Sunday, August 28, 2016
HANG TOUGH…GOD DOES CARE!
In the last blog, we talked about the emotional rollercoaster and intense impact of the experience of divorce. The intensity of those emotions can be overwhelming, but as we discussed last time, no one need to walk through the it all alone, as God promises to see us through whatever comes our way. Yet life is not done, and God is not done shaping or using us, and so in spite of the pain, we must walk forward. That is the hardest part, because many days, you don’t feel like walking forward. You may not even feel like walking at all! What then?
In life we daily make choices about the way we spend our time, the priorities we choose and the tasks we undertake. Through the course of our lives, those choices and those priorities become our habits.
If we are wise, we choose to develop habits that will serve us well over the course of our lifetime. However, in the toughest times, such as the aftermath of divorce, when we are confused and overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty, the temptation is to allow those habits to fall by the side. We can blame it on a lack of energy but we find ourselves lacking interest, and in the midst of it all our confused thinking can lead us astray.
How do you get through this time of heartache?
This is a time to go on “auto-pilot.” Let the good habits you have developed carry you forward. Though you may not feel you are getting anything from it, continue to open the Bible and read those words. Even though it is awkward, don’t neglect worship and fellowship with the body of Christ. Continue to pursue the character of Christ with your honesty, integrity and upright living. Move one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, one day at a time. And do your best to stay on the same narrow path you have walked with the Lord for years…this isn’t the time to change course.
People around you may not understand how profoundly things have changed for you. Worship can feel hollow. Time in the scripture may feel like meaningless routine. Our time with friends can leave us feeling more alone than ever, as we remember the times we shared with those friends with a spouse, before the divorce, or as we feel like the proverbial fifth wheel in the circle of friends. I remember how every entrance into the church sanctuary was so surrounded with memories from years gone by, and I just didn’t feel like I fit there any longer. It was very hard to sit in familiar places alone for the first time. Well, for that matter, for the first time, second time, third time…it was just very hard. So I made adjustments. You may need to make adjustments as well.
Sometimes the adjustments are very minor. My church had a little chapel at the back, which also served as a cry room available for younger mothers. There were a variety of individuals who chose that as their seating location. I decided it was a fresh place to sit, allowing me to continue to worship with people I loved and who loved me, but to do so in a way that eased the pain of difficult memories. When attending long standing social events or other activities I used to enjoy, I did so in the company of others, friends I invited to go with me, or sharing the event with one of my children instead. There were others, and there will be for you, as well.
You have spent a lifetime shaping some of the values you cherish...don’t forsake them now. At the same time, there may be some habits that you know have led you astray, have affected your life adversely. This could be a time to make minor course adjustments through repentance and a fresh commitment to Christ. God still has great aspirations for your life. Painful though this time might be, it may be the start of something fresh you can’t yet see…if you will hang on, and let God hang on to you as you move forward one day, one hour, one step at a time.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
HANG TOUGH…GOD DOES CARE!
I remember times before my divorce, when I was working with individuals struggling to get through the experience and try to figure out how to get their lives stabilized once again.
I knew the individuals were suffering; I didn’t understand the depth of the angst they were experiencing. I suspect that, like many things in life, only those who have been through it truly understand.
The emotions are so far ranging, and fluctuate so wildly, divorce and its aftermath are just very intense experiences. Feelings such as sorrow and grief over the loss of the second most important relationship in your life (God being the most important), or feelings of betrayal when the one you loved cheated on you, traded you in on a new model, or just walked away leaving you in despair. There might be fears for the future, or exhilaration at suddenly being free and on your own. There can be a sense of finally being safe, or a feeling that you will never be safe again. Loneliness can create feelings of desperate solitude, or impel you into a whirlwind of relationships and activities.
God can seem extremely close, or so far away that He cannot be found.
Perhaps the hardest thing about all of these emotional issues is that the journey through is not a straight line, but a path that meanders, forward and backward, up and down with sudden swerves, turns, dips and times of difficult,steep ascents. One day an individual may feel he or she has licked it all and is ready to move on, and then the next day experience such emotional upheaval that it feels like there has been no progress at all.
These things vary from person to person.
The thing to remember in it all is that God walks with you no matter what.
As a good friend of mine said, “you may feel lonely, but remember, you are never alone.” Some days, you may feel like you can’t take another step as hopelessness and fatigue set in, almost paralyzing you from moving forward.
But when you can’t walk, God’s arms are underneath to support and carry you on to the future he has planned and designed, tailor made specifically just for you!
Sunday, August 21, 2016
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…
Are you like me? Do you ever hear phrases in movies or made by politicians, actors, scientists or other famous people in which there is a tone of derision at Christians?
It is often a very condescending tone, as if acknowledging that Christians are all a bunch of dolts, and everyone else is enlightened, like the speaker.
It also always strikes me that the more I hear such comments, the more it is clear those speaking have no accurate idea of what Christianity or church life is actually about. Instead, they speak out of ignorance and a kind of bigotry, which is very interesting since those are the very things they accuse us of!
I don’t remember what brought it up the other day, but when I hear one more person spouting off in this pretentious way, it occurred to me that this is really not anything new, despite what we might think. Acts 17 recounts the story of a time when Paul experienced the very same kind of thing in his interactions with the “wise philosophers” of his time. (If these things resonate with you and you haven’t read that story lately, you might want to take a few minutes to read it…the parallels to today’s world are amazing. It’s like that old saying, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”
During hard times, and times when you feel like God isn’t answering as quickly as you would like, or even answering at all, it can be very tempting to fall under the influence of those who would tell you that it just isn’t worth it. Many an individual has turned his back on God, and on the church, during stressful times such as the process of divorce, in times of grief, when everyone else seems to be more successful, or during extreme financial stress and job loss. But to do so is a mistake. It is falling for arguments that have the appearance of wisdom, but eventually ring hollow and vain.
Paul addresses this topic most clearly in 1 Corinthians 1:
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. –1 Corinthians 1:18-29 NASB
Don’t ever let yourself fall for those arguments that sound so wise, but run counter to the Word of God. They may appear wise, and in this day and age, may be the “politically correct” way to approach things, but they are far from ultimate truth and eternal significance that can only be found in Christ Jesus, crucified for our sins, raised to give us eternal life.
If you are in a time of extreme stress, the answers you truly need can only be found in pursuing God, not in turning away from Him to something less…and everything is less than God!
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
WHATEVER BECAME OF SIN?
That is the title of a book written over 40 years ago by Dr. Karl Menninger. At that time, as he looked at the world around him with all the psychoses and errant human behavior, he also observed that the concept of sin had been disappearing in American culture.
I wonder what he would think today!
Sins that were once considered serious issues and behaviors shameful or even deserving of punishment have even become institutionalized in our culture. For example; when was the last time you heard someone accused of committing adultery? No, people today merely have “affairs” or live in “an open marriage.” Unmarried couples no longer “live in sin” or “have illicit relationships,” they just move in together and nobody bats an eye.
Drugs, drunkenness and gambling have been glamorized, turned into heroics and in some cases is even endorsed or sponsored by government…usually so that tax revenue can be increased (like that would surprise anyone). And yet, though the names are changed, and people believe the deeds to be harmless, there is still no escaping the consequences of sin, regardless of what you call it. People walk through life burdened with guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy longing for release. Marriages are devastated and shattered, lives, minds and bodies are destroyed, and society suffers as a result.
All these things happen and people are trapped, unable to discern a way out.
Because nothing is considered to be “sin,” there is no awareness of the spiritual impact, and no seeking of the one remedy that brings true release from the power of sin. There is no repentance because there is no sin…just poor choices, and even if there is a desire to repent, there is often no awareness that there is a loving God who welcomes repenting sinners, has already made provision to set them free from their burden, and can bring the restoration and healing so desperately needed. Instead, people talk themselves out of feeling remorse, they explain away the “mistakes” they have made, and live as a “law unto themselves.”
I would even suggest that this very attitude that each person is a law unto themselves is core to the confusion. For many, right and wrong (if the concepts are considered at all) are not based on standards established by God in his word, but instead are the choice of each individual, with the underpinning belief that each person must find his/her own truth, as there is no sense of ultimate truth. Political expediency and correctness, personal preference and pragmatism have, for many, replaced the teaching of scripture and commandments of God. And it is amazing what things are considered reprehensible in our culture while deeds scripture clearly describes as sin are tolerated or praised. We have come to believe that God is no longer the judge, rather each individual has attempted to place him or herself in the judge’s seat with, with God on trial and righteousness our own creation (as C.S. Lewis pointed out many years ago in his essay titled, “God in the Dock.”)
Don’t allow yourself to be one of those who are so deceived. God still sits on the throne. God is still the one who will judge, and his appearing will cause humanity to tremble, staggered when they realize how puny and powerless they are in the presence of God. God’s commands have not been cancelled. The definition of righteousness remains his prerogative, no matter what revisions sociological, ethical and grammatical writers might decide. Those who deal with people wrestling with feelings of guilt sometimes need not deal so much with the feelings, as with the fact that the person actually IS guilty…guilty of sin.
There is a REASON our consciences bring a sense of guilt to us…and to talk it away undermines the only “cure.”
We in the church need to never forget that the truths we proclaim are eternal and certain, no matter what society might say. But we need to proclaim them as Jesus did, with love, grace and hope.
There are two scripture passages that come to mind:
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
--Galatians 6:7-8 NASB
21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
--Romans 6:21-23 NASB
Sometimes I think we just need to be reminded, and sometimes I think we need to warn those who care nothing for God. Before it is too late.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
The other day I ran across someone who was described by a single word. You know the kind of statements. “Oh yeah, that’s Fred, he’s a realtor.” “Hi, I’m Joan. I’m Hawaiian.” “Here comes Julie, she’s a single mom.” “I just met a guy named Arnie. He’s divorced.” “There’s Joseph. He’s an Aggie.” “Helen is a really nice gal”
I’m not sure why we do it, but for some reason we like to be able to tag people. We do it in lots of ways. “Seahawks fan.” “Chemistry teacher.” “Avid golfer.” “Great cook.” “Mother of three.” “Texan.” “Catholic.” “A really honest guy.” There are lots of them.
Some are based on what we do, either for a living or in our spare time. Some are based on skin color or geographic region. Some relate to our character and some to our beliefs. But if you could select how you were identified, or were to select areas that identify yourself, what would you most want thosse things to be? Sometimes what we WANT those things to be is a long way from how we actually act.
I have observed that in the extremes of life, in those times when we are most severely tested, the core of who we are often reveals itself.
It is in those moments that the real us can be discovered, by ourselves and others. Some would say that in those extreme times is when we cannot be held accountable, when we are likely to do things we would NEVER do otherwise. Perhaps that is true. On the other hand, perhaps it is true that in those moments our guard is down, our self-control disabled and we discover who we really are. Probably it is a little of both.
Divorce is one of those times.
I have known of individuals divorcing whose persona is that of a “good Christian,” but who manipulated finances and lied about assets to hide them from the court and spouse. So much for being a good Christian. You might think this is self-preservation, but I have seen it manifest itself in very vengeful ways, even accepting undeserved payments that were known to be wrong. For others, it becomes a time when restraint and caution is thrown to the wind and “anything goes”, and behaviors one would never have expected to see in the individal now are released and bubble the surface.
Now, lest I sound all negative, I have also known others who, in the times of most severe testing set just the opposite example. These individuals choose to be honest, even though they know it will cost them to do so. They choose not to compromise, standing firm by their convictions. When others sink to their worst selves, these individuals rise to their best and surprise even themselves.
I don’t think these things are accidental. Instead, I believe we nurture one aspect of our being or another. I believe that what comes out in these times is actually a manifestation of what we really do hold to be most important about who we are, the values that we have developed and cherished and grown into our lives during the less stressful times.
Or, if it goes the other way, then it is often the revelation that we have NEGLECTED to nurture the positive aspects and character traits in our lives, to develop the godly character that honors Christ.
In the good times of your life, you either sow the seeds of high moral character, or we let the gardens of our hearts get overgrown with weeds and the refuse of our lives. If you are in hard times and not liking what you are learning about yourself, then let those learnings be a guide to the growth areas you will want to pursue in better times. If you are in better times, then this could be a good time o be investing in the characteristics you want to have as the core values of your life, the ones you would like people to use to describe you. These things don’t come automatically, or by accident in life; they are the result of choices we make day by day. Kind of like that famous passage where Moses challenges the people of Israel in preparation for their new life as God’s people:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
The same kind of challenge that Joshua, Moses’s successor, also presented to the people in his time of leadership:
“…choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
What are the choices you are making these days?
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
MINISTRY BEYOND OURSELVES
In my last blog, I expressed concern about the growing narcissim that seems to be becoming such a significant emphasis of modern American culture. I want to focus that discussion a bit further and observe how it affects the life of our churches.
Far too often, individuals seeking a church to be part of, make their selection for all the wrong reasons…or, at least, without consideration of some very significant and godly reasons. Let me explain.
Individuals of all ages often focus their attention in church selection as well as in evaluating their experiences of a worship service (or other Christian meeting) on one basic question, worded in various ways:
Did I get anything out of it?
Does it meet my needs?
Has it helped me grow?
Do I feel closer to God because of it?
Does it serve the needs of my family?
How is it relevant to my life?
Notice a common theme? The narcissistic concentration on self.
In light of scriptures talking about the crucifixion of self and of Jesus as our model who emptied himself and took on the role of a servant, perhaps there are more important questions to be asking.
Questions like these:
Was God pleased with my attitude and gratitude in worship today?
How did God use me to touch someone’s life at that event?
Is this ministry one in which I could serve God to make a difference for others?
Could the gifts I have and the things I have to contribute be used effectively by God in that environment?
Whose needs did I help meet?
What hurts and struggles in others did I seek to alleve?
As I looked around, did I see people who need the ministry God could do through me?
Is this a place where the people are about themselves, or is this a place where I would be part of a community of believers who lay down their lives in the name of Christ, for the sake of others?
Who was I praying for to be impacted by God’s work today?
Does this ministry or church need people like me to help enhance the ministry?
Are there gaps in the ministry, such as ministry with youth, that I could see and therefore God could use me to help fill?
Is God touching the lives of others here, and could I help do meaningful ministry here?
Was I praying for the preacher or leader as he/she sought to minister for God?
Are there ways I could help build ministry and I can reach out for Christ to those outside the church by being involved here?
Most of all, is this where God wants to use me?
Will I be honoring God and walking in obedience if I give of myself to be part of this ministry?
When we worry about whether the music or worship style is what WE prefer, we ignore the fact that there are others with different needs and perspectives, we have placed ourselves on the throne that belongs only to God. When we focus on our own needs and benefits in worship and Christian community, we are doing the very opposite of the example Christ set for us to follow, the Christ who gave all he had for the benefit of others, such as you and me.
Granted there are times we need to be sustained by our fellowship with and the prayers of others…I see it all the time. And granted we each have the need to grow and experience God’s touch in our lives.
However, more often than not, the real depths of the Christian faith are found as one gives, serves and sacrifices for others; it is a shallow faith that seeks primarily one’s own personal growth and satisfaction and makes decisions based on that.
All of us have specific areas where we have needs, and where we have experiences or insights that can help meet the needs of others. Divorce is one of those times when an individual needs the support of his or her fellow Christians.
And yet, if you are seeking a place where you can find the help you need to get through the throes of divorce, I would encourage you to include in that search making an effort to seek how YOU can make a difference for others even in this time of your life. Odds are there are others hurting from divorce’s sting in your Christian community. There are children who may need someone to talk with as they struggle while watching their parents argue over custody. Or, even more, as a dear friend commented to me, you are more than merely a person who is divorced; even in this time of life, there is much you have to offer if you will but seek to know how God might want to use YOU for the benefit of others. In so doing, you will be more like Christ, grow closer to God, and honor God with your life.
Sunday, August 7, 2016
LIVING BEYOND OURSELVES
I have had opportunity to travel a number of places in the world, and have had good friends who travelled to others. That in itself is a privilege of the high standard of living many of us in the U.S. take for granted every day of our lives.
As I interact with a variety of individuals in a variety of settings, I find that my travels often bring a perspective that I suspect I would not have had otherwise. As I observe the world while traveling and experiencing life, I am saddened by the direction our culture seems to be headed. Let me explain.
In Mexico City years ago, as our train pulled into town, it rode through a large area of the city housing that consisted of, as I describe it, pieces of corrugated steel put together with a light bulb hanging down in the middle.
When I visited the Middle East, also some time ago, I saw the hovels that were the Palestinian refugee camps…not only in Israel which is much chided over the situation, but also across the river in the country of Jordan. It has cause me to wonder why, if the Middle Eastern Arabic speaking people care so much for the Palestinians, they don’t take it upon themselves to make space for them in their countries, instead of merely criticizing Israel.
In Bangladesh I saw individuals carrying sticks on their heads to either sell or to burn for cooking fires. They, too, lived in corrugated steel shacks…if they were lucky. Some seemed to have no place to live, as I observed a bicycle “taxi” driver spending the night sleeping on his bicycle, feet propped up on the handle bars, or little children scavenging in the street and playing with discarded videotape as if it were a wonderful toy.
I heard stories in Bangladesh of women trying to push their babies through the open windows of a minivan, in hopes that the occupants would take their children and give them a chance in life.
I have heard of villagers in the Philippines whose simple lives are so remote it takes hours to hike to their village, and where the eating of fresh meat from a slaughtered animal is a rare treat the entire village shares in together.
In Thailand I have seen women who have been taken from their remote villages and sent into prostitution as a way to raise money for the family to survive.
I have seen the homeless living in cardboard boxes on the streets of New York City, and alcoholics sleeping on streets in Seattle and New York, sometimes washing a car window for a dollar, just as it is depicted in the movies.
I have seen pictures of orphanages in Uganda, filled with children forced into war as young soldiers, first having to shoot their own parents.
I have watched the recent news reports of refugees, homeless and displaced by the atrocities of ISIL, or taken as sex slaves for that heinous gang.
I have known of mission work in the back hills of Kentucky, helping individuals in homes where the flooring has long since rotted away, leaving only dirt to walk on.
I have heard of cruise destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico, stopping at beautiful hotels, waterfalls and tourist shopping, while just outside the glamour are the poverty stricken individuals who seek only to survive another day.
These are some of the things I have learned and seen. I could add many more, and I am sure you could as well.
Having seen all these things, I am mindful of the refrigerator and shelves in my home that are filled with food to select from for a meal, or the closets in my home that have more than ample clothing options. I observe in the world around me the amount of money spent on dogs or cats and other pets in over the top expenditures for luxury items at a price that could have provided a month’s supply of food for a starving child. I have seen stickers on fancy automobiles bearing of prices that could transform a third world village, rather than merely impress the neighbors.
There are a great many of us who have lives in which vacations are a regular option, food is readily accessible, multiple-room housing is the norm while thousands and thousands of dollars are spent on our weddings, funerals, birthdays, Christmas gifts and travel budgets. I don’t believe we are expected to have NOTHING. However, I do believe we will all be held accountable for what we do with the resources we have, though many of us in America act as if we will not.
We need to be reminded that time and again in the scriptures, the prophets make clear that God notices the plight of the poor, orphaned and downtrodden, and that he also notices those who live in comparative luxury with no concern for the needs of others. In the United States, it is easy to slough off our responsibility by saying it is the government’s job to care for the poor; that is why we pay taxes. (That statement alone should remind us of Dicken’s Christmas Carol and hard-hearted Mr. Scrooge.)
All of these things, and more unnamed, suggest to me that unadulterated, self-centered narcissim is on the rise. It is a troubling trend. Perhaps that same narcissism in the source of many divorces in our world today. I believe it incumbent upon each of us to regularly evaluate our lifestyles and our budgets in light of the suffering that exists in our world. Even then, we must be wise in the way dollars are spent.
I have heard of government aid that is sent to blighted areas of the world, only to be left on the tarmac after being captured by war lords who care nothing for the plight of the people.
I have heard of the CEO’s of “helping organizations” raking in huge salaries gleaned from the top of the donations received. But I have also heard of mission work around the globe in which wells of clean water are dug for thirsty people or cattle, goats and chickens are provided to help villages begin animal husbandry and escape malnutrition.
I know of individuals working hard to rescue women and children trapped in the tragedy of sex slavery.
Real Christianity cares not only for someone’s ticket to heaven, but for the sharing of love in tangible ways as we seek to help others find a better life now AND in eternity.
I wonder how many marriages might be saved, or how many divorced persons might rediscover joy, it those individuals chose to be involved in something bigger than themselves, and actively gave their resources and their lives to help those around the world who are in such desperate need. The life lived only for oneself is a small life indeed, and is perhaps the worst blight in humanity today. Perhaps it has always been that way. The writings of the prophets suggest it has been going on for a long time. But the prophets also suggest that it doesn’t HAVE to be that way, and we don’t HAVE to go along with it. It is a challenge we each must face as we look in the mirror day by day. I know it is a challenge for me! Perhaps that is the point of the bumper sticker I have seen that says,
“Live Simply, That Others May Simply Live.”