Need a leader?

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Need a story of hope, today? Try this:

God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, but King Saul was mad and determined to kill David before that could happen. Early in David’s fugitive life, supporters began to gather. Before long, he has a ragtag “army” of about 600 men.

And “ragtag” might be the right word. The Bible tells us they were people who were in debt, distressed, and/or “bitter in soul”. David must have sighed deeply when they met for their first strategy meeting! These were all people who had been battered by life and were, in fact, not responding well to their circumstances.

Fast forward a few years. By then, there were thirty choice soldiers known as “David’s Mighty Men”. The rest were the support team, but all were disciplined, useful, and loyal. They were willing to risk their lives for their leader. Many, in fact, became part of David’s leadership team when he was crowned as king of Israel.

Where are you today? Getting beat up by life? Finding some bitterness in your heart? Discouraged?

If there was hope for change for David’s ragtag men, there’s hope for you, too. Suggestion? Ask God for a modern-day David, a mentor, to walk alongside you, teach you, and encourage your relationship with God. You may be surprised at the amazing changes coming your way!

And, if your life is on an even keel, maybe you are the leader God is calling to help someone else. Be open to that call. You may be the change-agent someone else is crying out for today.

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion.” – John Stott

It’s a battle you can win.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:57

We often struggle with the way we behave, live, feel, or think. There are things we would like to change, but, after trying too many times to be better, some of us decide we simply are who we are, and there’s nothing we can do to change.

We have have have at issues that plagues us: bad habits, phobias, obsessions, fears, or substance misuse (alcohol, drugs, food, nicotine, caffeine, etc. ). We really don’t want these “enemies” in our lives, but we’ve decided they’re too big, too strong, or too comfortable to get rid of. So we live with them.

That sounds a lot to me like the rationale the Israelites gave when they stopped short of driving the idol-worshiping Canaanites out of the land of promise: They’re big, they’re strong, and we think we can just learn to get along with them. They forgot God and his strength. Do we, too?

With God, freedom can be ours. We can conquer the things that disturb us, weigh us down, distract from full life, and hold us back. We don’t have to live with our enemies!

It will take . . .

. . . consecrating ourselves to God,

. . . obeying his guidance (which often includes counsel and/or community), and

. . . persistence.

If we do these things, we make room for God to act on our behalf, and when he does, we find the enemy we face becomes a little weaker. Soon we notice we have strength to say “no” at least some of the time. When we can do that, we are on our way victory! We don’t have to settle for less than God’s best for us. Believe that.

“Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.” – Gerald May

Much more on this topic can be found Addiction and Grace, a book by Gerald May.

Why, God?

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

In the year 2000, a small group of devoted monks moved from the relative comfort of their lives to Norcia, Italy to re-establish the monastery founded there long ago by St. Benedict. Their sole purpose was to love and serve God through the solitude and simplicity of the ancient monastic life.

Then in October of 2016, the Basilica of St. Benedict, built in the 14th century as the center of this monastery’s worship, collapsed in an earthquake. It was a shocking tragedy. The monks couldn’t help wondering how God could allow the destruction of this cathedral when it was built by, and then used for centuries by, those who loved him sacrificially.

They mourned the loss of this great place of worship, but soon all their spiritual training kicked in, and they began to make plans for starting over. One writer described their reaction as “receiv(ing) this catastrophe as a call for deeper holiness and sacrifice.”*

Is that how we respond to crises in our lives? As a “call for deeper holiness and sacrifice?” Not usually. More often our response is “Why, God?” I think it’s OK to ask, but if the answer doesn’t come (and often it doesn’t – at least not right away), we need to accept what has happened and move closer to God as we pick up the pieces.

One of the monks said, “These are mysteries which will take years – not days or months – to understand.”*

Do you have an unanswered “why?” in your life? Let’s not let God’s silence stop us from answering his call to deeper holiness. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” – Sam Storm

*Both quotes are cited in The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Sentinel Books: New York, New York), 2017, p. 243

Disease

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” – Malachi 4:2

We have treatments for many illnesses these days: medicines, pain killers, physical therapy, even surgeries when the simple fixes don’t work. Then there are things that aren’t so easy to treat: cancer, psychological disorders, or even epidemic viruses that come suddenly on the scene.

For some in this world it seems nearly everything is untreatable. In less-developed countries, many people don’t even have aspirin, the nearest doctor may be miles away, and getting there is on foot. What to do when disease strikes and there is no treatment, no cure?

The crowds following Jesus in Bible times were in similar circumstances. They sought him out because they were sick or disabled and had no hope but him. When they pleaded for help, he responded with compassion, and they were made whole.

Some of us need that kind of healing in our lives today, don’t we? The kind for which there is no ready cure. Our needs might relate to our bodies, but often to our minds or emotions as well.

Most of us have some kind of dis-ease we face every day. What do we do? If there’s a treatment we can get from a doctor or a counselor, we need to do so. But sometimes what we are dealing with is something only God can heal.

If Jesus were here, we’d go to him just as the crowds did centuries ago.

Remember, he’s still here.

He’s still loving.

He invites us to bring our dis-ease to him. Let’s be as bold as those early followers and ask him to intervene today.

“The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and the acceptance of love.” – Marianne Williamson

He’s calling you.

. . . they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”– Mark 10:49

Imagine being blind in a world where there’s no economic safety net. Every day someone leads you to a spot on the road where people pass by. You call out when you hear them coming, just hoping someone will have mercy and give you a coin or two. Imagine that life day after day. No change. Nothing to look at. Unthinkable boredom. No hope. Then you hear of Jesus and his miracles. Maybe, just maybe, he would give you more than a coin and everything would change!

When blind Bartimaeus heard Jesus was on his way to Jericho, he was determined to get his attention. So, he shouted, begging Jesus to stop, to be merciful, to respond to his need. He was so obnoxious that people around him asked him to quiet down. But Jesus heard his cry and spoke to some who were nearby, “Call him.” They went over to Bartimaeus and gave him this amazing message, “Take heart. Get up. He is calling you.” 

Bartimaeus got to his feet and allowed the men to lead him to Jesus where his life was changed in an instant. He could see! No more need for someone to lead him by the hand. No more need to beg in order to survive. No more mind-numbing existence sitting alongside the road. New life began the moment he met Jesus.

Where are you in life today? Jesus hears your cry and he’s calling you. He asks that you take heart, get up, and come to him. Only he can change your life!

“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” – Augustine of Hippo

Need some soul work?

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:1-3

Yesterday, I had been far busier than I intended and felt frazzled. So, near the end of the day, I sat in my comfortable chair and thought about how my Good Shepherd leads me beside still waters and makes me lie down in green pastures. The stress began to leave my body and I felt comforted and calmed.

My mind moved to the next statement, “He refreshes my soul”. What does that mean? Christian scholar J.P. Moreland has spent years studying and writing about the soul and he believes it contains five faculties:

  • senses (touch, taste, smell, seeing, hearing)
  • will (capacities to choose)
  • emotions (ability to experience joy, love, anger, etc.)
  • mind (thoughts, beliefs, ability to reason)
  • spirit (means by which we relate to God). *

In sum, our souls encompass our entire internal being. And that’s what needs to be refreshed – our whole selves, not just our bodies. 

It’s important to pay attention when our soul cries out for refreshment. When it does, we are invited to connect with the only one who can provide what we need. As God restores our souls, he renews our desire to have him near, cleans up the sinful smudges gained from the day, and draws us close. We begin to feel whole, complete, spiritually healthy. That’s refreshment!

This can happen only when we stay close to the Shepherd, asking him to make the changes and restoration we crave. Then we wait. He will not leave us helpless. Soul work is what he does!

The greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is upon Divine Grace.” – Brother Lawrence

*From Finding Quiet by J.P. Moreland

Imperfect?

” I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. . .
But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God. My times are in your hands.”
– Psalm 31:12 and 14-15a

I know a potter who used to throw his less-than-perfect pieces against a concrete post until only shards remained. Then he discovered there were people who liked the pots, vases, and mugs that had slight flaws. Now he has a special sale each year of his “ruined” pieces which then become cherished treasures to those who see beauty or usefulness in their imperfections.

Sometimes I imagine God walking through tables full of “ruined” vessels – people who are broken, flawed, or maybe just what others would call odd. I don’t think he wants to throw them all against the wall in frustration. I think he’s saying,

“I can use this one, and this, and this.” 

“Oh, my, this piece has a peculiar beauty.”

“This is a unique shape. I have the perfect place for it.”

“A little patch here, and this pot will be just right!”

Do you have a weak spot? Or a failure in your past? Don’t despair! When we go to God, confess our sins, he forgives, restores, renews, and then says, “This one is perfect for the plan I have for him!” Believe it! Then watch as he repairs you and leads you to new levels of relationship and service. He does have a plan for you – don’t worry about the cracks!

“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”

– Vance Havner

In the Desert?

“Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realize what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.” – Oscar Wilde

Nobody signs up for suffering, but it happens to us all: sickness, tragedy, loss, and pain. The hardest of all is the struggle that just keeps hanging on and day after day we feel alone in a hot, dry desert.

If you are there, be encouraged! God uses desert time to make us strong, to help us learn dependence on him, and, often, to prepare us for something he wants us to do. Think about Moses who spent years there tending sheep before God called him to lead his people out of slavery. The Israelites spent four decades in the desert learning to trust God alone to meet their needs. Jesus was in the desert for forty days of fasting and prayer before beginning his public ministry. His wilderness time included direct confrontations with Satan. The desert can be a difficult and dangerous place!

Desert experiences tend to strip away the trappings of life so we can see what is truly essential. It is then that God can reach down, touch our souls, and feed us with food that will satisfy: Manna, refreshment for the spirit, just enough until we are healthy and strong and ready to be led out of the wilds into a more abundant life.

The desert truly is holy ground. If you are suffering today, be as open as you can to God and his Spirit within you. Over time, his healing touch will come.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. –
Psalm 30:11-12

Cleaning Up

“I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” – Isaiah 57:15b

Sin is a dirty word. We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to acknowledge sin may be a problem in our lives. So we hide it or ignore it. I do that, too, sometimes, but am beginning to see my sin as God does:

  • He hates my sin, but he loves me.
  • He’s not surprised when I sin. He knows my frailties.
  • My sin grieves God, partly because of how it damages me.
  • God is holy and cannot look on sin, so my unconfessed sin is a barrier between me and God, between me and answered prayer, between me and the blessing God wants to give me (see Isaiah 59:1-2).

Maybe we should begin looking at our sin in a whole new way – not as something to hide, but as something to be acknowledged, something from which we can be freed. It’s like working in the garden all day, coming in hot, dusty, and sweaty. We can ignore our condition or we can get in the shower. Which is better?

All God asks is that I recognize my action or attitude as sin, then confess and receive forgiveness and the strength to overcome. The joy of confession is that my relationship with him is fully restored, my prayers are heard, and my life is blessed. Confession is not a bad word. It is cleansing, restorative word – something we should not turn from, but should run toward. It’s like a nice, warm shower!

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” – Jerry Bridges

A nap? Really?

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” – John 13:7

Sometimes we try too hard. We have a problem and think of all kinds of ways we might solve it. But our solutions can be frustrating and unfulfilling, and we often cry out to God asking why he won’t help us.

God has a better way, but sometimes waits for us to get to the end of our own resourcefulness before he acts. In fact, he started that pattern with the very first human.

Here’s how I see it: When God created Adam, he knew he would need a mate, but he waited – waited for Adam to become discontent, to not like being “one-of-a-kind”. Then God paraded the animals in front of Adam, asking Adam to name them, knowing Adam would evaluate each animal as a potential mate. Of course, Adam found none suitable for him and began to get discouraged. That didn’t surprise God! When, finally, Adam despaired of having a partner, God said, in essence, “I have a plan. You take a nap.”

Sometimes we’re not ready to yield to God until we’ve exhausted our own ideas, resources, and energy. When, at last, we quiet down, give up control, and allow God to work, the outcome will, most likely, be something we never could have imagined on our own. Just ask Adam!

So, what is it you have been looking for? A good friend? A new job? Financial security? A way to serve? When you’re ready to give up control, take a nap. Trust God. And wait for him to show you what his plan has been all along. Then do it his way!

“Childlike surrender and trust, I believe, is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship.” – Brennan Manning

#trustingGod