Blind Spots

IMG_2333

My oldest son’s first car was a used convertible. When I borrowed it once for an errand, I commented to him that the car had a huge blind spot. The corner between the small plexiglass back windshield and the door window was wider than in most cars. If I looked back over my right shoulder, I could hardly see anything. My son responded, “Yeah, but if the top is down, there’s no blind spot!”

We know that vehicles have blind spots—areas where we can’t see what’s around the car. So we use mirrors, signals, and occasionally other passengers to help make sure the way is clear when we need to change lanes.

If you’ve ever read about the blind spots of an 18-wheeler, you know not to drive your car next to the truck in a spot where you can’t be seen.

But somehow we go barreling through life without thinking that we might have personal blind spots.

Our church has just finished reading through Malachi, where God brings up several different issues with His people. But their response to each charge is basically, “What are you walking about? We’re doing fine.”

God said of the Laodicean church in Revelation, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

You’ve probably read online conversations, as I have, where someone lashes out at others over some issue, and then complains about feeling judged. But somehow these folks miss their own judging of others that they’ve just displayed. The irony would be been funny if it wasn’t so serious.

And then, just about the time I get all stirred up about other people’s blind spots, God reminds me that I have a few of my own.

What causes blind spots?

We think we know more than we do—at least, more than the other person.

We’re too busy looking at the speck in another person’s eye to see the log in our own.

We haven’t given enough thought or prayer to a subject.

We assume we know the other person’s meaning and motives.

We haven’t studied the Bible enough to know what it says on certain issues, or we study with preconceived conclusions in mind.

We don’t want to change our views on a subject, so we don’t listen to other perspectives.

How can we combat blind spots? What tools, mirrors, assistance, or signals can help us navigate and avoid collisions?

Humility. We don’t know all there is to know on any issue. We don’t know every perspective. Sometimes we’re quick to jump on and expound upon a topic because we’ve read and studied it out before. Still, even if we’re an expert in an area, we have to be careful of appearing arrogant. And there might just be a thing or two we could still learn about it.

Ask for others’ feedback. Just as a fellow passenger can see what we can’t from their viewpoint, a friend or mentor can give us a kind but honest assessment.The first time I turned in a partial manuscript for a paid critique, I was astounded and humbled at the number of mistakes the editor discovered. The experience was a painful but necessary step to improvement.

Prayer. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This is something we should be doing regularly. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?Other versions say “desperately  wicked” or “incurable.” We’re probably deceived about ourselves more than anyone or anything else.

Listening. James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” If I am getting riled up about something, that’s usually a clue that I need to step back rather than launch in. And before I share what I think, I need to really hear what the other person is saying and look at it from their point of view. I still might not agree with them, but I might understand them better.

Read and listen to God’s Word. Anatomically speaking, we all have a blind spot where nerves pass through our retina. At the spot where they pass through, there are no rods or cones, so our eyes don’t see light there. The brain usually fills in what we don’t actually see. Spiritually, though, we don’t need to have any blind spots. We need God to turn His searchlight on to show us things we need to confess to Him and seek His help to overcome. If something keeps coming up in our Bible reading, books, sermons, and conversations, God might be trying to get our attention about it. Instead of being quick to brush it off, we need to take it before the Lord.

Listen to criticism and correction. Sometimes criticism is totally unfounded. But instead of getting defensive, we need to examine criticism for any truth in it. “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31).

Proceed cautiously. I was extra-careful in my son’s convertible since I knew I couldn’t see traffic in one area well. Similarly, there’s a turn on our way home that’s right on top of a hill. I can’t see oncoming traffic until I get to the top, so I am careful not to turn early. Ephesians 5:15 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”

I usually use a Swiffer sweeper on our hardwood floors, because it gets dust and hair more efficiently. But one day I got the broom and dust pan to sweep up some crumbs.The sunlight was streaming in the windows as I swept, and I saw a cloud of dust swirling almost chest high from my efforts. Without the light shining in, I would never have known that I was stirring up more dust than I was getting rid of.

How desperately we need God’s truth to shine in on our lives and show us what we wouldn’t otherwise see. How we need His wisdom, cleansing, and guidance.

To open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:18).

Clara H. Scott wrote a hymn in 1895, asking God to open her eyes, ears, mind, and heart to His truth. It’s a good prayer for us today:

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.

Refrain 1:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.

Refrain 2:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my ears, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my mind, that I may read
More of Thy love in word and deed;
What shall I fear while yet Thou dost lead?
Only for light from Thee I plead.

Refrain 3:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my mind, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my mouth, and let me bear,
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with Thy children thus to share.

Refrain 4:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my heart, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Hearth and Home,
Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Purposeful Faith,
InstaEncouragement, Legacy Link-Up,
Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement,
Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)

 

Laudable Linkage

IMG_0195

Here are some of the thought-provoking reads I’ve found over the last couple of weeks:.

Choosing Our Battles Biblically. “This is a time for careful, clear thinking, and not for fed up emotional responses.”

Why You Should Never Take the Mass, HT to Challies.

How to Root Out Apathy with the Power of Habit, HT to Challies. “Practicing spiritual disciplines may feel like work at first. Establishing new habits always presses against our apathy in uncomfortable ways. But one day your heart will catch up to the regimen. One day you’ll look back and see growth.”

When Cancel Culture Comes to Newsrooms, HT to Challies. “We’re cowering under the sick mutation of Andy Warhol’s famed prediction—soon everyone will be canceled for 15 minutes. It’s one thing for cowardly corporations to choose the path of least resistance. But it’s a fresh horror when members of the only profession the Bill of Rights mentions shuck off their solemn responsibility to champion free speech and instead serve silence.”

Why Some Christian Leaders Don’t Post About Current Events on Social Media, HT to Challies. “Our culture appreciates ‘Hot Takes,’ but the Bible values takes that are truthful, thoughtful, helpful, and edifying, all of which cannot happen when you’re not slow to speak (James 1:19).”

Pastors on Social Media, HT to Challies. Though this is written to pastors, the advice is good for us all. Especially the guidelines suggested.

How to View Claims About Dreams and Visions, HT to Challies. “Some seek dreams, visions, and other mystical experiences constantly yet don’t even know their Bible. Others dismiss every supernatural claim and prefer rationalism at all costs; unwilling to even accept any possibility that supernatural experiences could either be demonic or that God could providentially use a very normal dream to move someone into realistic action once they wake up.”

Cheap Knockoffs, HT to Challies. When Christian ideals mix with a pagan worldview, they turn into counterfeits of truth.

Five Lessons I Learned From a COVID-19 Spike at Our Church, HT to Challies. “I’m convinced that one of the reasons the virus hasn’t spread faster and farther is that we have been following procedures designed to isolate sick people and keep everyone else socially distanced. At the same time, we had gotten comfortable, and on a few occasions we were a little lax in those policies. We can trace almost all of the infections back to one of those times.”

4 Reasons to Wear a Mask, Even If You Hate It, HT to Challies. I agree, the science is contradictory. I’ve seen people on both sides of the issue posting opposing data. But these are good reasons to wear one.

Learning From History and Sharing Hospitality. Loved this.

Happy Independence Day!

God's truth will set you free

Philippians 4:13 is for losers, too

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens meTwo rival Christian school basketball teams get revved up for their annual match.

All day long they hear Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (KJV).

Someone quotes it at the pep rally. Both coaches share it in the locker room. Some players repeat it to themselves. Some write the reference on their person.

Both teams hit the court trusting God to help them win the game.

But one will have to lose.

Did Philippians 4:13 fail the losers somehow? Did they not have enough faith? Did God not hear their prayers?

Have you ever read Philippians 4:13 in context? Switching to the ESV now, here’s the rest of what Paul said:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Notice, Paul wasn’t just trusting God for grace in abundance and plenty. He also relied on God’s strength when brought low, in need, in hunger.

Hunger? Wait—doesn’t God know we need to eat? He made us to need food. Why would He let people hunger for a time?

Well, in one case He said:

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

So He might let us suffer need or fail in an endeavor to humble us. Sometimes not getting what we want or need causes us to do some soul-searching. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Perhaps a victory would have done us more harm than good.

He might be bringing sin to our attention. Israel faced a stunning defeat at Ai, which they should have won easily, because there was “sin in the camp.”

He might be working to make us more dependent on Himself. Sadly, when things are going well, we tend to forget we need him. We lean on our own strength instead of His.

He might be trying to help us remember that everything we have comes from Him. In order to strengthen our faith, sometimes God has to put us in situations requiring faith.

He might be teaching us to lose graciously. To honor others. Not to envy someone else’s success—especially when we think we deserved that success.

He might be spurring us to work harder or better. Our salvation depends on God’s work in us and not our own efforts. And He miraculously delivers us out of some situations. But in others, He wants us to trust Him and put forth effort. Someone said, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw food in their nests.” We can’t ace the test without studying. We can’t lose weight without exercising and making wise food choices. We can’t grow in grace without spending time in God’s Word and obeying what it says. Paul said, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29).

He might be drawing us closer in our personal relationship with Himself, reminding us that that’s more important than whatever it is we’re hoping for.

He might be reminding us that His Word is not a talisman or good luck charm.

There are a number of reasons why God might say no to our prayer or expectation.

I’m thankful Paul that he learned contentment in any situation. That tells me that contentment doesn’t come naturally, that it can be learned, and that it is a process.

Yes, it’s good to rely on God for strength, to remember that without Him we can do nothing. When a situation doesn’t come out like we hoped, when we have legitimate unmet needs, we can go to our good Father in faith, ask Him what He wants to teach us through the situation, and rest in Him to provide in His good time.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Legacy Link-Up,
Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

When Not To Be Minimalist

When not to be minimalistI enjoyed reading Joni Eareckson Tada’s Spectacle of Glory devotional book a couple of years ago. One quote from the book that came back to me many times after reading it was from the August 9 entry, which commented on Ephesians 3:8 about “the unsearchable riches of Christ”:

We can study all we want, but Jesus will always be a greater Savior than what we think He is. He is more ready to forgive than you can imagine asking Him. He is more willing to supply your wants and needs than you are to declare them. He is so much more ready to give than you are to receive. Don’t ever tolerate low thoughts of a barely adequate, minimalist Savior who might “keep you going” but not much more. Jesus has riches to bestow on you right now. He will not only give you heaven above, but heaven-hearted joy in serving Him here on earth.

Lord, my thoughts about You are too small, too lean, too sparse, too thin, too colorless. Paul writes about your unsearchable riches, but on some days, I barely even approach the treasuries. My mind is filled with too many smaller things. I’m in the trees and can’t see the mountains. Lift my gaze to your greatness and majesty today (p. 242, emphasis mine).

The phrase “minimalist Savior” especially jumped out at me, since minimalism is such a byword these days. I don’t want to comment on the current notions of minimalist lifestyles or practices, but I began to think of other ways we should not be minimalists.

In thoughts of our Savior

Joni wasn’t saying Jesus lived extravagantly while on earth. He was born into a poor earthly family. He didn’t own a home as an adult. One former pastor used to say that Jesus was “born from a borrowed womb and buried in a borrowed tomb.”

But, contrary to the “prosperity gospel,” all blessings are not material. God promises to supply our needs, but He doesn’t promise physical riches to His followers. Rather, “according to the riches of his glory” (Ephesians 3:16), He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20. The KJV says “exceedingly abundantly.”)

In prayer

Couched between Ephesians 3:16 and 18, based on those riches of Christ, this is what Paul prays for:

According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Sometimes when I find myself suggesting to God ways that He might answer, I remind myself of this: He can do far more than I can ask or even think, according to Ephesians 3:20.

In worship

In Mark 14, a woman came into the house where Jesus was a dinner guest. John 12:1-8 identifies her as Mary of Bethany, whose brother, Lazarus, Jesus had raised from the dead (Matthew 26:6-13 also records this incident). She “came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.

That might seem weird to us in our time. I went on a bit of a rabbit trail trying to discover what anointing meant and why it was done in that day. The best explanation I found so far is here. Anointing was a mark of respect and also a way of setting apart a prophet, priest, or king. Christ is referred to an anointed in other passages. Perhaps Mary was showing her gratefulness for Jesus having raised her brother. Perhaps she had some of these other aspects in view. But Jesus took her actions as anointing his “body beforehand for burial.” Whether Mary did this unwittingly or whether she caught what so many of the other disciples missed when Jesus foretold His death, I don’t know. Others criticized her actions, pointing out that this expensive ointment could have been sold and given to the poor. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (verse 6). And He promised that “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (verse 9).

A similar incident occurs in Luke 7. We know this is a different situation because the event, timing, host, woman, actions, critics, criticisms, purpose, and response from Jesus are all different. The woman in this case is known as sinful. She wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with the expensive ointment. The host, a Pharisee, criticized Jesus in his heart, saying, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Jesus then told of two debtors. One owed a large amount and one owed a small amount. Both debts were forgiven. Jesus asked which of the debtors would love the lender more. The Pharisee answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt,” (verse 43). Jesus said of the woman, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (verse 47). Her actions were extravagant both because of the cost of the ointment, but also because she loved so much that she risked ridicule and shame from others to show her great love to Him.

Have we thought recently about the greatness of our sins and how much it cost Jesus to forgive them? Have we meditated on His goodness and greatness enough to be overawed?

In giving

We’ve already seen from these two women that their love and worship led to costly actions. Does that mean we need to get some expensive perfume to bring to church or pour out when we read our Bibles? No. But generosity should be part of our character. King David once said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

When Paul sought financial help for needy saints, he told the Corinthians:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

He wasn’t speaking just to the rich Corinthians. He referred earlier to the Macedonians, who first gave themselves to the Lord and then to the apostles, and who begged for the opportunity to give out of their extreme poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).

I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the rich online recently, and a lot of judgment about what they do with their wealth. But we’re not accountable for them. We’re accountable for ourselves. The Macedonians were in extreme poverty yet begged to be allowed to give to help others.Jesus commended a poor widow who only offered two small coins because that was her all (Luke 21:1-4).

Giving abundantly doesn’t necessarily mean we need to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. Jesus only told one man to do that, because he knew that man’s wealth was a problem for him. 1 Corinthians 16:2 tells us to give as God has prospered us.

Sometimes we save to be able to give. Another former pastor once advised his people to have a “benevolence” section in their budget, to put aside a little bit of money every paycheck so that when they become aware of a need, they would have some on hand to give.

We should give wisely, of course. There is a type of giving that enables people to continue on in their sin. Sometimes we have to say no. Sometimes God says no, because what we’re asking isn’t good for us or isn’t the right time.

And we don’t just give money. Our time, schedules, attention, homes, all belong to God, to be used as He directs.

We don’t give for show, as Ananias and Sapphira and the Pharisees did. But we give as God directs out of a grateful heart for what He has given us.

And we can’t outgive God. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

In love

1 Peter 1:22 tells us to “love one another with a pure heart fervently.” Other translations say “deeply” or “earnestly.” Biblical love could take another whole post (or several) to expound upon, but it’s aptly summed up in 1 Corinthians 13. Verses 4-8a say:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends . . .

My heart is full, thinking of God’s great generosity to me, inspired to be generous towards others, overflowing into even more ways to be generous rather than minimalist: thankfulness, praise, patience, and more.

How about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home, Literary Musing Monday, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode, Recharge Wednesday,
Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesdays, Let’s Have Coffee,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire,
Blogger Voices Network. Linking does not imply 100% agreement)

Laudable Linkage

IMG_0195

I have a short list today, but, I think, a good one. Hope you find something useful here.

The War Within: Flesh Versus Spirit. “Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!”

Respect the King, Obey the Law, Pay Your Taxes. Sound wisdom no matter who is in office.

Let Not Food Destroy the Body—the body of Christ, HT to Challies. “All too often, our food preferences isolate us from one another. Maybe we catch a friend eating a pre-packaged frozen meal or lunchmeat with nitrates, or watch them open a bag of potato chips filled with preservatives and fat. We are tempted to indulge in food-righteousness, in thinking we’re the better person for eating sprouted grain bread with organic almond butter. Our gospel, however, doesn’t leave room for self-made righteousness.”

Some Men Just Like to Fight, HT to Challies. Women as well. We’re called to contend for some things and defend others. But though “Fighting is sometimes necessary. Liking to fight is not. In fact, it is forbidden.”

Why Procrastination Is about Managing Emotions, not Time, HT to Challies. Interesting perspective and a tip or two for dealing with it.

The Medications that Change Who We Are, HT to Challies. Many ordinary medications have effects on personality. Scary!

Dear Memaw: A Letter I Wish My Great-Grandmother Could Read, HT to Challies. “I wish I could tell you about your piano, Memaw. It is quite the story. But since I can’t tell you, I tell Him, each day, and thank Him for it.”

This kids’ retelling of The Princess Bride had me chuckling. HT to The Story Warren.

Happy Saturday!

When you don’t know you’re alseep

The morning after a long-ago overnight road trip, one of my sons insisted he hadn’t slept in the car. We had seen him, head down, eyes closed, a small blanket over him. But we couldn’t convince him he had, indeed, been asleep. I thought perhaps he had just dreamed he was awake, or he didn’t have a sense of the length of time before he dozed off.

Recently, I had a similar experience. I woke up in the middle of the night, went to the bathroom, and came back just a little too awake to fall right back to sleep. I set an album to play on my phone, laid down, closed my eyes, probably prayed and thought for a while. A few hours later, my alarm went off, and I was frustrated that I had spent all that time awake. “I have things to do today. I can’t afford to take a nap, and I don’t want to drag through the day like a zombie,” I chafed inwardly.

But then I realized—the album was a familiar one, and I didn’t remember hearing the latter half of it. And though I felt I had been awake for too long, I didn’t have the sense that it had actually been 3-4 hours. I didn’t feel rested. I didn’t feel like I had been asleep. But I must have been.

Of course, we’re not usually aware we’re asleep until we wake up. Too often I’ve embarrassed myself by jerking awake after dozing off in church. I remember studying my notes from college lectures only to find them increasingly illegible, tapering off into a squiggly line, evidence of forgotten naps. The dream world we’re in seems real until we wake up and recount how weird it all was.

This reminds me just a little of Samson’s situation with Delilah. A judge of Israel, Samson was renowned for his strength. His enemies bribed Delilah to find out how Samson could be defeated. She pleaded, begged, wept, “pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). He finally told her that he was a Nazarite from birth and had never cut his hair. “If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man“. So while he was asleep, Delilah had his head shaved. “And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (verse 20). The Philistines took their advantage, captured him, gouged his eyes out, and imprisoned him.

Samson’s problem was not that he had been asleep on Delilah’s lap while she sabotaged his strength. His problem was that he had been asleep spiritually for most of his life. He was called to be a leader of his people. But he was self-willed, self-indulgent, vengeful, disobedient, immoral. Maybe Samson thought he was immune from punishment since he was a judge. God had been with him and used him, and perhaps Samson mistook God’s grace and longsuffering for approval.

God does not leave believers in our day, not since the Holy Spirit was poured forth after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But believers can certainly be sleepy spiritually, drifting off when they should be fully alert. We go forth like normal, unaware that our strength is gone. That could happen because of sin that we’re harboring rather than confessing to the Lord. Or it could happen because we’ve neglected time in prayer and the Bible. Or we’ve been lulled into cozy complacency.

God gives rest to His people. Spiritually, we rest in Him all the time. Physically, he provides rest at night and on the Lord’s day.

But then there are times to be fully awake and alert.

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. Mark 13:32-37.

For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9.

Usually, if we’re asleep, we need something outside ourselves to wake us up: an alarm clock, another person, a wake-up call. God sends us wake-up calls in His Word:

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14.

Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:34.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Revelation 3:2.

Fleeing from God’s will, Jonah slept in a boat, not realizing he was in trouble. A “mighty tempest” threatened to break up the ship. The captain found Jonah and said, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:1-6).

We’ve all experienced sleeping through the time we should have gotten up. Then we’re late to class or work, or we’re behind all day. Some people in the Bible missed out on important things because they slept. When Jesus went to Gethsemane, just before He was arrested, he took Peter, James, and John with Him and told them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). But a short while later, “he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. The same passage in Luke says they were “sleeping for sorrow.” And Jesus said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (verses 40-41). Not only did the disciples miss an opportunity to fellowship with Jesus in His lowest hour, but they weren’t fortified for the trials to come. They fled when Jesus was arrested, and Peter denied Him.

In an even worse predicament were the ten virgins in the parable of Matthew 25 (see here for more explanation and background of this parable). They were waiting for the call to go to a wedding. They all fell asleep, but five were prepared when the call came. Five others were not ready, but needed oil for their lamps. They had to go out to buy more and missed the Bridegroom’s coming. When they tried to get in to the feast, they were turned away. Jesus’ point in this parable: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (verse 13).

If you don’t know the Savior, please read what it means to know Jesus, so you’ll ready for His coming. For those who know Him, let’s be awake spiritually, doing His will, looking for His coming.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, Happy Now, Hearth and Soul, InstaEncouragement,
Tea and Word, Anchored Abode, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Wise Woman, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, HeartEncouragement,
Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Faith ‘n Friends)

 

When the lines aren’t clear

I’ve been trying to cut down on sweets, so I set a guideline that I’d only have them twice a week. I didn’t want to make it a hard and fast rule: I wanted to allow room for special occasions, unexpected gifts, etc. I had done this before with success and without incessant cravings until a family vacation threw me off course for a while. But while trying to get back on track this time, cravings were rampant.

One day last week I was planning to go grocery shopping and bring home Chick-Fil-A for lunch afterward.  My previous habit for that restaurant was to order one of their chocolate chip cookies, which would become warm and gooey from being placed on top of the sandwiches in the bag. I looked forward to that experience again . . . except for my nagging conscience. I was still within my two-sweet limit. But it was early enough in the week that having the second sweet now would make the rest of the week difficult. So the better part of wisdom would be to forego dessert this time. But my mind sought justification for indulging. “Eating a cookie isn’t a sin, after all. And this is a special occasion: it’s not like I go to Chick-Fil-A every day.”

For hours I justified myself but did not feel completely at ease. Finally something came up which caused me to put my grocery shopping off until later, sidestepping the problem. But the whole experience set off a cascade of thinking.

We’ve all known people with the attitude, “If you can’t show me chapter and verse why something is wrong, you can’t say it’s wrong.” And we’ve probably all thought that way at times. In sane moments we can set wise principles. In temptation or longing, we go beyond principle. We want a definite line in the sand, and we’ll even look for ways around that.

I’ve often wondered why God left some matters to conscience rather than spelling out His preferences. Exactly when does enjoying good food cross over into gluttony? What are the parameters of modesty? What constitutes “going too far” in a physical relationship before marriage? What is the defining line between acceptable and worldly music? What is and is not acceptable on the Lord’s Day?

Some of these and like matters allow for differences in stages of spiritual maturity. Maybe God left some things open for evaluation in order to give people room to grow. The more we grow in the Lord and in knowledge of His Word, the more we become like Him. Also, some standards change with the culture: no one imposes standards of modesty from the 1850s to the current day.

But I’ve often thought that these matters expose our hearts. What’s our basic motivation? Do we really want to please the Lord, or do we just want an excuse to do our own will? Can we follow the spirit of the law, or do we have to have the letter spelled out?

Or do we go to the opposite extreme of legalism? We don’t know where the lines are, so we draw our own. We set our standards high, feel self-righteous when we keep them, and then judge everyone who doesn’t measure up.

If God hasn’t spelled out specifics in some of these areas, and people on different sides of the issues still love God and want to please Him, then do these issues really matter? Well, yes they do. Romans 14 gives several guidelines. Do everything you do as unto the Lord (verses 5-8). We’ll give account to Him for all we do (verses 10-12). Don’t just follow what someone else does, but be fully convinced in your own mind (verses 5, 22-23). Don’t judge or despise someone who differs from you in these matters (verse 3). Don’t think just about yourself, but think also about the effect your actions might have on others (verses 14-21). Seek for what makes for peace and edifying (verse 19).

1 Corinthians helps as well:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.
“I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
(6:12, NIV).
“I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.
(10:23b, NASB).

The freedom we have in Christ is not freedom to do anything we want: it’s the freedom to seek His grace to yield to Him and reign ourselves in for love of Him and others.

One of our former pastors used to say that if we truly kept the two greatest commandments, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, we wouldn’t need the specifics laid out. Those two principles would guide everything we do. Yet, because of our penchant for seeking loopholes and exceptions and our own way, we have to have things spelled out for us. Because we don’t keep the spirit of the law, we get the letter.

But how do we make decisions for those things that are not specifically spelled out? Is our heart’s desire ultimately to to see how close we can get to the line of sin without going over — or to please God, glorify Him, and love others?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee,
Porch Stories, Share a Link Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth.

Links do not imply 100% endorsement of everything on others’ blogs)

Grace and Truth

Trusting or Grasping?

We know God has promised to meet our needs, so we pray about them. Then, because the needs are legitimate, we’ve prayed about them, and we have every right (or so we think) to expect them to be met, we push, pull, grasp, or demand instead of trusting.

One example in the Bible is Rebekah. God told her that the twins in her womb would become two nations, one would be stronger, and the older would serve the younger. Rebekah favored the younger, Jacob, perhaps because of this prediction, perhaps because her husband favored Esau, perhaps because Jacob’s more domestic personality meshed better with Rebekah’s – perhaps all of the above. But instead of waiting to see how God would work out His will, Rebekah manipulated and deceived in order to edge Jacob ahead of the game. Not only did Jacob follow her poor example, becoming a manipulator himself, but he had to flee Esau’s wrath, and Rebekah never saw her son again.

Or consider Sarah. God had promised that Abraham would have a son who would bless the nations. But years passed, and Abraham and Sarah had no child. So Sarah decided to help God out and persuaded Abraham to sleep with her handmaid, Hagar. The negative results of that action continues on today in the conflicts between the descendants of Abraham’s sons with Sarah and Hagar.

It’s not wrong to “put feet to our prayers” within God’s will. We trust God to meet our financial needs, and sometimes He does that miraculously, like Peter’s tax money in the fish’s mouth and the widow’s cruse of oil that didn’t run out. But most often He provides for our needs by providing work. When we ask God to meet someone else’s needs, He might lay it on our hearts to be part of the answer by helping them.

But manipulation comes in when we think God isn’t answering in the time or the way we feel best. Instead of waiting to be led by Him, we jump ahead with our own great ideas. Or we’re so afraid our needs won’t be met, we grasp them to ourselves like a football and run over or knock down any obstacles in our way.

Here’s an example. I function best with some time alone. I love the people in my life, and I love the happy chaos of time together. But I get easily over-stimulated and tense without some degree of quiet solitude. So I used to stake out my quiet time and then resent anyone who intruded into it or prevented it. Then I’d get all the more tense.Or I would ignore promptings to minister to others because I needed my solitude instead of trusting God to provide it another time.

When I sought time to write amidst a busy and unpredictable schedule, I’d get frustrated when no time seemed open and either whine or lash out inwardly against the circumstances in my life.

When I needed peace in an anxious moment, I grew frustrated that it wasn’t coming.

None of those scenarios demonstrates trust.  God promises to meet my needs, but that doesn’t mean I can be demanding or resentful if the answer doesn’t come in the way I expected. Trusting that He is going to supply my need doesn’t mean I grasp it with both hands and hang on with all my might.

Trusting means just that. I release my stipulations, my demands, and my ideas of the best ways everything should work out. I trust that He will meet my need or enable me to get by without it, as Paul did when he learned to be full or to be hungry, to be content in any situation.

Instead of staking out my quiet time and fending off everything and everyone, I can trust that God knew my needs and will provide for them in ways I can’t yet see.

If someone interrupts my quiet time, I can remind myself that it happened to Jesus, too. I can remember His admonition to seek first His kingdom, and all these other things will be added unto me. I can see interruptions as allowed by His hand. Did you realize that the woman with the issue of blood was an interruption? Jesus was on His way to heal the daughter of Jairus when He felt this woman’s touch of faith and confronted her. The Bible doesn’t say how Jairus felt about it, but I can imagine how I would feel in his place – especially when he received word that his ill daughter died. But Jesus continued on to Jairus’ house and raised his daughter. If Jairus was stewing and fretting, he didn’t need to.

When I realized this, I wish I could say it changed my view of interruptions forever. I still have to battle resentment and remind myself that God is sovereign over those as well as the bigger trials of life.

When my children were young, I’d get to the end of the day and lament that I hadn’t found a quiet moment to read the Bible. I began asking God at the beginning of the day to help me recognize those opportune moments. And He did.

Recently, for whatever reason, I was revved up and on edge, but the rest of the day was full, and I didn’t foresee an opportunity to just chill and relax. I bought it up to the Lord, and somehow He relaxed me and helped me to enjoy the rest of the evening without stress.

I am thankful Paul said he learned contentment whether in need or not. I haven’t aced the class yet, but I am learning. God knows my needs. I don’t have to grasp for His answer or manipulate circumstances or people in order to get it. I can rest in Him, trusting Him to meet them in the way and time He knows is best and will bring Him the most glory.

 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7

Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall. Ruth 3:18a, KJV

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.

O, how great Thy loving kindness,
Vaster, broader than the sea!
O, how marvelous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Belovèd,
Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of promise,
And have made it mine.

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold Thee as Thou art,
And Thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart;
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets, supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings:
Thine is love indeed!

Ever lift Thy face upon me
As I work and wait for Thee;
Resting ’neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,
Earth’s dark shadows flee.
Brightness of my Father’s glory,
Sunshine of my Father’s face,
Keep me ever trusting, resting,
Fill me with Thy grace.

Refrain

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.

~ Jean S. Pigott

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth)

Giving of ourselves in ministry to others

So often when we want to minister to someone, we think we need to start a program or do some thing. And often we do. James warns against wishing someone well without taking the steps to meet their physical needs. Programs can be a good way to organize ministry efforts efficiently.

But programs without heart, without a personal touch, can be just a going through the motions. God is the One who touches and changes hearts. He doesn’t “need” us, but He often chooses to minister to others through His people. Paul said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:15, ESV). He speaks of being “poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith (Philippians 2:17). He didn’t just run through a program. He gave of himself.

I visited my mother-in-law almost every weekday during her five-plus years in various care facilities. I often felt more “useful” if I could do something – straighten her room a bit, bring her some mail, change her hearing aid battery, etc. – rather than get caught in the same conversational loops repeatedly. What she needed most, and what was hardest to give, was just one-on-one time and attention.

Some years ago our ladies’ group wanted to do something for the elderly ladies in our congregation. We decided to make little gift bags and then divide them up among us to deliver to the older ladies’ homes. Though they enjoyed the gifts, what they loved most were the visits. Some dear folks in one church would make little gifts or cards for my mother-in-law when she lived in our home, but they would send them home with us or someone who lived near us because we lived a distance from the church. Though we appreciated that they thought of her, a ten-minute personal visit would have been so much more effective. Even if she didn’t know the person, even if she forgot within the next hour that anyone had been there, for those few minutes she would have known that someone was interested enough in her to come and see her.

I’ve read blog posts directed to pastors about what to do when visiting members of their church who are ill. Some of the instructions urge having an agenda of talking, sharing Scripture, and praying. Those are all fine. It does help to have some idea of what to share so your mind doesn’t go blank. But from the times I have been seriously ill, I can tell you that working through an order of service or script was not what most ministered to my heart. What did minister to me was the personal looking in the eyes, empathizing, listening.

Even in our families, we often have wonderful talks while driving, cooking, etc. But sometimes we need to put everything aside and just look each other in the eye and listen.

Jesus often ministered to crowds. But then He would take a moment for a personal encounter with one person. Once He was stopped by one lady while on his way to minister to a father’s dying girl. But He had time for all of them, even though it might not have seemed that way to the father, Jairus, at first. Once He stopped a whole crowd in response to a blind beggar.

The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. ~ A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything we need to do and with all the needs we need to meet. We can easily feel depleted. But we seek His filling, His strength and grace, not our own. And we minister to the person given to us in each moment, without worrying about everyone and everything else. We trust Him for His guidance and provision as we share Him with others. When we’re filled with Him, we bring a sense of Him to others.

Programs, gifts, etc., are all fine in their place. I’ve been ministered to via each of those means. But we mustn’t forget to give of ourselves.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

Annie Johnson Flint

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

The humility of wisdom

When’s the last time you heard anyone say they needed wisdom? About the only time I hear anyone mention wisdom is in regard to a particular situation. “I need wisdom about this job decision.” I’m praying for wisdom for dealing with Johnny’s continued disobedience.”

But when is the last time we thought about our need for wisdom just to live our everyday lives for God’s honor and glory? We often pray that He will guide us, provide for us, forgive us. But do we pray for wisdom? Do we value wisdom as the Bible does?

Or do we plunge ahead with our day and our plans, thinking we know everything we need to and can make our own choices?

Our church has been reading through Proverbs together the last few weeks. If you’re familiar at all with Proverbs, you know it is all about wisdom. I don’t think there is a chapter that doesn’t mention it. And since we’ve been camped out there, the need for and value of wisdom have been emphasized repeatedly and in varying ways.

A full-scale study of wisdom would take more space than a blog post allows. But what struck me most during this reading is the humility of wisdom.

It takes humility to understand that we need wisdom, that to go our own way often leads us astray.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
 Proverbs 14:12

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10

It takes humility to search for wisdom, to acknowledged that I don’t have it, and no matter how much I have, I need more.

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;  yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5

It takes humility to receive and instruction, and even more to receive rebuke. I was familiar with one or two verses about it being wise to receive reproof,  but I’ve noted 19 so far! Here are a few:

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. Proverbs 25:12

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:31-33

By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.
 Proverbs 13:10

If someone tries to correct us, is our first response, “I better take heed: I might gain some wisdom from this?” No, our first response is anger with thoughts of “Who do you think you are?” and “Don’t judge me!” But the Bible says the wise person listens and learns. By contrast, “A scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1) and “He who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).

It’s scary to think of the personal consequences of rejecting reproof: it’s even more scary to realize that my lack of listening to instruction can negatively affect others. “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17).

I wonder if this lack of realization of our need for wisdom is behind our subtle ageism, even in the church. Once when visiting a new church, someone was showing us where the various classes were, and as we passed one door, our guide said, “Oh, you don’t want that one. That’s where the older folks are.” One younger lady told me she didn’t come to our ladies’ meetings because she thought only older ladies attended – even though at that time most of the attendees were just in their forties. Instead of deeming older people as worthy of our time and drawing on their wisdom, we label them out of touch, too slow, not “with it.” Proverbs honors older saints and the value of listening to authorities.

Of course, the need for wisdom runs throughout the Bible, not just Proverbs. One notable passage says:

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. Colossians 2:1-4.

May we continually seek Him and His wisdom through His Word.

IMG_1422

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth. Links do not imply complete endorsement)