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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tackling the Mess with Faith

Today, I have to admit that I am suffering from an acute case of mental clutter that has lapsed over into real life. I look around and see a whole bunch of unfinished projects and half-run errands, like that craft project I bought the stuff for but didn't make, or things I didn't quite put back in their places because I would have to move too much furniture to do it.

I'm talking about it today because I think this is a common problem, and that it is often a testament to a kind of underlying fear (the type and origin of the fear depends on the situation).  Now, those who know God don't have to be afraid, because He's given us freedom from fear, but I can personally testify that once we've gotten into the habit, it is very difficult to stop.

Some people call fear a sin, condemning it as doubt of God, but I think it's really doubt of the physical world, such as doubt of our own strength. That doubt is something God can use to build our faith, if we let Him, or it can be a doubt that cripples us.

 I'm speaking of myself, too, as you recall.

Sometimes clutter, including mental clutter, comes from a deep need to avoid further trauma, but God is bigger than that trauma, and can use the situation to prove to us again that He can heal us, and that He is with us as we deal with the situation.  Sometimes clutter comes when we feel we need to prove ourselves, so we hyper-focus on that one aspect of our lives, letting the clutter build up elsewhere. In this case, God can build our faith by showing us how He gives us value and sustains us, and how He is worthy of our trust. God can make our efforts meaningful and adequate, even when we feel we haven't done enough, and He can stay on the job, taking care of the situation when we need to go do something else.

Sometimes fear-induced clutter has a different origin, which I might not have described, but I can say that whatever it is, God can meet that need. He can deal with the problem. We just have to have that tiny bit of faith that opens the door for Him to work on it with us. This is something God has been teaching me lately.

I am reminded of the verse in Hebrews that defines faith as a belief built on proof of God's power, which gives substance to the things we can't see yet. It says in the NIV, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see," (Hebrews 11: 1).  This verse sort of describes that middle time we are now living, between the thing God did that first gave us confidence in Him, and the thing God is going to do next, which will reassure us of that confidence.  The verse also points out that faith is generalizable; that is, it may have started when God proved His power in one situation, but it looks forward to a point when God will deal with something that came up later. In other words, faith believes that the same God who fixed us long ago can fix us today, and tomorrow, too, no matter what comes up.

So, wrapping this up, how can we deal with the fear-induced clutter of the mental and physical variety?  A lot of people say, "Just face it. Just start the process of cleaning up." Maybe that's all it is going to take for some people, but if fear is too crippling to allow us to "just start," I would say that we have to start by renewing our faith.  We need to remember God's strength, goodness, healing, or whatever answer He holds for our present need.  If we're going to face our fear, we need our confidence back, and that confidence is found in the unseen, but very real, power of God. Then, we can tackle the mess.

Are you dealing with fear-induced clutter today?  Here are some questions for reflection.
  1.  Sometimes clutter is the physical sort, like dirty laundry or junk mail. Sometimes it's mental, like social media and television, which can keep us from dealing with pressing issues in our lives.  What kind(s) of clutter do you feel you are dealing with today?  Is fear involved in the situation?
  2. In Psalm 77, David looked to the past to refresh his faith. What has God done for you in the past that inspired faith in Him? What was He teaching you about Himself in those circumstances?
  3. How can God's actions in the past give us confidence in our present circumstances?
  4. As we begin to tackle the clutter in our lives, what can we do to keep our confidence--our faith--strong throughout the week?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Luxury of Rest

I'm writing my Monday blog on Tuesday, because I've been busy with a million little tasks the past few days. I'm not complaining.  However, I do find it ironic that the subject God has been talking to me about a lot over the past week has been rest.  Specifically, the nature of the sabbath.

I've been reading a book about the sabbath this week, on loan from my sister, called Sabbath Keeping, by Lynne M. Baab. I also keep stumbling across articles in magazines and on the web stressing the importance of rest and vacation time. Here are some key points I've gleaned from it all.

  • Doctors and office workers are pretty much united in the health benefits of periodic rest from work. I've also read several articles this week touting the benefits to creativity and innovation of taking a break from the routine, or from stress-inducing activities.  Why do we refuse to stop work, with all this evidence for the benefits of rest? Could it be a fear that we'll be left behind in the rush and information deluge? Could it be a fear of financial catastrophe? Whatever the cause, fear doesn't seem like a good place for Christians to live. The sabbath, as it was established, was like a weekly vacation or a celebration to remind us that God (not our own efforts) protects us and prospers us.
  • Sabbath in Hebrew can be translated "rest," but it more generally means "stop." So when the Bible says that God rested at the end of creation, it means that He also stopped. He stopped to enjoy all the things He had made, and He took a whole day to do it.  He invites us to step back and enjoy what He created, with Him.
  • When God first instituted Sabbath observance in the Ten Commandments, He reminded the nation of Israel of their slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5: 14-15). They had no break from their work as slaves, but the Sabbath distinguished them as free people under God's covenant, with no cruel masters to keep them working without a rest. The Sabbath symbolized freedom and the luxury to enjoy that freedom.
  • The Sabbath also symbolized God's abundance. The Israelites had to live hand to mouth every other day of the week, gathering only enough manna for that day, but on the Sabbath, they ate the extra manna, the extra blessing that God had sent them (Exodus 16: 21-26). They did six days of work but got paid for seven, in essence.
  • The origin of the Sunday celebration among Christians had to do with the day of the Resurrection, the "Lord's Day," not the timing of the Jewish Sabbath service, which is on Saturday. In essence, Sunday service for most Christians is a combined celebration of God's completion of Creation (the old sabbath) and Christ's completion of our redemption through His death and resurrection (the new sabbath, the new creation).
 I shared these points today because I want to encourage my readers to consider taking a Sabbath of some kind, perhaps not on Sunday or Saturday, but maybe on another day of the week. I'm not suggesting legalism or empty ceremony.  I'm talking about celebrating the luxury, freedom, and abundance that we have because of the God we serve.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Not Stressed at All

I've been feeling stressed, harried, and sad this work week. It really doesn't follow anything going on in my life or the weather--in fact, life is great and the weather is blissful these days. I can only conclude that this discordant mood of mine is coming from spiritual sources, and they don't have my best interests at heart.

I think it started when I turned on the television in the morning on Monday and heard news reports about crime and travesties of justice, people believing lies about Jesus Christ and denials of God's plan. After a barrage of such things, the world begins to sound...well, depressing. And defiant. And really hostile to innocence. It's enough to stress out compassionate souls like myself, and it makes me sad, too, because this is not the kind of society that God blesses.

A God who made this can surely fix everything!
However, I am seeing that dwelling on this is the wrong reaction to bad reports on the airwaves. When we feel the distress of the world, it's a perfectly normal reaction to be dismayed--if it was up to us to overcome it, that is--but God has called me and you to seek Him to find supernatural contentment in the midst of chaos. In Jesus' words, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11: 28, 29 NIV).

The problems in this world are huge. Some of them may be insurmountable, in fact. Still, God is stronger and bigger than all of those problems.  We can find rest in Him because we can let Him be the one who makes everything "okay." Let me say that again...God makes everything work out; without Him, we would be in a constant tumbling state of chaos, but with Him, we can lie back and rest without knowing the future (Romans 8: 28), like a kid on a train.

We can trust Him to protect us, because He has proven Himself trustworthy. The Bible is full of miracles I could describe again for you here, but much more immediate are the miracles we fail to notice every day, from the rising of the sun to the meals we eat. We are blessed; God is keeping us every moment of every day, even when we aren't looking for Him or thanking Him for it. I know it is Him because there is nothing else big enough or powerful enough in knowledge or human power or natural might that can bring order out of chaos! If He could establish order among the careening planets to bring us day and night, spring and harvest in their times, He is capable of fixing the problems in the world today!

So, returning to my initial point, I see this bad mood that settles over my day after I hear bad news as unnecessary and basically silly. I know a good God, who is also great.  My problem is not that the problems that dismay me are too big. No, my problem is that I have a faith that is too weak, and needs refreshing. When I feel this way, I need to spend some time in prayer and reading the Bible, which is filled with God's supernatural reassurance.  After all, He already saw the future I'm facing now.  He's not worried. He's not stressed out, so why should I be?

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. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23: 1-4 NIV
P.S. As I was writing this post, I tuned in to my free Pandora account and heard these songs, which helped me.  If you are, like me, in a "discordant" bad mood today, I think they might help you as well. God bless and keep you!

Fountain of Youth, 4Him
Wonderful Maker, Jeremy Camp
Hallelujah, Mike's Chair
Window with a View, 4Him
What Life Would Be Like, Big Daddy Weave
While I'm Waiting, John Waller
Lord Move, or Move Me, FFH

Monday, October 8, 2012

Traveling Small

I have been traveling this week--in fact, I'm posting this from an unfamiliar living room--and I feel the same things I have felt on previous long trips. I have scattered, sometimes vague impressions of people and places, and constant little reminders of God's presence and power in it all.

I guess traveling makes me feel a good way. What I mean to say is that it reminds me of the bigness of the world, and the infinitely larger bigness of the God who created it all.

Of course, if I had any doubts that God exists, I would only need to get into an airplane like I did this time (twice; once at sunset and once after dark), and look down at the great big world peeling off under the belly of the plane, with trees and streams, clouds and twinkling stars scattered attractively across the landscape outside my tiny porthole window.

I even got a chance to spot my own little neighborhood as the first leg of my flight took off, and all the great big nuisances that seem like monumental problems looked like miniature doll furniture from that new-found perspective.

So, traveling makes my life look literally small. It also reminds me the bigness of the world's problems. The first day after I arrived here in south Texas, I was exploring the town, and one of my destinations was a popular (and crowded) public street lined with little shops and restaurants. My host had recommended this area for the daytime, but also instructed me to watch out for vagrants and panhandlers there. I did find them (I think there were around ten in the span of five blocks), and as I pressed forward through the throngs of regular shoppers like myself, I was moved concerning these people.

They were strung out on drugs and alcohol, and some were clearly members of various cult-like religions that deny the true God. The sin in their lives had reduced them to such a point that their degradation was visible to all, but I had a sense that there were others there, in the affluently-dressed crowds, who carried a similar corruption and empty longing on the inside. As I prayed for them (yes, even while waiting for the crosswalk lights), I realized that they were there because they were not ready to hear from their Savior, but that He was also there, waiting for them to give Him a chance to help them.

I felt a hint of the intensity and the urgency and the heart-brokenness of the God who came to save a world full of crowds like this, but who was rejected by many of them. The streets where Jesus walked had the same mix of people, even though it was separated from where I was by thousands of years and miles.  It's the same scene everywhere, but maybe travel shows it more clearly than usual. All I know is that He saw the destructiveness and repulsiveness of sin in such scenes with more clarity than my own eyes can, and yet He had compassion.

That brings me to my next point--I was reminded that I was small because no gesture of mine could really change anything about the way things are, whether I am traveling or home, unless God used it. Only God sees the heart and can cause people to see the truth about Him, and the end result of sin. Only God can rescue the world. If I could ever change anything, it would be because God used something I did to advance His kingdom. Because, well, I'm small and frail compared to the needs of the whole world.

I asked God if He wanted me to do something about what I saw all around me, but all He asked of me was prayer that the hearts of the people would thirst for Him and nothing less (Isaiah 55: 1-2, 6-7). So, I did, even though it seemed like a meager offering. If anyone can change the sweeping landscape of the world that we see from a plane, or reach inside the dark places in the human heart, I know God can.

Today, I'm calling all believers to continue to pray for change at God's hand, because He can. I also call anyone reading this to do what Jesus asks you to do, wherever you are, and however futile it may seem. God can do things with our meager offering, but He needs a willing heart. It's okay to be small, because we know a very big God. We can rest in that.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Death of Logic

I have written often on this blog concerning truth and logic, and what my folks used to call "common sense and decency."  I even wrote a series a few years ago outlining basic errors in logical argumentation and how to unravel them. I love logic, but I've got to say that by the looks of all the news I've been hearing lately, I am convinced that logic is becoming a rare bird.

Frankly, it's frightening.

Here's a recent example of what I'm talking about. I read in the news about a man who ordered a hamburger with no onion at a fast food restaurant, and then called the restaurant to complain that they had put onion on his burger. They apologized and told him to come back for a free replacement burger. He then ate the burger and returned to the restaurant to get his free extra burger. When the clerk told him that he couldn't get another hamburger because he'd eaten the evidence, so to speak, he threw the cash register and a soft drink at her.

Um...yeah....So, is this an illogical reaction? I think so. Logic has basic premises. We have to back up our arguments with proof, for instance (such as bringing the restaurant clerk the burger with onions clearly visible in it).  We also have to behave in such a way that our arguments are believable and acceptable (not throwing cash registers, for instance). Logical points or reactions are equivalent in magnitude to counterpoints our counter-reactions (for instance, most people would just pick the onions off instead of getting deeply upset). We're talking about basic, rational, civil behavior here. What is going on in our society?

The Bible predicts illogical or irrational behavior as a symptom of sin in a society. Proverbs has two such warnings: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1: 7 KJV), and "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding" (Proverbs 9: 10 KJV).  In essence, what the Bible is saying is that once belief in God is established, wisdom, knowledge, teaching, and understanding will follow.  If you read it the other direction, however, it is saying that sound thinking (read logic, truth, common sense, and decency) will fly out the window once God is removed from the picture.

If you want to restate this more simply, you could say that the presence of God brings peace and order, while the absence of God brings chaos. This is even generalizable, because the breakdown of law and order in civilization or logic in the individual mind often starts with defiance of the basic rules, and the rule-enforcer. Get rid of God, get rid of all of His rules, and you have anarchy, even anarchy in our thinking patterns.

It is known that we have organizations and individuals in US society (and throughout the world) who are working to remove God from everything. The rise of illogical behavior is only a consequence, predicted well in advance for us to take heed.  We (as individuals and as society) need God; the chaos without Him only underscores the need.  The Bible points out this dependence on God when it says, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God," (Matthew 4: 4b NIV). Truth and logic precede from the mouth of God--they are the hallmarks of His order--and bread which sustains our strength also comes from His hand.  If we get rid of God, we are left exposed to the wrath of God, in an untenable situation where superior might is the only form of persuasion left to us, and even that fails without sustenance from God.

It doesn't seem logical to ignore warnings or the one who sends them, especially when they come true.  It doesn't seem logical to reject the one who is kind enough to warn of approaching danger. In fact, it isn't logical at all.  So what can a Christian do about the death of logic in society?  Illogic cannot be fought with logic (Proverbs 26: 4, 5); however, it can be fought with prayer, which is an appeal to a Higher Authority, asking that He demonstrate His authority again in the lives of those who have rejected Him.  Only when God's authority is recognized in an individual heart can logic make headway there. Otherwise, watch out for the proverbial (or literal) flying cash register. That's my point.