Lessons from the Valley

Cape Verde Islands- Photo by Mark J Booth
Cape Verde Islands- Photo by Mark J Booth

Recently, I have entered into a deep valley. This valley is not of my choosing, but it is of God’s choosing. God knows exactly what He is doing in my life. The process of becoming more like Christ is not always pleasant. The valley is a place where we meet fire, pressure, and the unknown. The great thing about the valley is that we are not traveling this valley alone. David, who faced many valleys, wrote: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: FOR THOU ART WITH ME; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

As I have reflected upon these past days, I am learning several lessons. As James wrote: “My brethren, COUNT IT ALL JOY when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4) There is joy in the midst of the valley because the Lord is still working in our lives.

At fifty-eight years old, I find myself having to learn new lessons and review old lessons. I am a slow learner, but God is a very patient teacher. He knows what to bring into our lives; so that Christlikeness becomes a reality in our lives. Every valley is different and there are new lessons to learn in each valley. Here are some of the lessons that the Lord is teaching me as travel through this valley.

1. I have learned that every valley is God’s special plan for my life. Joseph didn’t choose to become a slave, but it was God’s special plan. He understood this very clearly when he told his brothers. “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Genesis 50:20) Joseph’s brothers did evil when they sold him into slavery; yet God took that evil deed and used it for good.

As I plod through this valley, I am thankful that God is still working in my life: Paul understood this when he wrote: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) I am an object of God’s working. He knows the right instrument to use to make me more like Jesus!

2. I have learned that the Valley is a Place of Fellowship with Christ. Communion with Christ can elude us in the good times; however, in the valley, it is essential. The valley shouts to us: “Go to Christ! Go to Christ!” Our need for Christ increases our desire for him. David wrote: “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” (Psalm 63:1) When we thirst for Christ, He is always there to satisfy our thirst. When we run from the valley of His choosing, we lose those very intimate times of fellowship with Him.

3. I have learned that I can show my vulnerability before others. The valley has a way of causing us to be broken and humble before God and others. As a result, people see that we are vulnerable. Those who love us will see this vulnerability and try to bring comfort, healing and encouragement into our lives. Naomi showed her vulnerability before Ruth. As a result, Ruth left all and became her dearest friend.

Sometimes, we try to show how strong we are while traveling in the valley. There are people who would be eager to help us in our travels, if only we expressed our need. There is nothing wrong in letting people know that you are traveling through a valley. I am thankful for those members in our church who have seen our vulnerability and have ministered encouragement and love to us. Jonathan had a great ministry of encouragement to David because David showed his vulnerability to Jonathan.

4. I have learned that I need intercessory prayer. When things are going well, we don’t ask people to pray for us. However, when we enter the valley, Paul’s words: “Brethren, pray for us,” easily fall from our lips. I still don’t understand how prayer works, but I do know that it does work. There are many pitfalls in this valley, and yet the prayers of others have taken me through each pitfall.

5. I have learned that tears are perfectly appropriate. I very rarely cry, but when something or someone you love is hurting, tears flow naturally. Jesus said: “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) Comfort comes from the Savior who shed His tears for the people of Jerusalem. He sorrows for the same things which causes us to have sorrow. The tears show that I love those things which Jesus loves.

6. I have learned the great comfort that comes from the Word of God. The valley causes us to have a greater desire to read the Word, but it also gives us a greater ability to allow the truths of God’s Word to speak to our hearts. When things are going well, we may read the Bible, but when we are in the valley the Bible becomes a life-preserver. We hold unto its truths as though our lives depend upon it. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)

As I continue to travel this valley, I am thankful that I don’t have to travel this valley alone. Not only is Jesus walking with me, but my wife is walking right beside me. There will be more lessons to learn and relearn; however, I have the greatest teacher who ever walked the earth. His name is Jesus!

When Disappointment Comes, Twenty Truths to Remember

Guincho Beach in Portugal (Photo by Mark J. Booth)
Guincho Beach in Portugal (Photo by Mark J. Booth)

Life is filled with disappointments. People disappoint us. We disappoint ourselves. Circumstances disappoint us. The question isn’t: “Will disappointments come, but how do we respond in the midst of our disappointments. When we view God in the midst of our disappointments, the disappointment will become a means of a greater love and appreciation for our Great God. Here are twenty truths to remember in the midst of our disappointments.

1. God is on the throne.  “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah,art the most high over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:18)

2. God still loves me. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”
(Jeremiah 31:3)

3. God won’t ever leave me, nor forsake me. “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have:for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5)

4. God is my Shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:1-2)

5. God is my Father. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

6. God hears me when I cry out to Him. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34:6)

7. God is my defense. “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” (Psalm 18:2)

8. God is my guide. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psalm 32:8)

9. God will bring comfort. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

10. God is merciful (He forgives me even when others don’t). “It is of the Lord ‘s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

11. God has a purpose for my life. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

12. God makes all things work together for good. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

13. God teaches me new lessons. “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3-5)

14. God gives me a testimony to others (I need to remember my testimony in spite of what others do.) “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

15. God gives me His strength. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

16. God gives me His grace in times of great need. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee:for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 17. God encourages me. “And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters:but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. (1 Samuel 30:6)

18. Christ is interceding for me. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

19. Christ is preparing a place for me in heaven. “Let not your heart be troubled:ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions:if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

20. Christ will take my burden upon Himself because I can’t carry it. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)

Why Me? (A Good Friday Meditation)

cross 2I have always had the habit of saying: “Why me?” when things go wrong.  For some reason, deep in my heart, I feel that nothing bad should come my way. Why should I get sick? Why should my plane be delayed? Why should I have an expensive car repair?

Why is it that I don’t ever say: “Why me?” when I think of all the undeserved blessings that I have received. On this Good Friday, I need to say: “Why me?” in regard to Christ’s death on the cross. I don’t deserve the love of God. I don’t deserve my Lord Jesus Christ dying on the cross to take away my sin. Why does He love me? Why did He die for me?

A couple of years ago, I was able to spend twenty-four hours in Jerusalem. It was a whirlwind trip, but one of the things that stood out was my visit to the possible place where Jesus died. There is a road that passes outside the old city and the rock formation above the road forms into the shape of a skull. This sight was a serious reminder of all that Christ suffered on the cross for a world of lost sinners, of which I am a part.

The Place of the Skull (Golgotha or Calvary).
The Place of the Skull (Golgotha or Calvary).

Reflecting upon Christ’s death causes me to cry out: “Why me?” Christ suffered physically upon the cross, but more importantly He suffered spiritually. He took all of our sin upon Himself. For this reason, He cried out to God, the Father. “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Christ felt the full force of the Father’s wrath on the cross because He became sin for us; so that we could have His righteousness upon ourselves. The perfect Son of God took my place! “Why me?”

There are many other people in history who could say:”Why me?” They knew their sin before God. They knew that they deserved God’s wrath; yet they could say: “Why me?”

  • Matthew, the crooked tax collector, could have said: “Why me?”
  • The repentant thief on the cross could have said: “Why me?”
  • Saul (Paul), the persecutor of the church, could have said: “Why me?”
  • The Ethiopian Eunuch could have said: “Why me?”
  • Countless Christian slaves in the Roman Empire could have said: “Why me?”
  • Those who have died for their faith could have said: “Why me?”
  • Countless millions of believers through the centuries could say: “Why me?”

“Dear Heavenly Father, I still don’t understand: “Why me?” You sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for me. You gave me your Word which showed me all that Christ did on the cross for me. You sent your Holy Spirit to convict me of my sin. Father, you adopted me into your family. You have promised me a place in heaven. “Why me?!!” Though I may never know the answer to this question, I thank you for your great, undeserved love towards me. Help me never to forget the question: “Why me?”

WHY SHOULD HE LOVE ME SO? By Robert Harkness (1925)
Love sent my Savior to die in my stead;
Why should He love me so?
Meekly to Calvary’s cross He was led;
Why should He love me so?

Nails pierced His hands and His feet for my sin;
Why should He love me so?
He suffered sore my salvation to win;
Why should He love me so?

O how He agonized there in my place;
Why should He love me so?
Nothing withholding my sin to efface;
Why should He love me so?

CHORUS
Why should He love me so?
Why should He love me so?
Why should my Savior to Calvary go?
Why should He love me so?

 

When God wants to Drill a Man…

 A gold mine in South Africa (Encyclopedia Britannica)
A gold mine in South Africa (Encyclopedia Britannica)

“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

One of the most interesting experiences we had while living in South Africa was visiting Gold Reef City in Johannesburg.  There were plenty of shops, restaurants, and rides, but my favorite part was the tour of a gold mine (no longer in use),  We would take a mine elevator deep into the ground and the process of producing gold was explained.

The tour gave me some understanding concerning the mining of gold.  I never had understood the complicated process of getting the gold ore from the ground and making it usable.  I learned that they may drill as deep as two miles beneath the surface to extract the ore.  After the gold ore is mined, it has to be processed.  This means a lot crushing and then melting.  A great majority of the ore is discarded because only a small amount of the ore is useable gold.

Our lives are much like a gold mine operation.  God often must drill deep to find the gold in our lives.  We may prefer a superficial Christianity, but God wants to work in the deep recesses of our hearts.  He also must crush us of our pride and self-sufficiency; so that our hard hearts become soft towards Him.  God also melts away those things that hinder our walk with Him.  These may not be sinful in themselves, but God knows that they keep us from being our best for Him.

Job clearly understood this process.  He realized that all of His trials were God’s method of purifying his life and making him more useful for his Lord.  Like Job, we often feel the pain of God drilling deep in our hearts.  We also feel the pain of God crushing our pride towards Him.  God’s melting process of taking things out of our lives is also painful.  However, through it all, we know that God has a great purpose for what He is doing.

The following poem describes what Job experienced as well as the truth of Romans 8:28: ” And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

When God Wants To Drill A Man

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

anvil and hammer

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Potter with Clay

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

 

 

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.

– Anonymous

A Prayer for the New Year

Malachi 3:6: The Canadian Rockies-Photo by Mark J. Booth
Malachi 3:6: The Canadian Rockies-Photo by Mark J. Booth

Dear Heavenly Father,

I live in a world that is constantly changing; yet you do not change.  My circumstances may change, but you do not change.  My health my change, but you do not change.  My financial situation may change, but you do not change.  The people in my life may change, but you do not change.

Thank you, Father, for giving me the privilege to call you, Father.  Thank you for the blessings of the past year.  You showed your mercy towards me every day.  Your presence was always with me even when I wasn’t aware of you being with me.  Your Word brought direction, comfort, and conviction throughout the past year.  You blessed me by using my family, and many other people who showed love and kindness towards me.  You gave me strength when I was weak.  You gave me wisdom when I was confused.  Above all, I thank you for your love that I didn’t deserve.

Father, as I look forward to the New Year, I realize that I am facing the great unknown,  but my unknown future is known to you.. For this reason,  I commit this New Year to you.  Help me to keep my eyes focused upon you.

Please guide me in every decision that I make.  Help me to love my wife, my family, and all those that you bring into my life.  Give me the strength, patience, and wisdom to bear any trial that may come my way.  Help me to draw closer to you each day.  Increase my faith, because I often walk by sight and not by faith.

When I am tempted to go astray, bring me back to yourself.  When my love becomes lukewarm, woo me back to yourself.  When I feel like quitting, let me experience your grace to move forward.

Thank you, Father, for your ears that are always open to my prayers.  Take my life and let it be devoted to you.  I commit my ever-changing life to you, because you are my unchanging Father.  Amen.

Christmas Thoughts and Greetings for Today

Bennett Park, Charlotte, MI  Photo by Mark J Booth
Bennett Park, Charlotte, MI Photo by Mark J Booth

Merry Christmas to all of you who subscribe to my blog or read my posts.  May each of you enjoy this special time of year with family and loved ones.  This Christmas for me is very special.  Sharon and I are glad to have our whole family with us for three days.

As we think about this time of year we can’t forget the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here are three thoughts that I pray would be a blessing to those who read them.

1. Do not fear God’s plan for your life. Embrace it! God does know what He is doing. “And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.” (Luke 1:30)

2. Do not ever limit what God can do with your life. What may seem insignificant to man is very significant to God. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2) In the birth of Jesus, God used 1) an insignificant young woman (Mary) 2) an insignificant object (a manger) 3)an insignificant city (Bethlehem) 4) an insignificant nation (Israel). God wants to use each of us “insignificant” people for His purposes and His Glory. Can we say: “Here, am I Lord, use me.”?

3. Do we know the One who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago?  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
1. He is the fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy.
2. He is the coming King.
3. He is the Savior of the World
4. He is the Messiah (the Deliverer)
5. He is the Lord.
6. He is God in the flesh.
 

“Dear Lord
Help me to see beyond the lights of Christmas and see you, the Light of the World.
Help me to see beyond the gifts of Christmas and see you, the Gift from God the Father.
Help me to see beyond the food of Christmas and see you, the Bread of Life.
Help me to see beyond the activity of Christmas and see you, the Rest for my Soul. Amen”

The Wonder of the Babe in the Manger

The Canadian Rockies-Photo by: Mark J Booth
The Canadian Rockies-Photo by: Mark J Booth

Christmas in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1983 was quite different for our family of three. I had always been accustomed to cold weather and snow in Michigan.  In Johannesburg, it was the middle of the summer.  What could we do special with our toddler?  We ventured out one evening to nearby Joubert Park to see the annual Christmas displays.  We were surprised that the displays had nothing to do with Christmas.  Each display depicted a fairy tale story.  What did the Three Blind Mice and Little Jack Horner have to do with Christmas?   Where was Jesus in the manger?  Where was the Christmas music?  Finally, in a quiet corner, we found the manger scene lost in the midst of the fairy tales.

An Old Photo of Joubert Park without the Christmas displays.
An Old Photo of Joubert Park without the Christmas displays.

Today, those displays remind me of how easy it is to forget Jesus in the midst of all the activity, lights, music and shopping of the season.  We may give Jesus a little corner of our lives as the baby in Bethlehem, but are we willing to allow Him to rule in our hearts and lives?

Seven hundred years before Christ’s birth, the prophet Isaiah prophesied concerning the birth of Jesus Christ.  He not only spoke of His birth, but revealed the character of the coming Deliverer of Israel.  These words are quite well-known; yet do we know the meaning of this description of Jesus?

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

This description of Christ creates a spirit of prayer, worship and praise unto Jesus.  Yes, He came to earth as a baby, but He is unique.  He is God in the flesh.  Do we take the opportunity to pray, honor and glorify our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  Will you join me in the following prayers based on the greatness of the baby in the manger.

“And His Name Shall be Called:

  1. Wonderful-“Dear Lord Jesus, As I read the Bible, I often treat it as textbook from which to learn truth.  I can lose the wonder of being in your presence.  I can lose the wonder of all that you have done in my life.  Please restore the wonder of your birth, life, death and resurrection in my life. With wonder comes true worship. You are worthy. Amen”
  2. Counsellor-“Lord, you are always there to guide me. When I don’t know what to do, you show me the way. When I need to pour out my heart to someone, you are always ready to listen. Thank you for being my counselor always and in every situation. You are truly the All-Wise God! Amen”
  3. The mighty God-“Dear Lord, I often find myself trying to live the Christian life without you. I try to deal with life’s difficulties on my own. I forget that you are all-powerful and that nothing is too hard for you. Help me to lean upon your all-powerful arms. Help me to trust you in every situation and to remember that nothing is impossible with you. Thank you for your patience towards me. Thank you that you are the mighty fortress to whom I may always flee. Amen”
  4. The Everlasting Father-“Dear Lord, because you are the Father of Eternity, you are always with me. You love, protect and provide for me. Thank you for giving me eternal life. Help me to love you even in a small way as you love me. Help me to learn at your feet and be quick to obey you. Thank you that I can call out to you as My Heavenly Father, and you always answer! Amen”
  5. The Prince of Peace-“Lord, thank you for dying on the cross for me, so that I may have peace with you! I also thank you that when I cast my cares upon you, I may also experience your peace every day. Please work in the hearts of the many people who don’t know you as THE PRINCE OF PEACE. Amen.

This time of year is a great opportunity to renew our wonder in the attributes and works of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.  Let’s not view Jesus as the babe in the manger, but as the Savior of the world and the Lord of our lives. Let’s do more than keep in Christ in Christmas.  Let’s keep Christ in the center of our lives.