Perspective

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” – Romans 14:13

I’m reading a book that talks a lot about perspective: How we think we remember things correctly, when often we don’t. How we think we are paying attention when we’re not. How we see ourselves as better, smarter, more careful, more skillful, kinder, more moral than others. I think the author was describing you, but not me, right?

Let’s face it: We all have a way of rationalizing our point of view and marginalizing the opinions of others. Maybe we would be wise, in this world of extremes, to understand that sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we don’t see things clearly. Or, if we are honest, sometimes we’re strongly opinionated about something that doesn’t really matter.

Don’t get me wrong: We should never compromise on clear biblical teaching on any subject. We should never compromise our morality or character as described in the Bible and as generally considered “orthodox” (right teaching) by the church through the centuries.

But, on things that are not so clear, we may need to take a step back and try to see the perspective of the other side. Paul gives first century examples of eating meat, celebration of feast days, etc. that were causing contention then. Today it might be something far more political in overtone. But let’s realize that it’s not dangerous to try to see another viewpoint. We don’t have to change our minds. But trying to understand what others are thinking and honestly evaluating what is worth fighting for are important steps toward living a life of love.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” – Augustine of Hippo

The Test Question

” . . . whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” – John 3:37b

There is a really scary verse in the Bible.

It’s the one where Jesus says that on the day of judgment many will come telling about all the things they did in his name, “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me . . .” (from Matthew 7:23). Doesn’t that scare you even just a little bit? It did me recently and I wrestled with it off and on all night.

What if I only think I’m a Christian and am deceiving myself? What if I’m doing good things for all the wrong reasons? How would I know? These people thought they were “in”, but they were wrong. Am I wrong, too?

I believe God sent me a message during that night. He said something like this: I am not trying to trick you. Take me at my word when I say, ‘whoever comes to me won’t be cast out’. That was enough to let me sleep, but in my morning prayer time, there was more.

God had a test question for me and this was it: “Would you rather live in a mansion without me or live in a prison and have me come to visit everyday?”

I didn’t even have to think about my answer. I would rather be in prison with Jesus than anywhere else without him. I knew then that I belonged to him.

How would you answer that question?

If you can answer as I did, you know you are his, and that scary verse is no longer a threat. If you can’t, please talk to Jesus now, receive his forgiveness, and commit your life to following him – no matter what. He is enough!

“To know God’s love is, indeed, heaven on earth.” – J. I. Packer

I have a question.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1Corinthians 13:12

I want to ask you “why?”, Lord. Why did my daughter get cancer? Why did you not heal her after the last time? She is a true lover of you, a disciple, growing in her faith over the years. Why would you let this happen?

Then I read a prayer from Carolyn Myss this morning. She said, “I have learned by now that you do not answer questions: You answer prayers.”

That was true of Job, wasn’t it? He wanted to confront God about the disasters that had come into his life. He wanted to know why. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve this pain. God didn’t answer Job’s questions, but he did reveal himself and his glory to Job. That was enough to quiet Job’s heart and satisfy his questions. He learned he could trust God with the whole story of his life including what he was experiencing that day.

So, Lord, I will change my questions to a prayer instead: May we realize your presence in this journey. Give us courage. Give us hope. May I trust you as the author of my life story and my daughter’s. And, please, reveal to us your glory so our questions become unimportant, and you become all-important. Amen.

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal, but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” ~ C.S. Lewis

NOTE: Painting shown is by Bernard Vaillant (Dutch, Lille 1632–1698 Leyden) and is titled “Socrates Looking into Mirror”.

Comfort

For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” – Isaiah 49:13b

A friend called. She knew I was struggling. She encouraged me, assured me of her prayers, and let me know she cared. After her call, I felt stronger, lighter, ready to take the next step God would put in front of me.

What did she do? She comforted me. Not with the kind of “comfort” that pats me on the back and says, “Everything’s going to be OK.” I would have recognized the lie.

The word comfort comes from two roots. The first is com which means with. The second is fortis which means strong. Comfort connotes coming alongside to give strength. If we truly comfort someone, we make them stronger. That’s what my friend did. Her comfort strengthened me.

At the last supper, Jesus told his disciples that, though he was leaving, he would send his Spirit to live in them. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16 KJV). Jesus would no longer be there to help them, but his Spirit would.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have his Spirit living inside you. He is always there, guiding, enlightening, correcting, and, yes, comforting. That’s one of his names – Comforter! And his comfort makes us strong.

I still like it when a friend calls, though. Don’t you?

“You don’t have to be alone in your hurt! Comfort is yours. Joy is an option. And it’s all been made possible by your Savior. He went without comfort so you might have it. He postponed joy so you might share in it. He willingly chose isolation so you might never be alone in your hurt and sorrow.” – Joni Eareckson Tada

Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

I was reminded recently of the story of an art contest years ago in which artists were asked to submit paintings depicting perfect peace. There were many entries of quiet rural scenes, reading by the fireplace, mirror-calm waters, and couples hand-in-hand. But one was different. It portrayed a wild storm, winds blowing, trees bending. Almost unseen, near the trunk of a tree with branches swaying, was a tiny bird sitting serenely on her nest with her wings covering her fledglings. That one took the prize.

It’s relatively easy to experience peace when life is going our way, when the days are sunny, and everything is in order. The real test of our peace is when our world seems to be falling apart and the storms rage.

Are you in the middle of a storm right now? I am.

Where do we go when it’s scary, unpredictable, and fierce? We go to God’s promises, like this one: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

We need to intentionally let go of anxiety, pray sincerely (many times a day when the storm is furious), and trust God’s peace will wash over us and fill us as he carries us through.

“If God be our God, He will give us peace in trouble. When there is a storm without, He will make peace within. The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble.” – Thomas Watson

Afraid?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

I was anticipating a situation that made me anxious. When that happens, I find it helpful to pray about it. So, I began a prayer telling God all the reasons I had to be stressed about this meeting and then, as it dawned on me who I was talking to, the prayer reverted to something like this:

Me: Are you afraid?
Jesus: No.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you stressed?
Jesus: Nope.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you worried about what happens next?
Jesus: Not a bit.
Me: Then, me either.

That might seem like a silly prayer exercise, but focusing on God’s serenity calmed me. If we believe that God not only knows what will happen in any given situation, but is actively involved in bringing about the consequences he desires, then we can relax. To the extent we are following him, our outcomes will be exactly what he wants them to be.

Sometimes the question for us is this: Are we content with that? Are we willing to accept his will for us as good? Or will we fight against it? When we have a predetermined outcome in mind, we get anxious. When we commit to being happy with what God has designed, we relax into his plan.

God does have a plan. He’s in control of every situation. He’s not anxious. Why should we be?

“If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.” – John Newton

The Narrows

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path . . . with walls on both sides.” – Numbers 22:24

A few years ago, we traveled with some of our family to Zion National Park where we entered “The Narrows”. It’s the most confined section of the canyon where, at times, you can touch both sides of the towering rock walls as you walk through with a river underfoot. I’m not fond of closed-in spaces, so I knew that hike was not for me!

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how narrow our lives get, and the walls can seem too confining. Some of you are feeling that now when you can’t leave your home even for work. We’re used to wide open spaces – highways, malls, meeting places, beaches, and parks. Now we are kept inside with only occasional recourse to the outside world.

No matter if we are sequestering alone or with a large family, God is waiting with us in the narrows. He offers grace for each day, mercy in our stresses, hope that the wide-open spaces will soon reappear, and joy as we step cautiously through the restricted pathways of our present lives.

To access that grace, mercy, hope, and joy, we need to do one thing: Let our hearts be soft enough to receive. These gifts are there for us. Jesus is simply asking that you recognize he is with you in the small space and acknowledge you need him. As you turn toward him, he will respond. He always does.

Let’s be open to God today! When we do, the walls will seem to disappear, and the vastness of eternity will enter.

“. . . a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.” – Emilie Griffin

Reunion vs. Reconciliation

 

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14

Jacob had cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright more than 20 years earlier and now was bringing his large family and flocks and herds back to Canaan. As he prepared to meet his angry brother, he sent gifts ahead, tried to protect his family from attack, and prayed for God’s favor. Fortunately for Jacob, the reunion was one of rejoicing and celebration. Forgiveness seemed to abound and, at least on the surface, all seemed to be well.

Esau, with true Middle Eastern hospitality, invited Jacob to bring his family and herds to live near him in Seir. Jacob says, in essence, “OK, but we’re going to travel slowly because of the little ones and the animals.” So Esau goes on ahead, but Jacob never follows him to Seir. Why? I think there were too many differences remaining between them – cultural, religious, and maybe even some obvious animus from previous offenses.

Reunion is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

Maybe there is a person in your life you think of as toxic, or even dangerous to your physical or emotional well-being. Can you forgive that person? Yes. Forgiveness is for your benefit even more than it is for the person who has hurt you. And God requires his people to forgive.

Should you be in close relationship with him/her again? Most likely not, unless you see a true and long-lasting change of heart. It’s possible Jacob knew association with Esau would bring trouble. So he agreed to an amicable relationship, but not a close one. Sometimes distance is the best decision. Forgiveness is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

“It takes one person to forgive, two people to be reunited.” – Lewis Smedes

Live your own life!

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11

Whose life are you living? If you’re constantly called to commiserate with an overly reliant friend, if you’re consistently focused on another person’s decisions or actions, or if you’re preoccupied about what may happen today or tomorrow in the life of someone you love, you may be missing the life God gave you to live. 

Don’t get me wrong – I believe in empathizing with those who are struggling, helping those in need, supporting our children to adulthood and beyond, and being a true friend. But, when worries about other people’s lives dominate our thoughts, we’re surely missing what God is offering us.

Today, he wants us to experience his leading in every decision, blessings from his hand, peace beyond understanding, and love that refreshes our souls.

Today, he wants the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our hearts: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. I want that, don’t you?

So, how do we care deeply about others and still position ourselves to receive what God wants for us? 

  • Think about our blessings.
  • Acknowledge that the life God has given us is good. 
  • Cherish each day.
  • Praise God.
  • Yield to his direction.

When we live in distraction, we cannot take in all God wants for us. So, let’s live our own lives – deeply and gratefully. Then we will be able to do more than worry about or sympathize with friends or family –  we will enable them to live their own lives, too!

Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.”

–Thomas Merton

How much is it worth to you?

. . . anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. – Hebrews 11:6b

Do you want to get fit? Your success may depend on how much you’re willing to endure changing your eating and exercise habits.

Do you want to earn a degree? Your success will depend on how much you’re willing to prioritize, maybe even giving up sleep and social activities to reach your goal.

Do you want financial security? Your success may depend on how well you say “no” to things you can’t afford so, just maybe, you’ll be able to afford them later.

Now, here’s the bottom-line question. Do you want to know God better? To hear his voice? To know he hears your prayers? To sense his presence with you every minute? Your success will depend a lot on how much you’re willing to prioritize time, deny yourself, and say “no” to lesser things so you can pursue God with everything  you have and are. Anything as important as our relationship with God is going to cost us something. It may even be painful at times. 

Is it worth it? From my own experience, growing close to God is worth everything! Getting up early to read his word? I’ll do that. Talking to him throughout the day? That, too. Praying my heart out for people I love? Yup. Letting go of my need to control? OK.

The reward? Realizing and receiving his enduring love for me. Finding myself happily singing for no reason at all. And living with peace because trusting him has left me with fewer burdens to carry. Worth it? Oh, yes!

“The only thing between who you are now and who you want to be is the pain you are willing to endure.”

Rabbi Aryeh Markman