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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Waiting on God


If I told you that sometimes I think I need to buy God a watch for Christmas, would you know what I mean?  

Sometimes, especially when in the midst of hard times, it is easy to question God’s timing, and to feel like maybe he has forgotten us in our situation.  Maybe as you are reading this, you are experiencing a time in your life when things seem very difficult, and while you are waiting for God to help, the wait seems interminably long.  It can make you wonder whether God can tell time!  Hence, my temptation to send him a watch…

You might be interested to learn that this is not an uncommon experience, even for people in the scriptures.  The question asking “How long?” is fairly common in the Bible, occurring in Psalms alone over a dozen times, such as this one from Psalm 13:1 (NASB)---

“How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?”

In the New Testament, Peter reassures his readers that God is not slow about his promise (2 Peter 3:9)…which clearly indicates that they felt like maybe he was!  The book of Revelation depicts martyred saints asking God the same question (6:10).  Job asked the question, David asked the question…so if you wonder how long God is going to wait to help you, you are in good company!

It can seem as if God no longer cares, or as the Psalmist said, that he has forgotten you. 

But he hasn’t.  

And he isn’t running late.  He is always on time.  Perfectly on time.  

It’s just that we can’t always figure out the whys and wherefores of his timing, especially when we are ready for some kind of deliverance from sorrow or struggle, and it just seems to take forever!  Often, once God does act, it is possible to look back and see how it was indeed, the perfect timing…but it is sure hard to fathom other times!

On the other hand, in case you have never realized it, there are many times in the scriptures it is God asking US how long!  Asking how long we will wander away from him, how long we will waffle between two opinions, how long we will delay turning to him for help.  Sometimes it is our own sluggishness to respond that creates the difficult situations in our life and leaves us far from experiencing God’s care.  

Much as I might like to give God a new watch, somehow I suspect he doesn’t really need help from me.  He has the kind of eternal perspective that means he sees things much more completely and much more clearly than I ever have.  Though it is hard to trust sometimes, it is critical that we learn to do so, and the only way to learn trust is to go through experiences in which all we can DO is trust.  Afterwards, we will see that God really DOES know what he is doing, even if WE don’t understand what it is.  As a matter of fact, if we fully understood, it wouldn’t take much trust!  

When I am in those dark times, there is a little verse in the Psalms that I find particularly encouraging, and I think I will close these thoughts by sharing it with you.  It is from 30:5 (NASB)--

For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. 

Hang in there…morning will come.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Letting God Strengthen You Today


Have your ever felt as if your world was falling apart?  

If divorce is part of your life story, you know exactly what I am talking about.  But the experience is not limited to divorce.  Job loss, having a falling out with friends or family, accidents and natural disasters, medical conditions or suffering a time of depression are a few examples of other things that can leave you feeling that everything is falling apart around you.  For many of us, just looking at all the things going on in the world around us makes us wonder whether the entire world might be falling apart!

People react to these kinds of situations in lots of different ways, sometimes depending on how personally they are affected by the event.  Some people plunge into despair and isolation.  Others become so troubled by how things are that they choose to take action, attempting to help be a solution to the problem in one way or another.  Some are affected physically, and end up sick in bed.  Still others le the stress come out on those around them, maybe even severing ties with friends, family or work.  Sometimes with devastating effect.

In these kind of experiences, sometimes all that is required of us is to endure our way through.  Sometimes we have to make choices to change our own behaviors and reactions.  Perhaps one of the most healthy ways to respond to these situations is to garner the support of close friends or family, someone who can help them think through their responses.   And of course, prayer and time with God in the scripture can often be the most valuable response of all, because it allows us to gain the eternal perspective we need to face the hard things in our lives.

It is that eternal perspective I wish to highlight tonight.  No matter what you see happening in your life or in the world around us, recognizing the role of God is one of the most strengthening resources to help you through.  When you see things from that point of view, you realize that though it may seem like the world is falling apart, the truth is that God is still on his throne, nothing has escaped his notice, he has not lost control and continues to move history toward the ultimate goals he desires.  I love the verse in Proverbs 19:21: 

Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the Lord will stand.                                                      (NASB)

We may think we have things all figured out, or we may think everything is out of control, or that evil men are making plans that will ruin everything.  But this verse reminds us that we can make all the plans we want, but God is STILL in charge, and his counsel will stand.  

When you feel like your life, your world, or everything else is falling apart, it is good to remember that it only appears that way to us because we cannot see all that God sees.  He knows the ending from the beginning, and holds us in even the most devastating of circumstances, and he will work purposes that sometimes are far beyond anything we can imagine.  

God is still on the throne.   

Whatever you are experiencing, know it is going to be okay, if you will yield yourself to the plans that he has, knowing that he DOES know what he is doing.  And in a world as uncertain as ours with all the upheaval we can experience day by day, THAT my friend, is GOOD NEWS!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Question for Valentine's Day


You may have to bear with me today, it is going to be a roundabout journey to the point for this blog.  

It’s kind of funny, isn’t it, that the name of this coming holiday is actually SAINT Valentine’s Day?  It’s kind of like our Christmas friend, SAINT Nicholas.  In all the hubbub of celebrating with our presents and flowers and decorations and so on, sometimes we forget that even today, we are experiencing the influence of Christian leaders from many years ago.  While I don’t adhere to the same definition of the word “saint” that my Catholic friends often use, I do think it important to recall the source of some of these traditions…which is more than just the story of a man called, “Saint Valentine.”

You can find the story all over with a simple search on the internet, but the core is that a priest chose to defy the orders of the Caesar Claudius and provide Christian marriage for young men and women, for which he eventually lost his life.  The man was a believer, i.e. a believer in Christ, and a believer in love.  He chose to make those core beliefs more important than his earthly life, and thus we remember love in celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.

My question for you in preparation for Valentine’s Day, whether you are married, single, divorced or engaged, is to simply ask you to consider, what is it that caused this man to believe so strongly in love?  

There have been through the years many poets and songwriters who extolled the virtues and wonders of love.  There have been many who have sought to celebrate love, sometimes in ways that are not about real love at all.  But none of those folks ended up having a holiday dedicated to love that was named after them.  I think the difference is that Valentine knew the source of love, and that real love is not merely about a couple of human beings, but about the God who IS love, and who chose to create humans as male and female and then established marriage in the first place, blessing it with His love.

I have given Valentine’s cards since I was a child, as I suspect many of you have as well.  We used to decorate boxes or cans and take them to school, where our classmates gave each other hokey little cards as we ate heart shaped cookies with LOTS of frosting.  There was always a special one to give the teacher, often with a little present, and then, of course one for mom.  As the years progressed, cards, flowers, candy or other gifts were given to sweethearts, then to my wife, and shared also with my children.  It is all part of the celebration.  But maybe we ought to be giving Valentine’s gifts to the One who loves us more than anyone else possibly could:  


God showed His love by setting the example that Valentine followed…Jesus laid down His life for love.  Love for you, and love for me; love that paid the penalty of our sin so that we could share in His love forever and ever.  When we soak in the love of God, then loving others is a natural outcome of receiving His love.  Our marriages can be in partnership not merely with our spouses, but with our Savior as well.  The deeper we understand the nature of God’s love, the greater will be our celebration of love on Valentine’s Day and all year long.

So no matter what your status in terms of human relationships this Valentine’s Day, I invite you to prepare for the day by focusing first on deepening your appreciation and understanding of just how much God loves you.  A good way to do that might be to spend some time in what I call the Bible’s “letter of love:--the little book of 1 John way back at the back of the Bible.  It doesn’t take long to read, and it will remind you what true love really is.  

Happy Valentine’s Day!  To you, my reader, and to God, my Savior.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Difficult ... But Not Impossible

The other day one of the news pages linked to an article from Redbook magazine about signs that a marriage is in serious enough trouble to warrant a divorce.  The article, “9 Signs It May Be Time To Get A Divorce” by Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal is written primarily from a woman’s perspective, and is a collection of indicators suggested by a variety of people with experience working with couples and with divorce.  The list included things like an unrepentant partner with repeated affairs, being in a relationship that only brings stress and anger, and several ways in which one partner chooses to no longer participate in the relationship--skipping out of counseling sessions or acting unilaterally and irresponsibly with finances.  

As I read the article, I was struck by the idea that so often divorces come as a result of one partner choosing to disengage from the relationship in one way or another, or for a partner to get so bound up emotionally that he or she is no longer able or willing to make meaningful connections with the partner.  The article and those quoted in it suggest that these situations may well indicate it is time to dissolve the marriage.  But I wonder.

It seems to me that there are some factors that were not addressed, some of which would not normally be included in a secular magazine.  For example, when the writer refers to a situation in which one partner feels hatred and contempt, the comment is that it is a result of long standing issues that should have been resolved long ago.  But there is no mention of the need for self-examination, forgiveness, or learning to release the bitterness that one has allowed to fester through things like repentance or prayer.  

In other areas described, trust is described as having been broken beyond repair.  Trust is certainly a bedrock issue in any good marriage, and once violated is difficult to be restored.  

But difficult is not the same as impossible.  

Willard Harley’s book, His Needs Her Needs provides specific steps one can use to rebuild trust once it has been broken.  It can be done.  

In all the situations described in the article, there is no doubt that they describe symptoms of deeply troubled marriages, but whether they necessarily must lead to divorce is debatable.  

It seems to me that in those situations, an important scriptural phrase to consider is the simple phrase, “but God,” a commonplace phrase in the scriptures.  Time and again in the scriptures individuals come up against impossible circumstances, and then that phrase, “but God” appears to introduce God’s involvement, and everything changes.  Sometimes to be sure, even in those stories, there are times individuals refuse to be molded by God’s Spirit and calamity results.  But when individuals allow their hearts to be shaped by God, impossible situations can be transformed.

Let me be clear, I am not saying that the symptoms described in the article are not serious, nor that divorce might be the only viable outcome.  But I am saying that one must never come to that conclusion too hastily, and certainly not without giving God an opportunity to work.  One needs to take an honest look in the mirror with the Bible in hand and an ear tuned to the Spirit of God, because each partner in any bad marriage contributes to the difficulties in one way or another.  When one’s partner has disengaged, it may be the last straw, but one should not jump to that without first calling out to God for his intervention and help.  One might experience one of the “but God” moments personally!  Prayers for a troubled marriage, for a disengaged partner, and for God to reveal one’s own need for change and growth can make a huge difference.  So if you find in your marriage the symptoms that suggest it might be time to consider divorce, let me suggest that those symptoms may well be a call to consider prayer and repentance first.  If you pursue those things prior to seeking a divorce, then if divorce does come, you will at least be better prepared by being in touch with God to guide you during that dark time.