Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Steps of Abraham

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

And Abraham got all his ducks in a row and went out.  Nowhere is that written.  Then I’ll go out; then I’ll move.  Nope.  We don’t operate that way.  Having the ducks lined up would be proof; would be safety, would be easier.  God doesn’t operate that way.  Convinced of the call we’re moving forward.

“And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”  It’s that step-by-step thing.  God only gave Abraham enough information to get him to move.  There is a sense that we are doing the right thing.  The wife grew up in that house.  It’s her old stomping ground.  It’s alien territory to me.  

We’re moving in with my mother-in-law to provide her support.  We are moving west, from desert to ocean, big house to shared house, wide open space to elbow-room, desert quiet to city hustle, five restaurants to a million eateries.

Looking backward one can see the closed doors. There was the church small group that wouldn’t materialize—though we talked to pastors and placed phone calls. An odd loosing of personal connections. There’s been a gentle severing of ties to all but our closest of friends. One wonders if doors closed for Abraham or if he just woke up one day and shut them himself.

Though the call be from God the sweat required is ours. The house has to be boxed; storage planned, some storage rented.  We have to find jobs in the new location.  Then the actual move.

It can be overwhelming.  Did Abraham’s thoughts whirl in his head in the middle of the night?  Did hearing the call and knowing the Caller make a difference?  For Abraham, it was still a step-by-step process.  So it is for me. “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me, He was a stranger in this land, and I am that, no less than he.”  The same star and same God that created them is the same God that led Abraham. The not-knowing is unsettling. The following is part of a grand adventure.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Some Tools To Battle Anxiety

Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?...Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 

Anxiety: apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill. 18% of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders.  One out of every 5 people you know—and everybody that I know.  We all experience anxiety.  We experience it in different degrees with different reactions.  For some, panic attacks completely debilitate.  I want to turn and run. How do we deal with it? 

The issue is doubly troubling for a Christian.  We’re told (commanded, not encouraged), “Be anxious for nothing.”  We are not to fret, fear or be anxious.  If for no other reason than the one given by John Piper---our anxiety makes God look bad (a lack of trust in His consistent goodness towards us).

Problems at work have me afraid of being fired.  Of failing.  Of not performing well in other’s eyes.  I have friends walking through similar experiences. What am I learning?  How to best walk through this?

It’s a perception problem.  Perhaps the data isn’t being interpreted correctly. Like Elisha’s servant what I perceive as reality isn’t correct. I am reminded of the words of Jim Elliott, “Remember that the shadow a thing casts often far exceeds the size of the thing itself (especially if the light be low on the horizon) and though some future fear may strut brave darkness as you approach, the thing itself will be but a speck when seen from beyond. Oh, that He would restore us often with that 'aspect from beyond,' to see a thing as He sees it, to remember that He dealeth with us as with sons.” 

I see the problem but don’t allow for a solution. Years ago, in the midst of my divorce my car died on me.  I needed a car and had little money.  Enter anxiety. The local dealership had a used Saturn with manual transmission that nobody wanted to buy.  I ended up with a vehicle in better shape than the one I’d had.

The feeling isn’t the reality.  In overwhelming circumstances, we feel a gut- wrenching urge to puke.  We feel terror.  Simon Sinek tells how Olympic athletes when interviewed are always asked, “Were you nervous?”  Categorically they respond, “No.”  They all said, “No, I’m not nervous. I’m excited.”  Because they interpret the feelings typically identified as nervousness as excitement.  

Adjusting perception, trusting God for solutions and walking through the feelings are small actions to reduce anxiety.  Like most disciplines it’s a mental battle.  One I can fight today.  As Jesus said, “…Tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 

Friday, January 13, 2017

When God Is Difficult To See

Yosemite’s webcam feed was white with slight color around the edges.  Half Dome hidden behind cloud, mist or fog.  A novice, unfamiliar with Yosemite, viewing the web-cam might decide that there wasn’t much to see.  A tourist dropped into that scene would never see the splendor the other side of the clouds if they left the park; would never experience the grandeur if they didn’t wait it out---if they refused to persevere. Psalm 23 might look like that if viewed through webcam.

The wife and I are walking through a valley right now.  We are a week out from her father’s passing.  Our jobs have been difficult this year so that we are stressed about them even off the clock. My bad work schedule means we don’t connect. God’s been difficult to see.  Like the webcam view; He’s visible around the edges. Peace is hard in coming. 

The whiteout condition doesn’t mean Half Dome and Yosemite falls don’t exist.  The anxiety in my chest is a response to what I perceive.  Mentally I meditate; “…Thou art with me.”  There is a trail ahead---though it looks like the mountain drops off.  For a minute the mist breaks---the traveler shouts, “There it is!”---as their view of the valley affirms what they knew to be true all along.  

Thursday, January 05, 2017

No Years Resolutions

So tell me why I should run for cover At the sound of the coming thunder All I hear is the cry of my lover So take your shot I won't turn back                                                                                            ---NeedToBreathe

 Seasons come with blessings too rich to count and trials that, if possible, push me into bed, under the covers to stay til safe to come out again.  The problem is that fully entering into life brings both the pain and the blessing.  They come at me side by side accompanied by each other.  I am forced to live life battling my fears, banking on my hope, “But hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?”

There are life’s question marks.  The death of my father-in law.  Miscellaneous stuff.  I drive to work with anxiety---assured I will get beat up.  Why fret?  I am a man loved by my wife, loved by my Jesus, by a daughter and by a rich circle of friends.  The anxiety comes.  I cling to bible verses.  I choose.  The new year’s resolutions help.

I’m doing it different.  No year’s resolutions.  Just January.  New goals in February. One month at a time.  Not doing a long list (though one exists). Mostly what I can carry in my brain.  Not doing the whole Bible in a year.  Just Matthew and Mark this month.  Not stressing about work-out goals.  Just trying to fit it in.  Not trying to get it all done.  Just moving in a direction.  Not perfection.  Just more Jesus.

Well I know what's right, I got just one life In a world that keeps on pushin' me around But I'll stand my ground and I won't back down                                            ---Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Friday, December 23, 2016

Finding Peace And Rest This Christmas

“When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem, buy Christmas cards, and presents for everyone, including some we hardly know.  Let’s put in extra hours with the sheep; for we will need extra money for celebrating.  So they came in a hurry (harried and tired) and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the Manger.”  We mirror this broken bible passage today.  In-between Christmas music, radio stations are playing songs like, “Worn,” and encouraging us to rest.  We hurry past the King in the manger on our way to celebrate.  We bypass the Sovereign one slipping past the simplicity of the story.

We are being seduced; “But I am afraid that, even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted and led away from the simplicity of [your sincere and] pure devotion to Christ.”  I’m guilty.  I do it with the Gospel adding law to a simplistic, “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Such simplicity; the easy burden Christ gives compared to that I choose to carry myself.

He carries the governments upon his shoulders.  He gives me an easy, shared, yoke to bear.  His request is an easy, “Follow me.”  Life is so cluttered with all the stuff I think I need.  Security and control.  Shepherds, wise-men, fishermen, tax-collectors and prostitutes gave up ‘me’ to follow.  Gave up herds and jobs; 401Ks and imagined security to follow the one whom, ‘emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.’

This angelic visit to the shepherds is a hat-tip to Moses whom God has called the most humble of men.  Its that humility that frames Jesus coming.  The attitude of Mary, the stable, the announcement to the shepherds and the response of those who recognized their spiritual poverty.  He became poor that we might become rich.  So they gave up themselves to find fullness and peace in Christ.  For the following is both intentional and simple. 

Simple in that we recognize we have nothing and He is fullness, “For in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form…”  Intentional because we give up self and seek to stay as close to Jesus as we can.  Only in that place can we find peace and rest.  For the control is truly never ours.  The grasping and holding tight never satisfy all our yearnings.  “He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself…” For there is born for you a Savior who is God Himself.  In His fullness and kingdom, we find rest.  This is Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2016

This Knowing Is Enough

I woke up from the dream in a sweat,  With the knowledge of evil and good  I looked at my own silhouette - it looked back with a bad attitude  You reached out to touch me  You reached out to touch me - I said it's too true:  You and me we know too much---Mark Heard, “We Know Too Much.”

 Some saints suffer greatly.  I read their stories.  For inspiration; for encouragement.  “The most inspiring testimonies are of those who have suffered deeply and found God to be faithful even in the pain,” says Laura Story who has herself suffered deeply.  Deep faith comes through difficult times. This knowing is knowing too much.  

I think too much. In my naivete; when I was even more naive than I am today, I thought God would simply answer prayer and change circumstances.  God would repair the relationship though it was me that was broken.  God would heal here instead of completely healing there.  God would give me a better job instead of chiseling me to fit the present one. 

Hardly holy.  Not character building nor caring. Still at some level I thought it so.  Wished it so. Lately I flip it all around the other way.  I muddle truth thinking God didn’t solve other’s problems (for character of course) and He won’t solve mine. 

My story is different.  My story isn’t the same as their story.  God works heart to heart; person to person, individual to individual.  God is about relationship. God is eternally fellowship, forever three-in-one. This I do know: God will work for fellowship with Him and goodness for me. God may change my circumstances. God may lead me into deep waters. 

This knowing is knowing enough.  Knowing God knows my frame.  Knowing that my story (and yours as well) will be uniquely written.  Knowing I am loved for me.  “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you…When you pass through the waters I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you, when you walk through the fire you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.”  This knowing is knowing enough; that I am eternally known.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Trophies and Thanks

I am reward driven.  We all are.  I’m like an Olympic athlete winning gold when Strava or Duolingo award me virtual trophies.  I run laps around the house.  My wife laughs at me for this. I experience reward in differing ways.  This morning I replaced a shower-head.  My reward; manliness (and better water pressure.)

A trophy isn’t always a reward.  I played on a baseball team as a child. Even bought a jockstrap!  I was small and afraid of the ball.  I didn’t care about the game.  My parents signed me up.  I played bench and far afield. At the end of the season each person on my team received an individual trophy.  I put that trophy up on my shelf.  I didn’t care about it.  It meant nothing to me. I’d not earned it.

I want that affirmation.  I want it in my marriage; “Thank you for taking out the trash." "Thank you for a lovely dinner.”  I want it at work, “Thank you for keeping the shelves stocked.”  I want it from my child.  I wanted it from my parents.

God knows we are wired this way for He promises reward.  Ultimately, we shall hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”  Sometimes doing the good thing, the right thing, the self-dying thing needs greater motivation than being the right thing.  One needs affirmation.

If I want it—and need it maybe others want and need it also.  That’s something I will consider and work on.  It seems a little thing this giving of affirmation.  Plenty are rewarded for keeping the bench warm.  How do I affirm those that are invested in the game?

Thank you for visiting the blog (even if you didn’t invest in a jockstrap).

Monday, November 28, 2016

Finding Rest And Finding God

Finding rest is hard work.  Your mind and flesh will fight against you.  First you must overcome inertia; leave comfort and the known.  I had to return a bunch of phone calls from home this morning.  I have to fix a leaking shower head.  I want to hang Christmas lights.  Instead I got in the car to go hike.

Enroute my body told me it craves a hamburger.  I’d eaten lunch; didn’t need food.  I told it I would feed it later.  Once on the trail there came the jumble of thoughts.  I’d come to rest.  I’d come to just be; to experience time with Jesus.  The mind fights that.

Rest isn’t a thing the mind does readily.  Amusement—yes; the 10 hours the average American spends in screen time.  Quiet resting though is a discipline.  I found myself praying for stuff; planning my vacations, blocking out my work week.  I had to actively bring thought back to God; to meditation, to quiet the hum. 

I don’t think the rattle of thoughts is a bad thing.  Perhaps it calls attention to the state of your heart.  Having set aside being busy at home my mind was trying to busy itself with thought.  I found I had to focus on the now.  I told my lungs to breathe deep.  I stood beside a pool and noticed moisture on the sides of the bank; the dry leaves still clinging for it hadn’t been wet enough to wash them downward.  The thoughts continued as I strove to order them.

I saw no visions.  I didn’t find the perfect zone.  Still it’s amazing that as thinking creatures we can seek stillness---that we can wrestle with thought and gray matter to bring it into a place of quiet.  To order our thoughts around meditation and quiet; to focus on God and to listen for Him---and to Him.  Still most amazing is that an infinite God reveals Himself; and allows Himself to be found.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Resting Is Hard Work

I miss backpacking.  I miss the naps.  Miles on the trail.  Then camp set-up.  Some gorp.  Then the search for the perfect granite slab to spread out on.  Sweat cooled on my body.  The sun hot above; a cool breeze to mediate.  Secure on the rock.  Work done.  Free to enjoy a perfect nap---without stress.

Today that kind of rest eludes me.  I’m honing in on the foxes---the ones ruining the vineyard.  Here’s a partial list: Social media news knowing and keeping abreast; I-shoulds (spending time with blank, working on the house); blogging and writing; exercise.  This isn’t to say I don’t have time to relax; to enjoy coffee on the porch or a good book.  But there’s a niggling; a call to a real rest, deep to deep; Sabbath healing.

When living in The Valley I carved out time on Thanksgiving to be alone with God.  Off a curving canyon road there lay large boulders; behind you the mountain, below Pacific Coast Highway, miles of shoreline and an expanse of blue ocean stretching out to eternity.  I’d go and just sit.  Pray.  Maybe think; maybe not.

I’m working six days this week; squeezing in Thanksgiving and Friday off.  Downtime with family will be great as always but quiet soul feeding won’t be happening.  I’m off Monday too.  I’m set on getting in a bike-ride or a hike.  To cultivate soul quiet.  To think; to process, to plan and dream---or not.  Perhaps to just be---still.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Five Ways The Psalms Give Strength For The Battles We Fight

"Up, God! My God, help me! Slap their faces,
First this cheek, then the other,
Your fist hard in their teeth!Real help comes from God. Your blessing clothes your people!"
Deliverance, shield, shelter, safety, bloodshed, night-watch, sighing, death and Sheol.  The Psalms were written for the trenches.  Warfare; not peacetime.  Physical, mental and spiritual warfare. 

We have little control over life. We are afflicted; in need of deliverance from a sickness or situation too strong for us.  We are needy; people and life rob us of what little we have.  Seasons stretch personal limits to breaking.  Trials show up announced.  The body reacts; stress breaks down.  Stir sick and elderly parents into the mix; some stress into the mix, churn in some daughter drama and a little financial pressure and hope diminishes.  At home.  Abroad.  Big world.

The Psalms give words to our frustration.  Here are five ways the Psalms give strength for the battles we fight:

Positive purpose: “For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined…We went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us into a place of abundance.”

Character development: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle…”  “Who may dwell on Your holy hill?  He who walks with integrity…and speaks truth in his heart.  He does not slander…He swears to his own hurt…He does not take a bribe against the innocent.  He who does these things will never be shaken.”

Mental Attitude (positive prayer/self-talk): “Why are you in despair, O my soul?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence…I will bless the Lord who has counselled me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.  I have set the Lord continually before me…”

Coming conqueror: “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep….Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Transcendent hope: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;surely I have a delightful inheritance….You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Let us persevere with the picture that opens the book of Psalms.  That of a strong tree secure through the winds of life; “ He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”