Directionally Challenged

The first time my parents and I realized that I was born without a sense of direction was in seventh grade during a semester of map skills. I hated it immediately. First of all, as a visual person, the workbook wasn’t even a little aesthetically pleasing. Printed on newspaper-like paper and covered in bright blue and black ink on dirty white paper, it was all I could do to get through the pages stapled together. Coupled with my assumption that forward-facing is always heading north, it’s not hard to believe that I didn’t do well as evidenced by the massive amounts of red pen covering my work and screaming “fail!”.

Once I got my license, things didn’t improve much. Because that was the era of no GPS or cell phones, much of my time on the city roads included tearful stops at the nearest gas station to call my mom and ask for directions on how to get home. If I thought ahead and got directions before leaving my house, they always started with, “Imagine you’re at the mall…” For some reason, I always knew where I was in relation to it, and the following instructions seemed to make sense.

After marrying my husband, he took over the task of getting me from point A to point B; often taking me to the house of a new cleaning client the night before I started so I wouldn’t get lost on my first day. When he wasn’t with me, his instructions would often start with, “Ok. Imagine you’re at the mall…”

I’d say the GPS has been helpful, and it has been to a degree. But even the talking machine sitting on my dash has failed me as it did one day as I was driving to work. It was a fairly new area for me with road construction, and after doing exactly what “she” said, I still ended up in a farmer’s cornfield where he stood at his door screaming at me to get off of his property. “Do you think I want to be here,” I screamed back at him tears pouring down my face.

Hebrews 13:8 says this,

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”

In recent months, I have been hit by just how closely this idea of alternate routes parallels the Church’s evolving theology. If you pay attention you will notice everything from Christians wanting to change the message of salvation to appeal to the culture, to questioning whether we can really be sure that absolute truth exists. We’ve gotten to a place of entertaining Satan’s age-old question of “Did God really say?” leaving ourselves naked and without God’s hand of protection meant for us. I recently heard someone say that one of the greatest issues facing the Church today is homosexuality. This makes about as much sense as our government telling us that the biggest problem facing our world is climate change.

While homosexuality in the Church is definitely a disheartening trend we are now seeing I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that it is one of the greatest issue we face. The greatest issue facing the Church today is the absence of absolute truth and the courage to stand by it.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6).

As a person who cannot read maps, decipher drawings, or leave the house without a GPS, this verse is especially meaningful to me. Nothing strikes fear in me quite like the big orange detour sign I’m not expecting. I only know one way to get to any of my destinations.

One of the worst instances of getting lost happened when my friend Mary and I were headed to a conference in a town about 2 hours away. I didn’t realize her sense of direction was as lacking as mine until I watched an exchange between her and her husband taking place right before my eyes, echoing the one I’d just had with Bruce. The conversation was filled with concentrated instructions and words and drawings in an effort to help us get to our destination as smoothly as possible. An hour later, we still hadn’t made our way out of our own town. Due to road construction, the exit that both of our husbands had told us to take was shut down so we continued to circle the circumference of the city until we had to decide which one of us would put our tails between our legs and call our husband. When I explained the situation to my husband later on from the hotel (by the way, we totally missed the opening night activities), I remember wondering if he was even listening due to the silence at the other end, until I heard him finally take a breath in the middle of hysterical laughter.

There are multiple ways to get someplace in any given city which for people like me is a real problem. Praise God that His Word never changes, nor does His truth, nor do His instructions. In a culture that is constantly changing, don’t we want to cling to the one thing that doesn’t? I would caution all of us with these words:

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power “(Col. 2:6-10).

Want know how to obtain eternal life? Open His Word. Want to know how to treat other people? Open His Word? Want to know if what you’re being told from the pulpit or the culture is correct? Open His Word. It’s all in black and white, much like my map skills workbook. However, instead of screaming “failure”, the words in red are coaxing, “follow me.”

On Establishing Good Habits

When my son was about two years old, he had a favorite shirt he always liked to wear. It was red and white striped, made of super soft cotton and cost me all of five dollars at an outlet mall. I’m guessing that the soft fabric next to his previously burned skin felt soothing, and it didn’t hurt that it sported his favorite color-red. The shirt wasn’t just a favorite. It became the only shirt he would wear to the point that getting him to switch it out for pajamas at bedtime became a fight I was most nights too tired to deal with. So I did what any parent whose kid is running the show did and waited for him to fall asleep. I would then take it off, wash it, dry it and put it back on before falling into bed myself. Had it not been for the fact that it spent several days on the body of a two-year old I may have let it go, but at some point the thing had to be washed.

Nick was and still is a creature of habit. He wears the same clothes most days, jeans and a t-shirt, eats the same foods, sits in the same spot at lunch via a seating chart he and his friends have made up and followed all school year, orders the same thing at the two restaurants he will eat at for fear of wasting hard-earned money on something that may turn out to be too exotic for his simple American taste buds. He brushes his teeth with the bathroom door closed, drives with the windows closed so as not to muss his perfectly styled hair and always buys the same kind of Nike tennis shoes when a new pair is warranted.

Psalm 112:7, 8.

“He will not be afraid of evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is established; He will not be afraid, until he sees his desire upon his enemies.”

To say my son is established in his habits and lifestyle would be a gross understatement. If we’re honest, most of us aren’t much different. We find security in the routine, mundane habits of daily life. Then there are those of us who are caught in habits that provide anything but security, but we can’t seem to shake them so great is the pull they have on us.

When I first read this Psalm, it was these two verses that popped out at me, specifically the word “established.” I started asking myself what makes a heart established in something? Is the author assuming that because the heart is established, the person does all of the things listed in the preceding six verses, or is it the actions of these verses that causes a heart to be established?

I started reading the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. In the book are seven habits that the author argues will that produce certain results provided the reader spends time establishing these habits. In the same way a heart established in God will produce certain behaviors. Habits are established through the repetition of certain behaviors, but that repetition has to start with the choice to make those behaviors a habit.

In Psalm 111:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This is just the beginning. Fearing the Lord is the start to the life of a righteous man. Get that down, and you’re well on your way to establishing your life in righteousness and all of the blessings that flow from it. In Psalm 112:1, the author states that a man who fears the Lord is blessed, and so we have the rest of chapter 112.

S. Conway, a famous preacher said this:

This fixedness of heart, which is so blessed, is the result of habitual trust. Trusting in the Lord. We can form habits of trust, as of any other act of the mind. It is not a single act of faith, or a spasmodic intermittent trust, which will ensure this fixedness of heart. Built must be perpetually repeated until the habit is formed. We must put our will into it, and we must abandon everything which would render such trust impossible, as all allowed sin will and must. – S.C.

It’s for this reason that some people, when given bad news about their health, have a complete calmness about them, a peace that passes all understanding, while others go home, pull the curtains shut and go to bed to avoid having to deal with the reality of their situation. It’s for this reason that some of us find ourselves in debt because of certain spending habits that have been established while others roll with the punches when something comes up they weren’t expecting to have to spend their money on.

Established habits and routines are comforting. We count on them when everything else around us goes haywire. The Hebrew word for establish is samak which means to lean against, rest weight upon, to support.

One commentator says this:

“[Trusting] in Christ, the essential Word…leaning upon him, laying the whole stress of his salvation upon him.”

Paul says the same thing in Ephesians 3:17 (NIV).

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Having been established in love, the reader can then fully grasp the love of God. Without the foundation of God’s love, the very root of our souls, we cannot know the depth of it for ourselves. In the same way, the Psalmist is arguing the case for the righteous life. The way to it is the established fear of the Lord as the base from which flow all other disciplines and blessings of righteousness, one being a steadfast heart as quoted in verse seven.

To drive it home just a bit further, note Ezekiel 24:2 in the King James version:

“Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this same day: the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day.”

In other translations the wording is laid siege to Jerusalem, the same word, samak, used in Ezekiel and again in Psalm 112:8. Essentially, King Nebuchadnezzar, driven by his animosity for both God and His people, set himself or bore of his weight upon, the task of destroying Jerusalem. That the same word is used in this verse as it is in Psalm 112 speaks to the strength of its meaning. King Nebuchadnezzar set himself against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. His heart was established, and his actions backed it up.

In answer to the question at the beginning, Scripture shows both that a heart established in truth renders righteousness while, at the same time, the continual righteous acts of the person further establishes a righteous heart.

So what are your habits established in? What is your thought process established in? Why do you do what you do? Are your habits motivated by righteousness, or are they merely perpetual action?

 

 

On Being Remembered

Psalm 112:6

“Surely he will never be shaken; The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.”

The first five verses of this Psalm lay down the basic habits of a righteous person: a healthy fear of the Lord, a delight in God’s commandments, one who is gracious, full of compassion, fair in his dealings with others, who lends and lives with discretion. All of those things sound wonderful, but realistically in a sinful world this is completely counter-cultural making it often difficult to live the righteous life we’ve been called to. However, God’s commands are often followed by promises which is where we find ourselves in verse six, the beginning of the list of promises enjoyed by the righteous.

Oftentimes it would seem there is much to be shaken up about so great are the problems around us. We find ourselves distracted wondering what the point is in doing the right thing. Does it make any difference? Does God even notice? It’s tempting to quit, thinking it futile, and just live our lives and try to get by. But then I’m reminded of people like Dietrich Bonhoffer. What if he had given up? How many prisoners in the Nazi concentration camp where he was imprisoned would have died never hearing about Christ?

What if the Coptic Christians had renounced their faith in the face of certain death? Where would the Church in Egypt be?

What if Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Iranian pastor Saeed imprisoned in Iran for his faith, had retreated after hearing of her husband’s imprisonment? Who would have shared the gospel with the United Nations? Who would have been the voice of support on national radio and TV for those imprisoned for their faith?

II Corinthians 6:7-10 has the most encouraging take on the topic:

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed-always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”

What torch do you need to pick back up and carry? And what are the benefits of remaining strong?

There is a conversation that takes place frequently at my house. It goes something like this:

Kid: Mom, we’re going to go get baseball pants today, right?

Me: What?

Kid: I thought we were going to go get my pants today.

Me: What are you talking about?

Kid: We talked about this. My first game is in two days.

Me: This is the first I’m hearing about it.

Kid: Seriously? We just had this conversation yesterday. Don’t you remember?

Me: I have no recollection of this.

Kid: You don’t remember anything.

Me: Silently combing through the stacks of mental clutter searching for that elusive conversation.

The specifics of the conversation change depending on the situation, but the theme, my forgetfulness, is always the same. If I were 30 years older I would be concerned that something serious was wrong. For now, I’m chalking it up to a cruel joke that both my age and gender are playing on me.

Thankfully, God’s memory is not subject to human failure. In verse 6 of Psalm 112 He assures us that the righteous will be remembered forever. Having spent much of Matthew 25 telling the disciples that in giving to the poor, they are giving to the very Savior, He explains that not only are their works remembered, they are rewarded with eternal reward. Not to mistake works as a means to salvation, they are an important part of our relationship with Christ. They are the proving ground for our salvation, the proof of a Savior to the outside world, and a partnership with God in expanding His kingdom.

Conversely, God’s memory “gives out” when it comes to our sin. One of the things most amazing about Him is His selective memory, if you will.

Isaiah 43:25

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”

Hebrews 8:12

“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Hebrews 10:16, 17

“’This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’”

Isaac Newton is remembered for his discovery of gravity and his contribution to modern physics.

Ernest Hemingway will be remembered as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.

Beethoven will be remembered as one of the most influential composers during the time music was transitioning between the Classical and Romantic eras.

Dr. Alexander Fleming will always be remembered as the inventor of penicillin, making it the most widely used antibiotic in the world to date.

As long as history is taught these and others like them will continually be remembered and discussed. Though most of us will never be mentioned in the history books for anything noteworthy, that which we do for others out of our love for God will be remembered and rewarded by Him for eternity.

Verse six is both a reminder and an encouragement to stay strong and to hold onto the hope of His remembering us for eternity.

 

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.