Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No Good Days or Bad Days – Only Days

We are so quick to evaluate our lives and set an opinion over what’s going on. If I don’t like how things went, I declare it a bad day. If I do like how things went, it’s a good day. My judgment holds final sway on the value of my day.

Only problem with that, if I can limit it to only one, is we are not in the best position to determine what is good or bad about our day. We lack perspective.

Perspective gives me context. What led up to today is as important as where tomorrow fits in. If I don’t recall yesterday, and have no clue about tomorrow, then I’m not the best one to decide if what’s going on is good or bad.

That doesn't mean I have to like what’s going on. I may even hate what’s going on. But I’m not in position to say what’s going on is bad or good.

Only God can make that call. Only He has perspective. Only He knows what this moment means in the context of our lives. Only He knows how this fits into His plan of accomplishing what concerns us. Only He knows how this turns out for good. Only He knows if this is about them or me.

My job is to trust, not judge. And definitely not to interfere. If I’m caught in the middle of something I don’t understand and anxiety is raging within me, He said to pray. When we pray, He sets up boundaries around our mind and heart to protect and provide for us while He works out His best.

And by the way, our opinion about our day doesn’t matter to Him. What matters is if we will trust Him with our day.

Question: Can you remember a day when you thought life was over and God got you through it?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Everything’s Got a Price Attached

Whether we realize it or not we prioritize our valuables. That which holds greatest worth gets our attention, time and effort. Rarely is the value measured in money.

We have junk we’ve gathered throughout the years that means nothing to nobody else but we’d be crushed if we lost it. Trinkets filled with memories of a person, a place, a moment in time. Anyone who saw it might toss it because they don’t see in it what we see.

Some of the stuff we value really is just junk, but once we put a price on it, it moves off the junk list onto the prized possession list.

I’ve seen rings people treasure that are worn, unimpressive and out of round, but Momma wore that ring. I’ve seen a chair that sinks in the seat, has worn arms and headrest, that should have been thrown out years ago but that was Daddy’s chair. I’ve seen scribbles on paper stuck to a refrigerator door that resemble nothing on this earth but some grandchild made those scribbles. Things that say nothing to us, speak volumes to somebody else.

Jesus tells of a farmer that finds a pearl in a pasture and has to buy the whole field because somebody dropped a pearl in it. It wasn’t the field that he wanted but the pearl. The field suddenly became valuable because of what he discovered in it.

God brings value into our lives in subtle and insignificant ways. No flash, no pomp, no theatrics. He just slips it in and counts on us to realize it’s there. When we realize what He’s invested in us, our lives become valuable. God doesn’t make junk and doesn’t give junk as gifts. He adds value. Like dropping a pearl in the dirt.

He has placed pearls in us, that to others may have no recognizable value, but to us they are life. Joy is one of those pearls. My joy may mean nothing to you. To me it’s priceless.

Question: Found any pearls inside you lately?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Life Sucks the Joy Right Out of You

The past few weeks have been busy. I'm in that cycle where I spend nearly all my energy throughout the day, get home with little left, go to bed and get up to do the same thing the next day. My life feels like the hamster on the wheel.

Busyness can become a great danger. It can consume us, use us up and drain us of the excitement of life. We can become so busy doing life that after a while that's all we're doing. We end up just fighting to keep up. Life becomes a drudge, a necessary job to be carried out. Where did the abundance go? Where are the promises of peace? And where’s the joy?

I enjoy aspects of Fall. The temperatures, the colors, the change. But I don’t like the leaves. All my life, it has been my job to get rid of the leaves that fall during Fall. And I can put off that job as well as anyone. A  measure of clutter doesn't bother me. I long ago decided clutter isn't sin. And having clutter doesn’t mean I don’t know where things are, just that they’re probably covered up by something less important. Like my lawn. I know that somewhere underneath all the leaves is my grass. It doesn’t go away, it just gets lost to the clutter. A few hours of raking or running the mower brings the grass back. It was there all along but just covered over by natural events and my neglect.

Busyness is my Fall. While I’m so engaged in doing life I allow stuff to cover up my Joy. It’s the clutter that builds up, gets shuffled around and ultimately blocks my connection.

Busyness is my downfall. Whenever I allow anything to become more important than the reality of God in my life, that that I declare most important will overshadow the rest. What then is relegated to the shadows, loses significance and influence over me. It is then that not caring about the clutter becomes a problem.

In all your busyness, don’t lose sight of the Treasure. Prevent the clutter from obstructing your view of the One who makes life worth living.

Question: How do you keep God in the forefront of your life?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Joy Where You Least Expect It

Don’t you hate it when someone takes a verse out of context and makes it say something it wasn’t intended to say? Well, try not to hate me too much.

Peter was writing about the condition of a man’s life when he subjects himself to false freedom and becomes enslaved to evil intentions. Like accepting a lie for the truth and building a life on the instability of that lie.

He goes on to say, “for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” We have little problem realizing what Peter is talking about—allowing our evil desires to capture us and enslave us to its power. But, though there is no question of what he means, I see another application from the life of Paul.

Paul saw his life so devoted to the Lord that the word slave, a harsh reality of people being bought and possessed by other men, could also define his connection to God. He was God’s slave. He gave away right to his own life and entrusted himself to a new Master. The parallels are quite similar.

And Paul would probably also say he had been overcome by God’s mercy and grace. His life was under the constraint of God’s love. He demonstrated in his writings he was overwhelmed by forgiveness and astonished that God would choose to use him to spread the Gospel throughout the world.

So having been overcome by the greatness of God, Paul became enslaved to God’s intentions. I think I like that. By what overcomes us, that which overwhelms our resistance to deny, we bind ourselves to in loyal obedience.

A servant who loves his master and knows his master loves him lives with a joy “freemen” can’t experience. Paul knew that. He had lived free from the restrain of God, but now found greatest fulfillment being God’s own possession.

As God’s possession, God has committed Himself to us in ways the world can never know unless and until someone out of that world gives him/herself to the Master.

Question: Do you know you are not your own but you have been bought with a price and that therefore God owns you?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Need a Hammer?

Nailing something down carries with it the thought of securing it so it will stay put. When we install a roof we nail it down do it won’t blow away. When we lay a subfloor we nail it down to provide a strong surface for a finished floor. When we’re building a deck we nail down the surface boards to provide a sturdy platform for entertaining. Nailing something down is intended to hold it in place.

Truths need to be nailed down. Since truth doesn’t change, we need to secure it into our minds so that when we need to bring it back from memory it’s right where we left it.

There are times when we need quick access to what we know. Times when someone or something is challenging our opinion and we need God’s opinion. Times like in the darkness when we can’t read Scripture or in the silence when we can’t hear voices or in the confusion when we hear too many voices--we need to know what God has told us, preparing us for this moment.

Having truth nailed down means we declare it so and have it available when our circumstances need it.

Someone said never doubt in the darkness what God has revealed to you in the light. Meaning—back in the light God gave you truth which you nailed down in your mind. Now that you are in a challenging moment use that truth, don’t doubt that truth.

Find joy in this verse: Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful. God doesn’t change. Neither does His truth. If it was true when He told us, it cannot be false at some point later. If He told us nothing can separate us from His love, how can something ever separate us? If He told us nothing can ever take us out of His hand, how can something ever take us out of His hand? If He told us He would be with us always, how can He ever not be with us always? If He told us He will accomplish what concerns us, how can He not accomplish what concerns us?

Joy comes when we accept God’s faithfulness as one of His unchanging characteristics and nail that down in our minds.

Question: Need a hammer?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Joy in Trials? You’ve got to be kidding!

There is some joy that can only come after we’ve been to hell and back. It is the joy of victory. The joy of knowing the sufficiency of God in tough times.

We typically try and isolate ourselves from distress. We want to protect ourselves from difficult situations. Watch TV news shows and after a tragedy the discussion is how can we prevent this from happening again. The short answer is we can’t. Life cannot be managed to the point we can stop bad stuff from happening.

Not far from where I grew up lived the Bubble Boy. I didn’t know that then. David had no immunity system and was placed in a sterile environment within his bedroom that kept out all the bacteria and viruses that could kill him.

He lived alone within his own bubble yet had family just outside his reach. No hugs, no kisses, no holding. But he had life.

I don’t discount living but that was no life. Life is to be embraced—good along with the bad—and however long or short it is through it we learn the power of God in our circumstances.

None of us will ever live in a bubble, but how much fear do we surround ourselves with that keeps us isolated from life. It's the what if’s that can shut us down as quickly as a real threat.

James said to consider it joy when we encounter various trials. Trials are the difficult times of life. We can’t stop them from coming. We don’t design our lives to avoid them. We expect them. And we know that going through them will produce a greater version of us than before.

I hate it when my computer decides to upgrade. It slows things down, stops my momentum and frustrates me considerably. But the upgrade is necessary to make my computer more efficient. I can probably block the upgrading but in doing so I rob myself of the advantages of the upgrade.

Trials upgrade us. The version we are needs some additional input to ready me for the next phase of my life. As much as I dislike it, I need it. I can isolate myself from it but to do so robs me of the joy of experiencing God at my deepest level.

Question: When was the last time you upgraded?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is There Joy for Everyone?

Are there some folks whose personalities prevent them from experiencing joy? Can there be such a thing as a joyful Type A person? Can melancholy people ever find joy? What about the Beaver who is so diligent to do everything right? Is joy better suited for less driven, people-person, Golden Retrievers?

I guess the same question could be asked of any gift God gives. Are there some folks who are just wired better for these gifts than others? Like critical people make the best prophets?

What about experiences? What about those people who have had multiple tragedies in their family? What about a person who has been molested, or abused, or attacked? Can they ever expect to find joy?

What about children who lost a parent or experienced the divorce of their parents? What about parents who lost a child in death or rebellion? What about having a parent who showed them no interest? Can they ever expect to find joy?

What about someone who was always compared to a smarter, more talented or athletic sibling? What about the one who tried as hard as they could but only pulled off average results? Can they ever expect to find joy?

What about the person who never felt the security of unconditional love? Or the one who never was good enough? Or was always picked last? Or didn’t get the invitations to the parties everyone else did? Is there any joy for them?

Zephaniah says, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”

Sounds like God isn’t testing whether you are worthy of joy, only that, because of the depth of His love, He will demonstrate His own joy for you. If God delights in us, why can’t we consider ourselves capable of delighting in Him. If we will delight in Him, He will give us the desires of our heart. Is that desire joy? Then draw near to Him, for in His presence is the fullness of joy.

Question: Does the question of worthiness ever stop you from enjoying the goodness of God?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It’s Not a Limitation Unless You Make It One

Daniel was ten years old and wanted to take Judo lessons. His parents signed him up and handed him over to his Judo master. After three months the teacher had only taught him one move. Daniel asked if he could learn some additional moves. The master said, “No, that’s the only one you’ll need.”

After several months of perfecting that one move, Daniel was entered in a tournament. He easily won the first two matches but struggled on the third until the other boy came at him. Daniel used his only move and quickly had the boy pinned on the mat. He was now in the finals where the boys are bigger and stronger.

The referee called time out and told his teacher he was afraid Daniel would get hurt in this round. He wanted them to forfeit. The master said, “No, he’ll do fine.”

The bigger boy came at Daniel. In a matter of seconds he had the boy pinned on the mat. Daniel won the tournament.

On the way home he asked his teacher how he won. The teacher said, “The move I taught you is the hardest to learn but has the greatest success. And the only way to defend against it is to grab your left arm.”

By the way, Daniel had lost his left arm in a car wreck a couple of years before.

We are quick to assume our limitations are actually restrictions which make God powerless to accomplish His best in our lives. We've had a set-back, have a condition, don’t meet the requirements, and yet, He says: “Eyes have not seen, nor have ears heard, nor has it even entered into the heart of man what I have prepared for him.”

Doesn’t sound like God is in the least bit affected by limitations.

Limitations are imposed restrictions. Yes, most of them are real, but they are not the end of the story. Just because I cannot do everything I wish I could do, I can do everything God intends for me to do. "I can do all things through Christ..."

I feel a joy dance coming on!

Question: What do you regularly hold up as an obstacle which limits you from enjoying the goodness of God?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Joy Without Limits

We live with limits. We drive within speed limits. We live within city limits. We use equipment that has weight limits. We can only lift so much, run so fast, jump so high, hold our breaths so long. And the older we get the more we discover our limitations list has grown. To compensate, we just pull back and try to live within the boundaries of our abilities.

Unfortunately, we impose those standards on God. We look at our sorrows, our crises, our drama and classify them as beyond God’s ability. Without ever turning them over to Him, we decide He can’t do anything even if we wanted Him to. 

Jesus met a man whose son had a demon. The man had already placed limits on the boy’s condition. He had tried everything he could do and none of it helped. He asked others for help, including Jesus’ disciples, and their help didn’t help. Now he stood before Jesus and said with no confidence, “If you can do anything…”

Speaking to the One whose very words created the earth they stood upon, he challenged Him with the word “if.” If—a word of cynical limitations. I’m not expecting You to be able to do anything either, but if You want a shot at it, here’s my problem. There’s no faith in that statement, no confidence, no trust, no belief that an almighty God is even listening to our prayer, much less engaged in accomplishing what concerns us. Obviously, there’s no joy.

Joy is the outflow of trusting. It is the overflow of a confident life. It is upflow of an inner assurance that we belong to a God bigger than our lives, our problems, our needs. It is the peace that God is walking with me in this night and He’s bigger than the storm.

Putting limits on God robs us of that joy.

Question: What happened in the past that made you place limits on God?