This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Woman-Strength - Part 1

A dominant philosophy in recent years has asserted that women are strong. Helen Reddy insists, "If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong, I am invincible, I am Woman." Aarti Khurana, another advocate, states, "Don't go by my delicate and fragile looks because I am a strong woman. A woman of power, strength and endurance. I am confident that I can make it on my own even through the worst times of my life."

These woman are declaring that they do not need anyone, especially a man. Some of these women have embraced the concept of strength out of necessity as men have left them; many others have adopted the sentiment with deliberate determination, seeing successful careers as more valued than marriage.

The Bible states, "You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman" (I Peter 3:7 NASB). God clearly declares that women are weaker than men. I had heard this verse often without giving it much thought, but this past winter the truth became clear to me.

Mountains of things had piled on me all at once: a bad dream, poor sleep, the aftermath of a record-breaking snowstorm, the physical demands of shoveling, isolation from church due to canceled services, computer issues at work and home, the accumulated weariness from multiple weeks of overtime, financial decisions, social disappointments, and interruptions to relaxation. This "perfect storm" of combined factors left me completely overwhelmed.

As I thought of the phrase "weaker vessel," I realized God had chosen those words for a reason. I saw His intended meaning illustrated in my life. Women are designed in a certain way, and so are men. Both men and women, because they are mortal, are weak to some extent; in general, however, men have strength to endure things that women are not as well-equipped to endure.

In the experience of my recent days, that disparity had become obvious. I had faced physical, mental, emotional, social, and even spiritual challenges due to the accumulated events. Many of these challenges required man-strength, but I was trying to face them with woman-strength. In truth, even some men faltered under the current experiences or others like them. I realized there are things that women, by God's design, are less equipped to handle than men, and I had just faced a bunch of them all at once.

I considered how women react when woman-strength isn't enough and they are confronted with things requiring man-strength. I believe the most basic response is tears. When women are stretched beyond their limits, especially for some duration, their weakness eventually breaks them down and comes out in tears. In general, tears mean that the demands are greater than the strength. Crying demonstrates that woman is the weaker vessel.

Other signs can accompany tears. An overly-stretched woman might become extra tired, require additional rest, or even collapse physically. She might become clumsy or make mistakes. These indications that a woman has moved beyond her level of strength are probably not purposeful; instead, they happen automatically because God has designed her as a weaker vessel. She can handle only a certain level of demands.

It can be uncomfortable to cry, especially in public or if it happens frequently. Some women avoid crying if at all possible, embarrassed by what they perceive as weakness or failure. While women can misuse tears for wrong purposes, healthy tears are designed by God to indicate that the limitations of woman-strength have been exhausted and that corrective adjustments should be taken. Tears also therapeutically relieve pressure that has built up and can be a legitimate call for comfort and support.

Especially if a woman does not understand God's view of crying, she might substitute anger for tears. While anger seemingly protects her by masking her vulnerability, it often hurts her family or friends. Unlike restorative and benign tears, anger's release is negative and hurtful. Anger can seem to provide energy for continued attempts at meeting the demands; unfortunately, this energy is short-lived, as the anger also saps energy and ultimately makes the woman less productive. In addition to violent outbursts, anger can also take the form of sullenness, resentment, or silence. The non-verbal communication that "I'm doing this, and I'm going to keep doing this, but I am not going to like it" curtails her expressions of love to her family and make it obvious to all around her that she is not happy. Finally, anger almost always indicates a spiritually incorrect response; while people, organizations, or objects may appear to be the recipient of the anger, ultimately the woman is angry at God, whom she blames for creating her overwhelming situation.

An overwrought woman might also substitute quitting for tears. Crying does provide some release; people have long recognized the value of "a good cry," after which someone is able to return again to the challenges of life. Through tears, someone can acknowledge that the challenge is too big to handle, but through the tears, that person can make adjustments. Quitting also acknowledges that a challenge is too big, but instead of adjusting, it responds by not trying anymore. If God has providentially placed the challenge, then it cannot be right to just give up.

There are times in life that ordinary woman-strength is not sufficient to meet the demands. If a woman forgets the truth that God has made her a weaker vessel, she could respond with discouragement, overwhelming, confusion, disillusionment, anger, or guilt. It is helpful for a woman to recognize what is going on, realizing that her situation is too big for woman-strength, and that her body, mind, and emotions are going to react to the overpowering demands. She can be calm in understanding that her abnormal, fragile responses have a legitimate cause. When she knows they are merely manifestations of God's truth about how He made women, she can acknowledge reality, make adjustments, and move forward in an understanding way.

"'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." II Corinthians 12:9 (NASB)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Broken World

The world is broken. While it has been broken ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the brokenness has compounded over time. The world was so broken in Noah's day that God destroyed civilization with a world-wide flood. Jesus said that the end days would be like the days of Noah. "And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all" (Luke 17:26-27). Jesus goes on in the next verses to compare the world in the last days to the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah.

II Timothy 3:13 reveals that in the end times "evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." Paul says that the earth itself knows the pressure of this corruption: "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now" (Romans 8:19 & 22).

The truth of these verses is not difficult to see. The news media and social media are filled with proof of the brokenness of this world. Every day seems to bring new stories of businesses caving to social pressures, of government rejecting morality, of radical groups killing those they hate, of individuals who fall into degradation, and much more. It can be discouraging to observe this moral, political, and social decay on such a constant basis. Indeed this world is broken, without hope (except for those who turn to Christ), and ultimately will be destroyed.

In Psalm 36, David describes the wickedness of his day:
"Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart;
There is no fear of God before his eyes.
For it flatters him in his own eyes
Concerning the discovering of his iniquity and the hatred of it.
The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;
He has ceased to be wise and to do good.
He plans wickedness upon his bed;
He sets himself on a path that is not good;
He does not despise evil" (vs. 1-4).

David's words are so appropriate in describing the wickedness of any generation, and they ring true today just as they have throughout history. Man's heart is filled with evil to the point that he is proud that he can stir others up because of it. His thoughts are so constantly wicked that he is always planning more evil. He deliberately rejects what is good and pursues what is evil.

How did David deal with the discouragement and oppression of such rampant evil? He turned his gaze on God, whom he describes in verses five through nine:
"Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like a great deep.
O LORD, You preserve man and beast.
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light."

The depravity of man is deep, but the goodness of God is exceedingly deeper. God's lovingkindness, faithfulness, righteousness, and judgments extend to such unreachable heights and such unfathomable depths that they cannot be exhausted. God can care for His children regardless of the circumstances around them. His love never fails, but constantly works to protect His children and to fill them with the abundance of life that can come only from Him.

There is hope for the believer. That hope is found in the amazing God who transcends the evil of this broken world. The hope is found in a loving God who provides His children not only with necessary strength, but also with abundant provision. The hope is found in a righteous God who always does the right thing and who will faithfully continue doing the right thing forever. In God there is life and there is light.

David concludes his psalm with the very natural and logical extension of calling out to his great God in the midst of the surrounding wickedness:
"O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You,
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.
There the doers of iniquity have fallen;
They have been thrust down and cannot rise" (vs. 10-12).

David recognizes some very important and comforting truth. First, he can count on the God who is loving and righteous to continue being that way. Second, he can count on that God to protect him from the wicked. Third, he can count on that God to ultimately bring judgment upon the wicked and to entirely break their power.

Even in the darkness of this broken and depraved world, a believer can have hope. A Christian has a loving, faithful God on whom to rely in the midst of the decay. He has a God who rises in stark contrast to the evil and who will ultimately defeat that evil, bringing eternal victory and light. God brought swift judgment in Noah's day and in Lot's day, judgment that abruptly ended the wicked activity, and He will just as surely judge the evil of this modern world. Of a certainty, better days are coming!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Emotional Decisions

When one's feelings are troubled, he often makes decisions he would not otherwise make - decisions he may regret later. The Bible does not definitively reveal the feelings behind all actions, but several stories give insight into this principle.

Aaron. While Moses tarried on Mount Sinai, the Israelites became uncertain about what had happened to him. The people came to Aaron and demanded a new god; whether out of fear of the people or because he shared in their doubts, Aaron created a golden calf and then announced a wild festival in honor of that false god.

Asaph. Psalm 73 reveals that Asaph was envious of the wicked and frustrated by their apparent success. He reveals his progression from a bitter spirit to ignorant thinking to beastly actions. "When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before you" (vs. 21-22). He admits that his "steps had almost slipped" (v. 2) and that his feet came very near to stumbling from God's path.

David. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and found out she was pregnant, he faced fear of the ramifications. He tried to cover his sin by summoning Uriah from battle. When Uriah maintained his loyalty to the mission rather than enjoying time with his wife, even after David made him drunk, David ordered manipulation in battle so that Uriah was murdered.

Peter. After Jesus was killed without establishing His kingdom, Peter must have experienced uncertainty, disappointment, fear, and possibly guilt. Lacking direction, he decided to return to fishing. Whether he intended this as a definitive return to his former occupation is uncertain, but at least for the moment he returned to his previous life and took several other disciples with him.

Elijah. After several years of loneliness and exile, Elijah was exhausted after an intense competition with the Baal-worshipers, followed by a marathon run back to town. When Jezebel immediately ordered his murder, Elijah abandoned the newly-kindled revival and fled to the desert in fear. Influenced by this combination of feelings, Elijah asked God to kill him.

Modern life offers similar illustrations. Young ladies, heart-broken over the ending of a relationship, rebound into the arms of the next available suitor, without discretion for his godlessness. Teenagers become angry with their parents over some "unfair" treatment; in protest, they go out and get drunk or become pregnant. In the disappointment over one wayward student in whose life a teacher had invested deeply, that teacher abandons Christian education. A pastor is discouraged over his apparent lack of impact and walks away from the ministry to which God has called him. Everyday examples with less dramatic repercussions are prevalent.

How can a believer avoid making foolish decisions at times when his feelings impair his judgment and his emotions hijack his reason? Following are some suggestions that can help to keep a Christian from impulsive or reckless disaster.

1. Pray. God promises wisdom to those who seek it. "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5). It is foolish in any decision, large or small, to assume that one will automatically or naturally do the right thing. Especially when one has troubling feelings that can compound the difficulty of clear thinking, he must pray and ask for God's direction. What if Aaron had sought God, admitting that he was uncertain and intimidated, asking God for the proper answer?

2. Think on Scripture. Pondering God's truth stabilizes the mind and anchors it again to right understanding. "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). Feelings are fickle, and the dominant emotion of the moment easily influences important decisions. Choices cannot be based on temporary feelings, but must be founded on the unchanging truth found in the eternal Word of God. What if Asaph had reflected on God's truth in his despair? In fact, he did, and it was his contemplation of God's ultimate judgment that kept him from detouring onto a wrong path.

3. Seek counsel. At times emotions can be so overpowering that they make clear thinking impossible. In times like this, a wise believer will seek out godly counselors who are not influenced by the same strong emotions. "Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory" (Proverbs 11:14). A wise counselor, grounded in the Bible, can objectively evaluate the situation and direct the seeker in the right direction. What if David had sought counsel by calling Nathan the prophet before killing Uriah, rather than merely listening to him afterward?

4. Wait. Feelings can be so intense that they impel someone to act in the heat of the moment, making a rash decision that he never would have made if he had waited a few days or even a few hours. "The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5). A little time can let deceitful emotions subside, allow new information to surface, and grant perspective to see clearly. What if Peter had waited until he talked to Jesus again before deciding what to do? As it turned out, Peter did not have to wait long before Jesus gave him very specific and meaningful direction for his life.

5. Sleep. Emotions are exhausting, leaving people so tired that they literally cannot think clearly. "It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep" (Psalm 127:2). People with raging emotions often avoid settling down to sleep, but sleep is a gift of God, designed to restore man physically, mentally, and emotionally. Very often situations will look quite different and less threatening after some good rest. What if Elijah had taken  the proper rest in the midst of his intense time? God's restorative plan for Elijah included sleep and food; only after God had properly cared for him physically did He reveal what Elijah should do next.

Decisions and actions made under the influence of emotion can damage the individual himself as well as others around him. While some consequences can be quickly remedied, other situations are so pivotal that they have life-long ramifications. A Christian cannot afford to cause such damage by allowing his emotions to shape his actions.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Investing That Counts

Imagine someone with $50,000 to invest. He visits a financial consultant who presents several opportunities. At one end of the spectrum is an uncertain investment; if it meets the most optimistic projections, the return will be 5%. At the other end of the spectrum is an investment with a guaranteed 15% return. Several other options lie somewhere in the middle.

Surely this man would not put all his money into the 5% option. In fact, it is incomprehensible that he would put any of his money into that investment. It also seems inconceivable that he would divide his money, putting half into the 15% option, and the other half into various other investments. With a guaranteed return, a wise man would certainly place all his money into the 15% opportunity.

I remember when this principle impacted me in the spiritual realm. My thinking was shaped by Matthew 6:19-21. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Consideration of these verses strengthened my resolve to continue the spiritual investing I was already doing, and it stretched me to want to do more. I wanted to be careful not to waste my money on things of little value, but rather to devote it to investments that really mattered.

As I pondered this Bible passage, I saw a spiritual parallel to my opening illustration. Every Christian has an amount of money to invest. He has options for where to invest that money; those options have varying thresholds of predictability and differing levels of return. Some options will yield little, while others will yield much. Some investments are uncertain, while others are guaranteed.

There is also a spiritual parallel to the decision-making part of the illustration. As in the material realm, a wise Christian investor would choose the option that is guaranteed and that will yield the greatest return. It would be illogical to squander his resources for minimal or relatively meaningless reward. Instead, a wise Christian would invest as much of his money as possible in investments that guarantee rewards of incredible value - investments in heaven.

In general, Christians are so influenced by the world's philosophies and values that they don't even realize the extent of their resources given to relatively meaningless (and quite temporal) investments. Yes, some earthly investments have eternal value, particularly when their purpose is to minister to one's own family or to others. I also acknowledge that each individual is responsible to make his own choices based on God's leading in his own life. Having said that, following are examples of how a believer might free up some capital that he can use in eternal investments.

A Christian could live in a smaller or simpler house, rather than striving to find something larger or more elegant. He could drive a car at the lower end of the price range, rather than buying an attention-grabbing car (or two or three) with all the options. She could maintain a smaller wardrobe bought from second-hand sources, rather than purchasing name-brand clothing and enough shoes or purses to stock a small store. A believer could take his family on simple getaways, rather than spending significant resources on lavish vacations.

There are many aspects that a Christian can evaluate and adjust, thus accruing more money for spiritual investing. Modern communication and entertainment absorb large quantities of money through laptops, smart phones, tablets, iPods, satellite or cable TV, big-screen televisions, and so on - with people often owning multiple devices that do the same thing and then updating them every year or two. Other expenditures that can add up significantly include hobbies, collections, decorations, landscaping, clubs or memberships, magazines, jewelry, expensive gifts, restaurants, and relaxation activities. When it comes right down to it, most of these things have one purpose: providing temporary pleasure. Many of them also contribute to one's perceived status to others.

I'm not saying that any of these are wrong in and of themselves. They have some value. My question is whether they are the best investments a believer can make. When he devotes so much of his resources to these temporal things, is he limiting the investment he can make in eternal things? Is he settling for a 5% return, a 2% return, or even a 0% return, when the same resources, invested differently, could earn eternal rewards of 15%, 100%, 1000%, or more?

Spiritual investing can take many different forms. Following are some suggestions: Christian education (including college) for one's children, helping a missionary with a special project, supporting missionaries on a regular basis, helping a struggling college student who is preparing for the ministry, giving for a special need of the church, donating Bibles to organizations that will pass them to needy people, supporting a Christian school ministry, giving to a Christian brother in need, reaching out in love to the lost community, taking a missions trip, or a special gift for the pastor.

Such giving should be planned into the budget. It could include both regularly committed giving as well as discretionary giving - money budgeted each month to be distributed to needs that present themselves in that month. If such giving is not planned, available money will be given to the less profitable investments listed in previous paragraphs, and it will seem that no money is left for spiritual investing.  

I encourage each reader to consider this question: "What changes can I make that would allow me to divert money ($20, $50, $100, or more per month) from worthless or temporal investing and redirect it into investments with great and eternal value?" If there is an inner protest, an insistence that he could do other things with that money to enhance his life, then does that believer truly believe God when He says there are heavenly investments that are far better than the ones man can make on earth? Does he sincerely value eternal things? It is better to be a poor man on earth with treasures in heaven than to be a rich man on earth with little to show in heaven.

"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Matthew 6:20 (NASB)