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, February 24, 2018

Serious Communication

Recently I have been reading the devotional book I authored for people with chronic illnesses. I do profit from reviewing those truths that were driven into my heart at an earlier time; I have a tendency, however, to read my writings through the eyes of another reader. That is, I wonder how others will be helped by the truth or anticipate that someone else would be challenged by it. One day this week, I was particularly challenged by the appropriateness of the truth for me personally. I read a couple of selections that were especially pertinent and required my consideration. This led me to talk to God about my heart and about my desired response before Him.

Communication is important in every relationship. Sometimes we conveniently assume the other person knows what we are thinking and feeling. We forget that reinforcement and reminders are needed. If we haven't said something in a while, it is easy for the other person to forget it, wonder if it is still true, or question whether it is still true to the same extent and fervency.

Sometimes it is uncomfortable to verbalize certain things aloud. The very things that are hardest to say, however, are often what most need to be said. The verbalization provides reassurance, comfort, confirmation, or clarity for the hearer. Formulating the thought enhances lucidity for the speaker, and actually stating the words reveals his level of seriousness. There is value in common, ordinary conversation about the details of life, but there is much more value in deeper, more personal conversation. Shallow conversation helps the relationship to function practically, but serious conversation deepens and strengthens the relationship. It demonstrates that something significant and meaningful exists.

We need to talk to God about our struggles and difficulty in the challenges of life. We need to express our frustration, discouragement, confusion, and desperation. We need to ask Him for His strength, guidance, and encouragement. We need to tell Him that we are looking to Him for the answers.
"Save me, O God, for the waters have threatened my life. I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold" (Psalm 69:1). "O LORD, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes; make Your way straight before me" (Psalm 5:8).

We need to talk to God about what we want Him to do in us. We cannot accomplish spiritual growth on our own, so we need God's help. We need to talk to Him about our desires and ambitions, about what we want to be true in us although it has not happened yet. We need to recognize the areas in which we are weak and specifically ask God for help.
"Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statues!" (Psalm 119:5). "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law" (Psalm 119:18).

We need to talk to God about the dark shadows of our hearts. We need to talk to Him about our pitfalls and besetting sins. We need to tell Him about the areas where we regularly struggle. We need to decry our wickedness, confess our sins, and ask Him for forgiveness, renewal, and restoration.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). "I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide" (Psalm 32:5).

We need to talk to God about our submission to Him. If we are at all discerning spiritually, we realize that there are frequently areas in which we are not quite in line with God's desires for us. There are times that we focus on our own desires and stubbornly cling to our own preferences. We need to tell God that we are yielding to Him. When God convicts us, we have to talk to Him about our decision and even about the struggle to reach that right decision.
"Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth" (Job 40:4). "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2).

We need to talk to God about our attitude toward Him. God is not insecure and is not dependent on our expressions of love and high regard, but of all people, He is most deserving of such statements. We need to tell God of our love for Him. We need to tell Him of our admiration for His attributes. We need to praise His goodness and His character.
"For You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth" (Psalm 71:5). "I will tell of all Your wonders. I will be glad and exult in You" (Psalm 9:1-2).

The Bible is filled with prayers and statements like those above from godly believers of the past, and such prayers should be a regular part of our lives as well. God is omniscient. He knows our heart and our thoughts better than we do. Nevertheless, God still wants to hear from us. He wants communication. The value is not so much for God as it is for us. We need to strengthen our side of the relationship by serious communication with God. We need the benefit that comes from clearly considering and actively verbalizing what is in our hearts. We need the grace that comes when we humble ourselves before God and say the things that God ought to hear from us.

Such communication cannot be scripted; it cannot consist of standard phrases that we habitually and mindlessly parrot. Rather, it must be fresh and regularly prompted anew. While reading the Bible or other devotional material, while singing or listening to music, and while listening to sermons, our hearts must respond, and we must deliberately verbalize that response. There are no secrets from God, but deep communication can strengthen and build the relationship, developing a special sweetness that comes when barriers and formality are removed.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Looking Where?

It is very important where a Christian looks as he goes throughout life. In the midst of difficulty, the importance of a Christ-ward look is heightened. I have friends who use this reminder: "Keep the Son in your eyes." Looking at Jesus has many benefits.

1. The Christian can look to Jesus for an example.
"For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps" (I Peter 2:21).

The book of First Peter speaks much about suffering, and in that context the believer's eyes are directed toward Jesus as an example. Jesus suffered, and He did so with all the right responses. While it is clearly a tremendous challenge for any Christian to remotely approach the divine character of Jesus, each believer does find in Christ a pattern to follow.

This pattern is not given primarily for encouragement, but for instruction. The example of Jesus shows a believer what to do. In the context of suffering, often the correct responses are actually failures to respond. A Christ-imitating believer does not respond by reviling or threatening those who are mistreating him. Instead, he simply trusts himself to the righteous oversight of God, knowing that God will do right by him (v. 23). Studying Jesus' life on earth provides an example for many other areas of life and service.

2. The Christian can look to Jesus for help.
"Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession" (Hebrews 3:1).

The believer is encouraged to look to Jesus based on truth that had been shared in the preceding verses. Hebrews 3:1 directs the gaze toward the High Priest, and Hebrews 2:14-18 tell what the High Priest has done and what He continues to do. This High Priest has already won the victory over death, freeing believers from the bondage to sin. His help does not stop with that past victory, but continues into the present.

Jesus, the High Priest, learned about the frailty and temptation of mankind, and He is therefore a "merciful and faithful high priest" on behalf of believers (2:17). Because of Jesus' experience, knowledge, and power, He is able to render effective help to believers when they are tested. Specifically, He provides "mercy and . . . grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

3. The Christian can look to Jesus for peace.
"The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3).

In the midst of trouble, thoughts and emotions can rage out of control, and man can be powerless to control them. A focus on Jesus provides help in the quest for peace. When a believer's thoughts are resolutely fixed on God, he naturally begins to trust the amazing God he is pondering. Reflection on God's character and past actions stabilizes a believer and leads him to peace.

One man who followed this pattern was Asaph in Psalm 77. "In the day of trouble," when his "soul refused to be comforted," when he was "disturbed" and sighing with a faint spirit (vs. 2-3), Asaph chose to "remember the deeds of the LORD" (v. 11). As he meditated on God's works and character, he came to this peaceful conclusion: "Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God?" (v. 13).

4. The Christian can look to Jesus for encouragement.
"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).

Christians are engaged in the marathon of life, a great race that demands faith in the midst of the challenges and obstacles. That race is not easy and requires great endurance. Looking at Jesus is intended to bring encouragement in the midst of this demanding race. Jesus has already laid the foundation for faith. He has already successfully lived it out. Jesus looked past the pain to achieve the joy of redemption. He has completed the job.

A look at this successful conqueror of death and provider of eternal life brings encouragement. "He endured such hostility," far greater than any man can face, and He made it through victoriously. Seeing the One who suffered far more, and who did so victoriously and joyfully, helps the believer not to "grow weary and lose heart" (v. 3).

5. The Christian can look to Jesus for hope.
"Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13).

No matter how bad life gets, and sometimes it is pretty bad, the Christian can find great hope in knowing that better days are coming. This life is temporary. Its trials and troubles will one day be swallowed up, and every believer will enjoy the blessings of heaven for all eternity. Yes, this life is hard and discouraging, but it is not the end. The believer can look for the return of Jesus, the Savior who is coming back to "receive" him so he can be forever with Him (John 14:3).

Someday "the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord" (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).

O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace. (Helen Lemmel)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Humble When It Hurts

Life can hurt deeply, due either to a major event or to accumulated injuries. Contributing factors can include the death of a loved one, a broken relationship, misunderstanding by others, stressful challenges, broken health, persistent loneliness, or significant disappointment.

The Psalms repeatedly record the pain of hurting people, as men describe relentless grief, intense sorrow, crushing pain, lack of strength, ceaseless tears, lost appetite, and deep wounds. These men knew what it was like to have breaking hearts in seemingly hopeless situations.

"I am weary with my sighing ... My eye has wasted away with grief" (6:6-7).
"Having sorrow in my heart all the day" (13:2).
"I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart" (38:8).
"Evils beyond number have surrounded me ... and my heart has failed me" (40:12).
"My tears have been my food day and night" (42:2).
"My heart has been smitten like grass and has withered away, indeed, I forget to eat my bread" (102:4).
"For I am afflicted and needy, and my heart is wounded within me" (109:22).

Man, in his natural state, displays various responses to such situations.

Anger and bitterness. Man may not even identify an object of his anger, lashing out in all directions. His eyes constantly shoot daggers, and his words overflow with attacks and assertions of unfairness. While family, friends, or other associates may suffer from these outbursts, God is the ultimate target. The angry person is upset that God did this to him.

Rebellion and hardness. When life is out of control, man tries to regain control by choosing to reject boundaries and restrictions. He may engage in uncharacteristic and unwise activities. This can be as simple as ignoring diet or need for sleep and as serious as reckless driving or substance abuse. When directed toward God, this attitude carries the danger of desertion. The rebellious person wants to turn his back on God.

Self-pity and depression. Someone who suffers can think he is the only person to go through such intensity or combination of challenges. The current crisis seems only added to a lifetime of similar events. It is easy for the person to lose himself in negative thoughts and feelings. The depressed person often doubts God's love for him.

Seclusion and isolation. The hurting person often believes that no one understands his pain. Whether actual or perceived, people's responses seem at times inappropriate or hurtful. Even worse, sometimes others offer no compassion or acknowledgment of the pain. It can be tempting to withdraw from these potential hurts as well as from the uncomfortable vulnerability that easily arises in public. The isolated person sometimes withdraws even from God.

Repression and denial. Sometimes the pain is too hard to process. Some people prefer to avoid emotion or sensitivity. They push down the pain, pretending it didn't happen and doesn't affect them. With no acknowledgement of the pain, the process of healing is hindered. Those who repress the pain are at risk of failing to grow as God intends.

Each negative response has a positive counterpart that God desires to see.

Acceptance and trust. God wants His child to trust Him, accepting everything that comes from His hand and that is approved by His will. Someone may not understand the reasons for the events, but he can know that God is superintending it all. The accepting person acknowledges that no matter how much something hurts, he will follow God anyway, even if more pain comes. "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26).

Humility and submission. God wants His child to give up his own control and yield to Him. Instead of the chaos and conflict that come from fighting God, man can have the peace and grace that come from surrendering to God. The humble person submits to God, embracing His choices, just as Jesus surrendered His will to the Father's. "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time" (I Peter 5:6).

Thankfulness and rejoicing. God wants His child to give thanks in all things (I Thessalonians 5:18) and to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4). Such thankfulness and rejoicing are based on what the believer knows about God and His purposes. The Christian can gratefully rejoice in the hope of heaven and in knowing that God is doing a good work in him. Such a response requires someone to purposefully control his thoughts. "I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart" (Psalm 77:6).

Communication and growth. A believer's most beneficial communication is with God. God invites His child to pour out his heart to Him (Psalm 61:8). The Bible is filled with God's messages of truth, hope, and love. Such communication can bring spiritual growth, as a hurting Christian expresses to God his tenderness in wanting to grow and learn, and as he seeks the Bible for the guidance he needs. "Search me, O God, and know my heart ... Lead me in the everlasting way" (Psalm 139:23-24).

Healing and ministry. Healing is always God's desire and part of His plan in the process of hurt (Job 5:18). When God heals, He mends so thoroughly that the hurting person finds himself capable of helping others who are hurting (II Corinthians 1:4). "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3).

In my experience, the negative responses are categorically expressed by anger, while the positive responses often result in tears. Each positive response requires a tender heart, which can contribute additional emotion to someone who is already vulnerable. Tears are not comfortable, especially in public settings, but a humble, hurting heart is far better than an angry, self-protecting heart. There is no shame in tears that reflect a tender heart.

"Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:14).

Saturday, February 3, 2018

No Time - No Money

People commonly bemoan their shortage of time and money. Not enough time to spend with their spouse, enjoy their children, help others, read their Bible, pray, attend church, or serve God. Not enough money to put their children in Christian school, meet needs of others, give to special projects, support missionaries, or tithe. Most adults work all week to meet their family's needs, and much of the salary goes for basics like rent and food. Some time and money is discretionary, however; people spend this portion as they choose and on what they love.

Perhaps spending habits would change if Christians more carefully considered Mark 12:30. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." The Bible conversely instructs, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world" (I John 2:15).

God challenges man about his time. "The world is passing away" (I John 2:17). Like the world itself, each individual's time is limited. "As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone" (Psalm 90:10). The brief years disappear quickly. One who loves God with his whole heart will pray, "So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). If someone loves the world, it will show in the way he spends his time. "Demas, having loved this present world," stopped giving his time to God's service. He deserted (II Timothy 4:10).

God challenges man about his money. "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" (Matthew 6:19-21). If someone loves the world, it will show in the way he spends his money. Some, "longing for [money] have wandered away from the faith" (I Timothy 6:10).

Time and money must go to certain things. God instructs man to provide for his family and to serve Him. Beyond these basics, how man chooses to use his discretionary time and money reveals his heart.

With the greatest tact possible, I suggest the possibility that Christians' choices sometimes reveal love for the world and for self. Each person must judge his own motives and influence, giving careful thought to what he may be conveying intentionally or unintentionally. With that premise, I present some areas for consideration, areas to which people devote significant time and money.

Entertainment. How many hours a week are spent in diversions? Sports? Movies and television? Clubs or groups? Social media? Does the benefit in mental health or family time justify the hours spent? Is any good purpose achieved? Does the time interfere with church activities? How much money is spent on the events and related materials? Tickets? Electronics? Equipment? Boats? Recreational vehicles? Vacations? Are there large expenditures for a minimum of time used? These modern-world challenges can indicate a love of the world and of self.

Hobbies. How much time is spent on favorite activities? Restorations? Collections? Scrapbooking? Card-making? Sewing? Crafting? Are these purely selfish escape mechanisms? Do they build relationships with or minister to others? How much money is spent? Is an entire room, basement, or garage devoted to this activity? Does a one-time expense allow for hours of activity, or are fresh purchases constantly needed? Are the supplies pricey or relatively inexpensive? Is there any long-term value to the collection? Can things be passed on for the use or enjoyment of others? This is another modern-day challenge that can communicate an emphasis on self, perhaps to the painful exclusion of other people.

Home and car. Both are necessities, but size and style are discretionary. Is the house larger than needed? Extra rooms? Does the location, size, or presentation add an undue burden to what could be a more manageable mortgage? How much time and money are spent in upkeep? Meticulous landscaping? Abundance of flowers, bushes, and trees? Matching decor in every room? How many cars are needed? How many extras and flashy accessories? How long are cars kept before getting a new model? Does each successive purchase become more expensive? Are there vehicles for specialized but rarely used purposes? Extravagance in these areas can hint at a love for the world or a sense of pride.

Dress and beauty. How much time is spent each day on grooming? Does the morning routine prevent time with God? How much time is spent shopping? How much money is spent? Are there more clothes than fit in the closet? Dozens of pairs of shoes? Is the world's idea of beauty being adopted or pursued? Is outer beauty more the focus than inner beauty? Are dress, makeup, and hair style communicating a desire to be looked at and admired? This area can easily fall into the snare of pride and self-exaltation.

It would be hard to argue that any of the above are inherently wrong, especially without considering each situation and without knowing motives. The questions are sobering, however, even for the most conservative believers. The fact that so much time and money could potentially go to each area should prompt thoughts of whether one is doing what is best and of how much more he could be doing for God.

In Acts 2, believers sold their houses and possessions to provide for the needs of others; in Exodus 35 the people donated their jewelry  and other treasures to provide for the tabernacle. When it came down to it, these people considered fellowship and worship to be more important than houses and beauty.

"If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content" (I Timothy 6:8).