Highways To Zion - Judy Nichols

Highways to Zion is a weekly devotional message on WVMC FM designed to encourage you in your daily walk with Christ through lessons from everyday life.  Here are the archive's of past devotional messages.

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See what Judy has to encourage you this week...

Week of August 23rd

STICKS

We visited our daughter and her family last week. She started fixing supper and her 15-month-old son started melting down. Late afternoons are never easy for toddlers. So I was holding him as we watched her preparing the spaghetti. I asked her if Micah liked it and she said no, he didn’t. Soon the pot of water was boiling and she dumped the box of spaghetti into it. At first they stuck up out of the water every which way, so I said, "Micah, look! Sticks! We get to have sticks for dinner!" He took that in and said what he always says about things on the stove: "Hot!"

In due time the meal was ready. We sat down, filled our plates, and began to eat. My daughter cut up Micah’s little helping of spaghetti and attempted to feed him a spoonful. He turned his face away and ate a green bean instead. She said to him, "Look, Micah, Papa is eating his sticks." My husband joined the drama by opening wide and taking a big bite. Micah gave him a side-wise glance and hesitantly opened his mouth for the bite of spaghetti. Several more times during the meal, she reminded Micah that Papa was eating his sticks and eventually the entire helping was eaten.

The Scripture tells us we are to be imitators of God. When we think of that, we usually think of being kind, honest, generous, loving. But the Bible also says Jesus was tempted in all things as we are. We also know that he suffered many things. He suffered rejection by the religious leaders; He was misunderstood even by His closest followers. He had nowhere to lay His head. And He suffered unimaginable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony in his betrayal, trials, and crucifixion.

There are times in all our lives when we are experiencing something that we would much rather turn our faces away from. Illness, job loss, relationship problems, failure, financial reverses, natural or man-made disasters. We don’t often have the choice of refusing it, but certainly wish we could. Perhaps we would do well in those moments to take a side-wise glance at Jesus, realize that He "ate His sticks," and do likewise.

Being imitators of God involves both the positive actions and attitudes embodied in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and the submission to His will, no matter the cost to ourselves, that we see in the life of Jesus Christ.

© Judy Nichols 2015


Week of August 16th

A SAYING

A friend recently posted a saying on facebook: "When thinking about life, remember this: No amount of guilt can solve the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future." While almost everyone would agree this is a true and pithy statement, it leaves way too much unsaid. If you happen to be dealing with a sense of guilt in your life or if you are one of those who is prone to worry, this little saying (if you think about it) will probably leave you feeling frustrated, confused, and inadequate.

Pop culture and psychology have dealt with the problem of guilt by doing away with sin. If there are no moral absolutes and nothing is truly an affront to God, then there is no need for anyone to feel guilty for anything. They also have tried to remove our responsibility for our misdeeds by blaming others. If we are victims of abuse or poverty or whatever, then our guilt really belongs to someone else. It’s not too difficult to see the mayhem this line of reasoning has produced in our society.

But if there are moral absolutes and there are behaviors that displease God and we violate them, then we are guilty and we should feel guilty. The conscience is that part of us that is our moral compass; it tells us both when we are on track and when we have deviated from God’s best (see Rom. 2:15). The liberating truth is that, when we recognize that we have sinned and that the responsibility lies with us alone, we are in charge. We can change; we can repent. The good news of the gospel is that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

There is also the issue of false guilt, that is, feeling guilty for something that really isn’t our fault. A prime example of this is the feeling among many children of broken families that their parents’ divorce was somehow their fault. Or the sense of an abused person that they somehow deserved what they got and were unworthy of love. We have an enemy who is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). There is no truth in him (ibid.). He speaks his lies into our minds and hearts as he seeks to negatively interpret to us the unfortunate circumstances we endure. If we do not have the truth also spoken into us, we will believe these lies and carry a burden of guilt (not to mention a host of other social and emotional baggage). God’s word, the Bible, is the truth. Jesus Christ who said, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6) promised to give the Holy Spirit to those who put their trust in Him. This Holy Spirit’s ministry is to "guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). Jesus said to those who had believed in Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31-32). Repenting of sin and knowing God’s truth: this is the only way to truly solve the past.

Worry is the thing we do when we know there’s really nothing else we can do about something. But if we’re honest, we will admit that anxiety is like a placebo; it makes us think it’s making a difference but in reality has no effect at all. At least, it has no effect on the situation we’re concerned about. Its only effect is on us and it is a negative effect. I’m not a medical professional to explain the physiological changes in our bodies when we worry, but I’ve worried enough to recognize that the knot in my stomach, the nervous energy (hand wringing, pacing, etc.), and the swirling thoughts are indications of some significant chemical changes in my body.

Jesus questioned his disciples as to why they should worry when they could not thereby add a single hour to their lives (Matt. 6: 25-34). The antidote, He said, is to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first and trust Him to provide everything else we need (6:33). He said if God fed the birds of the air and clothed the flowers of the field with splendor, then He would certainly also take care of them. Lest we trip over the idea that seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness is difficult or reserved only for the super-spiritual, I would define it simply as letting God occupy a greater portion of our field of vision than the circumstances at hand. God is big; our problems are small. Even our biggest need and most insurmountable obstacle do not compare to God’s infinite resources and power.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4: 6-7). He’s saying not to worry, but to pray and ask – with thanksgiving -- for the things we need. There is nothing wrong with thanking God in advance for the answer to our prayer, but I think the focus of the admonition is more to recognize and believe that God is good, cares about our needs, wants to be asked, and has our best interest at heart, and to thank Him for that. If we truly believe this, then no matter what the answer is or when it comes or doesn’t come, we can know our future is safe in His hands. Anxiety is dispelled; peace reigns.

Anxiety does nothing for the future; it only makes the present miserable. Trusting in Christ, believing that He can and will provide for us, and asking Him to do it are the things that can change the future. Why not give it a try?

© Judy Nichols 2015


Week of August 9th

PUZZLE PIECES

My three-year-old granddaughter has graduated from the puzzles that have individual pieces that fit into individual holes to jigsaw puzzles. Her mom helps her by handing her the next piece that fits into the last one and by doing the edge before the middle. Even so, sometimes she has trouble figuring out which way the piece should go. Often it just needs a quarter-turn to be in the right position but, when she tells her to turn it, she turns it too far or turns it over and then back and it’s still not right.

Isn’t that just how it is with the Christian life? God has given us all the puzzle pieces and generally speaking, He has given them to us in the right order. We know that the corner piece, where we begin, is trusting Christ. It’s where it all starts. Yet, even as seasoned believers, it is all too easy to try to do it or fix it or provide it on our own. This is not to say, of course, that we should never do anything, but just sit around waiting for God to show up with what we need. There are just so many things that we can’t really accomplish on our own and, when we are in that situation, our default setting is to worry, do some hand-wringing, or maybe even meddle where we shouldn’t. We turn the piece over and over; what does trusting Christ look like in this situation? How do we fit it in so as to help complete the picture and let God receive the glory?

We know that the next adjoining pieces are repentance and forgiveness. I am sure every Christian I know would genuinely say their aim is to repent when they have sinned and forgive when they have been sinned against. It’s just so basic. Yet I know from experience (and so do you) that it is way too easy to sin without even realizing it, if not with our words or actions, then at least in our thought lives. And it seems like forgiving when we have been wronged should be counter-productive. Aren’t we justified in holding a grudge; doesn’t that person need to be punished? Even though the design on each piece is so very clear, we can’t seem to fit them in with the rest of the puzzle.

There are many other puzzle pieces I could mention, but the point I want to get at is this: My granddaughter never gets frustrated; she just keeps trying until she get’s it right. Neither does her mother get frustrated watching her child try to fit the pieces together correctly.

It’s tempting to think of God tearing His hair out over our bumbling attempts to live out His precepts, but I think that would be a mistake. As long as we keep trying, as long as we keep turning the piece this way and that, He is happy. He sees the whole picture; He gives us each piece as we need it; He gives us hints to help us along the way, He gives us companions with whom to share our journey, and He waits patiently as we try first one way and then another until at last the piece fits and our little corner of God’s great tapestry is one step closer to completion.

© Judy Nichols 2015


Week of August 2nd

LAWS

There are laws and then there are laws. When we hear the word "law" we generally think of rules, things we must do or not do. There are traffic laws; there are rules of sports and games. There are criminal laws and civil laws. There are local laws, state laws, and federal laws. And there are the really big laws, the Ten Commandments.

But there are other laws, principles that have been discovered about how the universe works. There is the law of gravity. There are laws of motion and momentum and thermodynamics (to name just a few and way more than I understand). These laws are immutable and violating them does not end well.

I violated the law of gravity a few years ago, not intentionally, but the result was the same. On a brisk walk I tripped over an uneven piece of pavement and the law of gravity (possibly abetted by the law of momentum) made sure I went splat on the concrete. The result, once I picked myself up and the stars quit spinning around my head, was a grotesquely misshapen and obviously broken wrist.

What if we looked at the Ten Commandments in terms of these other laws? God created the universe to work optimally in certain ways. These ways do not change. He also created humanity and gave the laws by which we could have an optimal experience. Could we postulate that violating these laws will also not end well? Not because God is a meanie who will punish us, but just because that’s how things work.

Could it be that God tells us not to covet others’ possessions because He knows that wanting what we cannot have makes us unhappy, devalues the blessings He does bestow upon us, and elevates something other than God to first place in our lives? Does He tell us not to lie or bear false witness because He knows it not only damages others’ reputations but our own credibility, as well? And not only that, from our own experience we know that one lie often leads to another and another and another. Sir Walter Scott made a profound observation when he penned the words, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."

Long before our founding fathers encoded property rights, God said, "You shall not steal." By stealing from others we deny ourselves the bounty of God’s provision as well as others of theirs. And we have no lack of evidence of the ruin of relationships, not only of the consenting adults involved, but also of their families and the culture at large, in the commission of adultery. It strikes at the heart of the marital covenant and cheapens the sexual union God created for the good of humanity. It is not uncommon for a murderer to be referred to as a "monster," that is, something less than human. Why on earth would God not forbid murder when it takes both the life of its victim and its perpetrator?

As the Father of the human race, God knows, along with most human parents, that children grow up and prosper best when they obey and honor their parents. And keeping one day of rest in every seven is more than just beneficial; it is essential. Some years ago I read that in Russia the government attempted to switch to a ten-day work week to try to improve productivity. It didn’t work; the people were less productive than before and even the farm animals couldn’t keep up. God knows how much rest His creation needs in order to function optimally. Changing it is counter-productive.

The remaining commandments have to do with our relationship with God Himself. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of the universe and so it should be obvious that violating these is not going to end well. Using God’s name inappropriately dishonors and devalues His Person. If we stoop to doing this, we dishonor ourselves, as well. Trying to depict Him so that we can bow down to the thing is an attempt to remove God from the transcendent realm to the physical realm, thus reducing His greatness and glory and seeking to remove the mystery of His being. In so doing we elevate ourselves above Him; our pride is evident even as we bow down in supposed homage to our idol.

And finally, the greatest folly of all is in thinking we can worship anything, any so-called god instead of the one true and living God. We cannot even worship any other god in addition to the Great I AM, for He alone is the absolute Sovereign who is worthy of all our adoration, gratitude, obedience, and allegiance. Worshiping other lesser gods deprives us of the joy of fellowship with Him, the abundance of His provision, and the security of His protection. His laws are more than just rules; they are the principles by which the universe operates. They do not change because He does not change. We violate them at our own risk.

© Judy Nichols 2015


 

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