Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lesson from a Cloudy Day

PRINCIPLE: “When the clouds spoil your view, give thanks for what you cannot see.”

We had just spent our first night in the mountain cabin. I was anxious to look outside and catch the majestic morning view of the mountains. What a disappointment – the clouds enshrouded the mountains; fog and mist was all I could see. So I spent the rest of the morning taking periodic looks up towards the mountains.

But why would I do that? What made me keep looking?  I believed the mountains were still there, that behind all the clouds was a glorious scene, that at some point the clouds would disappear and everything would be clear. And while the clarity didn't come fully until the next day, it did come. And it was worth the wait.

It led me to think of some other clouds. There was the cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness; they could not see God but believed He was there, leading them to the Promised Land. God appeared to Moses in a dense cloud; Moses could not see God but heard Him as He spoke the 10 commandments. There was a cloud over the tabernacle; the people could not see God but they knew He was present there in all His glory. Jesus was on the mountain with Peter, James, and John when  Jesus was transfigured into glory; then a cloud enveloped them and, while they could not see Him, God spoke clear words of affirmation. Paul, even though he couldn't see the Lord in the clouds, wrote (1Thessalonians 4:17) that there will be a resurrection of the dead where we will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord.

I realize now that I should not have been disappointed in the clouds. In fact, “When the clouds spoil your view, give thanks for what you cannot see.” It should have been a time for me to give thanks to God for His ongoing eternal presence – not only in the world around me but in my life. There will often be clouds in the sky of my life. Some of those clouds will be thick and dark; it will be easy to be disappointed, even worried or depressed. But behind the clouds, even in the clouds, God is present. “When the clouds spoil your view, give thanks for what you cannot see.” Clouds always present the opportunity to give thanks to God. As Hebrews 11:1 wonderfully states (CEV), “Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.” The Message says  that faith is “our handle on what we can’t see.”  Clouds remind us of the value and importance of faith – for faith “gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.”

I'm reminded of the powerful testimony of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question  27 :      What do you understand by the providence of God?

The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

Question 28 :  What advantage comes from acknowledging God’s creation and providence?

We learn that we are to be patient in adversity, grateful in the midst of blessing, and to trust our faithful God and Father for the future, assured that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot even move.

Whatever the clouds that are blocking your view,  “When the clouds spoil your view, give thanks for what you cannot see.”

Friday, July 19, 2013

Selling and Eating

PRINCIPLE: “When you're selling what you're selling, eat it.”

Shaquille O'Neal. Peyton Manning. Michael Jordan. Janet Jackson. Debbie Boone. Sharon Osborn. What do they have in common? … They all pitch certain wares or products in television ads. Have you ever wondered if they actually use the products they endorse? Does it matter? If I'm trying to decide what to buy, it does. If they use, and are satisfied with what they are selling, it raises my opinion of the product. If they do not use, or are not satisfied with what they are selling, and are doing it only for the money, it lowers my opinion of the product.

Barb and I used to sell some products. A major part of our 'pitch' was to tell why we liked using them so much. Our experience with the products gave credibility to our pitch. Matching what we were selling and what we were using was critical for our integrity and our effectiveness.

And the same thing is true for our daily living. This was affirmed for me when I read the following: “Helmut Thielicke points out that we often wonder if the celebrities who advertise foods and beverages actually consume what they are selling. He goes on to say that this is the very question most pressing for those of us who speak for Christ. Surely something has gone wrong when moral failures are so massive and widespread among us. Perhaps we are not eating what we are selling. More likely, I think, what we are 'selling' is irrelevant to our real existence and without power over daily life.”1 “When you're selling what you're selling, eat it.” Statistics show that when it comes to moral and ethical issues, Christians fare little better than non-Christians. The only difference is we preach and teach that it should be different. In other words, we're not eating what we're selling.

The wise preacher , in Prov. 12:22, wrote, “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.” Jesus was even more direct: “Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21) “When you're selling what you're selling, eat it.”

It makes me wonder about my 'lips and life,' my profession and my personality, my preaching and my performance. Do they align? Am I eating what I'm selling, living what I'm teaching? What are you selling – what are you saying about Jesus and your life of faith? Does the quality of your life raise others' opinion of your testimony , and therefore of Jesus, or lower it? Are you eating what you're selling? John the Baptist condemned the Pharisees and Sadducees when he railed at them, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt. 3:8) If, indeed, you're claiming your inheritance through baptism, live that way! Turn around the way you live. “When you're selling what you're selling, eat it.”
Remember Jesus words: “A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Mt. 7:17-20 NLT) Eugene Peterson captures it pointedly in The Message: “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.”

Are your lips and life in sync? If not, either change your testimony and words – or change your life. There are no other options. “When you're selling what you're selling, eat it.”

1Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, Harper One, © 1997 by Dallas Willard

Friday, July 12, 2013

Helping Yourself

PRINCIPLE: “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.”

J-O-Y. Jesus first – Others second – Yourself last. I wouldn't say it was my mantra, but I heard it so often as I was growing up that it did become a deeply embedded principle of my life. When this is our priority as servants of Jesus Christ, we will experience joy.

To a point, it is true. Scripture is filled with admonitions to forget self, to follow Jesus, and to love others. It is, in fact, the crux of Jesus' summary of the law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” J-O-Y. Then there are Jesus words in John 12:24-26 (CEV): “I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life. If you serve me, you must go with me. My servants will be with me wherever I am. If you serve me, my Father will honor you.”  J-O-Y.

Yes, to a point, it is true. But only to a point. Jesus also told his disciples to come apart, get away from the crowd, and rest a while. “Take care of yourself.” Jesus certainly did so, repeatedly getting away, up into the mountains, to pray – some times all night. “Take care of yourself.” While preparing for the cross by praying at Gethsemane, Jesus told Peter, James, and John “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.” “Take care of yourself.”  It doesn't sound like J-O-Y, does it?

So what's the deal? Twice recently I've heard an explanation. If you've flown you know that part of the pre-flight instructions concern how to use the oxygen mask in the event of an emergency. After explaining how to use the mask, the flight attendant says, Remember to secure your own mask before assisting others.” We cannot take care of others unless we first take care of ourselves. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” We cannot give what we do not possess. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” Without sufficient oxygen, we cannot give breath to others. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” Without sufficient energy we have no strength to serve others. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” Without the presence of the Spirit, we have no spirit to share with others. “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.”  J-O-Y must be coupled with “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.”

In a culture that bombards us with messages of selfishness, 'me first', and 'my rights,' we cringe at the thought of taking care of ourselves – we want to share the message of Jesus that we are to serve others, not ourselves. And we should. In a world where there are deep, and often desperate needs everywhere we look, we want to give all we  have to share the love and healing of Jesus. And we should. But we cannot do any of this for very long in our own strength. So when you hear the self-centered messages, and see the overwhelming needs, remember “When others need assistance, take care of yourself.” Through the prophet Isaiah God said, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Is. 30:15) Get apart, rest, read the Word of God, pray – breathe in the breath of God. Then share the breath of life with others. Taking care of yourself may just be the greatest gift you can give those who need your assistance. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

One Hand is Better than Two

PRINCIPLE: “When two hands are better than one, use one.”

It was known for its dinosaur footprints. That's what drew us to it. While visiting our son and family in Leander Texas, we decided to go with them and walk the SanGabriel river bed. It was basically dry due to the prolonged drought. We had a great time and relished the opportunity to explore the footprints and admire the handiwork of God in nature all around us.

As we climbed down beneath the bridge where we could enter the riverbed, it was obvious the first few steps into the bed were a little tricky. There was some water flowing over the rocks right by the shore – certainly shallow yet deep enough to soak one's shoes if not careful. The only pathway into the dry bed was a few damp and unsteady large stones; we had to step carefully onto those slippery stones or risk getting our shoes and feet soaked.

Being the chivalrous husband I am, I stood on the shore and offered my hand to my wife; she held it as she gingerly walked across the stones – and made it safely. As I prepared to walk on the stones, she offered me her hand to steady me; but being the proud husband I am, I refused – indicating I'd be fine. You guessed it – the second stone wobbled, my foot slipped, and while I stayed upright my shoe got wet. Pride often does go before the fall!

All this reminded me of how important it is to hang on to our Father's hand as we walk thought life and negotiate the slippery places. As I was pondering this for a possible Pikkup note I was reading the book “Soul Unfinished” by Robert Atwell.[1] He wrote of this same thought. “Francis de Sales, writing in the sixteenth century, links contentment to the providential care of God. He sees it as God's supreme gift. He compares our relationship with God to that of a child going out for a walk. He pictures a child strolling along a country lane, hanging on to his or her parent with one hand, while happily picking blackberries and wild strawberries with the other. And that is how  it should be, says Francis. God wants us to delight  in the world. But, he warns, we should be careful not to get distracted or greedy, and attempt to accumulate too many things on our journey through life. If we let go of God's hand in order to pick more and more strawberries we will end up flat on our face...” “When two hands are better than one, use one.”

How tempting it is to get more out of life by our own efforts. We let go of God's hand so we can reach and grab for more. But “When two hands are better than one, use one.” Ponder the words of Scripture: (Ps. 63:8) “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Ps. 37:23-24 NLT) The Lord directs the steps of the godly He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”  (Ps. 63:8) “I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” (Ps. 139:9-10) “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (John 10:28-29) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”  “When two hands are better than one, use one.”

Where are you tempted to let pride, or the desire for more berries, lead you to let go of your Father's hand? Remember: “When two hands are better than one, use one.”

[1]          Robert Atwell, Paraclete Press, Brewster Mass., © 2012 by Robert Atwell, p. 111-112