Was Your Mind Made Up?

stormWe were expecting life to be pretty simple.

High school graduation, maybe a college degree, maybe the family route instead, but all of it falling into place in our early twenties without all that many bumps.

And when heartache started calling instead, when our plans for life folded like a cheap suit and God was nowhere to be seen, some of us just shrugged and walked away.

“If God won’t be there for me, why should I be there for him?”

It wasn’t quite that blase. We still love him…kinda. We certainly believe. We know he exists. We get riled up on his behalf when some atheist or Democrat starts talking.

But we’re not really on fire for him otherwise.

I don’t mean this as a guilt trip. Please hear me out.

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Don’t Cut Corners In Obedience

engediI don’t usually riff off sermons from my church, but 1 Samuel 24 is too chock full of good detail begging for extraction.

Quick background – David is on the run from a jealous Saul, who catches up in En Gedi. Saul chooses to relieve himself in the very cave David and his men are hiding in.

 

1. David’s men got the prophecy wrong.

Ever played the telephone game? One person whispers a phrase to another, and they to a third, and then a fourth, and down the row until the phrase is hilariously distorted.

This appears to be what happened to the prophecy that David would dethrone Saul. David’s men said this as, unseen, they (eww) watched a vulnerable Saul relieve himself:

…so they said to him, “Look, this is the day the Lord told you about: ‘I will hand your enemy over to you so you can do to him whatever you desire.’” Then David got up and secretly cut off the corner of Saul’s robe. (v. 4)

This is exaggeration. As best I can tell (and correct me if I’m wrong), no prophecy was ever given permitting David to do “whatever he desired” with Saul. The existing prophecies focused on David’s anointing.

It proves the importance of listening to God’s exact guidance. He doesn’t talk just to hear himself.

 

2. The robe scrap wasn’t necessary to prove David’s honor.

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When You Can’t See Behind the Door

doorMy Bible this weekend has been opened to Psalms 127-132 page, and 131 caught my eye, standing out by being shorter than its surrounders:

Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things
too great or too difficult for me.

Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself
like a little weaned child with its mother;
I am like a little child.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forever. (Psalm 131:1-3 HCSB)

This is comforting. But other translations seem to bring a closer laser bead on what exactly the Psalmist is turning his eyes from:

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty:
neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. (KJV)

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. (ESV)

It seems as if the Psalmist is refusing to let his eyes get above his pay grade. As if there are matters beyond his rightful contemplation, things he just can’t grasp – and as if there is a holiness in refusing to try.

There is.

Only those who trust God, who trust his machinations behind the “curtain” of reality as it were, who trust him to keep turning the gears that we don’t even know exist, can fully quit trying to understand it all, can quit himself and live for today.

We’ve all got gears we’re trying to understand. Whether God will beat the cancer at the last minute. When the verdict will arrive. How on earth that crushing bill is ever going to get paid. When the spouse or child will finally come. Or come back.

I remember hearing a speaker several years ago who shared the story of asking God all these questions, and finally he felt God speak, “Enough. Stop looking over my shoulder and focus on being the man I want you to be.”

Maybe that’s all we need. To take our eyes off God’s business and bring it back down to our own.

When God is in a Simple Camping Trip

If you’re wondering where I was Thursday when the time came to do a blog post…what? You didn’t notice. Oh, well. That’s ok.

Anyway, I was camping. Took four guys and hiked eleven miles into a nearby wilderness area. It’s a terrific wilderness, really, compared to the nearby Glacier Park; far fewer regulations, far fewer tourists, bigger group sizes and no campsite reservations required. (Also, it’s not currently on fire.)

But the fun part was seeing God in it.

There were all kinds of little blessings. For one, there was practically no smoke in the drainage we were inhabiting for three days. The double-cliff bluffs above us were there for the eye-gazing in all their God-given glory, and there were no breathing problems.

For another, I already knew the area because circumstances two weeks earlier had redirected a friend and I to camp there. (That, too, was an excellent trip.) That ended up being an enormous benefit when our original hike (in the park) was snuffed out by evacuation-worthy fires.

We saw a bear and a moose; the moose was trotting across the road as we drove out, but the bear we saw on the trail, darting across a mere 100 feet ahead. It’s unbelievable how something that size can move so quickly. I’d like to say it was a grizzly because that’s a cooler story, and I did get the impression of a humped back, but I couldn’t really tell.

A couple of hiking mishaps (broken pack straps, etc.) were averted by the engineering knowledge of two of our guys and the screwdriver that I’d happened to bring. I initially started packing it to make sure my gun holster stayed tight instead of spinning around on my belt leaving the barrel looking up at me, but it came in handy for different reasons here. Funny how things end up working.

Did I mention the trip happened to come at the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower? We spotted a few great fireballs as we retired to bed for the evening.

But I think my favorite part was the answered healing prayer. My right knee was acting up the entire time, leaving me reliant on Advil, which had the ability to knock the pain down from a 7/10 to a 2/10 but still didn’t leave me very trustworthy of the knee. The four guys said a prayer for me and in the morning, the pain was entirely gone. Even the 2/10 was gone. I didn’t feel a twinge the rest of the trip.

This really blew me away, honestly. I’ve been on a lot of trips and outings where I or someone else had a bugaboo, we’ve prayed, and nothing improved. Seeing my knee healed this time (though the Advil was enough to control the pain) was another reminder of the cynicism I’ve developed towards seeing God come through, of how my “theology of suffering” (the very good Biblical philosophy of how not all prayers answered and we shouldn’t be focused there anyway) might be a little too well-honed.

Perhaps the positive answers to prayer (there have been others lately) is because my attitude towards God has hit a new tier of improvement lately. I posted a while ago about getting past that “mad with God” thing. It’s a hard thing to get past, partially because it’s so hard to diagnose; we don’t dare walk around being consciously and openly mad at God because we know it’s blasphemy. Yet when life “bumps” us, it will surface. Often only then.

So I’ve focused on releasing annoyance towards God over the bad things that have come my way in this life (my family, for instance). It makes a difference. Not just answers to prayer, but levels of daily peace. I recommend it.

Anyway. Just a quick tale on how good even a simple camping trip can be when God gets involved. I’d been worried about it. It felt opposed. Fire activity in the area has made everything uncertain, and several guys I’d invited had been forced to drop out. But we went with the company we could, and it was an absolute blast. Praise God.

Don’t Let Satan Win Twice

desertI love the entire Scripture, but I’ve always been especially partial to the book of Hebrews. It’s partially because I long for a close, approachable relationship with the Father, and it’s (in part) the book of Hebrews that taught me to seek that, taught me that God himself seeks it.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way opened for us through the curtain of His body, and since we have a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold resolutely to the hope we confess, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

Let us draw near.

And if you know God wants something, it’s a good bet that Satan opposes it.

We know God wants our righteousness. We know Satan opposes that. Some corners of the church are bizarrely allergic to teaching this heavenly priority to their congregations, instead preferring endless “power and promises” stuff that keeps butts in pews. But it’s not about living your best life now. It’s about growing up, becoming more like God. I’m grateful for a church whose teaching pastors stand on this, who speak unabashedly about our call to righteousness and aren’t particularly concerned who might be walking out the doors because of it.

But another important matter is what we do once we sin. Because we will, and we’ll need to know how to handle it postmortem.

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Having Abundance Takes…Contentment?

abundanceAt some point, we have all probably quoted this verse to encourage ourselves:

I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

We might have mis-quoted it, too. The context of this passage is not declaring the ability to do anything you want to do, but the ability to handle what God wants you to do:

…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content — whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. (4:11b-12)

The context reveals that contentment, not abundance, is the goal for the Christian (and is honestly the more impressive trait anyway).

So if you ever launched out on some project without consulting God, then wondered why it faceplanted even though you read this verse, that might be your explanation: the verse doesn’t suggest you can do just anything. It’s about glorifying God, both his power in you and his purposes for you (desirable or otherwise).

But you know what gets me about this verse?

The idea that you would have to be content in abundance.

Because the verse implies that Paul needed contentment in both abundance and need.

Like, why on earth would Paul need contentment in abundance? I ask myself. You’d think that’s where you wouldn’t need contentment. Just sit back and enjoy the good life, for as long as it lasts.

But Paul experiences otherwise, and it seems to suggests two things.

One has to do with that pesky “as long as it lasts” tag: the good life is not entrenched. Fortunes come and go, sometimes triggered by the most trivial and frustrating events. Jesus had some bad news for the guy in Luke 12 who upgraded his barns and decided to eat, drink, and be merry. All things in this life are transitory.

And that leads to the second truth: abundance does not bring contentment. Anyone who thinks it does, has probably never had abundance. Or has taken it for granted.

When I worked on the reservation years ago, many of my students had their eyes fixed unwaveringly on attaining abundance. Get more money, they reasoned, and life would be better. They weren’t entirely wrong. Poverty was a real problem and causing genuine pain in their lives. I could sympathize; there had been a time when I, too, was living paycheck to paycheck.

But having come from off the reservation where the median income was higher, I could tell my students that being better off wasn’t making anyone particularly happy. It just made you want more. Get a nice middle-class home and your middle-class conversations shift to how awesome those big homes up on the hill must be. Attain that level and the conversations turn to the architecturally fancy mansions up on the mountain. Each step you take up the socioeconomic ladder, you build a lifestyle that sucks up everything you have. And on and on it goes. Someone’s always got a bigger boat.

Paul could have been talking about either one of these things when he referenced having to be content, of all things, in all things. You either want more, or you end up tightening your grip on what you have, out of worry.

I want neither existence. Chasings after the wind, both of them. I want peace today, and God. More of him. Paul got that, and he spends his epistles swearing up and down that it’s the best thing ever.

If wealth increases, pay no attention to it. (Psalm 62:10b)

Today, if you’re having trouble being grateful for what you have, I heard a question once that rocked my world: “What would you lose if God were to remove everything from your life tomorrow that you hadn’t given thanks for today?”

4 Ways to Travel-Proof Your Child’s Faith

travelproofAs a youth worker with ten years of experience, I’ve known the pain of watching my students lose their faith.

Sometimes it’s on them; they just decide it’s more interesting to live the way they want. But sometimes the loss looks more akin to theft, being snatched away by the brutal realities of life after high school. They “get out into the world” and quickly find themselves mired in a slog of doubt, and the strength needed to wade through is rare.

As I’ve prayed over and grieved these friends, I’ve seen their struggles fall into categories. This is encouraging, as naming the battleground is half the battle. These are categories that many youth groups address with all their might, but there simply is no substitute for a parent’s influence.

I humbly offer some brief thoughts on these categories.

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