What is Truth?

 

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:32

“What is truth?” This was the skeptical question Pontius Pilate raised when Jesus claimed his earthly mission was all about truth. “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness of the truth.” John 14:37. Truth didn’t matter to Pilate. Although he believed Jesus to be innocent of the charges against him, he chose the politically expedient path. Later that morning, Jesus was crucified.

The truth was a threat to those who wanted to silence Jesus. They were drunk on power and Jesus’ life and teaching were exposing the shabby lies of their pretentious religion. These religious leaders would fabricate any lie, go to any length to get him out of the way. The crucifixion appeared to settle the issue. They had won. Or, so they thought. There was just one big problem. You can’t kill the truth.

Jesus has said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6. Our Christian faith rests on the truth, the reality that God raised Jesus from the dead. There is such a thing as absolute truth. So what is truth? Truth is something that reflects reality. Reality is the way things really are. When someone tells you the truth they are giving you facts or information that match the way things really are. People who are honest can make mistakes with the facts but their intention is to always give you their best effort to tell it like it is. Truth tellers have no “spin,” and no agenda other than to tell the truth. 

Common sense and truth seem to be in short supply in our country today. Both political parties have their agendas and biases. Sometimes it seems we are left to choose a candidate on the basis of who gets the least “Pinocchios.” This is tragic for many reasons. Lies are no way to run a country or build your personal life. Lies lead to terrible decisions because they aren’t based on reality. Rather than tell the truth, liars generally tell other lies rather than face the mistake they have made. According to Jesus, Satan is the father of lies, and those who practice lies are children of the devil. John 8:44

I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said something to the effect that our ability to remain a free people depends on our news organizations giving us accurate information.. Any wonder why our country is in such a mess? Now, I’m not so naive as to think that everybody wants the truth because truth doesn’t serve their purposes to have control and power over the rest of us. What does all this have to do with Critical Race Theory, the southern border, covid, masks, Afghanistan, and a number of other issues? I don’t know for sure but  I think a lot of what we are told doesn’t match reality. And like in any other relationship, I tend to become skeptical and lose trust when people don’t take responsibility for their actions and do not do their best to give me the truth.  It’s kinda like my relationship with my Cockoo clock. For a while, I could trust that when the bird cuckooed five times it was five o’clock. But, the clock got messed up and I know that the bird is lying to me because I can see it’s really one o’clock when it is telling me it is five. The bird needs an adjustment to reality. And so does our country and perhaps some of us do also. 

I don’t have all the answers to our nation’s woes but I do believe the ultimate solution comes down to our individual choice to seek and follow the truth. For that reason, I hope to share some truths in the next three blogs that have the potential to change your life.  Before investigating these life-changing truths, I want to remind you of an essential fact about truth, any truth. Truth has the power to change your life, but you must do something for that to happen.

In the early 1880s Thomas Edison developed a way to provide electricity to areas of New York City. For centuries experiments had been conducted with lighting but few saw the practical potential for harnessing the power of electricity for everyday use. There were some early doubters about its effectiveness but today electricity has become so widespread that no one wants to do without the cool air it can produce on a humid day or the many other conveniences it makes possible. Electricity is a reality, a kind of “truth,” if you will.  Electricity “can” dispel the darkness from a room, but it “will” light up the room only if you do what is necessary to release its power. Likewise, these truths can change your life. What will you need to do for that to happen? Believe them to the extent that you put them into practice. When Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” he was talking about knowing truth at a deep experiential level. This kind of “knowing” requires action, putting the idea into use. Truth is useless unless we act on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Life in Review

 

 The convergence of several crises such as we have dealt with in recent years can create a sense of upheaval and bewilderment. At the beginning of this century’s third decade, America’s economy was booming. Unemployment rates were low, the lowest ever in several minority sectors. The usual political rancor and vindictive rhetoric of Washington D.C. continued to dominate the media in anticipation of November’s national elections. But, despite the deep political and value-based divisions, our country seemed to be doing pretty well. Most of us had no clue what was about to hit us.

A SARS virus, commonly called Covid-19, discovered in late 2019 in China, made its way to the United States and almost 180 other countries by early 2020. Confusion reigned concerning the virus’s strength, how it spread, and the steps needed to mitigate its potential effect. Responses made at the national, and some state and local levels were considered by many as an overreaction that inflicted death to many elderly, unnecessary damage to the economy, and interrupted our children’s education. Children were forced to remote learning for months without seeing their classmates or inside a classroom. Life as we knew it was drastically altered by “lockdowns,” imposed by governors, mayors, school administrators, and teachers unions.

Predictions about the effect of the loss of in-class learning on this future generation are pretty grim. And what will be the lasting impact on our nation’s economy and our national psyche going forward?  Will these events leave emotional scars and fears similar to the generation who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s?

While Covid-19 dominated daily news, other devastating events were also hammering us. Thousands of acres of California and the Northwest went up in flames. An unprecedented ten hurricanes hit our country’s mainland; lives were lost, properties destroyed by floods and raging winds.

While we were dealing with the personal challenges related to the virus and the forces of nature, the long-term, internal battle for our nation’s identity continued. For many years, there has been a constant tearing and stretching of the fabric of our country’s soul by political rancor in D.C., racial tensions, and the “counter-culture” movement. 

You may have been among the multitudes who hoped the arrival of January 1, 2021 would somehow usher in a sense of optimism and healing, a cessation of our troubles, and a return to “normalcy.” What happened? Almost miraculously, vaccines to combat the virus were available by January 2021, but the process of getting people inoculated was cumbersome and disorganized in many states and communities. It would be several months before the medicines would be available to all who needed them.

The estimated count for American lives lost due to covid-19 was in excess of 500,000, over 3,000,000 worldwide. As summer of 2021 arrived and several states began to “re-open,” there  was enough vaccine available for every American citizen, but a large part of the population was unwilling to take it. This reaction was due partly to the growing distrust of the national health leaders and the belief, by many, that the covid-19 issue had become politically “weaponized.” 

 February, 2021 brought a winter storm that paralyzed much of the nation with ice and snow. Wind turbines, which areas like Dallas depended on for electricity, were knocked out of service, leaving hundreds of thousands without heat or water in single-digit temperatures. Many lives were lost, and property damages reached into the billions.

In the last few weeks we have been horrified by the ineptitude of national leaders and the tragedies our citizens have suffered in Afghanistan. I agree with many who believe that this situation was man-made, ill-planned and unnecessary. What is to become of our nation if God  does not intervene?     

While it is painful to look back at these personal and national tragedies, we must learn from them and move ahead. Will our nation become more united as a result of our shared suffering? Will you and I learn vital lessons and grow from our experiences?  

Events such as these serve to remind us that we are often on the thin edge between life and death. The pandemic and other crises underscore how unpredictable life can be. Many who were fortunate enough to survive the staggering assaults of 2020 and beyond might never fully recover from the financial toll exacted on them. Even more tragic was the loss of irreplaceable lives of loved ones who succumbed to the virus and other devastations. And, now we have variant D to deal with.  

Overwhelming isn’t it? We are in trouble, trouble to the depths most of us have never experienced. There is only one hope. Surely we know by now that hope doesn’t reside in Washington, D.C. Why is God allowing all this to happen to us? Maybe we’re reaping the stupidity and sin our nation has been sowing for many years. Maybe, also, God is inviting us to repent and be healed. How far does our nation have to slide into ruination before we come to our senses?  Join with me and pray daily for our nation. God tells us He will save us if we repent, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked way, then I will forgive their sins and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14.  

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!

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. 

 

 

Do You Remember?

What do you do to help you remember the important things you want to get done?  I get so busy at times that I don’t remember where I put something. For example, several years ago while working on a project in the garage, I lost a knife Dad gave me. Later, I realized this important gift was missing but had no idea where it was. Several years later, I reached for something on top of the water heater and there it was!! I had not remembered putting it there.

I have a rather extensive filing system for important papers with an index for the location of each file. But, I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for notes and other stuff on my desk because I don’t remember what I did with it.  Frustrating, can you help me with this?  On the positive side, I make a weekly “to do” list to help me remember on Monday what I wrote down in my planning time on Sunday.  And, I maintain a rather large prayer list (your name is probably on it) that I consult to remind me of the people and issues to intercede for. What are some of the things you do to help you remember to do what you need to do?

God wants us to remember Him. One of the great problems the Israelites had is that they had short memories or no memories at all regarding God’s goodness toward them. The Psalmist reminds us of God’s blessings and calls us to remember Him, “Bless the Lord …and do not forget His benefits.” Psalm 103:1-2. We, like the Israelites, get into deep trouble when we forget God. Sometimes I allow myself to get swept up in the frantic pace of life and rush through my prayer time or Bible reading in order to get to the work of the day. I need to slow down and enjoy His presence and remember all He has done for me.

What do you do to remember who God is and what He has done for you? Are there some pictures or sayings on your wall that remind you of His goodness? Do you listen to music that causes you to remember special blessings from God? Do you take a few minutes each day to read and reflect on scripture? Do you take time to pray and rehearse His goodness as you talk to Him?

The night before His death Jesus did something to help us remember Him. He took bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood and gave it to the disciples and said, “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”Luke 22:19. We are in constant need of remembering what Christ has done for us and act accordingly.

In the Old Testament, there are several instances where Jacob and others erected a stone structure to mark the place where God had visited them or done some miracle for them. Every time they would pass by the area the stone would remind them of a specific way God had intervened in their life. If their child or a friend should ask about the meaning of the stone, they could tell the story of how God had blessed them.

Judges were the leaders of Israel before the days of the kings. There is a story in 1Samuel about a battle in which God intervened and gave Samuel and the Israelites a great victory over the powerful Philistine army. To commemorate that victory and to remind the people of why they had been saved, Samuel put up a reminder stone, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

I want to challenge you to do something before the day is over. This will probably take several minutes, but it will encourage you and renew your faith in God’s care for you. Going back to your childhood, begin writing down specific things God has done for you. For example, when were you saved? Was there a particular person God put into your life to encourage you?  Take your time and follow your story up until today. This will be your Ebenezer. It will bless you and remind you of God’s faithfulness when times are tough. Keep this in a safe place and take it out often to remind you of how good God has been to you.

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.