• Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 128 other followers

Closing in on Contentment

It seems the more we progress, the harder it is to be content. We have better televisions, better phones and better appliances than we have ever had. We have better modes of transportation than any generation before us. We have technological advantages that seemed like science fiction just a few years ago. I was reflecting yesterday just how connected I am to my sons even though they all live in different states. Just to give you one example, I was disappointed that I was going to miss one of my youngest son’s college football games while he was playing against his older brother’s alma mater. I was going to be driving from Western Indiana to Louisville, Kentucky at game time. But, I have a cellular broadband card for my laptop. I was able to connect to the internet while Pam drove on the freeway and I watched the game at 65 miles per hour. It was awesome but it created a whole new level of expectation. I now fight disappointment any time I miss a game because they are all projected on the internet.
I am also amused how impatient I have become with computer issues. It was not long ago that the internet was just a topic of discussion. Now it has become an expectation of constant and immediate connection with anyone at any time. Rather than marvel at the advancement and remain patient with the problem-solving, I find myself irritated and stressed over processes that were not even possible a couple of years ago.
The details have changed but the struggle is nothing new. The book of Haggai begins with a similar scenario. The people of Israel had focused on pulling their lives together. They had built homes and businesses. They had their city functioning well and their needs were being addressed. Contentment, however, was elusive. “You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” (v. 6) The point of the chapter is that Israel could not find the contentment they were looking for because their priorities were out of focus. There was nothing wrong with their houses, their food, their clothes or their professional pursuits. The problem was they were ignoring the fact that the spiritual foundation of their nation was in disrepair. The temple, referred to as the house of God, was unusable because it was in shambles. ““Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (v. 4) They couldn’t find contentment because the issues of the heart were being ignored.
This creates quite a challenge for me, my family and my friends. Every advancement is a potential distraction from the real source of life. It is easy to rely on social networking, virtual research and computer-driven processes to meet the needs of our lives. It is much harder to value the simple skills of personal devotions, quiet times of prayer, personal reflection and simple conversations with family and friends when life is filled with impressive gadgets. It is not an either or scenario. God never told the Israelites to get rid of their houses or the advantages in their lives. He simply reminded them to do first things first, which is the secret to contentment.
Lord, give us wisdom in the coming year to recognize the priority of things as we are inundated with new possibilities.

Objectively Subjective

“My eighteen year old daughter asked me, ‘How can I tell if a young man I am interested in is the man I ought to marry?’ What would you tell her?” I was curious to know how serious the relationship was so I hesitated in answering. It was quite possible the daughter was in an unhealthy relationship and her dad was looking for ammunition to get her away from a current young man. It was also possible this was a sincere question from an emerging young lady. This concerned dad must have seen what he thought was confusion on my part because he asked me, “Is there even an answer to the question or am I just on my own to figure it out?”
I shared with him that there are both objective and subjective factors to consider. On the objective side, there are character issues to look at. I encouraged him to have his daughter make a list of the traits she was looking for in a man she would consider spending her life with. There are numerous passages in the Bible that discuss the importance of personal character. Ephesians 5 is one such passage that encourages each of us to pursue the following convictions:
• Persistent love. “Walk in the ways of love, just as Christ loved us.” (v. 2) This is the kind of love that willingly sacrifices and looks out for the best interests of others. It is not, “I love because I want something from you.” It is, “I love because that is who I am.”
• Moral excellence. “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” (v. 3) People who can be trusted for a lifetime have the powerful passions of their life under control. It is not that we want our desires and drive in life numbed. We just want to have the forces of our life focused on healthy, encouraging, productive activities rather than selfish gratification.
• Ethical encouragement. “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (v. 4) The Holy Spirit who is in us has a positive attitude and looks for ways to build others up. Words are either powerful allies or destructive weapons and we must each decide how we are going use them.
• Committed to truth. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” (v. 8 ) When we meet Jesus, we encounter the source of truth and we get exposed to everything that is true about life. If we are going to be consistent in our relationship with Him, we will seek to apply truth to our lives on a regular basis.
This is a short list of the type of character God is trying to build in us. The list can certainly get so long that no one can ever measure up, but it is helpful to identify key character traits that make for healthy relationships. Then ask the questions, “Am I growing in these areas myself?” and “Am I willing to wait for someone who is also growing in these areas?”
The pursuit doesn’t stop with the objective list, however. We all have subjective preferences that include personality, body type, sense of humor, sense of purpose, career pursuit and social interest. I encourage young people to boldly identify these subjective preferences because they are a big part of what attracts us to other people. When the objective list and the subjective list converge in a relationship, we have strong confidence it has what it takes to build a life together. Of course, there are no 100 percent guarantees in any relationship because we are confronted with significant decisions every year that have the power to alter our lives. It is, however, likely that people of solid character who are attracted to each other for good reasons are going to decide to work through the issues of life together rather than use them against each other.
God, give us both objective and subjective wisdom in our relational choices.

Pride’s Pain

Like so many, I was shocked this week by the news of sexual abuse allegations at Penn State University. We certainly do not know all the facts yet but we have all had been faced with a sober reminder that when pride gets involved in our lives, anything is possible and it will turn out bad. Pride is, and always has been, the primary culprit in life. In Isaiah 14, we learn that pride turned Lucifer (a stunning angel) into the Devil. “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God.’” (v. 12-13) Everyday we see the devastating impact of pride on the lives of good men and women.
The defensive coach at Penn State started to believe he was above the rules as he allowed his passions to carry him away. He was obviously a very disciplined man or he would never have been able to handle the demands of coordinating the defense at one of the premier programs in the country. He concluded, however, that he didn’t need that same discipline in his personal life. Pride blinded him to the damage he was creating.
The administration of the school, for reasons we will never understand, failed to take action. These are highly intelligent, extremely capable men. They operate one of the finest institutions of higher learning the world has ever seen. The academics are outstanding. Their sports program is focused and successful. Their reputation has been attracting high-caliber students for decades. Pride, however, blinded them to the right course of action. It isn’t even that hard to figure out. When allegations of sexual abuse involving children are involved, you act quickly and you defer to the kids. They certainly did not want to assume guilt before the facts but this kind of allegation has the potential to ruin everything if not handled decisively and transparently. They know this and yet they tried to act covertly and secretly. Wisdom didn’t tell them to do this. Common decency didn’t tell them to do this. Only pride thinks this way.
Finally, Joe Paterno, one of the finest coaches in the history of football, failed to grasp the urgency of the situation. He has a history of dealing with highly competitive, strong-willed, testosterone filled warriors. For 61 years at Penn State he has been creating men of character who think and live like champions. He has challenged them, pushed them, corrected them, pulled out talent in them, honed their skills and focused their efforts. He knew how to win and instill the will to win. He has coached more teams to more victories than anyone else in the game by taking care of business when it needed to be taken care of. And then this.
For some reason, he couldn’t see clearly how to handle an obvious situation. He did report the allegations to his Athletic Director, which is admirable, but he didn’t check back. A man who had lived by strategic priorities didn’t check back. A man who spent a lifetime figuring out the steps young men needed to take to reach their potential, didn’t check back. A man who instructed others to take care of business, didn’t check back. We will never understand all the reasons for his lack of action but we do know that pride makes even the best of us blind to common sense solutions. And he will pay a high price.
The story of a stunning career that spanned six decades will never be told without including a scandal that might just overshadow everything he accomplished. I still respect him for his achievements but I am soberly reminded that it only takes a little pride to crumble an empire.
Lord, let me be so impressed with you that I can I resist the temptation to be impressed with myself.

People Need Hope

I have noticed I do a lot better in life when I have a sense of hope. When I can look ahead and say, “I can see good things coming,” my attitude stays calm, my motivation stays high and my willingness to faithfully do what is right remains intact. On the other hand, when it appears that things are going to be bad no matter how much effort I put in, I fight the tendency to become selfish, lethargic and apathetic. And I have noticed I am not alone.
I recently met a young man with admirable potential and some impressive traits. He is taking courageous steps to discipline his life and challenging his peers to live with excellence. He has set ambitious goals for himself which will require significant focus and effort. His communication skills, while still in development, are ahead of most of his contemporaries. It is easy to look at this young man and conclude, “There is hope for the next generation because they will be led by individuals like this.” But, he is distracted by recent events. His parents got divorced which has him thinking, “Does this happen to everyone in my family? My grandparents are both on second marriages and now my parents are done. Is this going to happen to me also?” To be sure, he has the drive and raw talent to change the pattern in his life but he is wrestling to find the hope that he can actually do things differently.
His story, of course, is not unique. Many young people are dealing with their parents’ divorce. Spouses are wondering what happened to the loving, cooperative relationship we once had and will we ever get it back? Qualified individuals are struggling to find work. Hard working couples are finding it difficult to keep up with their bills. Some people have been through horrendous experiences that have left deep emotional scars that make it hard to trust. Still others are living in conditions that no human should have to endure. The one thing we all have in common is we need hope. We need to know that better days are coming.
God has always known this so He sprinkled promises of hope throughout the Bible. In Isaiah 11 and 12 we encounter a repeated phrase designed to remind all of us that hope is always alive. The phrase is “in that day.” It is a reference to the day when Jesus sets up His kingdom on earth and changes everything about life. In this passage, the phrase reminds us:
• We are going to be governed by a great leader. (Isaiah 11:10) “the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples.”
• We will live without personal turmoil. (Isaiah 12:1-2) “Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away . . . the LORD himself is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.”
• We will celebrate because we have been set free. (Isaiah 12:3-6) “In that day you will say . . . Give praise to the LORD . . . Sing to the LORD . . . Shout aloud . . . for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
God’s goal is to give people hope so they do not lose heart.
Jesus, remind me of your promises today. Let the knowledge that I am secure for eternity keep my heart vibrant, my motivation steady and my convictions active.

C2C

I get in a lot of conversations with people who are dealing with chaos. I believe I get in these discussions because it so common that it affects all of our lives. The chaotic behavior comes in two forms. The first is from the initiator. If you know your Bible at all, you know that people are not right. Our natures are corrupt and we tend toward self-centered and self-destructive choices. The easiest trait to develop in someone is selfishness. As a result, people regularly do things that just don’t make sense. Consider just a few examples of the kinds of things people passionately do that defy logic:
• We get intensely mad at the people we love the most.
• We yell at our kids not to yell at us.
• We spend money we don’t have.
• We use alcohol and drugs to either lower stress or hide from the real world.
• We get defensive when the people who care about us the most try to help us get better.
• We try to control the behavior and decisions of others.
Some of these things are bad but some are well-intentioned and noble. The problem is that none of them matches the way God created life.
The second kind of chaos comes from the responders. It is undeniable that people do hurtful, unhealthy and unproductive things. Unfortunately, it is common for those affected by the unhealthy decisions to respond just as chaotically. Consider just a few of the responses that likewise don’t make sense intellectually:
• We present rational arguments for why people should not act irrationally.
• We negotiate with people who are not thinking clearly.
• We ask, “What can I do to change this person’s behavior.”
• We spend lots of time pointing out how wrong the other person’s choices are.
• We dwell on the type of lifestyle the other person ought to be following.
As a result, we become just as chaotic in our thinking, emotional reactions, lack of personal growth and expended energy as the person we are upset with.
If we are to be victorious, we must move from chaotic to constructive (C2C). The key question for us becomes, “Regardless of circumstances and the choices of others, what type of person do I want to be?” Paul emphasized this approach to life in Ephesians 4:1, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” We have received a life of peace, patience, gentleness, humility, unity, power, faith, intimacy with God, willing sacrifice, reliance on truth and inexhaustible love. The eternal, infinite God deposited His life in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We literally have the opportunity to live a life beyond our own needs or abilities. The wisdom we need to make constructive choices, the strength we need to give constructive responses, and the hope we need to build a constructive future already reside within us. We just need to trust in it and choose to walk worthy rather than fall into the chaos around us. It is a tough thing to do but so is walking in chaos!

He Watches

The Mega Obstacle Course

It was a small statement but it burrowed its way into my heart. I was talking with a friend of mine who has a unique working relationship with my son. Caleb goes to school in another state but whenever he is in town, he calls Troy to see if he has any work for him. Troy is the owner of San Diego Jump Company (http://www.sdjump.com/), a supplier of inflatable jump houses and games for parties, corporate functions, and family celebrations. Caleb started working for him a couple of years ago delivering these sources of fun to groups of people.
Anyway, Troy said to me, “It is remarkable that every time Caleb is available for work the church puts in an order for an inflatable. Since Caleb knows the church grounds so well, all I have to do is tell him where to put it and he knows immediately. It makes it really easy.”
I know it is small thing but it was a reminder to me that the Lord is watching over our lives and reminding us in big and small ways that He has his eye on us. Psalm 127:1-2 puts it this way, “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” This passage doesn’t say we shouldn’t work and work hard. What it is saying is that it is silly to try to figure it out all on your own.
The picture here is of an ancient city. They didn’t have cameras or other sophisticated surveillance equipment. What they did have were walls around the city and watchmen who took turns walking the top of the wall. As they stood post, they would focus on the surrounding countryside looking for approaching enemies. If a threat was spotted, the watchmen would sound the alarm so the rest of the city could be put on alert. The Psalmist simply points out that God is interested in His people and will guide the steps of the watchmen to make them more effective.
The same applies to every kind of work. We are designed to be productive so we function best when we are busy with purposeful work. Most people get caught up with the notion, however, that “it is all up to me. I need to work harder, think better, plan smarter, and invest increasing amounts of time.” Diligence is certainly important but the most effective way to work is to create a partnership with God where we put in our best effort and ask God to guide our steps to the kinds of opportunities that fit our lives best.
Lord, guide us with your wisdom and love today so that we spend our time and effort doing the things upon which you are willing to place your hand of favor.

The Right Hand Man

There are certain thoughts that shape history. Psalm 110:1 is one of them,

Footstool made from elephant’s foot

The LORD says to my lord;
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”
This summary of the work of Christ was written 900 years before Jesus was born and it shows up repeatedly in the New Testament. Jesus quotes this verse to challenge people’s thinking about the true identity of the Messiah (Luke 20:41-44). Peter quoted this passage as the crescendo of his first sermon on the day of Pentecost to which 3000 people responded (Acts 2:34-35). The writer of Hebrews was obviously influenced by this thought because he used it twice. In Hebrews 1:13 he points out that God never said this about any angel. I 10:11-14 he points out that all the other priests in Israel’s history stood while they carried out their duties but the eternal high priest has sat down because His work is finished!
Since this passage has been so prominent, I would like to add three thoughts to the discussion of what this verse means in our lives.
God is so smart He can see the future. This is a clear reference to the resurrection. Centuries before the event, the bible declared that the Messiah would defeat death and rise from the dead. Jesus repeated it numerous times before it happened. He knew it would happen. He knew nothing could stop it. He knew that it would be the ultimate test of His authority. If He proclaimed the resurrection and it didn’t happen, nothing He had ever said would hold any weight. But, pronouncing it ahead of time and then carrying it out proved once and for all that He knows no limits.
God is so powerful He is patient. We all tend to panic and get anxious because we are afraid life will get out of control. We see the challenges of life and we fear that they will continue to get worse and worse. We feel a strong need to intervene, manipulate or work harder in an effort to prevent chaos from taking over. There is certainly some legitimacy to this because we are called to work hard and be stewards of our lives and the earth we live on. God, however, never experiences any of this. He has done everything that needs to be done at the time it needed to be done to accomplish every necessary result. He has not neglected any detail and He is not threatened by the schemes of men or the setbacks of human history. Therefore, He has sat down and is willing to wait for the appointed time when He will return and set up His kingdom on earth.
He is so full of grace He will give everyone a choice. Jesus is not in a hurry because He wants everyone to decide whether they want to be His friends or His enemies. An offer of forgiveness has been extended to every person. A choice between life or judgment has been clearly laid out. People of every generation have been set apart to declare the truth that each of us will face Jesus. Those who won’t accept Him will face Him as a fair-minded, impartial, unrelenting judge. His desire, however, is that we face Him as our Savior and friend so He is providing abundant opportunities for individuals to respond.
What a privilege it is to know God’s Right Hand Man!

Rejoice with Singing

Last night I had the opportunity to sit around with my family sharing memories. We’d had a fun day wakeboarding and inner tubing at the lake so we were very comfortable with one another. It didn’t take long before the conversation turned to telling stories. We talked about how one of our sons used to throw things up on the roof of the church just so he could get permission to climb up to get it down. He had figured out a pretty smooth and safe way to get up on top of the building and he loved to climb so he came up with as many imaginative ways as possible to “help out” his friends by retrieving their stuff. As he recounted his best monkey moments, we all laughed. We then told stories about another son who decided to run hurdles during his freshman year in high school. As he told the story of his first race where he looked like a bunny rabbit hopping over hurdles, we laughed again. It was definitely one of the highlights of my week.
I wonder if this is partly what Jesus was referring to in John 15:11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” The thought has been on mind for a little while because I came across a verse about four weeks ago that I don’t remember seeing before. It is in Zephaniah 3:17. It is part of the description of what it will be like during the Millennial Kingdom (The 1000 year reign of Christ that will follow the 7 year tribulation period where Jesus will be running the government and we will serve with Him). We know this is a great time of joy for us because we have perfected bodies that no longer suffer the effects of death. The government is perfectly run and there are no evil influences on earth. It is a good time for us and those who are still living on earth building careers and raising families. There is a lot of joy among the people because life is how it ought to be.
It doesn’t stop there, however. The joy is multiplied because the Messiah joins in the celebration. Zephaniah states, “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Not only do we celebrate over all that He has done for us but He sings over us! The work is accomplished. We have reached our potential. We no longer need to be rebuked, corrected, disciplined or trained. The work is truly finished and we are now operating at full capacity. He apparently is so glad to have us with Him and to see us in our completed state that He rejoices with us. Like a parent celebrates his child or a grandparent delights in his grandchild, His joy will be in us!
Now that is a thought I can carry with me all day.

A Breath on the Balance

I was watching a television show with my family about two men who travel the country bidding on abandoned storage units. I know that, in reality, most of these units have nothing more than junk and worthless items but the few that are featured on this program always have surprising treasures. This time it was a collection of gold mining equipment. They discovered a warning horn that was powered by hand-operated billows and a nearly band new sluice (looks like an old-fashioned washboard and was used to separate sand and dirt from the chunks of gold).
Included in the find was an Austrian made scale used in an Assay office. To assay means to test the purity of precious metal and during the gold rush miners would take their gold to one of these offices to have it appraised so they could sell it, hopefully for a handsome price. As you can imagine, there was plenty of corruption that went along with the process of determining the gold’s value. As a result, these scales were in a glass case so both the owner and the appraiser could see everything that was happening. Together they would see the scales hanging in the case with both sides levitating at the same level. They would both see the scale dip to one side when the precious metal was placed on it. They would then both witness the scale level off as the assayer placed marked weights on the other side of the scale. It was all done publicly, transparently, and collaboratively.
This piece of equipment caught my attention because I had just read Psalm 62:9, “Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath.” I had been thinking that morning, what would it be like if my life were measured on a balance? How much “weight” would God have to put on the other side to level off my struggles and accomplishments? It seems like it would be a lot to me because my life seems big to me. My problems seem big because they are my problems. My concerns seem large because they are my concerns. My victories appear weighty because they are my victories. And yet, this verse says that all it would take to level off the scale God uses is a breath!
This statement, of course, is the setup rather than the conclusion. In this same Psalm, David refers to God as his rock three times. Twice he refers to God as his fortress and his refuge and confidently proclaims that his soul finds rest in God. He has figured out that God is the standard and the weights used to determine our value and contribution to life are His power, His righteousness, His honor, His love. Compared to His abilities, we are but a breath. When He begins to live within and share His abilities with us, however, we become “more than conquerors.” (Romans 8:37)
As I looked at that glass encased balance, I realized a day is coming when God will put my life on one side and then figure out what would need to go on the other side to level out the scale. I am extremely grateful that Jesus will be standing on the scale with me!

What Can You Do in One Day?

What is the most you have accomplished in one day? I was lamenting yesterday over all the things on my to do list that didn’t get done. I had two small writing projects I was going to finish but didn’t. I had a spreadsheet to create on which I never got started. I was going to check online for future flights but had to leave the house shortly after I logged in to my account. It got me to thinking, what has a really productive day looked for me?
If I had to present a day from my life for a “productivity competition” I would probably put up the day we finished our first “in house” curriculum. I had remarkable clarity that day. We had been working on the project for a couple of months and it was very clear to me the steps we needed to take to get it ready for printing. I coordinated the efforts of two other writers, a graphic designer, an office manager and two interns. In addition, I did a final edit on the content and wrote 8 pages of additional assignments to add based on a brainstorming session we had in the morning meeting. Everyone was busy all day and we were proud of the final product. It was a strenuous day but we loved the results.
I got to thinking about my most productive day because I read Zechariah 3:9, “See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.”
This statement was written about 550 years before Christ came to the earth. It would have been a stunning statement for the people to hear. They were back in Jerusalem building the temple which would end up being the largest structure in the city. An entire tribe of Israel was set apart to be priests and temple workers. They had an elaborate system of sacrifices that were to be offered on a yearly basis to deal with the imperfections in their lives. It would have been impossible for them to imagine that in one day the sin of the land could be removed eliminating the need for the temple, the priests and the sacrifices. And yet there it was. They didn’t really understand how it could be done so they pondered the thought and trusted that God knew what He was talking about. It was too big, too impossible, however to make sense to their limited minds.
Then came Jesus. In one day He died on the cross and paid the penalty for all sin for all time. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) And that one act in one day “resulted in justification and life for all people.” (Romans 5:18)
The next time I have a frustrating day where I don’t get as much done as I was hoping, I am going to take a few minutes to marvel that in one day Jesus secured salvation for everyone who is willing to trust in Him. What a day!