The Problem of Porn, Part 2

By Neale Davis, M.A., D.Min.

In the last article I mentioned how Christ has set us free from the slavery to sin. In essence he has unshackled our ankles from the giant steel ball. But often we, even as believers, continueIMG_0089 to carry that weight around with us unnecessarily. As it pertains to porn it is essential that we release that weight in order to be able to move with agility as we live and lead as men. Porn steals our character, integrity and our ability to experience honesty and transparency in relationships. It’s impossible to navigate life and our role as Christian men while carrying this weight, but the question begs, how do we do that?

As I speak with and counsel men I see more and more how utterly miserable it makes men. Those who have bought the lie of sexual fulfillment through porn always spiral out of control and into slavery. It is a trade of the abundant life Christ died for us to experience, for a stupor and zombie like existence that entangles and ensnares. There is no promise for fulfillment, but is actually a continual, but empty promise for life and fulfillment. Lust never delivers on it’s promises. It just demands more. The isolation it creates is numbing.

When I was growing up it took some effort to look at porn. You had to actually walk into a store and ask for a magazine. The paranoia of such an action would keep most men in line. But now the most raunchy porn is readily available at the click of the mouse. This has proved to be devastating for Christian men and the undoing of many. It is a rare day that I don’t see how destructive this temptation has proven to be. It reminds me of Proverbs 2:16-22 that describe in painful accuracy the effects of choosing immorality. This pursuit will lead you down to death and to the “spirits of the dead.” What a stark difference to what God offers in Christ.  He offers abundant life, which is a full and meaningful life.  He offers peace, mercy, and grace so extravagant that words fail to communicate the magnificence of this offer.

The hope offered in God’s word is magnificent. There is hope. Let me offer several suggestions in experiencing this freedom, but please keep in mine that making these choices is difficult and must be done in community. 

Remove the isolation. In the Lord of the Rings movies we meet the character Gollum who lives a half life of loneliness, lies and delusion. His isolation feeds his slavery to the idea of control.  This narrative never works out for Gollum. In fact, it eventually costs him his life. Addiction to porn is usually nourished and coddled in the secret places of our mind and our existence. Seclusion is the soil that best nourished the idol of the flesh and the first step to victory is removing it. It is important to involve people close to you in your struggle.  This includes one on one accountability, but it also means taking more steps to include structure in your life. I would recommend software on your computer, like Covenant Eyes, which doesn’t prohibit what sites you visit, but reports them to your accountability partners. However, if you choose partners who don’t typically look at your reports or take them serious, or follow through on tough things they see, then this won’t help. Make sure the people you choose to hold you accountable will confront you if they see red flags in your report. Give them permission to do so.

Realize the connection of lying and porn. There is a direct correlation to lying and the struggle of porn. It begins with lying to yourself about the effect of your decision.  “It’s not that big of a deal.”  “I can stop anytime.” “Just once won’t hurt.” “It’s a male thing so I can’t help it.” “It’s how God wired me so it must be okay.” These lies come, in part, from the deceptiveness of our own hearts but also flow from the enemy of our souls. Don’t make the mistake of blaming it all on the devil.  If you didn’t choose to do this, then you wouldn’t. It is a choice. The lies you believe and think, though, cause you problems and become more complicated the deeper you go into porn. So allow those who are closer  to you to ask you the hard questions.  Make a commitment to them to be forthright and honest. Don’t lie to your friends or yourself.

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Invite others into walk with you. The need for community continues here. It is reasonable to assume that if you follow this step it is highly likely that you will be freed from your struggle. As we grow and mature in our faith we are actually supposed to become more dependent upon one another in a healthy way. “Iron sharpens iron” requires another person. It is in the context of community that we can experience freedom and healthy relationships. They will never be perfect on this side of heaven, but we need people in lives who tell us the truth. And people to whom we can speak the truth. You may be able to manage your sin for a season, but it will take a community to help you overcome your sin for a lifetime. It is worth the risk of vulnerability and honesty.

Be honest with yourself. Sometimes we persuade ourselves with false talk that the problem is not that big. But that is not true. This is a big issue and the Lord wants to free you. Jesus’ intent is to provide you with abundant life. Abundance in that we can anticipate heaven and all of it’s mind boggling benefits, but eternal life begins when you trust Christ. The old things are in the past, Paul says, and we can anticipate new things. We must be honest with how we have compromised ourselves when we give into short term pleasures that lost no longer than a very short season. Look to Christ who is the only one who offers water that will satisfy you consistently forever.

Make your choice before you are tempted. Decide right now who you will text or email about your temptation. Right now. If you make this choose before your temptation then your chances of success are much higher. Don’t let the train leave the station. Otherwise you will find it challenging to stop it. Remember, you have a choice in this matter. When you begin to feel the urge to give in then immediately text your accountability partners and ask them to pray for you and ask you tomorrow (or next week, or in the next hour) what you did. Knowing they will can be the very thing that keeps your mind where it should be.

Go for a run. Generating the right kind of buzz is good for your mind and for your body. You don’t have to commit to training for a marathon, either. If all you can do is take a walk around the block, then do that. The endorphins that exercise generates show the creativity that God has in caring for us. These hormones are the bodies way of protecting us and show how much our designer cares for us. Take advantage of them.

When you are tempted don’t be afraid to flee. When it comes to “youthful lusts” Paul instructs us to actually flee (2 Timothy 2:22). Don’t play with these urges because they can have such subtle control of our hearts. In other areas Paul says to stand firm against the devil and he will flee from you. Not this one. Here he says to turn coat and run. Paul understands the influence and power of lust.

Set your mind on life giving things. I recommend you begin to memorize favorite Scriptures, but don’t just memorize them and then quote them like a mantra. These passages are not meant to be “a rabbit’s foot” in your pocket. Instead, as you quote them have a dialogue with the Lord about them. Ask him to explain them, to help the truth of the to transform you and penetrate your heart. Paul makes suggestions on where to take your anxious thoughts in Philippians 4:9.

Don’t stand in a pool of shame. If you choose to give in to the temptation then you know what will happen. You will feel shame for your decision. God’s Spirit convicts us of sin, but does so in order to lead us out of the mire. He doesn’t want youto get capexels-photo-356642.jpegught up in the muck of shame. So remember that God’s grace is meant for you and his blood has covered you for your brokenness. It always amazes me what Jesus said the woman who  was caught in adultery. Remember, she was guilty and that the levitical law does call for stoning (Jesus, as God, was the author of this law). But, since he was the fulfillment of this law, he says to her, “neither will I condemn you.” He extends grace to her first,then he calls her to “go and sin no more.” This same offer extends to you. Grace, and then the call to purity. This love toward you should help you grow out of your lustful slavery and into remarkable freedom.

Though this list is not exhaustible, it is a beginning. This is a battle that you must wage and can win as you move toward Christ. Bring your struggle into the light where Jesus will bring healing.

The freedom you experience as you do is remarkable. Now go ahead. Call some friends and entrust yourself anew to the Lord and to the care of the body. Welcome to freedom. It tastes good.

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The Problem of Porn, Part 1

By Neale Davis, M.A., D.Min.

Most every man breathing can attest to the remarkable physical attraction of a woman.  The look, the thrill, the intrigue and the power. This attraction in and of itself is a normal impulse, since the male mind has visual stimulation as part of his DNA. The magnetic draw can sometimes feel inexplicable. But, this attraction, without limits, usually turns into a monster and drags the man into a seemingly inescapable abyss. It’s all something that has pulled many men downward and, for some, this attraction has drawn them to their ruin.  Some to their death.  But one of the most dangerous elements to this incredible draw is how subtle the damage to our spirit it can cause. 

Soloman addresses this potentially fatal attraction.“For her house (the adulteress) leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life”(emphasis mine).  So, the question begs, why do men continue to fall into this extraordinarily dangerous area of sin? The devastation it brings is entirely predictable as is the short shelf life of the satisfaction brought by indulging in lust. But men still are drawn, like sheep going to their slaughter. It reminds one of the sign on the road that reads, “warning, the edges of this sign are very sharp and dangerous. Be careful!” and then at the bottom of the sign it reads, “by the way, the bridge ahead is out.” Somehow many men miss the significance of purity and it’s reward. Instead they become mesmerized by the visual stimulation and false intimacy it brings. Before they know it they’ve passed the sign and mindlessly proceed to a bridgeless ravine at a high rate of speed.

The goal of this article is to bring to life the reality that, for the believer, lust can be controlled and the abundant life Christ promised can be experienced. Let’s take a look at the passage in Proverbs mentioned above. It is Proverbs 2:18-19 and there are at least two areas that are helpful to look at when exploring this struggle. The first involves the warning of what happens when we choose wrong decisions. The second involves the indirect promise of pursing Christ.

Lead to the Dead

Recently I was watching a movie where the lead character was experiencing heartache and family problems at having a diabetic child and a disintegrating marriage.  While on the train on his way to work one morning he meets an intriguing and beautiful, but married woman. In the ensuinglogo1-mask-of-deception.jpg discussion he realizes how much she can empathize with his story. One thing led to another and ultimately the two found themselves in front of a hotel contemplating whether or not to step into the world of adultery. As they entered the hotel room, having made the fateful decision, they end up getting robbed and beaten, and the thief, in cohoots with the woman, ultimately continues to extort money from the man in exchange for not telling his wife about the affair. His life had taken a remarkable turn for the worse based on a moment of delusion. His life felt like it was over and he had entered the world of the dead. Not only were his problems not solved, but they were exacerbated. Such is the mirage of lustful pursuits. 

I have two sons and I have told them, in helping them understand the issue of lust, that should a naked woman walk up to me and make a proposition, that I would quickly flee in the opposite direction.  The much more challenging task would be if in the privacy of my own mind I was tempted to think sexual thoughts about a woman that I saw, but chose not to pursue those thoughts. That’s the really challenging thing to do.  Knowing these thoughts would only lead downward away from life is so important. This is where most of us live.  A decision each day to choose to think right thoughts which can protect us. It’s important to understand that for every negative command in the Bible, i.e. the ten commandments, there are two positive principles behind them. One to protect us from the harmful results of sinful behavior, and the other to provide for us the abundance that Christ promises us as believers (John 10:10).  Tomorrow is made up of lots of small decisions today. So, if I choose to entertain a lustful thought, which I know to be wrong, I can expect to experience the devastation of it’s delusion. In many ways pursuing lustful thoughts is a lot like that scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where the Nazis open up the Ark of the Covenant and the Spirit of God flies around them appearing beautiful until they realize it is God’s holiness. The beauty, then, turns into a frightening image that literally melts their bodies. At first, it seems okay or harmless to think these thoughts, but it will certainly come back to haunt us as it enslaves us and leads us down the path to destruction.

Men take a step toward numbness and death when they fail to realize the spiraling results of poor decisions in regards to their purity. If men remained numb in their life they would never be fully aware of possible damage that they are doing to themselves. Every dentist always tells his patients that following a procedure using a local anesthetic she must be careful when eating.  It’s possible the doctor says, for her to chew on her own flesh and not realize it. A terrible thought, but that is what happens to us when one becomes numb to the devastating results of sin. They destroy their own flesh.

None Attain the Paths of Life.

“none who go to her (adulteress) return or attain the paths of life.”

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The implication, of course, in the second verse is that there is life to be found and experienced when one chooses God. The rest of chapter two of Proverbs reminds the reader about where believers need to live in order to experience real life. They need to live upright and blameless. When Jesus met the woman at the well he told her about the water he provided would permanently solve her thirst. It confused her and she took it to mean water in a literal sense. But Jesus was referring to the life he promised for those who trust him and put their faith in him. He said, “…I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” In reality, there is nowhere we can be satisfied except in Jesus. Nothing in life will meet our deepest need for significance, relationship, and fulfillment than a life in pursuit of Jesus. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Really. Seriously, there is nothing that will fill us with life except Christ.

There was a time in my life when I struggled with my thought life. If I stayed in a hotel without a colleague it was a difficult choice to not look at things I knew would rob me and leave me wanting.  But often I would drift down that road and always, I’d regret it.  Then I took serious what Paul said in Romans 7:18, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Even more exciting was the truth of Romans 8:1 which says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”  It didn’t happen suddenly, but I began to understand that I didn’t have to entertain lustful thoughts, like I used to think was inevitable for men. I could actually redirect my thoughts and experience the fullness that Christ promised.  And it’s phenomenal to have that freedom. Since moving in this direction I can honestly say that I feel more fulfilled than I have ever felt in all areas of my life. It’s like I have been unshackled from a huge ball and chain. If you’re a believer, you have been unshackled, too.  However, many Christian men, for some reason, like to continue to carry the ball around with them. That is terribly inconvenient. And entirely unnecessary.

In the next article, I will explain ways to drop the ball (in the good sense) and begin to experience the freedom that Scripture promises to those who belong to him. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” The attraction to women is, thank God, still in me.  But now it’s there as part of how God made me as a man and not a gross distortion of what is good.

The Preservation of the Heart

The heart is central to our life and journey. It beats in our chest to keep us going. It pushes the life giving blood through our veins. It races when we need it and slows when we’re quiet. Our mothers helped it develop in their body. Our heart quickens when we love someone. Sometimes we can share it with someone else. But at some point it stops when it’s time to step into eternity. And, yet, it represents so much more.

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Our heart is the symbolic center of our lives. We hear phrases like, “I love you with all of my heart,” or “it was a heartbreaking decision.” Our hearts do get broken. They bleed. They feel. Sometimes we say we lead with our heart. People in the southern USA say, with pity, “bless your heart” (not an endearing phrase most of the time). Our hearts are wrenched sometimes. We play games with all of our heart. The heart symbolizes our commitment to a cause or a relationship. It is central to our loyalties and expresses deep commitment.

God loves his people and expresses his remarkable character by becoming a human with a human heart in order to make way for his people to surrender their heart to him. He is the only one who can satisfy our heart and he is the only one who will never disappoint us. But he calls us to unabashedly and unreservedly give our heart to him. In fact, all he wants is our heart. He told the Jews, “I the LORD will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel.” God declares his great motive in spite of our duplicitous and adulterated hearts. He offers us the Living Water to satisfy us and to proclaim his great name. He is a relational God who alone can satisfy our heart. When we find our satisfaction in him we are at rest, even when chaos surrounds us. John Piper reminds us that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. The world was created for his glory. He gave us hearts so that we could enjoy this glory.

Matthew 6:21 says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” God wants us to recognize that there is no other treasure that will satisfy us besides him. The pleasures and treasures we continually try to fill the void in order to satisfy our hearts always fails. Those deceptive “treasures” have as much potential to satisfy us as a nameless and lifeless idol has of speaking to us. Even the things that have the capability to make us happy never last as long as we would like. And yet, we continue the same routine. Idols cannot preserve the heart. Only Christ can do that. As he told the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

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So, how does treasuring Christ preserve the heart? Let me offer a few ways that this works.

First, in Christ, we are given peace. Peace is part of the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul shares in Galatians. It’s important to understand that peace is not the same as happiness. Peace exists regardless of the circumstances, whereas happiness is based entirely on circumstances. I recall when our first child was born. Inexplicably he was born with a malignant tumor called neuroblastoma. During his first week of life we had no idea if he would live or not. It was the worst week of our lives. But in the midst of the nonstop tears my wife and I both experienced peace knowing that God is good, merciful, and provident.

Secondly, we know from God’s word and from our experience that God is truly provident. This means that nothing surprises him. He isn’t confused. He isn’t capricious. He isn’t random. He isn’t cruel. Honestly, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a finite being to make sense of an infinite God. We simply can’t wrap our minds around the idea of infinitude. This isn’t an excuse, but merely a nod to the reality that our limits will never be able to explain God. Otherwise we would be God. It is important and essential for us to rest in his reputation and his character. When have we ever known God to fail, or to drop the ball, or to not live up to his promises? Sure, there are plenty of moments in life where we may be tempted to think he has left the building, like when my son had cancer, but hindsight always offers perspective. Even if our suffering feels unending. Job is a good study for us to see that God is provident, even if it feels a little (or a lot) challenging to grasp. God reminds Job that he is in control and nothing slips through his fingers. When Job acquiesces he finds peace, even though his questions are not answered and his children remained dead. He could let his questions go unanswered because the very God he challenges remains constant and pure irregardless of his comprehension of God’s greatness. He makes all things new. Psalm 139 also reminds us of how knowledgeable and personal he really is.

Thirdly, treasuring Christ preserves our heart by taking away the angst that life so often brings. When we experience peace and we trust in God’s eternal sovereignty we have no need for the oppression of anxiety. Even though life brings certain unpredictability about what’s around the next corner we are able to experience restfulness. Two thoughts here. First, this isn’t to say that our mere belief and trust in God dissolves angst. It means that we can find rest knowing God is in control. We can be expectant and actually believe that God will be faithful and provide for us, even if it feels difficult or scary to do so. It reminds me of the father who asks Jesus to heal his son. Jesus, challenging the man’s trust, asks him if he believes he can heal the boy. The man responds, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” It’s an awkward place to be as we believe God is in control and yet we struggle to not jump in to make sure all ends well.

Secondly, although we want God to remove our problems and pain what he actually promises is better. He tells us that he will walk with us through them. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me….” Treasuring Christ provides that simple, but fulfilling choice to rest in God.

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As I write this I am in the midst of making a career change. Some people would say I am crazy at this age to make such a change, and yet, here I go. I believe the Lord is allowing me this choice and has affirmed my desire to change. And yet…… Don’t believe for a minute that I don’t have some moments of breathless panic. But I do believe he will provide and protect. That is his nature and I am his child. In the midst of a very unpredictable journey I can move confidently because I am his child and he has never failed.

Standing in this confidence I sense that he is preserving my heart. I am at rest even while the storm rages around me. Isaiah says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” The preservation of the heart starts and ends with God. Rest in him.

 

 

Sound Advice For Pastors: A Post from ExPastors.com

One of the most difficult jobs in the world is being a pastor. High expectations from the congregation and from the pastor himself can easily derail a person who is truly only human. Pastors and their staff struggle in the same ways that you do, but often are not allowed to make mistakes. He’s often held to a standard that no one could possibly live up to. Godly men and women struggle, too. Hopefully your pastor is well trained from seminary and maintains healthy theological and personal convictions, but let’s be honest. He is a sinner just like you. Recently I read a blog on http://www.expastors.com and wanted to pass this very helpful article on. Whether you are a pastor or you want to care well for your pastor, read what Ron Edmondson shares about ten dangers that a pastor must be aware of. As a congregant, pray for your pastor while he shepherds your church. It’s not an easy job. It may be your prayers and your concern that encourage him to keep going.

10 Dangers Every Pastor Needs to Be Aware Of

by Ron Edmondson

I encounter so many struggling pastors. And unfortunately, I know so many who used to be pastors, but no longer hold the position.

It may be due to a blatant sin or a casual drifting from doing what they knew to be right, but it landed them in disaster. A pastor friend of mine says frequently, “We need healthy churches and we need healthy pastors.”

Amen. Agreed. We must stand guard.

What are we guarding against?

No single post would be perfect. Obviously, sin, but I can’t address everything that gets in the way of a healthy pastor. I can only list some that are more common in my experience.

Here are 10 dangers every pastor needs to be aware of:

Neglecting your soul. One of my mentors reminds me, “Ron, don’t forget to feed your own soul.” It was subtle. Almost given as a sidebar to our discussion. But it was gold. One of the biggest dangers for a pastor is when we begin to operate out of stored up knowledge of and experience with God. We need fresh encounters with truth and His glory.

Sacrificing family. Families learn to resent the ministry when it always trumps the family. Ministry families get accustomed to interruptions. They are part of the job as they are part of many vocations. But the family will hopefully be there when no one else is around. Ministry locations change but the family does not – so we must not neglect them. I’ve sat with men who lost the respect of their family. I know countless pastors who’re adult children no longer want anything to do with the church. Apparently, from what I’ve been told, there are not much greater hurts for someone who devoted their lives to ministry.

Playing the numbers game. Whenever we put the emphasis on numbers we are always disappointed. They will never be high enough. God is in charge of the numbers. We are in charge of what He has put us in charge of, but it’s not the numbers. We must be careful to concentrate on making disciples and the numbers will take care of themselves.

Comparing ministries. There will always be a “bigger” ministry. Someone will always write a better tweet — or a better book – or a better blog post – preach a better sermon. When we begin to compare it distracts us from the ministry we’ve been God-appointed to lead.

Finding affirmation among the rebels. This is the one which gets me in trouble among the rebels when I point it out to pastors. But we must be careful not to get distracted by people who would complain regardless of the decision we make. Yes, it stings the way some people talk to a pastor. And, it’s certainly not always godly how some people express themselves in the church. But, what if Joshua had listened to the naysayers? What if Nehemiah had? What if Moses had given up every time the complainers were louder than the people who are willing to follow? Okay, he probably was willing to give up a couple of times but he held the course. If you are leading there will always be someone that is not happy with the decisions you made. People bent on pleasing others – more even than pleasing God – have a very hard time finding peace and joy in ministry.

Sacrificing truth for popularity. It’s easy to preach the easy stuff. Grace messages are pleasant to share and popular to receive. And, we need them. Where sin increases grace should increase all the more. But, we need truth. Even when it is unpopular. Making disciples becomes impossible when we sacrifice either one – truth or grace.

Stealing glory. My mama used to say “that boy got too big for his britches”. Sadly it can happen in ministry also. Many pastors struggle with ego problems. God is never honored when we make ourselves to be anything other than a God-glorifying position. This is true for everyone, but it should be written into our job description.

Poor boundaries. The enemy enjoys a door of opportunity. I know too many pastors who fell into a trap because they didn’t have healthy boundaries in place. This is especially true in dealing with the opposite sex.

Neglecting friendships. Most pastors struggle knowing who to trust, but because of this, they have few people really get to know them. Therefore they often have no one who can speak into the dark places of their life. And, pastors have them too. So, they put on a good front, but inside they struggle alone. It’s dangerous.

Abusing power. The pastor holds a certain amount of power just based on position. It has been said, “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” One of the more dangerous things I see churches doing these days is giving a pastor too much power, without enough built-in personal accountability. (That’s coming from a church planter’s heart – and one who is prone to lead strong.) BTW, I’m not for controlling the pastor or forced relational accountability – and I haven’t discovered the perfect system here – but there needs to be one which balances pastoral authority and personal accountability. I don’t know how to systematize that, but too much power can be a dangerous distraction. The ultimate goal would be for the pastor or ministry leader to build their own system of accountability into their life.

Those are some that I have seen. These distractions are displayed in a number of ways – and all of them are not fatal thankfully – but all of them are real. And all of them are dangerous.

Which of these dangers do you struggle with?

Patterns: Experiencing God

“Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words,

whose voice is not heard.” Psalm 19:2-3

It doesn’t matter what story you read, movie you watch, or play you enjoy but each time you experience these things you will always be following a repeatable and necessary pattern in order to enjoy it. This is true even if the story is an epic that stretches over a longer period of time. The pattern of story telling begins with an introduction where we learn the setting and meet the characters. As we delve deeper into the story we begin to learn who the good guys are (protagonists) and who the bad guys are (antagonist). We begin to develop loyalties, likes, and dislikes. Next we see a problem or a crisis arise, and naturally, the problem needs solving, which is done by the protagonist. But not without concerted effort on the antagonist’s part to defeat her rival. But, at last, we have a resolution. It doesn’t matter where you look, this will be the general pattern that most satisfies the reader. If a part is left out, it becomes confusing. If the beginning is not told we may become confused. If the problem is unsolved then we become frustrated. The pattern completes the circle. The pattern makes sense to us.

We see patterns elsewhere in life. The most notable ones might include days which are followed by nights, or the seasons that occur as the Earth rotates and moves around the sun: always has and always will. These patterns are repeatable and predictable day in and day out, year in and year out. They are patterns that you can be comfortable with. The day will always take 24 hours because this is how long it takes the Earth to make its rotation. And a year will always take 365 days because this is how long it takes to move around the sun. Scientists tell us that since the beginning, time has increased and sped up, but we’ll reserve that logical discussion of time for another day, metaphorically speaking, of course. Suffice it to say that we live and exist in a constant, but repeatable pattern.

There are, of course, many other patterns that we live and experience. It may be the rolling of waves over the ocean, or the weather that moves across the surface of the earth each moment of each day. It could also be the pattern of human development that is so pIMG_0105redictable. It starts with conception of an embryo, the beginning of human life, but then that embryo develops into a fetus and gains a beating heart, fingers and toes form, we learn the sex in the womb. This young creation is now an unborn baby. We can learn from an unborn baby its many and remarkable characteristics. Next this young life is born and it becomes a new born infant, then a toddler, then a child, then a preadolescent, a teenager, then a young adult, then an adult, then a middle aged adult, then a elderly adult, and nearing the end of its life cycle the person becomes a senior adult. That pattern will end predictably in the death of this human body whose physicality then returns to dust, just as the Scriptures tells us. The soul then follows a new pattern unseen by mankind.

What are patterns and why are they evidences of a kind and merciful God. Patterns exist within the time continuum and allow us as finite people to do things like process, learn, grow at healthy rates, increase in wisdom, and heal. Time can often be thought of as a liability slowing us down, but it is actually a gift of God. Our great and infinite God, of course, exists outside of time, but He loves us and provides us with time. Time allows us to hope and it keeps our limited understanding from going off the rails. Finitude doesn’t allow us to understand the totality of time and its effects. This reality helps us learn and need dependence upon God. Timelessness is reserved for a good and eternal God. Limits protect His creation from thinking too highly of themselves. It what helps draw us to this amazing God.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new ever morning;

great is your faithfulness.”

Patterns protect us. Patterns comfort us. Patterns provide consistent care and love from God.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. What patterns have you seen in your life that can cause you to think about and worship God?
  2. Why do you think that God gave us time? How is it helpful for our lives?
  3. What patterns in the world resonate with you the most? Which are more challenging for you to grasp and accept?
  4. Read Psalm 19 and thank God for the patterns that point us to Him. Worship Him for what he reveals to us as His children

Prayer:

“Father, I know that I am finite and can only understand so much in this remarkable complicated world, but I do thank you for revealing parts of yourself in things like patterns. It reminds me of your faithfulness to keep all of your promises and your mercies that are new every morning. Help me when I get caught up in the weeds of life to consider your greatness and majesty and the patterns you display to show your creative genius and your majestic power. When I fail to have faith, will you give me faith to comprehend on some level your persistent and never ending love for me? Thank You for You! Thank you for Jesus. In His name, amen”

Perpetuity: Experiencing God

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”- Lamentations 3:22-23

 I am captivated every time I walk down a beach and watch the ocean waves crash onto the shore. It is easy to become mesmerized by the constant pounding, white foam, and continuously changing shape and color of this powerful water. What awes me the most, however, is the fact that the waves never stop! I can walk down the beach one summer and know with confidence that when I return a year later the waves will still be pounding the shoreline, reshaping it, and exposing more shells while providing cover for the tiny minnows. Kids will still be using their skim boards and lovers will still walk hand in hand as they skirt the flowing water.

My favorite place in the world to watch this perpetuity is in a river while fly-fishing. The majority of my most enjoyable worship experiences are while I stand in a river soaking up the wildness and the majesty of the mountains around me. This setting alone energizes me, but because I am fishing I can always manage to focus enough on fishing to present my fly in the right ripple to draw the attention of a beautiful rainbow trout. But part of my amazement in this setting is the way that the river never stops flowing. From a source way above me the water begins to obediently follow gravity as it makes its way to the ocean. And the melting snow and falling rain make generous contributions to the parade of life along the way. Because of this, the river’s journey never stops. The sound of the water falling joyously down the mountainside contributes to this glorious experience. I consider it an orchestral masterpiece on a mind numbing level. It displays, to me, an absolutely amazing Designer. I thank Him often for this intoxicating experience.

Both of these settings, the ocean and the river, add to the awe we can experience with God. They display His eternality. The Psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” God was not created and, thus, has no beginning. Neither will He ever cease to exist. He will always be sovereign.

Although rivers we see will cease to exist when the new heaven and new earth are created, His reign will be perpetual. One of the parts of heaven that I think I am most excited about is the River of Life, which will flow from His throne. Revelation tells us the water will be crystal clear and the river will be lined with the Tree of Life, a tree that we have not seen since Adam and Eve were escorted out of the garden. Imagine the devastation that would have followed had they also eaten of the tree of life! There would be no end to our sinful state. God in His perpetual love made sure we did not eat of that fruit. In the new garden we are free to enjoy of the Tree of Life which will line the banks of the River of Life!

IMG_0159My mind wanders to this literally endless river. I believe that we will be able to follow this beautiful river and never reach it’s end (because there is no end)! And yet, we will not wander from his watchful and loving presence. He will be with us forevermore. Imagine! Perpetuity at its best!

Psalm 136 explains all the things God has done and yet has never failed! He has the only perfect track record. Sometimes we may think He has abandoned us or stopped loving us, but with hindsight we realize this is simply not true. Here is how Psalm 136 ends:

“God saw the trouble we were in. God’s love never fails. He rescued us from our enemies. God’s love never fails. He gives food to all who live. God’s love never fails. Praise God in heaven! God’s love never fails.”

Despite our sometimes, perilous circumstances, God has never failed us. Our ability to see clearly is limited by our finitude. He is infinite and has no such confinement. Nor is their confinement in His goodness and mercy! His character is perpetual.

Questions to Ponder.

  1. As you think about your life, how might considering God’s unending love help your perspective about whatever you’re going through? Think of specific ways this could help.
  2. Where do you struggle to believe God’s love is relentless and perpetual?
  3. Consider making a “thankful” list of as many things as you can think of that God has provided for you (job, health, friends, health problems, finances, opportunities to serve, family).
  4. Consider memorizing and drawing comfort from Psalm 19:1-6 which reads,

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.” Psalm 19-1-6

Prayer:

“Lord, I know that your word says to give thanks in all things. It’s much easier to thank you for the good things, but I want to thank you for the not so good things and ask you to use them to help me see your how you never change. I want to trust you in good and bad times and knowing that you are eternal and consistently good helps me do that. Even though my circumstances make me feel one way, I know the reality is that your love never fails. It’s as predictable as the sun rising each morning or the waves continuing to crash on the beach. Thank you for your perpetual love.”

Comfort: Experiencing God

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”- Isaiah 43:2

It was the phone call you dread as a parent. We got the worst news we thought we could hear. A good friend in Big Fork, Montana called me to ask if I’d heard about my son Philip. He told me Philip was in surgery and he just wanted to make sure we knew. Of course, I was shocked and did not know about the accident. So I called the Billings Clinic in Billings, Montana and found out our son was in surgery because of a motorcycle accident that had occurred at 3am that morning. Eventually I spoke to a doctor who told me that he was still in surgery and, although stable, the surgery would take an additional three hours. It was a punch in the gut. We called our other two children and asked them to come home to wait for a phone call from his neurosurgeon. We began texting friends and family about his accident and asked them to pray. The school he was due to graduate from in a week, Rocky Mountain College, turned out to be a great group and a community. We heard that many of Philip’s friends had stayed in the hospital since news spread that he was in an accident. His good friend Sam had done such a great job of being the point person because she and her husband cared for him like they did own children. That was very apparent to us. We eventually heard from the doctor who told us that he broke his nose and that a piece of bone went into his brain. They successfully removed that bone from the frontal lobe, but this, of course, was difficult to comprehend and accept. The future remained very uncertain and intensely uncomfortable. The numbness in our soul began to nag. Tears came and went like the waves of the ocean, unpredictable and often uncontrollable.

We left our home and had our kids take us to the airport where we hopped on a plane for Billings. We arrived at 11pm. It was, as you would imagine, a horribly long flights. When we arrived at the hospital there were still ten or so of Philip’s faithful friends who were in the waiting room late that night. That encouraged us so much. It was simultaneously comforting just to be with him and also disturbing to see him in such condition. He looked very rough with tubes and wires all over the place. It was encouraging, though, when we grabbed his hand and as we spoke reassurance, he acknowledged our presence. He had been responding to basic commands, which was a good sign for neurological recovery. We were just relieved to be with him, although small, that was a comfort to us. We left the hospital at 3am and went to the hotel for a couple of hours of “sleep.”

The next morning the nurse said that he was doing quite well and he was succeeding 100% in regards to the neurological tests she gave him. He even indicated that he wanted to communicate by writing. He made a “writing” motion to say this.

Even though the tears came and went, we were encouraged. The unpredictable state of his brain injury and how it would affect his personality, cognitive abilities, and his career, were yet to be determined. It was a sad time for all of us. Here is the passage of Scripture where we camped out during this horrific moment:

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up: the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

We were very sad about the accident, and occasionally angry that it happened because it shook our world. As I mentioned we cried a lot, and cried out to the Lord a lot more. It was disconcerting to experience such painful moments.

As believers, when such pain enters our lives, we can respond in one of two ways, usually responding both ways during the experience. First, we can try our best to rationalize and make sense of what we’re experiencing. During those moments we do our best to understand the dilemma. But, as Christians, we must eventually arrive at the second way, and that is acquiescence to our God and King. He is sovereign and always righteous even when He may not show His will. But it is a perfect will. His ways are not our ways, but His character is always perfect and He is entirely trustworthy.

Through our experience, we were comforted in our pain by God. He displayed His love through the inner peace, but also through His other children who prayed for us and comforted us through their prayers, kind words, and tangible gifts (food, money, time, hugs, tears).

When you encounter inexplicable circumstances where do you turn? Who or what do you trust?

How does God’s character encourage you as you walk through the valley? How have you seen His perfect will provide peace?

Read Matthew 8:23-27. How can we find comfort in this story?

In what ways are you seeking comfort today?

Prayer:

“Father, I want to believe and trust You no matter what life brings my way, but it is sometimes very difficult. I don’t understand you and your ways, but I want to trust you regardless because you have never failed me. Your mercies are new every morning. You’re kindness never fails. Your word says that in Christ You call me friend and have called me to holiness and righteousness. In Christ, you have adopted me. I thank you for that but am often caught up in the thinking that says, like the man whose son was healed by Jesus despite his struggle to trust Him. He said, “I do believe, Lord, but help me in my unbelief.” That, too, is my prayer Lord. Help me in my weakness to recall that you are with me when I am in deep waters. Thank You for never failing me. I worship You.”

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