Sunday, October 12, 2008

Worshiping Anyway

How can a spiritual focus survive in the midst of the events of these stressful days? We tend to consider worshiping God if and when chaotic events cease, or at least when they become small enough to be temporarily brushed aside. Unfortunately the huge unplanned intrusions to our agenda are becoming the norm. One wonders if God has lost control, and if He is still sovereign during what looks like the worst of times. Can genuine worship take place in times of trouble?

The Psalmist David was no stranger to discouragements and struggles. It was out of those very difficulties that God showed his strength and sufficiency. David's faith matured under the intense pressure. Worship in times of plenty is shallow in light of the worship that God generates in the anguished heart. Worship is praising God's sovereignty in the affairs of men regardless of the conditions. Pointing upwards in the end zone after the touchdown is easy. Private prayer after a devastating loss is a whole other matter.

Our problems pale in light of the persecution and political pressures of history. What was it about those Bible heroes that enabled them to thrive in their love for God amidst the most adverse circumstances? How about the apostles singing in the prison cell? What did Abraham see other than the difficult assignment before him when he was called to offer his son Isaac? How could Daniel be so confident in continuing his daily worship in spite of great political pressure? Years of unfair treatment didn't stop Jacob from consistency and a growing faith in the Lord. The list of heroes of the faith is long, much longer than our problems.

Instead of becoming the obstacle to communion with God, unwanted circumstances can become the gateway. Rather than inhibiting fellowship with Him, they prompt it. They give us reason to seek Someone greater than ourselves and our problems. Paul said that he welcomed infirmities, because when he was weak, the power of Christ rested upon him. God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. We know that He plans only that which is for our best. Our greatest achievements may come as we seek Him in the midst of all that overwhelms us.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Stop Identity Theft

Loss of one's identity is tragic enough, but it is even worse when it is willfully surrendered. When we fail to appreciate who we are, like Esau, we casually exchange that which is of great value for a few slurps of bean soup. Forsaking the mansion, we choose the pig pen. Instead of living like an heir to the throne, we prefer life as a pauper. Call it amnesia, spiritual Alzheimer's, or even intentional forgetfulness - same difference. Our identity crisis causes us to forfeit treasure for a measly temporary counterfeit. What are we thinking, and why does this happen?

Paul warns about misunderstanding our God-given identity. "What, know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price." That which was "dead in trespasses and sins has been made alive." The heart of stone has been replaced with the implanted nature of Christ. Heavenly treasure has been deposited into earthen vessels. We were "chosen in Him from the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." Why then would we ever consider returning to roam in the grave yard?

Peter also tells us why we seem to forget our identity. "He that lacks these things - faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity (each a gift from God) - is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins." So our blindness is caused by our neglect of the One who has chosen to redeem and conform us to Himself. His work has not changed, but we have turned the blind eye to all that He is doing on our behalf.

Forgetting who we are is the all-to-effective distraction of an enemy who is intent on robbing us of our identity and perspective. The thief only enters, however, when there is no guard on duty. Fortunately Christ is the Protector and Shepherd of our souls who is able to keep that which is committed unto Him against that day. The good work which He has begun in us, He has also promised to finish, and will present us faultless before His throne. We couldn't be in better hands.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Bible Works on Monday!

A remark I heard this week seemed to stick. It was something to the effect that the new nature given from above is designed to work in real-life people situations. Sounds really simple and seems to demand a "duh!" More than academic study and more than emotional highs, Christianity deals with all the pressures and events we encounter daily. More than mere teaching, it is the person of Jesus Christ himself, alive and actively at work in us.

We can grasp the truths of Scripture but still fail to see that the very life situations we face the next day are ordained to demonstrate how wonderfully they operate. The problem is, the very situations that can reveal His work are usually missed as we fail to see the events for what they are - opportunities to see Christ's work.

We agree on paper that He is at work, but tend to miss the connection when encountering every item on the day's agenda, especially when there are frustrations, disappointments, pressures, and people. If it weren't for all of those, the Christian life would be ideal. But it is ideal, because He uses all of the above for good to reveal his purposes in them. His Word works.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ain't Misbehavin'

Back in school you had to be good when the teacher was watching, and even when he wasn't. There was a two way mirror in our science class, right up in the front of the room. As soon as the test started, our teacher would disappear to watch for cheaters from behind his "hidden" window. We were being observed even when we couldn't see him. Cheating was just not possible in science class.

What was sad was not that cheating was difficult, but that we were revealing who we were. Some wouldn't even think of cheating, while others wouldn't hesitate. It is not a matter of wondering if we are being watched. We don't cheat because that is not who we are, unless of course that is who we are. Honesty works even when there appears to be no accountability.

Our behavior reflects our identity, or it should. Consistency of integrity was very much on the agenda in that science class. I think I remember more about what that two way mirror taught me than right answers on the science test.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dad Was There

The question I heard asked on an interview this week was "What is the greatest memory you have of your formative years?" I don't know who it was that was replying, but his answer got my attention. "All I can tell you is that every time I looked up Dad was there." More important than dozens of peers is the approval and presence of Dad who is vital in developing confidence and character.

Never mind that Dad had major responsibilities of his own happening daily. Of more long-lasting value is that which is produced by the availability, interest shown and time spent with a son or daughter. How tragic it is, for whatever reason, when parents are just too busy to be there.

How well this is demonstrated in this profound little scene with my daughter and grand-daughter entitled "Are you havin' a hard time with me?"

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Seeing the Imperfect as Perfect

"What ails ya?" a distant relative used to ask us years ago? We were surprised that our frustrations could so easily be observed. Unwelcome events can have their way with us, and unfortunately it usually shows. Items on our daily agenda seem to fall into two columns: those we think profitable, and those we consider a waste of time. The reality is that all of it happens, and remains unchangeable. The only variable is our perspective. We can attempt to resist unwanted pressures and situations, or we can learn to take another view.

Why are there "pricklies", my grandboys ask? They also have it in their genes to struggle mightily with sweet potatos and zucchini. Their grandparents then instinctively rush to the challenge of persuasion. Today it's unsweet potatos. Tomorrow it will be much more unpalatable situations, people and responsibilites. Maturity requires an appreciation for all of the events of our day as intended and useful for our improvement.

It isn't just the courses we must take that prepare us for our future, but our responses to them. Joseph in the Egyptian prison qualified himself for future leadership. It wasn't where he was, but how he accepted it that became his ticket out. Daniel's faith and character sustained him in overwhelming circumstances and carried him to a trusted leadership position. David was a shepherd outcast before he was the king. Contentment regardless of externals is the key. And that is a God-given ability.

The most aggravating classrooms may be providing the exact experience we will need tomorrow. That is not for us to say. Life is what it is. Our role is to accept and to learn from them. Today's classrooms should produce tomorrow's leaders. Character is as important as cirriculum. Contentment comes when we see the daily challenges before us as valuable and perfectly designed for our best.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

You can't change the Army!

Looking ahead as '08 begins, I was reminded of the advice about choosing our battles wisely. Don't waste your energy fighting where you can't win, but focus on where you can affect the most change. That begins with an evaluation of ourselves. Unfortunately, we usually stress over situations completely out of our control. Why is that? Perhaps it is more convenient to blame anything and anybody except ourselves. A friend remarked, "you can't change the Army, but you can change yourself." This was an observation about the frustrations of not being able to change bureaucracies. Our all-too-finite supply of adrenaline should therefore be spent where positive results can be expected, on ourselves.

Looking back, it is easy to see where I spent way too much anxiety over mountains that weren't going to move, people that weren't going to behave the way I expected, and conditions that were never going to be perfect. To continue to expect another result without altering my input would be insanity. If I would spend as much energy improving self, as on being critical and frustrated over situations beyond my control, I would do well.

Could it be that nothing will change until I first learn how to confront the obstacles set before me? The key is not in changing them, but in first changing me. The Army is not my problem. The problem and its solution is me.