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 two)

I 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.”

What can you do to guard against anxiety becoming a controlling factor in your life? What is the spiritual antidote for anxiety? Simply stated, the antidote for controlling anxiety or worry is prayer. “That certainly seems simple enough,” you say, “but I pray every day and I am still worrying all the time. Praying is not working for me” I know many wonderful Christian people who seem to make a practice of trying to worry their problems to death. What they find is that it doesn’t work and they are subjected to many of the problems that come to those who worry. They often feel defeated and may begin to believe that praying about things isn’t useful. At this point, they may stop praying at all.

However, it is a clear teaching in scripture that we are not to be overcome by worry or anxiety. It is also without debate that we are taught to pray for what we need and trust God to supply it. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus contrasts the futility of worrying with trust in God to supply the basic needs of our life. Worry accomplishes nothing related to our needs but does indicate we have taken God out of the equation. Worry is an attempt to not depend on God and solve the problem on our own. Not only is worrying useless, but it also depicts a lack of trust in God and is an affront to Him. Worrying is a serious spiritual issue.

Let me mention a few of the many reasons why a person can pray about something and continue to be overwhelmed by anxiety.

The motive of praying may be wrong. For example, a person may pray for something in order to simply advance himself or his cause and not to honor God. James 4:3 tells us that one hindrance to answered prayer is selfishness in the way we ask. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James also tells us in 5:16, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” What we want from praying is an important factor in getting our prayers answered.     

Effective praying involves an important caveat that some may not be willing to obey. That is, the request must conform to the will of God. Another way to say this is; the prayer must be one that honors God and advances to his purpose. In the model prayer, Jesus gives us a broad outline of how to pray. One very notable feature of that model is the phrase, ” Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” While God wants us to live in his peace, anxiety may overwhelm us because the issue we pray about is not completely released to his will. We may not trust that whatever he decides is best or really what we want to happen.

Effective praying requires unwavering trust in God. Here again, James’ words are instructive to us. James 1: 6-7 reads as follows: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” Answers to our prayers require that we trust God to do for us what we ask within his will. Doubting nullifies our praying.

Effective praying also has the quality of persistence. Do we really want what we ask God to do? How do we show we are deeply committed to what we pray for? By continuing to pray, to hang on, to persist day after day. Only when we prove we are serious about our praying will God give us what we ask for.

Motive, God’s will, trust, and persistence are ingredients of effective praying. When considering these four things it is quite easy to see why God doesn’t answer according to our wishes or why a person may give up on the work of praying. True prayer involves work on our part. It calls for us to keep our selfishness and pride in check, to abandon the idea that we can do things on our own, to be unwavering in our trust in God, and to hang on, to persist until what we pray for becomes a reality we can celebrate.

With these ideas as a backdrop let us consider a couple of Paul’s ideas about prayer as the real antidote for anxiety. One of the things we know about Paul is that life got much harder for him after his conversion on the Damascus road. He faced many anxious times in his attempt to share the good news about Jesus.  Paul suffered some type of chronic physical ailment, was imprisoned, beaten, run out of town, shipwrecked, contended for the gospel with unbelievers in hostile situations, criticized for his preaching, at times totally dependent on the goodwill of others to supply his basic needs, and put on trial for his faith. He knew about anxiety and how to deal with it.

The first thing that seems obvious about Paul’s approach to troubling situations is that he firmly believed in God’s sovereignty in his life.  Simply put, Paul believed that whatever God allowed in his life he would use for good. We are never abandoned to the whim of fate or without an anchor in the storms of life. For the believer this means that there is gain, there is good to come from the pain, problems, and disappointments in life. This hopeful and reassuring reality should help us pray with thanksgiving and assurance. My favorite verse related to this idea, and perhaps Paul’s clearest statement, is Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The specific statement about prayer as the antidote for anxiety is found in one of Paul’s “prison epistles.” It is called a prison letter or epistle because Paul was imprisoned in Rome and facing a possible death penalty for his faith. These words resound with an assurance that comes from having seen how prayer had calmed and focused him in many uneasy situations in life, and even now as he awaits what is before him. Philippians 4:6-7 reads as follows:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

How do these words apply to us as we deal with our anxiety-causing situations?

First, this is a negative command. We are to STOP, quit, to refrain from being controlled by anxiety. This is not a polite suggestion but a directive, a command. STOP IT.

Second, it is an all-inclusive command. We are not to be anxious about “anything.” There are NO  EXCEPTIONS. There is nothing that we are to worry about. Marital problems, money issues, sickness, world calamities, aging parents, unruly children, and whatever else you can name or imagine are covered by this command. This gets uncomfortable for us because it destroys the illusion that we have control over some things in our life. All these things are important but worrying is not the solution to any of them. Paul tells us we are to worry about absolutely nothing. 

Third, is a transition indicated by the word “but.” Paul does not strip away our useless worrying about real-life issues without giving us a better solution. The word “but” signifies he is going to tell us what we need to do about the things that worry us.

Fourth, we are given a positive command to compliment the negative one. In the negative command, we are told not to worry about anything. With the positive command, Paul gives us a new and effective way to handle anxiety. And, it, too, is all-inclusive. “…but in everything. ” What? What are we to do? We are to pray to our Heavenly Father.

Fifth, we are told how we are to pray concerning the things that make us anxious. This is not to be a flippant, light-hearted approach but an earnest, heartfelt, sincere asking. Praying like this is a serious and sober matter. It requires a willingness to come time and again and to prove our earnestness about what we pray. This is the idea behind “prayer and petition.” It has nothing to do with God’s reluctance to bless us. It is about proving our readiness to receive the blessing and to give God the glory for it. Paul uses the word petition as a way of telling us to be specific, to be clear in our own mind what we want God to do for us. Generalized phrases such as “God bless us” do not qualify for a petition. How, specifically, do you want God to bless you? A petition is a specific statement of our need or desire. Search deep within your heart for what you need and say that to God. Paul also adds the idea of giving God thanks with our petition. We are to pray, to petition God “with thanksgiving.” Thank God for that he has given you life today and any good thing that comes to mind; all of it comes from him! This awakens gratitude and confidence in our praying. It also is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. We simply cannot be anxious and thankful at the same time. You may notice that anxious people are not very thankful people.

Sixth, peace will replace and become our state of mind when we pray this way. When we truly turn the situation over to God something beyond human understanding happens. God gives us a sense of peace that will stand like a sentry or guard over our mind and heart. Like a powerful guard protecting a valuable treasure, God’s peace will keep you safe from the devastating effects of anxiety.

If you want to replace the spiritually debilitating grip of habitual anxiety with God’s peace, try praying as Paul encourages us to pray. How do you know this works? There’s just one way to find out; try it for yourself!

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.

Is God Good?

 

Is God good?

Does your answer to that question depend on the mood you are in or the particular circumstances you are confronting? It is very easy to say, “God is so good” when everything is going your way. If you have your health, enough money to pay your bills, and your family relationships are in pretty good shape, you may have no difficulty in saying “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” 

But, what do you think about God when troubles come and your life seems to be falling apart? What do you say about God when a child dies or you are personally stricken with an incurable illness? Is God good when you lose your life’s savings or your job is terminated?

These questions strike at the heart of an issue important to every true believer; is God good? Is He purely good with no trace of evil or deception in His character?

What happens to my life if I don’t really believe God is good? It means I believe I can’t really trust Him. If I can’t really trust Him, I live in doubt about His care for me and lose my interest and zeal to live according to His teachings.

 Remember the story of Job? Satan’s contention was that he only served and trusted God because he had such a good, trouble-free life. God allowed Satan to test his theory. Job lost his children, his possessions, his health, and the support of his wife and friends. He complained and wondered why God would allow him to suffer such misery but he never lost his confidence in the goodness and righteousness of God.  

In my last blog, “Thinking about God,” I wrote about how Satan wants to deceive us and cause us to doubt God’s goodness. Satan is a Liar. According to Jesus, he is the father of the lie (John 8:44). What do you think Satan wants you to think about God? Does He want you to believe God is good, that you can trust Him? No, he wants to plant doubts in your mind about following God’s will.

 Remember his misleading words to Eve, “You will not die because God knows that when you eat your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” Genesis 3:4-5. One of the takeaways from the temptations of Jesus is that Satan would go to any length to distract Him from God’s ultimate will for His life. Satan’s deceptions of folks Jesus came to save culminated in the cross at Calvary. Satan is serious about deceiving people into believing a lie about God’s goodness. Do you think for one moment Satan isn’t interested in doing this to you?  

We are living in times when evil all around us. It seems we are reaping what we have sown as a nation. Have we been so busy chasing the “American Dream” that we are now facing a moral nightmare? I am not an alarmist but the crime and murder that’s happening in the streets and neighborhoods of our country causes me to ask, “When is this lawlessness going to get personal”?  Unless a spiritual revival takes place, our children and grandchildren are going to be living in a country where the freedoms our founding fathers risked their lives for will be greatly diminished.

There is a lot of focus on politicians as the reason for our current problems. I believe the political stalemate and the acrimony that seems to characterize much of D.C. is a symptom of a deeper, spiritual issue. Politics will not solve our problems. Many of our politicians could sure help a lot more if they would, but they are not the solution.  The ultimate solution to our nation’s ills lies with us, God’s redeemed people. Politics won’t heal the soul as a nation. Only God can restore us.

 Perhaps some of us need to pray for our leaders as God tells us to do. Maybe we need to spend more time in the word and less time watching the news programs that support our political views. It may surprise some of us to discover that God isn’t a Republican or a Democrat. He loves all of us regardless of whether our views are liberal or conservative.  

God is good. His ways are right. And, he blesses those who trust in His goodness and follow Him, “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments!” Psalm 112:1.

The bottom-line  solution to our nation’s ills is clearly stated in 2 Chronicles 7: 14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear them, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

Yes, God is good and that reality carries weighty consequences. We are to act like our Father. We are to love as He loves. We are to do good in evil times. We are to pray for our enemies. We are to be salt and light in a dark and decaying world. And, we are to live with the confidence that our Father, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”

Bill Haslam, former governor of Tennessee, has written a helpful book for those of us concerned about our role as people of faith in a hostile environment. The book’s title is Faithful Presence-The Promise and Peril of Faith in the Public Square. Concerning Jesus’ expectation of the role believers will play in the world, Haslam writes, ” They were and are to be people who do for the world what salt did for meat in the days before refrigeration: keep it from spoiling. If the meat went bad, it was the salt’s fault, not the meat’s. (page 192 ). 

Don’t despair. God is good and He will prevail. But, you and I need to be sure we are faithful to follow Jesus in the way we respond to today’s challenges.

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.     

 

Worth Fighting For

This blog is written on May 31, 2021, Memorial Day. This particular date is important to me for a couple of reasons. First, it is a federal holiday set aside to honor the countless men and women who have died in battle to gain or preserve the freedoms we so often take for granted. In the year 1969, Memorial Day was on Saturday, May 31; a day that forever changed my life. It seems that anything worth having in life will cost us something. Let me tell you what I mean by that.

 The founding fathers who declared independence from England in 1776 realized they were putting their lives and all their possessions at risk.  At the close of that long war, many widows were left to raise their fatherless children. Our country was founded on the sacrifice and blood of thousands of men whose names we will never know. 

For three months in sweltering Philadelphia heat fifty-five men met to produce the constitution of the United States of America, the outline of how our country would function under separate branches of government. At the insistence of the colonies, a Bill of Rights (amendments 1-10) was added before approval. Those amendments include such things as freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, and freedom from unlawful search and seizure of property, etc.

Ben Franklin, at 81, was by far the oldest delegate at the constitutional convention. Once the lengthy debates for approval in the state conventions were over and the thirteen colonies became the United States of America, Franklin is recorded saying something to the effect, “ Now we have a republic, let’s see if we can keep it.” Franklin was a very wise man, knowing a great deal about human nature and the threat our form of government would be to the power-hungry within and outside our borders. There is a great price to pay for the freedoms we enjoy. Memorial Day is supposed to help us remember that fact.

I have traced the name of a family member on the Viet Nam Memorial wall in D.C. and stood in awe and felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and gratitude as my tear-filled eyes surveyed almost ten thousand white crosses at the national cemetery in Normandy, France. These young men laid it all down for us and the preservation of freedom in Europe. Our freedom isn’t free. But, I’m concerned that we have become so lazy, forgetful, arrogant, and ignorant that we are about to lose much of what others valued to the point of sacrificing their lives.

My primary concern about losing the country so many have died for has little to do with China, Russia, Iran, or Korea. The founding fathers understood that only a moral people could maintain the form of government for which so many have died. God has not abandoned us. We have abandoned Him, little by little. Godless laws promote the killing of the unborn; a society that has been deceived into exchanging materialism for the One True God. Commonsense is not “common” anymore.  Our national soul is in trouble. We are in dire need of repentance and a return to an emphasis on godly character. It’s time for all believers to wake up to the reality of our gradual slide to destruction. God is our hope and help.

The second reason this day is special to me is because 52 years ago today Cecelia and I made a commitment to God and each other that we would live in obedience to God in our marriage “until death do us part.” We have had our share of “fights,” as is true of most good marriages. But, we have fought for our marriage by protecting it and growing in a kind of oneness that God has intended. We have been able to put aside petty differences and focus on the goal of making our marriage work as it should. Good marriages and families will cost you something that cannot be purchased with money.

 Our marriage is not a good one because we have “survived” more than a half century. It is good because we have fought for it by doing  three things pretty well; we have maintained our commitment to God and each other; we have learned to communicate with each other, and we have been able to use our conflicts for better understanding and adjustments. We have worked at it. I believe marriage is what people make it. By the way, Marriage is What You Make It is the title of one of my books you can find at www.cosdavis.com. You may know someone who could use some helping in how to fight for their marriage. Marriage is one of those precious things worth fighting for. Good marriages are not produced by the weak or lazy. It requires people to graduate from a high school, Hollywood view of love, and experience what real love, married love is all about. If isn’t easy but it’s well worth fighting for.