One From the Archives: Souvenirs from Parke County


Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

Note: seeing that we just returned home from a trip back to Indiana, this oldie from the archives seems apropo.  Enjoy and be blessed!

The road started out paved. I crossed the covered bridge at a walk, listening to boards creak and squeak beneath my slow rolling tires. A hard left, a hard right, a high climb up the steep hillside. The close trees on both sides broke open to reveal acre upon acre of muddy fields, cattle, and barns – many leaving so hard that they look like one brisk wind would topple them.

Then the pavement ended, and the mud-and-gravel path began.

This didn’t look familiar.

Yes, I had to admit. I was lost. I had driven off the beaten path to find a different route to Bridgeton.

But, being lost can have its advantages. As I drove around Parke County, I had time for quiet relaxation, reflection and prayer. By God’s grace, the skies were sunny, ribboned with jet trails hanging high in the still air. The temperature was warm.

Here is some of what the Lord showed me, and reminded me of, as I drove around the Big Raccoon Creek area:

1. As I felt my way along the winding country roads of Parke County, I knew that, as long as I followed my compass and kept heading east and south, I would eventually intersect with Bridgeton Road and, from there, the town of Bridgeton. When we lose our way with Christ, all we need to do is follow our compass (faithfully following God’s Word). He will put us back on the path, headed in the right direction.

2. The joy is in the journey itself, not merely our destination. I could worry because I didn’t know where I was. But I knew I would end up where I was meant to. Far better to have faith, rest, and enjoy the ride. Absorb the scenery. Learn from what you see and experience. Be inspired. There is no sense in hurrying through life just to get from point A to point B. We miss so much when our final stop is our sole focus.

3. The adventure won’t truly begin until you face your fear and say, firmly and decidedly, No. The idea of driving – think crawling with wheels – across a 104 year old wooden covered bridge that sounded like it might give way beneath me was not exactly what I would call fun. But, once I had braced the steering wheel and slowly made my way through the bridge – getting past the part of the drive I dreaded – I was ready to move onward into the unknown. When we face our fears head on, we see how irrational they truly are.

4. It is good to go back and remember. Bridgeton is a place my dad used to take us fishing. (Too bad I didn’t like fishing. But that’s another story for another time…). Bridgeton Baptist Church is where I began to learn to appreciate – at age 12 – strong Biblical teaching and a love of Scripture. Big Raccoon Creek at Bridgeton is where I was baptized. I can still feel the sensation of being dunked in the cold creek water, feeling the unnerving loss of control as I went down into the current, and coming up cleansed. That was 35 years ago. A lot happens in that span of time. We change, we grow, we learn, we are influenced… It is good, in a soul correcting way, to go back and remember. Just don’t try to pitch a tent and stay there.

5. There is still at least one place on earth where, if you wave at a stranger you pass along the road, he will wave back. If he wasn’t the one to initiate the wave, that is.

Don’t get so caught up in your planned life route that you inflexibly ignore the surroundings you pass. Don’t forget where you came from. And don’t forget that you are never at a place where the Lord cannot find you and right your path. Life is an adventure. Trust in the Lord and appreciate the trip.

Faithfully Brave

I saw a Facebook post from a friend the other day that said (and I paraphrase here) one will never change until the pain of staying the same becomes unbearable.  There is a lot of wisdom in that statement.  After all, pain can be a great motivator.

This statement reveals the value of pain.  Hurting can either spring us to positive action, to make the changes we need to make.  Or it can bury us, if we choose to merely wallow in it.

Then there is the middle ground between the two: the tepid waters of pain avoidance.  I think we would all agree that difficult times are not exactly a welcome aspect of life.  Many of us invest a great deal of our time in trying to steer clear of the uncomfortable, the unpleasant, the things that hurt.  It is often a learned reaction.

One day when I was in kindergarten, my mom was ironing.  She told me, very pointedly, do not touch the iron.  Stay away from it.  It will burn you.

What do you think I did?  Yes, curiosity got the best of me.  And I ever-so-gently placed my hand on the hot iron.

Mom was right.  It burned.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.  Avoid touching hot irons at all costs.  The pain in my hand drove that lesson home.  And, to this day, over forty years later, I have never again willingly put my hand on the business side of a hot iron.  (Unfortunately the other lesson about listening to your parents didn’t stick so well…)

Granted, this particular lesson could have been learned by simply listening to Mom.  But, it’s funny how wisdom has a way of escaping our grasp in the moment.

And there is some pain that is simply unavoidable.  The hurt of a loss can be hard to take.  But, in all painful circumstances, we can choose one of three reactions:

1. Wallow in pity.  Mourn, yes.  Don’t deny what you are feeling.  But don’t pitch a tent there either.  Life goes on – your life goes on.  When we choose to let painful hardships roll over us, when we capitulate to the pain, we have in essence given up.

2. Hide in fear.  We can choose to run away from the pain.  But where is the value in that?

3. Turn the pain around and use it for good.  How can we reach someone who is hurting with true empathy if we have never experienced pain?  How can we understand what someone is going through if we have never faced difficulties ourselves?

You see, our lives are not about us.  We all face pain in varying degrees at different points in our lives.  When we choose to be brave, to stand on faith in Christ, to not be defeated, then we “let (our) light shine before others, that they may see (our)good deeds and glorify (our) Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, ESV).

What if Jesus, in the garden, sweating blood and pleading with the Father to “let this cup pass” – knowing full well what He was about to face (the humiliating kangaroo court of the Jews, the brutality of the Romans, the excruciation of scourging and crucifixion…) – had chosen to walk away?  What if He had opted to not face the punishment He did not deserve?  Now, I do not right this to open up some theological debate about whether Christ could have walked away from Gethsemane.  I am simply saying this: consider the ramifications.

Consider the outcome.

When we are bravely faithful in the face of pain and hardship, we give God the glory.  When others see what we face and say, “How did he survive?” or “Where does she get such strength?”, we have an open door to glorify God.

The best things in life come when we are faithfully brave.  Whatever you are facing today, stay strong in Christ.  Seek Him first.  Wait for the Lord.  Don’t just put on a brave face – be honestly, faithfully brave!  If you are hurting, let people see you are hurting.  But let them also see you know that God will use this bad situation for something good.

Because He will.

Because He already is.

You have the opportunity to use your difficulties to bring someone hope.  You survived this – they will too.  God never left you – He won’t leave them either.  Pain gives us empathy.  And empathy leads to understanding, which puts a finer point on the love we show others.

Remember… the light of Christ that you emit may the light someone else sees at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

The Positive Double Negative

5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV)

It is easy to underestimate God.  Often it isn’t His ability that we question as much as His willingness.  “Yes, I know God can do anything.  Nothing is impossible for Him.  But will He help me in my situation?”

God is a God of promises. His Word is filled with them.  And He has never welched on any promise, never broken any covenant.  God is Truth and, as such, He fulfills His every promise.

One of His great promises is to ever present with His children.  Indeed, each believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside him/herself.  He is our Counselor, our Comforter.  The Lord is, truly and literally, always with us.

The phrase “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is beautiful in its promise.  The word “never” is translated from two Greek words (οὐ μή) which together form a double negative. In other words, the writer of Hebrews is emphasizing the fact that God will never ever leave us.  He will always be with us.

When God says “nor forsake you”, the word “nor” is another double-negative in the original Greek.  And “forsake” (ἐγκαταλείπω) means to abandon or desert.  Put it all together and we see that God will never ever leave us; there is absolutely no way He will leave us behind.  After all, He is the Good Shepherd Who leaves the flock to find one lost sheep.

Therefore, what have we to fear?  The Infinite Creator God is on our side.  Who shall we be afraid of?  Who is bigger than God?  Money and possessions may bring a certain amount of power and comfort, but they are chaff compared to the strength and might of the Lord.

Paul perhaps said it best:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 (ESV)

Rest easy.  God knows what you are facing.  The trials may be fierce, the situation painful.

But not hopeless.  Never hopeless.

You have your Heavenly Father on your side.

You have Jesus interceding on your behalf.

You have the Holy Spirit living within you.

You have God’s grace, which is sufficient for all your needs.

You have God’s love, and you always will.

Nothing can separate you from God’s love.

Wait patiently on the Lord.  He knows what He is doing.  Trust in Him, even when it makes no logical sense.  Rest faithfully in His goodness and strength.  Pray.  Sing praises.  Rejoice!

Will God help you?  Chances are He already is!

The Situation is Not What it Seems

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)

Imagine yourself in 33AD Jerusalem, on a hill just outside the city walls.  Before you are three men being executed by crucifixion.  The men on the left and right are known criminals.  You would expect to see them.

But the man hanging from the center cross grabs your attention.  Everybody knows who this man is: Jesus of Nazareth.  What did he ever do to deserve this cruel fate?  Who did he hurt?  You have heard of his good deeds: blind men receiving sight, the lame regaining the ability to walk, illnesses healed, hungry masses fed, Lazarus risen from his grave… The only “crime” this man committed was boldly standing up against the Jewish leaders and speaking truth.

Yet, here he is.  Stripped naked, bloodied and beaten to a pulp, scourged and bleeding, weakened and thirsty.  Roman soldiers sit at his feet – not to hear his teaching, but to gamble for his clothing.  You hear Jesus, through his agony, ask His Father to forgive these men, because they are ignorant of their actions.  Further proof, to your mind, that this man is innocent and undeserving of this humiliating, inhumane end to his life.

Where is the fairness?  Where is the glory?  Didn’t this man claim to be the Son of God, the Messiah?  Look at him now.

If you were standing there on Golgotha that fateful Friday afternoon, or had been in the courtyard earlier and witnessed Simon Peter’s denial of any connection to this condemned man, you may well have come to the conclusion that this man was a charlatan, or just plain crazy.  If you had been one of his followers, your faith was most likely shaken (at the very least).

Today, we have the advantage of hindsight.  We know how this story ends, and the glory that came on the third day.  But, in the moment – in the midst of the horror of the crucifixion – all one could see was what appeared to be an ignoble end to great and miraculous promise.

When we are in the middle of a storm, all we tend to see is the maelstrom swirling around us.  Overwhelming feelings of fear and doubt sweep over us when we stare at the problem.  But, even in what appears to be the darkest defeat, there is hope.

Today you may be facing a hardship that seems insurmountable, a loss inconsolable.  You may feel cheated or victimized.  You may be facing a pain indescribable.  You may not be able to see a way out of your situation.

Today, I want you to know that you are not hopeless.  You are not helpless.  You are not alone.  Today – right now – I want you to look away from the storm.  Fix your gaze on Jesus.  Place your hope in Him, the One Who faced the horrors of Good Friday to bring about the death-defying glory of Easter morning.  Remember Peter, who stepped out of the boat on the choppy, storm churned sea to walk to Jesus.  Peter walked on water as long as his focus was on Christ.  As soon as he turned his eyes toward the storm, he began to drown.

And Jesus saved him.

Today, you can choose to be bitter.  You can decide to cry out, “Unfair.”  You can despair over your lot in life and feel despondent or angry or just want to give up.  We all have the choice to stew in our misery, if we so desire.  And, in the moment, that may actually feel good.  But, in the end, what does all that ick bring us?

Or we can choose faith.  Choose to forgive. Choose to be brave.  Choose to be confident in our Savior.  Choose to let peaceful joy and love reign in our lives.  Choose to see our situation as a life change, one that is not a loss, not a failure, but one that will ultimately be a blessing.  Choose to see how each of us can help others through what we – and they – are facing.

God can take any circumstance and turn it to His glory.  This moment will pass.  The sorrow will not last forever.  The hard time will lift.  Keep focused on God.  I truly believe that God never closes one door without opening another.  We just need to focus on Him with open eyes of faith.

Remember: we cannot see whole of our situations in life.  All we see is the limited information we have before us.  Do not assume the bad news is bad.  Do not accept defeat. Do not despair.  The situation is rarely – if ever – quite what it seems.

Anxious Pariah

14  Let all that you do be done in love. – 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)

Please consider this a plea to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, on behalf of we, your fellow believers – fellow parts of the body of Christ – who do not have it all together (so to speak).

Even if we appear that we do.

If you have never dealt with anxiety and depression, you cannot possibly have a firm understanding of how it feels to be in the midst of such hurt.  And it makes facing people with depression daunting and uncomfortable.  What does one say?  How should one act?

I want to help you understand.  You need to understand.   And I will tell you why.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders.  That’s 1 in 18 people in the USA age 18 and over.  Statistically, if you attend a church of 200 people, 36 of your brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering from anxiety (statistically speaking).

So, I ask you, please… if you love those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression as much as you say (and, trust me, I truly believe you do… I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t…), take a few minutes and read this and try to understand.

1. We are not pariahs

Dealing with anxious and depressed thoughts and feelings will make a person feel very isolated.  Even in a crowd.  These feelings are only intensified when we feel shunned.  Please don’t let not knowing what to say or how to act stop you from interacting with someone who is dealing with very complex (like anxiety and depression).

2. You do not have to know all the right words to say

Just love us.  Hugs work wonders.  Even letting us cry on your shoulder (sometimes figuratively, others literally) can be very cathartic.  Listen.  Love.

3.  This is not necessarily the effect of some secret sin…

There are a lot of factors that contribute to anxiety and depression.  Sin is one of them.  However, there are also physiological contributors (such as one’s brain being unable to produce the proper amounts of serotonin or dopamine).  A huge contributor is stress: major life changes, overwork, troubles in life… Do not be so quick to play the “sin” card.  Judge not, friends…

4. Do NOT tell us to “get over it”

Nobody who deals with anxiety and/or depression enjoys it.  It is no fun.  In fact, it can be downright agonizing.  Personally, my low point was a hellish bout of fear that terrorized me for nearly a month.  I couldn’t sleep.  I was so exhausted I couldn’t think straight.  I had fits of anxiety that felt like lightning bolts surging through my body.  If overcoming anxiety and depression was as simple as simply bucking up and getting over it, I would have done it.  So would anyone else who can relate to what I’m writing.Again, just love.  If you can’t understand, that’s all right.  Just be there.  Just love.

5. Don’t give us grief about counseling and antidepressants

It has been said so many times before, but it is so true that I have to say it again.  You would not condemn a cancer patient for taking chemotherapy.  God created the medical profession for our benefit.  Just because we have a medicine that helps right our serotonin production and makes us feel and function better does not mean it is any less the work of God.  And as for counseling… we put too much on the plates of our pastors.  They are spiritual counselors, not mental health workers.  Sometimes the source and strength of one’s anxiety and depression is outside of our pastor’s wheel house.  We often expect too much from these already overloaded men of God.

I could go on, but I think I have hit the high points.  The main point I feel the need to stress is love.  Love one another. Understand this if nothing else.  If you don’t know what to say or how to act, just let love lead.  Say nothing more than “I love you brother / sister.  I’m here.”    Be supportive.  Be loving.  Be normal.

Just love.  With all that agape entails.  Don’t try to make things all right.  Just love.

Perfecting Martha

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosenthe good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

God bless you Martha Stewart.  You have shown thousands – if not millions – of Americans how to host the perfect gathering for any and every occasion.  The right table settings, the right decorations, the right ambience, the right food… everything prepared to glorious perfection!  The apéritifs must be stunning (swirls of canned cheese heaped on crackers and celery won’t do for Martha, no matter how beautiful the layers).  The meal must be memorable, leaving a lasting impression on all who are invited to the soirée.

The gorgeous feast causes an audible gasp of delight (as well as plenty of “oohs” and “ahhs”) from the appreciative and hungry guests.  (Not too hungry, mind you.  The hors d’oeuvres should serve to curb any hunger pangs while whetting the appetite for the meal to come).

The Biblical Martha was, in some ways, like Martha Stewart (except for the whole insider trading prison sentence business).  Well… in one way.  The Biblical Martha was a perfectionist.  She had guests to feed.  She had Jesus in her home!  And everything had to be just right.

The napkins weren’t going to fold themselves.  The hand-rolled croissants still needed baking.  The beef bourguignon was in danger of overcooking and the quiche was going to fall if it wasn’t served soon.  (Boy, I really have overdone this French cooking theme, haven’t I?)

And where is her sister Mary?  She is sitting at the feet of the guest of honor, reveling in His company, soaking in His words.  Can you picture the scene?  Martha stomps into the room, hands on hips, hair disheveled, apron askew and flour-coated, face contorted with stress.  “I am in the kitchen, slaving away, and here you are, having a grand time!   Do you think the Tarte Normande is going to bake itself?  Come help me!  Jesus, tell her to get in here and give me a hand!”

Now picture Jesus, a slight smile on His face, calmly telling Martha that her serving is wonderful, a good thing, but something more important than food – no matter how fine the delicacy – is being served here tonight.

If you struggle with perfectionism, believing everything has to be just right or it will all be ruined, relax.  Don’t get stressed.  Don’t be anxious.  At the end of the evening, the meal will be devoured.  The bouillabaisse gone, the bowl that once contained the coq au vin now holding a mere carrot slice lying in a thin scrim of broth on the bottom.  The once perfectly folded linen napkins will be a stained crumpled mess.  All that is left will be a wonderful memory.  And the washing up.

It is far better to focus on real substance, and that is found at the feet of Jesus.  Put your focus on Him.  Not on being stunning.  Not on being perfect.  The real blessing comes from the presence of the Lord, not from the accoutrements that decorate the evening.

You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to appear perfect.  Be authentic.  Relax.  All you have to do is love.  And put God first in all things.

Canned cheese squirted atop crackers on a paper plate will do just fine. Call it fromage dans une boîte sur un craquelin if you must.

Hello Boldness, Goodbye Discontent

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31  proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. – Acts 28:30-31 (ESV)

The book of Acts has no Hollywood ending.  The apostle Paul doesn’t mount his trusty steed and ride off into the sunset.  Rather, Luke ends his history of the early church rather abruptly.  I say “abruptly” because we know Paul had about another five years after this point to minister before his execution during the reign of Nero.  During these years Paul wrote his pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus.  If tradition is correct, this would have been the period when the apostle traveled to Spain (although no mention of such a trip is made in Scripture).

But Luke ends his account in a manner most befitting of the self-proclaimed least worthy apostle .  If Paul was nothing else, he was bold.  He understood what it meant to stand strong in Christ.  He knew the Lord was with him always.

And he understood all too well that physical circumstances were no indicator of the presence of the Lord:

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)

Paul’s boldness was hard earned.  In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, he lists the painful hardships he had endured for the sake of the Gospel:

24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (ESV)

I find it remarkable that this man did not merely withstand such hardship.  He thrived in it!

How?  Here is the key:

9 (Jesus) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Boldness is not a matter of puffing ourselves up and acting strong.  When we live in our own strength alone, we are like a straw house that seems sturdy, until a strong wind blows us over.  The key is to seek the Lord first, be content with His grace (as opposed to our circumstances), and humbly realize that any true strength we have is from God, Who amply supplies for our every need.

It is the grace of God that enabled Paul to not only survive, but thrive through otherwise unbearable situations.  Any one of the hardships Paul recounts to the Corinthians would be enough to derail even the heartiest of Christians (at least those of us who live in considerable ease in the western world).

But, by God’s grace, Paul soldiered on.

And, by the end of Acts, we see Paul imprisoned.  Not manacled to a wall or in chains, but living alone with a guard, supporting himself without having a job or source of income, receiving guests and proclaiming the Gospel.

The simple truth is that discontent saps us of God’s power, because it draws our attention inward, not upward.  I wonder what Paul would say if he saw my reaction when I can’t connect to the coffee shop’s wireless Internet, or when I am cheated out of the pickle that is missing from my Super Bacon Wacky Burger Deluxe.  With cheese.  (Actually, that may be God’s way of telling me to lay off the Wacky Burgers.)

When we refuse to be discontented by the discomforts of this life, or overly enchanted with the trappings of this world, and focus instead on God’s will and path and purpose, we find the boldness and strength through the grace of God to be joyful anyway.  The hardships of this life are a fleeting instant when compared to greatness of our Lord Jesus and the wonder of God’s great plan.

Keep your eyes on the purpose and prize of Christ!  Be bold in Him, and refuse to be discontent.

Not Hopeless

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for theLord shall renew their strength;they shall mount up with wings like eagles;they shall run and not be weary;they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 (ESV)

You are not hopeless.

Your situation is not hopeless.

Your life is not hopeless.

Your circumstances are not hopeless.

Now, here comes the caveat, the big “but”… Nothing is hopeless if your hope is in the right place.

Your hope is deeply rooted in your desires – your needs (perceived and real) and wants.  Some hope for a different station in life.  Some hope for change.  Some hope for a new job.  Some hope for children.  Some simply hope for the pain to go away.

None of these are bad things to hope for.  But, there is one overarching hope that needs to come first.

4  Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. 6  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 7  Be still before theLord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,over the man who carries out evil devices! – Psalms 37:4-7 (ESV)

Look at verse four.  The message is not that God will give us whatever we want.  Rather, when we seek God – when our hope is in Him – He changes our heart’s desires.  We begin to see things differently, more clearly.  We see that all is not lost.  We see that God has a far larger, greater plan, and our lives are but a very small part thereof.

I write this message today with a heavy heart.  Not over one person or situation, but because so many people I know and love are hurting.  They are facing trials and heartaches and problems that seem insurmountable.  Some are grieving a loss unimaginable.  Others are worried about the outcome of the day ahead.  Some need stability, some need work.  Some need healing.  Some are simply hurting and worried and anxious about life.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12, ESV).  Today I want to ask you – and myself: where is your hope?  Is it in a surgeon’s scalpel?  Is it in your 401(k) or the hoped for benevolence of an employer?  Is it in circumstances that are beyond your control?

We have only one true hope: God and His great love, mercy and grace.  It is in adversity that we find God.  It is when we finally come to the conclusion that this life is fraught with danger and pain and an appalling lack of fairness that we begin to see just how lost and hopeless we are without Him.

But… all is not lost.  You are not hopeless.  Your life is not hopeless.  The Lord is with His children.  Always.  Through the hardships.  Through the moments of pain and loss.  Through the fearful and worrisome times.  Through the hurt.  Through the darkest of nights and the valley of death.

We were never promised ease or comfort.  But we have the promise of strength and joy and hope – immeasurable and overflowing – when we choose to trust God and put all our hope in Him.  He will never leave you, nor forsake you.  You have not been – and never will be – abandoned.  Take it on faith.  Despite how you feel, God is with you.  His grace goes with you.  His love for you is beyond compare.

Seek Him first.  Latch onto God’s Word, even if it makes no sense or just doesn’t resonate in your heart. Don’t look at the storm.  Don’t stare at the waves.  Look to Jesus.  Focus on God and take Him at His word.  Rest in the Lord.  Find His peace.  He is our hope.

Transformitive Humility

6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7  casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 5:6-11 (ESV)

Tonight has been a night of prayer and preparation, seeking and expecting, letting go and looking up.  And, as I studied God’s Word tonight, one word in 1 Peter 5 stuck firmly in my mind: humble.  The act / art of lowering one’s attitude toward themselves, to “not… think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3, ESV).

Peter tells us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.  In other words, we are to submit to God and His will.

And stay submitted.

Just before Paul warns us against thinking too highly of ourselves, he tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV).  If we want to be transformed in our thinking – truly changed from the inside out – we have to start with humility.

Humility lets go.  When our thoughts are Godward, anxiety isn’t an issue.  Worry evaporates.  Troubles shrink.  This is because being humble requires faith.  Faith that God is in control.  Faith that He knows every circumstance that will come our way, every stone to stub our toe, every obstacle in our path.

We have to humbly trust that God knows what He is doing in our lives.  If we feel stuck in a painful circumstance, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned, or another person we are to help.  Any way we look at it, there are no accidents.  We are where we are, when we are and why we are because of God’s purposes.

And when we stay focused on ourselves… well, that just isn’t what God has in mind for us.  We are called to love, to put others first and above ourselves.  We are instructed to cast our cares to God and trust that He has it all under control.

We are to be sober-minded.  Not anxious or fearful, but calm and faithful, filled with joy and peace, resting in the Lord.  Humbly.  In faith.  It is humble firmness in faith that sends the enemy running.

Humility helps us focus where we ought, by focusing our efforts in the right place: Godward.

Be transformed.  I like that.  I pray that for us all.

Back to the Old House

The old house on Billtown Road, where I lived for the first five years of my life, still looks the same as I remember it all those years ago.  The front porch – where my dad stood with me during rainstorms to show me I had no reason to fear thunder – is still there.  The door to the basement, the only defense my brother and I had against the evil, demented monkey that lived down there, is probably still standing. The kitchen must look different from 1970, when I used to watch fuzzy black-and-white images of Sesame Street from a distant public television station while Mom did dishes.

When I’m back home, I like to drive past the old house.  I slow down and quickly soak in the memories.  But I don’t stop.  I can’t just walk in the place.  I can’t shimmy through the bathroom window where dad once lowered me onto the toilet when we were locked out of the house.  And, even if I could, I certainly wouldn’t go down in that basement.

You see, it isn’t my home anymore.  Walking in the door is no longer coming home.  It is now breaking and entering.  Besides, even if I could just walk into the old house, it would feel… well, weird.  It is someone else’s home now.  None of my stuff is there.  And I certainly can’t go next door and go tadpoling with friend Jimmy.  He, too, is grown up and gone.  As is his old house.

And, besides, I’m not five years old anymore.  I have grown considerably since my tadpole catching days.

There are times when it feels good to look back at the past and remember.  It warms the heart to talk with family and friends and reminisce about the old days.  But, there are also times past that are less enjoyable to revisit.  Times of sorrow and loss, of shame and embarrassment, of pain and harshness.

Either way, whether good or bad, the past is gone.  The old house is just the shell where you spent those days.  Just as, one day, our bodies will be no more than the shells where we spent our earthly days.

The apostle Paul certainly had a past.  He used to terrorize Christians.  This man who wrote roughly one-third of the text of the New Testament (or half of the books thereof) was at the very least an accomplice in the stoning of Stephen.  Yet the Lord got ahold of Saul, and made a change in him so thorough and complete and amazing that his very identity changed (Saul becoming Paul).  And Jesus righted the wrong path of his past.  Saul’s sins were forgiven; Paul’s new path in Christ was set.

And Paul was not about to let the past drag him back:

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. – Philippians 3:12-16 (ESV)

The past is gone.  You can do nothing about it.  The future is not guaranteed to any of us.  Not on this earth.  While we have the promise of eternity with God in Heaven, in this life all we have is now.  This very instant.  This moment.

What are you going to do with this moment?  Will you waste it on a past that is no longer there?  Or will you press on in Christ, realizing that you are His, and free from the tentacles of days gone by?  Don’t bother fretting about – or pining for – what was.  Don’t look back.  Keep your focus joyously on Christ, and on the road ahead.

Besides, most monkeys don’t live past thirty or forty years.  That menacing primate in the basement is probably long dead by now.