FB conversion pixel

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

God's Transition

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.   ---Isaiah 61:1-3  (NASB)

This is the passage Jesus read in the synagogue is his hometown at the outset of his ministry as described in Luke 4.  EXCEPT---he didn’t read it all.  Jesus stopped after the phrase “favorable year of the LORD.”  

Have you ever noticed that?  

Have you ever asked WHY he stopped there?

There is a theme that runs in the scriptures that I describe as the “now and the not yet.”  Jesus quoted the part of the scripture that was being fulfilled in his life:  the anointing of the Spirit of God, the healings and the proclamation of the gospel.  He stopped short of the day of God’s vengeance and the comforting of those who mourn, because those were things that were yet in the future.  

This same idea happens when considering the kingdom of God, which is among us, and yet which also has yet to be established in fullness.  It applies to our character as Christians, which 1 John 3 describes by stating that we are already God’s children, but that it has yet to appear what it is we truly are.  There is a lot of “now and not yet” in the Bible.  We live in the period of promise….some promises fulfilled, some promises yet to come to fruition.

It seems to me a lot of things are like that in life.  As I have mentioned before, we are in that kind of transition ourselves, where part of our life is in the town we have been moving from, and part of it is in the town where our future is to which we are moving.  Part here, part there; part fulfilled, part yet to be accomplished; part looking back and letting go, part looking forward and reaching ahead.

There are lots of times in life that are like that, and divorce is certainly one of those, especially during the period between the filing and the court proceedings that completes the process.  A friend of mine called it a time of “limbo,” during which you aren’t quite disentangled from how your life was, but constrained until the court proceedings to be able to begin how your life is going to be.  You can plan, you can dream, you can mourn, and most of all, you can wait.  But that time in between can be a frustrating time in many ways.  That same sense of waiting can also be frustrating for those of us awaiting the return of Christ while observing all the evils in the world around us.  

I just want to share a simple thought with you today.  Living in the period described as “now and not yet” is simply part of how the life God designed for us works.  God is with us in that time.  He offer us reassurances that the frustrations of the “now” are temporary, because the “not yet” is on the way.  Don’t let living in limbo get the better of you…hang on, because the “not yet” is coming…and it is far better than most of us can imagine while wrestling with the frustrations of the “now.”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Staying on Track During Times of Crisis

TOP 10

For those of you who read faithfully, I apologize for the sporadic nature of recent posts.  We are in the process of doing some relocating, which has created a fair degree of upheaval, resulting in a temporary irregularity in the posts.  Eventually, things should level out.  In the meantime, I will post as I am able, so don’t give up!

This week, I have been thinking a lot about how divorce and other crisis moments in life are often times when individuals either draw closer to God or turn away.  I have mentioned this idea before in the not too distant past, but today I wanted to offer some specific, practical steps you can use to help stay on track, and even to let those crises times in your life create a more healthy relationship with God.  

So here are what I would consider to be the top 10 tips to staying on track:

  1. Make church attendance a priority you don’t let slip.  You may end up at a different church, or a different worship time, and may choose to sit in more off by yourself, all of which are fine, but make the habit of participating in worship a non-negotiable.  The body of Christ can be a critical support, even if only in the form of one or two people who walk with you through the crisis.
  1. Find a way to make regular time reading God’s Word.  Even if it is only 5 minutes a day, a paragraph a day, and even if you don’t feel like you are hearing God at all.  It’s a lot like eating breakfast or lunch…some meals are more memorable than others, but tasty or not, each one is important in keeping you going.  This is a critical way to provide opportunity for you to hear God speak on a regular basis.  The Psalms can be a particularly encouraging book to read during this time, as the psalmist often lays bear his own emotional turmoil, and you may find passages that really resonate with your experience.
  1. Seek out an friend at your church who has also been through the process of divorce, to whom you can turn for advice and with whom you can share your pain.  Such a person will understand what you are facing, and can make all the difference in the world.
  1. If the pastor is opening to hearing your struggles, then make a point to keep you pastor informed of where you are at in the divorce process and how things are going for your children.  You don’t have to belabor it all and relive all the details, but a quick update can be helpful.
  1. Choose the moral high ground.  In times of loneliness, uncertainty and/or depression, temptations can abound and it can be easy to grow so hungry for comfort that you drown your sorrows in drink or seek joy in the arms of a lover long before you are ready.  Make every effort to stay on the godly, narrow path, and be quick to get back on track with God should you fall.  For some people, having an accountability partner can be a helpful tool.
  1. Keep in regular contact with a Christian companion with whom you can be honest about your emotions, struggles, fears, wounds and choices.  Even one friend to stand with you can make all the difference.
  1. Find yourself a friend you know is a person of prayer, with whom you can share prayer requests and who will covenant to be praying for you on a regular basis.  Scripture is clear that how much difference it can make to have an intercessor “standing in the gap” on your behalf before God.
  1. Find a good devotional book and include it in your prayer time.   My Finding God devotionals are good in regard to dealing with divorce, but others such as Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest, Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, or more recent, Lucado’s God is with You Every Day are good options.  The insights from other godly writers such as these can provide some encouraging tidbits when you are unable to hear God’s voice on your own.
  1. Make time, at least weekly, to be out away from things in a quiet spot where you can be alone to reflect, to pray and to just “be.”  In those moments, express to God what you are feeling and struggling with, and spend time in silence to allow God to speak as well.
  1. Find something each day you can do that can bring a smile.  Read cartoons, subscribe to a “joke of the day” email, plant flowers, watch children at play…something to remind you that joy still exists in the world, and will one day return to your life as well.

These things may end up transforming your relationship with God, and at the least, can keep you from falling away in a time when that is a very high risk.  Don’t fall prey to Satan’s attacks.  God will help you stay strong, but you have to seek his strength for that to happen.  God bless and keep you.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Suggestions for the Single Parent in Summer


Where I live, school is out and the kids are now on summer vacation.  Those of you whose schools go year ‘round, will have a break or two, but it isn’t the same as that wonderful, long stretch of time called “summer vacation.”  

Vacations can be radically different when you are freshly divorced.  Instead of having your life partner to share the planning and the fun, it is up t you to make it happen.  Finance settlements may have impacted your options.  Your schedule is no longer your own, but has to be coordinated around that of your ex’s.  In fact, you may even not feel much like even bothering this year, overwhelmed by depression or loneliness.

On the other hand, you may be feeling a great exuberance, freed from the constraints of your unhealthy marriage, now you can do whatever you want with whomever you want.  You may even be thinking about jumping into another relationship and including that individual in your vacation plans.

I would like to share a bit of advice.  If this is your first summer vacation after divorce, and you are making plans for you and your children, it is important to recognize the struggles your child may be experiencing.  The child may not want to go without the other parent, or complain that it just isn’t the same.  Or the child may demand all sorts of activities that are outside the scope of your altered financial options.  Still others, especially those with limited time with their children, may choose to go all out in an effort to impress their children, to win them over from the ex, or to create a “win” as if it is some kind of competition.  It can get pretty complicated, pretty fast.  

Apart from special vacation trips, summer vacation for kids means things like playing ball, going swimming, fishing, summer camp and just hanging out with friends.  Make sure they know you are supportive of their participation on a ball team by showing up for the games.  Making sure they have opportunities to swim or fish, with friends or with you, can be a simple way to provide security and support.  Take time to think back to your own special memories of summer vacation, and then find ways to update them to match the personalities of your children this summer.

The most important thing to remember is that your children have also entered a new world…their home has drastically altered, and they will long for some kind of stability.  They will likely be grieving and struggling, and need some joyful memories.  In addition, your own emotions may color the whole experience, and you may need to do some self-care in order to appropriately parent your children this summer.  

Therefore, I would suggest the following:
  1. Be true to who you are.  Don’t be making radical changes in this context, and yet, use the opportunity to help your children gain a fresh understanding of the person you are, and what they can count on from you.
  1. Keep it within the family.  The children need time to grieve, and they need to know they are important to you.  Don’t inflict a new person on them until a significant amount of time has passed, and they have made some of the necessary adjustments.
  1. Focus on creating special memories for your children…not extravagant things,  but things that are meaningful for them that will also develop your bond with one another in this tough time.
  1. Find a way to spread some joyful times throughout the summer.  Perhaps a weekly picnic or movie, perhaps going back to a favorite location together, perhaps sharing a new experience together.  In my own life, I made a point to purchase some season tickets to activities that we enjoyed, so that there was already planned out for me some regular family time with my children that I knew would be things they would enjoy.
  1. Make some time for YOU to also have some positive experiences to create special memories.  Maybe you will go somewhere you have always wanted to go, maybe you will reclaim some activities that you enjoyed earlier in life but have not done for years, or maybe you will get involved in some small support group where you can make new friendships.

I guess I would sum this whole discussion up with a simple question:  When your children are grown, and look back on this first summer vacation after the divorce, what is it you would like them to remember about their time with YOU?  The answer to that question will shape what you do.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Are you an Enthusiast?


It has been a hectic couple of weeks, and the blogposts have suffered as a result.  However, I am back now and wanted to share something I experienced that got me thinking.  I was out walking the dog in the neighborhood early one Sunday morning and was passed by some cyclists out for an early start on their bicycle journey.  All of the bikers appeared to be exercise enthusiasts, strong and fit.  I suspect they do things like this regularly.  They were all dressed in the popular biking shorts, looking the part of bicycle racers.  I could be wrong, but I suspect they were going to spend their Sunday morning on their bikes rather than going home to get cleaned up and attend worship after their morning ride.  

I know a number of fitness enthusiasts, and suspect you do as well.  I know other health fanatics who carefully watch the foods that they eat, and consume various supplements and vitamins in their diet.  Other folks focus on their emotional and mental well-being, involving themselves in activities such as regular meditation, therapy and relaxation practices.  There are billions of dollars spent (and made!) every year in these activities that, for some, become almost an obsession.  And yet, so many of the people who are highly committed to healthy mind, body and emotions, like the bicyclists I saw riding by this morning, give little or no thought to their spiritual needs and well being.  

It makes me think of the time Jesus said, 

 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”---Mark 8:36  (NASB)

All of this attention placed upon our physical bodies, upon our mental and emotional health, and yet, the eternal destiny of the soul is, at best, a tangential concern.  Or, worse, the spiritual disciplines practiced are based on human imaginations, with no real basis in history or the divine.  It is a sad thing to consider that these people will enter their grave in great physical, mental and emotional health, but paupers in spirit with no inclination or hope for their eternal destiny.

On the other hand, I have also found myself wondering what our churches would be like if believers were as avid enthusiasts about nurturing their Christian spirituality as today’s health and fitness enthusiasts are about their activities.  Hours spent daily at gyms and exercise machines, extreme and meticulous preparation of meals and supplements… these folks believe in the importance of what they are doing and their actions show it.  Such a charge could not be made of many who fill our churches on Sundays to offer a mere hour or so a week for the development of what is, eternally, the most important part of their lives!

What does any of this have to do with divorce?  I think it has to do with every crisis we face in life.  Those stressful moments are experiences that can compel us to actively and aggressively pursue the strength of God, or, for many become the cause of turning away from any spiritual discipline at all.  In addition, handling well the crises of life spiritually is often determined by how well prepared one is prior to the arrival of the crisis.  Those who in the midst of a crisis have no inner relationship with God upon which to draw may find themselves cast upon the rocky shores and shipwrecked.

Whatever your station in life at this time, I invite you….no I strongly encourage you to do some introspection and consider how well you are doing at developing and caring for those deepest parts of you called your spirit or soul.  Does your life’s activities reflect a kind of priority on you relationship with God that will stand the tests not only of time, but also of eternity.  Jesus had a harsh warning for those whose priorities were misaligned and become neglectful of the nuture of their spiritual relationship with God.  He told a story about a man who was obsessed with gathering wealth and seeking security in life, and the story ends with God speaking to the man the following words:

You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?---Luke 12:20 (NASB)