Thursday, April 24, 2014

Picky, Picky, Picky

PRINCIPLE: “When you want to be picky, pick well.”

Ever watch your children or grandchildren during a meal? There’s a wonderful fruit salad – and when asked if they want any, they say, “I don’t like melon; I just want the grapes and strawberries.” Or it’s a pizza with several toppings – and they say “I don’t like pepperoni – or mushrooms; just give me the cheese.” Certainly being picky eaters is not limited to children, but observing children lately I began to think – wouldn’t it be a great world if we could pick and choose what life serves us? “I don’t like illness – I just want health. I don’t want trials – just give trouble free living.” “I don’t like ______, I want ______.” You fill in the blanks.

It might be great; but then again, it might not. After all, do we really know what’s best for us? Would we really want the responsibility of choosing what does and doesn’t happen to and around us? Such questions can be fun to discuss, but in reality are pointless. We can’t choose the menu for our lives. The wise preacher, in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, stated it eloquently: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” The preacher reminds us that all these things happen to us - they are all on the menu of life. And for the most part we do not get to choose when they appear. And that’s often frustrating. We’d much rather be in control.

Perhaps we need to learn from Paul (Phil. 4:11-13): I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  The word ‘learned’ means instructed or initiated into – so Paul Is saying the circumstances of his life – which he did not choose – had taught him not to worry about what comes, but to respond wisely. Even as he wrote these words he was in prison awaiting a verdict on his life. And the secret he learned? “I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Paul, too, was picky – but he focused on picking how to respond so he could make it through and even overcome what the menu ordered. It’s a good thing to remember - “When you want to be picky, pick well.” Nothing says we have to like the menu; the issue is since we cannot choose the menu, what do we do with it? We can spend our time and energy trying to pick and choose – or we can take our serving knowing that “I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Which will you pick?  “When you want to be picky, pick well.”

Because Paul gave up trying to control his life and let Jesus take over, because he knew the source of strength, he could survive and overcome – and even witness to Jesus while doing so. (4:4-7) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus. “When you want to be picky, pick well.” I appreciate how Eugene Petersen put it in The Message: Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

The next time you don’t like the menu, what will you pick? “When you want to be picky, pick well.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014


PRINCIPLE: “When the turbulence is choppy, change your altitude.”

I don’t fly on airplanes all that often, but I’ve flown enough to become familiar with the voice of the Pilot: “It’s going to be a bit choppy on our climb-out today, but we’re expecting it to be somewhat smoother when we reach our assigned altitude at 31,000 feet.” I hear this almost every flight.  It’s a good principle for airplanes and pilots: “When the turbulence is choppy, change your altitude.”

“But not until I read a devotional by Norman Shawchuck[i] did a spiritual parallel come to mind. Norman points out that we were never promised a smooth flight through life but always have the option of moving up to our ‘assigned altitude.’ And what is our assigned altitude? Consider Ezekiel’s experience with the valley of dry bones (37:1-14). Here’s how it ends:

 9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
 11 Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.' "

Our higher altitude is life in the Spirit. Paul later wrote (Rom. 8:4-9 NLT):

5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
 9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.”

 Life in the Spirit lifts us to a higher altitude. It usually takes some mental effort, but this higher altitude is only a few thoughts away.

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9)

The next time you hit the turbulence of life, don’t feel you have to sit through it and endure it. Rather, “When the turbulence is choppy, change your altitude.”

[i] A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Upper Room Books, 2006, p. 172

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Playing Catch

PRINCIPLE: “For best results, start throwing.”

Sometimes television ads are good – really good. One such ad that caught my attention featured a dad teaching his son to throw a baseball. As the camera eventually zoomed in on the dad, we see that he is actually throwing awkwardly off the wrong foot, which his son, of course, mimics. The point of the ad, I believe, was to commend the dad for spending time with his son. Dad may not have had everything decent and in order and may not have been throwing correctly, but his son knew he was loved because dad was spending time with him.

Anytime the ad played I stopped what I was doing to watch – not only because it was heart-warming but because it got me thinking. My mind began to catch a glimpse of what God wants from us in our relationship with Him – our presence and focused attention. Just take the time to be with Him. Get in the presence of God. Pick up a ball and start throwing. “For best results, start throwing.”

When we do we will, first, find rest and peace. Isaiah wrote of it this way (30: 18-19) Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.” The Psalmist, similarly, wrote (Ps. 92: 12-14) "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they will stay fresh and green.” John Ortberg1 once asked the late Dallas Willard, a great coach and mentor of Spiritual Disciplines, how he monitored the condition of his soul. He replied that he regularly asked himself two questions: “Am I growing more or less irritated these days? Am I growing more or less easily discouraged these days?” How would you answer? “For best results, start throwing.”

Not only will we find rest and peace, but, second, we will be loving and honoring God. If we love someone, we give them gifts. A husband, for example, gives flowers to his wife. Taking time for God throughout the day is like bringing fresh flowers of love to God. It lets Him know we are thinking of Him and love Him. That honors Him. Too often, I think, we give up on spending time with God because we fear we are not 'doing it right,' or we're 'not getting anything out of it.' But our daily disciplines are not so much a matter of doing everything right and on time all the time as they are an expression of love for Jesus as we spend some time with Him. Time spent with God doesn't always need to 'do something' for us; it will always, however, do something to God. He is honored by our efforts.“For best results, start throwing.” It expresses love and brings honor to God.

The verse that has become precious to me in recent years precedes the verse sfrom Isaiah referred to earlier. 30: 15 says, In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Notice the very next words: “…but you would have none of it.” We have a choice – reject God’s provision for rest and strength and struggle through our circumstances and situations, or build salvation and strength for our circumstances and situations. The choice is up to each of us. I just want you to know – either choice is dangerous. To reject God’s provision is to distance yourself from Him and miss all the benefits He offers; to pick up the ball and start throwing will leave you wanting to spend even more time with Him. Which danger would you rather face? “For best results, start throwing.”

1John Ortberg, ‘Your Spiritual Growth Plan’, Leadership Journal, Winter 2010, p.81ter 2010, p.81

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chutes and Ladders

PRINCIPLE: “Whether up or down, keep feeding.”

Chutes and Ladders has long been a great game. It's one of those games that hangs on from generation to generation. But playing it can be frustrating because sometimes it takes a long time for someone to make it to the end. The chutes keep getting in the way. My grand-kids grandmother (yes - that would be my wife) was recently heard to say, “There are too many chutes and not enough ladders. It needs fewer chutes and more ladders.” And there was much agreement.

As I thought about her comment later, I realized that what we feel about this simple game is what we feel about life as well. I have frequently felt that in life “There are too many downs and not enough ups. We need fewer downs and more ups.” So often we climb up high only to immediately slide down to a low. We finally get the promotion we've prayed for, and the company then downsizes and wipes out our job. We rejoice at a new staff person or employee, only to have another good one leave. We rejoice at the doctor's good prognosis only to have him reverse it soon after. We celebrate a great victory only to despair at a defeat in the next game. A pastor celebrates a wedding one day and presides over a funeral of a young person the next. A church celebrates the arrival of some wonderful new members, only to discover that some other wonderful, faithful members are moving away. We get excited about a nice raise only to find out that new tax laws or regulations will raise our taxes. The list goes on and on. It certainly would be nice to have fewer downs and more ups.

I sometimes wonder if the Psalmist played Chutes and Ladders. He, too, knew the ups and downs of life; he experienced the highs and lows. Yet his faith did not waver. Why? Because he knew that “...the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Ps. 121:8) In my “revised Curry version” this translates as “the Lord will watch over your rising and falling, your climbing and sliding both now and forevermore.” And what gave the Psalmist this unwavering faith? Ps. 37:3 in the New King James Version provides the answer: “Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.”
The key is to feed on God's faithfulness. “Whether up or down, keep feeding.” The prophet Jeremiah, well know for his laments and difficult ministry, grandly proclaimed, “The Lord’s loyal kindness never ceases; his compassions never end.
They are fresh every morning; your faithfulness is abundant! “My portion is the Lord,” I have said to myself, so I will put my hope in him.”
“Whether up or down, keep feeding.” God is faithful. Just think for a moment about God's faithfulness in you life...

As I've meditated on this  I've been reminded that it's important to feed on God's faithfulness at both the top of the ladder as well as at the bottom of the chute. If I over-rejoice in the highs, the slides down will be even more painful. More importantly, remembering God's faithfulness during the high and good times keeps me from pride (which, the Bible says, goes before the fall!); remembering God's faithfulness at the bottom of the slides keeps me stable. “Whether up or down, keep feeding.” So enjoy the highs on the ladder tops and stay calm at the slide bottoms because you know that God is faithful. Feed on His faithfulness “...the Lord will watch over your coming and going, your rising and falling, your climbing and sliding both now and forevermore....The Lord’s loyal kindness never ceases; his compassions never end. They are fresh every morning; your faithfulness is abundant! I will put my hope in him.” “Whether up or down, keep feeding.”