Tuesday’s Truth – Stop, Look, and Listen

Hello again! It’s July already, friends, can you believe it? I know that every year we all complain that it is going by too fast, but seriously, July? It’s just not right! I hope that in this summer season, filled with all its breaks and vacations (and ironically, all its busy-ness and stress), you are taking time to be with God and listen to His voice. Today we’re going to talk about the importance of seeking God’s advice and instruction, so get ready.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been reading a chronological layout of the Bible. I like this layout  because it helps me see the plan of God and His history with the world more clearly. I can see the progression from one king’s sin or success to that of his sons. I like being able to put it all together. The past few days I have been reading about two very different kings. One was the infamous King Ahab of the northern Kingdom of Israel, and the other was Jehoshaphat, the righteous king of Judah. Ahab came from a long line of kings who did everything to block God from the people, and vice versa. Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, had excellent examples in his father and grandfather, and worked diligently to keep his people true to the Lord.

In my reading lately, a certain point about Jehoshaphat kept sticking in my mind. He didn’t just obey the Law of God, get rid of idols, or ban people and practices that promoted idolatry. He also actively sought God’s advice and guidance when he had a big decision to make. Now, this is important to me, because in many ways, I don’t see Jehoshaphat as being that bright of a guy. He teamed up with one of his biggest enemies (King Ahab), and then agreed when King Ahab suggested basically using Jehoshaphat as a decoy in battle. The wisdom of Solomon was certainly not one of his characteristics. And yet, there is a promise in the Bible that we will receive wisdom when we ask God for it. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Even though this promise was made nearly 1,000 years after Jehoshaphat’s reign, the principle has always been true, and God has always made good on the promise. What Jehoshaphat lacked in wisdom, he made up for in faith.

Let’s look at two episodes from Jehoshaphat’s life which show the value he placed on seeking the Lord before making a decision. The first one comes from 2 Chronicles 18. Jehoshaphat had agreed to work with King Ahab to regain a portion of land that was important to both Israel and Judah, but had fallen into the hands of a common enemy. Jehoshaphat agree to go along with Ahab, but first he suggested that they inquire of the Lord if He wanted them to pursue this new war. Ahab agreed, except that he “inquired of the Lord” through 400 prophets who were on his payroll, and were not exactly known for being faithful to God. So of course they gave the kings the go-ahead, saying that God loved the idea and would give them great success. Jehoshaphat, though not the brightest, as we’ve seen, still smelled the fish on this one, and asked if maybe there wasn’t a real prophet of the Lord available for a second opinion. One, named Micaiah, was finally rounded up (with the warning that he should just tell Ahab that his plan was a good plan) and, at Jehoshaphat’s encouragement, actually told the truth – that they could go to battle if they wanted, but that Ahab would be killed, and his army scattered. And that is exactly what happened. Jehoshaphat made one key mistake here. He asked for the Lord’s guidance and advice, but then he still went out to battle with Ahab, and was nearly killed in the process (remember the whole decoy plan? Yes, it worked – at first.) As he was on his way home, Jehoshaphat was confronted by another prophet who strongly rebuked him for his alliance with Ahab. If we are going to seek the Lord’s wisdom and guidance, we need to prepared not only to hear it, but to do it. (James 1:22)

On a second occasion, it appears that Jehoshaphat had learned his lesson, and was completely prepared to seek and follow God’s wisdom and will. In 2 Chronicles 20, we learn that a large army was preparing to attack Judah. When Jehoshaphat heard who was coming, he called all the people together, went down to the temple, and prayed with all his might. He recalled to God the other times that He had defeated the enemies of His people, and he summed up his request with this statement, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (verse 12)

Like Jehoshaphat, there will be times in our lives when we are confronted with a major challenge or decision, and we may not see a clear answer right away. It is in those times that our eyes must come off of our problems, and our minds must stop spinning for solutions, and instead we must put our whole focus on God, seeking His ways. We look at what He has done in the past, what He has told us in His Word, and what He is doing in the present, and then we get a clearer picture of where He is taking us. It sounds simple, but it is not. It takes courage and faith to stop and seek God. It takes patience to wait for His answers. It takes discipline to tune our hearts to His voice.

As Jehoshaphat learned, it is worth having that courage, faith, patience, and discipline. After Jehoshaphat sought the Lord with the people of Judah, he took his army out to meet their enemies. But instead of planning battle tactics and sending out scouts, the first thing Jehoshaphat did was encourage his men to have faith, and then he led them in praising the Lord. Only after that did they set out for the battle. When they arrived, they found only the bodies of their enemies. God had heard their prayer and their praises, and had used the armies of Judah’s enemies to destroy each other. The army of Judah didn’t even have to fight, they just had to gather the spoils of war and take it home. This time, Jehoshaphat had listened to the wisdom of God and followed through, and not only was his land saved, not only were they enriched by the riches left behind by their enemies, but there was also an extended peace, because the nations around Judah feared being destroyed by God.

In our lives, we will face many situations and decisions that are more than we can handle on our own. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to handle them alone. God’s promise to give us wisdom is still just as valid as it was in the days of Jehoshaphat, and the days of James. God’s promises don’t have an expiration date. Don’t be so afraid of losing an opportunity that you miss the chance to seek the Lord. Don’t be so paralyzed by fear that you can’t get on your knees and echo Jehoshaphat’s prayer, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.”

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Tuesday’s Truth – Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Welcome back again! Today I want to share something with you that I discovered in my daily Bible study. I’ve been going through a chronological reading of the Bible, and recently I’ve been covering the end of Solomon’s life, and the division of his kingdom into Israel and Judah. In my reading, I went through the last few chapters of the book of Proverbs. While most of the sayings in that book are clearly attributed to Solomon, Chapter 30 is supposedly written by a wise man named Agur. It is not clear who Agur was. Some sources believe that it was a symbolic pen name for Solomon. Others say that he was an Arabian ruler. The context, history, and Hebrew structure in the passage make it hard to be definitive. What is clear, though, is that whoever the writer of Proverbs 30 was, he made some very helpful observations about God, life, and the ways of the world. I’d like for you to look at just a few verses out of this chapter with me. Let’s start with a promise:

“Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

I love this idea of complete security. I’ve been reading lately about the kings of Israel and Judah, and it is amazing to me how simple it was that when they obeyed and trusted God, there was peace and prosperity, and they were never defeated, but when they went their own way and trusted in their own strength, or in their armies and allies, they invariably experienced failure and defeat. What a clear challenge to trust Him with everything.

The writer goes on to make a request of God:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

The wise man here is giving us a lesson in contentment. How often do you pray this same sort of prayer? Do you ask for God to give you only what you need, what He wills you to have, or do you continually ask for more? Give it some serious thought this week.

15b “There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
16 the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’

The writer continues with the idea of contentment vs. desire. I think we can all identify with the first two examples he give. As we talked about last week, death is something that is constant an inevitable. And all of us have known couples who have struggled with infertility. It is amazing what lengths people will go to try to conceive a child. The drugs, procedures, and financial costs are each extreme, and yet there is no slowing in the business of helping people have babies. The desire for the child overshadows any physical or financial discomfort. And while I cannot directly relate to that example, I certainly can relate to the final two. Here in our beautiful state of Colorado, our gorgeous spring and summer have been marred by a severe drought that has contributed to extensive wildfires. Last summer we dealt with the same issues, but this year seems even worse. Over 500 homes were destroyed just in one fire. In another area of the state, a popular tourist area was almost completely destroyed. In yet another area, over 50,000 acres of beautiful alpine forest have been consumed. Watching the reports come in each day, it is easy to see that fire never says, “Enough!”

Notice that these things which are impossible to satisfy are not spoken of positively by the writer. We live in a culture where a constant drive for more (more money, more power, more recognition, more success, more possessions, more happiness, more everything) is seen as a positive character trait. Commercials for athletic products tell us to keep pushing for more – faster times, more points, more wins. Educational institutions tell us that we can become more, earn more, learn more, if we attend their school. Movies and television tell us to climb the ladder, find a better spouse or partner, reach for the stars. We are told to never stop pushing the envelope, never accept defeat, never stay in one place too long. Satisfaction is the same thing as laziness and apathy. Every opportunity is meant to be taken, every risk is worthwhile.

And yet I wonder if we’re really happier, and more satisfied because of this constant drive for more. Look at the statistics relating to debt, divorce, and suicide just in the US. The average credit card debt in the US is over $15,000, The average mortgage debt is just under $150,000, and the average student debt is over $30,000. The divorce rate is around 40%. Nearly 40,000 people in the US commit suicide each year, and many more admit to thinking about it. We’re in a state of constant striving, and it’s not making us happier, more satisfied people.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon often speaks of human striving as being meaningless. It’s clear that more is not always better. Working hard, doing one’s best, reaching for dreams – all of that can be very worthwhile. Our failing is in letting our achievements, our possessions, our striving, take too high a priority. There are many ways we could talk about what this means, but let’s go back to what the writer said: having too much, seeking too much, can draw us away from God. We become like those kings I mentioned at the beginning who stopped trusting the Lord and experienced defeat and failure. Make the writer’s prayer your own this week. Ask Him to give you a spirit of contentment, no matter what your circumstance, trusting that He has given you all that you need.

 

Have a contented week!

Tuesday’s Truth – It’s Tradition!

Welcome to another week. Today’s topic is something that we’re all familiar with – traditions. We all have them, whether we like them or not. We learn them, adjust them, abandon and create them throughout life. If you’re at all like me,  you grew up with two sets of traditions for things like holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings. And then, if you married someone like my husband, you added in two more sets of traditions that were not only completely different from each other, but also completely different from the two you grew up with. They can be based on your ethnic background, religious beliefs, regional differences, and personal preferences. They can be mainstream or extreme, but either way, they are the main rules of “how we do things in this family”. And then, if you grew up in church, any church (or mosque, synagogue, or temple), you have a set of religious traditions that you carry around as well. Some of you have a very limited set, others (like myself) have a more “confused” bag of church traditions. For example, I was raised in a variety of evangelical churches, but I had family members who were Catholic, I attended a Baptist college, but then spent several years teaching at an Episcopal school. So I’ve had the full range of worship from pew kneelers to hand-raisers, environments from school gyms to stained glass, and sermon series based on popular movies as well as morning worship guided by the Book of Common Prayer. Eclectic doesn’t even begin to cover it.

 

Traditions are a crucial part of human culture and psychology. Our brains thrive on having a predictable framework for life. This is true at work, in the family, and in religion. Even those who reject what they see as “organized religion” still form their own traditions, rituals, and beliefs. Traditions help us connect with others, and help us bridge gaps in time and space. Traditions help the transmission of history and wisdom. Many traditions are enjoyable or comforting.

 

Traditions can have a negative side as well. They can be restrictive. They can be burdensome. They may be irrational, obsolete, or irrelevant. Traditions can keep people at a distance and create confusion. Some traditions may cause people to completely dismiss God or the church because they are too difficult to understand, too hard to follow, or too uncomfortable.

 

The thing about traditions is that they are only a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Too often, we become attached to a tradition, and force ourselves and others to “follow the rules” because it is tradition, rather than holding to a tradition because it is inherently valuable. An extreme example of this would be the extended segregation that was practiced in the southern United States even after the Civil Rights Act was passed, long after the myths about African Americans being sub-human or diseased or violent had been dispelled. White people didn’t want to associate with black people, but they couldn’t give a good reason why, they just knew that it wasn’t done: their grandparents and parents had avoided contact, and so should they. It was just the way things had always been, so it was they way they should be. That’s the biggest trap of traditions. Somehow we fall into a belief that tradition is more important than truth; that traditions should be followed because they are traditions, not because they serve a purpose or have sacred importance. We fear changing or discarding any traditional practice or position because we have so strongly linked “the way it has always be done” with “the way God wants us to do it”.

 

We seem particularly prone to this in religious and moral matters. We sometimes put more importance on the way our culture, church, or family has done things than on what God actually says (or doesn’t say) about many issues. (Please note, I am not saying that all moral positions are just traditions; I believe in moral absolutes, but only where God has made it clear that something is an absolute. Many of the things we hold tightly to are really interpretations and traditions, and we need to extend grace to each other, not judgment.) I witnessed an amusing example of this several years ago. My husband and I were still be living in the town where we attended college (a relatively conservative Baptist school). The college had very strict rules against any type of drinking, smoking, or other substance use, and most of the students had grown up in homes and churches that likewise took a very dim view of such things. However, at that moment, there happened to be a conference of Episcopal bishops and clergy meeting at the Episcopal school I taught in. Episcopalians have no tradition that frowns upon drinking or smoking in moderation. I had become used to this in my time working at the school, but many of the students attending my alma matter did not have the benefit of that experience. One evening during the bishops’ conference, we were enjoying dinner at a local pub and coffee shop, which was very popular with students (and which happened to be run by the rector of the local Episcopal church). The bishops and clergy had all decided to meet there as well. One of the men, with his purple shirt, clerical collar, and large cross, stepped outside for a smoke. At the table next to us, a young man, obviously from the Baptist college, was talking with his friend, and they could not reconcile in their minds how someone who was obviously a Christian minister could also be an unashamed smoker. Now, I’m not saying smoking is a good idea. We know that it is a serious health risk. However, it’s not expressly addressed in the scriptures, and so I can’t say that the smoking bishop was any less of a Christian, any less obedient to God, just because he smoked a cigarette and I did not. We must be cautious about letting our traditions  cloud our views of other sincere, God-fearing, people.

 

We fall into this trap in missions and evangelism too. We think that part of converting people to faith in Christ is making them like us. This was clearly the case in the early years of world missions, when missionaries from England and America would go to Africa and Asia and not only preach the Gospel, but also try to change the clothing, language, and the social and family structure of the people they had been sent to, as if making them Christians also meant making them English-speaking Westerners. At this point in history, we have gotten much better about being culturally sensitive, but the belief that changed hearts necessarily mean changed traditions still holds on. If we want to continue reaching people, both at home and abroad, we need to be more conscientious about to what extent we are asking people to obey God, and to what extent we are asking them to follow our own traditions. We need to not be afraid to confront and change tradition where it is no longer serving its intended purpose, and is instead serving to keep people farther from God.

 

I found a wonderful quote about this very thing in my leisure reading this week. I had just begun re-reading Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre, one of my very favorite books. I always have appreciated the philosophy and theology that Bronte weaves throughout her works, but I found this gem in her preface to the novel. She says, speaking of tradition,

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns. These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.”

 

We are not the only ones to struggle with this balance between tradition and truth. The Jewish community in Jesus’ day had a very strong culture of traditions. Some where merely cultural, while many of them were based on the laws and regulations that God had given to Moses and the Israelites. In the end, however, they did not serve to help people cultivate their relationship with God, but to keep people from having that close, loving relationship with Him. Jesus himself chastised the religious leaders of the day, saying “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46) Jesus often disregarded Jewish custom, tradition, and regulation when it served his purpose of drawing people to himself. He healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-3, Luke 13:9-11), and allowed his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-3). When confronted by the religious leaders of the day, he rhetorically asked them whether it was better to do good or evil on the Sabbath (Luke6:9), basically turning the question of what observing the Sabbath meant back on their own heads. In Matthew 15, Jesus took part in a debate with the religious leaders about the value of traditions. He summed up his indictment of the religion of the day by saying, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6b) To Jesus, the one person who perfectly fulfilled all of God’s law, the point was not the act of observing a ritual or of maintaining a tradition, but of living with one’s heart tuned to God.

 

Early church leaders also cautioned against those who professed to be Christians but insisted on new believers following the old Jewish customs in order to be saved or to be a part of the church.  This is what he had to say: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) In Acts 15, Paul, James, Peter and other leaders of the early church determined that there was no point in making new believers (especially those from outside the Jewish culture) follow the traditions of Judaism, but to instruct them to obey the core of God’s law. Peter pointed out that the old traditions and rules had been too much even for centuries of faithful Jews. (Acts 15:10) In his letter to the Philippians, Paul warned the church not to be led astray by those who would seek to enforce Jewish customs in the name of salvation in Christ, because we are not saved by outward acts, but by inward belief. (Philippians 3:1-3) Disagreements about traditions often threatened to tear the early church apart, but the Apostles wisely intervened and taught their followers to put their focus on honoring God, rather than honoring man’s traditions.

 

Traditions can be useful and enjoyable, but they do not tell us much about how we really must live as children of God. Fortunately, the Bible is very clear on what really matters. The prophet Micah gave a clear description of a life lived rightly when he wrote, “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Jesus summed up all of God’s laws in two simple (yet still not easy) requirements: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) Outwith those few things, the rest is just window dressing. The design of your church, the order of service, the style of worship music, the fashion of your clothes, the way you celebrate holidays, the rituals you do or don’t observe – they may help you personally in your relationship with God, but they must not ever take the place of that relationship.

 

Be Blessed!

 

How do you feel about traditions, especially within Christianity? Are there any you find particularly valuable in your walk with God?

Tuesday’s Truth – The Clock is Ticking

Hello, Friends. What I have to share with you today may not seem encouraging at first, but my hope is that what we discover today will give you the fuel to keep pushing on. You see, my mind has been quite consumed this week with thoughts of life and death.  Life, because I’m getting closer and closer to welcoming my child into this world, and seeing him begin his life. I am amazed by all the possibilities in store for him. And death, as we lost a dear friend this week after a short battle with cancer. I’m still in shock because it seemed far too soon for her to be taken. The truth is, we don’t know what life will bring. I can tell you the things I dream and hope for my son, but in reality, I have no idea what his life will be like. And just as we cannot say what the course of our life will be, we also cannot rightly predict what its end will be. We are often left wondering why some people are taken as children or in the prime of life, while others live into their hundreds. Aside from trusting that God has a perfect timing for each one, I can’t really explain it. But what I do know is that the Bible has some clear points and thoughts regarding how we are to view our own life and death.  The ones I want to focus on today come from four men who had very intense lives and experiences with God. The first, and our longest passage, comes to us from Moses, who spent many, many years of his life waiting and struggling. I want you to see this whole Psalm for context, but then we’re going to make some connections to draw out the truths of the sections that are in bold print.

 

Psalm 90, a psalm of Moses:

 

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.”

 

If you know the whole story of Moses, then you can see how his pleas and praises in this psalm accurately echo his experiences of exile, struggle, and wandering. Now let’s make our connections and pull out the life and death truths that he is speaking of.

 

Look back at verse 3.  Moses speaks of us as mortals returning to dust. This is our first truth – that every one of us will one day die. The writer of Hebrews puts it bluntly: “And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)  Perhaps not the most pleasant thought, and depending on your age right now, it may be easier or harder to grasp. I’m at a point in life were I can’t really imagine coming to the end of my life. I’m so focused on building my own life and looking forward to the new life that is coming to our family,  that the idea of being an old woman and knowing my days are coming to a close is almost outside of what I can imagine.

 

But if we look at the next two sections, verses 5-6 and verse 10, we see that our days go by quickly and that we cannot be certain of their number.  We learn just from experience that there is no minimum or maximum number of days in a life. The only boundaries are those set by God for each individual person. Let’s take the word of Job, who certainly saw his share of what we might call untimely deaths in his family, and who probably more than once wondered why he himself was still alive. He said, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” (Job 14:5) We are limited, not boundless, as we would often like to believe. David, the king and writer who spent many years of his life waiting for God’s plans to come to fulfillment and who spent a great deal of time running and fighting for his life, also realized how short a single human life is. He said, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:5) While 80 or 100 years may seem long to us at times, in the grand scheme of human history, and especially in light of eternity, it is just a tiny drop in an enormous bucket. Our time is short and unpredictable. I can’t guarantee that just because I’m under thirty I have many years to go. And I can’t guarantee that the sweet little old ladies at church have any less time than I do. What I can guarantee is that we each have a limited amount of time, and that should make us very thoughtful.

 

Look at our last passage from Psalm 90, verse 12. Moses equates numbering (counting, considering) our days with learning wisdom. David makes a similar request of God: “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4 ) When we remember the first two truths (1: That we will each face death; and 2: That our time on earth is not only limited, but relatively short) we are by necessity forced to make a choice. We can either hear those truths and then choose to ignore them and continue living carelessly, or we can realize the truth and choose to live consciously, carefully, and purposefully. While I fully believe that the Bible is the only source I need for truth about how I should live, I find it very interesting and exciting when other religions and philosophies agree with what the Bible says. A quick survey of philosophy, psychology and many major religions will echo what we find here; that is to say that life is much richer and more satisfying when we live with the mindset of making the most of a limited time and with a definite purpose (specifically a purpose other than just our own enjoyment). See what St. Paul, who clearly packed as much purpose into life as it is possible to, said about how we should live: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

 

How many of us truly make the most of each moment? I know that I often miss that mark. Most of us are born with excellent time-wasting skills. Today’s technological environment makes it even easier with smartphones, internet access, streaming video, and all that goes along with those things. Certainly they can be useful, and shouldn’t’ be dismissed out of hand any more than books or exercise or sleeping should, even though some people may not find those pursuits “useful”.  The key is not for us to make lists of things that we should never do (or make ourselves to-do lists that take up every single moment), but for us to be wise and circumspect about how we are spending our time.

 

That means that we are careful about how we choose to use our energies. It is tempting to think that making the most of the time means doing the most things with our time. It would seem to us that we ought to put in the extra hours at work to please our bosses and clients (and possibly to make some extra money so that we can be good providers for our families), to say yes to every volunteer opportunity, and then to push ourselves to go the extra mile and home to do the maintenance or renovation projects that we feel will make our lives much better (and increase the resale value of our house!). In reality, though, more is not always more. When you are pulled in too many directions, when you are exhausted, when you are committing yourself to tasks and roles that are not using your talents and abilities to their best effect, you are actually making less of the time, rather than more. God, and the world, does not need you to do everything. Your company will not (usually) go out of business if you don’t work 20 hours a day, every day. The church will not cease to function if you don’t volunteer for the building committee, men’s ministry, outreach bowling league, and nursery duty. Your home will not fall into chaos if you aren’t able to replace all the cabinets and siding and landscape the lawn like a pro this summer. Don’t make yourself less effective by thinking you have to do everything for everyone, and don’t rob others of the opportunities to serve, give, and be responsible. God put more people than just you on the earth for a reason, and that reason was not so that you could do their work for them. What you need to do is to know what gifts, talents, abilities, and skills God has equipped you with, and also have a realistic understanding of the limitations He created you with. Evaluate every opportunity through those filters, and you will find yourself making better choices about how to wisely make the most of every moment you have been given.

 

If we are being wise about how we spend our moments, what room does that leave for rest, play, and relaxation? I believe that rest and recreation are critical to our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. God was very clear about setting a precedent for rest, even going so far as to mandate one day of rest a week for the Israelites. It is important that you take time out to get adequate sleep so that your body continues to function at its best. If you work 18 hours a day every single day, you may be working a lot of “moments” but it is very doubtful that you are making the most of those moments because you are not at your best. You also need relaxation, time where you mind can slow down, where you can focus your thoughts and energies on something other than work (your day job or your service/volunteer work) or you will quickly become burnt out, jaded, or overwhelmed. The key to this is to make the most of your rest “moments” as well as your work “moments”. Does that mean formulating a relaxation checklist or a rest agenda? As much as I would probably be the first to fall into that trap, I have to say no. What it does mean is that when you are resting, relaxing, and recreating, you need to truly be resting, relaxing, and recreating. Don’t multitask your rest time. It’s tempting to try to watch a movie, spend time with your spouse, and read a book at the same time.  (Or at least it is for me.) It’s easy to say that you’re going to lay down on the couch or your bed for a nap, and then pull out your phone and start answering emails. There are as many different pitfalls as there are individuals when it comes to sabotaging your rest times.

 

Try an experiment this week: when you are “off the clock” so to speak, be more intentional about your rest and recreation. If you are going to read, do only that – no TV, no background music, no chatting on the phone or texting. If you are going to watch a show or a movie, do only that (I’ll allow for some snuggling on the couch with your spouse or child, though!). When you spend time with a friend, spouse, or child, be intentional. Do something truly together, not just at the same time. Have a real conversation. Ignore your phone and emails. Really be with that person. When you go to bed, don’t take your tablet, smartphone or laptop with you. Just lie down, think restful thoughts (the classic “counting your blessings” really does work!), and let rest come to you, rather than cramming something into every moment before you fall asleep out of exhaustion.  It will be harder than you think (I know I will struggle with it this week!) but give it a try, and see how you feel at the end of the week. Do you feel like you are both more productive and more rested? Did anything interesting happen when you really focused your attention on the people you spend time with?  I’d love for you to share your experiences in the comments this week.

 

Joy to you!

 

 

Tuesday’s Truth – Precious in His Sight

Hello, friends! This week I’ve been thinking about children a lot. That’s probably because my little guy has been kicking and wiggling around much more over the past week, and I’m finally starting to believe that there is a tiny person growing inside me. The incredible excitement and the immense responsibility of his upcoming arrival have hit me hard lately as I research birth and child-rearing philosophies, as his little crib sits in the spare room waiting to be assembled, and as the pile of tiny clothes waiting to be organized grows. I know that the love I already feel for him can’t begin to compare with what I will feel the moment he’s in my arms. It’s hard to imagine. And as I was thinking about all of this, I realized something even more astounding. Even in all my maternal affection and devotion, I will never come close to loving my son the way that God loves him, the way that God loves all His children.

If you grew up in church (and probably even if you didn’t), you’re familiar with the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” One line reminds us that all children are “precious in His sight”. Sometimes children’s songs aren’t so great on theology, but this one is dead on. Throughout the Bible there are stories that make it clear how much God values children, as well as some pretty direct statements. Let’s look at just a few:

  • What was the first good thing that happened after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden for sinning? You guessed it, the births of the world’s first babies. (Genesis 4 )
  • God protected and blessed Ishmael, Abraham’s son with Hagar, even though he wasn’t the son God had promised to Abraham and Sarah. (Genesis 21:8-21)
  • God commanded the Israelites to instruct their children in the history of God’s relationship with His people and to teach them His laws and promises. (Deuteronomy 6:7)
  • God chose a young boy, Samuel, to become one of Israel’s greatest leaders.
  • God chose David, barely a teenager, to defeat Goliath and the Philistines, as well as to become the king of Israel.
  • The Psalms tell us that God is intimately involved in the development of each unborn child (Psalm 139:13)
  • Jeremiah is told that God knew him before he was even born. (Jeremiah 1:5) We can assume that God knows each one of us just as well.
  • Many proverbs speak to the importance of raising children.
  • God allowed Elijah to raise the widow’s son from death. (1 Kings 17:17-24)
  • God allowed Elisha to raise the Shunnamite’s son from death. (2 Kings 4:8-37)
  • Jesus healed many children and raised others from the dead. (Matthew 17:14-18 Luke 7:11-17 Mark 5:21-43)
  • Jesus welcomed and blessed the children that were brought to him, over the objections of his disciples.  (Matthew 19:13-14 Mark 10:13-14 Luke 18:15-16)
  • Jesus used the faith of a child as the benchmark for true faith. (Matthew 18:3 Matthew 18:4 Mark 10:15 Luke 18:17)

Because children are so precious to God, we should be careful about how we view and treat children.

  • We need to see children as blessings and wonders, not as inconveniences, annoyances, or accessories. Children take time and effort, and are not often convenient, but we must see them as worth the investment.
  • We must commit ourselves to training our children, not only in the practical things of life, but in faith and virtues. We must be careful and intentional in the way we teach our children at home (directly and indirectly) and in the choices we make regarding both their academic and religious education.
  • We should strive to see our children the way that God sees them, as valuable individuals with immense potential. David’s family scoffed at the idea of him being anointed as King of Israel, but as God told Samuel, we are quick to judge by what we see on the outside, not what is hidden on the inside. (1 Samuel 16:7)
  • We need to remember that every child is valuable as a person and is “precious in His sight”. Having taught many children, I can tell you that it is sometimes hard to remember that the child who constantly tests your nerves and pushes the boundaries is just as precious as the one who always obeys and seeks to please. Our human nature tempts us to value the pleasant and easy things in life more than the difficult. But if we believe that every single child is created in God’s image and is made directly by Him for a specific purpose, we must learn to value every child equally. Does that make them easier to deal with? Some days yes, some days no; but it does help us keep our perspective. The good news is that if we are dealing with our children (or students) according to God’s ways, the most difficult ones often become the ones who make the biggest positive mark on the world later in life. Keep the big picture in mind!
  • Finally, we need to remind ourselves that we are God’s children, no matter our age. (1 John 3:2) As His children, we are loved far beyond what our minds can grasp. You are a blessing, a wonder, a valuable individual with immense potential. You, my friends, are “precious in His sight”!

Keep Smiling!

Tuesday’s Truth – Don’t Fight Me on This!

 

Hello, friends! Yep, I’m a day late. The Monday holiday threw me off for sure. I keep having to remind myself what day of the week it is. Ugh.

 

Today let’s talk about something really fun: fighting! We’re talking about what the Bible often refers to as “quarreling”, but what we could also call arguing, fighting, or bickering. It seems as humans we have an almost boundless capacity for arguing and fighting with others. If you’ve ever watched a group a children, you know exactly what I mean. It is amazing how they can find a fight when there is absolutely nothing to fight over. As grown-ups, though, we’re not really that much better. Part of the problem is that there’s often some small grain of truth or importance to what we fight about. I’ve noticed this lately as I’ve browsed some pregnancy and child-raising forums online. There’s a constant current of bickering going on about everything: formula vs. breastfeeding, cloth vs. disposable diapers, where your baby should sleep, whether or not to circumcise, how terrible your mother-in-law is, what heinous thing your husband has just done, even how to spell your baby’s name. These women (all of us women, really, if we’re being honest) can find a way to stir up trouble about nearly anything. And it’s not just in their responses to each other on the forum; I see it in their tales of woe about husbands and siblings and in-laws. We hormonal pregnant  ladies are not the only ones guilty of doing it. Just read the comments after a news story about anything even remotely political or religious in nature. Sometimes I’m afraid the little avatar icons are going to start slapping each other on my computer monitor, the arguments get so heated. Like I said earlier, this can be so tempting because many of these things are intensely personal and we hold very strong opinions and beliefs about the issues, major or minor.

 

But then again, we as humans also seem to take perverse pleasure in argumentation and discord. If not, how would so many reality shows get such high ratings? I know I’ve been guilty of getting sucked into so-called “train-wreck” shows. And what about a huge majority of romantic comedies? Their plot lines and dialogue often thrive on arguments, conflict, and bickering. It’s almost a cultural imperative to be argumentative. I’ve known quite a few people who will start an argument just for their own entertainment, even if they don’t actually disagree with others. As a collective, we’re trained to think that arguing and fighting is a) funny, b) healthy, and c) unavoidable. But that’s just not the truth. Before we look at what the Bible does have to say about quarrelling, let me make one thing clear. Quarrelling is not the same thing as an honest confrontation. There are times when it will be important, even critical, to confront someone about a serious moral or personal offense. The Bible is pretty clear about that. But even in those situations, an argumentative or quarrelsome tone is never the right path to take.

Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about being a quarreler. We’ll break it down into three main ideas:

  1. It is not wise to start a quarrel (or to join one).
    1. Proverbs 16:28 A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
    2. Proverbs 15:18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
    3. Proverbs 17:14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
    4. Proverbs 20:3 It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.
    5. Proverbs 26:17 Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.
    6. 2 Timothy 2:23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels
  2. God doesn’t want His people to be quarrelsome.
    1. Proverbs 17:19 Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction.
    2. 1 Corinthians 3:3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?
    3. 2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful
  3. To end a quarrel, take away the fuel.
    1. Proverbs 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
    2. Proverbs 26:21 As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.

How do we put this truth to use in our daily lives? We can remember these principles when we are tempted to start or join an argument. We can remember that it is no use to argue with a quarrelsome person, no matter how strongly we feel that we are in the right on a certain issue. We can be careful about what we let into our minds (and into the minds of our children) regarding arguing and fighting by being thoughtful about the types of movies and TV shows we watch. We can even take the extra step and do what we can to extinguish a quarrel. Will it be easy? No, because it is part of our nature to argue and fight. But I truly believe that this is an area where developing self-control will bring an abundance of peace both with others and within yourself.

 

Wishing you a fight-free week!

 

 

 

 

Tuesday’s Truth – God Cares

Hello friends,

I had several possible things on my mind to talk about with you all today, but in light of the recent and ongoing devastation across the Midwest,  it seemed to me that the only true thing you need to be reminded of today is that God cares.

Yes, these tornadoes are natural occurrences, yes, they’re a part of life in certain areas, yes, they happen year after year. Those of us who don’t live through tornado season each year sometimes forget how frightening and destructive they are until we see the pictures of the really big ones, like the one that swept through Oklahoma this week. We don’t think about the shattered lives or the decades-long impact that a single terrible storm can have on a community, and on individuals. Then something like the Moore tornado hits, and we are all suddenly aware of the reality of natural disasters. It shakes us.

We can barely predict things like tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards and earthquakes. There is little we can do to prepare for them, and absolutely nothing we can do to stop them. All that makes them incredibly frightening and devastating. I won’t begin to get into the discussion of whether God causes or allows these events, and why some areas and some people are destroyed and others spared. Theologians can debate that issue back and forth till the cows come home, and still never come up with a solid answer. And really, the answer to that question isn’t all that important. What is important is for us to remember that none of these events escape God’s notice. He’s not like the much-criticized FEMA, late to the game and without the right equipment. He knows that on our planet, these sorts of natural disasters are going to happen, and even when He doesn’t stop them, He deeply cares about those who are affected.

He hurts for each person who loses a loved one or a home or a prized possession. He feels the anxiety of those searching for missing family, even though He knows right where they are. His heart breaks with the hearts of the first responders who must mix their joy in rescuing people from the rubble with the sorrow of recovering each one who was not so lucky. Sometimes we don’t see how God could care when these kind of things happen. It can be hard to understand that God loves us and cares about us when He doesn’t keep bad things from happening to us. Like we talked about last week, God’s promise is not that He will keep us from any pain or suffering, but that He will be with us and make something good out of even our worst experiences. In the same way, God caring about us means that He is always near to us, always eager to comfort and heal when those terrible things do happen.

To show you what I mean, I’m just going to let the Word of God speak straight to you, no commentary needed.

  • 1 Peter 5:7 “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
  • Psalm 9:12 “For he who avenges murder cares for the helpless. He does not ignore the cries of those who suffer.”
  • Psalm 138:6 “Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble.”
  • Psalm 146:9He cares for the orphans and widows.”
  • Hosea 14:8 “I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.”
  • Matthew 10:29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Also Luke 12:6-7)

God cares for you, friends. He cares if you’re having a tough day parenting your children. He cares if a coworker was unkind to you this week. He cares if you are struggling in your marriage. He cares if you have been the victim of a crime. He cares if you have been affected by a natural disaster. Whatever is hurting you, He cares, and you can take your problems to Him, expecting love and compassion. Don’t be shy about going to Him with your troubles, your fears and your pain. He cares!