Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons - Personal Loss

We have all been faced with loss. Whether the loss of loved ones, the loss of a favorite possession, the loss of reputation, or any number of other types of loss. It is a difficult lemon to deal with as loss often causes us to experience the bitterness of the situation quickly, before we have a chance to add sugar and make the lemonade.

Having talked with several parents who have lost children through the years, adult children and young children, I am told it is about the worst form of loss a person can experience. Why does it hurt so bad? Because it is unnatural, it is unexpected, it is the loss of not only something close to you, but a piece of you. These are reasons that make any loss hard to bear. The loss of anything seems unnatural to us, we have an expectation of accumulating things, not of losing the things and relationships we have. We struggle with understanding why such difficulty should visit us.

I'm guessing that you have already figured out where in the Bible we will find the answer to this lemon as Job suffered loss as greatly as any person in the Bible. So the tough part is to figure out what made Job's response a good one, and what principles can we take with us to apply to the losses that come in our lives.

The first key I think we can learn from Job is that it is OK to grieve. It is not wrong to sorrow. It is not sinful to express sadness. I get why we shy away from it. It makes me uncomfortable to be around someone who is sobbing uncontrollably. Because of that, I feel uncomfortable crying in front of someone else. If we were honest, we would probably say that we would rather that no one cried. Sometimes that feeling makes us feel like it would be wrong to sorrow. But the Bible tells us that Job tore his clothes, shaved his head and fell to the ground. He was sad. He showed his sorrow; he announced it to anyone around him that he grieved the loss of his children, animals and servants greatly. And after talking of this grieving that Job was doing, the Bible tells us that in all this Job did not sin. For us it is important to remember to allow yourself room to grieve, to allow those who have experienced loss time to grieve. Don't try to make yourself stop feeling the loss, don't tell someone else when they should stop feeling sad.

There is a key to what grief is good and what grief isn't. It's OK to grieve, as long as you still believe. In the New Testament, it talks about grieving, but not as those who have no hope. Christians are to be about hopeful grieving. In Job, it tells us in his grief he fell down and worshipped. Our belief needs to be that God is still on His throne. That God is to be exalted in all of our life's circumstances. That God i good and He cares for us. Job could do this because he did not expect to only be blessed by God.

"What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips." - Job 2:10b

Because he didn't expect only blessing, he could worship God in the trials. He expected God to be good, but not everything that happened in life to be good. Paul talks about that in the New Testament as well:

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose." 
                                                                            - Romans 8:28

Job knew that. Job kept God on his throne and understood that God had things under control. It did not lessen the pain of his loss, but it helped him see past his loss to look for what God was doing through it. To seek God's exaltation, even in the midst of his humiliation.

What do we do with loss? We remember that it is OK to grieve, as long as we still believe.

I hope you don't need this lesson any time soon personally or to help a friend, but I hope we can all respond to the losses that will come with the wisdom of Job. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"

Keep looking up!

If you would like to hear the sermon behind this post, you can listen in for the next month over here.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons - Unanswered Prayer

Have you ever noticed a child who was trying to get the attention of a parent while the parent was involved in doing something else. Often, the child will be so focused on getting the attention that they will not wait to be answered. "Mom, mommy, mom, mommy, mom, MOMMY, MOMMMMMMM!" Why is this the natural reaction of a child? Because we like to get answers. We like people to pay attention to us. Especially when we have a need.

Sometimes when it comes to God, we don't keep asking when we don't get an answer. We feel the same emptiness of not getting a response, but often people will head off and search for another answer. How should we respond to unanswered prayer?

In the book of Psalms we can find several times when the Psalmist felt that God was not answering his prayer. In Psalm 77, we have a Psalm of Asaph that was written in such a situation. He was troubled by the thought of God, he felt cast off and ignored, forgotten. So what do we do?

The Psalmist did what the Psalms often portray in these circumstances. The Psalmist told God what was wrong. He complained about his circumstances. Hr knew things used to be better, he knew that it looked very unfair from where he was sitting. He wanted to have an answer to his question: Why was God not responding? You see, the Psalms are great in that you can always find one that starts with how you might be feeling right now. Whether joy or distress, or anywhere in between, there's a Psalm for that. Then what you do is follow the road map laid out in the Psalm is you want to worship God from where you are. This time, the Psalmist laid out his complaint to God. He didn't blame God, but he told God what was wrong.

Then, the psalmist does a strange thing. His song (or psalm) turns from complaint to praise. In the middle of his trials he is singing a song! He remembers God's goodness, His blessings, His works in times past. He focuses on what God has done and therefore on what God might be doing in his situation.

"Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people." - Psalm 77:14

And when we remember who God is and what God does, we will remember that He does not ignore His people. We wil remember that the God of wonders is not limited by our reasoning and our ability to see. We will see God as He is: seated on His throne, in control, and merciful and gracious to His people.

What to do with unanswered prayer? Tell God what's wrong, sing to Him a song!

Monday, January 6, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons - Too Much Work

Have you ever felt like you had too large of a mountain of work in front of you? Like the expectations on you were just too much to ever accomplish? Moses was in a similar situation. The leader of over 2 million people, having organized their departure from Egypt, and now responsible for a great crowd of people in a hostile environment away from the only home they had known for over 400 years. He sat from morning to night to judge the needs of the people, to hear their disputes, to teach them God's law, to inquire of God on the difficult issues, to keep everything moving along as it should. To say Moses was in the position of just putting out fires would be an understatement. He was doing very necessary work that had no end in sight. How many times a day did he have to teach "If you steal an ox, you have to give 5 back, if you steal a sheep, you have to give 4 back?"

Fortunately for Moses, and for us, there is more to life than just survival mode. Than just putting out fire after fire in our lives, but it involves a choice. We have to choose to do what needs to be done to make lemonade with this lemon. The upside of lots of work? Lots of progress. And lots of people means lots of workers! Moses got his solution from Jethro, his father-in-law. The solution is "Don't be proud, work with a crowd!"

With responsibility often comes the temptation to pride. It sneaks in slowly and makes us think that we are important because of the work we are doing. It makes us feel that we are the only ones that can do this important work. Sometimes we hold onto tasks because we don't want the feeling of not being needed - I won't teach anyone else how to clean the paper jam out of the copier because I like being the copy machine savior for my coworkers. We don't want to let go of tasks because the tasks make us important. We all have to resist this subtle area of pride in our lives and move on to the second half - work with a crowd.

Jethro suggested choosing men who feared God, who could be trusted, who had integrity and teaching them to answer problems. Rulers over 10, 50, 100 and 1000. I imagine the rulers of ten learned the rule of stealing livestock. I imagine the rulers of 100 learned how to tell what punishment should be given for an ox that has gored (either man or beast). I imagine the rulers over 1000 learned more intricate laws than that. Each had his job to do and the cases they didn't know, or couldn't get to the bottom of they brought to Moses. He always had the option of going to the Lord if he didn't know. Working with a crowd involves trusting trustworthy people to share the load. They have to be trustworthy or we are just neglecting work. We have to trust them, or it just involves us moving arms, legs and mouths of puppets.

Do you have too much work before you? While school kids have to do their own homework, most of us have the option of following Jethro's advice "Don't be proud, work with a crowd!"

If you'd like to hear the sermon that goes along with the blog post - it will be available for the next month or so over at Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

New Year's brings reflection into most of our lives. What was the past year like? What are my hopes for the new year?

Some people decide to make resolutions. Some people set new goals for the year. Many look at the new year as a good time for a new start.

So what to do with the new year? Are you going to make things better than last year? It is a simple thought, but if you keep doing what you've been doing, you're going to keep getting what you've been getting. If you have not improved in areas over the past year, what will you change to look for improvements this year?
More discipline?
More reading?
Healthier eating?
More exercise?
More time in prayer?
More encouraging others?
God honoring attitudes?
The list could be endless of things we could improve. My encouragement would be to work on something that you have help in, that you have support in. If you are a believer, God's Word promises that "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it" which means spiritual disciplines (seeking to become more like Jesus in your life) comes with built in help. Do you have mutual goals shared with friends (exercise, Scripture reading, weight loss, Bible memory, health goals)? Then focus on encouraging them in reaching the goal. The longer they last in it, the longer you will work on building good habits. Ecclesiastes tells us of the benefit of walking together with others. "A cord of three strands is not easily broken."

However you treat the new year, I wish you and yours well, and hope that 2014 is a year of growing in grace and becoming more like Jesus.