Monday, December 30, 2013

When Life Gives You Lemons - Unfair Treatment

Unfair treatment in our society is just a given. It can run the gamut from small unfair things like someone getting in front of you in line for service or in traffic to someone cheating you by not keeping up their end of a transaction to being punished for something you did not do. You can routinely hear a news report of someone who was wrongly convicted of a crime who is being released after 5, 10, or even more than 20 years of confinement. It is not a large percentage of people in our jails, but when it happens it makes the headlines.

While most of us will not face the extreme, we will all face some form of unfairness (by the way we label unfairness) in the coming week. The big question is, how will we respond when it happens? What habits will we build in the small areas of mistreatment to keep our hearts in a good place, a place of blessing?

As far as unfair treatment goes, we don't have to go far in the book of Genesis to come to the life of Joseph and see the mistreatment he endured. Picked on by his brothers, beaten, sold into slavery, wrongly accused and imprisoned, forgotten about in jail . . . Joseph had some unfairness to deal with. So how did he do it? What can we learn from the life of Joseph in this area of living?

The first thing that stands out in the life of Joseph is 2 repeated phrases through his story of unfair treatment. The first is "The Lord was with Joseph," and the second is "Joseph served . . ." God was with Joseph. Not in the way God was with Elijah or Moses to perform miracles, but to bless the work of his hands. All that he did prospered. Which brings us to the second phrase - Joseph served. For God to prosper his work, he had to serve, not pout. God had promised to bless Joseph, and he would have no matter what Joseph did, but Joseph continued to serve in every circumstance. And he served God in every circumstance. When Potipher's wife asked him to lie with her, he gave his reason including that it would be a sin against God. His standard for service was more than just Potipher's rules, Joseph served by God's rules. Not legal, but acceptable to God. And when he was given recognition for what he did in interpreting a dream for the Pharaoh's butler, he denied it was him, but that God would give Pharaoh the interpretation of his dream. God's standards, God's glory. The one-two punch that shows a service of God rather than a service toward man.

An easy way to remember Joseph's answer to unfair treatment is to remember to "Serve the Lord, for His reward." Serve the Lord - it is a matter of focus. Who are we seeking to please? Whose standards are we going to use in our service? Who do we want to get the credit for our actions? For His reward - it is a matter of fulfillment. Do we view God's reward as enough? It far surpasses any earthly reward, but do we consider it as such? Am I going to pout or complain about how I've been overlooked or abused, or will God's reward be enough for me? It helps explain how Joseph could keep going in such tough circumstances. Will you?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

When Life Gives You Lemons - Overwhelming Circumstances

We've all been overwhelmed at one time or another in our lives. Whether from homework or coursework that needed to get done, or deadlines at work, or projects at church or home, we've all had a time when the pile in front of us just seemed over our head. The theme of this blog is that life can get you down, but God can bring you up - so we want to look at the 'lemons' of life and see what our response needs to be to them.

For the first lemon of overwhelming circumstances we will look to Noah. The world was corrupt before the eyes of God, and God told Noah that He would destroy all living things on the earth, but would spare Noah and his family. All Noah had to do was to build an ark 1 1/2 football fields long, about 1/2 a football field wide, and taller than the goalposts (since I started with a football length). During that time (about 100 years of building), Noah would have opportunity to testify about what God was about to do and yet we do not read of one repentant heart among the people on earth. Noah's father, Lamech, and his grandfather, Methuselah, were both alive during the time of building the ark, besides siblings, cousins, and extended family. Noah had a huge task, had no apparent support (outside of his immediate family), and was facing the prospect of starting over. Rebuilding his home, starting with no friends, on a new world. Even the prospect for hunting would be limited immediately after the flood. Good thing Noah didn't crave venison on the ark.

Since Noah was faced with pretty overwhelming circumstances, we can learn from his responses. I want to group what Noah did into two short phrase. Build a boat. Stay afloat.

Easy to remember, I hope, but you may look and say "What good will it do for me to build a boat? I already have too much to do and I don't have to survive a global flood." Which would be an excellent point. You see, God commanded Noah to build a boat. Noah took his overwhelming circumstances and simply obeyed God. That we all can do. So when you remind yourself to build a boat, I want you to stop and think of the things God has commanded you to do. Some of the answers may seem counter-intuitive. Like, I have too much to do already, yet God wants me to show mercy to those in need and He brings someone in need my way. Build a boat. Don't neglect the things that you know God has given you to do. But certainly, don't cut things out in your life that God has given for support and blessing. Don't neglect getting together with believers, Bible reading & memory, or prayer. Don't neglect your care of those who truly need it. And don't take shortcuts that are not ethical. God knows what you are faced with and His design will always work out the best way.

The second part is to stay afloat. I'm hoping that you say "Well that is easier said than done!," because the truth is that Noah had no control over his ability to stay afloat. Any spots he forgot to seal, any weak points in his vessel, any shortages of food or water, any problems he might encounter were beyond his ability to resolve once the flood came. You see, when you hear "Stay afloat," I want you to think about trusting God. Building a boat - do all that you know God has given you to do, but then stay afloat - trust that God will keep up His end of the bargain. He has promised to never leave or forsake His children. He has promised to supply all the needs of His children. He has promised to work all circumstances together for the good of them that love Him. Just trust.

Build a boat. Stay afloat. Obey God, and trust Him. It will get you through any overwhelming situations that you face. Keep looking up! He is able!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Who wants to be blessed anyway?

I enjoy trying different things from time to time. I'll admit it, routine tends to bore me a little after a while. After finishing the book of Jonah last Sunday night, I pulled out my notes from the last time I preached it. I don't normally keep my old notes, but these were from when I was the Interim Pastor at Niobe 10 years ago and they were kept. I found out I finished the book of Jonah the first time on December 7th, 2003. And here it was going to be December 8, 2013. We had a flashback Sunday. I preached the message with the same title and basic outline of 10 years ago and we pulled up the same order of service we had 10 years ago complete with the same hymns. I had fun, anyway.

The title 10 years ago was "How to avoid God's blessing"

Don't laugh, please. It was one of my favorite titles of all time. None of us would claim to try to avoid God's blessing, but all of us follow in Jonah's footsteps some times and manage to avoid God's blessing just the same. Some of the ways we do it: we avoid spending time with God, we avoid letting relationships go deeper where people really get to know us, we 'pout' when we see other believers being blessed and we covet the blessings they have received, oh there are lots of ways we do it.

How did Jonah do it? Simple - 1) He forgot about God's successes. Ninevah had repented, but Jonah wasn't interested in God's success, he was only interested in his own well being. 2) Forsake God's presence and people. In all of Assyria, 99% or higher of the God fearing people in the nation were in Ninevah, and Jonah walked away from them. He also walked away from God when God asked him a question to challenge his pouting attitude. And 3) he focused only on his problems. Not on how God had blessed him with a gourd. Not on the 120,000+ souls in that city, on the tragic loss of 'his' gourd.

So, obviously I don't want you to walk in Jonah's steps, so we need a reversal.
1) Celebrate God's successes. In your life, in your church, in your community, in your missionaries, in your family, and in your spiritual family. If you hear that 12 people accepted Christ at an evangelistic meeting at a church down the road - Praise the Lord! Rejoice with the one who shares the news with you! If you hear of God blessing someone with a great job, a new house, a new baby, a great opportunity - rejoice! Tell them how blessed they are and how good God is!

2) Embrace God's presence and people. Spend time with God. Talk with God. Make Him a bigger part of your life today than He was yesterday, And embrace His people. Deepen relationships, overcome misunderstandings, work through the uncomfortable and awkward disagreements that come up since none of us agree totally with any other of us. Enjoy the differences, talk about why you hold different beliefs and seek to understand one another. You may be right, they may be right, or you may both be wrong and discussing it will lead to the truth.

3) Focus on the needs of others. It is a given that you will see your own needs, so focus on the needs of others. Don't sit in traffic stewing over how inconvenient it is for you when the fatal accident that is slowing you down just claimed the lives of people who were loved and will be missed by others. Just broaden your horizons to see what others are experiencing, exercise your ability to empathize with people, to feel their pain. Don't overwhelm yourself with the needs of the whole world, or spend all your energy thinking about needs you can't do anything about. Look for needs around you and ask God to help you meet them.

If Jonah was so good at avoiding God's blessing, by reversing his steps, we can most assuredly find God's blessings. How do I know? Because 1) God does good for His glory. (see John 9) 2) God made us for fellowship with Him (Genesis 2) and to live in community (John 13:34-35) and 3) God desires us to share in the needs of others (Philippians 2:1-4)

Be blessed!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

If Jonah had Facebook

The names below are fictitious. As are many of the details. They are not meant as a criticism of Jonah - because I see myself in Jonah often. I feel that the book of Jonah ends on an unresolved note because it has been recorded for us. The main point is that God want's to know what we will do when we come face to face with God's mercy. Will we show mercy? Or will we try to keep the mercy all for ourselves. What Jonah did after chapter 4, verse 11 would be great to know, but is completely beside the point of the book of Jonah. What will you do with the truth? Putting the book of Jonah on Facebook just helps me see myself a little better in the book of Jonah. I wish I had time to include the feed of the captain of the ship Jonah was on, and the King of Ninevah in side by side columns. But I hope you enjoy the following.

Jonah: Why me? feeling angry :(
       Malfor: What's the matter Jonah?
       Jonah: Oh, just God always gives me the bad assignments. #lifestinks :(
       Malfor: What this time?
       Jonah: God wants me to go preach against Ninevah! :(
       Malfor: What are you going to do?
       Hannah: Oh, Jonah, I'm sorry! *hugs*
       Jonah: I'm not going to do it!
       Jethro: Good for you Jonah! #yolo #stickittotheman
       Malfor: Praying for you, Jonah!
       Hannah: Be careful, Jonah!
Jonah: That's it, I'm out of here. Sick of these people and sick of God telling me what to do! I'm over it! #runningfromGod
       Jethro: You gotta do what you gotta do, Jonah!
       Hannah: Oh, Jonah, it will get better! Message me if you need someone to talk to.
       Jonah: Thanks, Hannah, I'm ok, I'm just moving on.
       Malfor: You might want to think about this some more.
       Jonah: No, I've made up my mind, and it's about time I do something for me. I never get to do what I want!
       Jethro: Do it Jonah! #liveyourlife

Jonah: Found a boat. Ready for my new life! feeling hopeful
       Hannah: Where are you going?
       Jonah: Anywhere but here or Ninevah. This ship is headed for Tarshish, baby #cantstopmenow
       Hannah: I'm glad things are going better for you! Hope it works out!
       Jonah: It's all good Hannah! I'm already loving the new me! #freedom #norules #catchmeifyoucan
       Malfor: This seems like a bad idea, I'm praying for you!
       Uzi: Me too. Good luck Jonah! Feel free to stop by if you're out my way
       Jonah: Thanks guys! See you on the other side. We're moving and it's time for me to get some sleep

Jonah: God found me. I'm in trouble. feeling annoyed
       Hannah: Are you OK?
       Jonah: Big storm, all my fault.
       Hannah: Don't say that, Jonah. Storms happen at sea.
       Jonah: No, this one is all me. God is coming to get me.
       Jethro: That's crazy talk, Jonah! You just need to forget about God.
       Malfor: There is probably time to make it right Jonah!
       Jonah: It's too late for me.
       Jonah: I told them to throw me overboard.
       Jonah: Does anybody care?
       Hannah: I just saw this Jonah, I'm so sorry! Life is so unfair! *hugs*
Jonah: I can't do anything right!
      Hannah: I thought they were throwing you overboard! What happened? Are you OK?
      Jonah: They did, and I've been swallowed by a huge fish.
      Jethro: Is that even possible?
      Jonah: Apparently. #frombadtoworse
      Malfor: I hate to sound like a broken tablet, but you need to make it right Jonah. Repent!
      Jethro: You can't go back Jonah. Who wants to follow a mean God like that. All this evil in the world and still there are people clinging to their swords and scriptures! Don't get me started on these idiotic religious people. You're better off without them and without God. At least you will die free and not burdened by all these old rules that religious people follow. Keeping a Sabbath? Not for you, you're a free man!
     Jonah: I know. I probably should have done things differently, but it's too late now.
     Hannah: Wish I could make things better.
     Jonah: Thanks, Hannah. It's good to know someone cares.
     Malfor: God cares - He's trying to get your attention.
Jonah: Day 2, it stinks in here! feeling depressed
     Jethro: Yeah, but you're free!
     Hannah: You're still alive? *Hugs* Keep us posted

Jonah: Day 3, it still stinks in here! I never want to eat another fish in my life, which probably won't be much of an issue.
     Malfor: We're still praying, Jonah
     Jonah's mom: How did I miss this? I hope you're wearing clean underwear! Are you brushing your teeth? I hope those sailors weren't too rough on you. Is someone feeding your golden fishes?
     Jonah: Mom, I don't think clean underwear is one of my top worries! Or brushing my teeth. Sampson & Delilah are with Jobab - I'm sure he's taking good care of them.
     Jonah's mom: Don't give up sweet little boy. Remember God loves you.
     Jonah: Mom, stop! Remember that everyone can see what you write on here!
     Malfor: But she has good advice, Jonah
     Jonah: All this seaweed and dead fish and water? It's over for me.

Jonah: Day 4, I think, or I'm going crazy. OK God, you win!
     Jethro: Don't do it, man. You were doing so well!
     Jonah: In this fish, you're crazy!
     Malfor: Submit to God and He will lift you up, Jonah
     Jonah: I told God I'd do what He wanted. He is my salvation
     Jonah's mom: You make me so proud, son!
Jonah: That's a first! Vommited up by a giant fish! feeling sick :P
      Hannah: I'm so glad you're ok! Where are you?
      Jonah: On dry ground, that's all that matters to me, now!
      Malfor: Don't forget about God, Jonah. What are you going to do?
      Jonah: I think I need to get cleaned up, get some rest, then we'll see

Jonah: I guess a shower is out of the question.
      Jethro: You gotta take care of yourself, Jonah! What's wrong with a shower?
      Jonah: God told me to go to Ninevah again. I don't think I should mess around this time.
      Jethro: What is wrong with you? 3 days in a fish, and you think God wants good things for you? Look at me, I don't need God and I'm fine!
      Malfor: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean NOT unto thine own understanding." Solomon was pretty wise. God will direct your paths, Jonah.
      Hannah: Ew, no shower? no *hugs*
      Jonah's mom: Don't forget your manners, Jonah. And no talking to strangers.
      Jonah: I'm preaching to a city where I don't know anyone, mom, that might be a little difficult.

Jonah: This city is big! near Ninevah
Jonah: Here goes nothing!
      Uzi: Preach it, Jonah!
      Malfor: Praying for your success, Jonah?
      Jonah: Why? I just want to preach and get out of here before God destroys it.
      Malfor: But maybe God will spare them?
      Jonah: I hope not! Let's just get this over with.

Jonah: Well, that was awkward!
     Hannah: What's wrong, Jonah?
     Jonah: I got a friend request from the king!
     Hannah: King Jereboam? Wow, it is so cool that I even know you!
     Jonah: No, the King of Ninevah. He want's to learn more about God!
     Jethro: Don't do it Jonah!
     Jonah: That wasn't part of my orders from God. These evil people need to die.
     Malfor: Jonah, you have a great opportunity, here! Take it!

Jonah: Who do these people think they are?
     Uzi: The Ninevites?
     Jonah: Yeah, they are all sitting around in sackcloth and ashes.
     Malfor: That's great, Jonah! God is using you!
     Jethro: Great! More religious nuts that waste their time following God. Look what it's done for you!
     Jonah: It's not like they are Jewish or anything!

Jonah: I'm better off dead! feeling exceedingly angry
     Hannah: *hugs*
     Jethro: That's what you get for believing in God!
     Malfor: Don't be angry, Jonah, put your hope in God!
     Hannah: What's the matter?
     Jonah: I knew it, I knew God would show mercy!
     Malfor: Mercy is a good thing, Jonah.
     Jonah: not for these Ninevites, they ought to die for their sins!
     Malfor: What about your sins, Jonah?
     Malfor: Jonah?
Jonah: I'm better off dead!
     Hannah: I'm so sorry, Jonah! *hugs*
     Uzi: What's wrong?
     Hannaniel: Where are you, last I heard you were running from God? I guess I should be on more often.
     Jonah: I'm outside of Ninevah. And my gourd died.
     Hannah: Your gourd? Oh, poor Jonah.
     Uzi: What are you doing?
     Jonah: Waiting to see if God will destroy the city.
     Uzi: I must have missed something, is "my gourd died" some new expression?
     Jonah: No, my gourd died. I was sitting here and a gourd grew up over me to shade me yesterday, and today it died. And there is a hot, violent wind and the sun is beating down on me.
     Malfor: Why don't you go spend some time in the King's house? He'll take you in.
     Jonah: No, I deserve to sit here and be angry. And I'm better off dead.
     Malfor: So you're upset over a gourd that died, and upset that the city hasn't been destroyed?
     Jonah: Pretty much.
     Malfor: But that city must have well over 120,000 people in it, and lots and lots of cows. And you are upset over a gourd.
     Jonah: That's what God said.
     Malfor: So fix it, Jonah.
     Malfor: Jonah?