d ever met. He had a heart for Jesus and a heart for people. That love of people was the driving force behind his career choice.

Tom worked in the children’s ministry with his wife. I never saw him get upset. Never saw any anger in his eyes. Never saw any personality traits that would match his stern expression…except once.

Tom and I were standing in a group having coffee after services. One person in the group made an innocent, off hand remark about how there was a speed trap out on the interstate on his way to church.

Tom looked him square in the eye and said, “That wasn’t a speed trap. Traps are for not intended for innocent people, only guilty ones. The innocent have nothing to worry about.”

There was a very noticeable pause in the group and discussion suddenly changed to the Huskers game the day before!

Tom’s point was well-taken. The innocent don’t need to worry about ‘being caught’. If you never lie, cheat or steal you will never be accused of being dishonest. If you never drink, you will never get drunk. If you never open yourself to the opportunity of an affair you will never be caught in infidelity. If you never look at pornographic images you will never have your mind contaminated by their poison.

The world is full of many gods (note the small ‘g’) that promise wealth, success and happiness. God’s that offer us status and power. Only one God promises us inner peace in the present and eternal life after death. That God (note the capital ‘G”) is the God of Genesis; the God of Creation; the Father of Jesus Christ.

When struggles attack ask yourself, is this a natural consequence of following a god of hopelessness or a test of your faithfulness. Only one God promises that we will never have to be ‘caught in the trap’ intended for the guilty.

PRAYER: Lord thank you for your promise of inner peace and eternal life. Forgive me for following the gods of this world. Empower me with your Spirit to follow after you. Amen.

Why, LORD, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Psalm 10:1

It’s during the wilderness time of our lives that we expect God to be present. After all, doesn’t scripture say ‘He is an ever present help in times of trouble?” (Psalm 46:1-2) Aren’t we told we can hide in him? (Psalm 91:1-2)

Too often it seems like he is the one hiding. If we are honest, the times of trouble we go through aren’t nearly as hard to take as the feeling that in those times of trouble we struggle to see God’s face. “I could endure this trouble if I could see you!” we tell ourselves.

Those struggles of our heart, the painful wandering in the wilderness of our souls are the true test of our trust in God and our belief in the hope we have through Christ. If God were to carry us through every trial and make our journey effortless; if he were to keep us from all pain and suffering and show us the easy way to traverse the rocky path of life; if he were to protect us from all pain, then from where would we learn to be strong. Troubling times are the skeleton, the muscles of life that give us strength to carry on.

Somewhere along the line we’ve gotten the mistaken idea that if God is a God of love, then pain will be absent from our lives, but this is never found in scripture. On earth, during this life we should not be surprised when trouble comes, we should be expecting it.

Sometimes we have to admit that the trials we endure are the consequences of past sin. We are forgiven to be sure, but the consequences of that sin can last a lifetime. Sometimes those consequences are natural results of our choices. Sometimes those consequences are the result of critical and judgmental people who refuse to allow us to forget our past. Either way, the consequences of our past can keep us from seeing the Father.

Times of trouble can be lessons of grace as well. Paul prayed three times for some unknown thorn to be removed from his life. The answer? My grace is sufficient. Were we to be trouble free, we might naturally assume that we are in control of our destiny, that we are able to make our way on our own strength. Grace reminds us that we need God. Times of trouble remind us that we need grace.

Times of trouble come at the hands of evil men as well. People who call themselves messengers of God can be the worst. They put the label of their religion on everything they do, but there is no grace. There is no understanding. There is no compassion. We are misjudged, misunderstood and mistreated. Sometimes for our past (which was forgiven) sometimes for our stand for God.

There may be other reasons you can think of for why this ‘time of trouble’ has come into your life. It may be to teach you some lesson on life, or to strengthen you for the future. Whatever the case, when you can’t see the Father you can know two things. One, he is not far away. Two, he has good reason to allow you this ‘time of trouble’. Use it to grow more closely to him or it will be used by the enemy to pull you away.

PRAYER: Father, I don’t understand you. I confess that openly. It’s especially hard to understand you during those times when I feel like I need you the most and can’t find

I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws. Psalm 119:30

Remember the story of the Little Red Hen? She scurries around the farmyard trying to get the ingredients for making some her great homemade bread. She asks for help from all the farm animals and none of them are willing to help so she does it all herself. When the aroma of the bread wafts through the farmyard all the animals gather together for a taste only to find that she wasn’t willing to share since they weren’t willing to help.

One moral of that story might be that you have the choice to do whatever you want, but you may not like the consequences of your choices. Little Red Hen never appears to be angry with those who refused to help. She didn’t chastise them in the least. The request was made, the refusal received, and life went on.

Perhaps one of the most precious gifts God has given us, next to salvation itself, is the freedom to choose. He didn’t create robots, he created humans. He didn’t put within us a computer chip programmed to respond correctly in every situation. He gave us a mind that, like his could reason, explore and think. He gave us emotion so we could enjoy the sunsets, smell the fresh spring rain and look in awe at the mountains majesty.

But choice has a downside. Choosing to follow the path of faithfulness isn’t the easy button in life. In fact, choosing the path of faithfulness often leads us along a trail that is most difficult. Choosing to follow God is easy when things are going well, but true character, true faith, is shown when things don’t go the way we want them too.

It’s easy to believe in a God of love and grace and mercy and all things comfortable. It’s hard to believe in a God that allows us to suffer the consequences of our own poor choices. It’s easy to choose a God who rescues us from adversity. It’s hard to believe in a God that allows us to go through the frustration of being falsely accused; of being attacked for openly sharing our faith; chided for following a list of rules that seems antiquated and irrelevant in comparison of with the way the world is going.

The apostle Paul writes, “Don’t grow weary in doing good.” He knew what he was talking about. His life in Christ was full of pain, adversity, being falsely accused and physically attacked. Yet he finished the course, he fought the good fight.

God doesn’t always ask the big things of us. Sometimes he asks for a series of little steps, little choices. The decisions we make along the way will be hard but the reward is worth it. True faith says we will follow more closely to him when human wisdom screams at us to go the other way.

PRAYER: Father God, it’s easy to follow you on the good days when I’m not tempted, not mistreated, not feeling under attack. But I haven’t seen very many of those days. Empower me to see you on the hard days; those days when nothing seems to go right. On those days help me to choose you regardless of the cost. Amen.

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