Monday, March 27, 2017

Trust Issues

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not lean on your own understanding...
Proverbs 3:5

trust - firm belief in the reliability, truth, 
ability or strength of someone or something

Here's the problem with forgiveness:  I can forgive someone and I can choose not to talk to others or myself about the offense, but does that mean that I have to actually trust them again?  

The best way to answer this question is to put it in spiritual terms.  So, I am imagining God, sitting on His throne in heaven, talking with Jesus, and pointing down at me. Here's how the conversation goes:

The Father:  Yeah, see Kristen right now?  I really love her but I've got to be honest with you, Jesus - I don't trust her as far as I can throw her.  You know how she keeps _______________ (fill in the blank with whichever sin in my life you want to use)?  I forgive and I forgive and she just keeps doing it again and again.

Jesus:  I know.  What a disappointment.  I don't blame you.  You can forgive but you'd be a fool to ever trust her again.  You're just setting yourself up for hurt again.  

The Father:  I've even applied the forgive 70x7 rule on her, but she passed 490 about two decades ago with this one.  (Shaking His head) Will she ever learn?

Jesus:  Pretty safe answer to that is, "No."  

Does that sound like a reasonable conversation between the Father and the Son?  Thankfully I don't have any scriptural support for that conversation, but rather I can look to the gospel to dispel any doubt that God not only forgives, but restores, rebuilds and transforms.  In Romans 7, Paul describes the conflict between his flesh and his new nature in Christ - they are constantly battling for his will. Sometimes he has success but often he fails. When he cries out for help, he turns to the cross:  "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me from from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (v. 24, 25)  Jesus not only set us free from the bondage of sin, but He fights the battle so that we can have victory here and now.

One of the songs we sing at church says, "Our God is fighting for us always, Our God is fighting for us all" - the whole song is about the fact that God is mighty and strong to save.  It's not talking about fighting against persecution but rather sin's hold on us - if He doesn't give up, why would we?

Okay, back to forgiveness and trust. Now that we understand God is not disgusted with us in heaven, follow my train of thought:  
  • You have been hurt repeatedly
  • You choose to forgive, but in forgiving, it opens you up for more potential hurt
  • God demands that we be good forgivers, because He understands that if we don't forgive, it creates a root of bitterness in our hearts - bitterness, anger, frustration, and a lack of trust 
  • Though it's hard to trust a sinner, it's not hard to trust a faithful God - do a word study on "trust" in the Bible.  We are explicitly told to trust in the Lord over and over again...
  • When He tells us to do something, we can obey, fully putting our trust in the One who is conforming us into His own image
  • Because we trust the Lord, we can trust someone who has lost our trust - knowing that if they fail again, God will step in the gap and work through the circumstance for our own good and for His glory
I feel the need for a quick disclaimer - some sins have consequences we can't take away.  A father who sexually abuses his daughter can be forgiven but he has lost the right to a relationship with her or her children.  Sometimes sin brings consequences and if you are struggling right now about whether to restore trust to someone or if there are consequences that prevent that, then you need to talk with your small group leader or a pastor to make sure you are not trying to deal with someone's sin, rather than letting God do it.  

That being said, in MOST cases, we can willing place ourselves back into a vulnerable position, knowing that our trust is in the Lord, that we are walking in obedience to His will and that He alone has the ability to change the heart and actions of those who have hurt us.  And friends -  He can do that through the testimony of our ability to forgive!  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Vacation on Your Mind

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, 
brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 
not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, 
but giving a blessing instead;
 for you were called for the very purpose 
that you might inherit a blessing. 
I Peter 3:8,9

It's that time of year again...spring break is right around the corner.  Here in Michigan there are two kinds of people when it comes to spring break.  First there are those who have been planning since the first fall of snow for this vacation.  They've got their trip all mapped out. Whether flying or driving, nothing is going to stop them from getting on that beach.  And I mean, nothing.  Not long lines at the airport, not slow lanes around Atlanta, not even the 100th time "Are we there yet?" will be asked.  They have had their bags packed in their minds for months now, and all that is left is to throw in the latest Grishom novel and some sun screen.

The other group consists of those who can't stand traffic, lines and crowds. They wouldn't be caught dead at Disney over a holiday and travel mayhem is not worth the two week tan lines that boast a hot destination trip.  They plan on staying home, praying for a day over 50 degrees and finding "fun things to do right here in Michigan."  

They also can't stand the travelers.  And here's why:  because for the past few weeks, you can't get a good answer out of them.  You can't fluster them and you can't get their full attention.  You see, their mind is on that nearing vacation and not even an office meltdown will rattle them.  They have a future plan and it includes sand, sun and a lot of aloe for sunburn.  

In Peter's first letter to the church, he runs through a quick to-do list for the believer.  He tells us to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted and humble.  All of these words imply that they are not easy to do and the believer is sacrificing some rights to make peace.  He goes on to say, when being insulted, give a blessing - don't return insults.  Again, be the bigger person and keep the peace.  

This is very difficult to do and there are times that we will get tired of taking the blows and not getting even.  I can remember chatting with my children about difficult kids at school.  Today we call them bullies, back then they were just mean.  I would tell the kids not to respond to insults, not to engage in verbal battles, but to say something kind and walk away. That throws a bully off his game and it keeps you from having to ask forgiveness for saying something mean yourself.  My children didn't like this counsel.  It was hard.  It was humbling. It was sacrificial.  But it served them well, teaching them that God will deal with bullies, but He wants you to remember who you are (a child of the King) and what you are called to (a life that brings glory to Him).

This is the same counsel I give in the counseling rooms at church.  Over and over I hear stories about marriages that are hard, parents who are unfair, work conditions that are trying, and I am constantly telling my sister in Christ to humbly serve the ones God has placed in their lives.  Sacrificially put up with bad behavior just as Jesus did, not reviling in return but continually entrusting themselves to the One who will justly make things right one day.  This is hard counsel and as believers, it can be tiring to constantly take the high road.

But Peter doesn't just tell us what to do - he tells us why - because we are inheriting a blessing.  We are children of the King.  He is molding and shaping us into the image of His Son as we share in His sufferings.  And our future is bright.  We have heaven in our sights!  This broken life is not all we have and we'd better make the best of it.  No, we have eternity with unhindered fellowship with the Lord, in a recreated and restored Earth which will be greater than our imaginations can possibly imagine.  That is our destination, that is our heavenly focus.  

So just like those destination Spring Breakers, nothing can keep us from the joy of our destiny.  Nothing can shake us, nothing can take our joy.  It was purchased for us and the tickets are non-refundable.  Just like the ones who are anxiously awaiting the moment that they can say, "Good-by, Michigan!" and head out the door to a warmer destination, as believers we have even greater motivation to endure this life for God's glory.  Our minds are set on the things above, not on the things here on Earth. 

No matter which spring break personality you are, as a believer in Jesus Christ, when we live with an eternal perspective it changes our ability to do the hard things and live at peace with all men, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Good Works

Let your light shine before men in such a way
that they may see your good works, 
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Okay, so this picture just makes me laugh, don't read anything into it.

I have been thinking about good works today.  Understanding that good works are not meritorious - in other words, they do nothing towards my standing before the Lord regarding salvation - we are still called to good works throughout the scriptures.  Ephesians 2:10 even says that we were created FOR good works, so they are definitely a part of life.

So what constitutes a good work?  Here's where the wrestling begins because I think in our humanity, we have made goods works a competitive system.  You might serve in the nursery on Sunday, but I read the Daily Bread every morning.  You might take fresh baked cookies to your neighbor, but I made them a whole meal.  You might pray every night when you go to sleep, but I not only pray, I journal, study, memorize a verse and listen to a worship song. Is prayer even a good work or are good works only something you do for others? Are good works earning something?  Maybe just brownie points, but is there value in getting more brownie points than other people?

As many of you know, David and I had six children, all with different needs, strengths and weaknesses.  When trying to run a household with that many children, I had to set up pretty narrow systems to make sure we got out the door in the morning with everything we needed.  For some of the kids, we had to lay out the clothes the night before, while others could manage that on their own.  We made lunches the night before, packed backpacks and had them lined up on the red cabinet, ready for lunches to be dropped in and zipped up.  Each child knew what was expected of them when I got them up - make their beds, brush their teeth and get dressed before coming down to the kitchen.  There I would have their breakfast of choice ready to go (most of them wanted Eggo waffles) and when they were done, they put their dishes in the dishwasher.  Then bags were packed with lunches and pretty quickly, we were out the door.  

This was not too overwhelming to five of the kids, but one really struggled with their part of the expectations.  Their bed was rarely made, their room was a disaster, homework was a struggle.  It just took extra effort on my part to get this child with the program.  On days when this child was on top of things, I would cheer and make a big deal because of the success.  But quickly I became frustrated when I had to cheer for something the other 5 did without question or cheering.  Was I fostering a disobedience that would only be rectified through praise?

Here's the truth:  the other 5 children had privileges that were often taken away from the one.  They didn't need cheering - the blessing of obedience was a consistent, positive relationship with mom and dad, plus more freedom because they could be trusted to do what was expected (which is another way of saying "obey").  The other child was fully capable of obeying, but most of the time didn't feel like it.  Therefore that child had limited freedoms and privileges, until that child learned that with obedience came not only blessing, but good fellowship/relationship with mom and dad.

So what are good works?  Obviously they are good actions, good things - not evil or destructive.  But if you boil it down, good works are simply obedience.  God created us to walk in obedience to His Word. When we obey Him, like an earthly father, we are in good fellowship with Him.  When we reject His boundaries or refuse to obey, then like an earthly father, He will discipline us - choose to sin, choose to suffer, right? So good works are everything from kindness towards others, forgiving others, meeting other's needs, spiritual disciplines - anything that glorifies God and is within the boundaries that God has set for us.  When we extend our hands, we do it for Jesus.  We should never do anything that He wouldn't do.  Good works are works that are consistent with Jesus' character.

There are several benefits to good works. In addition to continual fellowship with God, it is the easiest way to show your gratitude for the cross. Willingly placing yourself under God's authority, with a good attitude, an attitude of gratitude, is a visible way to tell the Lord, "Thank you." Good works are also the most effective way to live out your faith.  If you don't put actions to your beliefs, then your faith is dead.  Good works show who you follow.  You also give testimony to those around you that God is real and that He loves you.  Your good works will bring glory to God.  And finally, good works produce spiritual fruit - the works of the flesh produce all sorts of negative and broken feelings, but good works, with your eyes set on Christ, produce fruit of the Spirit in your life.  

One final note:  we're not aiming for perfection here because we know in our flesh we are limited.  Think of it this way - who dreams of having a child so that you could discipline them constantly?  Instead you dream about the good times and the close relationship.  This is what the Father wants with you and the way to have a close relationship with Him is to willingly seek His will and obey. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hearts and Treasures

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, 
where moth and rust destroy, 
and where thieves break in and steal. 
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, 
where neither moth nor rust destroys, 
and where thieves do not break in or steal;  
for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19,20

The center of our being, or what the Bible calls our heart, is our mind.  It is what moves us to action and from it flow our feelings and emotions. We are told in Colossians to set our minds on the things above, in Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful and wicked, in Proverbs that the springs of life flow from our hearts, and in Romans, as we looked in the last blog, that we are to renew our mind for transforming power.  

So today, in Matthew 6, we see that what we treasure, what is really important to us, is what we set our heart or our mind upon. If our hearts are set on worldly treasures, we will be consumed with finances and possessions.  We'll spend much of our life working to attain them and the rest of our life protecting and maintaining them.  

For example, the person who dreams of owning a boat...this is not a bad desire, but it can become an all consuming acquisition.  First, you never buy the right boat as your first boat.  You start with a small one and move your way up the boating ladder.  You have to buy trailers to tow them and rent space to store them, unless you build a garage on your home big enough to hold your cars and your boat.  You spend time cleaning it after each use, you have to insure it because people do stupid things and if they do them on your boat, you'll be the fall guy.  And then you use your boat...a lot...because you've spent so much on that boat that you'd better get good use out of it.  I suppose the same could be said about houses and cars, as well.

Now here me, I know plenty of people who own boats and they manage things just fine, but I also know that a boat can become more of a burden than a pleasure, depending on how much of your heart/mind is consumed by this desire.

A personal example - Dave and I love salt water fish.  It started with a small tank that grew and grew  and grew, until it was several hundred gallons.  Salt water tanks aren't overly simple.  There are a lot of things that have to be just right in order for fish to live.  Let me put it this way, we've killed everything under the sea.  At one point, we decided not to let the kids name the fish anymore because it was traumatizing to see Nemo floating cock-eyed in the water, struggling with his last breaths, as the children sobbed. Eventually, the tank required more time than we could give it and we ended the hobby.  It was taking up too much of our time, thoughts and energy so we let it go.

When you set your heart on earthly treasures, then you have to worry about them, as well.  This is why Jesus said to turn your focus to heavenly treasures...ones that won't rust or die on you.  When we die, we won't have a trailer attached to our caboose with our boat on it as we walk through the pearly gates. Neither will we have our fish tank in one hand and a bag of salt in the other.  So what exactly are the treasures that we are to store up in heaven?  I thought we can't take anything with us?

Well, what has eternal value? I'll name three things:

1.  Souls - though only God saves, the time invested in soul saving is an eternal treasure. Jesus commanded us to "...Go therefore and make disciples..." (Matthew 28:19) Pouring into people spiritually has eternal value, because image bearers of God have eternal souls.  Giving your life to enlarge the kingdom of heaven has eternal worth.

2.  Generosity - In Luke 16:9 Jesus said, "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings." Though we can't take our money, we can use our money here on earth to build the kingdom and bless other believers who are needy in this life.  In eternity, this will be remembered.

3.  Good works - I Corinthians 3:12,13 says, "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work..." For some reason, no one likes to talk about this, but a day is coming when our works will be presented before the Lord and tested. The ones with eternal value - the ones which were done for the glory of our King - will stand the test of fire.  But the selfish good works will be burned up.  If we are storing up treasures in heaven, we must examine our motivation and say, am I serving the Lord to glorify myself, or is my mind set on the Lord and I am serving out of complete devotion to Him?

If we choose to store up treasures in heaven, where our treasure is, there you will find our mind.  A good test is to see what you spend the day thinking about. How much time does the boat, fish tank and finances to acquire your desires take up of your thoughts compared to the things of the Lord?  That number will be the indicator of where your heart is.

Remember, evangelism and discipleship, generosity with the needy and hurting, and plain old good works for the glory of our Savior are all efforts with eternal value.  So how are you going to spend your day?