Reconnecting With Focus

256px-Ericsson_bakelittelefon_1931_svPhoto by Holger Ellgaard.  Used by permission.

I was at an antique shop over the summer with my wife and 10-year-old boy.  As we walked around looking at the items for sale, my son spotted an old rotary phone for sale.

“Wow!” he gasped.  “Is this a telephone?  How does it work?  Can I call Mamaw?”  I showed him how it worked (dialing the phone, by the way, was far too laborious a task to him).  It seemed to boggle his mind that this ancient piece of equipment was ever useful.  You can’t text, or stream music, or play Madden Football on it.  You can’t give voice commands so it will automatically call anyone.  It doesn’t even store a contacts list.

This must be the original phone Moses used.

I tried to explain to him that rotary phones were a mainline of communication when I was younger.  We didn’t have the internet.  There were no texts, no Snapchat, no messaging (unless they had an answering machine – an expensive luxury back then).  The disconnect between my child’s understanding of our ability to communicate with such primitive equipment and the way cell phones, tablets, laptops et al work was so great that I didn’t bother explaining party lines.

He walked away a bit bemused, looking for some other old treasure to entertain him.

As I reflect on this episode at the antique store, I think about the times when I feel disconnected from God.  Generally when I’m feeling distant from the Lord, it’s a warning sign that I’ve wandered too deeply into the abyss of this life.  Maybe it’s a time of stress – over work, or family, or health, or finances, or whatever – and I’ve forgotten Who’s in control and sovereign over all.

Maybe I’m finding myself too caught up in trying to improve my lot in life and forgotten Who’s important.

When I’m wrapped up too tightly in earthly distractions – whether these distractions are “good” things or “bad” – I find I tend to approach the Lord like my son approached the rotary phone. 

I walk away a bit bemused, looking for some other old treasure to entertain me.

The problem with the distractions of this life is that they bore holes in our souls.  If we’re not connected to Jesus, we’re going to seek out something else to fill those holes.  When we’re anxious, we seek calm.  When we’re ill, we seek healing.  Conversely, when things are going good, we tend to seek more of the goods that make us feel good.

We will always have plenty of opportunities to take our eyes off God.  And a wide variety as well!  But James gives us the remedy to our malaise.

First, he identifies our problem:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? – James 4:1-5 (ESV)

Then he provides the solution:

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. – James 4:6-10 (ESV)

Humility.  Submission to God.  Drawing near to God – seeking Him first and foremost instead of drawing ourselves inward – so that He will then draw near to us.  That is the key to reestablishing a connection to God.

When I find myself in a season where I’m struggling with the Lord, the first place I look is my prayer life.  First, am I spending time every day in prayer?  Second, where are my prayers focused?  Is my time with God spent spewing a litany of personal wants, or am I truly seeking Him, focusing on Him, praising Him in faith knowing He is with me always?  I’m not suggesting we don’t pray to the Lord for our needs.  We’re told to go to Him!  But we need to do so with our focus on God, casting our burdens on Him, holding fast to His Word and His Love and Grace and Faithfulness.

The simple fact of the matter is that God Himself is our One True Treasure.  Nothing on this earth can compare to knowing our Heavenly Father and staying connected with Him.

If you’re feeling disconnect from the Lord, reconnect.  Get into His Work.  Lay aside the stuff of this world and seek Him first.  Make Jesus a priority.  And you will find God drawing nearer to you as you earnestly seek Him and follow His Way.

 

Cue Slim Pickens…

NagasakibombIt’s one of those classic movie endings.  The bomb bay doors open.  Sitting atop an atom bomb loaded missile we see Slim Pickens, swinging his cowboy hat in the air and shouting “Yaaaaaaaaahhhhhhoooooooooooooooo!!!!!!” with great enthusiasm as he and his nuclear payload freefall through the clouds to begin the chain reaction of annihilation that started with a misunderstanding.

Cue Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again”.

The problem is “Dr. Strangelove” is a movie.  (A great one to be sure, but still a work of fiction.)  The fears and uncertainty we face today is all-too-real.  These days, even the pretense of diplomacy is off the table.  It’s all just bombast, bomb blasts and hype in the media.

Cue Michael Stipe singing “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”.

I look at this messed up world (not that it’s any more messed up than ever before – we just have more destructive toys) and I think, “What can I do about this?  How can I change things?”

Here’s the thing: I have no control over the madness that swirls around us.

Neither do you.

We can watch the news in terror and fear and worry about our future and that of our kidlets.

Or… we can choose to understand that this is exactly what Jesus said would happen

3As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

9“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10And then many will fall awaya and betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

I don’t mean to sound filled with doom and gloom.  I’m not ready to don a “The End of the World is Nigh” sandwich board and parade around downtown.

Rather, I think we have ever reason for great hope – now more than ever.  As Christians, we have nothing to fear.  Nothing to worry about.  No need to be anxious – about the bigger world picture or the smaller view of our individual personal lives.

Now is the perfect time to lighten up, follow Christ with great abandon, love one another and ignore the naysayers.  Keep putting God first.  Keep striving toward the goal.  Forget the junk that divides us and weakens us and worries us.  Trust in God.  He’s in control, not us.

I believe the heaviness of everything going on weighs us down.  Now more than ever, we have to face the world with courage rooted in faith, love rooted in Christ, and hearts lifted high.

Will we face hard times in life?  Of course.  Everybody does.  But remember… we follow the Risen Christ, the One True God.  He has already won.  We just need to hang in and hang on and keep our eyes focused upward.

Cue Rich Mullins singing “Hold Me Jesus”.

Love one another.  Live in peace.  And know that you are loved deeper and greater than you’ll ever comprehend!

 

 

A Matter of Perspective 

6  “Seek the L ORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the  LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV)

We were discussing anxiety at church a couple of weeks ago.  As we talked about the causes of fear and the remedies found in Scripture, my wise friend Marsha made a very astute observation: “Don’t you think it’s a matter of perspective?”

She is absolutely right.

Anxiety, fear and worry all grow from the same root of self interest.  Think about it: we fear what we think might harm us, or hurt us, or those we love.  We worry about the future.  We fret over money and health and the general state of world affairs.

But… what if we chose to see things from a more Christ centered perspective?  What if we truly, honestly accepted the overarching fact that God is sovereign over all – every situation, every occurrence, every second of our little lives?  Would we view our troubles a little differently?  Would our cares ease?

Our ways are not God’s ways.  We try to avoid discomfort.  We kick ourselves when we mess up.  Again, all concerns rooted in self interest.

Jesus walked on this earth and endured much.  He was the only truly 100% innocent, pure and holy man ever to grace our planet.  Yet He willingly gave His life in the cruelest, most humiliating and downgrading manner possible.  He took on our sins.  He accepted the punishment we sinful humans deserve.  He did nothing – absolutely nothing – out of self interest.

He didn’t cringe at the critics and the scoffers.

He didn’t shrink from His enemies.

He didn’t run from pain.

He didn’t fear, didn’t worry about the things of this life.  

His purpose was far greater than satisfying any physical or emotional need or desire.  This thoughts and ways were higher by far than ours.

You see, Christ operated entirely out of love – the preference of others over self.  His motivation was entirely selfless.  He was laser focused on doing the will of His Father.  Jesus operated from a perspective far higher than any self interests.

Everything Jesus faced, all He went through, was for us.

For me.

For you.

Maybe that’s a key to rightly framing our anxieties.  Perhaps a change of perspective- a refusal to view our life situations and challenges as something to fear but, rather, opportunities to grow and learn so we can help others – is in order.  Instead of anxiety over our troubles, maybe we should see that God is sovereign, nothing we mess up is beyond His abilities, and nobody will ever thwart the will of the Lord.

Know this: as a believer in Christ, your life and everything about it is in the hands of our gracious Lord and Savior.  I that doesn’t mean everything will be easy.  But God can make every situation good.  He can bring good results from your pain and trouble.  

Rest in the Lord.  Focus on Jesus, not your troubles.  Let His perfect love cast the fear out of your heart and fill you with peace and joy in Him.  Seek first the kingdom of God.  Watch Him, with great expectation and faith.  Live life with a God informed and Christ led perspective.

Have a blessed week!

Stay Off This Ride

025 (5).JPG

6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)

The feeling is akin to being jolted from sleep by a cattle prod.  That’s the best way I know to describe being awakened by a panic attack.  Unfortunately I was reminded of the feeling about 4:15 this morning.

Not fun.

The problem is the irrationality of it all.  Panic is an irrational reaction to the situation I face.  This attack was brought on by an abundance of anxiety – also irrational.  And, the hangover of the panic attack – that jittery nervousness that causes your muscles to ache and your mind to reel – only serves to fuel to irrational fears and worries.

When anxiety begins to spin, it’s like a runaway carousel.  It goes ’round and ’round and ’round.  Follows the same path.

Revisits the same places.

Spins in a circle, going nowhere.

And that’s the only place it goes. Nowhere.

And it does so with such speed and force that it digs a circular rut.  The more we entertain the anxious thoughts, the worries and doubts, the fear of what we face, the deeper the rut is dug.

If we stay on the carousel, the rut becomes a ditch.  Then a pit.

And increasingly difficult to get out of.

For me, this is a sign that I am not spending as much time with God as I should.  Just like a patient on pain medication, it is easier to stay ahead of the pain by taking your meds than to try to catch up with it.

Proactively stay ahead of worry and defeating thoughts and beliefs by sticking with God.  Spend time in prayer.  Dig into His Word.  This is far more fruitful than spinning out of control on the carousel of anxiety.

Anxiety is irrational.  As are the thoughts it produces.  Bear that in mind when you’re feeling dizzy and off-kilter from that carousel ride.  Trust the Lord with all of your life, all of your situations and circumstances.  Remember that we are to be anxious for nothing, but give everything to Him.

And find God’s peace filling and guarding your heart and mind.

Joyous Reality

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Over the years I have returned to Philippians 4 more times than I can remember.  Each time I find a little more depth, another facet – like turning a precious gem and seeing something new in the refracted light, another color shimmering off a contoured edge, another image where the light intersects.

Today as I read Philippians 4:8, I was reminded once more to be mindful of how we view things here on earth.  We must not get too caught up in anything this world has to offer.  Whether good or bad, happy or unhappy, celebratory or painful, there is no forever here.  In a very real sense, nothing lasts forever.

Except God.  And His kingdom.  

Remembering this brings me great comfort.  Nothing any of us face is so awful, so tragic, so painful that the Lord won’t look upon us.  Indeed, just the opposite.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, ESV).     The words “very present help” can also be translated “well proven help”.  

In other words, your troubles are not your reality.

Your pain is not your reality.

Your mourning is not your reality.

I say none of this to belittle the hurt you might be feeling.  What I am saying is that, instead of staring at our hardships, or weaknesses, or shame or guilt, or fear, or distress, Paul reminds us to fix our eyes on our true, eternal reality as followers of God through Jesus Christ.  Look at the Lord.  He is our Rock, our Salvation, our Strength.  He is the author of Truth, and the defined of reality.

Our perception is limited.  Instead of trusting in our faulty vision, God – our loving, Heavenly Father – wants us to trust Him.  Rely entirely on Him.  There is no trouble too deep, no pain to piercing, no hardship too tough for God.  God does not simply love you.  He is Love Himself.  Love is His very nature.  

The Bouville Diarist Morning Brief for 28 February 2017

I am not in control.  

Say it out loud: I am not in control.

How we choose to spend / invest our time and energy and resource?  Yes, that is our choice.

What we say, do, think?  How we (re)act?  Yes, our choice.  

But, ultimately, the end results of our labors?  Nope.  That’s in God’s hands.

We are not called to succeed (at least not by the world’s standards).

We are called to follow.  We are called to faithfulness.  We are called to love.

We are called to be Christ followers: humble, gracious, and loving.  We are called to do whatever we do as if we were working for God Himself.  Which, really, we are.

Don’t worry about the outcome.  Don’t sweat the obstacles.  Don’t let the thorn in your side stop you.  

Keep walking the path the Lord has set before you in faith.  He is in control.  We don’t have to try to run the show.

The Swimming Hole

For thus says the L ORD : “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream… – Isaiah 66:12 (ESV)

The Pearl River looked spectacular.  Looking out our hotel window at 1:00am, the neon lights danced on the shimmering ripples below, glimmering in a bright, colorful glow.  To these newly arrived first time travelers to China, the view was inviting.  

Then came sunrise.

Looking out the same window, at the same river, in the light of day, the reality of the river set in.  The beautiful light show of six hours before now had been replaced with what looked like coffee.

With huge tree trunks floating in it.

Nearly six weeks before our arrival in China, and over 1000 miles upstream, the Sichuan province had been rocked with a magnitude 8.0 earthquake which shook much of the country (including Beijing, itself 1000 miles away from the epicenter.  The area was still experiencing aftershocks while we were there.

And a lot of silt, earth and debris was flowing down the Pearl River, through Guangzhou and past our hotel on its way to the South China Sea.

There was something else we saw that was quite surprising.  There were people swimming in this tree trunk ridden coffee water.  Not just once.  Every morning.  They were undeterred by the poor state of the river.  The obstacles and dirt weren’t getting in their way.  This was their urban swimming hole.  And nothing was going to keep them from it.

I wonder how many of us would remain that resolute in the face of obstacles and ick.   When the Lord shines His light on the reality of the situation and the beauty we saw the night before turns to nastiness, do we run away?  Do we become disillusioned and just leave?  Do we find our peace and comfort gone?

I’ve done it.  I’ve let situations – obstacles, other people, the thorn in my own side, difficulties – derail me.  I’ve lost my peace and let others run over me.  I have forgotten Who my solid rock and firm foundation truly is.

I know how it feels to lose one’s swimming hole.

But what we all need to remember when trouble comes is this: despite the debris, the junk, the floating tree trunks in the polluted water, we still need to jump in and swim.  God has placed each of us where we are for a reason.  What is that reason?  I don’t know.  That’s between you and God.

Not only are you where you are for a reason, you are there for a season.  Don’t get too connected to your swimming hole.  Get connected to God.  Follow Jesus.  Know that He is with you always.  Know that your circumstances are not too hard for the Lord.  Know, grow and hang tight to Christ.  It may be ugly.  But the victory is not up to you.

Shalom dear friends.

From the Bouville Archives: No Appointment Necessary – Bold Grace and Mercy

The Bouville Diarist

14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

The grace of God is an amazing gift to behold. You cannot earn it. It is a gift – a gift from an infinitely loving and compassionate Father Who understands what each of us is facing at any and every single moment.

In faith, we have the ability to go to God and talk to Him at any time. He…

View original post 553 more words

The Bouville Morning Brief for 7 February 2017

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” – Isaiah 54:17-18 (ESV)

That verse came to me while I was praying last night.  I haven’t read or heard it years.  But, having been reminded of Isaiah 54:17, I want to share three great reminders this reminder brought to mind:

1. God is in control of everything.  Therefore, being His children, we have no reason to fear anything.  There is no place too dark, no enemy too ferocious, no cavern too deep for God.  The Lord created everything.  That means He knows all of creation intimately – even when the enemy twists and misuses God’s creation to try to trip us up.

2. There is great power in reading, studying and memorizing scripture.  It you aren’t storing God’s Word in your heart, start doing it.  Now.  Today.  You’ll be amazed at what – and when – the Lord reminds you of just what you need to know.

3.  Simply trust in the Lord.  Place your whole faith in Him and trust in His strength.  His wisdom.  His love, mercy and grace.  Don’t worry about the outcome.  Do what God says, follow Jesus with your whole heart, and never stop seeking Him first.

God bless you today and always!

Uncertainty

Uncertainty is part and parcel of the world we live in.  It has to be. 

Why?  Because we are flawed human beings.  We do not with a God His attributes goof omniscience, omnipotence or omnipresence.

We don’t know everything.

We aren’t strong over everything.

We cannot be everywhere at the same time.  (Ask any parent with little ones.  They will confirm that one.)

Uncertainty can be scary.  It makes us feel vulnerable.  It exposes how little control we have.

But uncertainty is good, as long as it leads us to the One Certainty we need to embrace: the Certainty of God through Jesus Christ.

You can read His a Word with certainty, knowing God keeps His Word.

Knowing that, in Him, we can embrace uncertainty, because He is in control.

No matter what we face – without exception – there is nothing too hard for our Father.  No task too great.  No pain beyond healing.  No trial too fierce.

In all things, at all times, just trust God.  Don’t give in too anxiety.  Don’t stare at the problem.  Cast your cares on God make Him your certainty, your solid rock, your sanctuary.