06 Feb 2018
Shelter From The Storms…
“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You, Yourself, are the answer.” –C.S. Lewis
On October 29, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people from the Caribbean up the Eastern Coast of the United States, faced their worst nightmare: Super-storm Sandy. It’s called a super-storm for its hurricane-force winds merged with a powerful frontal system, Sandy ravaged the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine, and traveled west across the Appalachian Mountains and into the Midwest, leaving death and destruction in her wake.
Families in the storm’s path were ripped from the lives they knew, thrust into the darkness and despair of loss. For many who lost everything it had to feel as if God had abandoned them.
Whether or not you’ve ever been affected by a natural disaster, you may know what it is to feel like God has abandoned you. Perhaps some other tragedy has rocked you—the death of a loved one, a debilitating accident, a dreaded diagnosis, the loss of a home, property, or your job—those things can become your own super-storm. You may feel as if your whole world has been turned upside down and you’re very much alone. It can leave you asking, “Where are you God?”
But you are not alone. In the midst of life’s storms, God is with you. Even if you do not feel him near, he is there. You can be sure it’s true, “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
Wherever you are, God is. He is with you before, during, and after life’s storms, never losing sight of you or your suffering. Consider some of the ways this truth is expressed in the Psalms:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:7-11).
The key to life’s stormy seasons is to cling to this truth: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
Storms come and go in life. Sometimes they’re forecast—we know they’re on their way. Sometimes they stir up suddenly. Either way, God is not caught off-guard—and he’s there to accompany us through.
My prayer this week – Gracious Lord, it’s my desire to acknowledge and thank you in all seasons—those of tempest and those of ease. Will you strengthen my faith and confidence to trust you are there, and grow my ability to rest in you? Will you help me, also, to be an encouragement to others experiencing seasons of storms?
30 Jan 2018
With Whom Do You Share This Journey?
“I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world.” –Thomas A. Edison
We do love our independence. We’ve been taught happiness is the result of it; to work towards it. We’ve been taught to be independent in every way—then we will be happiest.
And yet, we have never had more unhappy people in the world than we do today. Why? Independence isn’t the answer!
Happiness doesn’t come from being isolated, with barriers up and masks on. Keeping people at a distance isn’t the way to be happy. Happiness doesn’t come from independence; it comes from interdependence. Happiness comes from being in community. This is the way God designed us.
In the beginning God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Notice the plural pronouns: us and our. God is in community within himself—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He made us in his image, to be in community. This is the way he intends for us to live.
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5).
We need each other. We just don’t realize how much because we are taught to be independent. But we can only fulfill his design and purposes for our lives in community, in his family, and in relationships with each other.
Community and connection are vitally important. The person who tries to go it alone will quickly lose strength and enthusiasm. Even Jesus, though he is God and could have done everything by himself, chose to gather a group of disciples with whom he carried out his ministry, sharing each experience along the way.
The sage sums it up wisely in the book of Ecclesiastes:
“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth, “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless—a miserable business! Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4: 7-12).
Who are we sharing this journey with? How are we experiencing interdependence?
My prayer this week – Dear Lord, thank you for intending me to be in relationship with others and not to go it alone. Thank you for placing me in the body of Christ. Will you give me grace that I might become more aware of those around me and more willing to share this journey with them—for their benefit and blessing, and my own?
23 Jan 2018
Do You Love Your Neighbor?
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ―Aesop
In 1973, a couple of researchers conducted an experiment at Princeton Theological Seminary. A group of students were selected, and each one was told they were to go across campus to deliver a sermon on the topic of the Good Samaritan. As part of the research, a third of the students were told they were very late, and needed to hurry.
Along the route, the researchers had hired an actor to play the role of a victim, doubled over coughing.
Ninety percent of the “late” students in Princeton Theology Seminary—though they were concentrating on the story of the Good Samaritan—ignored the needs of the suffering person in their path as they hurried across campus.
On several occasions, the seminary student literally stepped over the victim. In all, about forty percent of the students stopped to help.
Luke records the passage those students were asked to communicate. What’s important to notice of Jesus’ teaching is what occasioned it. He had just taught, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27).
Jesus went on to say: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him” (Luke 10:30-33).
It’s easy to attribute all sorts of motives to the “religious folks” who passed by the needy man in their path. Perhaps they were so preoccupied they failed to truly notice him. Maybe they were afraid. It could be—like the students in the Princeton study—they were in a hurry and couldn’t be inconvenienced.
When Jesus finished the story, he brought the matter home: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).
How often do you suppose it is that we walk down paths in this life stepping over a neighbor in need? It may be that we don’t stop because we’re preoccupied, scared, or in a hurry. There’s no shortage of excuses—some of them may indeed be valid—but the heart of our Lord is revealed in this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
My prayer this week – Gracious Lord, thank you for stooping to meet me in my need! Will you develop in me a more sincere heart for others—to love my neighbors as you love them? Will you open my eyes to see the places you may be at work in people’s lives, and give me the patience and courage not to pass by?
16 Jan 2018
“Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.” –Justin Martyr
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two terms, which appear to be contradictory, are used in conjunction. Perhaps you’ve heard a few of these examples: resident alien; good grief; pretty ugly; working vacation; passive aggression; government intelligence.
A paradox is similar. A paradox is reasoning from two acceptable premises which seem to contradict, but when investigated proves to be true.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Carl Sandburg turned the phrase: “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” That’s a paradox—and there are times we all feel that way.
There’s an old 16th Century Puritan Prayer called the Valley of Vision which recalls some of those paradoxical truths Jesus taught:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.
The Gospel is, itself, a paradox, for in dying, we have life! “Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal’” (John 12:23-25).
And concerning how we’re to live this life, we’re to be lost so we may be found: “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).
How do the paradoxes of God’s truth strike us? How do they inform the way we respond to God and live before others?
My prayer this week – Father, thank you for these powerful truths! Will you reveal yourself to me in these paradoxes this week as I meditate on the Puritan prayer and consider your wisdom and majesty?
09 Jan 2018
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” –Abraham Lincoln
A man called at the church and asked if he could speak to the Head Hog at the Trough. The secretary asked, “Who?” The man repeated, “I want to speak to the Head Hog at the Trough!”
Certain she had heard correctly, the receptionist said, “Sir, if you mean our pastor, you will have to treat him with respect. Refer to him as ‘Reverend’ or ‘Pastor.’ Don’t refer to him as the Head Hog at the Trough!”
The man said, “I apologize. I have $10,000 dollars I was thinking of giving to the church.” The receptionist said, “Hold the line-I think the Big Pig just walked in the door.”
Obviously this is just a story. But it serves as thought-provocation: What invites respect? Is it a title? An office? Seminary degrees? Social status? Is it talent? Abilities? Intellect?
No. It’s none of these things. It’s character.
Respect is earned. And then it’s sustained by influence, not position. Sure, presidents, preachers, parents and practitioners are initially given respect for their position, but if they underperform or lack integrity, respect is quickly lost—and most difficult to recover.
Those who possess great skills are initially granted respect, but very soon it’s their character that will either sustain it or prove them unworthy—just ask the two teams drafting number 1 and 2 in the 1998 NFL Draft, choosing between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf: Manning went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and Leaf went to jail.
Look at what Paul says about the qualification of leaders—those worthy of respect: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2–3).
As I look at this list, I notice they’re all about character—not title or talent. Even “able to teach” in this context speaks of character—the ability to teach, here, is to have a “moral platform” from which to instill lessons in others.
Respectable leaders rise to the occasion and do the right things because it’s who they are. They embody the values espoused. They express their leadership in humility. People choose to follow them because they’re worthy of respect.
Respectability invites respect. We may think, “I’m not getting any respect.” If so, on what do we base our expectations?
“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1).
My prayer this week – Father, thank you for where you’ve placed me, and for the opportunities you give me to lead and influence others. Will you show me areas of my character that need growth and transformation so as to be worthy of others’ respect?
25 Dec 2017
A Healthy Ego
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” –Thomas Merton
There’s a story in Greek mythology about a young man named Narcissus. He was a very handsome young man and he knew it. One day he saw his reflection in a stream, and he became enamored with the image of himself. He couldn’t pull himself away; he stared into the stream day and night. As the story goes, he became so trapped in his own ego he eventually turned into the Narcissus flower, rooted at the water’s edge.
As believers, we are God’s children. The world looks at us to see a reflection of God, and to see what God and his children are like. If we are caught up in ourselves—in narcissism—the watching world will see a marred image. It will see a body of Christ which is selfish, cares nothing for anyone else, and doesn’t believe its own teachings.
Ego is a fickle thing. Having a deficient ego can cause someone to wallow in self-doubt and lack confidence. On the other hand, someone with an inflated sense of self-worth can be seen as an egomaniac, self-aggrandizing and arrogant. It can be particularly challenging for Christians who have been successful to find balance.
The apostle Paul serves as an example. His ministry grew and spread rapidly, yet this was his perspective: “We do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:16-18).
A balanced ego won’t become overly inflated. This balance is rooted in seeing ourselves clothed in God’s grace, and practicing what pleases him. Here are some sound principles to consider:
- “The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
- “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
- “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
- “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
How can we best acknowledge, celebrate, and take satisfaction in what God is doing in, around, and through us, in a way which honors God and reflects him to others?
My prayer this week – Lord God, I admit my struggles with pride and ego. I desire to give you the praise and glory for the good things you’ve placed in my life! Will you help me to recognize and confess pride as it occurs in my heart, to your glory, my growth, and others’ blessing?