Troubled Waters

Living in the world today is very stressful. There are crazy and distressing events happening all over the globe and the future feels precarious. It seems that we are being confronted with our own fragility and the helpless feelings we may experience can be frightening. The world feels very unsafe.

Some historians tell us that in the last 3,400 years the world has been at peace (whatever that means) for only eight percent of the time. That is a pretty dismal figure, and may actually be more optimistic than the reality. This, of course, means humans have been at each other’s throats for 92 percent of the time. And this despite all of the peace talks, negotiations, and bumper stickers that read “War is not the Answer” or “Arms for hugging.” Unfortunately those are idealistic, though poetic, words for deaf ears.

Some people will tell you that humans are better off today than ever before, which sounds extraordinarily naïve. Of course, I’m a pessimist by nature. Perhaps, though it is true that our medical know-how or wealth (though that is absolutely not true for most of the world) has improved throughout world history. But, starving people are still without consistent sources of food, babies are still killed daily, the sex trade is thriving, and other major problems like racism are still tumbling out of control. Our nation alone has become one of the most self-centered cultures in the world. We thrive on letting people know what we’re doing every moment of the day through our Facebook status, we watch inane reality shows that expose the underbelly of selfishness and stupidity, we take selfies (we even have a stick to make them better), and we’ve becoming a nation of drug addicts. I’m afraid that we are not better off. My point is that if you keep up with the news and the culture then you know we don’t seem to be better off, and that can be frightening. Even Christians struggle to maintain hope in a violent and unpredictable world.

But take heart Church. Despair not!

When Jesus was nearing the end of his life he spoke comforting words to the disciples. Things were looking grim and he had just told Peter about his impending denial of Christ. But the next words we hear him speak are remarkable. He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms, If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” These important words speak directly to Christians. These words give us hope and they reassure us that the suffering we experience is not senseless and void of purpose. Let’s draw some conclusions.

  1. Jesus encourages us to not be troubled. That means that we can live in this fragile world with a hope. It will not always be dangerous and scary. No, quite the opposite. We can experience peace in the midst of the chaos.
  2. God is at the helm. Jesus was not plan “B.” He was plan “A.” By his very nature God is redemptive and wastes nothing. Our bandwidth of understanding is very small while His is unlimited. It is that kind of strength that reassures us. He is the source of all wisdom and goodness. Although He is also perfectly, Christians don’t have fear his wrath. Which brings me to point three.
  3. Jesus is preparing heaven for us, and promises to return for us. Remarkable! Do you know that he never failed to keep a single promise! His track record is perfect, so we can eagerly expect his return. In the meantime, he gave us his Spirit to comfort us, guide us, convict us, and to serve as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (Ephesians 1:3-15). If you want a little preview of heaven then turn to Revelation 22. Now we see things only partially, but the time for perfect rest and peace is rapidly approaching.

Take heart Church! Let’s recall two things in closing. In Psalm 23 we read of the valley of the shadow of death. Note that it is a frightening place and also note that God never promises to remove us from it. He promises instead to be with us during that dark time! Secondly in the next verse God promises to prepare a table in the presence of our enemies. Sounds weird at first, but it means that we can have a safe, intimate dinner with him even when our enemies surround us! That is a God we can take comfort in. Let not your hearts be troubled.

 

 

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The Holiday Blues

It’s inevitable for most people. We break out of the routine and spend lots of time doing little more than anticipating and preparing for the biggest holiday in our cucandle_winter_christmaslture. Some of us get energized (and rightfully so. It does celebrate the birth of Jesus and a fulfillment of a promise made so long ago!). But some of us fall prey to sadness on multiple levels. Perhaps this is your first Christmas or Thanksgiving without a loved one. Perhaps it’s another holiday without a spouse or a pregnancy. Maybe you’re an empty nester and the silence of your house is the loudest part of your day. Or perhaps you’re disgusted with the frill and fluff that the world has transformed this important holiday into. We see less and less of Jesus each year. So, what can we do to help alleviate this downward trend?

  1. Realize that this is temporary. This doesn’t mean your sadness is unimportant, but it does mean that the New Year will begin soon enough.
  2. Leave the lights on. Winter is, as we all know, usually a literal dark time of year, so it’s helpful to keep your home and your life well lit. Keep the curtains open, light the tree, and let the brightness abound. There is a connection to darkness and a feeling of sadness and gloom.
  3. Maintain some routine in your life. It’s wise to get up out of bed and not sleep too late (but a little later than normal!). Get dressed and ready for the day. Sometimes being in pajamas till lunchtime can slow us down too much, emotionally and physically.
  4. Develop a habit of thankfulness. In the morning when you rise, immediately talk to the Lord and thank him for the day and the things that he’ll be doing in your life. Anticipate his work in you.
  5. It’s important during this abnormal time to maintain a healthy Christward perspective. So, spend time in the morning meditating on the truths of Scripture. This can’t be understated. However, realize it’s a relationship you’re developing not a workout routine. Don’t look at this as an obligation, but as a refreshing conversation with the Creator of the universe, and as a follower of Christ, the book of Hebrews tells us that he invites us to come boldly into his throne room in our time of need! What an invitation!
  6. Avoid watching the news when you’re feeling blue. It’s still a broken world we live in and pouring too much of this real time tragedy into our minds, can encumber us. In fact, if you find yourself flipping through the channels endlessly, choose to get up and go get a book to read. Engage your mind.
  7. Get out of the house. Cabin fever gets to all of us. Meet a friend for coffee.
  8. Stay physically active. Now is a good time to get out and go for a brisk
    walk (or a slow one!). Exercise can burn off some of the anxiety, stress and sadness.
  9. Eat as healthy as you can. Choosing well here can brighten your spirits. But choosing poorly can help push you downward emotionally.
  10. Know that God is with you. He has said in Hebrews 13:5, “…Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
  11. Celebrate the birth of Christ. We have the goodness and mercy of God to rest in and that will always be true, in spite of our feelings. He calls us to drink of his Living Water. He always satisfies. Always.

If you find yourself in a downward spiral of sadness don’t acquiesce. Think upward and outward. Go to the Lord and be honest about your struggle. Isaiah 26:3-4 is a good place to spend some time. There we read,

“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.”

Do something that will take your attention off of yourself. Perhaps volunteer at a homeless shelter or help someone in your neighborhood who might be less fortunate. Maybe consider something like Angel Tree, which allows you to help a family that has a family member who is incarcerated.

Finally, don’t suffer alone if you are blue.  We were not created to live a life absent of relationships.  Talk to someone and allow them to join you in your struggle.  Know that God loves you deeply and is in passionate pursuit of you.  Christ was born so that we may live and enjoy intimate fellowship with him.  Forever!

 

 

Thoughts for Pastors

“What things does the awe of God produce in the heart of a pastor that are vital for an effective, God-honoring, and productive ministry?”

When was the last time you saw something or experienced something that truly amazed you or actually took your breath away? Perhaps it was standing on a beach and seeing the curvature of the earth. Or maybe it was witnessing the Northern Lights in person. Maybe you are drawn to art and stood before a masterpiece that created amazement in you. Or you might be more compelled by the left side of the brain where your mind ponders the utter complexity of the universe, which may cause the proverbial jaw to drop. To be awed is quite special and often provides a renewal of our perspective in ways that can protect us from arrogance, boredom, or both.

Paul Tripp writes in Dangerous Calling that pastors can often lose sight of the magnificence of God because of familiarity and boredom. This is possible when one has lost a sense of awe with the utter magnificence of God. He says, “The spiritual danger here is that when awe of God is absent, it is quickly replaced by our awe of ourselves.” Tripp shares several qualities that help one regain an awe of God.

First on the list is humility. Arrogance can take many forms. On the more familiar side we think of arrogance as an undesirable quality where a person believes they are above others. They have an unfounded and inflated view of themselves. Those types of people are very challenging to be around because they are not teachable and are typically dismissive of constructive criticism. This person can be dismissive and cynical. It’s possible they have experienced great success, which is part of their problem. But it doesn’t require success to cause one to be arrogant. It is mostly a loss of perspective and they have forgotten about humility.

The other lesser known arrogant person can be a self-deprecating person. They may be described as having an “Eyore” personality and tend to see the glass as half empty. Henry Cloud describes a perspective that can be true of this person. They have a “one down” tendency. In other words, everyone else is seen as more significant or important. They can display a low view of themselves.

Both of these people could be described as arrogant. Why? They are arrogant because each person is preoccupied with himself or herself: one to an inflated level and the other to a dismissive level. Both seem disconnect to what Scripture says about our position in Christ and each person is placing too much importance upon their situation and not on the unchanging God we serve. Both profiles are dangerous for a pastor or Christian leader to fall into.

Humility can preserve the pastor. Humility will protect the pastor, his family and the congregation. Arrogance will create a blind spot that most always leads toward disaster for everyone. But humility will restore the awe of God in a pastor.

As one recognizes his own limitations and concurrently observes the infinitude of the God he loves, this person can appropriately maintain healthy and life giving perspective. A humble pastor can stand by the Grand Canyon and realize his smallness but at the same time have a deep appreciation for the immensity of God. The pastor who is in awe of God helps his congregation remain in awe of God. Tripp says, “…it is only in light of the awesome glory and holiness of God that you come to a have an accurate view of yourself and the depth of your need for the rescue that only a God of glorious grace can provide.” (p. 121).

Humility is one vital quality that will help produce in the heart of the pastor the awe of God. We’ll discuss others in the next blog on this series. For now, consider how humility has been absent in your view of God. Pray that the Lord will help you see this.

Quiet

I have a sound machine right outside the door of my office. The purpose of it is to create white noise so that private conversations won’t tempt any ears. It works really well, too. When I walk into my office and close the door the difference in sound is remarkable. For me it suddenly becomes an oasis of quiet where I can think, listen, and relax. It creates a healthy boundary and silences the anxiety of the world.

Going for a run provides a similar experience. This may sound odd, but when I get really anxious, or if I have a headache, I’ll often go for a good run. As I ease into the rhythm my thoughts slow down and something remarkable happens. First, I am able to direct my thoughts to the Lord without all the frenetic activity around me. I don’t take my cell phone with me. It is me, the Lord, and the sounds of creation. I’ve had some great conversations with Him while running. The other thing that happens is the release of all those good endorphins that God created as a part of our physical make up. To me, it’s an incredible show of his creativity and his kindness. Those endorphins create a healthy “high” that I have come to appreciate. When I return from my run my angst and usually my headache are gone.

In either case I have come to value the emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits of quiet. It’s hard to underestimate its benefit. Most of us seem to run at unsustainable rates trying to keep all the plates spinning. That pace will usually wear us down. When we expend high amounts of emotional energy just to maintain it will be challenging to keep healthy conversations and relationships with others and with God. Sitting quietly often feels unnatural and for some it feels impossible, but it is essential to have moments of rest and solitude. I believe the Lord created this need, too. He understands our finitude.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 46 that God is our refuge and strength and he is our very present help in trouble. He goes on to encourage the reader to be still and know that he is God. Being quiet before the Lord provides refuge, protection and comfort. Finding this sort of peace is challenging, though.

Our lives are full of noise. It seems most people have become addicted to sound and background noise. Many households have the television on all the time. Different stages of life also take us through very busy times. There seems to always be an errand or task that has to get done. Our cell phones own us. Most of us feel lost without them. They’re always alerting us to emails, tweets, texts, or new Facebook statuses. It’s hard to escape the craziness of the world. So finding time to get away can feel almost impossible. But we must. Let me offer five ways to find time for quiet.

  1. Go for a walk around the block (and leave your cell phone at home). It doesn’t take a lot of time and doesn’t need to, but choose to carve out 15 minutes to walk and take that time to pray and worship God. You’ll be getting exercise and you’ll have some quiet.
  2. Get up 30 minutes early only three times a week. Use that time to read your Bible, but also use it to just listen to the Lord. You might keep a pad of paper nearby to write down those things that may steal your quiet. Like tasks, or things you need at the grocery store. Write it and forget it.
  3. Head to a park and spend your time there thanking God for all that you see.
  4. Meet a friend and pray together. Try to spend as much time listening to her as you do sharing your own thoughts. Share your thoughts and then pray together.
  5. Use this time to write out your thoughts in the form of prayer. Consider this a living conversation with the Lord. Every now and then stop and listen.
  6. (I know I said five). Turn off the television for 30 minutes. Read a book.

The important thing in all of this is the discipline of carving time out of your week to have quiet. You will be surprised at how refreshing it is. Some of you will have to make extra efforts to do this because you have small children in the house or your work is more demanding of you and you are exhausted when you come home. I understand but do this anyway. Be realistic with your expectations, but by all means, do something.

Ultimately we find our rest in Christ. He is the Lord of the Sabbath (rest) and when we are in Christ we are no longer in contention with God. Use quiet to help you get to know this amazing God better. He encourages us to come boldly into his throne room. Take him up on that invitation. Take a moment to read Psalm 145 and consider it’s amazing message.

I will extol you, my God and King,  and bless your name forever and ever.

Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.

They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!

They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,

to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

[The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.]

The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.

The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.