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Tuesday
Oct232012

“Dealing With Evil and Believing in God’s Goodness and His Provision”

I have felt assaulted by evil these past few weeks.  As I grapple with the incredible sadness of a little girl who was kidnapped and dismembered and know the sadness of our grandson who was a classmate of hers, I have not only struggled with my own emotions of sadness and anger and bewilderment, I have had to come face to face (as have many of you) with the turmoil of the unthinkable.  On the one hand, I know and serve a loving God who is good and just and sovereign and holy.  I know He could have stopped the perpetrator from carrying out this senseless, horrible act…I know He could have protected this little ten-year-old girl who was just doing normal kid stuff – on her way to meet up with a friend to walk the short distance to school.  Yet she never made it – either to meet the friend or to get to school.  I know God loved her; I know He loves her family; I know He is good; I know He cares.  All of those things I know. 

The news is full of pain as are our lives – a young woman Starbuck’s barista kidnapped and murdered and a neighbor arrested, leaving a young husband to weep and mourn and not understand.

A father – a kind, loving, godly man – dying of cancer. 

A woman, rejected years earlier by her Mother, tired of the struggles of this life on a daily basis, chose to take matters into her own hands, ending her life.  Hers is an ending of incongruities – wanting no more pain in this life and yet assured of the hope of Heaven and being with Jesus and with her Grandma!

I know that I can’t explain why or fix the pain or answer the questions.  Jesus said “in this world you WILL have tribulation, but be of good cheer…I have overcome the world.”   “God, how can I be of good cheer when faced with something so terrible?  How can I answer those who have asked the question – God could have protected her; why didn’t He?”  In such a time as this, I must deal with the deeper questions of the emotions of pain and suffering, but I also must focus on what I DO know.  I know that we have an enemy of our souls who tries to rob us of hope and joy and peace.  I know that until that time when God makes everything all right, we will struggle and suffer.  I know that Satan is a liar and an accuser.  I know that God is true and a Redeemer and is a Righteous God who one day will take away all pain and suffering and erase the hurt from our hearts and wipe away the tears from our eyes.  I know that little 10-year-old girl is in Heaven with Jesus and enjoying a life that we can now ‘only imagine.’  I know that He promises to walk with us through the valley of suffering.  I have confidence that what He promises, He will do – He will never leave us nor forsake us.  I know that Greater (far greater) is He who is in us than he who is in the world)! 

If you are in the valley of suffering as you read this post and are hurting or angry or confused or pondering, know that all of those emotions are valid.  Know that God loves you.  Know that He one day will bring justice and peace.  Know that He promises peace in the midst of your storm, and He invites you to come to Him now.  “In this world you WILL have tribulation, but be of good cheer…I HAVE overcome the world.”  The good cheer involves hope and it involves peace and it makes sense out of what otherwise seems senseless. 

God loves you (and me).  This I KNOW!

 

Monday
Oct082012

The Art of Juggling

 

Wikipedia gives a great explanation of the art of juggling.  Juggling is a skill involving moving objects for entertainment or sport. The most recognizable form of juggling is 'toss juggling,' in which the juggler throws objects up to catch and toss up again. This may be one object or many at the same time with one or many hands. The term may also be used metaphorically, like multi- tasking, to mean constantly refocusing attention among responsibilities.  There is even a World Juggling Day - created as an annual recognition for the hobby. More than you ever wanted to know about the ‘sport’ of juggling, I know!

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about juggling lately, though perhaps in ways different than one might expect. Oh certainly there are the typical too many tasks...too many ministries...too many people to care for...too many funerals... But what I find I am juggling most is a plethora of emotions, and I am trying to juggle them wisely - in a way that is authentic and honoring to God, without dropping one into that emotional abyss called denial. That's the 'kicker!'  Sound familiar?

 

'Toss juggling' when it comes to dealing with these emotions sounds pretty intriguing to me; however I think I'd like to 'toss' with a twist!!  Throw all these emotions up in the air and just let them land where they will-- not necessarily catching them or controlling them or containing them ... just letting them be what they are.    If I (or you) did that, let all emotions just kind of hang out there, we could be accused of immaturity or irresponsiblity or even childishness, and we would certainly not be exercising self control. So unfortunately what so often happens in our attempts to avoid that extreme, we go to the other and stuff our emotions, unwilling to experience the pain of coming face to face with our hurt or anger or sadness or grief.  The process of stuffing those emotions can take on a life of its own and we no longer know what we are feeling or how to deal with whatever comes to us.

 

Think of all the balls you are juggling this very day. Work, spiritual life, family, friends, chores... What rises to the top of the pile?  And of equal importance - what causes that to be on top?  Perhaps you need to let some of your balls fall to the ground (or at least to the side) as you prioritize.  And as you think about prioritizing, take a look at what criteria  you use in the process?  Talking with a friend can help.  Reading a book on the subject of dealing with emotions or setting boundaries can be beneficial.   Journaling sometimes works.  Making sure you have ‘margin’ in your life is important.  However, perhaps over and above all these other methods, these words from Matthew 6 might help the most ---"Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Go to God first; allow Him to direct your path and show you what is on His heart and what is His plan for you right now and next week and next month and in the future! We can do all things through Him who gives us strength – without Him we can do nothing!  Take your frustrations and grief and sadness and pain to Him – He is the burden-bearer!

 

 

 

Thursday
Sep132012

Listening to His Voice – or Our Own? 

 

I have had some recent experiences that remind me of the need and the call to listen to God’s still small voice, but I have to admit at times it is difficult to distinguish His voice from my own – or from others around me.  In the mix and the midst of all of this noise and confusion, the enemy tells me that if I were really in tune with God, I would be able to ‘tune out’ all those other noises and hear His voice above any other.  Does it make sense to you that sometimes our own voice ‘sounds’ more spiritual than the voice of God?  Or --- that our Christian friends’ voices sometimes are the ‘spiritual sounding’ ones – with God coming in a distant second?

When can we hear God’s voice and what does it sound like?  What does it take to hear Him?  Our hearing from God is certainly not just at those times when all is quiet ‘on the western front,’ when we have had a long, peace-filled quiet time with Him, when things are going well for us and our loved ones, when we are experiencing fulfillment and success and satisfaction.  Nor is it necessarily at those times when things around us are falling apart… and in desperation we long for and listen to God’s voice.  Sometimes, it’s just in the mundane!  Looking at Psalm 46, we are told to ‘be still and know that He is God,’ and this following a Psalm that looks at tumultuous times around us, in times of trouble when our world is shaken and everything around us seems uncertain.  Because God knows us literally inside and out and loves us perfectly and unconditionally, then He knows our language and exactly what we need, just the right thing to say to us.  Listen to these phrases:  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” – Psalm 34.   (He does not tell us not to be brokenhearted, nor does He try to rebuke us when we feel crushed in spirit).  “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” – Psalm 32.   Also, from Psalm 32, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”  In Proverbs He gives us yet another opportunity to hear from Him – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  “We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.” – Psalm 33.

Listening, learning to really listen is an acquired skill. Often, in fact very often, if we are really honest with ourselves, we find that we do not concentrate on the skill of listening – to others or to God. 

Here are a few questions to test yourself on your listening skills:

  • Ø Do you practice ignoring the distractions around you, putting what you have been doing out of sight and out of mind?
  • Ø Do you encourage others to talk and really be interested in what they have to say?
  • Ø Do you let the other person finish a sentence before jumping in?
  • Ø Do you try to understand the meaning behind the words?
  • Ø Do you listen even though you can anticipate the next word?
  • Ø Do you give your full attention to the one communicating?

So…granted, this little quiz can easily be applied to person-to-person relationships.  I submit to you that it is also important to think of our person-to-God relationship, which deserves far more of our attention than we are usually willing to give.

“My sheep hear my voice, and they know me?”  Are you His sheep?  Do you listen for His voice?

Wednesday
Jul112012

May the God of Hope Fill You...

I wrote this blog post prior to the horrific events of last week-end.  How timely to focus on the God of hope - in what could seem like a hopeless situation.In the midst of such craziness I would ask you to – “Consider Him, who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (from Hebrews 12)  In our own strength and our own day-to-day lives I do not believe it possible to be hopeful.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13.

Our world sometimes feels hopeless and upside down – filled with pain and suffering.  Sickness, suffering, poverty.  In Colorado – there have been shootings, lives lost, many critically wounded, fires, homes burned to the ground; in other parts of our country – flooding, power outages; in other parts of our world – hunger and starvation, wars, and rioting.  Political advertisements assail us on every front – regardless of your particular persuasion.  How do we possibly endure – and more than endure – but survive and thrive in our troubled world today?  How do we get up in the morning, day after day, some of us in difficult employment situations and a precarious economy, some of us in difficult family/marriage situations, some of us with a new life-shattering diagnosis, unsure what our future holds. 

Life is hard!  And yet Scripture tells us that God is the God of Hope.  Those two things are absolutely true – and co-exist together in the life of the one who calls themselves a Christ follower.  But – how does this fit?  We might need a paradigm shift--- from suffering being an enemy to suffering producing growth; from tidy to untidy; from a sense of resolved to unresolved – ministry with and to and for people is untidy, often unresolved and messy.  How do we rely on the promise of hope and a God of hope?

Romans 8:22…”We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.   Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

We must recognize that the hope for those around us is the same hope as for us .. our hope and their hope is that God is who He claims to be, no matter the life circumstances.  In fact, our friend, George Sanchez (former Navigator staff - now in Heaven with Florine) used to say of Hebrews 11:6 – “God is who He claims to be and will do what He promises He will do.”

We have to remember that we have an enemy of our souls who is the accuser and confuser, and anytime a situation seems hopeless, that is a red flag, one which we do NOT have to grab hold of – God is a God of hope – He is the God of all Hope! 

Listen to parts of Psalm 71 –

          “O Lord, I have come to you for protection; don’t let me be disgraced….Turn your ear to listen to me, and set me free….Be my rock of safety….My God, rescue me….O Lord, you alone are my hope….”

He is our hope….in the midst of good times and bad, whether we are happy or sad, whether we have plenty or are lacking, whether we are in a time of suffering or smooth sailing….He is our hope – From Hebrews 12:  “Consider Him, who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Really consider Him – ponder who He is and what He has done and continues to do.  He understands; He gets your pain and suffering; He will never leave you nor forsake you….Consider Him!



Friday
Jun012012

The Model of Healing and Newness from God - the Perfect Forgiver

I love early summer – the beauty of flowers, green grass, the brightness of sunshine, longer days, shorter nights. Bbq’s, picnics, time on the deck.  And --- when I think of all these bright, fun, beautiful images – I find myself reflecting on the Giver of Life and newness and healing and cleanness (is that a word – cleanness?) – AND – what is it that keeps us from experiencing all of the above!  I then ponder forgiveness and the Forgiver – the picture of Perfect Forgiveness from the Perfect Forgiver.  How often does forgiveness become a stumbling block for us – either we do not ‘feel’ forgiven – or we are unwilling to forgive those whom we perceive as having ‘wronged us.’  So – we do not avail ourselves of all this beauty and newness! 

The absolute truth is – forgive is available for us.  Jesus forgives us – that is the story of an empty cross and an empty tomb; however, we often are not as quick to forgive ourselves or others. 

 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Wrapped up in the subject of forgiveness is our ongoing struggle with shame, guilt, and God’s grace.  Often we do not understand the declaration from the Book of Romans – “There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  We condemn ourselves or others when God does neither. 

There are beautiful word pictures in the Old Testament of forgiveness.  Joseph, whom his brothers had sold into slavery, was able to declare to them in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation – “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”   And then when he was reunited with his estranged brother Esau, Jacob declared, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.” 

According to Webster, forgiveness means “to cease to feel resentment against an offender; to give up resentment of or claim to requital for an insult or injury; to grant relief from a payment due on a debt.” 

Consider the definition again:  To cease to feel resentment….Against an offender….To give up resentment or claim….For an injury….To grant relief….From a payment due on a debt.

Choices matter!  Our choices matter!  And God gives us opportunity to choose to cease to resent another – a conscious choice!  From Hebrews we are reminded:  “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  Bitterness defiles many – and the bitterness begins in our own heart.

In other words, forgiveness means to choose to willingly give up one’s legitimate rights for repayment – and one’s tools of punishment – both now and in the future.

A few lies people believe about forgiveness that keeps forgiveness at bay:

“I’ll just ignore the hurt and bitterness, and eventually it will go away.  When it doesn’t hurt anymore, it’ll be easier to forgive.”

“If I can get even, then I’ll feel better.  Maybe then I’ll be able to forgive.”

“They need to admit they were wrong.  I’ll forgive when and if they ask for forgiveness.”

Isn’t it amazing that we actually choose to ‘nurse a grudge’ and remain bound and critical and miserable rather than allow God to help us forgive and be forgiven?  But even more amazing is the opportunity we have to ask for forgiveness and then to actually forgive!

Why must we forgive? ---

To be free.

To break the cycle.

To begin the process of healing.

To receive his ‘cleanness!’

Because God commands it – see I John 1:9 at the beginning of this article.

What a perfect week to ponder forgiveness.  The first week of June – the promise of summer – the opportunity for newness.  Whether you are the forgiven or the forgiver (probably both) – newness, freedom, cleanness await you.  Forgive – and be forgiven!