Category: How We Grow

You’ve got to hit the red button

red button

Our worship service at The Chapel 1ended.

You can exit the sanctuary down the crowded main aisle. Or go out the side exit – that’s a nice shortcut.

On a recent Sunday, quite a few people, eying the shortcut, headed over to the side door.  But the door was locked.

A crowd began to build up and mill around. Some people got discouraged, gave up, and headed over towards the main exit. But — then — someone reached up to the left of the locked door and punched a red button. The door swung open! Those folks who waited now began to stream out.

When we are faced with temptation, we have a choice, just like the people by the door. Do we trust that there’s a way out — or do we give up?

It’s likely that this verse is familiar to you:

 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But less familiar is the following verse:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Note, an idol does not have to be an actual figure that we bow down to. Rather, it is anything we are tempted to make more important than Jesus. If we give in to temptation, we are worshiping an idol instead of Jesus. But we have a choice: we can flee from our tempting idol to something else.

I hereby confess one of my own idols: vastly overestimating what good politics can accomplish.

To worship my idol, I was spending way too much time watching MSNBC and Fox News. The former was enraged that our president was ruining our country. The latter was enraged that our wonderful president was being destroyed by his enemies. Both sides were making an idol out of how the correct politics would cure so much of what is wrong with our country.  I was getting sucked up into their anger; all their futile arguing was giving me agita; I gave in to the temptation to enter their vitriol instead of doing something worthwhile.

So, during Lent, I started a fast from those two networks. Lent ended several months ago but…my fast has not ended yet.  Sometimes I do miss the fights, and I am tempted to hear how the two sides are reacting to the latest Presidential tweet; but don’t think I am missing something of lasting value by not tuning in.

Now, if politics is the idol I am fleeing from, I need to flee to something else.

So, I have fled from politics to…. more of Jesus. This sounds spiritual, but it’s not only spiritual: On a visit for a routine checkup the nurse took my blood pressure—and, not knowing about my FOX/MSNBC fast, she said, “Your blood pressure is way down; have you started taking a drug for it?” Nope — it wasn’t a drug; it was what I stopped taking — exposure to angry arguments!

I encourage you to reflect on what your own idol might be. Yours might be politics, too; but it could be sex, money; or something else. When our idol tempts us — we know that God not only gives us a way out but also provides something to flee to.

When we hit our own red button, we’re turning from our idol to the satisfaction that only Jesus can provide.

  1. https://www.thechapel.org/

Wise Idiots

How do you like meeting someone who likes to let you know how wise they are? They are so far above the follies of ordinary folks; they never screw up. When they talk, do you want to roll your eyes because they sound so unreal, or do you start to take them seriously and feel inferior because you aren’t totally together like they are?

To answer this let’s explore what true wisdom is…

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you. (Proverbs 4:6)

In today’s Proverbs verse wisdom is personified as a woman. Note, though, how much the description parallels Jesus. In the revised verse below, see what happens when you swap He for she, and Jesus for wisdom:

 Do not forsake Jesus, and he will protect you;
    love him, and he will watch over you.

Solomon, who wrote most of the book of Proverbs, started with a precocious grasp of how valuable wisdom is—he asked for it above all other requests as he began his reign as king. But he went backwards — spending years doing foolish things—-being into polygamy big time, accumulating riches, etc. So as an old man, as Solomon reflected and wrote Proverbs, he would know ways that he had been an idiot (or a fool as the Bible puts it) …Now, in view of his past follies, he could give an authentic warning against falling into his same trap.

True wisdom means I am learning to see that the Lord is wise — and to see how easy it is for me to be an idiot! (And how wonderful it is that when I do mess up and act like an idiot, our Lord mercifully forgives me of my idiocy when I repent).

Look at this verse—is it a threat or a promise?

 For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
    and he examines all your paths. (Proverbs 5:21)

If  I am seriously following Jesus, then the verse is a wonderful promise that
he will lovingly watch over me. On any given day: which of my choices were crappy and wasteful? Which were sound? It’s the kindness of Jesus that shows this to me.

Jesus woos me, as opposed to saying, “You better obey or be crushed.” His attitude is not harsh, even though his discipline can temporarily sting. By nature, I don’t enjoy being contradicted, yet I am learning to be more welcoming of Christ’s correction.

Because when Jesus gives me a course correction: This cretin has less crud and more of Christ!

christ is wisdom personified

Did you take the right fork?

  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4)

paths-2

What a wonderful path in that pastoral scene! It’s a delightful walk, and it would be obvious if we started to wonder off the path into the brambles.

Not so obvious was when my wife and I were hiking with another couple through the woods in Harriman Park in New York State and got seriously off course. We had no idea that we were taking the wrong path when we came to the fork. By the time we came to a clearing which overlooked the New York Thruway, we realized we were miles from where we were supposed to be.  Eventually, though, we got back —- without a searching party having to be sent out.

Today we’ll talk about a trap for our Christian walk that is similar — where you think you are on the right path—you are not deliberately disobeying —- but you have made a wrong turn.

Today’s menace is called moralism.  It’s the idea that the Bible is mainly a list of moral principles and rules that it depends on our own best efforts to follow. When these efforts appear to be going well, we start to think that this shows how wise and good we are being, instead of how amazingly sustaining and empowering the Lord is!

We subtly give ourselves the credit for how well we are doing—we are such experts at doing the right thing!  And a feeling starts to sneak in that we are just a little special, being a little superior to those who are not doing quite as well as we are.

Moralism also has the opposite danger: when we realize we are not so good at following the principles and rules after all; and we know darn well that we are falling far short — then, instead of feeling superior, we start to feel like a piece of filth.

True wisdom, empowered by the Lord, enables us to keep clear of the twin pitfalls of moralism. This wisdom knows to focus on the Lord and who the Lord is before we try to follow his paths.

Our Lord:  Awesome, majestic, holy, just, loving, powerful. Totally worthy of our worship! If we have an encounter with almighty God — and with his son Jesus— and with his Spirit which he has sent to live in us—then we know that we are empowered to live wisely before him.

What loving compassion our almighty Lord has, who knows how often we mess up by wandering off his path. He offers us repentance — we can turn away from being too arrogant or from being too beat up.

Any time I wander into in the brambles, I just need reminding of this truth:

 I can’t even begin to live out the principles in the Bible, without first having a persistent prayerful personal encounter with the Lord that calls on his power.


God Is Our Refuge

God is your refuge

You may have learned the definition of metaphor as a direct comparison without using like or as, and seen examples of it in novels and poems. You may be surprised that someone could write a whole book about metaphors (or read one!) But yes, I read Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

Parts of the book went to one of two extremes: either very obvious or very technical.  But, while not a Christian book, the book made one amazing claim that relates to our own Christian lives: we each have our own personal metaphors that can impact how we live!

Yes, our personal metaphors are story lines that we believe about our lives, and whether we realize it or not, we are living out these stories. Some of these stories can be quite worthwhile and biblical; and others quite destructive, unbiblical, and horrible.

Do you ever complain about your job?

My attitude when working on my last job was “Oh, I’m a Christian; I don’t complain.” I started my last year at the job with a very nice metaphor: My job is an endurance race that I will finish well……But without realizing it, I exchanged that good metaphor for a crummy one —

Yes, after I retired, the Lord used the metaphor book to show the metaphor that was really in my heart that last year: “My job is a prison”.  If I had seen that real attitude earlier and repented of it, then I would have had more joy in my last year at work!

Scripture provides great antidotes for crummy metaphors. Here’s an example of how that works. The crummy metaphor is: “My life is a wilderness.”

Remember, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness—until Moses finally led them to the promised land. Similarly, our own life without Jesus is a wilderness.  But Jesus, the greater Moses, leads us out of the wilderness ….

And when he leads us out of the wilderness, that leads straight to today’s metaphor from Psalm 46:1:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
When we leave our wilderness, God is the place of refuge in today’s picture.

Here’s another example:  If you think “I am a victim”, then Jesus says you can replace that with “I am a light”.

I could go on, but can you think of a destructive metaphor you have that can be traded in for a worthwhile and helpful one? To choose to walk in this new metaphor would influence how you live.

And note well: It’s the power of the Spirit that allows us to live our new metaphor, giving it far more impact than a mere self-help slogan.

 

Jesus Is Enough

jesus is enough

Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:5)

This Leviticus verse is a typical Old Testament command.  Very direct. But doable? Unfortunately, throughout the Old Testament, people’s obedience was too poor to be able to live up to this directive. They would try and fail. Try and fail. Over and over.

But there is one great Old Testament character, Abraham, who shows us a different and better way :

 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6,9)

This truth started with Abraham 4,000 years ago. Then 2,000 years later, Paul showed how we can get that same credit. We get it through faith in Jesus Christ—if I believe God through Christ, that gives me a turbocharged deposit of righteousness credited to my own account.

That free deposit is the exact opposite of the default mode that I work in: a voice inside me asks whether I am doing “enough” good deeds. How easy it is to drift into the bogus view that being a Christian means that we must do more and more and more and more—- rather than having simple faith. When I get caught up in the “more and more” mentality, sometimes it is so exhausting that I am tempted to say, “Why bother?”

Paul knew how impossible it is to keep the commands on our own. We must die to our futile attempts at law keeping.

 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God (Galatians 2:19)

If “do more and more and more” Christianity is my law, I must die to that law so that Christ may live in me.

Then, I can discern what it means to live by faith in exactly the body, time, and environment that I have been placed into. I can then walk in the freedom of being set free to do good things because of the faith Christ has given to me and the power of Christ working in me.

What a delightful difference – – – instead of struggling to do “enough” good deeds as a slave to the law, I can now cheerfully do just the good that Christ tells me to.

Living by grace instead of law is a wonderful way to live! Today, dwell on this beautiful paradox: we are simultaneously personally bankrupt and fully empowered to have an abundant life through Christ.

Desires of My Heart

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4)

Kid-in-Candy-Store-200x140

You mean I can get anything I want?
Like a kid in a candy store?
Or like the old Janis Joplin song: Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Yes and no.

First, we need to consider a warning from the book of James.

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you
quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)

Wow, what James says here sounds so negative. Does this mean I should never ask for something for myself?  That anything I ask for myself is automatically selfish? I need a way out of this trap!

Thankfully, God has made a way—it’s shown by what the prophet Ezekiel says.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Good news: The Lord in whom we delight, is a Lord who loves us and loves to change us.

So, as I take delight in the Lord, the very things I desire begin to change.  As I delight in the Lord he changes the desires of my heart to align with what he wants…then I ask for them…and then he gives them to me.

It’s this new heart, that is not filled with envy and quarreling and fighting, that does ask for the right things with the right motives!

So back to the original question—does God like to give us stuff? Yes, you can see him liking to give a good vacation. Or to provide a runner like me with some injury-free running. Definitely it is more likely to be a yes if we ask from soft heart… the Lord may yet say no, but…our new heart knows we are on the right track walking with him as we ask. We delight when the answer is “yes” and are content if it’s “no”.

Today’s takeaway: Our new heart of flesh asks for the right things and our new heart is at peace with God’s answer.

 

 

 

 

Praising in Spite of the Slop

pig eating slop

LORD, our Lord,
     how majestic is your name in all the earth ! (Psalm 8:1)

The pig food above stands for all the slop that permeates our world.

And since we live in a fallen world, it’s easy to see many things that fall short. Some may be quite trivial, but others are life-threatening —King David faced many threats to his life, and even resorted to hiding in caves.

But in Psalm 8 David does something very curious. As David praised, he overlooked the slop. His enemies were actively, and viciously plotting against him.  Yet throughout this entire Psalm he proclaimed God’s majesty.

Does this mean that David lived in a la-la state of denial, pretending the slop of evil and sin did not exist?  No, in Psalm 11 David does mention the slop. He asks questions like, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (verse 3) However, even while being acutely aware of the slop, David’s overarching theme is:

“In the Lord I take refuge” (Psalm11:1a) despite the mishaps and slop.

For us today: do we agree that God is majestic in all the earth, despite things going on that appear  to contradict that truth?  If yes, then we are starting to see what it means to walk by faith:

 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:)
 For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

In context, both verses say we should have a hope of eternity in our lives. We look forward to the time when God removes all the slop. Then, we shall see all we hoped for. In the meantime, we trust, knowing how God’s in control even when we can’t see it.

Are we able, like David, to spend times in unadulterated praise? As the song 1says, “Let’s for – get about our – selves  And magnify the Lord and worship Him”.

  1.  https://www.jamesarthurreed.org/public/chord-sheets/We%20Have%20Come%20Into%20His%20House.pdf