Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A desperate appeal ... for Tupperware?!

The lady driving the big Suburban SUV I saw this afternoon must have exhausted all measures known to her. Finally, she had taken shoe polish and scrawled along the back window of her vehicle the following message:

"LOOKING FOR TUPPERWARE, CALL ME ..." and then she had written her phone number.

I don't know what the problem was. Did she find her cabinets full of Tupperware lids but not nearly enough Tupperware dishes to match?

Had she contributed to so many potlucks that the dishes had not been returned and now she was in lack?

Whatever the issue was, she seemed to be in desperate need of Tupperware, and so determined to find her cherished storage containers of choice that she was going public.

We human beings respond differently when we're frantically searching for something specific, and that includes when we're desperately searching for God.

What do you do when you're desperately looking for God?

A lot of people call their pastor. Others talk to a Christian friend. Still others boot up their computers and start googling. We tend to search for God every place except where He is directly.

First, God is omnipresent, He's everywhere, so He's really easy to find!

Second, the best place to "see" God is where He reveals Himself, and that's in the Bible. The Bible is the primary way God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity. He wants us to see Him, to know Him, to understand Him --- and to be able to find Him! --- so He provided us with the Bible so that we really can know Him, learn about Him, and have a growing understanding of Him.

Third, since He is everywhere, just talk to Him ... find Him in prayer. Talk, but then listen.

And finally, if you're a Christian, then God's Holy Spirit is living inside you! Our relationship with the Holy Spirit is probably the least developed relationship in most of our lives, but why is that? Why would we not want to make knowing the Holy Spirit one of our greatest relationships, so that we have a remarkably intimate communion with the Spirit of God who has taken up residence in us?

Pastors and Christian friends and others can help point us to God, but He's not hard to find if we really want to find Him ... and if we look where we know He is.

But even when we know where to find God, we often still miss Him, because sometimes He's not who or what we're looking for.

"His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him --- though he is not far from any one of us," Acts 17:27.

God is not far from you. If you're looking for Him, look where you know you can see and hear Him, and then draw close.

"Come close to God, and God will come close to you ..." James 4:8a.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

An unscripted God ...

It wasn't that long ago someone told me I'm too spontaneous.

They don't know me very well.

I'm a planner.

I can assess, analyze, plan to the most minute detail, and be diligent about executing a plan. All of that can be good. But here's what I've also learned from living life and observing human behavior, as well as studying the Bible ...

... there are times when God just wants us to take an unscripted step of faith forward and let Him reveal His own plans to us. That is part of living by faith.

We can get so wrapped up in the dreaming, and planning, and scheming, and surmizing that life becomes all about what we've sketched out on paper and nothing about the One who holds our lives in His hands. So He often breaks into our lives to implant unscripted moments, unplanned circumstances, where we're forced to talk to Him in a different way that breaks the mold of our monotonous prayers and, at least for the moment, makes all those plans impractical.

Our plans are usually a script in pursuit of the "American dream," something that too many American Christians aren't yet willing to admit often moves us away from God rather than closer to Him. So God intervenes with some changes of His own that challenge us to again walk by faith rather than by sight, especially with eyes full of the unimportant, unnecessary, and unholy.

"We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps," Proverbs 16:9.

We can harmonize our plans with God's will by never planning without first praying. But even then, sometimes God just puts something off-script into our lives so that we have to be spontaneous, and that will quickly reveal the reality and health of our faith.

It's this kind of life Jesus was talking about in Luke 9:23 when Jesus says anyone wanting to be His disciple must deny themselves (which would include putting all those plans in submission to Him), take up their cross every day (pay the price the world will put on you for living out your faith), and follow Him along a largely unscripted path, walking by faith and not by sight.

Planning can be good, especially when it focuses on obeying and executing the will of God, to the glory of God. Is that what your plans are like? How do you respond when, in mid-step, God breaks your stride of executing your latest plan for yourself?


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Important personal prayer request ...

I am a praying man and believe in prayer. My public prayer requests are usually few, narrow, and more often than not ministry-related, and I have never used this blog for such a personal matter. But I need to ask for prayer support, yet I'm not sure where to begin. I will limit the information.

Today (Friday) I was the victim of a malicious crime.

Some people I've known and ministered to in a significant way (according to the key person committing the crime) had access to all of my personal belongs, especially all of my clothing, and they destroyed them. This included soaking them in lake water and rolling them in mud before then dousing them in paint and glitter, and finally ripping and tearing them. Other than the pair of jeans and hoodie I was wearing, not much remains besides a few gym clothes and a couple hoodies. Things like a heavy leather coat, winter leather gloves, a few suits and sport coats, slacks and shirts for times when I need to dress more professionally, jeans and t-shirts for casual wear, a good pair of wildebeest cowboy boots and hiking boots, even my 49ers cap --- all destroyed. Imagine if you had all your belongs in a room which caught on fire. A few things might remain while most are destroyed - that's my current situation.

The sheriff's department got an immediate confession from an adult female and two teens. I didn't know the teens were involved until the end of the investigation, and that impacted my decision about charges. The deputy was prepared to present them with a charge of felony destruction of property that wouldn't provide restitution but could result in jail time and a fine. I was able to meet with the father who had just returned from a business trip; he was a shocked and broken man. There is a time where justice is the route to pursue, and there's also a time for grace. I pray it was God's wisdom given to me as I chose the route of grace, as I believe this father can have an opportunity to step into this situation and bring about more real healing and restoration than felony jail time and fines would, at least at this time. He did not have the means to repay the damage. The destruction of my property may have been the tragedy that can open the eyes of this father as to how broken this family is and be the harsh wake-up call needed; if that is the case, then it is well with my soul.

But I share this request because I'm a little bewildered about how to start from here. I now pretty much have "nothing," and no resources at all to replace any of the destroyed goods. Yet, I'm grateful I have an outfit to wear, along with a pair of worn out and hole-y Nikes, and it appears my Bibles were spared. And I wasn't there to be subjected to violence. So, I say God is good, all the time! Yet I write all this seeking for your prayer support because the very human part of me is feeling some loss. I don't need much, but I do need some things, and those things are now gone. Would you simply pray with me for God's guiding from here? I trust Him with all that I am, and I know He'll lead me forward from this. I'm just not sure how to take the next step right now. He'll help me figure it out, and your prayers will be a sustaining source of strength. Thank you for reading this, and for praying for me. God bless you all!


Friday, October 17, 2014

Just how badly are you limiting yourself?

The greatest limits we'll face in life will be self-imposed. They'll come from what we tell ourselves we can't do, or from what we choose to believe about what others tell us we can't do.

So imagine the possibilities if those negative voices --- from ourselves and others --- weren't listened to.

During his first year of graduate study at the University of California at Berkeley, George Dantzig (later known as the father of linear programming) arrived late for a statistics class. He saw two problems on the blackboard. Assuming they were homework, he copied them and a few days later he turned in the solutions.

One Sunday morning six weeks later, the professor appeared at Dantzig's door, waving a manuscript. It turned out the professor had merely written two examples of unsolvable problems on the blackboard. The manuscript the teacher was waving was Dantzig's work the professor had readied for publication.

Imagine what might have happened if Dantzig had arrived to class in time to hear the professor tell his students the problems were unsolvable. In that situation, would Dantzig have tried to solve the problems? Because there wasn't someone telling him he couldn't do it, he simply did it!

We create our biggest limitations in life by the limits we establish --- by the limits we place on who we're willing to love, who we're willing to serve, what we're willing to learn, the work we're willing to do, the sacrifices we're willing to make, and the risks we're willing to take. Often these limits are far below what God has made us capable of, and constrain our lives to be much less full than they otherwise could be.

Jesus taught us to love everyone, deny ourselves, forgive constantly, serve others, work hard ---- in general, to live life within the fullness of the limits He set for us, which was designed to be a full, rich life. Are these the kind of limits you've put in place in your life? Or are you listening to the negative voices of yourself and others that keep you contained to someone less than God would have you be? What would your life look like if you lived fully within the limits God has set for us, rather than the limits you and others have set for you?


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why the Bible doesn't talk about change the way we do ...

The first question I ask anyone who comes in for counseling is, "Why are you here?"

That question is far deeper than it might initially sound.

The response from many people is to immediately describe a terrible set of circumstances they are currently facing, or are about to face, and they say they want help with escaping, minimizing, or at least enduring those circumstances.

It's in situations like those that a highly competent counselor will help the person understand the inadequacy of their goal.

You see, real change as persons doesn't come by escaping, minimizing, or just enduring terrible circumstances that often come from our own bad choices. Real change only comes when we learn why those circumstances have occurred, and learn how to have different desires and make different decisions so that we don't continue to create the same kind of bad circumstances for ourselves and/or others.

Often, in their current state of irrational thinking, the person who just walked into the counseling office thinks, "If I just can escape or get through this okay, I'll never put myself into that kind of situation again." That may feel very true at the moment, but that thought and feeling are very often not true. In the heat of trying circumstances, we just want out of a bad situation. But it is very commonplace for people to put themselves into the same kind of bad circumstances over and over ... and over and over and over again. That's because their real goal was not personal change, it was getting out of the bad circumstances. Once they're finally on the other side of those circumstances, they continue to have the same desires, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that created those old problems, so it's not long until they have a new set of negative circumstances.

Who we are, and how we live, always generates consequences which directly impacts and shapes the circumstances we find ourselves in. If how you live routinely creates negative consequences, and bad circumstances, then you need your self changed in order to be able to live differently. For real change going forward, you have to experience a transformation of your desires and thoughts; as your thoughts change, your feelings will change, and transformed thoughts and emotions will bring transformation to your behavior.

When we talk about change, it's usually in terms of changing our circumstances. But God, who knows all things, thinks very differently about "change" when it comes to us. While God may care about the circumstances you find yourself in, He cares much more about you, and it's His desire to transform you so that you are changed forever! That's because He understands the root of the problem ...

"As scriptures say, 'No one is righteous --- not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one'," Romans 3:10-12.

Without real personal change, we will always be inclined to sin and we'll live a life that is destructive for ourselves and others. God wants to do more than change the circumstances of the choices we make, He wants to transform us from the inside out so that we have the righteousness of Christ and are made holy in Him. From that kind of change come desires, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that build a life of holiness and wholeness rather than brokenness and destructiveness. And when you live that life, empowered by the Holy Spirit living in you, then you won't have to fear the outcome of the desires and decisions made from a position of holiness.

You won't be perfect  in this life, but God does more than promise to change us into the likeness of His Son; He also promises to walk with us through this life, every step of the way, helping us to grow up into the likeness of Christ, to lead us through our trials and momentary failures, and to see us through to the completion of our earthly human experience.

In that case, which change do you really want?


Thursday, October 9, 2014

You can't always trust what you DO see ...

There's a broadly told story about Mr. Johnson, a business man from Wisconsin, who went on a trip to Louisiana. Upon his arrival, he immediately sent an email to his wife, Jennifer.

Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson forgot his wife's exact email address, so the email ended up going to a Mrs. Joan Johnson of New Jersey, the wife of a preacher who had just passed away. The preacher's wife took one look at the email and promptly fainted.

When she was finally revived by her daughter, she nervously pointed to the message, which read: "Arrived safely, but it sure is hot down here!"

There's an interesting moral to this story which is: You can't always trust what you DO see! At least, not on "face value." There may be more to the story than is visible, but to react to only what you see could cause a lot of problems for you and for others.

Scripture paints a similar picture when we're so quick to make accusations just from something we've observed ...

"Just because you've seen something, don't be in a hurry to go to court. For what will you do in the end if your neighbor deals you a shameful defeat?" Proverbs 25:7b-8.

There are times when what we see is unquestionable. But before you react to something you've observed, make sure what you think you saw is the truth. You may need to check the facts by asking questions and clarifying with others prior to making any final conclusions. Simply put, before you act on what you saw, be sure you understand what it really was that you saw.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

You will never make much of life without taking risks ...

Most of us live well below the capacity God has endowed us with because we're risk-adverse people.

Another way of saying that is, we're afraid to take risks.

To hide that fact, we become very good at explaining how we want to be responsible and be good stewards. Yet, the reality is, we're just afraid of failing.

In order to accomplish much in life, we must take risks. But it is true that the risks we take should be thought through first. At least, that's what Jesus taught when He explained that we should first understand the cost of being His disciple ...

"But don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, 'There's the person who started that building and and couldn't afford to finish it!' Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can't, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away," Luke 14:28-32.

By counting the costs first, we might avoid a bad risk, like starting a construction project that a little prior consideration would reveal we couldn't afford. But there are some risks worth taking, even when it costs us everything. That's revealed in the next sentence of this passage of scriptures ...

"So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own," Luke 14:33.

Jesus clearly and concisely reveals the cost of being His disciple: it will cost a person everything. But risking surrendering everything is worth it!

Pastor Adrian Rogers once said, "You have to get out on a limb, because that's where the fruit is."

To follow Christ is to risk surrendering everything and trusting Christ alone for life and all that we'll ever need. It means making available all that we have in service to Him and His kingdom. It means taking risks!

It does not mean adopting the attitude of the farmer ...

"Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest," Ecclesiastes 11:4.

We can wait so long for just the right time --- when risks are low --- that we never plant, never harvest, or never really follow Christ. There will never be a time when you can live as a disciple of Jesus Christ without facing risks.

John Henry Jowett, a great English preacher, pointed out the temptation of self-preservation and its result in faithfless lives ...

"It is possible to evade a multitude of sorrows through the cultivation of an insignificant life. Indeed, if a man's ambition is to avoid the troubles of life, the recipe is simple: shed your ambitions in every direction, cut the wings of every soaring purpose, and seek the life with the fewest contacts and relations. If you want to get through the world with the smallest trouble, you must reduce yourself to the smallest compass. Tiny souls can dodge through life; bigger souls are blocked on every side. As soon as a man begins to enlarge his life, his resistances are multiplied. Let a man remove his petty selfish purpose and enthrone Christ, and his sufferings will be increased on every side."

Hudson Taylor, the great man of faith who founded the China Inland Mission, overcame the issue of taking risks by integrating faith with risk. He said, "Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith."

God calls us to a life of faith, which means there will be risks. Taking the risk of following Christ will cost you everything. But making that leap of faith will be the best, most rewarding decision in your life.

What are you risking for Christ?