Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Discarded Torch

Maybe you've seen the video clip of three generations and how they spent/spend their free time as children. Maybe you, like me, are reminded of playing outdoors in lingering sunlight or with frost-laden breath. And maybe you, like me, want the same for every child who ever has or ever will walk the face of the planet.

The reality is that we are letting our kids down--not in access to fresh air, freedom and fantasy--as much as in our role as disciplers of Jesus. Kids who play video games and spend hours lost in la-la land have very little to offer the world. They will enter crippled, weak and anemic both spiritually and practically. We know that. But the truth is, it's not the kids' decision. It's ours. We are failing. We are so self- and comfort-centered that we've dropped the torch and taken a detour instead of running the race.

Here are some ways to pass the torch to the next generation:

- Stop! Look at yourself. What kind of example are you? Monkey-see, monkey-do. What do your children see? What does the Lord see? Examine your life, your motives, your thoughts. What consumes you? What drives you? How is that evident in your choices? Sadly, the things that drive you drive your children. They're probably the same things that make you angry and frustrated. Your g/God has become their g/God. Repent or rejoice. If this part of your life isn't on track, nothing else will be. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart" (Deut. 6:5-6, emphasis added).

- Observe. Watch your kids. Ask questions. Get to know them. What do they enjoy? What do they do well? What don't they do well? What's important to them? What do they want to do with their lives? How are they doing that now? What do they need to improve? How can you help them?

- Provide opportunities. Involve your child in what you do. A disciple is a follower. But if no one leads, they can't follow. Be the leader. Teach your child new skills. Take your child to new places. Introduce them to the needs of others. Put them to work. Do it with them. Do something new, something you've never done before either.

- Be vulnerable. Allow your child to ask hard questions (they will--you don't have to prep them!). Answer honestly. Say, "I don't know. Let's find out." Let them see you struggle, fail, and figure out how to get back on your feet. When Jesus told Peter, "Feed my sheep," it wasn't because he had it all together. It's because He knew where and how to find the Good Shepherd. Take your children to Jesus. He will use your needs and weakness to show them how it's done.

- Speak truth. When your child is wrong, tell him. Present truth from the Word of God. Address the issue. When your child does something well, tell her. Praise her effort and encourage her in using her gifts. Words are powerful! Use them. "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up" (Deut. 6:7).

- Do life together. When your child fails, don't write him off, send him to the corner or take away his cell phone. Help him! Come up with a plan for change. Yes, you will be inconvenienced. More than that, you will have to look your priorities square in the eye. And if we're honest, American parents, our choices communicate that our children are less important than our jobs, our friends, our ministries, our leisure and our comforts. That's why we write them off, send them to the corner and ground them from privileges. We do it for no other reason than our sin has blinded us to discipling and loving our children as God has loved and provided for us: sacrificially, unconditionally, over and above His comfort and reputation.

- Be the adult. You are not a child. God intends us to grow. All of us. The word "grow" is used 124 times in the Bible. That's God's goal for you--with the purpose that you are changing, different today than a year ago, applying the knowledge and experience He provides. Change requires exercise, training and practice (1 Tim. 4:7-8; Heb. 5:13-14). It's slow, difficult, and demanding but the results are oh, so worth it! Be the adult. Be responsible. Be accountable. Be an example. Be the leader.  "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deut. 6:8-9).

Be the kind of person who can say, "Follow me as I follow Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1)

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight....

And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 11:32-34, 39-40; 12:1-14)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

When Life Feels Wrong

Some days life just feels wrong. Off. Out of control inside. Out of control outside. And sometimes it's not just a "day" but weeks or months. Maybe years.

The truth is that we don't have as much control as we think we do (or think we should).

And life is not about what we feel, what we see, hear and perceive. It's about what is. And what is? God. His Word. It's not a trite answer, even when it sounds like one. 

Here's the way it works. When you and I feel like this:

...we're experiencing chaos, confusion, anger, strife, envy, jealousy, bitterness.... Why? Because life is off. I know what I want but can't...quite... reach it: comfort, peace, success, acceptance, wealth, a godly marriage, a happy family.... And before long "the getting" consumes me--I think about it all the time, plan and work, pray and cajole. I do everything I can--good or bad, right or wrong--to fix my life, get it under control, and make things right. When I drive down the street or turn on the TV, I notice everyone else who has "it": a child, a new car, a perfect family, good health. It isn't fair. It doesn't seem right. And the bad feelings get worse. 

The problem is my boss, my paycheck, the other woman at church, my child's teacher, the condition of my home/car/clothes.

But that's not what Jesus said.* He said it's not the things that happen outside my heart that bring on sin and feelings of failure--it's what's already inside. I get angry because I wanted something I didn't get. I slander others because I have a hateful attitude. I fight chaos and confusion because I don't trust God and I don't want what He's sovereignly given. I lust and do not have because I want an easy, comfort, peace-filled life. Every statement, every moment of life going wrong begins and ends with me. 

The things we want aren't necessarily bad. It's not the thing or outcome that matters. What really matters is why I want it. Do I want to be and feel successful? Look good? Be happy? Or do I want what God wants? Am I trusting Him to use the difficulty, the lack of good, to help me grow in compassion, patience, gentleness, kindness? How do I respond when I don't get it? And how do I respond when it's taken away or interrupted? That's the tell.

This is it: when the heat is turned up and life gets hard, what comes out of my heart? Jesus? Or a grownup version of a monster-child? As Jim Berg says, when God pours on hot water, it reveals what's in the tea bag of my heart. What's inside is no longer a secret--good or bad, it comes out, coloring my life and interactions.

The only solution is simple, but hard: repentance. I must agree that what I want has become more important than what God wants and turn around--turn around to seek His good for me, His purpose, His glory, His honor instead of my own. How? Through Jesus. When I come to God through Jesus, He is there to help, to change, to provide, to forgive.

So how're you doing? My life doesn't feel right today, but by God's grace and with His help, I will keep looking at Him, doing what is right, and waiting for His provision. Easy? Hard. Impossible.... without Christ, prayer, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, my Help and Comfort.

*But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matthew 15:18-19 NKJV)

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear; when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

"The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:5-10 NKJV)

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish. (Psalm 1, NKJV)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Good Distractions Gone Bad

I haven't been writing much lately between summer youth ministry and taking graduate classes, but if you'll humor me, here's a peek into this morning's blessing as I read the final chapter of 1 Timothy:

Saturday, July 11, 2015                                                                                    1 Timothy 6
v. 11 But flee from these things [a different doctrine-v. 3, godliness as gain-v. 5, riches-v. 9], you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.

Impression: How easy it is to get distracted by good things, by lesser things, by deceitful things and miss God! To get caught up in details of doctrine that lead to strife, envy and disputes is to miss the mark. When my conversation and reputation is focused on being right, I am more about myself than God. To get drawn into keeping certain laws and traditions as a means of contentment—formulas for how to raise our children or keep our home or manage a church—I have missed the mark and left God behind. When my life is all about following a prescribed formula for godliness and personal gain, I am more about myself than God. And if I am drawn away from the truth by a desire for riches and personal comfort, when getting and having is more important than meeting with the Body of Christ and serving others, I have again missed the mark and left God behind. I am more about myself than God.

It is as I walk with the Lord that I find myself hungering and thirsting for righteousness, reflecting (not recreating) godliness, living out faith in love time after time after time with patience and gentleness. The only worthwhile endeavor is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in inapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen” (v. 15-16).

Application: The goal is to forget myself, to leave myself behind, and to follow Jesus; to follow Him wholeheartedly, with everything I have and am, and to pray and ask for His gracious hand of protection from those many temptations and good things that would draw me away from His face. It is my responsibility and thankful response to seek His face, to harness my thoughts and emotions as I sift through the value and weight I place on people, circumstances, dreams and goals. Who am I seeking to please? Who am I serving? Who has first place in my life? What am I willing to die for? What hill am I willing to die on? Any hill, any cause apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, is vanity.

Lord, as I enter this day, this day of calling and serving and loving; this week of ministry; I ask Your guiding, loving, protecting hand on either side of my face. Direct me in Your way. Guide me in Your path. Let me not turn to the left or to the right. Let me not be distracted and carried away by my sinful longings and the deceit of my heart. Keep me true and steadfast, focused and centered always on Your loving care in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Your precious Son. May Jesus be my focus, my motivation, my source and my prize. In His name I pray, Amen.