Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lessons from Fainting



PRINCIPLE: “When you think it's only you, think again.”

I am blessed not only because my wife is an outstanding nurse, but she also loves and cares for me in outstanding ways. For many years I was susceptible to fainting spells – I would faint with no warning or no chance to react. As a result, Barb would often make extra check ups on me. If, for example, I was showering and  dropped the soap, upon hearing the thud she would be there in a flash to be sure it wasn't me making the thud. So I always felt extra safe when she was around; I knew I wasn't alone. Her loving nature, evidenced in her seeking me out and checking up on me, gave me a stronger sense of security.

I've thought about this security often. In fact, I've come to recognize that the same extra security is ours because of God's love and nature. Whenever we begin to think we're all alone somewhere, or doing something all alone, or that we've stepped out of God's presence because of our sinful nature, or that we are helpless to make some major decision, we need to remember “When you think it's only you, think again.” God's loving nature is such that He is always seeking us, coming to us, running to us. He came to Adam & Eve after they had sinned, to offer grace and protection. He came to Noah to offer safety and life. He came to Abraham to offer a future. He came to Joseph to offer a kingdom and an opportunity to save His people. He came to an infant Moses to spare his life and to an adult Moses to call and empower him to free God's people. He came to Daniel and saved him for greater things by shutting the lion's mouths. He came to all the prophets to enlist them to be His word to the world. He came to Mary to make her the mother of His Son. He came to Jesus to affirm that He was His beloved Son in whom he was well pleased. On God's behalf, Jesus came to seek and save the lost – in doing so He came to person after person with healing, forgiveness, and new life. God came to Jesus in the tomb and raised Him up to be the first-fruit of those who die. He came to thousands on Pentecost to fill them with His Spirit and to live within them. And Jesus says He is coming again soon. Such is the loving nature of God.

Whenever we think we're all alone, or something is only about us, it's not. Whenever we think we're on our own, we're not. Whenever we think we've stepped outside God's presence, we haven't. Whenever we think we have to make a decision all alone, we don't. Whenever we think there will be no one to help us, there is. “When you think it's only you, think again.” Through Ezekiel the prophet God said (34:11-16), “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them...I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak...”  In Luke 15 Jesus points to Himself as the One sent by God to seek, sweep, search for, and run to us to bind us up, heal us, bring us back home and strengthen us. And He'll come with no warning, before we have a chance to react! It's His nature and His love.

So we are never forsaken, never alone. “When you think it's only you, think again.”  Claim the words of Isaiah 43:1-5 (Good News Translation) - “Do not be afraid – I will save you. I have called you by name – you are mine. When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire, you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you...Do not be afraid – I am with you!” “When you think it's only you, think again.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oil, Oil, Everywhere



PRINCIPLE: “Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

I was all set for another round of mowing. Though we have ¾ of an acre I actually enjoy it – riding the tractor mower is a break from the normal routine and gives me an hour of relaxation and 'think time.' And it gets me outdoors into God's masterpiece we call creation.

But I have come to realize that even this 'out of the normal routine' activity has its routines. Check the gas, check the oil, put in ear plugs, put on a hat... Therefore the preparation for mowing becomes an almost mindless effort. That can be good  since it doesn't drain much energy; but it can also be bad since it's easy to slip up and not pay attention. So it was that I learned a lesson.

I had been mowing for 10-15 minutes when I looked down at my foot resting comfortably on the footrest. My white sock was wet and turning a brownish color. I suddenly realized that oil was spewing out and spraying over not just my sock but everything. Things were getting sticky and messy in a hurry. I turned the ignition off, opened the hood and immediately discovered that after I had checked the oil, I had not secured the dip stick – therefore, as the motor ran oil was shooting up and out the spout. Lesson learned: “Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

James said the same thing: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)  “Before the motor's running, check the cap.” If we don't, words and venom will spew out and spray over everyone. And, as I discovered, once oil is on the sock, there is not only a sticky mess but also the stain is set, causing an irreparable mess. The sock will never be pure white again. Similarly words and spurts of anger cause sticky, often irreparable messes that discolor and injure others.“Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

It's  no wonder Scripture is filled with warnings and admonitions about anger. “A hot tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” (Pr. 15:8) “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” (Pr. 16:32) “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Eccl. 7:9) “Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

Paul tells us what it means to check the cap. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:31-32)  Before engaging the mouth, think of how Jesus would respond to you. Take time to listen, to think, to plan how we will react and what we will say. Instead of responding in anger, consider what responding with compassion would sound like, what offering forgiveness would look like, what Jesus responding would look like. “Before the motor's running, check the cap.”

It's amazing how careful I now am each time I prepare to mow – the oil cap never goes unchecked! In fact, sometimes I wear the oil-stained sock to remind me to check the cap. And every time I see the sock in my pile of socks, I am reminded “Before the motor's running, check the cap.” James was spot on. As Eugene Peterson put it in The Message (James 1:19-21): “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God's righteousness doesn't grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” May your garden be bountiful!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Reading DIrections





Principle: “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

We were anxious to get to the 'Scenic View of the falls.' Since it was up in the mountains we knew it would be a glorious sight. The tourist information said that we would only be able to drive so far, that we'd have to walk some distance to get the view. That was okay – we were up for it.

We were all set to hop in the van and start the climb when Barb, looking at the tourist map, discovered the words 'Open May – October.' It was February. Cancel the plan! We were disappointed. But in the midst of our disappointment we were also grateful – grateful that we had read the directions in full before driving and walking further up the mountain. Another of life's lessons was re-enforced: “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

Reading the directions after setting out, or reading only part of the directions, not only wastes time but also leads to unnecessary frustration and, sometimes, even to lostness or disaster. It's simply better to read the directions ahead of time. “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

The Psalmist had learned the same principle. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (119:105) When we're headed into new and unfamiliar territory, following a reliable map is wise. When we're moving towards darkness and uncertainty, having a reliable light is wise. When we don't know the way, reading the directions is wise. “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

Eugene Peterson, in his Message, wisely translated the verse, “By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.” The Psalmist's experience in life had taught him that the only way to travel through the unknown paths of life ahead of him was to listen to the only One who knows what's ahead. In fact, the Psalmist said (119:97) that he loved God's law, that he meditated on it (read the full directions) all day long. Why? “Your commands make me wiser than my enemies...I have more insight than all my teachers...I have more understanding than the elders...I gain understanding from your precepts...” “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

It makes sense, doesn't it? As the only One who knows what's ahead God is the only One who knows the way. And He has given us more than His law and His words – He has given us Jesus who is 'the way' (Jn. 14:6) and the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (Jn. 8:12)

Do you know what lies ahead? Or is your future cloudy or dark? Do you know where you're headed - and how to get there? Have you been that way before? Or do you need some direction, some clarity, some guidance, some assurance? “When you need full directions, read the full directions.” God has given you His Word. God has given you Jesus, His living Word. It is possible to know the way. It is possible to arrive at the top of the mountain. Just read the directions ahead of time. “When you need full directions, read the full directions.”

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Puzzled Again



PRINCIPLE: “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”

I like doing puzzles. Granted, it can eat up large chunks of time; but I easily justify it by claiming it serves as a good diversion from the normal, daily routines and stresses, and it works to sharpen my mind (which some days needs a lot of sharpening!)

In doing puzzles I've learned that at least one thing is inevitable – there will comes points where I'm stuck and can't find any pieces that fit anywhere. I've learned that, rather than stressing and quitting, it's best to switch positions, to go to the other side of the table, to get a different perspective. “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”  It's amazing how many pieces I then find that fit. And it's all because I put myself in a position to get a new perspective.

I've also learned that the same is true when it comes to viewing and understanding life. The Bible is filled with admonitions that say, in essence, “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” Consider Joseph's words to his brothers about understanding the circumstances of life: “Now do not be upset or blame yourselves because you sold me here. It was really God who sent me ahead of you to save people's lives. This is only the second year of famine in the land; there will be five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor reaping. God sent me ahead of you to rescue you in this amazing way and to make sure that you and your descendants survive. So it was not really you who sent me here, but God...But Joseph said to them, “Don't be afraid; I can't put myself in the place of God. You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened.” (Gen. 45:5-8 & 50:19-20 GNT) “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” Reflect on Paul's words about viewing other people: “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!” (2 Cor. 5:16 NLT) “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”Think about Jesus' words to Martha about her dead brother Lazarus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” Viewing life's circumstances, other people, and the issues of life and death from Jesus' perspective rather than our own provides new, significant sight.

Jesus explains it this way: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) Once we believe in God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son, we live in the environment of life rather than of death. We see circumstances, people, and all of life differently; we see it from God's  perspective. And to be sure we understand how to cross over, Jesus told us “If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17) We change sides, we cross over, we move into the environment of life by  obeying – by doing what Jesus says to do. Perhaps it's time to quit trying to understand and figure out everything that happens to us in life, to stop evaluating and judging people from our own prejudices, to cease from focusing on death and darkness and to cross over to Jesus' sight. We do it anytime, every time, we obey. Just do what He says, think likes He thinks, serve like He serves, love like he loves. It will be amazing how many pieces will fit. “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Humiliation



PRINCIPLE: “When you're humiliated, relish the love.”

It was a difficult, uncomfortable, even humiliating, few days. And I  loved it!

Barb and I were guests at a pastor's retreat at the lovely WinShape Retreat Center at the Normandy Inn in Rome, Georgia. Upon our arrival we were met with a warm smile, our bags were taken into our room, and we were told relax – really relax  - that we would be totally cared for. The only requirement was to show up for the three meals each day. We had no idea what that would come to mean.

To put it succinctly, we were pampered. Room serviced every day; all meals – prepared by professional chefs – luxurious and plentiful and served by WinShape staff. They poured the coffee, cleared the tables, even refolded napkins when we went to get something more at the buffet. They made sure our every need was met so we could just relax, walk, sleep, read – or do nothing.

Sounds great, doesn't it? But I discovered it wasn't quite so easy to allow myself to be pampered. I'm so used to serving and meeting needs that it didn't seem right that I wasn't allowed to assist, to do something, to do anything to help serve. After all, I'm called to serve. So initially it was tough – even humiliating. I had trouble humbling myself;  I discovered that humility doesn't come easily, that it is difficult to let go and let myself be loved. But until I let go, I couldn't really experience the love. I finally realized that “When you're humiliated, relish the love.”

I found myself identifying with Peter when Jesus started washing Peter's feet. (John 13:7-9)  “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”  Rough, tough, gruff Peter – with his need to be in control – initially couldn't stand the thought of Jesus, his Master, fulfilling the role of the menial slave. It was simply too humiliating. But when he gave up his control and let himself be served, he experienced Jesus' love in a deeper way than ever before. “When you're humiliated, relish the love.”

Just imagine how difficult it must have been for Jesus to let go of his power, to give up  control, and totally submit to His Father. (Phil, 2:5-11 MSG) “...He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” He was humiliated. But “Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.” He was able to relish the love. “When you're humiliated, relish the love.”

Consider where you need to give up control. What do you need to let go of in order to receive?
Where do you need to humble yourself in order to gain a deeper experience of God's love? Sure, - it might be humiliating.  So remember, “When you're humiliated, relish the love.” Let go – let God pamper you.