Finding Hope Through Affliction

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

This verse came to mind this morning on the third anniversary of my brother’s passing through the gates of Heaven. While my grief certainly remains, it comforts me to know that he is enjoying a peace and rest that surpasses all earthly experience and human understanding.

As many of you know, Ronnie suffered for many years with diabetes and other complications that stemmed from that. Through those years I offered up countless prayers on his behalf.

But there is one prayer that I especially remember. It happened during the worship service one morning at our church in Fredericksburg, Virginia – Spotswood Baptist Church.

As we sang the hymn of invitation, I was overcome by a sudden burden to pray for Ronnie. I don’t remember the details of that prayer – perhaps it was that God would miraculously heal him. But I do vividly recall God’s response that morning and the incredible warm feeling of peace that coursed through my veins when I heard a still, small voice say, “Ronnie is going to be all right.”

Little did I understand that morning what God meant by that assurance. But looking back through eyes of faith, I realize now that God did not mean he would heal Ronnie of diabetes – not in this life anyway. He did something even better. He revealed himself to my brother in ways that Ronnie might never have experienced had it not been for the affliction he suffered through all those years.

As I reflect on that, I can’t help but imagine how differently things might have turned out if God had answered my prayers through the years and miraculously healed Ronnie. While it might have eased his pain and suffering in this life, it might also have removed the catalyst God used to draw Ronnie to himself.

Just before I left his bedside on the morning before the Lord called him home, after a difficult night, Ronnie briefly rallied. When our nieces, Elaine and Teresa, stopped by on their way to work and asked how he was doing, he raised both arms in the air and declared, “I’m all right!”. Eighteen hours later he passed into eternity.

Only as I was drafting this post did it dawn on me that those words from Ronnie’s lips that morning echoed so clearly the words spoken to me by that still, small voice in that church pew over twenty years before.

Indeed he is all right – as “all right” as he has ever been, resting safely in the presence of his Savior. And for that I rejoice, knowing that there will be no goodbyes when I join him there one day.

“The idea of heaven can be a consolation for suffering, a compensation for the life we have lost. But resurrection is not just consolation – it is restoration. We get it all back – the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life – but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength.” – Tim Keller

 

 

 

 

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Hearing God’s Voice

By Julian Wells

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:1-6 NIV)

My one-word resolution for 2018 is mindful. Previous posts have explored my intent to be more mindful of my time and more mindful of others this year. The third area I intend to be more mindful this year is in hearing God’s voice, especially when it comes to daily Bible reading.

I have always been a fast eater – a tendency which studies suggest leads to higher caloric intake but less satisfaction. Similar problems can ensue in a spiritual sense when we follow aggressive Bible reading plans as I have for a number of years.

As I covered in a post titled Bible Reading Plans last year, such plans can lead to reading hurriedly and mindlessly in order to cover the required material for that day without sufficiently digesting, meditating upon, and applying its content. While we may increase our intake of God’s Word, the spiritual nourishment we so greatly need from it often suffers.

Take another look at the passage from Proverbs above. To apply our ear to understanding, to call out for insight, and to search for the hidden treasure contained within the pages of God’s Word requires a slower-paced reading than most Bible reading plans allow.

That is why I have scrapped my annual Bible reading plan this year for a daily reading focus. I will continue to be systematic in my approach to insure that no portion of Scripture gets neglected over time. But rather than maintaining the pace necessary to cover a certain amount of material in a year, I have slowed down my reading to insure that I hear God’s voice and truly grasp his message for me each day.

I am quickly finding this approach more beneficial in so many ways. My awareness of God’s presence and my sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout the day has been enhanced. Bible study has become more like God designed it to be – God speaking and me listening and responding.

“As the rain and snow comes down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV)

My prayer for you is not that you read more Bible in 2018, but that you make better use of your time in God’s Word, reading it more prayerfully and responding obediently. Until the day he returns or calls us home, it will remain our best way of hearing his voice.

“To understand the Scripture is not simply to get information about God. If attended to with trust and faith, the Bible is the way to actually hear God speaking and also to meet God himself.” – Tim Keller, Prayer

 

A Mindful Resolution, Part II

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV)

In my last post, I revealed my one-word resolution for 2018 – mindfulness. In response to that post, many of you have offered your own. Each one was excellent and, if followed through, will no doubt bring us all closer to being the person God desires us to become in the new year.

Like “mindfulness”, so many of the words you selected for your one-word resolution can be applied in multiple areas of our lives. They include:

  • Worship
  • Discipline
  • Submission
  • Determined
  • Grateful
  • Share
  • Grace
  • Patience
  • Awareness
  • Discernment
  • Contemplative
  • Embrace
  • Forgiveness

Last time, I focused on my intention to be mindful of my time, both in terms of years I have ahead of me and the way I spend the hours available to me each day.

The second area in which I want to be more mindful in 2018 is my interactions with others. By nature, I am very much an introvert. When I met my wife thirty-five years ago, her first impression was that I was a “snob”.

People who have attended my classes and heard me go on and on about a passage of Scripture express amazement that I can talk so much in front of a class teaching and so little at the lunch table afterwards. The trick is that before I stand in front of a class, I have written down word-for-word everything I plan to say.

Extemporaneous may be in my vocabulary but it is not within my ability when it comes to speaking. I suppose that is why I gravitated to writing.

But to be the witness God has called me to be, I need to be more mindful of and engaging with the people he places in my path – from the person waiting my table at the restaurant, to the cashier at the grocery store, to the strangers I encounter every day.

The potential impact of a single encounter with a stranger is exemplified by Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John Chapter 4. Though everyone in Sychar apparently avoided her, our Lord engaged her in a deep conversation that not only changed her life, but transformed her into a powerful witness, leading many Samaritans to faith in Christ as “the Savior of the world”. (John 4:42 NIV)

At the close of 2017 I encountered a perfect modern-day example of being mindful of others when I read Walking to Listen, the memoir of a young man named Andrew Forsthoefel. At the age of 23, having just graduated from college, Andrew left his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania with a loaded backpack, a tape recorder, and a sign on his back which read “Walking to Listen” and began an 11-month walk across America.

I was fascinated by the number of people who welcomed Andrew into their homes and shared their stories and life philosophies with him. Inspired by his courage and his desire to engage with others so different from himself, I was reminded of the importance of personal engagement in a world that is growing increasingly insular.

At the close of the book, Andrew thanks everyone he met on his walk for “teaching me what I was asking to learn, showing me what I needed to see, and telling me what I was open to hear.” 

Those words truly resonate with me as I seek to be more mindful of others in 2018, and I would be delighted to hear any suggestions you may have that might help me achieve that goal.

You can learn more about Andrew and his incredible journey by <clicking here>.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

A Mindful Resolution

“Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death – they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. … Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:5-6,12 NIV)

The close of every year typically involves reflection on the year just past and making adjustments as we look ahead. At my age, I have come to appreciate the futility of New Year’s resolutions, having broken so many of them through the years.

But our speaker at church Sunday issued a different sort of challenge for the new year. Rather than establishing a list of resolutions which normally are abandoned by March, he suggested we each adopt a one-word resolution for 2018. This is certainly not a new concept – it has become a fashionable trend in recent years.

The idea is to identify one word to focus on throughout the new year. A word that will help mold you into the person you want to become in 2018 and, more importantly, into the person God wants you to become – more like Christ.

Almost immediately, God planted one word in my mind. My word for 2018 is mindful.

As I ponder all the ways in which I need to be more mindful, three areas come to mind. The first one, and the focus of this post, is to be more mindful of my time in 2018, both in terms of years and in how I spend the hours in any given day.

While watching recaps of all the celebrities who died in 2017, my attention was drawn to their ages at the time of death. I couldn’t help but notice how much closer those numbers are getting to my own age. In fact, too many of them were younger than me.

This year marks fifty years since I graduated from high school. As I received my diploma that night and contemplated the future, fifty years must have seemed like an eternity. Looking back, it’s difficult to comprehend how fast they have flown by.

Time has a way of revealing what truly matters in life. Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV) says “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Evil time bandits lurk around every corner, often masked as pleasing but addictive entertainment. Many of us are amusing ourselves to death and wasting precious opportunities to truly make a difference with the life God has granted us. And so, I intend to be more mindful of my time in 2018 and I trust that will be evident in the frequency and quality of my posts.

Speaking of time, I suppose I’ve taken enough of yours. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on mindfulness for future posts.

Perhaps some of you are thinking of a word to focus on in 2018. I would love to hear them. Feel free to share in the comments below or on  social media.

“Time is very slow for those who wait. Very fast for those who are scared. Very long for those who lament. Very short for those who celebrate. But for those who love, time is eternal.” – William Shakespeare

 

Reflections On 2017

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10-11 NIV)

This verse from Peter’s first epistle stays bookmarked in my Bible. I have turned to it so often through years of teaching Bible study that the page is torn and smudged. It keeps me mindful of the awesome responsibility of teaching God’s Word and of how dependent I am upon the Holy Spirit to be effective in any area of ministry.

But somehow I lost sight of that earlier this year, leading to a six-month period in which I published no posts at all. That hiatus prevented me from reaching my writing goals for 2017. But God used that time to renew my focus and remind me why I began Ridgetop Reflections. I addressed those issues in Why I Writepublished in November.

For the third consecutive year, my most popular post was a tribute to a cherished member of my family. In 2015, it was A Tribute to MamaLast year, Hope in the Face of Affliction, a post about my brother, Ronnie, received the most views. This year, it was Remembering Paulette, my first attempt at poetry, which I published on my dear sister’s birthday. 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of her passing through the gates of Glory. (It has crossed my mind to start posting pictures of Mama, Paulette, and Ronnie with every post!)

Once again, I am deeply humbled that so many of you found my articles worthy of your time in 2017. I am especially appreciative of those who encouraged me with your comments and who shared my posts on social media. While I have to guard against letting those things corrupt my motivations for writing, they certainly fuel a fledgling writer’s soul.

Looking ahead to 2018, expect shorter, more frequent posts from me. My Bible reading plan this year involves less reading and more time digesting, reflecting, and sharing those reflections with my readers, keeping in mind those timeless words from Peter that head this post.

My prayer for you all in 2018 is the one offered by Peter at the end of his second epistle. May you “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” If my posts contribute in some small way to that goal, then “To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV)

Happy New Year to you all!

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.” – Benjamin Franklin