Thursday, August 4, 2016

A mighty God is moving in "minor" ways!

Sometimes it is easy to skip over parts of the Bible that seem rather irrelevant.  Especially the Old Testament books seem to lack relevance to what we are doing today.  How could the book of Malachi or Zechariah say something to me when we can hardly pronounce the name of the book?

While these parts of the Bible may at first seem to lack relevance to our day, a careful look at them reminds us that each book is just a journal of how God worked in someone's life in the past.  This can bring warning or encouragement to us as we find ourselves in similar situations.

Think of the book of Zechariah.  While the prophet Zechariah is now called a "minor" prophet, he was by no means a lesser prophet.  His book is just a journal of how God worked in his day, and it gives us great encouragement for how God could work today.  After all, God is a changeless God and how He is capable of working has not changed since the days of Zechariah.

In the days of Zechariah, some of the people had returned from captivity in Babylon.  I doubt that anyone would say they were a thriving or magnificent country any more.  As a matter of fact, all the previous glory that they had years before had long ago rotted, and they were a scattered people with no strong leadership.  Most of their people were still in captivity in a land far away, and their children only had stories that they had heard of how God had moved in the lives of their grandparents and great grandparents.  The God that their children knew was a God that had moved greatly in the past and now appeared to be silent--or was He even there any more?

Zerubbabel, who was a prince among the people, was sent back to his homeland, and while he had zeal, it had to have seemed an overwhelming project.  Just imagine the project of coming back and trying to do something with land that had been largely abandoned for 70 years and having heard about the glories of the past!  No doubt it seemed that whatever he was able to accomplish was "small things" compared to what had happened in the past (Zechariah 4:10).  We know that it was overwhelming to try to do anything because Zechariah 4:7 calls it a "great mountain."

Nevertheless, Zerubbabel laid the foundation of the temple even with opposition, but then the work stopped.  There were so many that opposed his work, and even those who had supported him stopped their work.

Sometimes this seems even more discouraging than never starting a project for God.  If one attempts to do something great for God and fails, all those cynically looking on will see the foundation--with weeds.  We are tempted to think that it is better to never attempt something great for God than to attempt and appear to fail.  Thankfully, God doesn't see things how we do.  Weeds are just temporary.  Sometimes weeds are just a sign that God is getting ready to do something big.  After all, God has already promised in Ephesians 3:20, that he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, but it's only according to the power that is working in us.  Apparently, while those weeds were growing around the foundation of the temple and while people were heaping up criticism for a project that failed and was doubtless a waste of money, the power was building in Zerubbabel's life.  What did it matter that the foundation laid there on the ground for years until Zerubbabel learned that it wasn't by "might nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."  4:6.

Zerubbabel began to build again.  No doubt it took a lot of work to clear away the weeds that had accumulated since he started the project years ago.  No doubt there were plenty of people who remembered his first attempt and weren't willing to stake their efforts to it this time.  It didn't matter any more because now Zerubbabel understood the most essential truth.  All the might or power that we exert to accomplish a task--even one that we are attempting to accomplish for God--doesn't matter at all if the Spirit of God is not working among us.  However, He wants to work among us!  He desires to work powerfully among us, and He is able to work exceeding abundantly greater than we could even imagine but it is  only according to the power that works in us.  Eph 3:30  When we are completely filled with God's Spirit, His power will rest on us, and there are no limits to what He can do.  As a matter of fact, we see in Acts 2 that when the Holy Spirit came on those who waited ten days for Him, a tremendous power came even with visible manifestations.  In Acts 4:31, the building were they were assembled actually shook with the power that came upon them as they prayed.

God hasn't changed.  He is still capable of moving in a powerful way, but it's according to the power that works in us.  Seeking His face takes more than a morning prayer over a cup of coffee and an evening lay me down to sleep prayer.  For the first church, it took ten days of solid prayer, shut away in a room seeking God.

There will always be naysayers.  In the days of Zerubbabel, it was the older elders who criticized what Zerubbabel was doing.  After all, some of them could remember the glories of the past.  They could remember the beauty of Solomon's temple and the glory of it.  Many of them had heard the awesome stories that their parents had told them of the magnificent structure called Solomon's temple.  Not only that, there were the stories of how God magnificently filled the house of God when it was dedicated in Solomon's day.

Now, Zerubbabel was building a much smaller structure with limited resources and it definitely wasn't to be compared in beauty.  Not only that, but there was no sign that God was even present like He had been in the last temple. The older ones kept talking about the glories of the past temple with the obvious implication that this was now a lesser day.  God, however, disagreed.  In Zechariah 4:10, we are reminded not to despise the day of small things.  The temple was smaller.  The number of people attending the temple was smaller.  The whole nation was smaller, and the glory of it was gone, but God was beginning to work.  God knew that the effort that Zerubbabel made became the temple that Christ the Messiah walked into.  It was smaller and less glorious, but it was significant on God's scale of accomplishments because He doesn't dwell in temples made with hands anyway.  This temple, while appearing to be lesser, was the temple where Christ would come as a young man, where he would teach on a regular basis, where he would cast out the money changers and where ultimately, the veil would be rent in two!  This definitely wasn't the day of small things--it just looked like it to those looking at it from a human perspective.

I believe that God is wanting to move among us.  Despise not the day of small things, but pray for a might move of God.  Be filled with the Spirit that He might move among us.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as those "minor prophets" is still among us.  He is only limited by the "power that worketh in us"!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Are you easily impressed? Are you easily influenced?

 "To be easily impressed, is to be easily influenced."    These words caught my attention recently as I read an article in Forbes magazine about American perceptions of heroism .  While the news media attempts and is largely successful at defining our heroes, how can we as dedicated Christian parents challenge those attempts in the minds of our children?  After all, children will inevitably model their lives after those that they perceive as heroes, so teaching them to have a discerning mind to who is truly a hero is a crucial part of child training.

While our news media has been busy attempting to impress us with perverted notions of heroism, many of our children have been  influenced to accept cowards and confused people as examples of noble and heroic lifestyles.  When a culture's children can no longer identify true heroes, and when they have been influenced to confuse heroism with anything less than what it truly is, we have lost our children.  Heroes that inspire to noble character and the giving of one's life for another, have been the bedrock of our culture's foundation.  Jesus set the standard when he gave his life for those who not only did not deserve it, but often did not appreciate it.  Long before Christ, as well as for centuries afterward, wise parents have taught children that there is no greater love nor greater hero than one who would selflessly give his life in an ultimate sacrifice or would daily offer it to those in need around him.  Great heroes of the past have been those who gave all...those who weren't afraid to give their lives for those who might never be able to thank them, and for those who might never even appreciate it.

If you want to influence your children on what a true hero is, I suggest you start with a news story that barely made waves.  Last week, ten people demonstrated with the sacrifice of their lives what a true hero is, and I will make sure that my children hear about them.  I will probably sit down during our family quiet time together and begin with a question something like this.  "Did you know that young people not much older than you are still giving their lives for something worthwhile, something noble, and something that will matter forever?"  And then, I will tell the story that our news almost totally missed...

Last week, ten aid workers gave their lives for needy people, and they knew they might lose their lives before they ever left their comfortable homes, but they did it anyway.  One was a successful dentist, one walked away from a surgeon's salary, another was an optometrist, while another was a young women in her early thirties who left comfort and the hopes of marriage to give her life for those who live in the darkness of poverty and repression.  They gave their lives helping the friends, family, and countrymen of those who massacred them without asking a single question.

These are true heroes, and it is our responsibility as parents to set them and those like them as bench marks for our children.  If we allow popular culture to influence our children into thinking that "courage" is what is displayed by Mr. Jenner or "Beauty" by the Kardashian empire, we have missed the opportunity of a lifetime.  Let's not miss the opportunity to influence the future by impressing our children with the truth that courage was displayed last week.

"Courage" was displayed when those who had everything, heard about a need they could fill.  It was modeled for us when they heard the need, walked out of their offices, left their six figure incomes, and walked on to the streets of a country where people hated them, but where people needed them.  Courage is still displayed in the lives of those who see a need, whether it is in a far off land, or is right here in front of us.  It may be a mother courageously caring day after day for a special needs child.  It may be an elderly person daily facing the challenges of aging and wearing a bright smile.  It may be something dramatic that the world might see and recognize or it may simply be the sacrifice of daily doing what should be done whether one feels like it or not.

"Beauty" was demonstrated last week when women with beautifully manicured hands stepped off a plane and walked among the dusty and dirty houses of those who have endured decades of war simply because they happened to be born there.  Beauty is still displayed by those who spend less time beautifying themselves and more time bringing beauty into the lives of others.  Beauty is seen in the aging hands of grandparents and in the stretch marks of mothers.  Beauty often doesn't look beautiful.

"Sacrifice" was exemplified last week when they freely left it all and gave everything they had to reach a people who could never repay them.

Sacrifice, beauty, and courage are still being displayed and it is our duty as parents to make sure our children know what it truly is.  If we do our job well, they will see and recognize it in those forgotten news stories.  They will appreciate it on display in the lives of those around them, and we pray they will too have the courage to live it and while not seeking to give the ultimate sacrifice, may willingly follow our example to live lives of true heroism.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sometimes God gives us sugar on our Cheerios.

I was encouraged recently to see again that God cares about the smallest details of our lives, and He wants to be involved 100% if we allow Him to be involved.  I had been wanting to go and see Sunshine in Davao City, Philippines for quite a while.  I always said that when my children grow up, I wanted to go see them wherever they were all around the world.  Not only would I get to go see many places that I had never gone, but I would also be able to eat their food, mess up their kitchen, leave all the lights in the house on, and slam the door on my way out!  This was the perfect chance to do all that plus hopefully encourage Sunshine in the path that God has called her.

I knew that I could just go online and purchase a ticket, but that would cost a lot of money.  I had in my mind the perfect trip, and I also had airline miles saved up that I could use.  I knew that it wasn't likely that I could get all those factors together to get the ideal trip, but being a positive thinker, I decided to try.  I tried for days off and on when I got the opportunity, but nothing was working out.  I wanted to use my miles rather than pay cash, and I wanted to make a trip that hopefully wouldn't be so exhausting.  I well remember when I flew to China and how tired I was, and I knew that not only would this trip be even longer, but my body is quite a few years older.  To me, the perfect trip would allow me to leave directly from Charlotte and have a stopover in an interesting, but relatively, safe place.  Now keep in mind that a stopover is different from a layover.  A layover is just a short stop in an airport, but a stopover means you leave the airport and stay for a day or two, then head on to your final destination.  I wanted to get a ticket where I could stopover, rest, do some sightseeing, then continue a few days later on the trip.  Hopefully, that would relieve some of the exhaustion and allow the "perfect trip" for me.

Well, as I mentioned, I couldn't make it work.  The out of pocket cost was too much because they add huge fees to stopovers (some stopovers are cheaper just to go ahead and buy two tickets), and they didn't have enough reward seats to use my miles.  I got discouraged and decided that if I was going to go, I would just have to do it the hard way, be miserable on planes for hours on end and finally arrive totally exhausted.  I picked out a ticket that seemed the best miserable option and decided to buy it.  My sister-in-law, who is travelling with me got her paperwork to me and I decided to go ahead and buy the ticket realizing that my ideal trip just wasn't going to pan out.  I got the ticket on the screen ready to purchase, but had to get up to take care of something in the house.

In the meantime, my little electronics-loving one year old spied that mom was away from the touch screen laptop that she had been wanting to touch.  Knowing that her mother never allows her to touch her computer, she decided to touch it anyway and purposely and willfully simply clicked off my open screens.  Yes, I know that sounds pretty awful for a one year old, but that is what she did.  When I returned and saw what she had done, I just added it to my long lists of unfortunate happenings for the day and realized I would have to start all over on finding and booking  the ticket.  No doubt, I properly responded in a Dr. Dobson type way also to the little one year old who had deliberately messed up my day.

When Rick came in wondering if I had purchased the ticket, I told him what had happened ( no doubt I said it in a bright, cheerful voice), and that I was having to do it all over even though it was late in the evening.  Being such a great husband, he started getting the helpful children in bed so I could finish purchasing my less than ideal trip.  I, on the other hand, wasn't meditating on the fact that God could use babies that love touch screens to ultimately work His purposes.

As I started again to purchase the ticket, I realized that the internet had quit.  I don't know about your service, but ours rarely goes down, but that night it did.  While it was on, it was so painfully slow that I couldn't do anything.  A screen would pop up, I would fill in the information and then after many minutes, the next screen might or might not show up.  I got frustrated with it and decided to go to bed and just forget it.

However, those of you who know me know that I don't give up easily...After I got all the way ready for bed, I decided to try one last time to purchase the ticket so I wouldn't have to mess with it the next day, but, no, the internet was still off. (It's been so long so the internet was down that it's hard to remember when it was, but God was obviously working even though I didn't know it then.)

In the meantime, I slept off some of my frustration with babies and broken internet, and it came to my mind to try something different.  It was like one of those "aha moments" when I realized that I should try another approach to get my ticket, so I walked in to my computer.  This time the internet was working as I tried my new plan to get the ticket.  I tried all day, repeatedly calling the airlines and trying to get them to agree with my plan and do what I wanted to do.  I would say that I am pretty successful with getting people to do what I want them to do.  They agreed to do what I wanted to do, but their price was way more than I wanted to pay.  The last call I made to Delta connected me to a very friendly man who told me that the ticket would start at about $2,000 which was quite a bit more than the no cash ticket that I wanted to get with my miles.

Once again, I got discouraged, and decided that this might not work after all.  One last time, I entered my search data, but this time, being so tired, I made a mistake when I entered my data.  I put in my departing and return dates backward making my return from the Philippines before I even left, then I clicked enter.  Well, computers do apparently have a brain, because it immediately brought up an error message at the top of the screen.  I am sure it said something like, "Error...even dummies know that you can't come back before you ever left."  But what caught my attention was right underneath the helpful error message.  Right there in front of me was exactly what I had been looking for!  The error message was there with all of it's bold letters, but directly underneath it was exactly what I had been looking for all this time.  There was my perfect trip just sitting there in front of my eyes with the bold error message stamped across the top of the page.

At that point, my loving children all seemed to converge upon me with desperate needs, but ignoring them like all good mothers sometimes have to do, I quickly started entering my data, wondering if this would actually work.  I clicked enter and probably literally held my breath as I waited for something to happen.  No, the internet didn't fail, neither did my daughter quickly slide her pudgy hand in to click off my screen.  There in front of me appeared my ideal trip for the grand price of $0 and a very reasonable number of miles  leaving me with plenty of extra miles for my next trip around the world.  Not only that, but I had just purchased an identical ticket for my sister in law who is going along to help me manage myself, for $850--an amazing deal for an around the world ticket!  I could hardly believe it!  It was the same trip that I had just moments before called Delta about and told it was going to be $2,000.  Leaving Charlotte at a reasonable time of day, reasonable layovers that didn't require me to jog through the airports at my age, and a three day, two night stopover in Tokyo was what the screen said I had just purchased! I was so excited that I couldn't sleep that night, but it was definitely worth it!

The Bible says that God loves to give us good things.  It makes me think of how sometimes my little girl will ask me for Cheerios so I pour her some.  However, once in a while, just to make her smile, I will pour her a bowl of Cheerios, then put a spoon of sugar on top.  That is just like God.  God gives us what we need, but sometimes I think he scoops a spoon of sugar on top, then sits back and watches us smile.

I will be on my way in a few months, and the best thing about it is that I don't have to worry any more.  Just like God gave me my maple syrup when I traveled a few months ago (look at my previous blog posts), I know that He has arranged this trip.  I don't have to know that everything will go perfectly because I may be blogging in a few months about something that went imperfectly.  However, I do know that He planned this trip, and so I can rest that He will be right beside me, only allowing what is best for me.  It's comforting to know that He cares about the smallest details, and that He will be with me.  (And for those who know me so well, I'm sure that is a comfort to you also, because you know I need all the help I can get.  Yea, that was me that shook up the TSA by bringing a stack of magnets in my briefcase.  Having great hindsight, I realize now that was not thinking too well.)

I hope this encourages you in whatever God has planned for you today.  God can work through inquisitive babies.  He can work through internet shortages, and He can work through error messages to give you that scoop of sugar that makes your day!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Unpleasant Way to Prioritize my Day

It seems so ironic that in today’s world where we have a multitude of ways to save time in our lives, in reality, we are always feeling that we don’t have enough time to do the things we really want to or the things we feel we really need to do. We look with longing at generations 150 years ago and call it the ideal lifestyle. To us it seems that those who lived the “Little House on the Prairie” lifestyle had less stress and lived a more enjoyable life. I know for myself, one of my continual priorities is to simplify my life more and more so that I can have the time to do the things that I really want and need to do.

Why is it so hard for us to prioritize our time? Why is it so hard for us to grasp what really matters and embrace a lifestyle that will allow us to accomplish those things?

I believe that one big reason that we continually fail to prioritize our lives around things that really matter is that we fail to remember what the end of life is really all about. We are so consumed with the here and now that we continually forget that what we are living for has not yet appeared. Our society encourages us to live for the here and now while reality tries to get us to remember that this life is only a preparation time for what really matters--the second after we die.

The word “hell” is seen more as a curse word now than a word we hear in church. To actually speak in Biblical terms about a place called hell is not only frowned upon but brings an automatic stigma of someone who is unloving and intolerant.

That is one reason that we have problem prioritizing. We fail to remember in daily life that everything I do today will ultimately have consequences not only in my eternal future, but in the eternal futures of each one that I interact with and meet. Forcing myself to remember that one day, my life will be over and what I have accomplished in life for eternity is done and my judgement has come, is a thought that we don’t like to think about. Probably some would think of me as overly morbid, but once in a while when I take the time to evaluate my life, I purposely imagine myself as dead and in a casket. Who would come to my funeral and how would I have affected them? How big of a mark did I leave for God and did I do what He called me to do whether I see many outward results or not?

All of life is just a short preparation for eternity. It’s just a little blip on the big screen of forever. Today I must force myself to remember that some day my time will be up and what I have done will be finished and given account for. I also have to force myself to remember the unpleasant truth that many that I meet in daily life are not prepared to be in heaven for eternity. Like it or not, the Bible says that the majority of those going down the pathway of life are on the “broad way” and will one day fall into an awful place that we don’t like to think or talk about. We like to excuse it away, or make exceptions or hope for the best. That’s why we can’t prioritize. We forget the most important thing about life--that using today to get myself and others ready for eternity is the most important thing I could ever do.

There are lots of tasks that I have to do in a given day that don’t seem to directly point to preparing myself or others for eternity, but remembering that there is a hell to shun and a heaven for all of us to gain, makes me keep my tasks better aligned with how they should be. Some things just don’t matter. Other things have to be done but can be simplified so that I can get on to things matter more. Remember...the devil’s goal today is to throw as many obstacles in your path as possible to get you off track. He doesn’t care if it is time wasting activities or mundane tasks that he can get us to overemphasize. Either way he wins. But today, if I can focus my eyes on eternity and passionately live in light of it, I will prioritize those daily tasks that I must do, more easily.

Today, each person that I meet is headed either for a wonderful eternity with Christ or an awful doom without Him. Help me, God, to thoughtfully arrange my day to be as effective as you want me to be!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Not if, but when you fail...

As a young person, I had a strong sense of invincibility.  Significant failure was not an option for me.  I was used to succeeding, and I assumed that I would continue to do so.  I was pretty confident that I knew how to handle the challenges of life, and I really didn't see failure too much in the picture of my life.

I believe that Christians can live victorious lives, and that failure is not necessary.  However, I also believe that failure often does occur--not because it has to, because we allow it.  After I got past the shock of realizing that I had made significant mistakes--mistakes in parenting, mistakes in being the wife that I wanted to be, and mistakes in my relationships with God and others--I had to decide where I was going to go next.  While Proverbs 24:16 was a great comfort to me when it says that a righteous person falls seven times, but gets up again, another story in the Bible also gave significant insight in to how God uses failure to accomplish good if we allow it.

Back in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, we see a change in leadership.  Moses has done a phenomenal job leading a huge group of grouchy, grumpy people through the wilderness.  He made his own set of mistakes, but we see that he hands over leadership to a younger man named Joshua. Joshua is given the daunting task of entering the new land and conquering the people there.  They were to destroy all the people living there, and Joshua knew that.

However, a very cunning group of people in the new land also knew that they were to be destroyed so they devised a plan to escape annihilation.  You know the story...they came to Joshua looking as if they had traveled a long distance and asked to make a peace treaty.  Apparently they were very convincing and flattering because Joshua and his leaders immediately made a treaty with them to not only leave them alone, but to defend them from other aggressive people groups.

Just  a short time later, Joshua found out that in reality, the people that he had made the treaty with were his close neighbors, the Gibeonites.  He had made a huge mistake right at the beginning of his leadership!  The Bible says that he never once consulted God about it but just acted quickly in his own wisdom.  After all, I am sure that what the Gibeonites presented to him looked quite reasonable and it only seemed right to do what they asked.

Sometimes I have made mistakes because of lack of character.  Sometimes I have made big mistakes because of lack of understanding, and sometimes I made mistakes by simply failing to check in with God frequently enough.   I think most of the time, I truly wanted what was best and wasn't trying to find my own way, but nevertheless, I messed up.

That is where Joshua found himself.  He fully intended on doing what God had asked.  If one were to ask him if he purposely disobeyed a command of God or was willfully negligent, he would have been adamant that he had not.  As a matter of fact, it was sincerely in his heart to do right, but in a moment of human reasoning and failure to acknowledge God, he made one of the biggest mistakes in the history of his life.

Now what was he going to do?  He was in a dilemma--he had failed to do what God said, but he had also made a promise to the Gibeonites to defend them.  Joshua did what I am painfully learning to do.  He found out where he was at, and started again from there.  There wasn't a lot of time for painful regrets and bemoaning the "what ifs."  We don't find him wasting time living in the moments of what could have been or should have been.  Rather, we find him saying, "I messed up, now let's see where we should go from here."  I'm sure he was sorry that he had messed up so badly, but I think he understood the better principle of not letting failure incapacitate him.  Rather, he must have understood that starting at the next best place in life gives God an opportunity to still work His plan.

Sure enough, in just a few days, his integrity was challenged.  The nations surrounding the Gibeonites decided to take revenge on those that Joshua had mistakenly signed a mutual treaty of protection with.  They called for Joshua to come and keep his side of the bargain.  They called for Joshua to come and do exactly the opposite of what Joshua had been called by God to do.  Joshua knew he had messed up, but he faced the situation with incredible bravery for one who had failed so openly.  He gave all his strength to heading in the new direction in spite of the fact that it was the opposite direction of what he should have been doing--defending a group of people that he was to have killed.

The amazing thing is that God says to Joshua, "I'm with you Joshua.  You are on the right track."  We don't find God saying, "Now look what a mess we have" or "If you had listened to me, you wouldn't find yourself  having to defend the Gibeonites."  Rather, concerning those against whom Joshua and the Gibeonites were going to fight together, God says in Joshua 10:8, "Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee." God lets Joshua know in his moment of fear--in his moment when his failures were so obvious, that He was ready to start in a new direction. As a matter of fact, as the battle gets intense and Joshua is fighting for all he is worth in a battle that he should never had to have been in, God starts fighting for him. In one of the few recording such incidents, God hurls down heavy hailstones from heaven and wipes out more of the enemy than all the men of Gibeon and Joshua combined were able to conquer. Not only that, but it is the only recorded time in the Bible, that God follows an order given by a human being. Joshua orders the sun to stand still so they could finish the battle and it does! The Bible says that God "hearkened to the voice of a man."

What an amazing story of grace--grace on God's part to forgive one who so carelessly messed up the original plan when he should have known better. It's also an amazing story of bravery for one who made such a public mistake. He never excuses himself nor grovels in self pity. Rather, he valiantly starts right where he finds himself, and becomes one of the greatest heroes of the Bible.

No matter where we find ourselves in our failures, there is not a better time to start at the next best place and go from there. God is not limited by our finite understanding--he can make amazing stories out of our failures if we are only willing to get up and valiantly start again. We may feel we are headed in the opposite direction of where we should have been going, but in God's book, u turns are always allowed.

 This is what I am learning--mistakes may leave marks that I will never fully recover from, but they don't have to keep me from going forward now. Looking back on the road of life, one may see my skid marks or the damage I caused in my careless collision, but hopefully future generations will see how far down the road I got after my mistake. Maybe they won't remember me for my failures but rather for the great successes that God enabled me to have as He worked with me. Start where you are today. Know you made a mistake, but never let it hold you back from trying again. Expect great things from a loving God. The God who hurled hailstones and stopped the sun in its tracks for a man who failed but tried again will still fight just as valiantly for you if you are willing to take the first steps to try again.

Friday, January 30, 2015

I Hate to Disappoint you... But You're Probably Going to Be Disappointed

There is an old song that was popular in its day called, “There’s no disappointment in Heaven.”  The idea is that all the difficulties that we experience in this life will not be in heaven including the disappointments that we have here on earth.

As I think about the idea that there is not disappointment in heaven, I also think, however, of various places in the Bible where God appears to be disappointed.  In Isaiah 5, we see where God is talking about how much he did for his vineyard.   He built a fence around the vineyard, got the rocks out of the soil, planted the best vine and tended it with the best care possible and expected that it would bring forth good grapes.  I think we could infer from the context, however, that when wild grapes appeared instead of good grapes, God was disappointed.  Now I know that theologically speaking it is debateable whether God could ever be disappointed because he knows all things ahead of time.  However, just humanly speaking, I think we could say that these verses indicate that God experienced disappointment.  He did everything possible to see this vine bring forth good grapes, and in the end, it didnt’.  In the end, all of his efforts appear to have been wasted with nothing to show for it.

The older I get, the more I see that life is often full of disappointments.  Things we hoped would go differently, don’t.  Causes or goals that we put so much effort into often bring forth less than what we had hoped for, and sometimes they bring forth just the opposite of what we hoped for.  In this case in Isaiah, God got just the opposite of what he worked toward.  He looked for delicious grapes that would be useful, and instead he got bitter, sour grapes that were absolutely unusable.  

Sometimes we do everything possible to see our goals accomplished and our efforts rewarded only to find that it appears to have been wasted.  I find it so interesting to remember the story of Adam and Eve.  If we honestly look at the story, there would be no logical reason that Adam would choose to sin.  After all, he had no sin around him to tempt him.  He walked and talked with God in the evenings.  We could say that he had the best of both friends and circumstances, yet he chose to sin in that perfect environment.    God did everything that He possibly could to see that Adam walked in His ways and did right, but ultimately those efforts were not rewarded.  Even in looking at the whole scheme of salvation offered to mankind, far more people reject God’s perfect offer of salvation than those who take him up on it.

Painful disappointments come into our lives and the tendency is to look inward and see what we did wrong or how we could have done better.  I think that introspection is fine.  I think it is good to discern the faults that we have and to work on eliminating them.  I think that often disappointments do come because of mistakes and shortcomings that we have in our lives.  However, I think it is also important to remember that even God in all His perfection experiences disappointment.  He puts effort and the best that he can in hopes of seeing the results that he wants, but sometimes it doesn’t happen.  Sometimes He gets just the opposite of what He was working toward.  Because God allows man to have a will, sometimes God is disappointed.

Perhaps this is why God is careful to remind us that while man tends to look on the outside at what he can see, God always looks at the heart.  He looks at the motives, and at the intentions.  God looks at our efforts and what we hoped for and holds us accountable based on these.  God doesn’t necessarily look at the end result and say that what we see is what we get.  No, God looks far deeper.  He looks at the effort we put into it.  He looks at the desires and hopes that we had for success.  He looks at the reasons why we did it in the first place and knows that the end doesn’t really matter.  I have a quote by Mother Teresa that is hanging right beside my bed as a reminder that I need quite often.  

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough.
Give the best you've got anyway.
You see,
in the final analysis it is between you and God;
it was never between you and them anyway.

We continue to experience disappointment when we allow ourselves to think that what we do is between ourselves and others.  Sometimes when things don’t happen as we hope, we despair.  However, we can experience hope when we realize that all we do is really between us and God.  All of our efforts and hopes and the motives that we have don’t really have to look good to others in the long run.  All that they have to look good for is God.  People will always misunderstand us and misjudge us, and sometimes that is our own fault.  However, in the long run, God looks at our heart and knows that it was ultimately between just us and Him and any disappointment we have has to be based on what eternity will reveal-- and we may not know that for a long time if ever.  

Do what you do today for God and hope for the best. If you reap disappointments, just remember that those disappointments are temporary.  Disappointments are often just the tip of the iceberg that we are seeing when God sees the whole iceberg of an eternity of results that please him.  In the final analysis, it is between you and God;  it was never between you and them anyway.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Got Flies...In Your Medicine?

Got flies...In your Medicine? There is an interesting verse in Ecclesiastes that talks about flies being found in medicine. “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.” Ecclesaistes 10:11. What does it mean to find flies in ointment or medicine?

Sometimes we really rely on medicine. As a matter of fact, I have medicine in my house that may save a life if given within just a few minutes of an incident. Maybe some of you carry a life- saving medicine with you in case your child comes across a serious allergen or suffers a seizure. That medicine is vitally important to you because without it, you or someone you love may die.

However, if you were to open the medicine and find it had flies in it right when you needed it most, you would have to make a quick decision...use it in spite of the flies and try to work around them, or throw it away and take your chances.

If we are truly Christians--that is, we are truly Christ-like and true followers of Him--we have the medicine that those around us need to live. We possess the ability to dispense the life-giving medicine of the Gospel that we also once received. However, sometimes when people come to us for that medicine in hopes that they will be freed from their own injuries and sickness, they realize in despair that the medicine has flies in it...nasty, sticking flies are in the medicine that they hoped would solve their problems.

What are the flies that ruin the medicine? Well, I’m sure that we could sit here all day, and think of the flies that turn people away from the very thing that would help them most. After all, flies don’t necessarily lessen the medicine’s potency, they just make it less desirable.

Recently, I was in a situation where I was trying to dispense medicine to a needy person. This person had big problems in their life, and I was trying to share the medicine that so radically changed my life. I felt sure that what I had to share could also change the life of the person that had come to me. I knew that the problems that this person was experiencing could be eliminated if they were just to take the medicine. I knew that God had an answer for them if they would just trust in Him and walk in His ways.

Imagine my shock, however, when I realized that my patient wasn’t interested in the medicine. They were not interested in the medicine because when they got there to take it, they saw a bunch of floating flies in the medicine, and it turned them off. The painful thing about it was that they never were opposed to taking the medicine, they just couldn’t get past the flies floating on the top.

The flies floating on the top of the medicine of the Gospel that we have to offer to others is when we fail to line up to the stringent requirements that are required of those who dispense medicine. Especially when we have petty squabbles with others who are also prescribing medicine, it makes those flies float to the surface and turn away the patients who would have taken it.

While I was trying to convince my patient to take the medicine, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen simply because of the sorry example of others who had also tried to dispense. This Christian had a squabble with that one and had never made up. Two Christians engaged in struggles of personal power between families and careers and long forgotten sources for the conflict had become the flies floating on the surface of the medicine that I was trying to offer. My patient didn’t want anything to do with it.
Sure, I could point out that true Christians don’t act that way. True Christians always use 100% of their effort to try to get along with those around them. True Christians can shake the hand of anyone in the church and truly mean it. True Christians can invite anyone into their home and have an enjoyable evening. Sure, there will always be personality conflicts and those we prefer not to be around too long, but true Christians don’t hold on to hurts and grievances. True Christians go to others and try to work things out instead of holding out grudges that end up lasting for years. True Christians don’t pass on slights to their children so that the younger generation carries on their own little power struggles. True Christians can look others in the eye and say, “I am sorry, and will you please forgive me?” As those that are around me know, because I have to say it fairly often... true Christians may often say, “I was wrong, and I am so sorry.” They may often have to say, “I spoke too quickly or my words were insensitive.” They also can say, “I know we have differences, but is there any way possible that we could work it out.” True Christians can sit beside anyone on a church pew and share a hymnal, work together on a project, and clap when the other person’s child does better than their own. True Christians carry no sense of competition with another person or their family. They concentrate on perfecting their own weaknesses and ignoring the weaknesses of others. True Christians are glad when someone else’s successes (or the successes of their children) are better than their own, and they sincerely congratulate them, and teach their children to do so also. In short, true Christians truly act like Jesus. When we fail to measure up to these requirements for those who dispense God’s pure medicine, we become flies in the ointment and instead of offering life, it stinks!

My prayer is that I will not only be one that can dispense God’s life giving medicine without turning people away, but that the way I live will not bring flies to the surface. I pray that when I mess up, I will have the backbone and grace to admit it and do anything possible to correct the situation. God expects a lot from those of us who want to share His life giving solutions with others. Let’s make sure that our medicine has the sweet smell of Jesus so people will be eager to take our medicine!