Friday, November 19, 2010

Axioms, Adages, and Proverbs (5): Worry...

"Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength."  (Charles Spurgeon).

"Worry.  Anxiety.  Stress.  These are the ways of the dark side."  (Yoda).  Ok, Yoda didn't ever say that, but I'm sure he might have or could have.  This quote by Charles Spurgeon hits the nail on the head.

There are really only two categories of things in our lives;
1) Things we can control
2) Things we can't control.

Everything falls into one of those two categories. When we worry about things in category number 2, we turn ourselves into God. Another word for this is "self-idolatry"... and idolatry of any kind is sin. Yes, that's right, worry is sin.  The opposite of worry?  Trust.

A couple of years ago a counselor I was seeing at the time broke it down very simply; things in category 1 are my "to-do" list; and things in category 2 are my "prayer list." This making sense to you?

The antidote to worry is trust. It's really the only thing that will help. Those who constantly worry have little faith...their need is to control the situation, which again, takes God off the throne and replaces Him with themselves. The secret to trust is knowing who you're trusting in. The only way to gain this is through intimacy with God. He wants it, we need it. This is why everything hinges on greatest commandment, to love God with your whole being...with everything. Love is a VERB (and for those who forgot their English lesson, a verb is an action word).

I learn best visually so let me try these equations for you;

Loving (verb) God = Intimacy with God
Intimacy with God = Knowing God (His true nature).
Knowing God = Increased trust in Him.
Trusting God squeezes out any room to worry.

And when we are living close to God, trusting Him in all things, we are STRONG. There is a depth and strength in the person who is intimate with God. That is the beauty of Spurgeon's quote; worry empties today of it's strength, but turn that around, trust and intimacy with God fills today with strength.

The wisest man who ever lived put it this way;

5-6 Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don't try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God's voice in everything you do,
everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track.

(Proverbs 3:5-6, The Message)

Don't focus on not worrying; focus instead on knowing Him...intimately. That will negate the worry that plagues you.  This reminds me of one other fantastic quote - and let us strive to live like this...

"The happiest people I know are the ones who have learned how to hold everything loosely and have given the worrisome, stress-filled fearful details of their lives into God’s keeping." (Charles Swindoll)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Warning, Admonition, and Promise

8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.
10After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

A Warning, Admonition and Promise.

I. Warning: It pays for us to be constantly reminded that the very thing we fight against is the very thing our enemy wants us to forget.  It's like this; the devil, our enemy, would like us to forget that he's our enemy.  He'd like us to look at each other as enemies; divide and conquer, it's the oldest trick in the book.  Have we fallen for it?  Here's what I mean; our battles are won and lost in the spiritual realm.

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:12)

2. Admonition (or Ammunition): This leads us simply to our admonishment...our response.  It's simple RESIST HIM!!!  How?  First, we are to remain firm in our faith.  This really has a double-meaning; first to be firm as a believer, using our weapons (namely, The Armor of God) but also, to pray in faith believing God has and will deliver us.  Second, we are reminded that we're not alone.  There are Christians all over the world fighting this same battle and we can be encouraged by the Saints that have gone before us and those that will come after us, as well as those who are right now fighting with us.  Yes, God has defeated satan, but he has some power to deceive us (see John 12:31, 2 Cor 4:4, and Eph 2:2).  He is an enemy to take seriously...which leads us to

3. Promise.  I love the way verse 10 starts; "after you have suffered a little while..."  Now first I have to put this in context.  I have suffered very little for the name of Jesus.  I have never been beaten, imprisoned, or even threatened because I am a Christian.  Still, the point is this; after you have suffered, God Himself will what?  Look at these words and what they mean...

Perfect: to render, i.e. to fit, sound, complete, to mend (what has been broken or rent), to repair
to complete

Confirm: to make stable, place firmly, set fast, fix; to strengthen, make firm; to render constant, confirm, one's mind

Strengthen: to make strong, strengthen of one's soul

Establish: to lay the foundation, to found; to make stable, establish

Wow!  That's quite a list of things that will be done.  Who's going to do that in me?  God Himself.  Not an angel, not another person, not a pastor or leader or mother or father, but GOD HIMSELF.  It's almost like that job is too important for Got to trust it to anyone else.

That is what gives us the strength to endure whatever suffering He asks us to.  What a promise.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reaching Down, Lifting Up...

Our God is a personal God.  He leads as a Father would lead His children, as a Shepherd leads His sheep.  Yes, His call is high, but His love and mercy are deep.

Last week was an especially busy, hard, and somewhat lonely week for me, probably made worse by a severe case of what I call L.O.S.S. (Lack Of Sleep Syndrome).  It was in that context that I came across a song of David.  The book of Psalms is a great place to go to for getting "real" with God; however, the Psalms are not the only place where David's songs are recorded.  In 2 Samuel 22 we read a song of David that is packed with stuff.  David writes this song towards the end of his life.  In fact, he has just finished his last battle; (at least the last battle he will personally participate in).  He is getting old and Abishai has to come to his rescue, at which point David's men swear that he will never ride out with them again.  It is in this context, nearing the end of his earthly life that David penned this song (you can read the whole song here);

17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
   he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
   from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
   but the LORD was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
   he rescued me because he delighted in me."

When life comes at you fast, and you feel like you're drowning, remember these words.  God reaches down from heaven and draws us out of our trouble.  He saves us, He gives us perspective, He speaks peace and life into us, and He restores us.  Take a closer look at verse 20; God not only reaches down to lift us up, but He puts us in a "spacious" place.  That word "spacious" is interesting.  Other translations use "broad", wide-open" or "large" place.  Think about that for a moment...

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park
When I read that I immediately got this picture of a wide-open meadow, looking over rolling hills, with a mountain vista in the background.  It's the opposite of the "city" feel.  Why a "spacious" place?  Because in a spacious place there is time, space, peace, healing, safety.  Because in a large place there is room for God.  A wide-open place is not busy, it is not urgent, there is no-one pounding on your door needing your attention, no phone calls or emails to return, it's an "un-plugged" place.  The to-do list is set aside, and you're asked to simply "be."  It's a place of rest, a place of eating, a place of re-discovering the God that adopted you into His family.

And here's the real kicker; WHY did God bring you to this place?  It's right there in verse 20b; "because He delighted in me."  Be encouraged today, disciple of Jesus Christ.  You are a son and daughter of the Most High; a citizen of the city of God...

17 "The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing." (Zephaniah 3:17)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank You

I've been thinking all week about our Veterans.  I've been searching for what I could write on my blog this day, but words seem not enough to convey what's in my heart.  Simply, "thanks."  I know many Veterans and none of the ones I know would ever want or pursue fame or acclaim.  They see what they did as duty.  I see what they did as sacrifice...and I am grateful.

So when words fail, I simply want to say...

Thank you

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Axioms, Adages, and Proverbs (4): Who do you Worship?

To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men. (A.W. Tozer)

Let's take a little quiz; I'll make it multiple choice for you.

1. Who are you living to please?
a. Myself
b. Others
c. God

2. Who do you worship?  Your answer to question #1 is also the answer to question #2.

Here's the deal; are you willing to live at odds with man if it means living rightly with God?  Are you willing to be a risk-taker; to be totally sold out to Him?  No matter what?  Even if it means you won't be liked?  The heart of Tozer's quote does not mean we should seek to be at odds with people...for God does call us to love each other and live in unity.  But still, there will be those times when living for Christ will be a very unpopular position.  Reminds me of two more of my favorite quotes;

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." (Bill Cosby)  
Well I do know the way to success; it's living to please God.  These words that Samuel once spoke to Saul seem to cut to the chase;

"What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice?  Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams." (1 Samuel 15:22 - NLT)

Reminds me of one last quote by Mother Theresa.  It's not so much a quote by her, although she did say it, but this was a commitment she made to God and I believe He honored her for it.  She said this;

“I will refuse Him nothing…and say ‘yes’ without delay.”

The goal is not to get caught up in some legalistic way of living, but to relentlessly pursue God through Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, TODAY.  And tomorrow, we start again...don't worry about being at odds with man; seek to be right with God instead.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Grabbing Hold or Letting Go?

A couple of days ago I took Brennan on a walk using a Baby Bjorn, (he loves to face forward and sit on my chest as we walk).  It was a relatively sunny day and the Fall leaves were out.  Early in our walk I picked up a crispy leaf and handed it to him; he loved it.  Surprisingly, he didn't try to put it in his mouth (like everything else), but instead he seemed fascinated by the feel and texture of the leaf, slowly crunching it in his hands.

A little later, I picked up an even bigger leaf; one of those huge maple leaves that fell to the ground.  I could see Brennan's eyes light up and his curiosity to grab it from me, and yet, there was a problem; he wouldn't let go of the smaller leaf.  I had to actually pry open his hand (which is harder than you think), pull out the old leaf, and put the bigger one in it.  This happened one more time when I came across a huge leaf...again, he wanted it, but didn't want to let go of what he had.

This got me to many times has there been some "thing," some gift, some area or a blessing that God has wanted to give to me but because I was hanging on too tightly to what I already had, I missed out.  Or perhaps I eventually received the gift, but only after God pried open my hand.

I think that the hardest part of being a believer is trust.  Trusting God totally.  Trusting in His goodness, in His grace.  Living life with an open-hand.  Me?  The minute something good happens, I tend to shut my hand and then try to hang on for dear life, resisting anything that might threaten me.  However, all too often I find that once God does pry my hand open, and places in it something I may never have chosen for myself, that I always come out the other side better for it.  Which makes me wonder, do I live life with an open hand, or a closed one?

Key Question: What are you hanging onto today, that maybe, God is trying to take out of your hands...and just maybe, He's trying to replace it with something else?

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:7-11)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Heart of a King

I'm reading through the account of king David in 2 Samuel right now and a couple of things really struck me.  First, a reminder that God refers to David as a man after His own heart.  Would you like God to say that of you?  "Mike?  Yeah, I know him.  He's a man after my own heart."  Well if so, it would behoove us to pay attention to David...since here we have an account of the man after God's heart, and as such, we get a really good glimpse at exactly why God calls David that.

I'm in chapters 15 & 16 of 2 Samuel today which largely chronicles the account of Absalom's attempts to take the kingdom from his father, David.  Now imagine just for a moment what David must be going through.  He is the king!  Undisputed, appointed by God, the king of the greatest nation on earth.  And yet here is his son, Absalom, who over a 6-7 year period steals the hearts of the kingdom.  David catches wind of Absalom's plan and proceeds to gather is men around him, and leave Jersualem, "The City of David" nonetheless.  It is in this context, David leaving his palace, that we read a couple of remarkable things.

"First, David makes a decision to send the ark back into the city. He says, "If I find favor in the LORD's eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, 'I am not pleased with you,' then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him." (2 Samuel 15:25-26).

A little later, David meets up with Shimei, a great guy from Saul's clan.  Shimei proceeds to shout curses upon David and throw rocks at him and his group.  This is a pretty stupid thing to do considering that 1) David is still the king, and 2) David is surrounded by his body-guard.  In fact, one of those men, Abishai, asks permission to chop off his head.  But David replies in this way;

"Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today." (2 Samuel 16:11-12)

David has every right to condemn Shimei to death...but he doesn't.  He lets him live, accepts his insults, and moves on, thinking that some day, God, if He sees fit, will repay David in kind for the insults he is receiving.

What strikes me is the open-window view we get into David's heart in this passage.  We see in David a man who has refuses to stoop to the level of his adversaries.  We see a man who leaves justice in the hands of God.  We see a man who doesn't feel the need to defend himself, or to take matters into his own hands.  Remember - this is a pattern with David.  He had multiple opportunities to kill Saul, and was perfectly in his right to do so as Saul was hunting him down...but he didn't.  David took the high road, and God rewarded him for doing this.

This pattern we see in David gets at the character of his heart.  In a word, it's TRUST.  David trusts God implicitly with every facet of his life.  He trusts God to reward him, if he is worthy of reward, and trusts God to repay evils done to him.  And ultimately, I think this is what God is most wanting from us; total and complete trust.  Trust in his law, trust in his plan, trust in good times and bad, trust God to repay when we're wronged, trust God to reward us, trust God in all things.

A man after God's own heart?  I believe that a big part of that is found in this word, trust.  It's like the old song says; "trust and obey."  This is what God is after.