Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Joy of Being Heard

Struggles are a part of daily life.  Sometimes struggles are minor struggles: struggling to get up in the morning, struggling to get the exercise we know we need, struggling to keep up in the garden.  Other times, the struggles are major: struggling over how to respond to a child that is breaking your heart, struggling to keep a marriage together, struggling to fight a physical ailment, struggling to love someone who has despitefully used us, struggling under the pressure of many enemies.

While I am thankful that each of my struggles would be classified by anyone as minor struggles, I also know that God does not differentiate among struggles.  The same response is called for in each struggle in our lives.

"Casting all your care upon him; 
for he careth for you."
- I Peter 5:7

We need to give them to the Lord, cast our care upon Him, call out to him in our distress.  It is exactly what David describes that he did in Psalm 4.  He called unto God and God set him free from the trouble he was experiencing.  But David gives us a warning in the psalm as well.  He warns us that God hears the godly, David had confidence that God would hear him:

"But know that the Lord hath set apart him 
that is godly for himself: 
the Lord will hear when I call unto him."
- Psalm 4:3

Those who love pride and lies cause God to wonder how long they will continue in it.  How long they will sabotage their own requests by their hearts filled with pride and deceitfulness.  Sometimes God answers us with a 'Wait', or a 'Not yet' or even a 'No', but David encourages us to do what we can do to have a right relationship with God.

"Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your 
own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. 
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, 
and put your trust in the Lord."
- Psalm 4:4-5

We need to reverently fear God, which will act in our lives like spotting a police car on the highway.  Many times I have been riding along in obedience to the posted speed limits and have people pull in in front of me and slow down because they saw a police cruiser.  Their 'fear' of the officer (or at least of the ticket) caused them to obey the law (if only for a minute or two).  Our standing in awe of God will do the same in our lives. It will cause us to be honest with ourselves about our sin and deal with it appropriately.  It will cause us to see we cannot please God on our own, we cannot conquer our struggle on our own.  It will cause us to trust in Him.

How do things end up for David?  Well, despite his struggles, despite his distress, he had peace from knowing God heard him.  The neat thing in the Bible is that when God hears, it isn't just that the words registered in his mind.  When the Bible tells us that God hears, it carries with it the thought that God understands and will respond to those things that He has heard.  So David?  I like the way he responds to the distress in his life.

I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: 
for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.
- Psalm 4:8

How can he do it?  Because he knows he has been heard.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Power of a Good Cry

There are times in life when things can seem overwhelming.  When it seems like we have no where to turn, no one to help, nothing that could take care of the problems we face.  When we get to a place like this, it seems that crying is all there is left to do.  While I do not often find myself in tears, I can remember occasions when tears were where I found myself, and also where I found the answer.

David did, too.  King David, that is.  For such a successful king, he certainly had his share of enemies.  As a boy he faced Goliath, as a young man he ran from King Saul, through his adult life the Philistines were never really counted as his friends, and later in his rule even his son Absolom could be considered an enemy.

Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah. But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.

 And what did David do?  He cried.  Today, I want to encourage you, when a cry is all there is left, don't waste the cry - make it count like David did!  What makes a cry count?  Well, we need to cry to the right person.  Crying to ourselves will not solve the problem, we're crying because we cannot fix the problem.  We need to cry out to the right person.  A person who can help, a person who can hear, and a person who wants to help.  The only one worth crying out to is God.

In another Psalm, David says "Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing, Lord."  In this Psalm, David's cry does something just as remarkable.  His cry turned trouble into blessing (the change from the beginning to the end), and turned helplessness ('there is no help for him in God') into hopefulness (thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone').  It changed David's perspective from listening to man ('Many there be which say'), to trusting in God's Word.  There are many more goodies in this Psalm, but I hope you get the point.  When you find yourself in the need of a good cry, don't waste your tears where they cannot profit - make them count.  Keep looking up!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Walking the Race . . .

Pride is an interesting thing.  It comes in so many different shapes and sizes, it is probably a part of our everyday lives.  Yet we often don't notice it very often, and sometimes when we notice it, we'll label it something else to get the focus off of our pride.

Three weeks ago, I ran in a 5k.  My knee had been bothering me, but I decided to run.  The plan was to run at a moderate pace and switch to walking if my knee gave me any pain while running.  It didn't hurt at all the entire distance, and I ended up with my fastest time yet in a 5k race.  Over the next week or so, I decided that my knee probably would need more time to heal before trying that again.  I was favoring it, not so that others noticed, but I could tell I was modifying my steps to go easy on it.  Saturday was another 5k race that I had already signed up for, already paid the entrance fee for, already planned on running, but running was out.

So, what were my options?  I could ignore the race completely, I could go pick up my t-shirt and enjoy the snacks that I had paid for, or I could go and walk the 5k.  Walk?   But that is for older people!  But that is for people who aren't strong enough to run!  But that would be embarrassing!  Yes, I thought that, embarrassing to walk.  The day of the race made it even harder on me.  I woke to overcast skies and the threat of rain.  Sure, I'd run in the rain, that even sounds like fun.  But walk in the rain?  Do you know how long it would take to walk a 5k?  Do you know how wet I would get?  Just for walking?  Eventually, I talked myself into going to town ready to walk and see what happened.

As I went to pick up my t-shirt and number, I ran into a couple of people I knew.  Now I couldn't just take my shirt and go home.  I'd be embarrassed not to participate.  (Yes, pride keeps showing itself!)  So I waited for the race, lined up toward the back, and I walked the 5k.  I found out different muscles get used when walking instead of running.  I found out some people struggle to stay running during a race.  I found out that some elementary kids were very strong people. (Walking and running without a friend in sight at 9 or 10 years of age, and they kept going)  I found out that a 61 year old woman could walk faster than me when going down hill.  I found out that walking a 5k and pushing yourself can be a challenge.  I found out that you can get sore from walking.

I'd say that I found out I still need to work on pride in my life, but I've known that for a while.

"Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves."

- Philippians 2:3

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to Make God Laugh, and Why You Don't Want to.

I was visiting my grandfather the other day in the nursing home.  He had collapsed a few weeks ago, and is undergoing rehab to see if they can get him back to being able to get around independently.  As I was there with grandma & grandpa and two of my kids working on a puzzle in the hallway, a man started making a scene.  My grandfather told me that he sometimes gets like that.  He started yelling about nothing in particular, about us being in his way at the table, about the disturbance we were, and he took off with his walker down the hall.  When a nurse saw him, she was a little alarmed because he is not supposed to be walking without an aide to help him, so she stood in front of him and told him it was time to go back to his room.  At this point, he says "Get out of my way, I'm going to run you over!"

Now, the nurse wasn't laughing, at least not on the outside, but she could have been.  I believe she could have lied down on the floor in front of this man and he still would have been unable to 'run over' her, or even step over her for that matter.

Psalm chapter 2 pictures people who would rage against God in much the same boat as that old man.  With little strength, and truly unable to comprehend the reality in front of them.  So how did the people in Psalm 2 get God to laugh?  They raged against God and God's people, and 'imagined a vain thing.'  We have all imagined a vain thing at one time or another.  If you haven't, you missed out on childhood, and many good lessons to be learned in early adulthood.  My favorite 'vain thing' I remember is actually my brother's.  He wanted to build a perpetual motion machine out of his Legos.  He worked on it, and worked on it, and had trouble figuring out why it wouldn't work.  There is a value in that type of thinking - in testing the 'walls', in business that is where innovation comes from.  A vain thing, though, is a thing that will not work out, a thing with no value, a thing that is nothing but wasted effort.  The vain thing these were doing is trying to overpower God.  This is what God laughs about.  About man's attempt to thwart His plans.

Now, about why you don't want to make God laugh this way: He's stronger than we are:

"Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure." 
- Psalm 2:1-5

So, if you want to make God laugh, just plot, plan, and scheme to overthrow Him.  But be ready for His response.  The upside?  It is spelled out in the rest of the chapter of how wisdom is to "Serve the Lord with fear," but I prefer the NT version in Romans 8:31 -

"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?"

Who do we have to cause us worry? Certainly not those who rage against God - He will take care of those.  And not God, either.  We are to serve with fear, not with worry.  The difference being worry has no standing before God, fear respects God's power and authority, yet understands that Jesus' death on the cross gives us the opportunity to have our sins forgiven and be able to stand before God.

So, save your jokes for your friends, and let others make God laugh today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What a Wonderful World It Would Be

Someone cuts me off in traffic!  I'm annoyed because I have to lift my foot off the gas pedal, but doubly annoyed because I would never do that to someone else.  Someone complains about me behind my back and I find out.  I am sure that behavior is uncalled for, people should deal with problems face to face, I tell my neighbor, or rant on Facebook.  In fact, Facebook seems to have opened the door wider to the type of passive-aggressive communication that is, for the most part, socially acceptable.  After all, a passive-aggressive rant aimed at someone but not communicated to them, and done 'in front' of hundred of our friends receives more likes than a picture of bacon, or a silly cat video (85% of Facebook shares).

What if we all lived life by the rules we held others to?  Notice, the question isn't "What if everyone else lived by our rules?", which is how we often interpret it, but what if I lived by the rules that I mentally impose on others?  It is easy to sit back and think how the world would be a better place if everyone lived by my rules.  I see it in my kids all the time!  One child will come and say "But mom/dad! they are doing x/y/z thing wrong!"  Or they won't come and we can hear them correcting a sibling in the other room. We call them in and simply explain that the house would work best if everyone followed the rules of house, yes.  Then we ask "Whose behavior can you fix?"

"Whose behavior can I fix?"  A simple question, really.  That is why I like to ask it of my children.  During moments of clarity, I hear God's Word asking me that same question.  I often ask my kids, but I need it, too.  I need to ask my children.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to train and discipline them.  It is not a wrong question for me to ask of them.  But what if in life, I always asked myself that question?

A car pulls out in front of me, cutting me off.  Whose behavior can I fix?  I can slow my car down so as not to cause stress or injury to anyone in my vehicle or the vehicle that cut me off.  "But they ought to fix their behavior!", my mind tells me.  Our minds always want to tell us that one strange thing.  That others ought to change their behavior and everything will be all right.  But what if I lived by the rules I hold others to?  I accidentally cut someone off, but obviously they had plenty of time to slow down and did not have to tailgate me for the next 428 miles, unlike me when they cut me off.

By now, you may have noticed that my question isn't original, it is just rephrased.

"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."
- Luke 6:31

What if I live by the same rules I held others to?  Now if we could find a kind way to encourage one another to do it.  I would guess it would involve applying the principle to ourselves, and encouraging others when they apply it to themselves.  And then?  What a wonderful world it would be.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Storms of Life

Have you ever met someone that always seemed to be in the midst of a storm?  If they bought a house, the roof started leaking.  If they won a prize, they were struggling to find the money to pay taxes.  If they were given their dream vacation, it was a pain to have to pack and get ready to go.  Maybe, from time to time, we have all been that person.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone that always seemed like they were walking in sunshine?  They wrecked their car, but gratefully tell you that it could have been much more serious.  They end up in the hospital and are thankful for the extra rest.  They have to work through lunch and they are glad to be able to save some money.

Storms come in many shapes and sizes.  We have friends who are trying to sell a house where they used to live that they are upside down on the mortgage.  They are many states away and money is tight.  We have friends who have experienced medical emergencies in the past several weeks.  We have friends who have been up nights with crying babies.  We have friends with big decisions to make.  We have also found ourselves in those same storms.  At times, it seems like if we were to count the storms, they would overwhelm us.

I have had the first Psalm on my mind the past few weeks.  I notice that the psalmist describes two types of people.  The first is a blessed man, a man who delights in the Law of God and meditates in His Word.  He is described as a tree.  The second person is the ungodly.  We can assume they have no delight in God's Word, and they are described as chaff, plant matter that has little weight, and no strength against the wind.

The Psalm makes no promises as to what life will hold.  It makes no promises as to freedom from storms.  It only promises that the person who delights in the law of the Lord will be blessed.  The blessed man and the ungodly man are faced with the same weather.  The blessed man stands like a tree, and the ungodly is blown away.  The difference is in the strength of the man, where his strength comes from.

I don't know what storms this week will hold.  I don't know how strong the wind will blow.  But I do know that whatever comes this week, I want to be like a tree planted by the rivers of water.  I do not want to be like chaff.  How about you?  Would you like to be blessed, or blown away?  The choice is yours.  We only need to make His Word our delight, and we will be blessed.

Blessed is the man that walketh not 
in the counsel of the ungodly, 
nor standeth in the way of sinners, 
nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord
and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers 
of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; 
his leaf also shall not wither; 
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so: 
but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not 
stand in the judgment, nor sinners 
in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: 
but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
- Psalm 1