Saturday, August 29, 2009

FLYING SOLO


The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone..." (Genesis 2:18)

In recent years, the fairly modern myth of one being able to do it all, be it all, have it all and accomplish it all on their own has begun to crumble. Especially as the economy has begun to implode, even the most self-assured, self-motivated individuals realize that none of us lives in a vacuum. For far too many years the enormous pressure on mothers to work full-time, keep a perfect home and raise well-adjusted children forced parents to put on the facade of normalcy while suffering in silence. Add to that pressure the challenge of parenting a child with a special need, and it's a wonder that the mental health facilities aren't bursting at the seams! Even so, some parents still automatically answer, "No, we don't need anything. We're just fine," when others offer to help. This is a grave mistake on a number of different levels.

First and foremost, God has told us this is "not good". Functioning alone is not His intent for our lives. He built us for interaction with both Himself and other humans. If you look through the Bible, you will see how many times God has stated how we are to relate to "one another". In taking a peek at just 60 of these numerous passages, we discover that we are to be at peace and live in harmony with one another; look out for one another; share with and be mutually dependent on one another; love and honor one another; admonish, counsel and instruct one another; comfort, encourage and edify one another. If you included the commands on how we're not supposed to treat one another, the list could be lengthier still.

Second, when we refuse help from others, we rob them of the blessings promised by God to those who offer compassion. How rarely we see ourselves as a benefit rather than a burden to others! Before you turn someone away, think of how you feel when you know you've made a difference in the life of another in need.

We all know that in the male psyche, there is a natural instinct to want to "fix things". However, this is not even what is called for in our relationships. As one dear hospital chaplain put it to me, it is "the ministry of presence" that is such a gift to others. That fellowship with one another, sharing conversation, just know someone else understands our frame of reference without having to explain it all, is an immense comfort.

What do we do if we need this kind of help from others and are not finding it? It's not always easy, but we must find the courage and strength to speak up. People are not mind-readers, and they really can't grasp our need if they haven't walked a mile in our shoes. I always joke with others when they say, "Call me if you need anything."
"Don't say that unless you mean it," I warn, "because I will call you!"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Father Knows Best


"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1)

"Mom! Dad! Please make them stop!" Are there words any more heartbreaking than these when a child has to go through a painful test or procedure? We're supposed to be able to protect our children and take away their pain. Yet, there are times where we have to make them take the icky medicine, endure the painful exam or be subject to things that are downright tortuous because as parents, we know that a life-saving benefit will result.

Could this brave heartache be how the Father felt when He watched His Son suffer on the cross? Did He wish He could take Jesus' place rather than witness another minute of His anguish? Did He despise His position as a parent just as we often do, having to make such a tough decision in order to save life? Did He tearfully think, This isn't how it's supposed to be?

When we go through agony as parents, witnessing our children suffer, we share in the agony of God Himself. Our pain identifies us with our Heavenly Father. And if we share in His anguish, we can look forward in hope knowing that we'll share in His glory. (Romans 8:17)

Perhaps we can also get a better view of why the Father allows difficulties in our own lives when we see life through the lens of our own parenthood. He knows what's best for us in the big picture of life just as we know what's best for our own children. There may be times where we think the Lord is inhumane for what He allows us to be subject to. Our own children look at us in the same way, not understanding what an unpleasant or painful medical intervention is intended to produce.

If we have a God who so closely identifies with these sorrowful matters, why would we hesitate to flee to Him in our times of trouble? We can get alone, have that cleansing sob, and express our honest frustrations freely to our Creator. We can question Him and wrestle in anger with Him, and He loves us just the same.

It is essential in those times of poured-out-anguish to still acknowledge that God can be trusted. We may likely never know why we and those we love endure such suffering. Yet, we can rest assured that the One who voluntarily subjected Himself to our own brand of pain, surely has the best in mind for us and cares about our every sorrow. (Jeremiah 29:11) Watch for the small ways He send His comfort and compassion to you. And never doubt that your Maker knows what He's doing as He holds you in the palm of His hand.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CRUSHED


The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

At first blush, one can look at these two separate verses from the Book of Psalms and wonder how they are related. I would maintain that they both address a process of conforming us more into the image of Christ.

Let me start by giving you the agricultural analogy of a process that was part of every day life in the biblical era. Olive oil was one of the hottest commodities of that time, used for everything from cooking and personal care to lighting lamps and dressing wounds. The method of squeezing out the valuable liquid was not very easy on the fruit. The olives were first cracked and crushed by a large millstone. Afterward, the crushed fruit was scooped into cloth bags that were stacked one upon another. A large, oblong stone, named a "gethsemane" was placed on top of the stacked bags, providing the weight necessary to remove the oil from the flesh of the olive. The process may be repeated with the same fruit. Caught in a small basin at the foot of the gethsemane, the very best oil was always obtained from the first squeezing.

Now reflect on the rendering of olive oil as you again read Psalm 34:18. Is being crushed in spirit any easier on us than being pulverized by that gethsemane? Yet, God promises that He is close in these times. Through that crushing weight, our faithful Father separates that which is valuable in us from that which needs to be removed and discarded. He promises to use all things for our good. (Romans 8:28) And in ever-increasing measure, into the image of His Son, Jesus. that means removing the parts of us that look nothing like Him and bringing forth the characteristics that do. In fact, He desires this so much that He was willing to send His blameless Son to take on the heaviest, salvation-producing part of that load for us. It's only through Jesus' sacrificial death that we are able to experience the fullness of Psalm 103:12.

What's weighing you down today? None of us need to look too far to realize that were living in a world squeezed by troubles. Pray about what God wants you to look like as you come through this trial. What precious commodity is God attempting to bring forth in our situation? What needs to go?

As the first pressing of the olives produces the most desirable oil, so our trusting obedience and immediate responsiveness are a delight to our Lord. Don't waste the times you feel pulverized by fighting against the opportunity to grow your faith. When we learn the value of painful, but beautiful transformation, our gratitude deepens as we reflect on a Christ endured to remove our sins as far as the east is from the west.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Crazy In Love


...First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. (1 John 4:19, MSG)

In the movie ELF, the character Buddy barges into a key Board meeting, spinning in a circle, casting off his furry winter hat to proclaim, "I'm in love! I'm in love! And I don't care who knows it!" I giggle as I recollect actor Will Ferrell playing out this contrived scene. But at the same time, it aptly displays the emotions I persistently carry inside, scarcely expressing.

Allow me a small amount of time to explain to you why Jesus Christ is the object of this obsessive affection. About 15 years ago, a flame was lit that continues to grow brighter with each day of my life. Despite having grown up a Christian church and family, my mindset and behavior sure didn't reflect it. After a series of personal tragedies, my friend, Jody and her husband, Mike, took the daring risk of introducing me to the One I call Savior. That began an intimate, personal interaction with Jesus which I had never known before.

So what? All sorts of people claim they've discovered a spiritual epiphany of some sort in their lives. What sets apart my Jesus experience from any other belief system is the marriage of passion and logic. I am still amazed as I contemplate the fact that this human from Nazareth fulfills dozens of prophecies from the Old Testament Jewish scriptures. Many of these prediction were things he would have no control over, like who his mother was and where he was born. Statistically, the probability that one man could fulfill even 8 of these prophecies is calculated to be 1 in 10 to the 17th power. (See Josh McDowell's EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT) Now that gets me going, but it's only the start.

Being secure in my belief that Jesus is who he claims he is, I can trust the Word of God. And what that Word tells me is amazing! It tells me that, in this vast world with all its people throughout all of history, God loves me, little old me! I matter to Him on so many levels. And this is true for each person on the face of this earth! We all have infinite value to the One who created us.

God's word also tells me that I'm forgiven. I'll spare you the details of all the wild, foolish living I've done over the years. In addition to that lifestyle, I've had attitudes and a self-serving spirit that I shudder to recollect. I spent too many years walking a fine line between living life on my own terms, yet trying to be good enough to assure that I'll make it to Heaven. That's a stressful tension to needlessly maintain! Jesus assures me that I can never be good enough to make it to Heaven. He represents the gold standard that I can never achieve. And then He brazenly steps up and pays the price, by His own torture, to guarantee that I can be with Him in eternity. Wow!

I can name hundreds of other reasons that emerge over the years that make me love Him more and more. There's the provision when we're desperately down to our last dime. There's the "coincidences" of right people and right circumstances at the right time, which are really no coincidence at all. There's the incredible fact that the God of the Universe, who put the very planets in orbit, can call little old me His friend. Wow! There's the grateful confidence that He gives my life purpose and meaning. There's the steadfastness that He's there through every circumstance, good or bad, holding me up, getting me through.

My hope is that EVERY human being would be introduced to and have relationship with this Lover of their soul! He offers boundless hope that no other can provide, and a joyful peace that transcends any circumstance. Jesus is too good to keep to myself! Thanks for allowing me a small piece of your time, so I can share Him with you!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

ENTITLED


You obey the law of Christ when you offer each other a helping hand. If you think you are better than others, when you really aren't, you are wrong. Do your own work well, and then you will have something to be proud of. But don't compare yourself with others. We each must carry our own load. (Galatians 6:2-5, CEV)

Remember McDonald's famous old jingle? "You deserve a break today..." Admittedly, that has subconsciously become my mantra over the years. I often buy into the false belief that because I've suffered, I'm entitled to something. I should be able to forget about keeping my house clean because I spend so much time at doctors' offices. I should be able to run up credit card balances because of all the financial woes we have endured over the past 12 years.

The scary part is that most Americans would find nothing wrong with this thought process. We live in a time in history where we delude ourselves into thinking no human should have to face even the slightest difficulty. Suffering or even discomfort must be avoided at all costs. And the ones responsible for relieving us of such difficulties are either those who are not currently suffering or our government.

However, Jesus reminds us that God "sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45) That means that we all face our challenges and are commanded to be there for one another in those challenges. When the dreaded diagnosis first comes or the pink slip is issued, we are to "bear one another's burdens". Bringing a meal, giving a mother a little break by watching her kids or even just listening can help our fellow pilgrims through those painful times of personal stretching and growth. But when it comes to the responsibilities of daily living, we each are to "carry (our) own load," maintaining our families, homes and finances to the best of our abilities.

In their outstanding book series BOUNDARIES, Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend clarify this point. Worth incorporating into a new personal mindset, these 2 gentlemen expose the value of being clear on our own personal boundaries and being respectful of those of others.

How differently this world would operate if we each adopted these biblical principles of losing the attitude that life owes us something and instead dedicating ourselves to looking out for one another! Jesus never exercised His rights as King here on earth. He was born in total poverty and political oppression. He worked hard as a carpenter and exhausted himself as a traveling preacher. Still, He never entertained the notion that He was entitled. Instead, He clothed himself in truth and compassion. He was subjected to the most unjust agony for love of us. And He never had a chip on His shoulder because of it. When we exchange our attitudes about what we think we deserve for the imitation of Christ, we bring a little piece of Heaven here to earth.