Thursday, March 31, 2016

The protection of God

It seems to me, after great introspection and prayer, that my two churches have an inordinate amount, statistically, of folks with illness, big and small. 

I mean good folks. Folks who mean quite a bit to the churches. Folks who are loving and kind. Folks who have been and will continue to be leaders. 

So, this goes out to them, and their kin, and their friends.

I wondered, then, about protection for them. God's protection. God's merit. God's glory.

I read this: "When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot. God's angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray. Open you mouth and taste, open your eyes and see -- how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him."

I was mesmerized momentarily with this notion of circle of protection.

So, I went on a word search. David certainly thought God would protect him in times of great need. Over and over, he mentions it.

My favorite, I guess, is Psalm 98:18 -- "Yes, our protection comes from the Lord, and he, the Holy One of Israel, has given us our kind."

Or maybe it's, "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection."

The list goes on and on and on. Folks in trouble, crying out to a God who listens, who protects them.

Interestingly, in my efforts to word search protection, I came across a certain blog, mine own. 

 "I read in a friend's story in a Jackson, Miss., newspaper a couple of years back of the tornado that hit Macon County.

My friend quotes a woman from Shuqualak, Miss., Cindy Moore, about the aftermath. Her sister and niece were in a "cinder block building, going through items for a yard sale, only a few hundred feet from her home on Mississippi 21. “When I looked out, there was nothing left of it but a pile of rubble,” Moore said. “I went running as fast as I could. A family that I guess had been passing by stopped and was frantically digging through the debris. All of a sudden I saw my niece’s head pop up. Then I saw my sister trying to crawl out of it. Nothing but the grace of God kept them alive. There is no other way they could have survived that.”

Let's explore that a minute. Did God protect them from the storm? Does He? What about the person who was killed in Kemper County by the same storm? Was this person not cared for by God? Was this person not as "good" of a Christian.

What about God's protection for everyone?

Isaiah's prophecy says, "The Lord says to his people, When the time comes to save you, I will show you favor and answer your cries for help. I will guard and protect you and through you make a covenant with all peoples."

Written, of course, for Israel, but we (being) all peoples can take great happy, happy, happy as well with these words.

He will guard and protect us means that all the stuff that happens with seemingly great regularity is just that, stuff. 

God's protection doesn't mean that nothing will ever happen to us. If none of us who have prayed for others to be healed so as not to die actually were healed and never died, we would run out of food on this planet pretty quickly.
God's protection, I think, is better suited to Romans 8: 28: We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose."
We can argue and debate what that means, too. But I believe it means that even if the storm whacks us like a bad Mafia show would, or even if Donald Trump gets the nomination,  God can take that and make something good out of it. If we lose _________, God can take that circumstance and make something good. 
Is that protection in the manner we would like it to be? Probably not. But it is God's way. It doesn't mean we won't go through stuff. It means we will make it through. Sometimes that's all it takes for those who love him.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The pressure builds

I            Isaiah's writings tell us this: The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
            “But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed."
            Is there anything more beautiful, and more awful? Our sins. Our failures. Our mistakes. OUR choices. He takes care of them. All the things wrong with us. All. 
            The servant, Jesus, grew up as a scrubby plant in a parched field. I once wrote a book that became One Man, One Cross. I, however, wanted to call it Life Is A Pressure Cooker, and I'm A Green Bean, but the editor didn't want to use that. 
            But it is true. We, humans all, are filled with pressure or have pressure bestowed on us.
   says this of dealing with pressure: 
            Whether its deadlines at work or personal goals you want to achieve, many of us live under a constant pressure state. You can’t rewrite your genetic code, but you can rewire it—in a manner of speaking.
Develop a simple routine You know how people in the 90s always used those foam stress balls? Well, they may have been onto something. Squeezing a ball in your non-dominant hand can actually help you not “choke” under pressure. Why is this?
            “Before we are asked to perform, most of us overthink what we are going to do. Take professional athletes, these individuals are no doubt gifted in their particular skill-set. They practice for hours a day, and yet sometimes, they can’t seem to perform when it matters the most. That’s because they aren’t allowing for the automated part of your brain to do what it does best.
            The Apostle Paul admits there is such a thing as daily pressure. He wrote, “I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.
            “And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones.”
            Pressure can force us to do dumb things, but it also turns coal into diamonds.
            How you handle it, how you deal with it, is the key. Giving it to a God who would allow himself to be human, to be beaten, to be killed on a cross is an excellent way to begin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Living in the present

            I receive a daily update on my favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves.
            They are so bad, I don't open the update any more. Why would I care how the Braves are doing if the Braves don't? The management is building both a new stadium and a new ball club. Both take time, I'm told.
            The Braves are doing a new thing, and looking backward simply doesn't work. They are seeking a fresh start.
            I submit that is true in life, as well. Looking backward is the worst thing we can do. I can't do anything about anything that has already happened. I can't fix things. I can't live in that moment. I can't journey in time. I can't do anything about it. Nothing. Nada.
            I'm tied to the present. I'm considering the future, but I'm tied to the present. Life is what it is, and I can't do anything but live it in the present.
            Paul tries explaining new life this way: "Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own. Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new."
            Fresh starts are the answer. Go forward. Walk fast. Love God. Live humbly. Seek mercy today.
            What does it mean to live fully in the present moment? It means that your awareness is completely centered on the here and now. You are not worrying about the future or thinking about the past. When you live in the present, you are living where life is happening. The past and future are illusions, they don’t exist. As the saying goes “tomorrow never comes”. Tomorrow is only a concept, tomorrow is always waiting to come around the corner, but around that corner are shadows, never to have light shed upon, because time is always now.
            Now is the only time I have.
            Here are some tips for living in the now.
1. Remove unneeded possessions. Minimalism forces you to live in the present. Removing items associated with past memories or lives frees us up to stop living in the past and start living in the present.
2. Smile. Each day is full of endless possibilities! Start it with a smile. You are in control of your attitude every morning, keep it optimistic and expectant.
3. Fully appreciate the moments of today. Soak in as much of today as you possibly can – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the emotions, the triumph, and the sorrow.
4. Forgive past hurts. If you are harboring resentment towards another human being because of past hurts, choose to forgive and move on. The harm was their fault. But allowing it to impact your mood today is yours.
5. Love your job. If you just “survive” the workweek constantly waiting for the next weekend “to get here,” you are wasting 71% of your life (5 out of 7 days). there are two solutions: 1) find a new job that you actually enjoy (it’s out there), or 2) find something that you appreciate about your current career and focus on that rather than the negatives.
6. Dream about the future, but work hard today. Dream big. Set goals and plans for the future. But working hard today is always the first step towards realizing your dreams tomorrow. Don’t allow dreaming about tomorrow to replace living in today.
7. Don’t dwell on past accomplishments. If you are still talking about what you did yesterday, you haven’t done much today.
8. Stop worrying. You can’t fully appreciate today if you worry too much about tomorrow. Realize that tomorrow is going to happen whether you worry about it or not. And since worry has never accomplished anything for anybody, redirect your mental energy elsewhere.
9. Think beyond old solutions to problems. Our world is changing so fast that most of yesterday’s solutions are no longer the right answers today. Don’t get locked into a “but that’s how we’ve always done it” mentality. Yesterday’s solutions are not today’s solutions and they are certainly not tomorrow’s solutions.
10. Conquer addictions. Addictions in your life hold you hostage. They keep you from living a completely free life today. Find some help. Take the steps. And remove their influence over your life.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Spreading the news

Paul lays it out pretty clearly to us this morning: "He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned: that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out. This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth."
I love the comment, "Eventually the news is going to get out."
I'm reminded of the New York, New York phrase: "Start spreading the news..."
It is our job, it seems to me, to be like Paul, who sought to be like Jesus. It is our job to get the news to those who have never heard of God, and then it is our mission to explain how it works by simple faith and plain truth."
You tell me, what has a larger and more lasting impact than a Christian loving someone enough to give everything to make sure someone knows they are loved. Giving food. Showing up in areas of poverty. Standing on the promises of God. Can't that sort of love defeat even the miscreants who bomb stadiums?
Would you rather be a part of something loving than hating? Wouldn't you rather live abundantly than die by the hands of a suicide bomb?
Jesus offers himself, Paul wrote, in exchange for everyone held captive by sin. Why? To set them free.
There are people, good people otherwise, who are captives of sin, who can't shake it, can't get rid of it, can't do anything else.
But Jesus is the answer, for the world today.
That simple; that complex.
It's time to get out there, spread the news of Jesus, and on occasion use words. That simple; that complex.
On Easter Sunday, at least 65 were killed in a bomb blast in Pakistan. They were killed because of Jesus. They were killed because they chose love over hate, life over death. They were killed because someone else chose the latter.
Why? Lord, why?
It could be as simple as someone told this person lies, lies about Jesus, about Christian life, about their own religion and about their own set of values.
We need to spread the news. Then what happens, happens. Our job is to communicate love, and again, on occasions talk about Jesus.
It's the way, the truth, and the life. Our lives. His way. The truth.