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I Want to Know How

I’m working on listening

I talked with three men this week who all had the same question. They asked it in different ways but when you boil it down, they were all seeking the same thing. “How do I love my wife?” They were all sincerely motivated and had put lots of energy into their relationships. They actually thought the relationship was going okay until the day their wives announced they were unhappy and disappointed in the marriage.
When they heard the announcement, they were confused and the more their wives described what was wrong the more confused they got. They heard things like:
• I put more into this relationship than you do.
• You don’t seem to really care about our marriage.
• I feel like I have gotten lost while you have continued to grow. I don’t really know who I am any more.
• I can’t really trust you.
• You care more about everyone else than you do me.
On the surface, none of these things were true of these men. They cared deeply for their families. They valued their wives greatly. They would willingly die for these women who seemed to have lost sight of their loyalty. To say the least, they were frustrated. They were trying hard but were not making progress. The crisis along with the failure of their attempts had their attention and they wanted to know what they could do that would work.
Crisis moments often do this for us. The difficult seasons cause us to either call out for wisdom or cut and run. King David discovered this in Psalm 51. It was one of the darkest parts of his journey. He had messed up with Bathsheba and lost his bearings as he led her husband to his death. The son born from the sexual union was deathly ill. From a broken heart, he cried out, “Have mercy on me, O God . . . Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (v. 1-2) He also cried out, “. . . grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways.” (12-13) When things are out of sync, we need a willing spirit to learn new ways doing things.
We had a fruitful conversation about the way women build trust. We talked about the fact that women tend to connect all the parts of their lives together and that their lives are always changing. As a result, the question they ask most often is, “Is it safe to be who I am today around you?” I explained that some days Pam is the most reasonable person I have ever met. Some days she is the most intense woman I have ever met. Other days, there is a no fly zone at our home where I shelve important issues and only say things like, “You are the most amazing woman I have ever met.” The light came on for each of these men when I said, “If you meet the security need first, everything else is easier.”
Of course the next question was, “How can we do that?” It will take some work but they all committed to (1) Grow as a person. Not because it will win her back but because it is the right thing to do. (2) Practice listening with curiosity rather than correction. (3) Ask the Holy Spirit regularly, “Tell me what to say and what to do. Also, tell me what not to say or do.” When a new thought crosses your mind that you know is better than what you would have come up with on your own, do it.
I knew we hit pay dirt when one of them blurted out, “Oh, that’s what she has been trying to say.”

Speak Their Language

I was walking to dinner last night at family camp when I got into a funny conversation with a four-year old boy.
“What did you do today?” I asked.
“We saw crabs on the beach by the big rock.”
“Wow, I bet that was fun.”
“Yeah, some of them were dead and we saw crab legs.”
“Crab legs, really?”
“Yeah, crabs need their legs to walk.”
“Well, how does a crab walk?” I asked hoping to get some kind of a funny demonstration.
Instead, he said, “They walk like karate.”
Needless to say, I was confused. I had no idea what karate had to do with crabs on the beach. I must have had a perplexed look on my face because his dad quickly explained to me that in his karate class they do crab walks as part of their warm up routine. Dad understood immediately because he spoke the same language.  I needed to have it explained to me in terms I could understand because I hadn’t been exposed to their world.
This is the same thing God does for us. He lives in a world we have yet to experience and He speaks a language we have yet to learn. He has initiated a relationship with us and has an adventurous plan for each of us to walk. He longs to communicate it with us but He cannot just spout it off in terms He understands but are foreign to us. This thought caused me to look at Psalm 34 a little different this morning. We are in this glorious partnership with God where He is orchestrating a plan that spans all of time and into eternity. It contains intricacies that infiltrate every culture at every point in history. If He was to give us the whole plan, it would be overwhelming but He wants us to be fully involved. He, therefore, gives us action words so we will know what to do even when we don’t know the why or how it is connected with the rest of the plan. Notice all the action words given to describe our part in the grand scheme:

  • 8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
  • 9 Fear  the LORD, you his holy people,
  • 10 . . . seek  the LORD . . .
  • 13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
  • 14 Turn  from evil and do good;
  • 17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;

All these actions keep  us moving forward closer to the next discovery in our journey. We will never  have all the answers to all our questions about life, purpose, and the future.  We can, however, keep progressing because God will keep describing our part in  our language. Today I thank God for four-year olds who find crab legs on the  beach.

Simple Steps

I heard Tony Evans speak on Sunday night. He is one of those Bible Teachers who stirs my heart every time I hear him. He was explaining what it means that we are body, soul and spirit. Prior to knowing Jesus, the spirit in us is dead so all I have to work with is my body and soul. When I trusted in Christ as my savior I was “born again” (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23) which means the spirit comes alive and was planted in my soul as a seed that began to grow. He then said, “The soul tells the body what to do and, as it grows, the spirit tells the soul what to do.” It was one of those statements that stuck in my brain and has captured my thinking since. Almost immediately I began to ask, “If the spirit needs to grow in order to tell the soul what to do so it can give healthy instructions to my body (the five senses that interact with my world), what can I do to encourage growth in my spirit?” I know that spiritual growth requires the power of the Holy Spirit and that yielding to the Spirit is a big part of the process but I have discovered there are always simple steps we can take as people to set the stage. I found clues to what those steps are in Psalm 27 this morning.
Choose to focus on what is true (v. 1). “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” The truth is, and always will be, that God gives me direction (light) that is right, stability that can never be shaken (salvation), and safety in his presence (stronghold). A review of these truths creates an environment where fear is uncomfortable.
Search for God even though I know he is close by (v. 4, 8). “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.” “My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek.” David was a very responsible man who could never afford to hang around the temple all day gazing. What he is trying to say is that religious activity is different than seeking to be connected to God himself. He wanted to have the urgency of looking for something that was hidden but necessary to life. I am amazed at how focused I can be when I have misplaced my car keys. I know they are in the house but they I can’t see them so I search and search again. I retrace my steps and ask anyone else who is in the house. I suspend other activities and put enormous energy into the pursuit to find what is close to me but just out of reach. When I finally connect with my keys, a sense of victory arises within me that calms everything. In the same way, we are called to seek God. We know he is near but there is great value in the pursuit and calmness in the capture.
Rejoice regardless of how I feel (v. 6). “. . . at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy.” Joy is presented as a sacrifice we give in honor of who God is. If I want to feed my spirit, I will shout for joy when God gives victory. I will sing for joy when God gives comfort. I will express joy when God brings provision and guidance. I will also choose to rejoice when circumstances don’t work out to my liking, when things appear to be bleak, or when people who don’t deserve it appear to prosper. I will celebrate even in these moments because nothing changed with God. He is still the King of Kings and Ruler of the universe. He is still the Savior of the world and the Son of God. He still works all things together for good (Romans 8:28) and keeps His promises. The only thing in question is timing. I will cheer because God will lead me in victory, I just don’t know how long the contest lasts.
I will wait for the Lord (v. 14). This is the hardest one for me even though I am convinced it is necessary. I like it when the path is clear and I can run at full speed. It is much harder for me when the path is foggy and the command is to wait and just remain faithful to what I already know. Intellectually, I know it is always best to wait for God to sound the charge but I like to press forward. If I want my spirit to grow, I need to be ready at all times to move when he calls to action and I need to be just as ready to be content with the routine work of today.
Lord, as I work on these simple steps, please energize the spirit you have placed inside of me so my soul will instruct my body to engage in healthy pursuits.

Satisfaction

My granddaughter is one of my best teachers. Yesterday, she  approached me with one simple word, “Poppa.” She called to me because she wanted my attention. We talked about silly things and whatever we could see off the balcony of our house. We even played the simplest game of “I Spy” I have ever been a part of. You know how the game is supposed to be played. One person says, “I spy something green.” The other person then looks around and begins guessing. Instead, my granddaughter shouted out, “I spy a tree!” I then responded, “I spy a house.” And on it went. After a little while, she walked away content that all things were right in her world.

Haystack Rock,

The realization hit me that this is what our devotional life is all about. We spend enough time with God to renew our sense of well-being and contentment. We can’t fix everything in our lives and we certainly cannot control all the circumstances that affect us. We can, however, rediscover the source of strength every day. This is why words like those found in Psalm 16 resonate in our souls. God is the daily source of satisfaction in our lives and every time we remind ourselves of this truth, His peace and stability rise within us.

  • He is our place of safety – “In you I take refuge.1 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.5
  • He is what is good in us – “apart from you I have no good thing.2
  • He is our hope for the future – “surely I have a delightful inheritance.6
  • He is our greatest consultant – “I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.7
  • He is our greatest source of courage – “With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.8
  • He knows your purpose in life – “You make known to me the path of life.11
  • His presence makes us feel better – “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.11
  • In a world that is frustrating and irritating world, this is good news. If you are a thinking person, you are going to realize on a daily basis that things are not right in this world. The evidence of the fall of mankind is everywhere. Our homes take enormous amounts of work just to keep them clean and weed free. Our jobs require great focus and endurance. Our health deteriorates quickly unless we diligently exercise and manage our diets. Public policy seeks to justify human passions at every turn so that holding back evil is a constant pursuit. In a world like this, we all need a way to daily rejuvenate our perspective and renew our hope. My granddaughter reminded me that a little time with Jesus is enough to put contentment back in my soul.

    Avoiding Personal Earthquakes

    1971 – The Biggest Earthquake I Experienced

    “Whoever does these things will never be shaken.” (Psalm 15:5) I stopped when I read these words this morning. I live in Southern California where earthquakes are a regular part of our conversations. To be honest, they don’t happen very often. I have lived in the state for decades and have only experienced 3 that are worth talking about. Compared to tornadoes, torrential rain and subzero temperatures that occur every year in other parts of the world, these earth tremors are rare. When a big earthquake hits, however, it gets your attention in a hurry and it can do a lot of damage in a short period of time. In a minute, life can go from calm and peaceful to rattled and falling apart.
    The same is true of my personal life. If I live carelessly or proud, I am setting myself up for the sudden onset of a personal earthquake that has the potential to destroy everything I have worked hard to establish. The news is replete with these stories from Dominique Straus-Kahn to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Anthony Weiner. And there will be more this week because the media loves stories of destruction. We all get caught up in these stories because the possibility of making similar choices resides in all of us. That is why the statement “they will never be shaken,” jumped out at me. So what are “these things?”

    • Live with conviction. “The one whose walk is blameless.” (v. 2) This doesn’t mean we never make mistakes. It does mean, however, that we are committed to live according to our value system and we have the courage to ask if that value system is true. It has been the habit of the human race to make up values as we go and to collect teachers who tell us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear. Solid living looks for the truth that produces righteousness not just rules that give freedom to our passions.
    • Speak with honor. “. . . whose tongue utters no slander.” (v. 3) Our words always reveal what is in our hearts. If you truly love God and love people, you will speak about them with honor, respect, and compassion. You will certainly fight for what is best in people’s lives but you will do so with a dignity that communicates the value of life. You will avoid abusive words, insults, and fabrications that extend your position. It is amazing the hatred that gets expressed by people toward those they disagree with. It is also amazing the peace God can give that guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7) in the midst of a trembling world.
    • Take a moral stand. “. . . who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the LORD.” (v. 4) There is a right and wrong. There is evil and good. People’s choices do matter and we will all give an account for our lives someday before a righteous and compassionate God. These are truths that stand even though people try to explain them away. We are moral creatures and every choice we make changes the condition of our hearts. Those who choose to live with moral excellence will experience circumstantial trouble in an immoral world but internally they will be like a tree firmly planted who can withstand any storm. (Psalm 1)
    • Keep commitments. “ . . . who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their minds.” (v. 4) This one almost needs no explanation. Sometimes our commitments feel good and offer great personal satisfaction. Sometimes they are hard and personally painful. They are not conveniences, however, they are commitments. They are not vacations, they are vows. Rock solid people never settle for flimsy agreements, we make pledges we intend to keep regardless of the cost involved.
    •  Remain compassionate. “. . . who lends money to the poor without interest.” (v. 5) We recognize there are legitimate needs in our world and there are oppressed people who are taken advantage of by the system. We certainly do not want to feed the selfish who use the system to avoid personal responsibility but we also don’t ever want to lose concern for those in our world who truly need what we can provide.

    This list is so simple, straightforward, and sensible it is a wonder it is even under dispute. Jesus said some people would build on sand while others build on solid ground. I for one would rather build on the rock.

    The Probe

    Yesterday was one of those funky days. You know, the kind of day where everything just seemed off. I couldn’t quite get my schedule together. I couldn’t quite get focused. I couldn’t quite find the rhythm at which I run the best. I did what I needed to do but everything seemed difficult and I was tired all day. Because I like to be productive, I asked the question all day, “What is going on?” but never got an answer. Then I woke this morning and started reading and everything seemed bland. I asked God, “Will you show me something this morning that will make today different from yesterday?” I was just about to give up on the notion that I would find something to either inspire me or reorient my focus when two passages came together. It was like a flashback where Psalm 12:6-8 reached back and grabbed Psalm 7:9.
    In a moment, I realized why I had been out of sorts yesterday. I had become acutely aware of the downside of life and it grew heavy on my soul. The reality is that God “probes the minds and hearts” of people. (Psalm 7:9) When he takes this piercing look, he sees exactly what is going on. That is where Psalm 12 came in. Everyone on earth has one of two focuses. They either honor what is vile (v. 8 ) or they embrace words that have been tested. (v. 6)
    Most of us, I suppose, will think of obvious evil when we read the phrase, “what is vile is honored by the human race.” David had a much more common understanding. Notice the activities that drew him to this conclusion in Psalm 12.

    • “No on is faithful anymore.” (v. 1) People had made commitments they no longer kept. They had vowed to follow God, love their spouses and honor contracts but somewhere along the path loyalty got lost.
    • They “harbor deception in their hearts.” (v. 2) Somehow, lying to one another became an accepted community practice. Neighbors lied to neighbors. Leaders used dishonesty to drive agendas. Family members manipulated one another rather than work out healthy partnerships.
    • Boasting was seen as a position of strength. “By our tongues we will prevail.” (v. 4) While they were talking how about great they were, legitimate needs were being ignored. The poor were being taken advantage of. Real needs were being maligned so the truly needy were groaning rather than getting help. Those who had lost compassion were proclaiming victory.

    As I took all this in, I realized why I had been in a funk yesterday. I was weary from hearing about the faithlessness, deception and pride of the human race. I saw it at a national level in too many reports and I saw it at a personal level in too many homes.
    Fortunately, there is a better way. “The words of the LORD are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.” (Psalm 12:6) The thinking of the world system may be off but those who cultivate a working knowledge of the bible find information that has been extensively tested and proven to be effective. It is not subject to the whims of men or the winds of history. It is true today and it will be true tomorrow. All who base their thinking and decisions on this rock will stand firm, seek righteousness, and serve others. They will confidently do so because it has been established. Like gold or silver that has been through the heat and made pure, God’s words have shown themselves to be the genuine article. In the midst of the faithlessness I saw, I was reminded that there are many who have committed to live by time-tested truth no matter what is going on in the world around them.
    Today as I read the news, relate to others, and regulate my schedule I believe my focus is going to be more on the truth that cannot be toppled rather than on the schemes of people who can never ultimately succeed.

    True Riches

    Prosperity is a very normal human desire. Part of being healthy and productive is cultivating a strategy for gaining the necessary resources to provide for yourself, your loved ones and the causes you care about. King David was wrestling with this very question in Psalm 4, “Many, LORD, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’” (v. 6) In seeking the answer to this question, David reminded himself and all who read his words that prosperity is about more than money.  A truly prosperous person has developed certain personal traits in his life that cause not only his career to grow but enhances all of his relationships at the same time.
    Prosperous people are aware of the presence of God. “Let the light of your face shine on us.” (v. 6) When things are going really well and your personal resources are abundant, it is easy to grow proud and self-sufficient. An awareness of God’s company promotes humility. No matter how much you have, it is not very much compared to the infinite riches of God. Since pride is the number one source of failure in men’s lives, having God as your friend increases your ability to handle prosperity. On the other hand, when things are not going well and resources are limited, the temptation to resort to desperate measures increases. It is comforting to know that God has your back. He is there in the journey and at the right time will provide the opportunities you need.
    Prosperous people have an unquenchable joy in their hearts. David’s prayer was “Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.” (v. 7) When people around him were gathering an abundance of crops and experiencing great financial gain, he wanted God to give him joy. He has seen enough people gain riches only to be miserable in their success. He had watched King Saul lead the nation but live in suspicion and depression. He noticed that the wealthy grew weary of the constant demands placed upon them. He had reached the conclusion that being able to say, “I can be satisfied with much or little because the issues of my heart are taken care of,” was the greatest treasure on earth.
    Prosperous people sleep peacefully. “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (v. 8 ) Fear is our greatest enemy. It robs us of rest, confidence, energy and focus. It is only Tuesday but already this week I have encountered people who are afraid of being abandoned, being taken advantage of, dying, losing their homes, never being happy, not having control, and being inadequate for their responsibility. The people who wrestle with these fears expend enormous amounts of energy worrying, manipulating, talking with others, researching and complaining. Even though they are exhausted they don’t sleep well. A fatigue cycle sets in that eventually limits their ability to be successful and strategically focused. People who have found peace sleep well and tend to be more productive with their waking hours. Not only do they fret less but they produce more.
    Like you, I want to be effective at making a living. I want to cultivate an environment in my life that gives me the best chance to provide well for the people I love. It was a good reminder today that this environment includes an acute awareness of God’s presence, joy that goes beyond circumstances and peace in my heart that allows me to sleep well. Bring it on!