Written by Janet Mueller - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
“I will take it from here,” He asserted gently but firmly as I slowly opened my clenched fist and released my Baton.
I don’t know how long I stood there across from Him, my hand on one end of the Baton and His on the other. Perhaps years. But now it became clear I was wasting time. I wondered why He never yanked on It. Not once. But neither had He let go of it.
Slowly, I watched it slip through my fingers. The minute my Baton was completely in His hand, He took off like a bolt of lightning. He ran with the wind, leaving me standing there in a whirl of dust. Somehow, I knew He was making up for lost time. Time lost in the prolonged and delayed transfer. “Don’t drop it!” I shouted, wondering if He could hear me.
The Man turned His head and shouted back, “I’ve got it. We’re going to finish this race!” And then He was gone.
“Better to let go now than lose the race later,” came the words so clearly that I looked around me for the source. But I was alone. All was dry and desolate.
Like a scene from a Western movie, tumbleweed skirted by me hurrying on their way to nowhere. The desert wind continued to blow up little dervishes of sand around my feet as I thought, “What now? Where do I go from here?” I felt my heart sinking fast. “Should I go back to the beginning?” No, that didn’t seem like an option. But I knew I couldn’t stay here. There was no life here.
Just then, I felt a familiar hand on my shoulder and I spun around. My husband! I was unaware he had been watching the scene unfold from a short distance. “I’m so glad you’re here!” I cried. “What do we do now? He’s gone.”
He pointed to a car parked in the distance. “Let’s drive to the finish line and wait there,” he spoke reassuringly. With our arms wrapped around one another and the wind whipping strands of hair around my face, we reached the car and welcomed the reprieve from the dusty gusts of wind.
The car was old, like a model from the 1950s, but it started right up. “Where did this come from?” I thought but didn’t ask him. I was just relieved for the provision, ancient though it was.
Relieved to being going somewhere else.
I was surprised at how quickly the scenery changed as we drove. The desert gave way to lush, green landscape. Pastures and fields outlined with trees and streams clicked by my view through the car’s window. Slowing the vehicle down, my husband pulled up to a field, and I could see a large crowd standing around in the distance. We got out and walked towards them. “Who are all these people?” I asked incredulously.
“These are the ones waiting for their own Batons to cross the finish line,” my husband replied. The crowd was abuzz with lively conversations. The whole group seemed engaged with one another although there appeared to be hundreds of thousands of people. I knew in an instant this is where we belonged and felt an incredible sense of gratitude. As we walked among the people, every few minutes a roar would go up as another runner crossed the finish line. Then the runner would be engulfed in a sea of people, waving and clapping and shouting.
My husband and I made our way to the finish line and began to look out across the field for our Baton…our son. Our hearts leapt as in the distance we saw him coming. However, not one man but two! Our Baton was no longer in the Man’s hand but was running beside Him in tandem. As they drew closer, we could see their faces, all sweaty and glowing. As soon as our son recognized us, a huge smile lit up his face, and he picked up speed. A group of family and friends gathered all around us in anticipation of The Crossing. Then he was in our arms, his chest heaving breathlessly, exhausted but exhilarated. He was taller and more muscular than I remembered him. Truly a man. Truly God’s man. And then the Man turned and winked at me.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (II Timothy 4:7 NKJV)
Thoughts to Ponder:
* What is your Baton? A child, a ministry, a job? It could be anyone or anything God has given you management over that you have held onto. Has God asked you to surrender it to Him? Are you keeping the person or work in immaturity by not releasing it to God? Can you release your Baton to Him?
* My husband was a lifeline when he showed up in the story. It was at the point when I felt so helpless and hopeless like all had been lost after releasing the Baton. He gave direction and purpose. Who has shown up in your life at just the right time to give you hope and direction?
* The car was old, but it was reliable. What provision has God given you, which you may have disregarded? Are you willing to take another look at it? Are you willing to receive it as a gift and give thanks?
* God always leads us into life, even after the loss or surrender of someone or something important. How is He leading you into life right now?
* The passing of the finish line is not necessarily death and entrance into heaven. It can also represent the end of one thing and the beginning of another. It can be the maturation of a person or ministry. The fulfillment of a dream. The answer to a lifelong prayer. What “finish lines” have you crossed? Which one are you striving to cross?
Prayer: Father, to the best of my ability, I release my end of the Baton and leave it in Your hands to run with. I trust You to finish what You have started, not only in my life but in the lives of those I love. Amen.
Written by Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
This morning I had to make a call to a technical service provider regarding a matter of their billing. Of course, I reached their Automated Message System (AMS) which ran me around every shrub and tree in the forest without ever directing me to a live person who could answer my one simple question. This caused me to wonder what it would be like if I had to use such a system to reach God when I needed to talk to him. If the Lord had an 800 number and an AMS would I have heard something like this?
“Hello, thanks for calling heaven. Your call is important to us. For English, press 1.” (I pressed 1 before it could list 87 other language options.) The AMS continued, “Do you have a current account with us, say Yes or No.” (I hesitated as I hoped I had an account but wasn’t sure what they needed.) AMS, “I’m sorry, we did not hear your response, do you have an account with us?” (with hope, I said “yes.) AMS, “Please key in your account number.” (Now I was about to panic but just to answer something I typed in my birth date.) AMS, “Thank you, that is helpful, but there are a few million
similar ID’s in our system. Please key in your full name, followed by the pound sign.” (This, I did.) AMS, “Thank you, that gets us closer. Now please key in your local postal zip code.” (I dutifully complied with only the slightest hesitation as I reconsidered if I really needed to make this call.) AMS, “Thank you, to help us serve you better, please listen carefully to our menu of services as they have recently changed. If you want to inquire about churches in your area, press 1. If you need a reference for Bibles, commentaries, and other print resources, press 2. If you need an answer to a theological question, press 3. If you want to speak to a guardian angel, press 4. To inquire of a prophet, press 5. If you just have to talk to …….” (Out of frustration and though I thought I whispered it, I audibly uttered, “What the hell is going on here?”) AMS, “I am sorry, we do not handle inquiries for hell. For further inquiry, please visit our website; PTL.Jesuslives.hvn. Goodbye, it has
been a pleasure serving you this day.” (Wait! Wait, I called out as the line went dead.)
Fortunately, I have long known that there is a much faster way to reach the Lord, God. For all I have to do is sit back, relax and say. “Good morning, Lord. It’s me again. First of all, I want to thank you for answering my prayer for a good night’s sleep, and to be able to awake this morning with those I love and with strength to do whatever it is you have for me this day. However, I do have a matter that is weighing heavy on me and I need your help.” And from here, I can carry on a conversation with the Lord. He is never too busy to hear by prayer, He never asks me to hold while He deals with other customers; for He is always read to answer my prayer, even if I have to wait a while to see how it all plays out. I am confident of this as I have his word for it, and I have now had enough experience with Him that my trust is solid.
If you need more than my testimony, consider these words from Jesus; “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7) He also says, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you will receive them, and you will have them.” (Mk. 11-24)
All the great saints of God had learned how to communicate with Him in prayer, not the least being King David and the other Psalmists. “I love the Lord, because He has heard My voice and My supplications. Because He has inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.” (Ps. 116:1) “Certainly, God has heard me, he has attended to the voice of my prayer.” (Ps. 66:19)
You may still have to call your provider to answer technical questions relating to your electronics; but I suggest if you first talk to the One who is our Provider, -- your experience will go better and without all the frustrations.
Written by Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
Many years ago, in another life, I sat in a restaurant with three of four of my co-workers, all fairly equal in the hierarchy of our workplace, when the discussion somehow turned to how others might perceive our work, more specifically, our work ethic. Some misguided soul decided that we should engage in an exercise in which each of us would submit to a critique by the others. The exercise provided that each of us would be brutally honest in stating how the person in review was perceived by others. This produced some interesting and thought-provoking results, but let me say, it is an exercise I am not now recommending. For, those doing the critiquing often took very seriously the word, “brutal”.
Now, an honest self-examination is valuable, not so much as to discern what others think about us, but to ask, “What am I doing to honor God?” and perhaps, more importantly, “Am I doing anything to bring dishonor to Christ or to others?” Yet, the topic of self-worth remains a concern for many, especially to someone dealing with low self-esteem. Counselors will often coach such a client as to how they can learn to love themselves.
However, such efforts often fall short because our self-worth does not come from self, but from God. We are told this right at the beginning of Scripture when God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26) This means we have no image other than that given by God and as is stated, it is a true reflection of His image. In Ps. 139: 14, we further hear; “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.”
When we speak of loving ourselves, we have to be careful. There are two dimensions to such love. There is the love that is conceited, prideful, and arrogant, which is sin. And then there is a natural love stemming from our knowledge of who we are in Christ, and being thankful for all that God has made in us. This second dimension of love is one rising out of humility, acknowledging that God made us the way He wanted us to be and has given us gifts specific to our life and purpose. Ours is to acknowledge those gifts, and commit ourselves to using them in the manner He has chosen.
I can give testimony to one who spent many years working in industry trying to find my self-worth in the praises of my peers and my bosses. And I can look back and believe that I mostly achieved good marks. Yet none of these satisfied, nothing could convince me that what I was doing was truly worthwhile, until I received the call of Christ on my life and committed it to serving Him. To the world, the choice I made to leave the corporate world in favor of dedicated service to God, may seem foolish. Yet it is here that I have found the peace that passes understanding; that in which I no longer have to ask, “What is this all about?”
Perhaps, no other verse of scripture demonstrates the truth of how God sees us, and affirms our value to Him and to the world, more than that which has become one of the most familiar and oft-quoted verses of scripture. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
This means you! You are one God so loved that He willingly gave up His life to preserve. You are the one He established as being worthy in Christ.
NEVER GIVE ANYONE ELSE AUTHORITY OVER YOUR SELF-WORTH.
You belong to Christ and to Him, only.
Written by Kathryn Kircher - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
Illustrated by Rhonda Bailey
The Blessing – Part 3
One of our sons just celebrated his 36th birthday. As I sat looking at his birthday card, searching for just the right words to express all I’m wishing for him in the coming year, the blessing of Aaron from Numbers 6:24-26 came to my mind once again:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (ESV)
What better words could I find to speak over our son for his birthday?
I’m not surprised that the words of this rich benediction came to mind: they have been ringing in my heart for months, ever since I first heard the song based on this passage which has become so popular lately. In recent months, believers from all around the globe are singing The Blessing over their cities and nations as a unified declaration of God’s goodness in the face of COVID-19. Here’s one version sung by believers from more than 300 local churches throughout Australia:
This song of blessing has also been translated into other languages, including Spanish. Believers from ten different nations throughout Latin America joined together to sing La Bendición - Latinoamérica:
Ever since The Blessing came to the forefront, I’ve been hungry to delve more deeply into the richness of these words. So in this third and final look at Numbers 6:24-26, let’s look at some of the treasure that can be found in the last couplet of this blessing.
"Lift Up His Countenance Upon You"
What does it mean for the Lord to lift up His countenance upon us? The rich variety of ways these words are translated in different versions of the Bible hints at the wealth that can be found here:
So if God would “look you full in the face” right now, as The Message puts it, would you be able to meet His gaze? Take a moment now to stop and imagine what that might be like. What would you expect to see? Are you anticipating His approval? Would He turn to you with favor, as some of these translations would express it? What does God see when He looks at you? Are you His beloved daughter or son whom He looks upon with great pleasure and delight?
Or would you expect to see disappointment and frustration reflected in His eyes instead? Perhaps you’d expect God to correct or even reject you. Of course, if there’s something in the way—something you need to confess to Him—do it! Repent, and receive His loving forgiveness. Then look Him in the face and see what it’s like for the Lord to lift His countenance upon you.
"And Give You Peace"
Peace. Safety. Prosperity. Well-being. Health. Wholeness. These are a few of the many aspects of the Hebrew word שָׁלֹם (shâlôm) that is used here. Shalom is like a multi-faceted diamond with myriad ways it can be reflected.
What would it look like for these various facets of shalom to rest on your life? Which one are you longing for the most?
Although peace is something we all long for, it often eludes us—especially during this season when COVID-19 has caused so much upheaval, uncertainty, and loss in our lives. But in the verse that comes immediately after The Blessing, we can find a clue to receiving the peace God wants to give us:
So shall they put my name upon the people . . . (Numbers 6:27 ESV)
When this blessing is spoken over us, it puts God’s name on us. Names like Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The God of Peace (Romans 15:33; Philippians 4:9; Hebrews 13:20, etc.). King of Peace (Hebrews 7:2). And as those names rest upon us, His very nature meets us in our places of need.
So let’s speak this blessing over one another, putting God’s name on each other. Let’s invoke God’s heart, His blessing, His name and His character over one another’s lives.
The Lord bless you
. . . so abundantly that it would cause the nations to kneel in awe.
And keep you
. . . guarded by His watchful eye and protective hedge.
The Lord make His face to shine upon you
. . . with all the fullness of His Dayspring warmth and nurturing light.
And be gracious to you
. . . as He stoops low, mercifully extending His kindness to you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you
. . . a gaze brimming with love, favor, attention, and approval.
And give you peace
. . . that multi-faceted peace that permeates our lives with well-being.
Written by Kathryn Kircher - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
Illustrated by Rhonda Bailey
The Blessing: Part 2
I love sunlight. To sit on our patio, drinking tea, and watching the way the morning light dapples our Japanese maple, highlighting the vein pattern of each leaf—that’s a piece of heaven for me. I’m drawn to the sunlight. When there’s not enough of it, I can fall into depression. I need sunshine. We all do!
Sunlight warms us. It banishes our darkness. It reveals. It causes growth.
And it points us to the Light of the World (John 8:12), the Sunrise from on High (Luke 1:78), the Sun of Righteousness, who rises with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2).
It’s no wonder then that the ancient blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 we’ve been delving into includes these words:
“The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (verse 25, ESV)
Before we look at this couplet more closely, let’s step back a moment and consider this powerful blessing as a whole. It has recently come to the forefront because a song based on this passage has gone viral. Versions of The Blessing have been popping up around the globe as believers join together to bless their cities and nations in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. It started in May with 65 churches and movements in the UK collaborating to sing this benediction over their land:
Since then, believers from every corner of the earth have been invoking this ancient blessing over their nations. Here’s one from worshippers in Zimbabwe. It’s delightful to hear this benediction declared in so many of that nation’s languages!
The blessing these believers are all singing contains three couplets, with each pair carrying a unique expression of God’s desire to benefit His people. Some commentators have suggested that each set reflects one member of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Martin Luther proposed that each couplet is intended to bless one facet of our being: body, soul, and spirit. So today, we’ll look at the second couplet, which could be considered to be the blessing from Jesus to our souls: “The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”
“Make His Face Shine Upon You”
What happens when the Lord’s face shines on us? In the same way that sunshine provides us with light and warmth and causes plants to grow, when God’s face shines on us, we are enlightened and our hearts are warmed. His light brings revelation and nourishes us, causing us to grow and flourish.
John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, summed it up beautifully in his prophesy about Jesus:
“…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79 ESV)
Light in place of darkness and the shadow of death.
Guidance into the path of peace.
These are the gifts of God’s tender mercy that come to us when the Lord’s face shines on us.
Jesus’ face is shining on you right now. Take a moment to turn toward Him and bask in His presence. Feel His warmth. Welcome His light. Receive His nourishment. Listen for His words to guide you on the path of peace.
“Be Gracious to You”
There’s a beautiful Hebrew word here that is translated “gracious”: חָנַן (khaw-nan'). It literally means to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior. Can’t you just picture it? In His kindness, the Lord bends low to show us favor and mercy—to reveal His grace to us. This word is used 77 times in the Old Testament, often to depict God’s kind dealings with His people. As Jacob said, “God has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough.” (Genesis 33:11)
But חָנַן (khaw-nan') goes the other direction, too. It also means to beg, entreat, or plead. For example, David often used this word in his Psalms to cry out to God:
The Lord is bending down to show you kindness right now. Can you picture it? What kind of kindness do you need today? Are you lonely, distressed, languishing, or afflicted in any way right now? Tell God about it, confident that He is more than willing to stoop to you in His kindness and be gracious to you.
Next time, we’ll hear two more examples of The Blessing from around the world and look at the final couplet of this ancient benediction.