Monday, October 23, 2017

Gone Fishing—to Respond Better to Life!

            NO, I HAVEN’T GONE FISHING. Not literally, anyway. I have gone beaching, though. To the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve been here since last week to learn how to be a better writer, to meet up with other writers who want to learn and improve their craft. And I’m also taking a couple of days after the conference to R and R. You know, get much-needed beach time. That’s a spiritual, physical and emotional necessity for someone who grew up almost on the water. Getting to the ocean—feeling the salt spray on my face, smelling those oceany smells, feeling the wet sand ooze between my toes, hearing the waves roll and crash onto the shore—lifts my spirits and invigorates me. The engineer says the change in me when I’m near or on the water is miraculous. Not surprising, though. My younger son read some research that said those people who grew up near the ocean were more likely to suffer depression if they moved inland, far away from the coast.
            I was so happy when he told me that! Now I know I’m not nuts, that I need my ocean fixes. When I talk to other coastal ex-pats who live here in the desert, they say the same thing. We’re a whiny, commiserating group. We understand each other. And, thankfully, the engineer is sympathetic. So, we’re soaking up the brine-laced air while we can. Two days of that after a writer’s conference that was nearly like drinking water through a fire hose (but tons of fun!) is just what the doctor ordered before we head back to the dry heat.

            But I didn’t want to leave you without something to ponder this week, so I’ve included a link to one of Dr. Paul Tripp’s blog posts. This one explores how to avoid living in constant disappointment and bitterness and respond better to our environment. In this post he covers how to:

Live Honestly
Live Sensitively
Live Angrily
Live Joyfully, and
Live Hopefully

He offers some great self-reflective questions at the end of the short post that I think you’ll enjoy.

"Are You Too Happy With Your Life?"

And I’ll be back here next week, living off the fumes of ocean spray!

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos courtesy of Google Images

Monday, October 16, 2017

Want Peace? Stop Talking, and Listen More

            KEEPING OUR MOUTHS SHUT and listening—really listening—is one of the hardest things in the world for us to do. We want to express ourselves; we desperately want people “to understand where we’re coming from.” We want others to honor our rights, know how smart and clever we are and how much wisdom we possess. How right we are and how wrong they are. But being able to stop speaking, from trying to give our opinion and vindicate ourselves, is one of the most important qualities we can possess and put to good use. It’s about peace, and holding it.

            As I’ve mentioned before, there are several definitions for the word “peace” in Scripture. The one we’re covering today has to do with holding our tongues, keeping silent, to cease talking. And while we’re zippering our lips, we’re to be giving a full, listening ear to what others are saying.

            One place we find this is in “The Book of Job,” chapter 33, verses 31-33. Hopefully you already know the story of how Satan slinks into Heaven to stand before God and accuse God of playing favorite with Job. He tells God that if He’d only let him (Satan) have his way with Job, then Job wouldn’t remain the faithful follower God is snookered into thinking he is. God says okay, you can do just about anything to Job, but you can’t kill him. And Satan does. He kills all of Job’s kids, destroys his livestock, and then he inflicts Job with a horrible disease that causes so much pain and discomfort that Job heads down to the city dump to grab broken pottery pieces to scratch his itching, oozing skin. It’s a horrible picture. But it didn’t have quite the effect Satan thought it would. All of that suffering doesn’t change Job’s mind about God.
            What it does do is draw some well-meaning but clueless friends to sit with Job in his misery. That would be good, if they’d just left it there—at just sitting. You know, just being present as moral support. But no, they all have to give Job their opinions about why he’s in this predicament, and the more they talk, the more depressed Job seems to become. But what Job doesn’t do is admit he’s done anything wrong to contribute to his emotional pain and physical torture. In fact, Job thinks he’s a pretty good guy. (Don’t we all.) Job’s right, though; he is a pretty good guy who didn’t deserve this suffering. But he’s certainly not sinless. And he doesn’t have any idea what transpired in Heaven to bring this all about.

            Then another friend named Elihu shows up and tries to enlighten Job about God’s ways. He’s better than the others in his assessments, even though he does get a few things wrong.
            In verses 31-33, Elihu says:
            “Give ear, Job, listen to me;
            Hold your peace, and I will speak.
            If you have anything to say,
                        answer me;
            Speak, for I desire to justify you,
            If not, listen to me:
            Hold your peace, and I will teach
                        you wisdom.” (Italics mine. NKJV version.)

            Twice Elihu asks Job to keep his lips sealed and listen to what is being said. He asks him to refrain from trying to rebut or justify every comment, to stop the mental process of even thinking ahead on what kind of snappy comment can be made. Because when your brain’s busy doing that, it’s not listening!

            I love how The Message says it:
            “So, please, Job, hear me out,
            honor me by listening to me.
            What I’m about to say
            has been carefully thought out.
            I have no ulterior motives in this;
                        I’m speaking honestly from my heart,
            The Spirit of God made me what I am,
                        the breath of God Almighty gave me life!”

            Haven’t you ever said that, or wanted to say that to someone you’re trying to get your feelings across to? “Please hear me out. Honor me by listening to me.”
            But we don’t often do that, do we? Show someone honor by listening to them. By really hearing their heart. We’re too busy wanting them to hear ours. But listening extends freedom to the other person, a freedom you would like to have for yourself.

            Elihu points out earlier in chapter 33 that God may speak in a way that man has a problem understanding. And because of that disconnect, we often don’t perceive what God is saying. And consequently, we argue, ignore, distrust, and let our faith fracture. How do we combat that? By keeping our ears open and our spirits tuned into His voice.
            And it works when we’re communicating with others, too.

            A long time ago I changed my language when talking about having a conversation with someone. Instead of saying, “I was speaking to John,” I changed it to: “I was speaking with John.” It helps me remember that when I’m having a conversation, that if I’m speaking to A person, what I’m really doing is talking at them, not listening to them and having a two-way conversation. Speaking with them reminds me that the conversation is a healthy give-and-take interaction. At least I hope it is, since I do strive to be at peace with all men, as much as it is possible for me to be. That fact is that some people are like perpetual tornadoes. They enjoy a good fight and aren’t interested in peace, at least not the kind everyone can enjoy.

            In Job chapter 38, God finally makes His presence known, and He isn’t happy about Job’s self-righteous attitude or the stupid things Job’s friends have shared. He accuses Job’s friends of giving counsel (horrible counsel, at that) without having the knowledge to back it up. Then He gets tough with Job when He says:
            “Now prepare yourself like a man;
            I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”

            I think at that point I would have dropped dead from fear, or covered myself in a pile of those busted up pots. But Job doesn’t. But for four chapters God chastises Job with rhetorical questions, pointing out that He’s God and Job’s not. (Remember: My kingdom, My rules.) By the end of it, you realize the ludicrousness of defending yourself against Him or demanding answers from Him.
            It takes Job just six verses to admit his shame and display a repentant heart. (He doesn’t ramble on and on; he gets to the point. More of us should follow his example.) And that’s all it takes. Immediately God sets about to restoring Job, and He starts first with his big mouth, know-it-all friends. (The three who couldn’t keep their mouths shut. Elihu wasn’t chastened.) He has them spend some bucks gathering animals to sacrifice to Job in order to ask Job’s forgiveness. Job’s health is restored, and he gets a second chance at enjoying a family. In fact, life is better after his suffering than it was before. (Ever experienced that?)

So what can we learn from Job's story about holding our peace?
1. First, we might never know why we suffer. Can we still enjoy peace with not knowing, not having all of the answers? (God never explained Satan’s role in all of this to Job.)
2. Second, opening our mouths may keep us from enjoying knowledge and wisdom we need, or that would help us to have peace.
3. Third, opening our mouths may end up hurting the other person more than helping them. Saying something stupid is not covered over by saying, “I’m just being honest, here.”
4. Fourth, keeping our mouths shut may help us hear someone better, and understand. And understanding may grant us peace.
5. Fifth, opening our mouths at the wrong time may bring more turmoil—for us, and the person we’re addressing.
6. Sixth, keeping our mouths shut—even though we want to say something or even correct someone else—may cost more than it’s worth.

How have you managed to enjoy peace by keeping your mouth shut and listening?

Enjoy your week, and keep this prayer close to your heart:

“Set a guard over my mouth, LORD,
keep watch over the doors of my lips” (Psalm 141:3; NIV).

Let Him have control over what you say, and expect to be filled with peace and freedom!

Until next week.

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos courtesy of Google Images           

Monday, October 9, 2017

Having Peace in a Peace-less World

            IS IT JUST ME, or does the state of the world seem to be deteriorating? It seems as though chaos is overtaking sanity in every corner of the globe—in regions, countries, states, cities, towns and homes. I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve found the daily world and national news so stomach heaving that I can’t read or watch it anymore. The local news is only a smidgen better, but I suspect it won’t be long until I disengage from that, too. It seems peace remains forever elusive. 

            So just how are we supposed to experience peace amidst this chaos? Is it a futile goal?
            The Bible tells us that it is not a futile hope, that we can grab hold of it, in spite of the conflict swirling around us. God encourages us to look forward to it in the future. What we need to do, though, is properly define true peace. Is it simply a cessation of wars and turmoil? Or is it something deeper, more lasting and effectual?


            David Brickner, the executive director of Jews for Jesus wrote about this subject in the organization’s September newsletter. Here’s part of his editorial:

            “Peace is not merely an absence of conflict. The Hebrew word shalom conveys the idea of complete, sound, wholeness of life, harmony, right relationship. Ultimately these things come only from the Creator of all things. Our Maker. As believers in Jesus, we know that intellectually, but do we know it deep in our hearts?

            “In order to have world peace, first we need peace between parties where it was originally broken. The story of shattered peace began long before nations started to war against one another. In Genesis 3, we see how people became alienated from God and one another. It happened when Eve and Adam made a grab for what belonged to God, trying to gain wisdom apart from their Maker, wanting to become masters of their own destiny. In one act of distrust and disobedience they, and subsequently we, tore themselves away from the only true Giver of life.

            “The Psalmist cries out, ‘Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves’ (Psalm 100:3). Yet there’s not a person alive who doesn’t think, say and do things that show we do not know that God is God. We continually try to take His place in our attempts at sovereignty. It’s spiritual insanity.”

           Have you ever thought of your actions as spiritual insanity? I know most of us tell ourselves we’re good people, and we’re just trying to do our best. But honestly, that’s not always true, and sometimes it rarely is. Can we really expect anything else but detours and halting steps from our puny, human selves? Jesus pointed out that we can do nothing (and nothing means nothing) without Him; and that it’s hard to kick against the goad. When you keep trying to kick against God and His rules (remember: God’s kingdom, His rules) you get really bloodied toes.

            Then Brickner goes on to state the heart of the issue: “In breaking our peace with God, we became broken. Because we are broken, we lack peace within ourselves…and so we are incapable of making lasting peace with one another.”

            We have broken our peace with God.
            Because we are broken, we lack internal peace.
            Because we lack internal peace, we’re incapable of enjoying lasting peace with others.

            Sounds pretty depressing and hopeless. And it would be, if it weren’t for one wonderful, game-changing fact—that the Prince of Peace himself entered the world for the purpose of reconciling man to God. For paying the broken relationship debt and wiping it out. Once and for all. There is absolutely nothing—NOTHING—any of us could do or can do in our own power now to restore that broken relationship. And the sweet news is that we don’t need to try, because Jesus paid it all. It is He who gives us internal peace in the face of turbulence, in the midst of a shattered, hurting world.

            God took care of this peace problem through His son Jesus. The only way for us to enjoy that restoration peace is through faith in Jesus. No other way. Running around doing good works won’t do it. Praying a certain number of times a day facing a specific direction won’t do it. Nor will belonging to a certain group, praying a certain way, following a specific man-made ritual. It was a done deal over 2,000 years ago. It’s the only way to peace. God said it was so. And since it’s His kingdom, He gets to make the rules. We can’t alter them, climb over them, or skirt around them because it’s more comfortable for us. Ignoring them and pleading ignorance won’t work either.


            Brickner reminds us that peace is a component of the fruit of thee Holy Spirit. It’s a renewable resource, but only if you have the power of the Holy Spirit within you that can keep refilling you. Brickner recounts a story of the famous preacher Dwight L Moody who was asked by some believers why he continually pressed Christians to be refilled over and over again with the Spirit. Moody’s answer? “Well, I need a continual refilling because I leak!” Ever feel that way? Like a leaky pot?
            The analogy works for me because about every third day this time of year in the hot, dry Southwest I have to go outside and refill my potted plants with water. Enough water to saturate the soil. I know I’ve squirted in enough water when I see it dribbling out the pot’s hole in the bottom. But when I don’t faithfully re-water (if there’s been no rain, which is likely), I’ll look outside and see limp or shriveled up plants. Like some believers. Oh, they’re saved, but they’re spiritually parched. And they don’t know why. They don’t have peace in their hearts. They’re in emotional and spiritual turmoil. Everything they had in their soul container has leaked out. They need a refilling.
            You fill, pour out and refill and pour out some more, and go through the process all over again. That’s what prayer closet and retreat times are for. You can’t get by effectively without them.

            We need to constantly remind ourselves of this fact: Until Jesus returns and puts an end to it, there will always be trouble in the world. And because of that, even though we need to continually pray for peace, we first need to remember that trouble will be on-going, and in order to enjoy perfect internal peace in the midst of that trouble (which Jesus says we can possess!), we need to start looking no further than our own hearts. We need to look no further than Him.
            And there’s something else we need to remember. Scripture tells us how the world’s talk of peace can give us a false sense of security. The Apostle Paul reminds us that when people are talking about peace and security and all is looking well in the world is when we’re going to get blindsided by swift destruction. A pretty sobering reality.
            So why not enjoy emotional and spiritual peace now, in the midst of the storm? Reap the benefits of it before the false, temporary peace shows up? Possess it, enjoy, share it, and tell others how to have it.

            While external conflict is raging around the world, internal conflict—that which lies within your heart and soul—can be snuffed out and replaced by the kind of peace that really does surpass all rational understanding or explanation.
            It is the peace given by the Creator. Who better to receive it from than the One who invented it to begin with and uses it as a title?

Until next week.

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos courtesy of Google Images and Andrea A. Owan