Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Improving Our God-Sight

“You don’t recognize me, do you?” the beautiful woman behind the deli counter asked.

Studying her face, I wracked my brain for some hidden memory that would tell me who she was. I shook my head. “I’m really sorry, but, no, I don’t. How do I know you?”

“We went to school together,” she answered, and then proceeded to tell me her maiden name. I tried not to let it show, but inside I thought, “Really?” I just couldn’t see the resemblance to the mental picture I had of my classmate.

In Luke 24:13-35 we read the account of two followers of Jesus who experienced a similar moment. They are walking along, talking of recent tragic events, when a man joined them on their journey. At the time they didn’t recognize who the man was, but later realized it was Jesus.

Isn’t that so like us? Even those of us who have loved and been committed to Christ for years don’t always recognize him as he walks alongside of us. Why is that?

Perhaps it’s for the same reasons the two men on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus, and why I didn’t recognize my friend Donna from high school:

  • They weren’t expecting to see Jesus at all. Remember, they thought he was dead. I wasn’t expecting to see my friend—it had been years since we had run into each other and we were miles from our hometown. Similarly, although we, as Christians, often remind one another that Jesus is always with us, we are surprised when we recognize evidence that he really IS.
  • Jesus didn’t look like they anticipated he would look if they did see him. They didn’t expect a person who died three days earlier from crucifixion to look whole and healthy. My friend Donna, by her own admission, had changed a lot physically. Equally, when Jesus is in our midst, he sometimes appears in the hands of a friend, the hug of a loved one, the smile of a stranger. We don’t identify him in these forms.
  • Jesus wasn’t where they thought he would be. My guess is they thought Jesus was still in the tomb, not walking along the road. I thought Donna was still back in our hometown, or at least near there. Sometimes Jesus isn’t where we expect either. Yes, he’s there in church and Bible study, but although we don’t spot him, he is also in the grocery store, the doctor’s office, or walking a trail.
  • Jesus didn’t do what they thought he would do. The men on the Emmaus Road expected Jesus to know what had been happening in Jerusalem. They expected him to say, “Hey guys! It’s me—Jesus!” I didn’t expect Donna to be working in a deli. She was always very pretty and very popular. I guess I expected she would be a model or a fashion designer. Somehow my delusions of grandeur had carried over from my teen years. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t always do what we think he will or should do. At times, he allows us to face challenges we don’t want to face. There are often circumstances where we think he should intervene and to us, it appears that he doesn’t. Consequently, we don’t grasp that he IS present.

So how do we sharpen our God-sighting abilities? I think Father Thomas Keating, in his book, The Mystery of Christ, gives us four steps to improving our spiritual vision: “Like the disciples of Emmaus, we, too, have our own ideas of Jesus Christ, his message and his church. We, too, are conditioned by our upbringing, early education, culture and life experience. The disciples could not recognize Jesus as long as their mindsets about who he was and what he was to do were in place. When Jesus demolished their blindness with his explanation of the scriptures, their vision of him began to assume a more realistic tone. The price of recognizing Jesus is always the same: our idea of him, of the church, of the spiritual journey, of God himself has to be shattered. To see with the eyes of faith we must be free of our culturally-conditioned mindsets. When we let go of our private and limited vision, he who has been hidden from us by our pre-packaged values and preconceived ideas causes the scales to fall from our eyes. He was there all the time. Now at last we perceive his Presence. With the transformed vision of faith, we return to the humdrum routines and duties of daily life, but now, like Mary Magdalene, we recognize God giving himself to us in everyone and in everything.”


©2016 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Being a GOOD Good Samaritan

photo from

“Who is my neighbor?” the teacher of religious law asked Jesus.

In response, Jesus shares the parable of the Good Samaritan, where a Jewish traveler is stripped of his clothing, beaten, and left half dead along the road. First a priest and then a religious leader walk by and observe the poor fellow, but both avoid him. Finally, another man, a Samaritan, comes upon him. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man and pays an innkeeper to continue his care.

Jesus uses this story to teach us about caring for our fellow human beings as we traverse this earthly life. The undeniable truth is that we cannot help everyone in need. Each one of us is inundated with appeals to help others—through emails, snail mail, and posts on Facebook, TV commercials, church bulletins and newsletters from civic organizations. We see individuals on street corners and outside businesses with signs indicating their needs. The stories behind those needs are often sad, sometimes angering, and occasionally unbelievable. So, with our limited resources, we, too ask, “Who is my neighbor?”

As individuals and organizations, we face an ongoing conundrum in trying to figure out whom we can help. Which people are expressing genuine need and which ones are merely asking us to enable them to continue to make unwise choices?

In one of the Quiet Walk devotions posted by Walk Thru the Bible, the author offered four lessons we can learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan. I found these guidelines very insightful in evaluating when we should help. Using Luke 10:25-37 as our template, we discover that we are to assist a person in need when the following general criteria are met:

  • He or she comes across our path in the normal course of life;
  • He or she has a legitimate need, not of his or her own making;
  • He or she cannot help himself or herself;
  • We have the ability to meet the need.

Amazingly, within hours of reading the Good Samaritan devotional, Dick and I were approached with an appeal for funds. We weren’t sure how or if we should help. When we considered the request in light of these four guiding principles, the answer was clear! I hope, as you prayerfully ponder aiding those in need, that you find these suggestions from Quiet Walk as helpful as I did.

Be encouraged!

©2016 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Birthday Love

Today is my 63rd birthday! I am enjoying every minute of it—the gifts, the flowers, the cards, the phone calls, the Facebook posts, the texts, and the in-person greetings from so many thoughtful people--family, friends, and even my cat!

I worked this morning—something I truly love! Then Dick and I went for “lun-per”—halfway between lunch and supper, at Red Lobster. The salmon there is always delish!

Tonight is Bible Study with an awesome group of people. I love how we learn from one another. What a great way to wind up my birthday!

God says in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Today was a day of rejoicing, not just because it is my birthday, but because God has been especially gracious to me this past year. All of life, relationships, and even birthdays seem more special than ever before.

It means so much to me to have so many others celebrating with me. I feel very blessed. Their kindness not only warms my soul, but makes me realize just how much a few words expressed aloud or on paper or on a screen can mean to a person.

Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” I can honestly say that all these birthday greetings have done just that-- stirred in me a desire to pass on that thoughtfulness. Loving and caring for one another doesn’t take a lot of money or elaborate planning. Sometimes the simplest action and the fewest words say the most.


©2016 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Oil Lamps

“Do you have any oil lamps?” the customer asked me, looking around the store where I work.

Unfortunately, at the time, we didn’t.

I understand why he wanted one. Oil lamps are great to have around when a storm knocks out the electricity. However, they can be temperamental—flickering and smoking at times.

As Christians—when it comes to letting our light shine for Jesus—we may feel that way ourselves at times. Our light can waver or grow a bit dim in the face of the challenges and struggles of life. Perhaps a closer look at maintaining an oil lamp will help us gain insight into brightening our spiritual light, too.
If an oil lamp gets too much air it will flicker. An easy fix is to move it to a less drafty location. When we feel like we are being tossed about spiritually, could the culprit be too much “busyness”. What can we eliminate in order to have more quality time for God?

If the wick on an oil lamp is untrimmed, the lamp burns poorly. In like manner, the light of Jesus cannot shine through us if we do not allow God to shape us according to His design. (Romans 12:2)

When the oil in the lamp is dirty, the impurities will cause the flame to burn unevenly. The old adage is true: We reap what we sow. Does what we watch, read, and listen to fit the parameters laid out in Philippians 4:8? “My friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.”

Did you know that if the level of the oil is too low, the wick itself begins to burn, causing it to flicker and smoke? If we try to nourish our souls with a few lines of Scripture read occasionally with a word or two of prayer squeezed in, it won’t be long till we are spiritually starving. How can we shine God’s light on others when we are barely allowing it to illuminate our own way?

Is the flame of your faith burning brightly? Or, like me, do you need to ask God to do a little maintenance to bring back its brilliance?

Be encouraged!

©2016 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

That Position Has Been Filled

Have you ever applied for a position only to be told it has been filled?  Scripture warns us there is a position we often try to assume that has already been filled—that of judge.

“God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge.” (James 4:12)

And yet, we still try to fill that seat, assessing others based on our own flawed view. Scripture is very clear that God doesn’t take too kindly to others trying usurp his office, warning us, “Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Do I really want that—do I want God judging me in the same swift, harsh manner that I judge others? I think not! So many times I jump to conclusions and judge without thinking things through, without knowing the whole story, without any more than circumstantial evidence. Consider this scenario:

One winter evening, a woman was driving to a meeting. About 30 minutes into her trip, her car engine cut out on her. She checked the fuel gauge—she wasn’t out of gas, but something was definitely wrong. Thankfully, there was a quick mart at the intersection ahead and she prayed the car into the parking lot.

Unfortunately, the little store was closed and she was in a dead zone for her cellphone carrier. However, there was a tavern across the road so she cautiously crossed the highway in her high-heeled shoes and went inside to call her husband. As she exited the tavern, her heel slipped into a crack in the sidewalk. With arms flailing, she pitched forward, and went down on her hands and knees.

Just as this mishap toke place, a couple from her church stopped at the traffic signal. The movement at the entrance to the tavern drew their attention. Looking over, they gasped in recognition.

What will they most likely assume about the stranded woman? Yes, the couple would be in error, but wouldn’t we be just as quick to judge wrongly?

According to Scripture we are overstepping our bounds when we judge. After all, we aren’t perfect. By God’s holy standards, everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. (Romans 6:23)

So then, when we are tempted to judge what should we to do instead?

First, we should look at ourselves. Matthew 7: 3-5 talks about taking the logs out of our own eyes while 2 Corinthians 13:5 urges us to examine ourselves.

Second, trust God. Don’t worry—He sees and He knows. God has set a time for judgement (Psalm 75:2), and He will be the one to judge—and quite fairly, I might add. (Hebrews 10:30b)

Third, show mercy. “God will not show mercy when he judges the person who has not been merciful; but mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13) We all hope for mercy when we fail and falter. We can extend that same mercy to those whose behavior or words may not be what we expect.

No judges are needed. That position has already been filled.

Be encouraged!

©2016 Pamela D. Williams