Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Habitual Habits

PRINCIPLE: “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.”

I hope this isn't too personal, but I want to share with you about my morning shower time. For several years I kept my shampoo on a built-in ledge on the side of the shower wall and kept the spray bottle of tub cleanser/rinse on a rack that hung from the shower head bar. After several years I changed the two around because the sizes of each dispenser had changed. It seems simple enough – except for the power of habits. After several years of automatically reaching for shampoo on the ledge, I found it was difficult to automatically reach up for it from the shelf. That means, of course, that on more than one occasion I almost sprayed my head with shower cleanser! I was amazed at how long it took me to get to the point where I automatically reached up for the shampoo. Reaching over rather than up had become an ingrained habit.

This repeated scenario set me to thinking about the power of habits. Habits, whether good or bad, are established over a period of time. And once ingrained they are automatic and therefore hard to break. That's why God repeatedly told the Israelites to form good habits. In Exodus, for example, God gave them the 10 commandments, the habits by which to live. In Leviticus He laid out worship and sacrifice habits to provide a framework for holiness.  In Dt. 6: 5-6 He commanded them to establish teaching habits: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”

So it is really not surprising that when His people started letting go if these habits, they began wandering into the land of disobedience and walking further and further away from Him. So God sent the prophet Jeremiah with a message (6:16):  “This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” He told them to return to the proven ways, the tried and true habits, of their ancestors. In other words, “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.” These habits were the paths that would return them to rest and renewal.

Centuries later Jesus offered this same rest through the same way (Mt. 11:28-30): “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   Knowing the heart of people, knowing the tendency of humans to lose self-discipline and therefore to wander, Jesus invited His followers, and us, to take up His yolk, His habits, His way of life. “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.”

And what was Jesus' way of life? Time apart – alone – with his Father, seasons of prayer, days of ministry, and holy living. Then time apart – alone – with his Father, seasons of prayer, days of ministry, and holy living. Should ours be any different? Whenever we feel we're wandering away from God, whenever we feel apart from Jesus, when life is tiring us out it's time for a time out. It's time to get back to basics, to return to our habits. “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.” And the more firmly entrenched our habits become, the harder they will be to break.

Feeling tired, worn out? Have you moved, even so slightly, away from Jesus? What are your spiritual habits? “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.” The amazing truth is these habits do not constrict us. As the Psalmist wrote (119:32): “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” “You will find rest for your souls.” Whether in the shower or in our daily lives, ingrained habits are hard to break. So make sure the habits you diligently acquire are good ones. Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Bite

PRINCIPLE: “If you want more bite, face forward.”

I was being the good husband. There were tree branches and limbs that needed to be cut down and cut up. While I'm not the handiest handyman around the house, this is something I've done and can do. So I readied our chainsaw and got to work. Things rolled along smoothly for a while - until the chain got stuck and came off the blade. Still no problem – I've put the chain on before. I had to loosen everything, take the chain off completely, and then put it back on and tighten it. So I did that – and began to cut away again – except that the saw wasn't cutting. After some looking I discovered that the teeth of the chain were facing the wrong direction; therefore they had no bite. Thus my lesson for that day: when it comes to chain saws, “If you want more bite, face forward.”  It would be nice to tell you that once I removed the chain again and put it back on everything was fine – but I kept getting it wrong and it took several efforts – and a great deal of time – to get it right. (Remember I said I wasn't the handiest handyman!) I suppose there are some lessons there as well but I do not want to digress.

So back to the direction of the teeth. The principle, “If you want more bite, face forward,” is not limited to saws. If I want to have more bite in my witness, more bite in my testimony, more power in confronting the darkness of our world I must face forward. I cannot turn my back or assume that “If I live right the world will notice.”  The letter to the Hebrews is both instructive and inspiring. Chapter 12, verse 2 states (NLT), “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”  The context of the chapter is that it follows the great 'Hall of Heroes' in chapter 11. After offering this long list of inspirational Christian witnesses, the author is ready to make his application. I think Eugene Peterson put 12:1-3 well in The Message: “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”  “If you want more bite, face forward.”

Such living, exemplified in Hebrews 11 & 12, will take a big bite into our world. Such living will cut down the rotten limbs, clear away the sinful brush, and make room for the good healthy branches to grow and produce richer fruit. So how is it with you?  How big is your bite? How great is your impact? Which way are you facing? Is it time to strip down, face forward, and start running – no spiritual fat or parasitic sins?  Is it time to focus your eyes on Jesus? Is it time to go over His story again? After all, “That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” “If you want more bite, face forward.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Big Randy

PRINCIPLE: “When fear sets in, retreat.”

I was, admittedly, scared. It was a typical opening to the school day – as the doors to my Junior High School opened, there was an instant mass of students in the entry foyer. Shoulder to shoulder, hollering morning greetings to friends, squeezing and pushing our way to our lockers - everything was routine. Until – big Randy hollered from across the foyer. Big Randy was tall, very tall – so tall he could see over the sea of humanity and spot me. Big Randy wasn’t often mean, but could be if he chose to be. He and I hung in different crowds. Big Randy and his crowd frequently got into trouble; my crowd did not.

And therein was the problem. Big Randy had been to juvenile court, and had apparently appeared before the judge, who happened to be my father. And Big Randy wasn’t happy about it. Now he was calling to me from across the foyer. Somehow I knew it wasn’t to thank me for having a wonderful father! At the sound of his voice I knew I could be in trouble. I wasn’t a fighter, I didn’t like conflict, and Big Randy was ready for both. The only thing separating us was a sea of fellow students. In an instant I was scared.

But before I could even decide what to do Pat, a friend of mine who got along fairly well with Big Randy, moved over to Big Randy and said something – I think he reminded him that his problem was not me and that the momentary pleasure he might have in confronting me would be short-lived because he’d only have to see my father again. But whatever Pat said worked – Randy backed off and it was over.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Pat was my refuge – he protected me in the time of trouble. In the Old Testament we find that God established cities of refuge for people accused of murder but who might be innocent. In a city of refuge they would be safe. When filled with the fear of being caught and condemned, they could run to refuge. “When fear sets in, retreat.” In that context, Ps. 46:1-3  takes on significant meaning. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” God is our refuge and strength. “When fear sets in, retreat.”

It’s worth noting that the phrase “an ever present help” can be translated “God lets himself be found in trouble.” We don’t need to look for God or wonder where He is – when trouble comes He’ll let Himself be found. Verse 7 reinforces the concept: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” So “When fear sets in, retreat.” Ps. 91 states it beautifully (1-12 CEV). “Live under the protection of God Most High and stay in the shadow of God All-Powerful. Then you will say to the Lord, “You are my fortress, my place of safety; you are my God, and I trust you.” The Lord will keep you safe from secret traps and deadly diseases. He will spread his wings over you and keep you secure. His faithfulness is like a shield or a city wall. You won’t need to worry about dangers at night or arrows during the day. And you won’t fear diseases that strike in the dark or sudden disaster at noon. You will not be harmed, though thousands fall all around you. And with your own eyes you will see the punishment of the wicked. The Lord Most High is your fortress. Run to him for safety, and no terrible disasters will strike you or your home. God will command his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms, and you won’t hurt your feet on the stones.”

Whatever your fear, whatever is threatening you, whenever your Big Randy appears, whenever your world seems to be falling apart: remember who and whose you are. Don’t fight, don’t run, don’t panic - “When fear sets in, retreat.” God is waiting to be found; He’s waiting to help; He’s got you covered. “When fear sets in, retreat.” And nothing, no one, anywhere, anytime, anyplace can ever separate you from His love made known to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.