The View

the view

(No, this is not my personal view– but it is certainly lovely, isn’t it??)

Our house sits on the top of a hill. It sits down and back from the road, so the view from the first story isn’t anything spectacular, but the view from the second story of our home is a beautiful scene of rolling farmland and small town and distant mountain. Or it used to be.

We moved here almost 15 years ago.  About 5 years ago a developer bought the land to the north on both sides of our country road. We were sad because we knew what was coming. And so we waited. And waited. And nothing happened. Until this winter.

First came the “For Sale” signs in front of an empty field. It wasn’t long before the field was full of beautiful homes. Town is encroaching.

We noticed shortly after the houses started going up that one, in particular, was going to block our view quite nicely–almost as if it was situated in order to do that.

Oh, I know that it wasn’t. Although, if I am honest, we are a bit disappointed to have this large gray object front and center when our eyes look in that direction.

But that’s life.

Things change constantly.

And what is one person’s dream– like a new house in the countryside– can bring another person disappointment. Life is just full of that kind of thing, isn’t it?

As I think about this situation it reminds me so much of the Christian life.

When we first come to know the Lord, we are full of excitement and hope because we so clearly understand the freedom and future that we have in Jesus Christ. And our view is amazing!

But then things start to block our view.

Busy days.

Unmet Expectations.

Disillusionment.

Illness.

Death of someone we love.

Demands of Children.

Jobs and Careers.

Disappointment.

Demands of others.

Elderly parents.

Discouragement.

 

And before we know it, we have lost sight of our view because there is so much other stuff in our way.

But here is what we know–

Just because we have a large object blocking our beautiful view doesn’t mean that the view isn’t still there.

Life gets busy and we push off our quiet time. Weeks go by and we don’t spend time in the Word. And then there are the days filled with deep pain and grief, and we don’t even feel like praying. We just can’t. There are days of just getting through and days of trying really hard.

And through it all, God doesn’t move. Our view of Him and His amazing grace remains the same, no matter what is blocking it.

Somehow I find this so comforting. It’s a solid foundation in the midst of craziness. It’s a beacon of light in the hurricane. Something firm to hold on to in the midst of our personal earthquakes.

Oh, our view may change, but the original view is still there, hiding behind the busyness and the frustrations and the unthinkable. Interestingly enough, if we step way back, whatever is blocking our view grows smaller and falls into perspective.

The glorious thing about our spiritual view is that, unlike the view from my house, we have the opportunity to clear our spiritual view by getting into God’s Word, asking God for perspective and to help us turn our eyes back upon Jesus.

It’s never too late to restore our spiritual view. Never.

How amazing is that?

 

In the Storm

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I thought I knew what I was going to write today. And someday soon I will probably write it. But I can’t today. Today I am just too overwhelmed by the grief and sorrow of this world.

Sometimes we can forget about it.

Sometimes.

I enjoyed a wonderful Easter with my family. I feel so blessed. But over the course of the last week or two, several really painful situations have come to my attention. Some of the suffering people I know personally and others are Christian brothers and sisters in different states or even across the world. But they all have one thing in common–they are currently tasting the heart-wrenching, bitter reality of a fallen world.

It all seems so pointless.

And yet–

There is the cross.

I know so many think we Christians are just ridiculous. We are living in a dream world, grasping for comfort where none is to be found. Putting our hope in a man who was nothing more than a prophet, at best, or mentally unstable, at worst.

But you and I know differently, don’t we? Our eyes have been opened, our blinders removed, and we know that there is genuine forgiveness and blessed hope to be found in Jesus.

In our suffering moments, we cling tenaciously to this, trying desperately to keep hold.

And, thankfully, after our walk through that dark, dark tunnel of grief, we can often see the hand of God, working in our lives and growing us to be more like Jesus.

But this thought really doesn’t bring much comfort as we take our own journey through grief– I recognize that even as I write it.

It just helps all the blackness to not seem so pointless.

All of us have black moments. But some seem to have more than others, don’t they? Take, for instance, that first wife of Samson’s (Judges 14-15). Have you ever thought about just how tragic her life was? Just because an Israelite took a fancy to her. She is not alone. Many people seem to be born for tragedy. Like our brothers and sisters in other lands who are persecuted unmercifully for the cause of Christ.

I wish I had all the answers. I wish I knew how to comfort someone who is walking through such terrible darkness. And I wish I knew how to not feel so deeply.

But I keep going back to the same thing– HOPE is found in Jesus and what He did for us at the cross. True, genuine hope is only found there. Hope for now and hope for the future. Hope in the blackness.

How do people survive in this world without it? This is why some are willing to die for their faith. Because they recognize that true hope is only found there.

I was talking with my girls the other day about the hopelessness with which some of their co-workers live their lives. They talk about divorce before even getting married, figuring that the relationship will end sooner or later. They can’t imagine how my girls could trust their boyfriend and husband to remain faithful to them. Or how it is possible to have any fun in life at all without getting drunk and escaping reality as their source of entertainment.

What they don’t realize is the great hope that lies within my girls because of Jesus Christ. Only because of Christ.

Because on that day so long ago, He hung on a tree, bearing our sins, taking our sin and shame upon His shoulders, and then rose again –victorious over death!

True joy and peace can only be found in recognizing this, repenting of our sins, and submitting to this truth.

And, so, in this broken, fallen world, we can only point people to this hope. Other than that, we are truly hopeless and travel from one broken, cursed moment to the next, with a brief respite sometimes given in between where we simply try to forget. Forget that we will soon be mired in grief once again.

I’m sorry.

I’m not trying to be so depressing. But I just feel so sad and scattered in my thoughts. Trying to sort my way through the deep grief and questions I am feeling this morning. Trying to piece it all together with the gospel. And I keep coming to the same conclusion–

Our hope isn’t here.

It’s not in this world, or the things of this world. But, instead, rests fully in Jesus Christ and His promises to us, written in His Word.

Life is hard. Sometimes really hard. But we have a Savior. We have a Hope. Let’s cling, unwaveringly, to this as we are tossed about on the sea of life. It’s the only thing we have.

 

 

What Kind of Advertisement Are You?

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Have you ever seen an unfit, overweight personal trainer? How much confidence would you have in them helping you reach your goals? I am reminded of a shop I was in that had a prominent display for some magic weight loss formula sitting on the counter. Staring up at me were photos of smiling, super-fit people and words that held incredible promises for a changed body. My eyes inevitably swung to the shop owner.  It seemed to me that if this wonderful weight loss product worked miracles, this owner would be living proof. But that was not the case.

And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it rather undermined my confidence in trying that particular product.

And I guess that is exactly how it is when we Christians try to tell people how wonderful Jesus is, all the while standing in a filthy mire of our own making. We don’t trust, we don’t forgive, we love the world, we worry, we use foul and crude language, we walk away from distasteful and unpleasant situations, we lie, we cheat, we quarrel, we envy, we betray, we complain incessantly, we have a bad work ethic, and our entertainment choices are just like everybody else’s. In other words, it would appear as if Jesus just doesn’t make a bit of a difference. Why would we expect someone to want what we have?

Of course, sometimes Christians fail. That is a fact of life. There are lovely, godly people who are divorced, who have spiritually lost their children, and who have had abortions. I am not talking about the past. And I am not talking about the flesh that continues to plague us even after salvation. We do slip in our language sometimes. We go to a movie and realize half-way through that this was definitely a wrong choice. We struggle through forgiving. But the key word is struggle— sincere believers are continually fighting their sin.

What I am talking about are the patterns of sin that are so ingrained in us, we aren’t even aware of them.

What kind of advertisement are we for our Savior? Seriously. Let’s stop for just a minute and think about our last 24 hours. If someone saw where we went, the words we spoke, the entertainment we set before our eyes and ears, and the food and drink we consumed, would they give evidence that we are a follower of Jesus Christ?

There is so much talk about “God looking on the heart”– and so he does–but that doesn’t excuse sinful actions, for out of a pure heart comes a holy life. We certainly do not need works to be saved but our works our evidence that we are saved. (See I John 2:3-6; 2 Peter 1:5-9; Matthew 7:16-20)

You can have righteous actions without a right heart, but you cannot have a right heart without righteous actions. It’s impossible.

I hope and pray that I am a good example of a believer. I mess up so often– especially at home. Many times I don’t even feel qualified to be writing. And yet God leads me on and continues to nudge me to keep writing.

I just know I don’t want anyone to wonder at my funeral whether or not I was a believer. I don’t want any “I think so’s” or “she said a prayer when she was little but…”

Instead, I want people to say with confidence that I was someone who followed hard after God. I am certainly far, far from perfection. Each day brings me deeper and fuller knowledge of just how far, but I want to be going the right direction, without question and without wavering.

I hope that you want the same to be said of you. Because it is only through this that we can make any difference at all. After all, what good are we if we look just like everyone else? If our decisions are made from our feelings and emotions, just like everyone else? If we don’t handle life’s tough situations differently, if we don’t bring integrity to the work place, or love and kindness to our relationships, then we are like that shop owner. We are advertising something that obviously isn’t working.

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Sovereign Over Us

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If you follow my blog, you will be aware of the fact that I haven’t had a Wednesday Wisdom post on here for a very long time. I decided to focus on a few other areas of writing instead. But a friend who is going through some very deep waters sent me the following lyrics. I had actually heard the second half of this song recently and had wanted to look them up and, lo and behold, this morning my friend sent them to me in an e-mail.

I am sharing them with you today, with the awareness that someone else out there in the “blogosphere” may need to read this today.

SOVEREIGN OVER US

There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

You are wisdom unimagined
Who could understand Your ways
Reigning high above the Heavens
Reaching down in endless grace
You’re the lifter of the lowly
Compassionate and kind
You surround and You uphold me
And Your promises are my delight

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us
[x2]

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley, You are faithful
You’re working for our good
You’re working for our good and for Your glory
[x2]

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us
[x2]

You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

 

Written by Aaron Keyes, Jack Mooring, Bryan Brown

Performed by Michael W. Smith

When You Can’t Fix It

toolboxAll of us are faced, at one time or another, with a situation we just can’t fix-

 

-Someone who won’t forgive us

-A child who has chosen to rebel against God

-A church situation that is beyond our control

-A health crisis

-A strained or broken relationship

-A political leader who systematically destroys a country

The list could go on and on…and on. Life is so full of “unfixable” situations.

The older I get the more I realize that there are so few happy endings in real life. For the life we live here on earth is full of strife and sin and sorrow.

We all handle these situations differently, don’t we? Some of grow angry and explosive when we lose all control over our circumstances. Others of us grow withdrawn and depressed. And still others of us worry and fret and complain.

But how should we face the uncertainty and frustration of a life we can’t control?

But before we talk about how we should respond, I just have to mention this–I think the thing I find almost comical (if it weren’t so sad) in my own life is that I have actually spent many days thinking I can control my life–until God makes it very clear that I can’t. When things are going smoothly we often forget to be thankful for the ordinary, don’t we?

Okay, back to how we should respond to these situations we can’t control. As I have grown older, I have learned (and am still learning) some things about this–

1. I have zero control over the events in my life. Let me write that one more time– ZERO control. Our uneventful lives hang delicately by a thread. At any moment they can be disrupted by any number of events. And I have no control over these events.

2. God has full control over these events. He knows exactly what He is doing. He is good and loving and merciful. We can rely on Him. If we are a genuine child of His, born again through the blood of Jesus Christ, He offers us peace and strength in the midst of every trial. We are not alone.

3. Trying to manipulate situations and people usually makes it much worse. I have found this to be true on many occasions. When I try to “fix” someone else or manipulate circumstances, I usually just fall flat on my face or end up in an argument. I have found the best response to be prayer and a concentrated study of my own heart– How can I change? What should I learn through this? How should I respond as a believer?

4. God is all-powerful, but sometimes He chooses to say no. We know that God can do anything.  And many of us have seen the evidence of a miraculously transformed life. We have heard of the extraordinarily disappearing tumor or health issue. He is Big and sometimes we see that in a supernatural way. But sometimes we don’t. And that’s okay. I like to think of our lives as this big tapestry, in which we can’t see the design of our lives but God, the master weaver, knows each and every thread — whether it be dark or light. We are just the canvas.

5. I need to submit to the sovereign will of God. And so we come back to this lesson I have been learning all of my life and continue to learn. I find that this lesson is a hard one whether I am suffering from an event that changes life permanently or just a small trial that is inconsequential in the scope of life. God knows best and He is good. I will only experience the peace and love and joy He has to offer if I submit my will to His.

Amy Carmicheal, a missionary in India long ago (if you don’t know her story, you should look it up- it’s amazing!) was a beautiful poet. I want to leave you with this short verse, written by her–

“And shall I pray Thee change Thy will, my Father,
Until it be according unto mine?
But, no, Lord, no, that never shall be, rather
I pray Thee blend my human will with Thine.

I pray Thee hush the hurrying, eager longing,
I pray Thee soothe the pangs of keen desire—
See in my quiet places, wishes thronging—
Forbid them, Lord, purge, though it be with fire.”

When Worry Overtakes Us

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Sometimes fear just grips us. The “what-if’s” crowd our mind and, if we aren’t careful, we become enveloped by worry and doubts.

 

There are so many things to worry about, aren’t there?

Health

Finances

Children

Our government

Our culture

What others think of us

Job situation

Church situation

Relationships

Really, there is no end to the list of things we can worry about.

I can’t remember if I shared this before on the blog, but I want you to know that as a young woman I had an all-out battle with my flesh over this sin of worry (yes, I called it a sin). I would lay trembling and sweating in my bed because I was so scared of something that “could” happen. My mind would dwell for hours on the “what-ifs” and I would waste much God-given time on these thoughts. They were all-encompassing and would render me helpless.

This lasted for many years. Oh, I still lived a normal life and most people had no idea of what was going on inside my head. But I knew that the chains of worry had wrapped me tight and that I desperately needed to break free.

That was years ago, but I was reminded of this battle recently as this sin has loomed onto my horizon again after all these years.

I think as we get older, the things to worry about almost multiply and grow bigger. Instead of worrying about a child’s safety, we start worrying more about their eternal destiny. Along with worrying about finances, we become fully aware that we aren’t going to live forever and we can start worrying more about our health and death. Reality hits us square in the face and we see that there aren’t many happy endings in this world. Grandchildren bring more loved ones to worry about.  And, of course, if we listen to the news, there is no end of things to worry about.

As a young woman, I was able to overcome this sin of worry through prayer and the Holy Spirit. Through that battle I learned some practical ways that helped me on a daily–even hourly– basis–

1. I ask myself “What’s the worst that can happen?”  Sometimes the worst that can happen is really awful (at that point I move on to 2 and 3), but many times it is just something that is silly. For instance, if I need to speak or play a piano solo I can get really worried about messing up. But if I realize that the worst that can happen is that I make a fool of myself and then life moves on, it helps me to put that particular worry into perspective.

2. Train my mind to turn away from thoughts of “what if?” This was not easy to do, but once I developed this habit, it was by far the most helpful thing for me in this battle with worry. When my mind would start dwelling on the health issue and turn toward all its possible outcomes or when my mind would think about problems I was having with a child and then toward what that could mean for the child’s future, I trained myself to just stop thinking about the future and come back to the present. Now, I do recognize that is SO much easier to write than to do. But it is possible.

And one more thing to add here. Many years after my initial battle with worry, I realized that I started feeling heavy with worry after I would watch the news. The sad stories would depress me and the reports of random violence and increased socialism in this country would fill my heart with fear. At that point, I made the choice to stop watching the news. Oh, I still keep up with the important stuff, mostly via my family (who tell me anything going on that is news-worthy). But I made a conscious decision to stop watching on a nightly basis because of my personal battle with worry. Some of you can handle it just fine and that’s good. But I couldn’t.

3. Acknowledge and submit to the sovereignty of God. My brother (Pastor Dean) says that this is one of the most important aspects in our walk with God. As I have been studying scripture on my own, I realize that he is right. We cannot even be saved without this. Humility (by recognizing our sinful state) is the first step of salvation. But it doesn’t end with salvation. We continue to submit to God’s sovereignty as we walk with Him. It is the only way to have peace and joy and freedom from this sin of worry.

(As we grow older, it does help that we have experiences of God’s faithfulness to us during the hard times. We can see how He worked through difficult and heart-breaking situations and brought us through to the other side. Sometimes we can see the good that came out of those situations, but many times we can’t. But we recognize His strength and comfort and peace during that time and it helps us to face the next difficult time that comes along. Reading biographies of Christian men and women or having conversations with them is also very faith-building. God has worked in incredible ways through some very impossible circumstances.)

There is so much more that could be written about the sovereignty of God. If this is something you struggle with, I would suggest you read the book: The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink. This helped me tremendously to have a better understanding of God’s sovereignty. In fact, this book was so helpful, it is included on my Books Worth Reading page.

These three things helped me tremendously as a young woman and for many years I didn’t really struggle with worry. But it reared its ugly head again just recently, as my mind started dwelling on all of the changes we are experiencing in this country and the ramifications of these changes. I find myself going back to square one and trying to put into practice these three things once again. I thought I’d share them here, in hopes that you, too, might find them helpful.

Do you struggle with worry? Do you have something to add to this list that might help us, too? I would love to hear how you have overcome your battle with this sin.

 

 

But Why, God?

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Something terrible happened over the weekend to a really nice family. I don’t know them all that well, but I do know that, from my purely human point of view, they certainly didn’t deserve this tragedy in their lives.

I found myself really questioning the goodness of God as I tried to sort through all of this in my mind. Bad things happen to godly people. We know this is a fact of life. And, yet, sometimes, it just hits us and our spirit cries out to the Lord, asking “But why, God?”

It wasn’t that I was questioning Him. I know (in my head) that He is good all the time. And I know that He loves this family and that hasn’t changed because He has allowed this tragedy in their lives. But my heart was having a really hard time wrapping itself around the why. What good purpose could this possibly have?

I don’t have the answer to that. Just like good purposes and lessons learned do not always show forth through the hard moments and difficult times in my own life, I may never know why this family has suffered so.

But God knows. I try to remember that He sees the whole tapestry, while I only see a tiny speck of it. One tiny dot in the scope of all of time in the whole world. I can’t help but realize that I really know nothing and should not judge God based on my very limited perspective.

As I was pondering all of this, I just “happened” to read the following in a *fiction book I am reading–

“See, typically we measure goodness by whether we like something or not. I like this, so it’s good. I don’t like that, so it’s not good. We can do this with God, pretty easily, in fact. If He does something we like or agree with, then He’s good. If He does something or allows something we don’t like, we’re not so sure anymore. We won’t usually say it out loud; that would be impolite. But we can go there in our hearts. And once we do, we start to pull away from the Lord . Do you think that could have happened here?”

And this–

“God doesn’t just do good, Shawn. He is good. His goodness flows from his very nature. Because we don’t always understand what He’s doing, some of it doesn’t seem good to us. But that’s where our faith comes into play. We must believe, as Paul says, that God is working all things together for our good. In time, His goodness and good purposes will become clearer to us. But it can take time.”

Wow. A sermon to me right in the middle of a novel, just when I needed it. And people say there is no personal God? I beg to differ.

Of course, that last sentence — about His purposes becoming clearer in time–while that is sometimes true, it isn’t always true, is it? Sometimes we will never find out this side of heaven.

But how convicted I was by that first thought— Wasn’t I judging God’s goodness based on my perception of what is good? Only God knows the ramifications of any tragedy. He knows whose hearts will be touched and what seeds will be planted. He knows the spiritual growth that will take place and the relationships that will be changed. We can’t see it all, because we are limited by time and our own perspectives. I keep coming back to that word “limited”.

And I realized something — how dare I judge God based on my own limited and humanly flawed knowledge? How dare I? Who do I think I am, anyway?

I remember a friend once saying that she believes it is actually a sin to question God and to ask why. I am not sure about that, but I do believe that if we don’t come to a place of utter submission to His will after our initial and natural questioning, we will struggle all of our lives in our relationship with Him. It is about sovereignty and submission. Very very unpopular words in this culture we find ourselves.

And, interestingly enough, as I was thinking through all of this, another friend who is going through an extremely difficult time in her life shared with me a really amazing way she has seen the Lord take her tragedy and bring someone to Himself because of it. Now if that isn’t an encouragement to keep trusting, I don’t know what is.

But, no matter what outcomes we do or do not see, scripture teaches us that we are to keep submitting and trusting, knowing that our heavenly Father loves us and will keep us in His care, no matter what we face (I Peter 5:7; Lamentations 3:25; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

 

*Walsh, Dan (2010-06-01). Homecoming, The: A Novel (Kindle Locations 3581-3584 & 3588-3591). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Losing a World

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I took one of those quizzes the other week: Which character on Downton Abbey are you most like? I wasn’t all that surprised (or displeased) that I ended up with Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess. While this woman does not always say things in the kindest way, you never have to wonder what she is thinking. I like that about her. And while I hope I am not near as cutting with my remarks and I certainly hope I am not a snob, I do want to be someone who can be counted on to tell the truth.

As I watched the final episode of season 4, I was overwhelmed with empathy for this elderly lady during a conversation she had with the American Sarah Levinson, her daughter-in-law’s mother. As was her style, she had made some sharp remark to Mrs. Levinson. In return, the woman looked Violet straight in the eye and retorted, very matter-of-factly, “My world is coming nearer. And your world – its slipping further and further away.”

Violet Crawley stared at her with eyes full of sadness as the camera faded away to another scene. And at that moment– as Violet stared–I felt a deep connection with this old woman.

The year was 1923 and the Dowager Countess was losing her world– a world of counts and countesses, butlers and housekeepers, fancy balls. A world where the classes were carefully kept separated and true feelings were hidden away and never discussed.

In its place was coming a world where anyone could make a go of it and become successful and wealthy, people could speak their mind without fear of repercussion, and men and women of different classes and even different races could be married with nary a raised eye-brow.

How heart-breaking it must have been for her, as she could see it happening and couldn’t do a thing about it. And while, especially as Americans, we see that world she lived in as stuffy and confining, for the Dowager Countess it was the only world she had ever known.

And I would guess– although I can’t be sure– that some of her acerbic responses and reactions were coming out of this realization and the helplessness that naturally goes along with it.

I feel a little like Violet Crawley. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because it’s just the nature of the world to change constantly. Or perhaps it’s because I see a very, very black sky on the horizon of our country. Maybe it’s a combination of all three.

The world I grew up in no longer exists. And, let’s face it– the world of the 70s and 80s wasn’t all that great. I don’t really look back on it and think “heaven”. But where we are now–the changes that are taking place– well, it’s a bit disconcerting, is it not? Especially for those of us who have seen it all happen.

So, what now? How do we then live?

Do we bury our heads in the sand, turn off all of the news, and live in our own small world?

Do we become acidic and irritable and grumpy?

Do we sink into a state of depression at the woes of the world?

Do we avidly watch, listen, read, and breathe the world news?

Do we volunteer for our favorite politicians or some other cause?

How do we change a world that can’t be changed? 

Look–if we are believers, we know the end of the story. We know that the world will not become a better place before Jesus Christ returns. But, instead, we can expect the worst.

So now is the time to put our armor on (Ephesians 6:12-18), prepare for battle, and know God’s Word. Now is the time to share the gospel and stand for Truth.

Let’s keep the big picture in mind. Let us forge ahead, knowing that we are led by Jesus Christ Himself. And He can’t lose. And if He can’t lose, neither can we.

And, just as importantly, let’s remember that we can be instruments of change right where we are. God is still working in a mighty way in individual lives. Just because the world, as a whole, isn’t going to get better, does not mean that your spouse, or boss, or friend, or parent won’t be saved. There is still much hope in this world and God is still quite alive and showing His power! We can still bring positive changes to a hurting and lost world. We can make our corner brighter and better by loving-kindness and by standing for what’s right.

We dare not throw our hands up in the air and say, “what’s the use?!”

I don’t know what hardships lie ahead, but I do know the end of the story. Oh, praise the Lord, we know the end of the story. This world may be slipping away, but the next one is far better. Let us be found faithful until that day comes.

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Six Reasons Not to Worry

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This world is crazy, isn’t it? It is changing rapidly and it’s a little scary. Yesterday the government shut down. Our “normal” seems to hang in the balance, tossed about in the hands of a socialist leader. Meanwhile, we hear of other bad news, constantly bombarded with stories of violence and diseases and accidents, affecting strangers, as well as those we love dearly. We are constantly confronted with this fact: I control nothing in my life. This can cause some of us to worry. I heard this sermon yesterday and it seemed especially appropriate in light of the current climate of our country. I found it very helpful and I hope you will, too. It is based on Luke 12:22-34 and is by R.W. Glenn, pastor of Redeemer Bible Church. It’s fairly long, but please read through to the end, as he asks four questions that really get to the heart of why we worry.  

The world is a dangerous place. Lots of things can happen. The present economy being what it is, you could lose your job. You could be mugged or raped. Your spouse could commit adultery. Or he or she could suddenly abandon you. Your teenage son could repudiate the faith. Your parents could die in a car accident. You could suffer a debilitating injury. You could contract a fatal illness. Your house could burn down. You could lose your life’s savings in bad investments.

And even less significant things could happen. Your car could fail to start. You could fail an exam. You could sprain your ankle. Your colleagues could misunderstand you. Your friend could break your favorite toy. Life is full of risks.

Along with the potential dangers, there are simply lots of things that need to get done. There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, and households to manage. There are quotas to meet and sales to close. There are meetings to give, budgets to meet, and moves to make. There are church, family, work, and personal responsibilities. There are vacations and weddings and socials and all manner of events to plan. There are sermons to prepare and Sunday school lessons to arrange. There is so much to do, and it seems, so little time in which to accomplish it.

And according to the ADAA, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, an estimated 19 million adult Americans suffer from what they call anxiety disorders, including…

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Social phobia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Sexual aversion disorder
  • Sleep terror disorder
  • Avoidant personality
  • Persecutory delusions
  • Panic disorder
  • Paranoid schizophrenia
  • Other specific phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Nightmare disorder
  • Paranoid personality
  • Separation anxiety disorder2

And in the background of these clinical diagnoses are quietly running (or not so quietly) all kinds of fears…

  • Fears for your safety and the safety of those you love.
  • Fears about how you will die: a progressively debilitating disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, being alone, being penniless.
  • Fears about what happens after death: being forgotten, being maligned, being judged, being extinct.
  • Fears about living a meaningless life.
  • Fears about being unloved or alone.
  • Fears about being in love and the high probability of being hurt.
  • Fears about what you might lose: your figure, boyfriend, girlfriend, hair, youth, mind, money, job, spouse, health, hobbies, purpose, faith.3

The point here is that anxiety is commonplace; Jesus assumes it and tells us that there are lots of reasons to worry. But then he heaps up six better reasons NOT to.

REASON #1: Your life is bigger than your worries – v. 23.

For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

This is what happens when you’re anxious: you blow up your worry out of proportion to its size. And it becomes so big that it crowds out and takes over your life. It becomes the thing you think about all the time:

  • Your relational worries
  • Your work performance worries
  • Your personal appearance worries
  • Your financial worries

What you worry about becomes the center of your life, but here Jesus reminds us of a truth we can take to the bank: YOU WERE MADE TO LIVE YOUR LIFE FOR SOMETHING BIGGER AND BETTER THAN WHAT YOU WORRY ABOUT.

“BUT,” you say, “I thought you just said that Jesus’ original audience wasn’t worrying about TRIVIA; their worries were a matter of life and death. So how is “your life is bigger than your worries” supposed to comfort me when I’m worrying about a life-and-death issue?”

TWO THINGS:

  1. Jesus is talking about anything and everything you might worry about. By addressing life-and-death issues he’s including all the lesser worries leading up to it.
  2. When Jesus says that your life is bigger than your life-and-death worries, he’s saying something more than “In the grand scheme of things, your worry is not that big a deal.” INSTEAD, he’s saying a Christian’s life doesn’t end with this life. The timeline of your life extends BEYOND death to RESURRECTION life – the time when everything sad becomes untrue.

SO, “your life is bigger than your worries” is meant to remind you that your life is WAY BIGGER than even your life-and-death worries. After this life, you’ve got eternity to go!

So, reason #1 not to worry: Your life is bigger than your worries.

REASON #2: The Lord takes care of CROWS – v 24.

Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!

Crows are scavengers, the garbage men of the bird world, UNCLEAN birds according to the OT law – and yet God takes care of them. How much more are YOU.

REASON #3: Worrying accomplishes NOTHING – vv 25-26.

25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?

This is just a simple, logical reason. Do you ever really help your situation by worrying about it? No, of course not.

REASON #4: God puts clothes on the WEEDS – vv 27-28.

27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

This is similar logic to the logic of the crows: if he feeds crows, he’ll certainly take care of you. Only Jesus does one better. And you’re going to LOVE how David Powlison explains it…

This promise is far more than “God will take care of you.” This is “God will clothe you in nothing less than His radiant glory!” I promise you. “So why do you worry about the clothes you wear? I’ll dress you in My own glory! Why do you worry about your health? I’ll raise you from the dead to eternal life. Why do you worry about a few dollars? I’ll give you the whole earth as your inheritance. Why do you worry when someone doesn’t like you? I’ll make you live in the kingdom of My love!”4

So reason #4 – God clothes the WEEDS, and is going to clothe you with GLORY. So why worry.

REASON #5: Your loving father KNOWS what you need – v 30.

For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.

And when your dad happens to be the ALMIGHTY, ALL-POWERFUL, SOVEREIGN GOD – you’re in good hands, aren’t you! And to say that he knows what you need means that he cares.

REASON #6: This is the most significant reason of ALL because “Jesus makes it as personal, intimate, and generous as possible.”5 YOUR LOVING FATHER IS HAPPY TO GIVE YOU THE KINGDOM – v 32.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Let’s break that down:

“Fear not” – It’s a comfort command. It’s a command, so worry is a sin; but more than that, Jesus is saying you don’t have to worry.

“Little flock” – The shepherd of a little flock knows every sheep by name – EVERY DETAIL. He knows your situation. How you feel. What you’re facing.

“Your Father’s” – This is your dad we’re talking about. If yours was terrible, invert his terribleness and multiply it by infinity! If yours was great, skip the inversion, and STILL multiply it by infinity!

“good pleasure” – You don’t have to twist your father’s arm AT ALL. He’s full ofgenerosity toward you. It’s the same word that Luke uses earlier in Ch 3 (the only other time in the Gospel of Luke this used) to describe the Father’s pleasure with Jesus.

“to give you” – This gift-giving language. The language of GRACE. He doesn’t pay you the kingdom. He gives it to you as a GIFT.

“the kingdom” – The kingdom is both a present and future reality. In the future, the kingdom is God’s RULE when everything sad becomes untrue. When everything is set right in the world. When you can finally EXHALE and REST. Nothing left to fear. ALL the monsters have been destroyed.

In the present, receiving the kingdom means experiencing something of that rest in the here and now. Your dad is the most powerful person in the universe and he has nothing but love for you. So he’s going to give you his peace and joy and rest TODAY. How do we know that? He’s given you the King – King Jesus! How will he not with King Jesus freely give you EVERYTHING – that peace, that rest?

So then, six reasons – better than your reasons to worry – six reasons NOT to worry:

  1. Your life is bigger than your worries.
  2. God feeds CROWS.
  3. Worrying accomplishes nothing!
  4. Your loving father knows what you need.
  5. God puts clothes on WEEDS.
  6. Your loving father is happy to give you the kingdom.

Those are some good reasons!

STILL, as encouraged as you may be right now, you may be wondering how it is that Jesus’ teaching on anxiety is better than what you can find outside the church (the case we’re making in this series).

Well, to address that, I want to walk you through four questions – questions to ask yourself and especially others – that I hope will help you see how RELEVANT Jesus’ teaching really is.

QUESTION #1: What specifically do you worry about?

This can be extremely helpful because when you are really anxious it seems like there are a million things going on inside you. “Anxieties feel endless and infinite – but they are [actually] finite and specific.”6

So what is it for you? Talk it over with a friend to help you identify it. The act of naming what it is will be massively helpful to you.

QUESTION #2: How specifically do you express your anxiety?

  • Is it feelings of panic?
  • Is it tightness in your throat?
  • Is it through your dreams?
  • Is it repetitive/obsessive thoughts?
  • Is it anger (that’s a big one)?
  • Is it depression (another big one)?
  • Is it binging on Ben & Jerry’s?
  • Is it taking the edge off with a few martinis?
  • Is it cleaning your house?
  • Is it headaches?
  • Is it planning/strategizing?
  • Is it through superstitions?

This is a helpful question because it will ALERT you to the fact that anxiety is driving you at that moment.

So, question #2: How do you specifically express your anxiety? What does it look like when you’re worried? How do you behave?

QUESTION #3: This is the KEY QUESTION because it not only allows you to move beyond the anxiety to what motivates it, but it is the key question also because it shows why Jesus is the TRUE ANSWER to our struggles with worry (a better prescription than anything or anyone out there.) Question #3 is: WHY are you anxious?

Here in our passage Jesus gives three underlying reasons – all of which I’m sure will resonate with your own experience.

1. Anxiety is a TREASURE issue – v 34.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Worry is what happens when what you value is threatened. Do you know what it is you value? You value what you worry about and you worry about what you value. I’ll say that again: you value what you worry about and you worry when what you value is threatened.

So if you want to find out what you really value, what makes you tick, what you’re ten fingers and ten toes are committed to, look to what makes you anxious. Fear is an inverted desire. If I’m afraid of being seen as an idiot, then I value being seen as intelligent. If I’m afraid of my job’s insecurity, then I value job security. And on and on. The point is that if you want to find out what you really value, identify what you worry about. You value what you worry about.

But you also worry when what you value is threatened. If I value my children’s welfare, then I worry when they are in danger. If I value my livelihood, then I worry when there are company layoffs. If I value my reputation, then I worry when people think ill of me. Again, we could go on and on. The point here is that you worry when what you value is threatened.

Now because Jesus is the only thing TRULY and ULTIMATELY worth valuing, and because he is completely unassailable, if you value Jesus Christ, can anyone take Jesus Christ from you?  No. That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says look, money is a good way of seeing what you value – v 33.

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.

It’s unassailable. Your anxiety is a treasure issue – it’s about what you VALUE. And because deep down you know that any treasure other than Jesus Christ is weak, powerless, failing and futile, OF COURSE you’re worried.

Anxiety isn’t just a treasure issue.

2. Anxiety is a KINGDOM issue – v 31.

Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

There are two kingdoms at war in every human being’s life – the kingdom of SELF and the kingdom of God. They are kingdoms in conflict.

If you could live perfectly for the right kingdom – the one ruled by King Jesus – you wouldn’t worry at all, ever because you know he’s got your life in his hands and promises ONLY to do good to you.

The worry comes because you are afraid that your will won’t be done, that you won’t get what you think you deserve. You’re afraid that somehow my project of building my own kingdom about me is threatened. So you worry…

  • “Do I have any real friends?”
  • “What if I don’t make the team? What if I forget my lines in the play? What if someone else gets picked for that committee?”
  • “Will I ever find a husband or wife?”
  • “If I do find one, will he or she be faithful to me?”
  • “Will I be able to have kids?”
  • “If I have kids, how will they turn out?”
  • “What about my health? Some of my friends are dying of cancer. It’s painful. Is that going to be for me? Will I be able to have the strength to go through that? What if I get Alzheimer’s? The thought of ending my life not even able to recognize the people I love: what about that?”

On and on and on, your health, your money, your relationships, your achievements.7

But in the END, it’s all about ME – my wants, my needs, my desires. Worry is focused INWARD. It is self-protective and self-reliant. It chooses kingdom of self over the kingdom of God. This is why Jesus is the only answer to worry – you need a new king. Only Jesus is a king sufficient to take away your worries.

SO anxiety is a KINGDOM issue.

3. Jesus says anxiety is a FAITH issue – v 28.

But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

As Calvin has said, “Unbelief is the mother of every anxiety.” People who worry do not trust the true and living God. And in the absence of trusting God, we trust false gods. And, of course, this SHOULD make us anxious. Our false gods are powerless to help us when things go rough…because they’re not real. They are the figment of our imagination.

Oh, most of us don’t make dashboard idols that we give fruit and meats to – but we are idolaters nonetheless. The prophet Ezekiel talks about idols of the heart – the things we live for and long for – the things we seek above God – power, fame, sex, money, approval, intelligence, comfort, security – whatever.

Now whatever we live for other than God will only do two things: lower the boom or raise the bar (I owe this language to my friend Dick Kaufmann). If you fail to live up to the standard of your idol of choice, they lower the boom – make you feel terribly guilty so you’re always trying to live up to the standard your idol sets for you from fear of it lowering the boom. So you’re anxious!

On the other hand, if you DO live up to the standard of your idol, if you get what you crave, it only raises the bar. It says, “Not good enough. You need more.” And so you’re anxious, too, only this time, you’re not afraid as much you’re insecure. “Did I do enough?” When is enough, enough?”

But, of course, your idol of choice is simply yourself. We love to trust ourselves. And whenever you trust yourself, you cannot trust God at the same time. The moment your faith shifts from God to self, your faith in God lessens. It’s just the way it works. So when you worry, you are transferring your faith from God to self, and essentially telling God that you can run the universe better than he can, so you’ll take it from here!

No wonder you’re worried! Running the universe, with all its contingencies, is a BIG JOB.

But if you remember what Christ has done for you, if you trust that your Father’s good pleasure is to give you the kingdom, if you believe that you are valuable to God, then your worries begin to evaporate.

Anxiety is a FAITH issue. Trusting yourself is loaded with uncertainty and insecurity. Trusting God you can take to the BANK because he’s proved himself at the cross. He must love you and must be interested in what you’re going through, otherwise he wouldn’t have sent Jesus for you.

This is why the question “Why are you anxious?” is so important. Beneath your fears and worries are misplaced treasures, kingdoms in conflict, and unbelief in the gospel. No other strategy can get to the bottom of your anxiety.

NOT: (1) thoughtless optimism, a kind of carelessness. “Don’t worry. Be happy.” “Everything’s gonna be alright”; (2) logic and the statistical improbability of such-and-such a thing happening to you; (3) distraction – “You’ve gotta do something to get your mind off it.” (4) plan and scheme with the person to show them that they have things well enough under control; (5) tell them you’ll always be there for them (you won’t).

None of these things are real encouragements because none of them direct us to the gospel. Only Jesus is true treasure. Only Jesus is the true King. Only Jesus is trustworthy.

So then, question #3: Why specifically do you worry? What’s driving the bus for you?

QUESTION #4: What better reason has Jesus given you specifically not to worry?

Is it that your life is bigger than your worries? That you father feed CROWS or puts clothes on WEEDS? That your father knows (and cares about) what you need? Or is it that your loving Father is happy to give you the kingdom?

Some days it will be one of those. Some days it will be a combination. Some days it will be a couple of those. But what specifically are you bringing to bear?

What we need to do for each other is to make the connection of something specific in the gospel to something specific in others’ lives. We miss all the time! We are SO VAGUE. We just throw a verse out at a person! No wonder why people outside the church say that we don’t understand the nature of the human condition. We’re just throwing out a band-aid. You and I live our lives in DETAIL, in HD, so you and I need a gospel sensitive to the details – specific enough to make a difference.

So ask yourself and one another:

  • What specifically are you worried about?
  • How are the specific ways?
  • How specifically is your anxiety expressing itself?
  • Why specifically are you anxious?
  • What better reason does Jesus give you specifically not to worry?

And as you do that, remember, above all, this GOOD WORD of JESUS: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Amen.

 

God’s Faithfulness in the Small Stuff

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We climbed in the truck at 6:30am for the 9 1/2 hour drive to my daughter’s university. The atmosphere was full of nervousness and excitement and sadness, as she nervously anticipated starting a new life there and I sadly contemplated how quickly she had grown up. But the trip was uneventful–at least for the first hour or two.

About a half hour in, my husband’s tooth started bothering him. He had mentioned having a toothache the night before, hoping it wouldn’t bother him over the weekend. Well, it did not take long for him to realize that it was going to bother him A LOT over the weekend. And so I began to use my iPad (how did I survive without that thing??) to find dentists who take emergency cases located in the vicinity of our destination.

I was just ready to start calling, when I looked over to see Eric in agony. “I really don’t think I can make it that far.”  And thus began a crazy half hour of phone calls, figuring out where in the world we could go to relieve him of his pain as soon as possible and not lose too much time in the process.

After checking some reviews, I ended up calling a dental office in a town about 30 minutes from where we were. They would gladly see him, but could not get him in until 12:30 pm. It was only 10:30am. Oh, well. Eric was in severe pain by this time and we didn’t seem to have much of a choice. We plugged the address into the GPS and headed that direction.

Upon arriving at the dentist’s office, we found ourselves very pleasantly surprised! We were ushered into a small room to fill out paperwork in comfort. While there, the patient coordinator (an employee hired for the specific purpose of making patients and their families comfortable?!) handed us a free water bottle filled with chocolate candy. They treated us like royalty, quickly getting Eric in to see a dentist by 11:30am. While he was being seen, the patient coordinator, a petite middle-aged woman with a sweet demeanor, offered us drinks and homemade brownie bites. And so, while Eric was sitting in the dentist’s chair in misery, the girls and I were sitting on leather furniture, sipping coffee and gatorade, eating brownie bites and chocolate, and watching the fish in the two huge tanks they had in their office. It was quite the experience and totally unexpected.  And, to top it off, they only charged us $50! We have no dental insurance so that was such a blessing.

The dentist prescribed an antibiotic and some pain killers to help with the infected tooth and so, after our adventure at the dentist, we made a stop at Target for the prescriptions, where we ate lunch simply out of the desire to save time. We were on the road again by about 12:30pm –the time of the original appointment.

It was disappointing to lose so much time, but God was so faithful in leading us to this particular dental office!

As we continued on our way, we were relieved to have that behind us. But an hour or two later, we ran into another problem.  I was in my own little world, just looking out the window at the beautiful mountain scenery, when, all of a sudden, Eric’s serious voice told me to “turn off the music.”

I glanced at him and knew immediately that something was wrong. He started making his way over to the side of the road because the truck had completely lost power.  He jumped out and lifted the hood of the truck. Now this always makes me nervous. I have heard of men being killed when looking at their vehicles parked along the road because of inattentive drivers. I hate when any of my family members are out of a vehicle alongside a major highway. I asked the Lord to protect him as he worked to fix the problem. I breathed a big sigh of relief when he climbed back into the truck. Not only was he safe, but he had fixed the problem (as he so often can–he is sort of amazing that way…)

On we went, on our way. It did happen once more, but this time he could hop out quickly and do what he knew to do, so it wasn’t quite as scary.  Thankfully, after that, it did not happen again (until the way home–but that is another story…)

Again, God showed His faithfulness to us.

As we moved closer to our destination, we ran into more and more Labor Day traffic. We were delayed by at least four official accidents, but we mostly never could figure out why the traffic was crawling along at a snail’s pace, to free up, to slow down again. It was so strange.

Until it was all said and done, we lost at least two hours due to traffic, making our total trip time (including the “dental” delay) fourteen very long hours.

As we moved closer to the college, we planned to park our truck and 5th wheel in a huge parking lot near the girls’ dorms but across a highway. The question that still needed to be answered was: how do we get all of her stuff to the dorm?

God was faithful yet again! Two families we know from home pulled up shortly after we arrived (texting had told them of our arrival time) and one family piled all of the stuff in their large van and went with Eric to the dorm and the other family took my daughter and me over to the building where she could register.

I cannot tell you the warm feeling I felt upon arriving at a strange place at night time and seeing friendly faces ready to help however necessary.

That day showed us that God is faithful even in the midst of great frustration that is very temporal in nature. Sometimes, seeing Him in the small stuff can really help us to trust Him with the really big issues that come up in life.

Yes, that was a rough trip down. It could have gone much better but we were vividly reminded that it could have gone much worse, as we passed all of those accidents along the way.

Yes, God was with us through the whole entire fourteen long hours–even when things weren’t going quite the way we wanted them to– because He is faithful!

And sometimes in life we find that we are the one in the accident or the one with the broken-down vehicle that’s sitting alongside the road. I have been there and done both. But even then God has proved His faithfulness.

Nothing can happen to us without God’s knowledge. Nothing can happen to us that will remove us from His care. And so we can trust our Heavenly Father as we ride the roller coaster of life because…

He is faithful!