A Little Mind Control Goes A Long Way

Without a doubt, my favorite kind of movie to watch and book to read is a spy thriller. The adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding, shallow breathing, bad-guy-behind-every-dark-corner type of story has always appealed to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve always secretly wanted to be a spy. I imagine myself a female James Bond speeding through exotic European streets bullets shooting out the back of my Aston Martin slowing down my chasers as I race to disarm a bomb threatening to end modern civilization.

Maybe it’s because in a spy thriller justice prevails. The bad guy is forced to answer for his transgressions and held accountable. Maybe it’s because the main character faces insurmountable difficulties with a bravery and courage I can only dream of having. I want to be cool-headed in a crisis and make rational decisions that will carry me through whatever situation I find myself in.

Who knows? What I do know is that in real life, I’m often ruled by fear. Plain old ordinary fear. One change in my rigid schedule, and I’m ready to recoil in a corner like a scared puppy. One bill in the mail that I wasn’t expecting, and I’ve mentally declared bankruptcy and have myself living under a bridge begging for food. So it will come as no surprise when I tell you that recent world events have me so twisted in knots at times I can barely breathe.

Our verse this week is Psalm 112:5.

“A good man deals graciously and lends; He will guide his affairs with discretion.”

The richness of God’s Word cannot be overstated. So much of it builds on itself. One verse intertwines with another and often takes us down what would appear to be a rabbit hole all the while leading us back to where we started, the root issue. Let me explain.

The first sentence in this verse assumes discretion rules the day and the actions of a person. But discretion assumes righteousness on the part of the person as a motivator. And where does righteousness come from? What makes a man upright and righteous able to live out life on this earth as an example to those around him?

Proverbs 2 tells it beautifully, a long but worthwhile read.

“My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path. When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths; to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; none who go to her return,  nor do they regain the paths of life—so you may walk in the way of goodness, and keep to the paths of righteousness. For the upright will dwell in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the earth, and the unfaithful will be uprooted from it (NKJV).

Much of the time minding our affairs with discretion is often thought of in terms of money, power and possessions, I can’t help but think Psalm 112:5 is an impossibility without the basic discipline of mental discretion. Though we are commanded to be careful what we let into our lives in terms of habits and attitudes, the battle starts in the mind.

More than once in recent weeks, I’ve mentioned my battle with fear and anxiety, and in the midst of it, I’ve become aware of the fact that it is just another scheme of the enemy to distract. Preoccupation with anything not of God finds us barely keeping our heads above water. In the end we can forget concentrating on the motive behind lending our time, talents and treasures to others. There’s no room to practice discretion in our interactions with others when we haven’t practiced it at the first line of defense-our minds. Instead we find ourselves having to go back, take control of our thoughts, cling to God’s promises, throw ourselves on His altar of grace and ask Him to replace lies with truth. When we neglect to judge our thoughts against the truth of God’s Word, we do so to the detriment of serving others whether that’s giving of out of our physical abundance, financial abundance or spiritual abundance. If there’s no discretion in what we’re taking in, there’s precious little righteousness in what we’re handing out.

Righteousness reflects a trust in God that those who don’t know Him haven’t experienced. For the righteous, when that trust is wavering, their decisions are affected. And I’m reminded again of the writer’s words in Proverbs 3:5,6.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct they path” (Proverb 3:5, 6, NKJV).

A righteous man deals with others and his life with discretion, but discretion comes from a mind that is right with God, a mind that has filtered life through the lens of truth. It’s only from this place of truth can we then deal with others graciously, giving of ourselves and our resources without restraint.

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13, NKJV).

 

 

 

 

Let There Be Light!

Two months after my son was born, we moved to Chicago so that my husband could attend graduate school. Bruce was working full-time on campus and going to grad school part-time. I was home full-time with a two-month old and a two-year old. Despite the fact that we knew this was what God had for us, it was still hard. We left the familiarity of Peoria and all of our friends for the big city which looked a whole lot different to us with two little kids than it did when we were just dating. I spent that first summer crying and being impatient with my two-year old. At one point, I remember Nick screaming as he often did for some unknown reason while at the same time my daughter needing me for something and not letting up until she got a response. The one she got was not the one she wanted judging from the look of hurt in her eyes. That was a wake-up call for me; a lesson in operating out of the darkness in my dealings with other people rather than out of the light that God shines into us if we will let Him.

“Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness; He is gracious and full of compassion, and righteousness.” Psalm 112:4

When I first read Psalm 112, this is not the verse that stuck out to me. In fact, upon closer inspection, it appeared to contain two completely unrelated thoughts. What does light and darkness have to do with grace and compassion? And who is this verse talking about?

As is usually the case, God did not leave me flailing around for too long before enlightening me, calling to mind examples from His Word and my life that explain what He’s trying to get across to me. In this case, I was immediately reminded of the story of Joseph. This verse could very easily be used to sum up the theme of his life. From the moment of his enslavement due to his brothers’ heinous actions against him, Joseph’s life became a living example of finding light in our darkness and allowing it to light the way in our relationships with other people.

At the end of Joseph’s life, after his father Jacob had died, his brothers were concerned that Joseph would finally take his revenge on them for their sin against him. I’d like to take four verses at the end of Genesis 50 to make a case for Psalm 112:4.

“Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’” (Genesis 50:18-21, NKJV).

Here’s what the life of Joseph has taught me about Psalm 112:4.

1). “Am I in place of God?” By begging for Joseph’s forgiveness, his brothers had placed him on somewhat of a pedestal where he knew he didn’t belong. At some point in his life Joseph had to come to the realization that he wasn’t calling the shots, and the sooner the better. We can’t know when and how his conversations with God turned his heart to submission. Was it in the initial betrayal when he was cast into the pit? Or was it on the road as he was being hauled away into slavery? Maybe as he sat on the dirty prison floor among criminals when he wasn’t one, that he surrendered to the idea that he wasn’t charge. Whenever it was, he learned the lesson we all need to come to grips with-placement is everything and we are not at the of the table.

2). “God meant it for good.” Darkness doesn’t exist simply for the sake of darkness. Paul understood this when he said, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” in Romans 8:28.

I can’t imagine being Joseph at the end of his life and reflecting on all he’d been through and having the rare opportunity of seeing the bigger picture. How different would his life have been and the life of his brothers had he chosen to wallow in his darkness, refuse to let the light in and seek revenge on those who’d wronged him? How would history have changed? Perspective is everything.

3). “I will provide for you.” There is a vast difference between the righteous and the unrighteous in how they behave toward other people, especially those who’ve wronged them. What separates the righteous from the unrighteous is from where they are living-out of a position of light or from a position of darkness. It is from a position of light that the upright mirror the life of Christ through their grace, compassion and righteousness. It’s amazing what a little light will do.

Unless we’ve chosen to live off the grid, out in the middle of nowhere completely devoid of human interaction, we will deal with people every day. That’s what this life is about. How we do it depends on what we do with our darkness. Darkness comes in many different forms. Everything from the death of a loved one to difficult relationships, fear, depression, worry, illness, all of it and so much more casts shadows of darkness over our lives often to the point of rendering us paralyzed, unable to function at the level of life we’ve been called to. At the point of our deepest darkness, we have a choice to either sink further into it or to surrender ourselves completely to God and let Him shine His light in the dark corners.

“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not My will but Yours, be done.’” Luke 22:41, 42.

“Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, in to your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:44-46, NKJV).

Talk about darkness! The whole earth was shrouded in it. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, surrendered His will to the Father, gave up His Spirit and finished the work they had set out to do from the moment of the Fall. To the human eye, the crucifixion was a dark day, but the bigger picture would argue otherwise. To those of us who know Him personally, the light seeped in the moment He died and the veil was torn giving us unlimited access to Him culminating at His resurrection. Because of His willingness to die in the murky darkness of sin, He made a way for us to experience His light in our lives. His surrender granted us grace and compassion. This is what the righteous man is to mirror. The darkness often has a higher purpose, but not for the purpose of wallowing in it. We would do well to remember our place, surrender to it, and allow the light of God in so that our dealings with others will be marked by grace, compassion and righteousness.

Let There Be Light!

Two months after my son was born, we moved to Chicago so that my husband could attend graduate school. Bruce was working full-time on campus and going to grad school part-time. I was home full-time with a two-month old and a two-year old. Despite the fact that we knew this was what God had for us, it was still hard. We left the familiarity of Peoria and all of our friends for the big city which looked a whole lot different to us with two little kids than it did when we were just dating. I spent that first summer crying and being impatient with my two-year old. At one point, I remember Nick screaming as he often did for some unknown reason while at the same time my daughter needing me for something and not letting up until she got a response. The one she got was not the one she wanted judging from the look of hurt in her eyes. That was a wake-up call for me; a lesson in operating out of the darkness in my dealings with other people rather than out of the light that God shines into us if we will let Him.

“Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness; He is gracious and full of compassion, and righteousness.” Psalm 112:4

When I first read Psalm 112, this is not the verse that stuck out to me. In fact, upon closer inspection, it appeared to contain two completely unrelated thoughts. What does light and darkness have to do with grace and compassion? And who is this verse talking about?

As is usually the case, God did not leave me flailing around for too long before enlightening me, calling to mind examples from His Word and my life that explain what He’s trying to get across to me. In this case, I was immediately reminded of the story of Joseph. This verse could very easily be used to sum up the theme of his life. From the moment of his enslavement due to his brothers’ heinous actions against him, Joseph’s life became a living example of finding light in our darkness and allowing it to light the way in our relationships with other people.

At the end of Joseph’s life, after his father Jacob had died, his brothers were concerned that Joseph would finally take his revenge on them for their sin against him. I’d like to take four verses at the end of Genesis 50 to make a case for Psalm 112:4.

“Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’” (Genesis 50:18-21, NKJV).

Here’s what the life of Joseph has taught me about Psalm 112:4.

1). “Am I in place of God?” By begging for Joseph’s forgiveness, his brothers had placed him on somewhat of a pedestal where he knew he didn’t belong. At some point in his life Joseph had to come to the realization that he wasn’t calling the shots, and the sooner the better. We can’t know when and how his conversations with God turned his heart to submission. Was it in the initial betrayal when he was cast into the pit? Or was it on the road as he was being hauled away into slavery? Maybe as he sat on the dirty prison floor among criminals when he wasn’t one, that he surrendered to the idea that he wasn’t charge. Whenever it was, he learned the lesson we all need to come to grips with-placement is everything and we are not at the of the table.

2). “God meant it for good.” Darkness doesn’t exist simply for the sake of darkness. Paul understood this when he said, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” in Romans 8:28.

I can’t imagine being Joseph at the end of his life and reflecting on all he’d been through and having the rare opportunity of seeing the bigger picture. How different would his life have been and the life of his brothers had he chosen to wallow in his darkness, refuse to let the light in and seek revenge on those who’d wronged him? How would history have changed? Perspective is everything.

3). “I will provide for you.” There is a vast difference between the righteous and the unrighteous in how they behave toward other people, especially those who’ve wronged them. What separates the righteous from the unrighteous is from where they are living-out of a position of light or from a position of darkness. It is from a position of light that the upright mirror the life of Christ through their grace, compassion and righteousness. It’s amazing what a little light will do.

Unless we’ve chosen to live off the grid, out in the middle of nowhere completely devoid of human interaction, we will deal with people every day. That’s what this life is about. How we do it depends on what we do with our darkness. Darkness comes in many different forms. Everything from the death of a loved one to difficult relationships, fear, depression, worry, illness, all of it and so much more casts shadows of darkness over our lives often to the point of rendering us paralyzed, unable to function at the level of life we’ve been called to. At the point of our deepest darkness, we have a choice to either sink further into it or to surrender ourselves completely to God and let Him shine His light in the dark corners.

“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not My will but Yours, be done.’” Luke 22:41, 42.

“Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, in to your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:44-46, NKJV).

Talk about darkness! The whole earth was shrouded in it. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, surrendered His will to the Father, gave up His Spirit and finished the work they had set out to do from the moment of the Fall. To the human eye, the crucifixion was a dark day, but the bigger picture would argue otherwise. To those of us who know Him personally, the light seeped in the moment He died and the veil was torn giving us unlimited access to Him culminating at His resurrection. Because of His willingness to die in the murky darkness of sin, He made a way for us to experience His light in our lives. His surrender granted us grace and compassion. This is what the righteous man is to mirror. The darkness often has a higher purpose, but not for the purpose of wallowing in it. We would do well to remember our place, surrender to it, and allow the light of God in so that our dealings with others will be marked by grace, compassion and righteousness.

 

 

 

What Are You Leaving Behind?

On a hot day in August 1950 in Arnolds Park, Iowa Billy Graham was scheduled to speak at a series of campground meetings. Due to sickness, he was unable to preach that day so an evangelist by the name of Leighton Ford stepped in and took his place. In typical Billy Graham fashion, the preaching was followed by an altar call for anyone who wanted to come forward to receive Christ as Savior. I don’t know how many people responded that day, but among those who did were two very special people, Fred and Marj Hintz, my grandparents. They were a young married couple with two little kids, both of whom they dragged to the front of the meeting with them while they prayed to receive Christ. One of those children was my mom.

It was a costly choice as many of their friends and some family walked away from them, but legacy always outweighs cost. Fast forward to 2015 and their descendants include 5 children, 11 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great grandchild (I think). Incidentally, of the 16 great-grandchildren, two of them have been adopted from Africa extending the reach of Grandma and Grandpa’s obedience to an entirely different continent!

Psalm 112:2, 3 (NKJV)

“His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed; Wealth and riches will be in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.”

My story is a good one, and I’m one fortunate person to have been born into a family whose grandparents and parents were obedient to Christ and answered his call on their lives. But this is not everyone’s story. How do we interpret these verses in light of our reality? How do we reconcile these verses with the reality of wayward kids, financial distress, or having no children at all despite the fact that we really do try to live a righteous life? Have we missed out on God’s blessings? Are we just simply not righteous enough?

It’s important to remember that the study of God’s Word is to be done in context. This Psalm, obviously, is part of the Old Testament where spiritual blessing was often, though not always, demonstrated through financial blessing, long life, many children. In addition, as part of the Old Testament, it was written in the context of the Law. To apply this Psalm to our lives today we need to apply it in the context of the New Covenant and all that that entails. It is from this vantage point that we will find our answers.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NKJV)

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-‘not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,’ says the Lord ‘but this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord,’ for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’”

Everything changed when Jesus hit planet earth to bring a new covenant, the covenant of grace which replaced the Law that those of the Old Testament lived by. No longer were generations taught the Law and commanded to live by it. Instead, His kingdom was eternal, open to everyone, not just the Jew, and easily known by anyone who would desire it. To that end, He taught unceasingly what the life of a believer would look like. I mentioned earlier that Psalm 112 is one of 13 Psalms in this series of didactic Psalms that demonstrate two ways of life, that of the righteous and that of the unrighteous. Ironically the characteristics of the godly mirror the character traits of those in the Beatitudes, that is, meek, poor, needy, brokenhearted and the like.

If His kingdom was spiritual in nature, then the blessings we can expect are often spiritual in nature. Maybe you’re the first person in your family to have a relationship with God. What an opportunity to set the foundation for those who come after you. Maybe you don’t have children, or have only one, or those you have are not following Christ. Does that mean you’re unrighteous, that God will withhold blessing from you? Hardly. What about those around you who have been encouraged, or who have made a different decision about something because you took the time to listen and point them to Christ? Or maybe just by watching your life someone else mustered the courage to take a different path, the right path.

I sat at a funeral over the weekend of a woman whose life was an example of this. She had terminal cancer and lived with it for years in front of everyone. As a result of her relationship with Christ and the way she handled her disease people from all over the country who had never met her were touched by her life. Her identity was in Christ, not her cancer. She lived and parented strategically, always with her identity in Christ at the forefront of her mind dictating how she behaved.

What are we talking about here? The Christian life is not about us. It’s about leaving a legacy in whatever way God has mapped out for you whether that’s through your children or friends, strangers we meet, whomever. The life of a Christian should mirror the stone that’s thrown into the water causing ripples to go beyond what the eye can see. That’s the wealth and riches we can count on, that we can store up for ourselves. Those who’ve come to Christ because of our testimony will spend eternity with us fulfilling the promise that our righteousness endures forever.

I Timothy 6:17-19 (NKJV)

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

 

 

Heroes of the Faith

The first time I met Elizabeth Grant I was sitting in her living room chatting with her about blogging. I’d heard so much about her from my husband who, at the time, had her daughter in his fifth grade Bible class. I’m not sure what I expected when we went over to deliver a meal to her and her family. I know what I didn’t expect was her smiling from ear to ear, taking me on a tour of her house, listening to her plans for the kitchen and basement, showing me the creative way she had come up with to help her son in a subject he was struggling with in school. She was amazing.

I’ll never forget that day with her. As I followed her around her house she casually mentioned that the kids really wanted a cat to which she told them they could have one when she was dead. I was shocked.

“You really say stuff like that?” I asked incredulously.

“Of course,” she said. “This is reality.”

It wasn’t long after that I started my blog and asked her to guest post for me on a series I was working on called “Raising World-Changers.” She fascinated me for many reasons, but it was her parenting in light of her reality that struck me the most. I figured if anyone had a clue as to how to raise kids that would one day change the world, I couldn’t do any better than to ask Elizabeth. The following is an excerpt of what she wrote that day. You can read her whole piece here.

“There is truly no better parent than God the Father, my King, my Creator. My children are in good hands. They are safe. I trust, You Lord. You will watch over them and guide them and teach them. For however long they have me here on earth, please work through me. Use me. I don’t want to parent them…I want YOU to parent them. I can’t tell you the instant relief and peace that filled me from then on. Even now, I sort of find myself pushing my kids away from me and on to Christ. I remind them that I fail and I make mistakes and I may not always be there to listen to them. Even while I’m alive, I get too busy and too cranky sometimes. I want them to find all of their answers in the One who holds all the answers. I want them to know the certainty of Jesus Christ — beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

As moms we want many things for our kids. We want the best life that they can have; we want safety and success for them; we want friendships for them; we want them to be proud of us and we want to leave them a legacy. Most of these things are beyond our control, but the legacy we leave for them is completely in our hands.

Elizabeth would argue that she wasn’t anyone special. Maybe not, but neither were Abraham, Moses, Hannah, Ruth, Esther, Mary. My contention is had she lived as one of their contemporaries she would have either had a book written after her, or at the very least, been mentioned in Hebrews’ list of the faithful. Why? Because she didn’t fail? Because she was perfect? Because she never had a bad day? Because she never snapped at another human being? No. That was neither true of her nor of those in the pages of Scripture. What made her special is what makes anyone special worth mentioning, her faith. Elizabeth Grant had it figured out. She understood that life is a whisper, and you only get one shot at doing it to the glory of God. There are no do-overs. She gave more than lip service to her love for God, and in that way left a legacy for more than just her children. For those privileged to have met her or to have read her writings, she gave us a front row seat to her life and allowed God to use her as a teaching visual to encourage the rest of us in how to live our own lives.

Elizabeth Grant, you will be missed more than you know, but you’re right. Your kids are loved even more by their Creator than by you. You taught them that. You have set them up well for this life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your example on motherhood and faithfulness. To God be the glory!

“What shall I render to the Lord For all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, truly I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant; You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:12-17, NKJV).