The Big Picture

The Big Picture 1  We often hear people talk about “the big picture.” Presumably they are referring to the greater outcome, the one that achieves the end goal or affects the greatest number of people, or some other result or direction beyond the routine. We do find that having the big picture in view can often help us find direction and purpose and that such insight can propel us along the often arduous path of reaching our goals.

Can it be possible, though, that we often miss the small things that alter our path in more subtle ways? Is not a large ship steered by a small rudder? Perhaps the little course corrections that occur in our day to day lives even turn us towards outcomes for which we had no prior vision. Similarly, do we tend to see God’s bigger picture but miss the small ways he affects the course of our journey on a daily basis?

To answer this, let’s look at 1 Samuel 9:3: “One day Kish’s donkeys strayed away, and he told Saul, “Take a servant with you, and go look for the donkeys.” This seemingly innocuous occurrence would likely be a commonplace happening in the lives of donkey owners. A “little thing” if you will. But what of this specific little thing? To explore this further, I’d like to share this commentary from my Charles Spurgeon Study Bible:

“Observe how the hand of God’s providence uses the little things. This man, Saul, must be placed in the path of the prophet Samuel. How will a meeting be brought about? Poor beasts of burden will be the means. The donkeys wander off, and Saul’s father tells him to take a servant and seek them. In the course of their wanderings, the animals might have gone north, south, east, or west – for who will account for the wild will of runaway donkeys? But so it happened, as people say, that they strayed, or were thought to have strayed, in such a direction that eventually Saul found himself near Ramah, where Samuel was ready to anoint him. On how small an incident the greatest events may hinge!”

God had chosen Saul to be Israel’s first king and revealed such only to Samuel. Samuel did not yet know who God had chosen, a piece of information God would ultimately reveal to him but first the meeting had to be arranged. God did so via wandering donkeys. Who would have guessed, right?!  But if we are studious in our Bibles, we see similar things happening all the time. But how about in our own lives? Do we see God at work in the little things?

The Spurgeon commentary goes on to say, “Had we but sufficiently powerful perceptive faculties, we would see God’s hand as clearly in each stone on our pathway as in the revolution of the earth.” I do not know about you, but I frequently find myself stumbling about my life seemingly unaware of the way our Lord might be directing the smallest of my steps. That old friend I bumped into at just such a time might seem completely random but how might God be working in it? How might he have directed it? Might that last minute phone call I took from a customer altered my timing just so?

And it is with this in mind that I set forth this reminder – that we try to maintain an acute awareness of how God might be moving not just in the big picture, but in the seemingly unimportant or unremarkable. That we look closely at even the smallest little things in our lives and we consider how God might be directing them, either for our benefit or that of someone else, maybe even someone we do not yet know or may never know. Scripture tells us God has interest in the smallest details of our lives, ie: Matthew 10:30 – “And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.”

And He definitely has a bigger picture in mind, one we cannot yet see or perceive. But we know we can trust him; as the psalmist wrote: “Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.” (Psalm 36:5) And in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” So trust God might be at work in the small things. Perhaps it really wasn’t by random chance that waiter was assigned to your table or that you ended up in that particular line in the supermarket. Perhaps your smile will be the little light that changes the big picture for someone who just needed a little kindness today.

When we live daily in God’s grace, even the smallest things can make the biggest of differences!

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Spurgeon commentary notes: CSB Spurgeon Study Bible copyright 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, TN. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

We Are Family

we are family 3  From the very time of his birth, Jacob’s life was set to be a tapestry of trial. His very name means “supplanter” or “deceitful”. He was a twin, born grasping his brother Esau’s heel in what seems to be a fight to be first. Of course, being first born in ancient Hebrew culture had very significant meaning and carried with it certain birthrights. But Jacob did not come out first. Making him, even if by only a few seconds, the younger brother.

But when opportunity came, Jacob took the advantage and conned Esau out of his birthright; though it seems Esau did not take his birthright seriously at this point in his life. Jacob and Esau are, perhaps, the classic example of sibling rivalry. Esau being the outdoorsy, sportsman type while Jacob was mild-mannered and more domestic. Their parents, Isaac and Rebekah, didn’t help matters much, as Isaac clearly favored the more traditionally manly Esau, while Rebekah had preference for Jacob, her baby.

The Bible doesn’t go into great detail about their family life but, we can probably imagine Isaac and Esau spending time together outdoors – hunting, fishing, camping, and so on while Jacob stayed home spending time with his mother around the house. Perhaps we get our best glimpse of parental favoritism when Isaac becomes old and nears the end of his life. That is when he instructs Esau to embark on a hunt so he can make some wild game stew, Isaac’s favorite, and a meal after which Isaac will pronounce his blessing on Esau.

Rebekah, desperate to secure the patriarchal blessing for Jacob, overhears the conversation and launches a plot to deceive her own husband into blessing the younger brother. She hatches her deceptive plan with Jacob’s obvious consent and, while Esau is still away hunting, they make a goat stew, form an elaborate disguise for Jacob, and send him in, pretending to be Esau. Isaac suspects a problem, but instead of coming clean with the deception, Jacob navigates his way through his father’s inquiries, completing the con job. Isaac, being too old to see for himself, is convinced and offers his blessing to Jacob.

Of course, Esau eventually comes home with the wild game, only to uncover the web of deception that occurred in his absence and cost him his birthright. I do not quite understand how the blessing works, but it is apparent that once given it cannot be revoked, and though given in deceit it still had force of law. Esau wept bitterly and experienced great sorrow. Eventually, Esau’s sorrow festered into deep resentment and he began to launch a plan to kill his younger brother, but Rebekah sends Jacob away to his uncle Laban.

Those of you familiar with the story know the family dysfunction did not end there. Jacob goes to the land of Laban, falls deeply in love with Rachel at first sight, and seeks to make her his wife. He asks his uncle the price for her hand in marriage and agrees to work seven years for Laban so he can marry Rachel. After the seven years pass by, Laban throws a marriage feast, after which he gives his daughter to Jacob to be his wife. There must have been some alcohol involved, because Jacob apparently doesn’t notice (or perhaps in a drunken stupor loses the ability to care) that it is Laban’s older daughter Leah that he sleeps with.

After confronting Laban over his trickery, Jacob ultimately takes Rachel also as his wife and agrees to work for Laban another seven years. At this point, I’d like to say the pattern of destructive behavior finally came to an end, but it would continue, seemingly ad infinitum. Leah and Rachel experienced sibling rivalry of their own, ultimately leading to even more sexual sin as they both have Jacob sleep with the personal servants. And the twelve children that result from this cavalcade of corruption find their own sibling rivalries that ultimately see their brother Joseph sold into slavery. And this family dysfunction ultimately leads to the entire Hebrew nation becoming slaves in Egypt. Talk about far-reaching consequences!

But perhaps young Joseph ultimately sums it up best when he tells his older brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20) And the point of me recounting all of this is simply to point out that, at one time or another, all of us have experienced some amount of dysfunction in our families. We live in a fallen world and such chaos must be expected. As painful as conflict with our loved ones can be, we can be confident God is present within us and able to carry us forward. In fact, as Christians, we can bring the light of Christ to our family situations.

You can read about Isaac & Rebekah and their descendants starting in Genesis 24. Most people think the Bible is a book about perfect people but it is anything but that. It tells the stories of imperfect people and how God interacts with them. Imperfect people just like you and I; and our imperfect families and friends. So if you find yourself struggling with dysfunction in your personal relationships, remember that when we are weak, when we struggle, often that is when God’s work in our lives becomes the most profound. As the psalmist wrote, “He remembered us in our weakness. His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:23)

And as Isaiah wrote: “Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!” (Isaiah 53:4) And the Lord told Paul, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

It is our sincerest prayer that you will find the sustaining power and love of our Lord Jesus in all areas of your life and especially in your trials. For His love endures forever!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Right Before Our Eyes

eyes 5  In chapter 3 in the book of The Acts of the Apostles (or “Acts” for short) a story is told of a man who was crippled from birth, who was brought daily to the temple, where he would beg for money to support himself. The man was incapacitated in his ankles and feet and could not stand or walk on his own. So he would be brought to the temple gate known as The Beautiful Gate, where he would ask for money from those entering the temple. One day, the apostles Peter and John approached.

The impaired man asks them for money as he would any other person. The book of Acts records the exchange that follows this way: Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. (Acts 3:4-8)

Luke (the author of Acts) continues his description of this miraculous healing event by describing how amazed the people standing nearby were at this miracle. Before their very eyes this man, who they recognized as the man lame from birth, and now approximately 40 years old, was healed and was now walking and leaping for joy. Peter recognizes the opportunity before him and begins to preach a sermon to the people, using the healing of this man as the launching point for his Gospel message. As Peter is preaching he is confronted by the temple leaders and arrested, but not before many of the people listening to Peter believe and are saved.

The next day, Peter and John are brought before the high council and questioned about the healing and the message they were delivering. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, responds to the questioning with a Gospel message that includes this line from Psalm 118:22: “The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” Peter is unabashed in his claim that there is no other name on earth or in heaven by which men must be saved, the name of Jesus Christ. I find what happened next to be remarkable, if not a bit flabbergasting:

Acts 4:13-22:  The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.

“What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years.

Take a moment and read that again and contrast the two different reactions to the healing of this man. We see that the man who was healed and the crowds who had witnessed his healing are praising God for what they have seen and experienced. They believe what they saw and many of them accepted Peter’s Gospel message as a result and now have new life in Christ. The high priest and Jewish leaders, on the other hand, though they cannot deny the miracle because the healed man is standing right there in front of their eyes, remain stubborn in their attempt to cover it up, to stop Peter and John from preaching of the Gospel. Yes – you are reading that correctly – the man who was lame from birth, who was well-known to everyone in the area, who the Jewish leaders also knew was lame, is standing right there in front of them completely healed, and the council knows and admits they cannot deny it. But all they are concerned about is stopping the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Just as we see throughout the four Gospels, the high priest and the temple leaders are interested in but one thing; maintaining their power structure and status. So instead of the natural reaction of awe and wonder at this miracle, they engage in what can only be described as willful disregard for the facts. You’d think that, in the face of the evidence – the healed man standing right there in front of their eyes – that they would recognize the error of their ways, repent, and believe, but they do not. And this reaction is not unlike what we see around us to this very day –  people who continue their willful refusal to accept the Gospel message despite the fact that no honest historian denies that Jesus Christ was a real historical figure, that the evidence supporting the authenticity of the Bible is simply overwhelming, and that many millions of lives continue to be dramatically changed to this very day. These people continue to practice willful disregard of the facts, and nothing I write here is likely to convince them to change their mind.

The now-healed lame man stands right before their very eyes. They cannot deny it because to do so is irrational and illogical (though some still try). They are, as the Bible says in Romans, without excuse and one day they will stand before the living God and they will be judged. God’s judgment is always perfect, always fair, always just. But the Bible tells us “it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

So which camp do you fall into? Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you either believe or are ready to believe. It is in God’s great mercy and love for us that he provided a way by which we may be saved and we may experience the fullness of life that He intended for us. That way is through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to this world though the virgin birth, lived among us, experienced life just as we experience it, and then willingly laid down his life as a sacrifice for us. But on the third day he rose again, thereby defeating death once and for all.  In Romans 10:8-13, the Apostle Paul writes: And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

If you haven’t already, won’t you make today the day you believe the Gospel message and call on the name of the Lord?

Learn more at KnowGod.org

Here at Reign Drops, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or drop us an email at: ReignDropsBlog@gmail.com

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Walk Humbly

Walk Humbly 6  When I think of the word humble, two people come to mind: Jesus is the first, and my dad is the second. All throughout my life, my dad was a living example of humility. It seemed to come naturally to him, being the very essence of his character. He was a quiet man, always willing to listen, to see another person’s point of view, to empathize, and to place his family and friends’ needs before his own. In Philippians 2:3, the Apostle Paul admonished his readers, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” My dad seemed to live this verse in every aspect of his life.

My dad truly enjoyed people. I can close my eyes and picture him conversing with others, always with a smile on his face, his cordiality a natural outflow from the warmth in his heart. My dad never thought himself so important as to feel his needs should come first or that he should complain. At least not around his children. Even our family vacations seemed to be planned around providing the best possible experience for us (though I’m quite certain we kids didn’t always appreciate this as much as we should have). He never gave us the feeling that we were simply being dragged along, a necessary evil to fulfilling his own recreational aspirations.

Once, when I was a child, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, I recall my dad stopping to help a stranded motorist. I asked him why, and rather than offer a response that would imply any heroics on his part, he simply said, “I’d want someone to stop for me.” The simple fact that this memory has remained a part of my conscious thought suggests the impact this experience had on me.  I find that his routine behavior modeled for me an ideal that simply couldn’t have been effectively conveyed with mere words. Indeed, my dad often demonstrated the principles I, and my siblings, would grow to live by.

This extended far beyond our home and, at the height of his business career, my dad took several young coworkers under his wing, becoming not only their mentor but also their friend. His kindness and soft-spoken charm allowed him to make friends easily and his genuine concern for the welfare of others reflected his love to all who knew him. Being myself a rather difficult child, I am quite certain I tried his patience more often than I care to admit, but he never ceased to live the message of James 1:19; “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” All through my formative years and well into my adulthood, I watched how my dad interacted with others and tried my best to emulate him. Like he was to his young coworkers, he was a mentor to me, too.

The prophet Micah, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote these words, “The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) My dad passed from this life on March 31, 2018 at the age of 90. This verse from Micah had come to have significance to him during his last days, perhaps because it reflected so well the principles he tried to live by and to pass on to his children. While my dad would be the first to admit he was far from perfect, in the words of my youngest brother, “If I could be half the man my dad was, I’d be twice the man as most.”

The last time my father and I read the Bible together, we read from the book of John. One passage we shared was the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, in which we see how Jesus met this woman right where she was, talked to her without judgment, and humbly offered her the living water of new life in Christ. And this is how Jesus meets all of us, right where we are, offering us new life as only he can. In John 5:24, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” And in John 6, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35) It’s not too late for you to find new life in Jesus Christ. Just do like the Samaritan woman did in John 4:15 and ask!

In honor of my dad, I leave you with this old Irish blessing: May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Within and Without

Within & Without  I am no stranger to difficult times. Like most of us, I have struggled through many very painful and stressful circumstances and I have felt the inner turmoil that comes with them. It seems today, more than ever, that people are really struggling. Depression, addiction, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, and despair are just some of the symptoms stemming from the difficulties we face. If you are like me, you have probably even looked around at times for who to blame for the trials you’ve endured. And, indeed, sometimes our struggles do stem from the actions of others, but for me, more often than not, I’m pretty sure I need look no further than the mirror.

Like most of us today, King David was no stranger to difficulty. He was an adulterer and a murderer (read 2 Samuel 11). He was surrounded by enemies both within his kingdom and outside of it. Even his own son, Absalom, tried to overthrow and kill him (read the full story starting in 2 Samuel 15). If ever there was a person who might be tempted to blame his problems on others, one might think King David would be just such a person. The ordeal with Absalom was devastating to David and upon hearing of the death of his son at the hands of the King’s warriors, the Bible says David was overcome with emotion and burst into tears (read 2 Samuel 18:33). David most certainly knew the reality of emotional pain.

In Psalm 38 we see that even in the face of his many enemies and the immense pressure he faced as king, David doesn’t start with blaming others. Rather, he starts by looking within himself and considering his own sin. Psalm 38 is an excellent example of how David cried out to the Lord in prayer, examining his own life and his own wrongs first, then the actions of others, and finally pleading with God for help and forgiveness. I have reprinted Psalm 38 in its entirety below. In verses 1 and 2 he addresses his lament to the Lord, indicating this is a prayer. Verses 3-10 address the onslaught from the enemy within whereas verses 11-20 address the enemy without. Verses 21 and 22 conclude the prayer. It is easy to see that David’s perspective was that his painful plight was, at least in part, due to his own personal sin.

A couple things strike me when I read Psalm 38; in verses 3-8, David articulates the anguish that he is feeling, describing it with words such as “crushing”, “broken”, “grief” and he likens his trials to sickness and fever. I can identify with the way extreme stress, sadness, and anguish can make me feel that the world is crushing in on me and how it can make my whole body feel sick, sometimes sapping me even of the desire to get out of bed. The second thing that strikes me is the way David cries out to the Lord, confessing his sin and acknowledging that God has the power to restore him. This is seen in verses 9, 15, and 18-22. So he starts with self-examination and concludes by reaching out to the only one who has the power to restore his spirit.

So here it is, Psalm 38, with my concluding remarks following:

1 O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
2 Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
3 Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
4 My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
6 I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
7 A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
8 I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.
9 You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.
13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
    or rejoice at my downfall.”
17 I am on the verge of collapse,
    facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
    I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
    they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
    and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
    Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
    O Lord my savior.

The good news in all of this is that God loves you dearly. Just as you are. He says you are created in His image (Genesis 1:26) and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Like a loving parent he created rules to guide us so we could live full and satisfying lives (as Dr. James McDonald says: “when God says ‘don’t’ he means ‘don’t hurt yourself’”). Then knowing that we had failed to meet his holy standards, he sent his one and only Son so that we could be forgiven and stand in his presence again (John 3:16).

Sometimes when we are struggling, we need the help of professional counselors and doctors, and we should always consult with those resources. But we should not hesitate to reach out to God also, for he will always respond to our sincere prayers. Jesus said these words and I hope they bring you as much comfort as they do me: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but take heart because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Today my prayer for you is that you will find the love and peace of our Savior and the promise of his coming.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.