Is Jesus Calling You?

For those of you who’ve never heard of Sarah Young’s devotional book, Jesus Calling, I want to recommend it. It’s formatted as a 365-day devotional book, but I was so intrigued that I listened to the whole book on one flight. My (publishing house editor) son mentioned that it’s a New York Times’ Best Seller, has sold over ten million copies, and is so popular it can be bought at Walmart!

However, Jesus Calling has gotten a lot of criticism for being based on the supposition that we can hear from God and share what we’ve heard with others. Really? Is that strange or wrong? Sarah Young does not claim to be a prophet; her claim is that God speaks to her, and she has shared with others what He has said to her. Does God speak to you? He speaks to me! Do I share what I learn with others? Of course! Don’t you? Her writing is not as profound as the Scripture, and it is not inspired in the way that the Scripture is inspired, but her meditations are filled with Scripture, and I didn’t find the thoughts running contrary to Scripture.

Are her thoughts the very words God spoke to her? I can’t vouch for the complete purity and inspiration of anything besides the Bible, but I do know that I pray daily for God to inspire and direct my writing, and from her book, I believe that God at least inspired and directed Sarah’s thoughts and writing. I appreciated the gentle reminders of God’s love and presence and the continuous encouragements to seek Him, trust Him, and grow in our relationship with Him. As we seek God in the Bible and through prayer, and as we rest in his presence, we will find Him and experience peace: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).

Is Jesus Calling a replacement for meditating on Scripture? Of course not! I meditate both morning and evening on the Scriptures alone. That is my daily spiritual bread!! But, if you—like me—enjoy reading a quick devotional at some point in the day (our family has devotional books for both breakfast and dinner readings), you might enjoy Jesus Calling. It’s addressing believers, not unbelievers, so it’s not full of the gospel or the need for us to repent from our sins (which believers understand fully already), but my heart was touched and my spirit uplifted by the gentle reminders of God and his everlasting love for us. If you’re looking for a daily devotional for this coming year, don’t be afraid to listen to (or read) Jesus Calling. Because, He does call us, and if we’ll listen, He does speak to us!

Jesus Calls Us
—Cecil F. Alexander, published 1852 (Public Domain)

  1. Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
    Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
    Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
    Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”
  2. Jesus calls us from the worship
    Of the vain world’s golden store,
    From each idol that would keep us,
    Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”
  3. In our joys and in our sorrows,
    Days of toil and hours of ease,
    Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
    “Christian, love Me more than these!”
  4. Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
    Savior, may we hear Thy call,
    Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
    Serve and love Thee best of all.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (55): “Take No Thought for Your Life”

Some of Jesus’s commands seem impossibly hard, but others seem simply impossible. This is one of the latter! How in the world can we, as humans, actually “take no thought” about the most basic aspects of our physical lives: Food and clothing? After all, doesn’t the Bible teach us that, “having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8)? Or, in other words, “As long as we have food and clothes, we should be satisfied” (Names of God Bible rendering).

I can get far enough in my thinking to understand that Jesus doesn’t want us to be all caught up in material possessions and to imagine that it’s possible to be content with simple food and shelter. My mother, who grew up on the western prairies with a fierce pioneer spirit, claimed as her theme songs “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1964)

I—on the other hand—identify more with Eliza from My Fair Lady, who sang:

“All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air.
With one enormous chair,
Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?”

That’s me! I could be content with a quiet corner of a small, warm home ( . . . especially if I had access to my camera and computer! 🙂 ) How about you?

I always thought contentment with “whatsoever state I’m in” (Philippians 4:11) was the goal, but Jesus calls us to something higher! He challenges us to “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matthew 6:25). If life is more than eating and the body more than clothing, then what is that “more”? What’s more for you? Got any thoughts?

I’d love to hear your response! Is there anything in life even more essential to your well being than food and shelter? What’s the essence of your life? Is there anything even better than life to you? I’ve been pondering this passage particularly in light of just returning from a cruise down the Amazon River. There is something better than life to me, and I’ll try to be ready to share it with illustrations from Amazonia by this coming Tuesday!

Texts for today: Matthew 6:25, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” and Luke 12:22-23, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.

(Painting of Jesus holding a little girl by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com )

One Hindu Who Now Worships Just One God

Psalm 40:2 – “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”

I have a dear friend from India who was baptized just a few weeks ago at our church. She has changed from heartbroken to radiant and full of joy . . . that remarkable difference that only Jesus can make in us as we surrender our lives to his love and care! I asked if I could share her story with you, and she has kindly given me permission. Thank you, Neha! I know God will continue his work of amazing grace in your life!!

“I was born in India as a Hindu and studied in Catholic School. Being a girl, I was not worthy of my parent’s love and felt rejected. My younger brother used to beat me. Throughout my life, I always felt like a “burden” or “shame” for my parents. My Grand Father was the only person who loved me and showed me how to have relationship with God. When I was 15, I met a boy and I thought I met my Prince Charming. I fell in love and married him at age 25.  But my dreams were crushed during the wedding itself. I was a slave for him and my in-laws. It was a very abusive marriage, and I was not worthy of his love or faithfulness. Over the course of time, we moved to America and God gifted me with two beautiful daughters. However, in fall of 2017, I was rejected again, when he announced our divorce. Since I didn’t have citizenship, this would likely lead me to being forced back to India without my daughters.  I was in a very dark place.

“Through my work, I reached out for help and found a Care Partner, Jay, who provided me with wisdom in my situation. When I met him, I felt, I met the Lord. He gave me the first Bible. He also connected me to a female care partner.  Jesus started his work in me, by first showing light of truth.

“I had to leave my job, I struggled for basic survival, and I had to fight to be with my girls. I was so scared that one morning I woke up and could not get out of my bed. I called so many friends, but no one responded, other than the female care partner. She came to my house and wanted me to start coming to church. I replied, “Yes, I should start going to temple.” It took her three times, and then finally she said, “You cannot find Jesus in the temple, you can find him only in Church.” That Sunday, I went to Calvary Church and was deeply touched with preaching of Pastor Samra. It was then I realized that he is Lisa’ husband, the lady who brought me to Church.  Since that day, I never went back to the Hindu temple and I started coming to Calvary Church on regular basis. For nine months, I sat with Samras. In the beginning, the Bible was difficult to understand. Lisa would even open the page in the Bible and would spend time in explaining the basics. 

“Jesus surrounded me with his army of angels through His Churches and people. Ada Bible Church connected me to Debbie Jo and Henry, who are my spiritual parents now.  Several other families embraced me and my girls with unconditional love and acceptance. My counselor, the divorce care group and Safe Haven Ministries helped me to heal. Calvary Church provided us with food and financially supported us. After three months, Jesus provided me with a perfect job, which sponsored my visa so that I could stay in the country.  Around 100 Christians from various churches came to help us. I even found an Indian Christian group in Grand Rapids.

“In spite of wonderful things Jesus did in my life, I was still holding on to Hindu idols until one day when I went to the prayer room and prayed with one of my friends, Bonnie Jean. That day, I finally gave up all the Hindus idols.

“Jesus continued his work, and gifted us with a beautiful house and sent his people at Calvary to help me move. I could hear the call for baptism.  However, I asked Jesus for one more miracle – to let my girls come to church. Jesus listened to our prayers and He finally made ways that my girls can come to church through my attorney, who is a Christian, and now my girls LOVE Jesus too. So here I am fulfilling my promise to share my story and be baptized in response to Jesus’ love and faithfulness to me.

“Jesus is the truth, He is faithful, and He loves us all unconditionally.”  

Chand Baori and the Stepwells of India

Ever hear of Chand Baori? It’s in Abhaneri, which is near Bandikui, Rajasthan. Does that help? I didn’t think so! Ever hear of stepwells? If you have, you’re a step well ahead of me! 🙂 (Was that a groan I heard?)

Plaque Explaining Some Details of the Chand Baori Stepwell

Before we visited Chand Baori in India, I didn’t have a clue what stepwells are, and I was unfamiliar with any of the names above!

Chand Baori Stepwell Surrounding and Protecting a Pond

However, just because I haven’t heard of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that it’s insignificant! In fact, the word “stepwell” isn’t even in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (considered the “gold standard” for many American publishers), but thankfully, it’s in Wikipedia, which explains that stepwells are ponds or wells dug deep into the earth and surrounded by series of steps that descend to the bottom. Stepwells are the brainchild of India and developed as early as the 8th-9th century AD.

Dozens of recessed rooms provide shade from the intense summer heat
at Chand Baori Stepwell

The utilitarian purpose was to provide a water supply even during the hot months of summer drought, although many of the remaining stepwells had shaded rooms that were also a bit cooler, where women (particularly royalty) could rest and socialize.

Harshat Mata Temple Adjacent to Chand Baori Stepwell

Because water is so essential to life, many of the stepwells also provided adjacent temples, where people could worship various gods and thank them for providing water. Over the centuries, some of the more prominent stepwells were elaborately ornamented, and now they are considered national monuments.

Alan and I visited Chand Baori, which is one of the largest, deepest, and most stunning stepwells in India. It has a beautifully symmetrical system of staircases running down 13 stories to about 100 ft. below ground. In all, there are 3,500 stone steps. Chand Baori is truly a work of art and beauty!

Tour guide explaining the significance of various pieces of artwork at Chand Baori

Today Chand Baori also houses various archeological treasures, so it’s a living historical museum as well!

Closeup of the pond at the bottom of the Chand Baori Stepwell

It all looked so beautiful, except the gorgeous green pond was covered with a thick layer of algae and had all sorts of debris floating in it.

I said to myself, “Well, of course they don’t use the water from stepwells any more!”

But, I was mistaken!

Just a few days later, I observed a man collecting water from a stepwell in Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal.

He patiently cleared a space in the algae before gathering his water, but I wasn’t convinced that the water would be very clean, even so!

Since returning home, I’ve thought often about stepwells . . . the fact that I’d never heard of them, but they do exist.

The fact that they are still being used today, even though they probably aren’t very sanitary. How do people survive?

I know everybody thinks their way of doing things is best, and that their gods are the best, but I want to offer Jesus as an alternative to the millions of fearsome gods that are worshiped in India. If you live in India, you may never have heard about Jesus before, but just like I didn’t know about stepwells—and even if Jesus isn’t in your list of gods—that does not mean that Jesus doesn’t exist! Jesus is the “God of gods and a Lord of kings” (Daniel 2:47)—everything wonderful wrapped up in one God— and he offers spiritual water that is pure and holy. He is the Lord, “the fountain of living waters” (see Jeremiah 17:13 and Revelation 7:17) who can quench our spiritual thirst: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

Tourists and Worshipers Visiting Harshat Mata Temple,
dedicated to the goddess of Joy and Happiness

He is also the author of true joy and happiness: “And the angel said unto them, 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 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Chand Baori Stepwell in Abanderi, India

Can you imagine the joy of worshiping the one true God, who is a Spirit and calls for all of us to worship him in spirit and in truth? (John 4:24). This God can provide spiritual water for your soul that will spring up into eternal life. He can protect you from evil. He loves you with an everlasting love and gave Himself so that you can become One with him. His name is Jesus, and He is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:6).

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God,
and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).

Finding Our Way Into the Presence of God

Want to get closer to God but sometimes feel confused by all the voices out there describing their experiences in ways that seem contradictory to your understanding and foreign to anything you’ve experienced? How can you tell what’s real, what’s imaginary, what’s possible, and what’s impossible?

Tim Anderson’s new book, Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God, comes out of more than thirty-five years of his own life experience in studying, practicing, and teaching the Bible. His book is a truly helpful resource for systematically working through the scriptures in order to understand intimacy with God as communicated in His own words (the Bible)—and as distinguished from some of the contemporary cultural ideas which may (or may not) be consistent with orthodox teaching.

If you’re anything like me, most of the time you want to just “sit and soak” in the soothing presence of God. I love to start each day by meditating on the Bible and praying, memorizing especially helpful passages and worshiping our great God. As a wise friend once said to me, “No day is wasted that’s begun with worshiping God!” Amen.

However, if you have more time to invest and are serious about developing intimacy with God, not simply soaking in the sunshine of our loving Father but in delving deeper into His glorious complexities, then Anderson’s book is definitely worth the wading. It’s very dense. Not a one-night stand! It took me weeks to study and process, and I didn’t agree with everything. (Specifically, I spent over ten years meditating my way through the Song of Solomon and am convinced that it’s a gorgeous [non-sexual, spiritual] allegory of God’s relationship with Israel and the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the Church as well as a human love song.)

That one exception aside, I found myself very much enriched and deepened as I did the hard work of pondering the scriptures focused on the various aspects of people in relationship with God. I especially appreciated Anderson’s chapters discussing intimacy with the Holy Spirit (chapter seven), the role of suffering (chapter 8), and how to assess songs (chapter 9).

Have you ever heard a worship song and said to yourself, “That doesn’t seem right to me!”? Well, it may be wrong! Tim helps the reader develop an ability to analyze music for content, which I think is very needed for our worship leaders! A great song isn’t simply about the music. We all love singable songs, written between C and shining C (at least if you can’t sing like a meadow lark). We all love catchy tunes. We all love lyrics that are fresh and have something new to say. However, if the lyrics aren’t consistent with what we know of God from the scripture, then no number of catchy hooks or riffs can justify a message that’s adrift.

Finally, and this isn’t one of the points in Tim’s book, but as a warning to those of us who’ve spent years in academic circles exercising our brains, the Bible says: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). Talk about pulling no punches! If we want to experience intimacy with the God of the universe, who is not only love and light and life but the epitome of goodness and holiness, then we’d better be prepared to pray earnestly: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Ultimately, to draw near to the God of Goodness, we must be willing to “abhor that which is evil” and “cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). Otherwise, no amount of study will help us come into the presence of God. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15). At the end of the day—and beginning of each new day—the bottom line is: Are we trusting and obeying God? If we are, we’ll be growing in intimacy with Him.

But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28).

Trust and Obey
(—John H. Sammis, 1887, Public Domain)

“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

“Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

“Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

“But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

“Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (46): Be Merciful

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice” (Abraham Lincoln). Given that “Honest Abe” Lincoln was noted for truthfulness and integrity, that’s a pretty strong commendation for the value of mercy, and his assessment wasn’t unprecedented. In the Old Testament, we’re taught that God himself, the supreme judge over all the earth, is merciful (1), and that He desires us to be merciful (2).

So, what is mercy, how does it square with justice and the law, and why should we be merciful? “Mercy” comes from Anglo-French “merci” (which we think of as “thank you”) and Latin “merc” (“merchandize”) meaning “price paid; wages.” To show mercy is to extend forgiveness and grace to someone who has wronged us when it is within our power and right to punish them for misconduct, or more generically, it is “the compassionate treatment of those in distress” (Merriam Webster).

I doubt there’s anyone who would denounce mercy as “bad,” but strict moralists often cannot square mercy with justice. Moral radicals usually demand justice without mercy for those who fail to keep the law perfectly (be it the Ten Commandments, Shiraiah Law, or the requirements of any religious or governmental system). It is the oppressive “keep our laws or die” philosophy that makes life unbearably difficult for many people around the world.

Divine Mercy

One of the unique beauties of Christianity is the fact that our God is a God of great mercy and compassion (see verses listed below), but He also completely satisfies the requirement of justice. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, so that God can be both just and merciful. When we come before the judgment seat of Christ, we can say “Mercy! Thank you! The price for my sins has been paid by Jesus Christ!”

Sound too good to be true? It’s not! It’s the transcendent plan of our almighty, all loving God who has made a way for each of us to receive mercy and grace from his hand rather than the punishment we deserve for failing to keep His perfect laws!

Why should we show mercy to others who hurt and offend us? I’m not sure on what basis unbelievers choose to be merciful, but for me, it’s because I love God and want to please him . . . to be like him . . . to keep his commandments and extend the goodness and mercy I’ve received from him to others.

Have you experienced God’s mercy? Doesn’t it make you want to share his compassion and love with those around you?

Below are ten of my favorite verses on mercy from the Bible gleaned from hundreds. May our meditations be sweet! “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Psalm 86:5

The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).

Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:18).

All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6).

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah” (Psalm 67:1).

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart” ( Proverbs 3:3).

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Text for this meditation: Luke 6:35-36, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Notes:
(1) “Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Nehemiah 9:17).
(2) “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).

So You Don’t Like Going to Church Anymore?

Have you drifted away from being involved in a church? If so, I would love to hear your “why” and if there is anything you can think of that would make the Church so appealing to you that you would want to go again.

My grandchildren keeping busy during a message at church

I am thankful all my kids are involved in church communities, but it almost seems like this is now unusual rather than the norm for those between twenty and fifty. When I was a young mom, I very much admired a woman whose husband had been the pastor of our church. They had eight grown children who were all involved in churches, but in very different denominations. I thought that was really strange and wondered how the children of a minister could possibly end up going to such diverse churches. A generation later, I am no longer amazed. In fact, I’m sort of like that pastor’s wife!

Alan and I always attended very conservative evangelical Baptist/Bible/Brethren churches, and I assumed our children would follow in our footsteps. Totally not so! Now, I will say that I’ve attended almost all the churches where my kids fellowship (except our military kids, who moved to Belgium last summer), and I almost always feel blessed and instructed by what I hear, but a few of them have found church homes quite different from those in which they grew up.

What happens? Well, for one thing, as we mature, we have to decide for ourselves what we believe and what we’re going to prioritize in life. We aren’t born with spiritual life, we are born again into spiritual life. We may grow up in a Christian home, but we aren’t born with faith in God. We may be taught about God (as in the case of my children), or we may become curious about whether or not there is a God (as in my case, who did not grow up in a church). Either way, as we grow up, we have to evaluate what we believe about God, the Bible, and spiritual life.

For most of us, spiritual life is largely explored and lived out in community, and the “community” God has given us is the local church. If you want to learn more about God, read your Bible and pray, but also get involved in a church family. Like coals of fire, we burn brighter and longer when sharing the heat with other coals in the fireplace! Embers that explode and fall off the grate usually burn out very quickly.

Some of our kids visiting Calvary Church with us in Grand Rapids

That being said, as we approach the beginning of a new school year, I hope you make being part of a local church one of you priorities. If you live in the Grand Rapids area and don’t have a church home, I would like to invite you to visit my church, Calvary Church (on the East Beltline). We have a fabulous Sunday school class called Heirs Together that is really helpful for ages 55-75, but there are excellent classes for all ages. Please consider visiting our class if you’re in town and around that age!

This past Sunday our pastor, Jim Samra, just began a new series on the Book of Titus. It’s the first of a series of topical messages that will find their roots in Titus but cover a plethora of very practical topics, such as “What is Godliness?” The first message can be found here:

If for any reason you are disabled, have to work on Sundays, live in a country where there is no local church, or are otherwise unable to attend church in person, this sermon series will be online each week. (The new message is downloaded each Tuesday morning.) If you’re looking for a prayer group, I am part of a weekly “Zoom” prayer group that you are welcome to join. Just email me at kathrynwarmstrong@gmail.com and I will connect you. Nurturing your spirit is every bit as important as nurturing your body (and I would say— “Even more so!”).

Hope to see you or hear from you soon—either at church, on Zoom, or in the comment box below with suggestions for how to make church a more spiritually nurturing environment for you and members of your generation! Thanks, and may God bless you in your spiritual journey!

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

Billy Graham on the diversity of our children and the fact that you can’t inherit faith; it must be a personal decision: https://www.facebook.com/BillyGrahamEvangelisticAssociation/videos/449200715806760/