God Loves You and Has a Plan for Your Life

God loves you and has a plan for your life.

What’s your response to this statement? If you’ve grown up going to church or have been raised in a Christian home, this is something you have heard for a long time. Maybe it’s one of those ideas you’ve heard so many times you don’t think about it much anymore. But, you and I need to think about it! We need to think deeply about it because understanding that God, the Creator of this universe, loves us is critical to living a purposeful and fulfilling life.

Why do I say believing this truth is so important? Jesus tells us in John 3:16 that God loves us. We should take Jesus at His word but why is it important to believe this? When you know someone loves you, you trust them to always try to do what is best for you. That kind of love between a man and woman is a wonderful thing. That kind of love helps our children feel secure and trust us even when they don’t like our decisions. Now, think about what being loved by God implies. Knowing I am loved by God means I can trust the events of my daily life and my future to His wisdom. This kind of security bolsters my faith in Him when times are tough. In those times, I know He is working in “everything for good” for me. (Romans 8:28). Being confident that God loves me gives me hope in difficult times and encourages me to live obediently under His care.

Our loving Father also has a plan for our lives. I’m not thinking specifically about the work or profession we will have on earth. God certainly can and will lead us in our vocational choices but God has a greater plan than that for us! This plan is for you, me, and everyone who confesses faith in Jesus as our Savior. If you think Jesus died on the cross and rose again to just save you from hell, you need to listen up. Yes, if you truly trust in Jesus you will go to heaven but God has a plan for you between the time He saved you and the time you die. Specifically, His plan is to make a new person out of you. He’s not going to leave you alone. He wants to change the way you think, the way you treat Him, yourself, and others. He wants to continue the change He began in you when you first trusted Him. And, where is this plan leading? He wants to make you like Jesus. You can read it for yourself in Romans 8:29.  

This truth is central to the Christian worldview. God has created you in His image and has a plan to save you from your sin, pride, and selfishness. This plan, often referred to by terms such as salvation and sanctification, is initiated and brought about as His Spirit awakens you to God’s love and forgiveness provided through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Once you have responded in faith to God’s offer of eternal life through the work of Jesus, He goes about the process of accomplishing His ultimate purpose for you, to form in you the very character of Jesus.

That’s right, God’s master plan is to use your life experiences, the good and the difficult, to form the character of Jesus in you. His plan is for you to live a surrendered, obedient life in which you live in the power of His Spirit and consciously, proactively dedicate and use your time, money, energies, and talents to serve Him and others.

The God of heaven loves you and has a great plan for your life! That may sound incredible but it’s true. Embrace it. Give yourself to Him and watch Him work in your life.

 

 

 

Responding to Crises

 Crises are nothing new to our country. We have been through tough times before. A 2016 Times Magazine article reminds us we have had at least three major national crises in addition to the National Division (1970-present) we are currently experiencing. An update of the article would surely add our recent experience to the list. If so, the new list will look like this: Revolutionary War (1774-1783), War Between the States (1861-1865), Great Depression (1929-1938?), National Division (1970-present), and Covid-19 (2020).

The title of the article referenced above is “How Today’s American Crisis is Different.” The article’s focus is how, from the 1970s until today, there has been a fracturing of, a tearing apart, of the sense of unity and purpose that helped us overcome the earlier crises. E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one,” doesn’t appear to be working out for us. Political gridlock and polarization define national politics. Where is our great unifying purpose? The constitution and government which survived the former crises seem to be under serious threat. How long can our nation survive conditions like this? 

One of the challenges we have about learning from our problems is the forgetful mindset we have adopted because of the instant news cycle we have become accustomed to. We are bombarded with multiple tragedies, murders, scandals, wars in real-time from home and across the world. Crises are part of the daily news diet and we simply cannot digest it all. We tend to become hardened to it and develop a survival attitude; reluctant to ponder the profound life lessons crises may hold for us. 

How can we look at these enormous challenges from a more personal, optimistic, and faith perspective? In his book, Faithful Change, Dr. James Fowler says that each generation has felt they lived in unprecedented times, experiencing the full range of challenges of human living. To live faithfully, we must learn to make good choices in light of those challenges. Fowler discusses  three kinds of change we must negotiate if we are to live faithfully: (1) developmental change,(2) healing or reconstructive change, and (3) change due to disruptions and modifications of the systems that shape our lives.

Developmental change is the process of physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges we face in the life cycle from conception, birth, young children, pre-adolescents, teenagers, young adults, and so on until old age and death. This process is ever-present as we deal with the two additional areas of challenge. I’m in my eighth decade and certainly notice lots of challenges that come with the territory. The next step in this process for me is dying. That idea doesn’t appeal to me but I know the One who will see me through that just as He has faithfully brought me to this stage of life. 

The second area, which Fowler refers to as “healing or reconstructive change,” has to do with the need for healing from harmful patterns of emotion and thinking which we have adopted to help us feel safe and less vulnerable to the harsh realities of life. This false sense of self and security is challenged when we lose a job, face a major health crisis, lose a loved one or go through a divorce or other significant disruption. Such a crisis presents an opportunity to reassess who we are and to make necessary changes. Think about how true this is in your personal experiences. How has God helped you faithfully change in light of personal loss or crises in your life?

Change due to systems that shape our lives has to do with the challenges that come from our participation in our society’s social, political, and economic processes. We often feel the only control we have in these areas is how we will respond to the decisions of those in power. We are in the midst of what is often labeled as a “cultural war.” One of the challenges a believer faces in this postmodern culture is how to maintain a faithful, loving witness in a society we believe to be in a rapid downward spiral. While we don’t control many of the financial, health-related, and political issues that affect us, we must learn from these crises and take responsibility for our choices. Our nation is in a mess on different fronts. How can we respond faithfully to what we see is happening to the country we love? 

 Life often poses a variety of challenges; coming at us from various directions. To live well, we must understand how our everyday choices form patterns of decision-making that will ultimately prove to be wise or foolish when the next crisis comes. And, troubles will come to each of us in one way or another.

Sadly, lots of folks may look back on these crisis events and regret their lack of preparation for the problems they faced. Some will wish they had spent more time with those they have lost. Others will chide their lack of financial discipline and regret they didn’t put away some savings for times like these.

Those most fortunate are those who will come to terms with the fact that material possessions and money, while necessary, are not a reliable source for our security. We are made for another world, and it is to our great benefit that we invest our life and temporal possessions in that world.

Whether solely personal or shared with much of humanity, every crisis is an opportunity to reassess how you live and invest in God’s priorities. There are more crises ahead, and the daily investments you make will be crucial in weathering the coming storms.

 Many believe our nation is in a great crisis politically, economically, and morally. Are the vitriol and divisiveness a harbinger of a country that is about to come apart at the seams? Where is that something or someone to bring us together, to unite us?

 

 

 

 

Antidote for Anxiety (part one)

 

We live in an anxious world. This rings true on a global scale as well as in our individual lives. Across the world there are uprisings of religious fanatics whose aim is to bring suffering, persecution, and death to those who do not believe as they do. They are driven by hate and will use any means to accomplish their end. This ominous cloud is gathering in many countries and creating anxiety concerning our way of life and our future.

Getting even closer to home is our soaring national debt with no fix in sight and political gridlock in Washington which has brought our confidence in government to an all-time low. Many worry about whether the people we elected to manage such matters have any answers or if they are more concerned about keeping their own jobs than in fixing the problems with our national debt, the border crisis, and soaring crime rates in many of our large cities. If this is not enough to make you anxious, there is the personal stuff of marriage, raising kids, health issues, aging parents, making ends meet financially, and fitting more and more things into an already overcrowded schedule.

 All of us experience anxiety in one way or another. It is part of the human condition from birth to the grave. The baby often cries anxiously as a way of getting the caregiver to deal with his hunger or physical discomfort. The anxious parent tosses in his bed awaiting the return of his teenager from their date. Moms and dads watch a news program concerning a military action and their minds struggle to put away the pressing thought that their loved one might have been wounded or killed in the battle. Day after day they live with the anxiety that the one they have seen grow up before them may return maimed or may not return at all.

It may surprise you that I suggest there is something good about anxiety. I believe anxiety can serve us and do great harm to us. While we cannot and should not hope to be rid of all anxiety, we can take steps to use the good part of it and arm ourselves so as not to be controlled by it.

What is the good part of anxiety? Anxiety is good when it alerts us to some danger or impending harm to us or someone or something we care about. It is good when it cautions us to be careful, to use discretion about a decision. For example, the wise parent becomes anxious when his child does something which can easily lead to physical harm or death. Anxiety alerts the parent to act, to rescue the child from his foolish decision or from someone who could harm him. Anxiety can push us to take action to remedy a problematic situation. It can alert a student to prepare well for an exam, a soldier to be vigilant at his task, or a worker to give his best to his job. In these ways and many others anxiety can spur us to avoid carelessness or laziness which may lead to failure or even death. Seen this way, anxiety can have a good,  beneficial effect. It serves as a warning signal, an alarm to awaken us to potential harm. You might even say it is a sign of wisdom to respond well to the good side of anxiety.

So, when does anxiety cross the line from good to bad? When does this gift become harmful? It is one thing to respond to an anxiety-producing situation in order to resolve the issue but quite another to have anxiety control much of your thoughts and actions. As with anger or other issues, the question comes down to control. Anxiety has crossed the line between helpful and harmful when it is out of control.

What does bad anxiety do to you and others? If you have experienced times when anxiety has controlled you or if you have lived with someone controlled by it you will readily recognize the following symptoms of bad anxiety. It tends to distort or exaggerate the reality of the situation. People controlled by anxiety often overreact to life events. The smallest incident can trigger a major emotional reaction. People not controlled by anxiety would probably see the incident as a minor annoyance or inconvenience and move on.

The person controlled by anxiety doesn’t seem to have the capacity to put the incident into perspective. Already very nervous about something, they tend to connect the small event to the pile of things they are worried about and overreact to it. They may do what I call “going from A to Z.” They are faced with a relatively small problem or challenge but make it much bigger and more threatening than it really is. For example, a person may dread their annual physical with their physician. There seems to be no sign of a physical issue but they become almost frozen by fear because of the possibility the doctor may find some problem. They fear what might be and distort or exaggerate the situation without any rational basis for their concern.

Folks who experience this level of anxiety are miserable. Such people live in fear of what could happen and tend to instill fear in the lives of those who live with them. They go beyond sensible precautions that are healthy and reasonable and are often consumed by worry which results in overprotection and limitation of normal activity. They are controlled by anxiety.

Bad anxiety depletes your emotional and physical energy. Anxiety takes its toll emotionally and physically. Being vigilant all the time is emotionally taxing and wears you down and flattens you out emotionally. When that happens you notice your physical energy is also sapped. That’s because emotions are energy in our physical body and when they are expended we feel tired and depleted. When you are worried about something it works on you physically. You likely will not sleep well and, thus, a cycle may begin in which your physical and emotional energies are not renewed.

A person controlled by anxiety can become vulnerable to more serious health issues such as depression, high blood pressure, and various other ailments. Professionals who deal with the medical and emotional needs of people are becoming increasingly aware of the interconnection between the emotional and physical health of their patients. We have not been created with separate, unconnected parts. What affects one aspect of our life has an impact on other parts of us.

It impairs your ability to focus or concentrate. Anxiety takes away our ability to pay attention to the task at hand. It interrupts or overrides our concentration. For example, the anxious person finds it very difficult to read for extended periods of time without anxious thoughts breaking through. Anxiety creates a sense of being at loose ends, not able to settle down to the job before us. Anxiety makes ordinary tasks more challenging and can help create dangerous situations such as leaving a burner or oven on, failing to disengage the gas pump before driving away, and not paying attention while driving or operating machinery. Anxiety also makes it more difficult to listen to family members and, therefore, can undermine our relationships.

Out-of-control anxiety infects you with doubt and negativity. Besides all the issues just mentioned, anxiety can turn you into a person who has a sour attitude about life in general. Anxiety robs you of your joy and happiness and can make it difficult to be around you. Most people don’t find it pleasant to be around a person who is always negative or doubtful. Anxious persons can suck the hope out of the room.

 I believe many of the ills of our society can be traced to the inadequate or flawed ways we attempt to deal with anxiety. We want to feel calm or excited, want to feel in control at all times. We want quick fixes and shudder at the thought of being emotionally uncomfortable or just riding out the anxiety until it subsides. We don’t want to experience any discomfort. However, reality and healthy living dictate there are going to be times when feeling bad or threatened is okay.

The result of trying to escape real life and its attendant anxiety can bring serious consequences. Several addictions may be traced to the attempt to escape the difficult realities of life. Among them are alcoholism, illegal and prescription drug addiction, and food addiction. You can probably add many workaholics to the list of those who are trying to assuage the demands of anxiety. Also, depression usually has an anxiety component to it and may sometimes be considered a means of escaping reality.

 There are a number of ways to address debilitating anxiety. Here, I have chosen to briefly touch on the medical and, physical aspects of treatment and give a more detailed discussion of the spiritual side from a preventative perspective in part two. Although I have chosen to separate these aspects for clarity I recognize that, in many instances, they are combined with good results.

Medical treatment involves prescribing a drug to counteract the ill effects of anxiety and re-establish a chemical balance in the brain. Medical treatment may also include treatment of physical issues that may be attendant with the anxiety. Prescription drug treatment can be helpful in restoring a sense of balance to the person but, by itself, does not cure the problem. Unless the source of the anxiety is discovered and dealt with therapeutically through counseling or some other means, the real issue is left unresolved.

Anxiety takes a toll on us physically. Exercise, such as walking, stimulates chemicals in the brain which can help control anxiety. Exercise, when done as part of one’s lifestyle, is a good way to work off nervous energy and maintain emotional balance. When combined with medical and/or spiritual help physical exercise can prove to be very beneficial in combating anxiety. There are many enjoyable activities such as gardening, swimming, or biking that can have a positive effect on your physical and emotional health. The issue is to make physical activity a part of your lifestyle, if possible, and refuse to become sedentary. This investment will pay good dividends physically and emotionally. 

I personally believe a great deal of the personal pain and problems caused by anxiety could be avoided altogether if the correct spiritual prescription were followed when we first realize anxiety is becoming a problem. I say this not to condemn or judge anyone who deals with chronic anxiety but to emphasize the need to recognize and deal with anxiety before it gets to the controlling stage. We need to” nip it in the bud.” I believe that those with debilitating anxiety can benefit from the spiritual suggestions I discuss in the next blog but may need some serious medical intervention as well. 

 

 

Is God in the Details?

 

There is an old cautionary statement related to contracts and business transactions that says, “The devil is in the details.” I take this to mean we need to read and understand the contingencies related to the deal we are making before we sign our name to the paper. In the housing crisis a decade ago lots of people lost their houses because they didn’t pay attention to the fact their sub-prime loan rate would change, resulting in much higher mortgage payments. The devil was in the details.

I don’t do particularly well with details. When Cecelia and I do projects together, I’m the big picture guy and she is the detail person. For example, I paint the walls and she paints the trim. Working together we usually end up with something that pleases both of us.

As I was walking this morning a scripture verse I read recently came to mind and I said it out loud, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:18. Just before bedtime last night I received an email from a book agent telling me they are not going to be working with me on my book project. They were very kind and professional but I understand the bottom line; it is a rejection. I have been working on this project for almost three years and am beginning to realize God’s purpose in this writing may be different from mine.

I can only give thanks in this “rejection” if I’m convinced that God is in the details of my life. I’m not particularly thankful for the rejection but that He has a personal concern for me and will use this for my good. I believe in the promise in Romans 8:28 and I can see this development in that light. I firmly believe the book can be helpful and encouraging to lots of people but God doesn’t need the book to get that done. His primary goal with me is to work in the details; the disappointments and victories to make me more like Jesus.

It’s a bit overwhelming to think about just how God loves details. For example, do you realize our planet rotates around the sun at exact angles to produces our seasons? And did you know the sun’s gravitational pull is such that it keeps the earth on track year after year? If God ignored that detail, we would go spinning off into oblivion. Look around you at the detail of creation. Think about your body and the systems that coordinate to keep you healthy and alive. Life is a miracle and God’s exquisite details are everywhere.

As believers, we have a great advantage over the nonbeliever regarding details. And, for that, we should be grateful. That’s what Paul is telling us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. God knows us intimately and is constantly working for our good. Luke 12:7 tells us that “the hairs on our head are numbered.” Not all things that happen to us are good. Not all things are convenient. Not all things turn out the way we wish. But even in our disappointment and pain, we can give thanks because God is with us and will “work in everything for good to those of us who love him.”  

That’s Gratitude for You

 

If you read last week’s blog you will recall my story about my frustration with birds pooping on the swing I use for meditating and resting from yard work. I am happy to report the spike board I put above the swing is working! I have not cut the tree from which I was “spotted” but neither have I suffered a repeat of being personally assaulted by the ungrateful creature that pooped on me. By the way, the spot on my blue pants will not come out. Every time I wear them I will be reminded of the indignity that was visited upon me. 

There is something deeper I am about to get at, an idea that you and I may do well to consider. But first, let me pass along some things about birds that my friend, Alexa, has shared with me. Birds can be annoying and messy but did you realize they serve some good purposes? They help control those pesky mosquitoes and other insects that annoy us, pollinate plants and vegetables, spread seeds (not always so helpful). Caring for birds is also a big business in our economy; an annual  2 billion dollar industry focused on bird seed, feeders, etc. There are approximately 15 billion birds in the United States and almost 11,000 different species of these reptiles.

Now to the idea I want you to think about with me. Sometimes I think about the deeper meaning or spiritual application of common things and how they may apply to my relationship with God or others. I love birds. We have a beautiful backyard with lots of trees where they can nest, and we have three birdhouses we provide without rent or upkeep. We have a creek and a birdbath where they can drink and bathe. We also have three feeders we keep supplied with feed. We have even bought expensive safflower seeds to discourage squirrels from eating their food. I have invented a contraption to stop squirrels from climbing the feeder pole. Be patient, I’m getting to the idea.

With all I’ve done for these creatures, why would one of them even consider making me the target of their poop? Why didn’t he come down and say, “I’m so sorry I did that. Forgive me. I’ll be more careful next time. And, by the way, thank you for taking such good care of me and my young family.” Are you getting an idea of where this is going?

Well, birds don’t do that kind of thing because they are not mentally and spiritually equipped to do that. God didn’t make them in His image. Now, you may not like to think about it this way, but do you think God may sometimes think we take His care for granted. Does our attitude of entitlement and presumption have a parallel to being pooped on by a bird? No, there is no parallel because birds have no soul and just do what they do naturally. When we act ungratefully or disobey God we are doing worse than pooping on Him. We are trashing the love and sacrifice of our Savior.

There’s a story in Luke 17:11-19 that reminds us of our propensity to act like a dumb bird. This is the story of the ten lepers. William Barclay says, “No story in the gospels so poignantly shows men’s ingratitude.” In this story, there are ten people who are suffering from the physical and social issues of this terrible skin disease. When Jesus comes to town, they implore Him to heal them. Jesus has compassion on them and speaks the word and they are miraculously healed and clean. They must have cried, laughed, and jumped for joy as they headed off to get back to their families. They go on their way without a single word of thanks to Jesus for what He had done for them. Somewhere along the way, one of them comes to his senses and decides to express his gratitude for the act of mercy that has changed his life. He returns and thanks the Lord. The story ends with Jesus’ question, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine-where are they?”

I have had some health issues and other challenges through the years that have caused me to understand the importance of a grateful attitude toward God and many people who have invested in my life. Every morning, when I realize I have been given another day, I thank God. Try this every morning and get your day off to the right kind of start. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Psalm 107:1.

P.S.: Today, say a sincere thank you for some act of kindness someone has done for you.  

Risk vs. Reward

 

About twenty years ago Cecelia and I were blessed with Anna Katherine (A.K.), the first of our four grandchildren. Wanting to do something for her and others who might follow, I built a sturdy structure for a swing close to the creek that runs through our property. That swing has witnessed lots of laughs and screams as A.K and the three grandsons have enjoyed it through the years. I think I enjoyed watching them swing as much as they enjoyed using it.

A couple of years ago I realized that the old structure wasn’t seeing much use and decided to bring some enjoyment and laughter back to it. This, I thought, would be a perfect place for an adult swing; a place to relax, to be quiet, and enjoy the babbling of the creek and the beauty of our back yard. It is all of that and more! But there is a risk I take every time I go there to rest or meditate. Bird poop! Let me explain.    

For several weeks I was frustrated that almost every time I wanted to use  the swing I had to be clean off the bird poop. Being the “problem solver” I am I attempted several things to discourage the bird’s lack of consideration, including covering the swing with plastic. The plastic worked but who wants to look at a swing always covered with a poop-smeared sheet of plastic. This called for drastic measures. I decided to construct a spike-board over the swing to stop the birds from landing on the overhead beam; sometimes you have to get serious and take action to mitigate the risk. I’m sure the AAPCA would frown on what I’ve done. This 6 ft. board has 130 nails daring any bird to land there to do their business. ”  

The spike board worked! For several days I visited the swing to reassure myself I had taken the risk out of using the swing. It was clear that the birds were avoiding the spikes! However, a day or so ago I went to enjoy the solitude in the swing to discover a familiar deposit on the swing; bird poop. Wondering how this had happened, I cleaned the area and sat down to relax and meditate. I did not know what was about to hit me. Yep. You guessed it; right on the left thigh of my pale blue pants. It was a long-distance shot from a tree behind my swing.

Well, what am I going to do now? I’m not going to cut the tree and I’m not going to stop using the swing. I’ve weighed the benefit vs. the risk and I think what happened may happen again, maybe one chance in a hundred. I enjoy that swing and a little bird poop is not going to stop me from using it.

Life is risky, isn’t it? Almost everything that is worthwhile involves taking a chance. Marriage, children, friendship, loving someone, driving, flying, investing, sitting in a swing, and many other things come to mind. But what is life worth if you allow yourself to be controlled by the fear of what might happen. We can’t control what is outside our control but we can do what we can to mitigate the risk. Still, there will be “bird poop” or other kinds of stuff we will encounter.

My little story can serve to illustrate some great truths for myself and others who will listen:

  1. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. We can learn what’s really important through the troubles and frustrations God allows to come our way. I don’t learn much when life is easy. We have to weigh the benefit vs. the reward.
  2. With God’s help, we can deal with the challenges of marriage, child-rearing, jobs, investing, friendships, and health issues by absorbing His word and putting it into practice. Don’t give up on what’s really important to you. I like what Psalm 1:1-2 says about those of us who rely on God’s Word to guide us: How blessed is the man who “Delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on His law day and night.”
  3. Life is a faith adventure. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will lead you on the right path.” Proverbs 3:5-6.
  4.  Remember the big-picture plan God has for us. God is working in everything to make us more like Jesus. Romans 8:28. We need to adjust our life purpose to align with     His plan.

Dealing With Disappointment

For the past several days I have been dealing with a major disappointment related to the book I’ve been working on for almost three years. About a year ago I made contact with an agent I had a good feeling about and we hit it off really well. He liked my idea and was very helpful and encouraging in the early days of the work. We were excited and shared hope and an expectation about getting the book published.

Everything was going well, and then life happened. This man became very ill and underwent surgery. We talked a couple of months ago and were hopeful we could get the book finished and on the market this fall. A few days ago, he contacted me to tell me his recovery is taking much longer than expected and that he is unable to continue working with me on the book.

Upon receiving his message, I responded that I understood and thanked him for the encouragement he had given me. I also expressed my disappointment for both of us. I believe we would have produced a really good book together.

It has taken me several days to process what this turn of events will mean to my work of almost three years. Honestly, I don’t know what it will mean. One thing I’ve learned in my rather long life is to not minimize the way people deal with their disappointments. For me, this is a pretty big deal and I need to think, feel, and pray my way through it. This is what I am advising myself to do.

Sometimes inspiration and insight come from unexpected sources. I’ve been asking God to help and direct me in what to do next and I think I got some direction from a baseball game I was watching recently. The disappointing thing in the game happened in the 5th inning of the game between the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Marlins. Superstar Atlanta player, Ronald Acuna, Jr. attempted to catch a fly ball hit to right field; landed awkwardly on his right leg, and was carted off the field and on to the hospital. The medical examination later revealed a tear in the right ACL and Acuna is out for the season. The game was halted for several minutes while the tearful, 23-year-old star was being carted from the field. Teammates gathered around and wished him well but had to resume play after this devastating event. There was a pause in the game but it wasn’t over.

The Marlin player who hit the ball Acuna tried to catch scored an inside-the-park home run, leaving the Marlins trailing now 5-3. Max Fried, the Atlanta pitcher who gave up the hit, was still on the mound and hadn’t pitched to a batter in several minutes. Fried had struggled often during the game and now must somehow put aside the disappointment he and his teammates had witnessed and get his head back in the game. But, he continued to struggle, and with only one out the bases were loaded. What I saw next was borderline heroic. With steely concentration and skill, Fried struck out the next two batters to preserve the Braves’ lead and to become the winning pitcher of the game.

When asked later about Acuna’s injury, Fried expressed his concern for his teammate and said “It’s obviously very unfortunate, but you have to stay with the task at hand and finish the game.”

I’m sure you have dealt with lots of disappointing things in your life. Maybe the disappointment came by way of a failed relationship, a lost job, or an accident. Perhaps you have been hurt by an uncaring act or meanness of another person. Or, like me, you are disappointed by something totally out of your control and there is no one to blame. Whatever the case, I want to share a few things that are helping me “get my head back into the game.” If you don’t need this now, there will likely be a time when you will.

  1. God is more concerned about my character than He is my comfort. God cares when life hurts me but He sees the big picture while I’m looking at the smaller stuff. God isn’t obligated to fulfill my dreams. My disappointment results when reality doesn’t line up with my expectations. God is not surprised by any of this; He’s got bigger plans for me.  
  2. I have His promise that he will work something good out of the disappointing situation. “He works in everything for good to those who love Him…” That’s a great and encouraging truth found in Romans 8:28. And, that “everything” includes disappointments! So, God isn’t finished with me or this particular situation. He is working and I have something to do as well.
  3. What do I need to do when I’m disappointed? It’s okay to be disappointed but we don’t need to get stuck there. Trouble and trials are a part of life but they are not to define us. We are not victims; we are “more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.” We grieve our loss but get back in the game. This grieving may take a while but through faith in the Lord, we keep moving ahead. For me, faith is to continue to work on this project. Every time I proof another page or check another footnote, I am expressing my faith in God and His purpose for this book. “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need for endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what was promised.”
  4. I confess my disappointment to God and ask for wisdom to process this disappointment in a way that will make me a better person. My identity is not determined by what happens to me and my plans. Someone has said that 10% of life is about what happens to you; the other 90% is about what you do about that 10%. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in everything you do and He will direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6.

Longing for the “Good Ole Days”

While considering what to share with you today I ran across a piece of commentary by Paul Harvey (1919-2009). Harvey was the guest speaker at my graduation from Belmont in 1966 but is better- known for his radio broadcasts for over a half-century. He specialized in telling “The Rest of The Story.” He took the basics of a news event or story and  went behind the scene to explain the extraordinary details of human sacrifice and compassion which were not part of the news; thus, “The Rest of the Story.” He was a brilliant communicator who left you smiling and encouraged every time you listened to him.

The commentary you are about to read probably strikes a wishful chord in most of us. I long for simpler days; less hurry and bustle, more love and less hate, more caring and less cruelty. Would a return to the “Good Ole Days” solve these and other issues we face today? As you read Harvey’s “Dirt Roads” think about what he seems to be suggesting. What can be done to solve the challenges our society faces today?

Do me a big favor. I would like your “take” on this piece and what you think we believers can do to be salt and light in our culture.   

                                                                                                                                         Dirt Roads

What’s mainly wrong with society today is that too many dirt roads have been paved. There’s not a problem in America today, crime, drugs, education, and divorce delinquency that wouldn’t be remedied if we just had more dirt roads because dirt roads give character. People that live at the end of dirt roads learn early on that life is a bumpy ride. That it can jar you right down to your teeth sometimes, but it’s worth it, if at the end is home….a loving spouse, happy kids and a dog.

We wouldn’t have near the trouble with our educational system if our kids got their exercise walking a dirt road with other kids, from whom they learn how to get along. There was less crime in our streets before they were paved. Criminals didn’t walk two dusty miles to rob or rape, if they knew they’d be welcomed by 5 barking dogs and a double barrel shotgun. And there were no drive by shootings, motorists were more courteous, they didn’t tailgate by riding the bumper or the guy in front would choke you with dust and bust your windshield with rocks. Dirt roads taught patience.

Dirt roads were environmentally friendly, you didn’t hop in your car for a quart of milk. You walked to your barn for your milk. For your mail, you walked to the mailbox. What if it rained and the dirt road got washed out? That was the best part, then you stayed home and had some family time, roasted marshmallows and popped popcorn and pony rode on daddy’s shoulders and learned how to make prettier quilts than anybody. At the end of dirt roads, you soon learned that bad words tasted like soap. Most paved roads lead to trouble, dirt roads more likely lead to a fishing creek or a swimming hole.

At the end of a dirt road, the only time we even locked our car was in August because if we didn’t some neighbor would fill it with too much zucchini. At the end of a dirt road, there was always extra springtime income from when city dudes would get stuck and you’d have to hitch up a team and pull them out. Usually you got a dollar…always you got a new friend…at the end of a dirt road.  Paul Harvey

Let me hear from you. Cos

 

 

Thinking About God

 Small god or Big God?

Good God or Mean god?

Weak god or Strong God?

Have you given much thought to how you think about God and the effect that has on your emotions, your outlook on life, and how you live? How do you answer the three sets of questions above?

Why does it matter what you think about God? It matters because your god or God is your ultimate source of authority, what or who matters most in your life. Your values and the way you live are shaped by whatever has authority in your life. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, (your source of meaning and authority) there will your heart be also.”  He also said, “ Out of the heart come the issues of life….”

Is it possible for a true believer to have a distorted or inadequate view of God? Absolutely. I think it is very likely that you and I and every believer underestimate the God who cares for us and supplies everything we need. Why do I believe this is true?

First, who can fully grasp the glory and magnificence of the Holy One? We are mere mortals dealing with the infinite Reality. We don’t have the capacity to fully grasp the greatness of the God we love and serve. Is this what Isaiah 55:9 is saying? “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  

Not only are we finite and limited in our ability to fully grasp the greatness of God, but we are also “fallen” human beings who are tempted to believe wrong ideas about God. Although we are saved because of our trust in Christ and His death and resurrection, the old nature is not completely eradicated. That means we are still capable of sin and distorted ideas about God. We are saved but God continues to save us from our sinful past through the process of sanctification.

Paul has lots to say about the need to think clearly and live purely in his letters to young believers. Romans 12:2 is a good example of this, “Do not conform to this world but be changed by the renewing of your mind.” Change the way you think about God and His purpose for your life. What were they thinking about God that prompted Paul to challenge them to “Present yourselves as a living sacrifice to God”? Romans 12:1.

The third reason I believe Christians are often misguided in our thinking about God is that we have somehow been deceived into believing the devil doesn’t exist. Jesus certainly believed in his existence. Take note of the wilderness temptations in Matthew’s gospel. Was Jesus just imagining the devil was there? Was He hallucinating after forty days and nights in the wilderness? Satan is not dismissed in scripture as some benign imaginary character. He is real, evil, deceitful, and a liar who wants to somehow cast doubt in our minds about the character of God. Peter tells us to think soberly and watch carefully because the devil is like a roaring lion seeking someone to tear apart. 1Peter 5:8.

One of the best and most important things you will ever do for yourself is to get your thinking about the character of God aligned with the life and teaching of Jesus and scripture. Until you commit to the teaching of scripture about who God is your emotional and spiritual life will be plagued by doubt and confusion.

I encourage you to think about what I’ve said. And, think about how you think and feel about God when bad things happen to you. That may give you a hint about the need to change your thinking to align with biblical teaching.     

 

Toxic Thinking

Have you ever known someone whose thinking has been poisoned by the words and actions of others? I’ve known several folks like this. Many of them developed toxic thought patterns about themselves because of verbal abuse by a wounded parent. There is an old saying in Scripture that goes something like this, “The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Toxic or poisoned thinking is often a generational issue; the grandparent is angry from an unhealed wound, afflicts their child with their bitterness and on and on it can go generation after generation.

 Hopefully, someone down the line will learn to think more healthily and break the destructive pattern. “I want my daughter to grow up thinking much better of herself than I did.” This woman, a successful businessperson, and going through a divorce, had come to see the negative impact her mother’s words had had on her. She was determined to heal and stop the cycle of toxicity. You would probably be surprised at the number of people I counseled who had dealt with such toxicity at home.

 I grew up watching how this kind of poisonous thinking affected one generation after another. A boy I grew up around, let’s call him Josh, received the brunt of some of his mother’s angry outbursts. Instead of gently correcting him, she would hit him with a broom or with her fist. But, what probably hurt him more deeply were the toxic words he came to think or believe about himself, “You can’t do anything right.” I was around this situation several times and knew Josh was just a “normal” kid, certainly not deserving this awful treatment. I felt sorry for him but it was difficult to relate to his situation since I never experienced this kind of abuse at home. Josh and his family moved to another town just before he became a teenager and I would only see him occasionally or when our schools would compete in basketball.

It would be years before I began to see how that message, “You can’t do anything right,” seems to have affected Josh. Somewhere along the way, he must have believed and adopted his mother’s view of himself. If you hear your parent’s message often enough and long enough you tend to believe it is true. Believing a negative message can have devastating results.

Josh began falling behind in school and eventually gave up and dropped out of high school. He left the state to find work and eventually despaired of his life but failed in his attempt to end his misery. Two marriages ended in failure. Thankfully, Josh came to embrace God’s love for him and some deep healing took place. Tragically, for most of his life he had allowed the toxic, evil thinking of someone he loved to dominate his thinking. That way of thinking had almost destroyed him but, thank God, he found acceptance, forgiveness, and grace in Jesus.     

When you look in the mirror do you see someone who can identify with Josh? Somewhere deep within you do you believe you are worthless or unloved? If you do, you have believed a lie straight out of hell. God loves you and wants the best for you. If you see someone in the mirror that identifies with Josh’s mother, please get help for the healing and help you need to correct your toxic thinking.

Toxic thoughts produce negative feelings about yourself and others. Your feelings are what they are but they are not based on truth. Healing will come when you acknowledge your feelings, forgive those who have hurt you and, change your thinking to agree with God’s estimate of your worth.  God loves you so much that He gave His only Son to die for you.

Perhaps my words cause you to consider the impact your words and actions, good or bad, can have on someone you love. Bless them with your loving words and encouragement. May God give you the power to bless those you love.