Trusting Providence

I think that sometimes we get so wrapped up in planning our lives that we forget this verse in the second chapter of Philippians:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Important to note that the verse says to work "out" your salvation and not work "for" it. I think that much of the scriptures speak to this idea of God working with us and providentially directing our lives. Consider these two verses from Proverbs:
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. (16:9)

Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. (19:21)
This verse in the eighth chapter of Romans tells us a bit about His purpose in doing so:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Always good to remember that His working in our lives has a purpose.. good to know that His will and His leadership all are designed to conform us into the likeness of Jesus.

So when life doesn't seem to make sense or when times are hard it is good to know that we can trust God to providentially mold us and help us to manifest His divine character.. even in extremely negatives situations. He is the proverbial potter and we are the clay. Please join me in asking Him to mold us for His purposes and His glory.

When Prayers Are Not Answered

A few years ago I gave a Sunday morning talk at church titled Broken Hearts, Unanswered Prayers.. you can download and listen to it here. Following is a verse from the twelfth chapter of second Corinthians that I used in back then:
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
When I think about unanswered prayers I sometimes ask myself this question:
Can I be content with life if God does not answer my prayers?
It is a hard question but one that helps bring focus to my life. Indeed Paul tells us that he is content with the things that speak loudly to unanswered prayers. Who has not asked God to deliver them out of the hardship of weakness and difficulty? In this verse he says that he is content with these thorns in his flesh.

In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Philippians Paul gives us a peek into his heart when he says "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." Contentment is something that must be learned.. and unanswered prayers often provide an atmosphere where contentment can be cultivated.. it can almost be said that one can only embrace contentment when life is hard and prayer is unanswered.

So if you find yourself in a difficult season and a time of unanswered prayer I suggest that you embrace the idea of learning to be content.. it will help you (and me) to live a life that pleases our Father and brings joy to our lives.

Are You Free from The Sermonator?

I love this cartoon! It reminds me of so many sermons I heard in my younger years that used intimidation and manipulation to control my behavior. It took me a long time to get free from it.. but as I matured in Christ and began to embrace my innermost being I began to experience freedom from the bully pulpit

I love that Jesus' ministry was full of grace and mercy towards his followers. His message was not always an easy one but He seemed to always deliver it with such grace. Consider this passage from John 8:
So Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. "And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him."

As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
Do you see the connection between discipleship and freedom? Isn't it interesting that Jesus did not follow or try to please His religious leaders but had the freedom to please and follow the Father alone. It is sometimes difficult to buck that religious system that so often we entangle ourselves in but Jesus indicates here that we can experience that freedom when our discipleship is to Him first.

If you are under the influence of a Sermonator  (doesn't have to be a person.. could be a controlling system) you probably live a life of fear of getting caught breaking the rules.. heaven forbid a church friend find you sipping a glass of wine at a restaurant. It is hard to get free from Sermonators.. it can be difficult to find freedom in Christ.. the journey to freedom starts with a prayer:
Jesus please lead me.. reveal your truth to my heart.. strengthen my innermost being.. help me experience your freedom. Amen.
I suggest that your next step to freedom is to begin to do the things that strengthen your innermost being.. begin to read and meditate on the scriptures.. ask God to reveal Himself to your innermost being as you read.. find the voice of your innermost being.. begin to trust the Lord with all of your heart.. and do not lean on your own (or other's) understanding. Freedom is a process.. begin the journey today.

Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart

One of my favorite worship songs.
Because of what the Lord has done for us.
Remember to give Him thanks today.

Walking the Walk We Talk

The eighteenth chapter of proverbs speaks to us instructing us in ways that will cause us to walk humbly and successfully in life. In this chapter we are advised to: be connected with other believers; avoid partially; guard our speech and run to God in humility. The passage also speaks to pain, gifts and our relationships with others.

"Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment." (v1)

This verse speaks loudly to me of my need for others in the body of Christ. Sometimes it is so hard to find time to be just be with brother and sisters in Jesus.. especially in ways that are transparent and vulnerable.

"It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice." (v5)

Partiality seems to be the partner of injustice. So often my predisposition for one side of an issue will cloud my sense of right and wrong. It is so hard sometimes to differentiate opinion from fact.

"A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool's mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body." (v6-8)

Verses like these makes me want to take a vow of silence. I have never been more a fool than when I say foolish things cloaked in sanctimony.. I think that religious pride often manifests in this way. Interesting how these verses seem to speak to the diverse affects of foolish speech.. sometimes we do not really know how foolish we are.

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. A rich man's wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination. Before destruction a man's heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor." (v10-12)

Quite a contrast in these verses between a person who trusts the Lord and one who trusts in themselves. In these times of financial turmoil it is good to remember that the name of Jesus is more than a way to end a prayer.

"A man's spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?" (v14)

Again we see contrast.. this time it is between external and internal pain.. both are so real.. both can cause much suffering.. and sometimes healing does not seem to come.. externally and internally. I have to admit that.. as this verse seems to indicate.. for me the external pain is much easier to endure.

"A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before the great." (v16)

Many times our natural and spiritual gifts open doors that would otherwise remain shut.. of course it is on us to walk through them

"The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." (v17)

I have learned so much over these past years from disparate points of view. I do not always change (I guess I rarely change) my views but I always seem to come away from a debate with a better understanding of why I believe the way that I do.

"A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle." (v19)

I have been on both sides of this.. have offended and have been offended. My inclination in both cases is to pursue reconciliation.. but I have sadly found that reconciliation cannot come simply because I want it.

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord." (v22)

I have been blessed in this life with two wonderful women who both inspire me to seek the Lord. In both I have experienced the Lord's favor in my life!

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (v24)

A great way to end this group of proverbs. I have experienced the closeness of friends but nothing can match the closeness of Jesus.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

The Balance of Seasons

This week the Kansas City area saw it's first snowfall.. albeit just a smattering of the white stuff.. and I reacted in my typical "I hate winter" fashion. Now many like my son love winter and the snow but I simply don't. As I pondered my week I thought of the verse from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes that begins with this verse:
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven"
The list of seasons included in the following verses includes a variety of events: birth and death; sowing and reaping; weeping and laughing; speaking and listening; love and hate; war and peace; and others. What struck me in the list was the contrasts. My guess is that most of us like the birthing and laughing but not so much the other more negative aspects of life like death and weeping.

Perhaps life is not really life unless it is balanced out with trials and hardship? Maybe we would not really know love if we had not experienced hate; and maybe the word "peace" would be meaningless with the word "war". I am beginning to appreciate how life like the year has it seasons.

Of course the yearly seasons are not always predictable.. sometimes summer weather looks a bit like fall of spring.. even though we expect one thing we often get something else. I guess a secret of living a contented life is to understand this idea of times and seasons and to not get too disappointed when it snows in October.. did I say that? I hate snow

I guess what I am trying to get at.. I seem to be rambling a bit.. is to not lose hope in those difficult life seasons.. and remember this verse from Hosea 6:
"Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth."
Though the season may be dry.. He will come with refreshing rains. Though the times are dark.. He will come with glorious sunlight. Hang in there friend. God is faithful. There is a balance to the seasons of our lives.

Thanksgiving Rules

In a few weeks we will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States. So I thought that I might share a few scriptures and thoughts about the giving of thanks in the form of rules.. and you know how I really like rules
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. -Ephesians 5:19-20
Rule 1: Thanks can be given in any situation. We can and should offer thanks to God in any and every circumstance and place we find ourselves in. The heart of this sort of thanksgiving is humility. Knowing who He is and who we are gives us a righteous perspective that opens our eyes to our unworthiness and his grace and mercy. Our hearts should always be overflowing with thanksgiving for His love for us.

Rule 2: We should not thank God for the work of the enemy. You may wonder why the verse above says to thank God "for everything"- good question.. and I don't really have a direct answer other than to say that we should thank God for what He does and not for what others do. This scripture that speaks to the context of things that we should be thankful for:
Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. -James 1:16-17
Speaking in the context of someone saying "God is tempting me" James makes it clear that the works of the enemy are not from God. As such we should not give thanks for things like temptations, disease and other works of the enemy.

Rule 3: We should always offer thanks when we pray. Thanksgiving is the foundation of prayer. When we pray we must come to the Father with a thankful heart. This scripture speaks to the relationship of prayer to thanksgiving:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. -Philippians 4:6
Interesting to note how it says "with thanksgiving".. in a sense it is how we should do everything. The Apostle Paul speaks to the idea of doing everything with a heart of gratitude when he writes:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. -Colossians 3:16
Continually giving thanks will change your life because it will change your focus.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my rules.. any others that you might add?

Our Code of Living

When I think about the old west in America I think of The Code of the West ... I think many cultures have written and unwritten codes like that one. For people of faith I think that the following verse offers a code of sorts.
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NKJV)
This is one of my all time favorite scripture passages. I guess I love this verse because of it's universal and timeless message. It tells us that God has shown us 'what is good' and 'what He requires'. It doesn't give us a list of "Do's and Don'ts" but communicates a code to us ... a code of living. This code has three elements.

Justice: What do you think it means to "do justly"? I think that it could mean to act with integrity. I think that integrity is the cornerstone of personal justice. Here is a New Testament definition of integrity that I like:
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:17 NASB)
This definition encompasses the both sides of integrity. Often sin is defined as simply giving in to temptation and does not address our sins of omission. Justice on a personal level is all about acting in accordance with our conscience. For a believer the conscience is that place in our hearts where courage and wisdom lives. Acting in accord with conscience is not reacting to feelings of guilt or shame - it is not reacting at all. To "do justice" is to "act" with wisdom and courage ... often in the defense of the weak, the poor and powerless ... but more often in accord with that deep part of us that "knows the right thing to do".

Mercy: Of all qualities in life this one trumps them all. Consider these verses:
For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13 NKJV)

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7 NKJV)
Here again we see a divine perspective about what is important in life. I think that mercy is one of the most proactive and positive words in our language. Someone with a heart attitude of mercy will be compassionate and caring. Our verse says something interesting though - its says to "love mercy". To be a merciful person you need to embrace mercy at a heart level ... it has to be so important to you that you can say "I love mercy"! This speaks to the preeminence of mercy to God and why it is the center of this code of living.

Humility: Isn't it interesting that this is the word that God uses when He speaks of "walking" with Him. Isn't it interesting that it doesn't tell us to walk humbly with your fellow man. It reminds me of what the bible says of Moses:
Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3 NKJV)
Humility really has little to do with how we relate to each other but much to do with how we relate to God. A little further in the Numbers passage God speaks this way about Moses:
He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD.
Moses' humility had its roots in his relationship to the Lord. His dealings with Pharaoh may not have come across as humble but in the truest sense of the word he was acting with extreme humility.

I think that all of these qualities are necessary to live well. Humility synthesizes justice and mercy into a balanced approach to life. Without humility justice can become self-righteous ... and without it mercy can look like someone with a martyr complex. Without a relationship to God humility can be false make you look weak and become an excuse for not acting with justice and mercy.

Mother Teresa comes to mind when I think of this code of living - she was woman who didn't judge the weak, the poor and powerless but showed mercy to them drawing a quiet humility from her relationship with God. This beautiful quote from her speaks to what it means to live by this code:
"Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work."
God please grant us grace to live lives rich with justice, mercy and humility. Amen.

The New Look of Redemption

Next month will mark the 5th anniversary of my foray into the blogosphere in the form of this blog. So I thought that it was about time that I changed the look. Please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions.. but be kind.. I really don't like bad news :)

Crucibles of the Heart

The seventeenth chapter of proverbs begins with a statement reflecting God's purposes for us in trials and testings. As we read through this chapter we see evidences of hearts that are strong and ones that are weak. We see the various crucibles and furnaces that we are purified in.. in these places God can strengthen our hearts in wonderful ways. 

"The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts." (v3)

When I think about crucibles and furnaces I think about the refining qualities of heat and fire. Silver and gold are purified by fire. We are also tested and refined by the fires of affliction and trial. And through these fires we come to understand who we really are as all of the bad stuff comes to the surface and is skimmed away by the Lord. Trials have a way of stripping off all of our religious clothing leaving us standing clothed in the God's armor alone.

Following are a few of the crucibles and furnaces that God uses in His refining process:
  • "An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue." (v4)

    Our ears and our lips often reveal the strength of our hearts. So often our flesh speaks and hears because it is stronger than our heart.
  • "Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished." (v5)

  • Our attitudes about poverty and tragedy can expose the pride in us. Humility understands that true wealth is not found in money and calamity can befall us all.
  • "Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends." (v9)

  • Unforgiveness like nothing else shows how strong our flesh can be. In a very short term it can turn into bitter gossip. We strengthen our heart with love when we forgive an offense.
  • "If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house." (v13)

    A person filled with ingratitude will turn on the one who does them good and reveals much about the weakness of their heart.
  • "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (v17)

    Adversity tests our friendship and our love. A strong heart loves when adversity comes but a weak heart gives way to the flesh.
  • "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." (v22)

    Absolutely one of my favorite verses in scripture. Keeping our joy in the midst of trial and suffering is evidence of a strong heart.. and a strong heart is good medicine.
God's purpose in trials and sufferings is to produce strong hearts through a process of refining and purifying. When trials come we have an opportunity to lean into our hearts and reject the temptations of the flesh. I pray that God will help us all as we journey through these crucibles of the heart.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

Prayer Blogoversary Invitation

One year ago today I sat in a hospital room watching my wife Ann receive a chemotherapy treatment. Feeling a bit prayerful I started a new blog and called it Daily Prayer. Now 52 weeks and 187 posts later I find that I no longer post there every day. I still regularly pray but don't always feel like writing about what I pray.

So I thought that I would invite you to write a prayer or devotional thought on prayer to be posted there with a link back to your blog. I would also be open to making it a group authored site if anyone would commit to posting once a week. If you are interested please email me and let me know how you would like to be involved.