Honoring the Father

I am fascinated by the political process. Throughout this election season (and many past), I have loved watching the news and keeping up. This past weekend, I watched the US presidential inauguration and inaugural balls. Politics aside, it was mesmerizing watching the members of Trump’s family at the inaugural balls. Ivanka looked like a princess in her gown, and Melania looked so stately. 

As I thought about the campaign, the inauguration, and the balls that evening, I realized something very special about the Trump children. Judging by their actions, these grown children deeply respect their father. And in all that I have seen, they honor him and consider it a privilege to stand behind him. When he asks for their help, they seem to come willingly. Their defenses of their father always appear genuine, never forced. And, at a time when reporters are digging for stories, not one of Trump’s children has given even a hint of scandal. 

As I watched Ivanka circle the ballroom, I was struck by how well she carries herself—and how that ultimately reflects honor to her father. She stands behind him with pride, and it gives us a glimpse of what kind of father he might be. Even when she’s not with him or directly talking about him, her poise, grace, and manner all reflect well back on him.

And that got me thinking about us. Whether or not Donald Trump has earned his children’s unwavering support is not my point here. The point is that our Father in heaven is always deserving of our honor. He is an incredible Father. Every morning that we rise, we experience His faithfulness. He is a good Father. As I reflect on my life, I hope that all day, every day, I reflect honor and glory on our Father through my words and actions. I want my life to be a consistent reflection of the Father’s goodness to me. 

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. — 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

Are we honoring God and walking in a manner worthy of Him? Will your actions today reflect well on Him?

Lunch Next Week?

Lunch Next Week? - Deborah MurrellI am a planner.  I love to plan and then execute the plan.  It makes me so happy to sit down at the beginning of every week and plan the week, fit all the puzzle pieces in the plan.

Sometimes the week goes according to schedule.  Most of the time, I have to make many adjustments along the way due to unforeseen interruptions.

As I was reading this morning, I was struck by the fact that as Jesus was preparing to go the cross, he made a plan to see His disciples again.  He told them He would see them again in Galilee   even though He knew that they were about to encounter great difficulty and fall away.

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  Then Jesus said to them, “you will all fall away because of me this night.  For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.  But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Peter answered him, “Though they all  fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”  Jesus said to him, “ Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”  Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!”  And all the disciples said the same.  – Matthew 26:30-35
Jesus knew they would fall away.  He knew Peter would too.  They didn’t want to.  That wasn’t their intention, but He knew they would.  But He told them, “I will go before you to Galilee.”  He knew they would fall away, yet He told them He would see them again in Galilee. He still wanted to see them again. He told them to plan on it.
I think there is a lot of Peter in me.  I have great intentions.  I never want to deny Jesus or fail to grow in my relationship with Him or dishonor Him in any way.   It is my intention to show up every morning to read my Bible and pray.  But I don’t show up sometimes.  Or I do show up and I am easily distracted with so many things.  So I give up and close my Bible and move on with my day.  Unfaithfulness at its finest.  Yet Jesus is always faithful.  He keeps our date.  He loves me and forgives me even when I don’t show up.  And He welcomes me back when I do.  Who can really understand a love so great?
Oh the wonder of such undeserved grace and love and mercy.  May I never take it for granted.  I pray it always leaves me in awe and yearning for more.  And I pray that I will be faithful to the One who loves me most.

The Sun and the Moon and the Stars (South African Bush- Day 3)

The Sun and the Moon and the Stars - Deborah MurrellI love taking Josephine, our almost three-year-old granddaughter, out to the car at night.  Before I can put her in the car, she looks up and and says “See the moon.  See the stars.”  She does this every time.  I usually take the time to look up with her and marvel at God’s magnificent creation.  I hope she never fails to marvel and be amazed at the majesty of such a sight.

We were recently in the South African bush for a few days, and the skies lit up every night with such brilliance.  And since we were in the Southern hemisphere, we could see different constellations there that we don’t see here in the Northern hemisphere.  They can’t see our Big Dipper.  Or the Little Dipper- the ones I have seen my whole life.   We can only see the Southern Cross when we are there. Wow!!! Absolutely amazing.

Oh those skies at night…unforgettable.  The few days that I spent in the bush, I read and reread Genesis 1 and the story of creation.  I marveled all over again at  the creative genius of God.

Genesis 1:14-19 tells us that on the fourth day of creation, God made the sun and the moon and the stars–the sun to rule our days and the moon our nights–to separate the light from the darkness and “let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” God gave us the sun and the moon and the stars to light up our days and our nights and give rhythms to our lives with seasons and days and years.

Father, I pray that we will all stop to marvel when the stars come out at night.  Help us not to ignore or take for granted the incredible gift of these lights that shine brightly for all the world to see.  And  when  the sun rises each morning, may we stop and thank you for this great light that you’ve given to rule our days.  May our hearts be filled with praise and gratitude to the One who created all things.

Beauty in a Barren Land (South African Bush, Day 2)

I love thinking about creation–about how God created the heavens and the earth and all things. As we drive around this very barren land, over to the left there are two bull elephants. We sit for a while and watch the larger one scratch his back on the bark of the tree. We then watch him push over a tree and proceed to eat branches that look like they are dead. Such powerful, majestic creatures.

A few minutes later, there are two male lions resting in the shade. We stop for coffee and here come the white rhinos–a mother and her calf.  We saw a troupe of baboons and a herd of wildebeests and too many varieties of antelope to keep up with. And oh the birds, the colors too vivid and beautiful to even describe.  I think that is why God made the birds on a different day than He made the animals–He needed time to paint them one by one.

As we continued our drive, we saw a beautiful lilac breasted roller-the most photographed bird in the Kruger National Park. She was  perched on top of a very dead, lifeless tree. I may not have seen it as well if it were perched in a lush green one.So much beauty in spite of the barrenness of the land. Perhaps that is why God allows for barren times in our lives-to bring forth beauty that can really stand out, beauty that can only be from Him.  Maybe we are like those birds–lovelier still in the midst of dry times as we are allowing God to work in our lives and strip us of all that resists Him and teaching us to rely on Him in greater ways than we ever thought possible.

Father, thank You for Your creation, for times and seasons, and for the great work You are doing in our lives.

Let It Rain! (South African Bush, Day 1)

This week we have the privilege of taking a few days off in the bush of South Africa.  There is currently a drought and it is so dry and barren as you look across the wide open spaces.  Rain is expected in  a few days and if it rains enough, it will turn green within a few short days.

Makes me think about my soul. Sometimes we feel like we are in a long dry spell where drought-like conditions prevail.  Perhaps we are too busy, too tired, overworked, overwhelmed, financially strapped, anxious and the list goes on and on.  All of these can create drought in our spiritual lives.  We read the Bible but it just seems like words on a page rather than God speaking to our hearts.  We pray but don’t feel anything at all. Yet if we persist the rain will come.

Just as the rain will come to the bush here in South Africa and refresh the earth and the rivers and all the living creatures, so in its season we will once again experience the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit speaking to us as we read the Word and pray.  We must be faithful to be available, to make the time every day and come to Jesus.  And trust that in due time, the rain will come, the drought will end and our souls will be refreshed and restored once again.

Who is the Greatest, Part 2

deborah-murrell-who-is-the-greatestA few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the disciples asking Jesus, “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus surprised them with His answer.  He brought a child and and then told them, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:4).

Humility is key.

A few chapters later in Matthew, this same subject of who is the greatest is addressed once again.  This time, the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling before Jesus, she asked Him for her sons to sit at His  right hand and left hand in the kingdom. This mom was going to make sure her sons were successful, that they had the prominent positions.

I know how she felt. As a mom of three sons, I would do anything to make sure of their success in life. Again, Jesus’ answer was probably unexpected.  He tells her about drinking the cup He is about to drink, and then in Matthew 20:26, He says this, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus’ ideas of greatness don’t often match up with our own and certainly not the culture that we live in.  For most of us,  greatness is recognized as wealth and power and prestige and influence.  But in these passages, greatness is marked by humility and being a servant.  I like the first definition better, but if I am to be like Jesus, I will wholeheartedly pursue humility and serving others.  There really is no other way to be like Jesus.  He came to serve and give His life and so must we.  Jesus, help us to be like you, to walk in humility and to serve and give our lives for the sake of your kingdom.

Lists, Crowds and Disciples

I love to make lists–on paper–so I can remember what I need to do for one thing, and so I can use a red pen to check items off when they are finished.  It gives me such a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day to see those red checks. A list in my phone that gets deleted just doesn’t give me that same great feeling of being productive.

As I have studied through the Gospel of Matthew this year, I am amazed at how much Jesus gets done in a day or a few days. He ministers to crowds, and He singles out one, and then sometimes He takes His disciples off for a chat.  In chapter 19, Jesus leaves Galilee. He starts His journey to Jerusalem.  On the way, crowds follow and He heals them. The Pharisees ask Him tough questions about divorce.  The children were brought to Him so that He could pray for them and lay hands on them.  The rich young man asked Him what good deed He could do to have eternal life.  Next, he tells a parable about laborers in a vineyard. Then in Matthew 20:17-19, He pulls His disciples aside and foretells His death.

“And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

Notice, He did not give this news to the crowd but to His disciples-those He knew and had a close relationship with.  I would love to know the questions they asked and what their responses were to this news.  But that is not recorded for us in this passage.  What we do we know is Jesus ministered to crowds, but He had a relationship with His disciples.  He spent time with them, talked to them, journeyed through life with them.

My prayer is that we would all be disciples–those who love and follow Jesus with our whole hearts–not just part of the crowd that shows up and perhaps even listens, but doesn’t get close. And  that we would make disciples as we tell others the good news of the Gospel.  Jesus, help us to love You and follow You and spend time with You and listen to You and learn from You as we study the Scripture, and teach others to do the same.

Who is the Greatest?

Jesus’ disciples asked him an interesting question one day.

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Matthew 18:1

I wonder what kind of answers they were expecting. Maybe they were all hoping that He would choose them.  After all, they walked with Him and talked with Him and were able to ask Him questions like this.  They were His “inner circle.”  I am sure His answer shocked them.

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst  of them and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2

Humility can be hard to find these days.  In an age of self promotion, self importance, self centeredness and general selfishness, humility is sadly lacking. Humility must be intentional in our lives.  It doesn’t come natural to most of us.  We live in a world where we are told we must assert ourselves, brand ourselves, make ourselves great, rise to the top.  We raise our children to be great-top of the class, best in 1st grade field day , most accomplished in piano or art or tennis.  I did it too.  After all, we don’t want to be sloths lying around doing nothing, or raise lazy children who have nothing to aspire to in life.

We have things to do, places to go, people to see.  Many of us have a sense of calling that God has put in our hearts of what we must do or become. So how do we balance it all?  Humility is the key.  We must come to Jesus every day and humble ourselves in prayer, acknowledging that we need Him, we need His power working in and through our lives to do that which He has called us to do.

I think the song I learned as a child sums it up so well.

“Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.  Little ones to Him belong,  they are weak, but He is strong.”

May we all live and walk in humility all the days of our lives, looking to Jesus with childlike faith and knowing that our strength comes from Him, and all the glory for any accomplishments we may have belong to Him and Him alone.

Life and Choices

This morning, I was reading The Maxwell Daily Reader–I read this book almost every day for a quick leadership lesson–and the lesson for today was about life and choices.

Maxwell started the lesson with this statement:

“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”

And then he asked a few questions, but two of the questions stood out to me the most: “What will you do with today?”  and “Who will you become?”

These questions made my mind reel, and I ended up asking myself a few other questions.

“What will I read today? Where will I go? Who will I spend time with? How will I spend the precious hours of today?”

Earlier this morning, I was up before the sun. I walked outside to our little balcony to look at the clouds and watch the sun rise. I reflected on this new morning and the fact that God didn’t give us one long continuous day from the beginning of time. When He made the heavens and the earth and stars, and made day and night, He decided to put twenty-four hours in each day.  No more, no less. Most days, I wish I had a few more hours. But God thought twenty-four was just enough. God gives us a new day, a fresh day, every twenty-four hours.

Let’s look at what Lamentations tells us.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

His love never ceases. His mercies never end. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.  These verses make my heart sing and rejoice and so very grateful.  And they also cause me to want to answer the questions above in a way that honors Him.

I pray that my choices today, the way I spend this day will honor Him above all else.  I pray that I live this day and every day to love Jesus and love others with my whole heart and in doing so, will become who God has called me to be.  Jesus, thank you for this glorious new day  and for your mercies that never end.

Compassion and Crowds

Crowds are hard for me.  I don’t like crowds.  They overwhelm me.  Completely overwhelm me.  When I walk into a crowded room my  initial response is to find the door and go and hide in the bathroom.

I thought I was just insecure, but then I took a few personality/strengths/themes tests and realized I am just not wired to like crowds. I prefer dinner with a few good friends rather than big parties with lots of people.  I was relieved to understand that I was actually an introvert and that was how God made me.

But, still there are crowds in life. How do I respond when I see crowds of people? How did Jesus respond to crowds?

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:35-38

Jesus responded to crowds with compassion.  This is a repeated theme throughout the gospels.  He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead.  He met the needs of the people in the crowds.   And He did it all with compassion.

I am always convicted when I read verses about compassion.  I don’t think I am naturally very compassionate. But thank God for His grace which changes us and makes us more like Jesus. Here in Manila we are faced with crowds everyday. In the malls and on the streets and everywhere we go, there are so many people. Jesus help me to respond with compassion, not indifference or a callous heart. And remind me to pray earnestly as Jesus told His disciples, “to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

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