Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Curve Balls

What do we do with life's curve balls? You expected one thing and ended up with something entirely different. You did not see it coming. You assumed life would go well today and then it didn't. Disappointment, confusion, discouragement, or despair set in. They plant their feet in your mind and sit down hard on your heart. What to do?

Do you know that Christ had tough days too? Listen to this: ...in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:7-8).

Somehow I've never pictured Christ praying with vehement cries and tears, except right before His crucifixion. That Scripture caught me by surprise. How does He know what we are feeling on our worst days? Because He has felt the same way too.

Who better to take our despair, our tears to than Jesus? He knows what you are feeling right now, not just because He knows your thoughts, but also because He experienced those exact feelings when He appeared in the flesh on planet Earth. Vehement cries and tears - those are pretty intense emotions.

Although I do not enjoy crying (who does?), I know that it is God's means of washing away the pain and hurt, the disappointment and despair. It cleanses our souls. It relieves the emotional pressure that builds up quite naturally when life throws us a curve ball, especially one that lasts weeks, months or years.

I have a family friend who has dealt with a medical condition in a family member for decades, yet has never been heard to complain. He diligently goes about his day serving people with a smile and modeling Christ to friends and strangers. His focus is not on himself, but on Christ and others. He was abandoned by his best friend more than 40 years ago, yet at that friend's funeral he stood up in the church and voiced the highest compliments about that friend, never mentioning to those gathered to pay their respects that he had not seen him in all those years. I will always admire the way he handled those curve balls.

There are two things that I learned from family and friends that have served me well through the dozens of discouraging and disappointing twists and turns in my life - persevere and never give up. In every trial we have an opportunity to learn to obey and to undergo the refining that fashions us in the image of Christ, if we do not quit.

Christ modeled obedience through suffering. In John 14 and 16 He tells us that He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us through this maze of life. We are not alone. The Holy Spirit is our comforter and counselor. Ask for His help. Lean on His strength. You do not need to suffer alone. Lay your head down on the pillow, pour out your heart to Jesus. He's listening. When you've dried your tears, ask what He wants you to do next.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (I Corinthians 1:3-4).

Is there someone you can now encourage with the comfort you have received?

If you are still struggling, there is a great book that might lift your spirits, The God of All Comfort, by Hannah Whitall Smith. Whenever I pick up that book, I can randomly turn to any page and find encouragement from her words.

Don't let life's curve balls knock you out of the game. Persevere. Don't quit. Move through it leaning on Christ and His Word. Be obedient.

You cannot lose if you do not give up.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Hole or a Window?

I was reminded this morning of a lunch I shared with my nieces when they were very young. I was helping them make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When we pulled out the second slice of bread and put it on the top of one of the sandwiches, one of my nieces got very upset. "It has a hole in it!" she cried. Sure enough there was a one inch 'gaping' hole in the slice of bread. What was intended to be a delicious lunch turned into a mini disaster for her. The sandwich was not what she expected.

"That's not a hole, that's a window," I exclaimed enthusiastically. "Look. You can see right into your sandwich. Isn't that amazing?" I looked intently into the 'window' and she followed suit. The mealtime disaster had suddenly been transformed into a fascinating science experiment. And she was the proud owner of a very special, very unique lunch.

So what 'holes' are threatening to steal your joy today? Have you lost a job or a friend? Did someone back out of a commitment? Did your plans get canceled? Are you staring at a hole in your life and wondering how it will be filled?

Perhaps there's another way to look at a loss. It's healthy to acknowledge the pain of disappointment, but keep it brief. Dwelling on it makes it worse. It magnifies the heartache and gives birth to discouragement. Allowing discouragement to linger leads to self pity and eventually depression.

We need to learn how to minimize the 'holes' in our lives so they do not become holes in our souls that need major repairs. How can we turn the hole into a window? If we've lost a friend, it's painful but it's not the end of the world, even if our feelings are telling us it is. Feelings are real but they can lie to us.

If we do not want to be swallowed up in sadness and self pity, we need to choose to rise above our situation. It is a choice that requires
action and commitment on our part. If we do nothing but dwell on the pain, we will slide backwards into the pit of despair.

The first action is to humble ourselves and ask God what He wants for us. If we need a new job, ask God for connections and doors of opportunity. He might direct us to volunteer somewhere. We will be blessed and so will others. It turns the hole into a window of blessing. If we've lost a friend, ask God who to befriend. We might be surprised at who God picks.

The first commitment is to determine in our hearts that we will obey what He is showing us to do. Then do it promptly.

Is the hole caused by a hurtful remark or betrayal from someone close to our hearts? The first action is to forgive and ask God to heal the hurt. The first commitment is to determine to pray blessings on that person.

The hole created by the loss of a friend becomes a window of opportunity for God to bring someone new into our lives that we might not have received had we been preoccupied with the other friendship. God is always moving us forward into new relationships to bless us and to bless others through us. That new friend is out there waiting...if we are open to seeing our 'hole' as a window of blessing.

The hole caused by betrayal is a window through which we come to understand our own sins and God's unconditional love. We understand the Cross and Jesus' sacrifice for us when we experience what He experienced. As God heals our hearts, we become His vessels for sharing His love with others who have also been betrayed. Betrayal produces humility and sacrificial love that we would not learn any other way. It is a window into God's heart for us. It is a window through which we can relate to the brokenhearted all around us.

Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. I Peter 1:6-7

Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed
. I Peter 3:14

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Man's wisdom vs. God's

"If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).

What does it mean for us individually to take up our cross daily and follow Christ? Author Leslie Ludy writes, "I can either claim my life as my own and do what my flesh desires, or I can submit my entire existence to Him. The more I yield to His Spirit, the more I am able, by His supernatural grace, to live the set-apart life He has called me to live." Taking up our cross daily means that our jobs, our time and our lives no longer belong to us, but to God to do with as He will for His glory.

The following three biblical events have one thing in common: Noah building an ark, Joshua leading God's people to march around Jericho seven times quietly then shouting, and Gideon reducing his army of 32,000 down to 300 before fighting the Midianites who numbered over 100,000 men. These events make no sense to our logical human reasoning.

God has a Plan A for our lives, but sometimes His answers to our questions or problems do not make sense to us. Romans 8:6 (Amplified) reads, "Now the mind of the flesh [which is sense and reason without the Holy Spirit] is death.... But the mind of the Holy Spirit is life and peace both now and forever."

Plan B is when we take it upon ourselves to apply human wisdom and reasoning to our problems without the influence and submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit. "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty. Why? So no mortal man can boast" (I Cor 1:26).

King Saul had a Plan B when he attached the Amalekites. Instead of doing as the Lord commanded (kill all the enemy and their livestock), he spared their king and saved the best livestock to sacrifice to God. That made sense to Saul until Samuel pointed out his disobedience. Saul's response was, "I have sinned...because I feared the people and obeyed their voice." As a result, God rejected Saul from being king.

Henry Blackaby writes, "...Isaiah 55:8-9 indicates the best human thinking is far below God's wisdom: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord." If we want God's best for our lives, if we desire to please our Lord, then there will be many times when His solutions will not make sense and will require faith and sacrifice on our part. Are we obeying the voice of the people based on fear of what others might think or say? Are we obeying the voice of our flesh [sense and reason without the Holy Spirit]? Or are we listening and obeying the voice of the Lord out of love and reverence for Him?

Are we willing to be fools for Christ or fools for satan?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tough Question, Tough Answer

How hungry are we to know God's will? How many times have we said, or heard someone else say, "If only I knew what God wanted me to do, I would do it"?

There are numerous books on how to determine God's will in our lives. Right now there are a lot of high school seniors wondering which colleges to apply to and which major to choose. Or perhaps you are struggling with whether to stay in your current situation or switch to another. Whatever it is, do we really, really want to know His will?

I am reading a fascinating book by Henry and Melvyn Blackaby entitled Experiencing the Spirit. Here's what made a huge impression on me.

"Our relationship with Christ is the key. We must know Christ well enough that we already know our answer before He tells us the assignment. The more you know Him the more the answer to any assignment will be 'Yes, Lord'."

Let's think about what the authors are challenging us to consider. Without knowing God's will, can we truthfully say to God, "Whatever You ask me to do, I will do it"? Or, "Whatever college You want me to attend, I'll go there." Or, "God, if You want me to quit my job, I will."

The authors point out that we must not look at our talents, our personalities, or our desires in order to determine if we will obey God or not. If we really understand who He is, and what His word says, then we must rely on His supply for all our needs in every assignment. He's simply looking for a heart of obedience.

And my God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

Is He really Lord of our lives, or do we merely obey when it's convenient and within the scope of our abilities? Or our bank account? Or when it's not too much of a stretch?

The authors challenge the reader with the notion that perhaps God may choose not to reveal His will to us in a certain situation because He already knows our heart is not one of obedience in that area. Could it be His mercy to be silent? Could it be His mercy to withhold the knowledge of His will because it would be better for us not to have known His will rather than to know it and then choose not to obey?

I am struggling with some decisions right now. Maybe you are, too. I want to know God's heart on each decision. After reading portions of this book, I am challenged to say, "Yes" to God, before He even tells me what His will is. I want to be stretched to new levels of spiritual maturity. How about you? Is anything too hard for God?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Broken Shells or Perfection?

One of my treasured moments is to spend time on the beach listening to God, watching the ocean rise and fall and contemplating His creation. On one of those occasions I was walking along looking for some beautiful shells to take back to my children. Without giving it much thought, I shot up a quick prayer. "Lord, would you help me find some perfect shells?" I was not expecting the answer I got.

"I prefer the broken ones."

It was a very clear response but a puzzling one.

"Why the broken ones?" I answered.

"It's the broken ones who know they need Me."

Food for thought for sure. Brokenness. Aren't we all trying to avoid that? Isn't God supposed to protect us? Yet God says that the broken ones are those who realize their need for Him. Our tendency toward self-reliance and self-sufficiency does not draw us closer to our Creator, it drives us farther away. It gives us a false sense of security and control.

Think of a beautiful vase representing ourselves. We can make the outside look so attractive to impress others and make ourselves feel good, but we can be empty on the inside.
What about a clay jar that has been broken, some of the pieces missing, and glued back together? When we have been broken, there are crevices and cracks through which God's light can shine toward others, drawing them closer to the Christ in us.

Being broken is not pleasant, but necessary. In our brokenness we can be a window that allows others to see God in us, or we can choose to hide under a bushel basket and pretend that we have everything under control.

I Corinthians 4: 12
When men revile us [wound us with an accursed sting], we bless them. When we are persecuted, we take it patiently and endure it.

Matthew 5:11
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things against you falsely on My account. Be glad and supremely joyful, for your reward in heaven is great, for in this same way people persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Many of us struggle with perfectionism. But God keeps showing me that He loves transparency. If we are to draw others to Christ, we will be broken over and over. We will fail. We will make mistakes. We need not be ashamed of sharing that brokenness when led to do so. Who are we more likely to feel comfortable around? Is it perfect people, or those who share their struggles? Did the Pharisees demonstrate God's heart or the woman with the alabaster jar?

True story. I was at a Messianic Jewish synagogue attending a service many years ago. A total stranger leaned over to me and said, "Myrrh has to be crushed to release its fragrance." That was all he said, but it was all that needed to be said. At that time I was enduring a 'crushing' or breaking. If we are to be the aroma (or fragrance) of Christ, we need to go through this process over and over.

II Corinthians 4:7-11
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

I agree with you - I don't want to go through all that either. But while we are on this planet, and if we are to call ourselves Christians (little Christs) it is inevitable. The good news is that you cannot lose if you don't quit. We have a choice. Let us be the fragrance of Christ. The world needs that and so do we.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Are You Up There, God?

What do step ladders and Christian growth have in common? Well, I didn’t know either until the Lord showed me this picture. Imagine your Christian walk is similar to standing on a step ladder, say on a middle step. You have been there for a while and you have become comfortable spiritually. Life is going reasonably well.

Then, unexpectedly, something not so wonderful happens to you or a family member. It might be an illness, failing a class, losing a dear friend, or a financial blow. It takes you by surprise. All of sudden it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you, or like the step you are standing on has been shattered.

When God breaks the step you are on, you have three choices. You can step up the ladder and draw closer to God - trust Him when the crisis doesn’t make sense, hold on to Him and ride out the storm, remain faithful to Him and pray it through. That’s the first choice.

Or you can fall back to a lower step. In other words, instead of growing spiritually you spend less time with God, read your Bible less, and turn to things that will ‘get you through this mess’ like overeating, spending more time on the Internet, and/or watching more videos or TV.

The third option is to jump off the ladder. If we allow ourselves to become bitter and angry at God because of the crisis, it’s like bailing out on your faith, or jumping completely off the path to spiritual maturity.

Having this picture in mind has helped me many times to avoid the very human tendency to bail out or hide out. When each crisis comes I have to remind myself that I can trust God in all circumstances even when I don’t understand why or how the crisis happened. It’s not easy. But we cannot stay in the same place in life and grow spiritually. Standing still eventually becomes back sliding. We need to keep moving upward if we are to continue growing closer to God.

So what will it be the next time things seem to go haywire in our lives? Will we be committed to step up closer to God and seek Him with more intensity, or will we back slide down a step, or jump off the ladder and call it quits? At some point in my life I have tried each of the three options. I have never regretted stepping up the ladder but I have always regretted choosing the other two options. There are awesome things to see and learn on the next step up, if we will just hang on and seek Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding.

I Peter 1:6-7

…though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, so that [the genuineness] of your faith may be tested, which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire.

I Peter 4:12

Beloved, do not be amazed and bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test your quality, as though something strange were befalling you. But insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, rejoice, so that when His glory is revealed, you may also rejoice with triumph.

Do we really trust Him as Lord in all things? If so, let us step up, and draw closer to Him.

I Peter 5:10

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself complete and make you what you ought to be, establish and ground you securely, and strengthen, and settle you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Death of a Vision

Do you feel like you are in God's waiting room, wondering when He's going to call you back and deliver on one of His promises? Take a ticket, take a seat...but it seems like your number never comes up. Everything seems to come easily to others, but not you. It's somewhat like circling the airport and your plane never gets to the number one spot to land.

Here's a picture that God gave me about hard times and waiting. It helps for me to review it as I, too, am waiting for some promises to be released.

Imagine you are standing on a mountain next to Jesus. He takes your hand and starts to walk you down toward the valley. As you descend a layer of fog appears. Clouds blanket the valley below obscuring your vision. Soon you are both engulfed in the fog. Although you can feel your hand in His, you have trouble seeing Jesus clearly. After a short while you reach the valley, but it is totally black as if the sun has set and it's a moonless, starless night. You cannot even see your hand in front of your face. You also realize that you no longer sense His presence.

This is the valley of the death of a vision. Many give up and miss receiving God's best. A month, a year, or perhaps many years ago God promised something - healing, restoration of a relationship or financial turn around. Yet no amount of prayer or faith seems to bring results. In fact, difficult circumstances have inserted themselves right when you were expecting a blessing.

Did God change His mind?

Oswald Chambers talk about death of a vision in his devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. During this phase of waiting, it seems as if God has either left or changed His mind. However, this is a time of testing. In the valley, God tests our faith. He molds us, hammers us and refines us into the image of His Son.

In the picture referred to earlier, the Lord showed me that if I wait in the dark and trust Him and His word, if I hang on to His promise and add my faith to it, there will come a time when Jesus reaches up and pulls a little chain and a small light comes on. Then I can see crates stacked here and there as if we are in a dimly lit warehouse. Jesus walks over to one and opens it up. Inside is a gift for me - a spiritual gift. Another crate is opened and it contains the promise.

When the picture was complete, I asked the Lord, "Why is there fog covering the valley of darkness?"

"Would you willingly go there if you could see the dark times coming?", He asked.

Would any of us volunteer for the crisis we just came through or the next one waiting around the corner? Probably not.

The Word talks about treasures hidden in the darkness. We get to see those treasures when we abide in (lean on, trust in and totally rely on) Him. In the valley of the death of a vision, we need to "Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)."

Is it easy to wait? Not for me. Waiting is a test of our faith. We need to ask God what He is trying to teach us during this time. Sadly, many get angry at God, give up and decide to do life their own way. We have to guard against bitterness and resentment, too. Discipline and hardship are not fun, but God disciplines those He loves as a father disciplines a child. Happiness is fleeting and does not teach us anything. True joy comes when we walk with Him through the dark valleys with a teachable heart and come up out of the darkness more spiritually mature.

Here are some promises from God: [Amplified translation]

I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down [relax My hold on] you! (Hebrews 13:5)

My God will liberally supply your every need according to His riches in glory i n Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

But seek first of all His kingdom and His righteousness and then all these things taken together will be given to you besides. (Matthew 6:33)

What can we do while we are in God's waiting room? Meditation on God's Word, prayer, and praise and worship are all faith builders while waiting for the 'darkness' to dissipate. Knowing there are treasures hidden in the darkness comforts me when I feel all alone in a crisis or time of testing.

The key to remember is that God does not forget His promises if we are faithful and obedient. He never forsakes us.

Will we pass the test?