Silver Lining?

It is easy for Christians, myself included, to justify having things in our lives that we probably ought not have.  There are so many elements of popular culture that we work to find ways to deem acceptable.  What usually happens is a person will find some small “redeeming” quality and will use that as grounds for the justification.  Shows that are full of sexual innuendo are tolerated because they are humorous.  Music with degrading lyrics are considered acceptable because of the beat. On and on it goes…

This is nothing new.

In Deuteronomy 7:25 the Israelites are instructed, “The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the Lord your God. You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned.”

“…you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them.”

As this passage gives instructions on how to properly destroy idols, not even precious metals, like gold and silver, are good enough reasons to keep them around. The primary concern was that they would become “snared” by such items.  There was a possibility that even if an Israelite did not want to keep an idol for worship purposes, he/she might keep it around for other reasons, in this case financial benefits.  We don’t deal with idols as blatantly as the Israelites did but we certainly deal with things that can “snare” us and steal our affections away from the Lord. The Lord takes a pretty hard stance on anything that poses a threat to “snare” us.

“You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned.”

Notice the consequence of allowing a banned item into one’s home; the person would become “like it.”  These things have an infectious quality. When we allow things into our lives/houses that God considers an “abomination” the  characteristic of being “banned”  moves from the item to us. We are told to “utterly detest” and “abhor” anything with that kind of potential.

As we interact with our culture it is important that we do not allow “silver linings” to be the bait that snares us and steals our affections away from the Lord.  What things do you give place to in your life because of the “silver lining”?

the black hole syndrome

A black hole is an area in space from which nothing, not even light, can escape.  A black hole is formed when a star collapses. It has an incredibly strong gravitational pull, and once an object crosses the “event horizon” it is within the black hole’s grasp.  It continues to bring things into itself, nothing escapes and the “hole” is never filled.

Sometimes I can identify all to well with a black hole.  In a strange similarity to the collapse of a star, my collapse happens when my focus turns inward. If I am not careful, I can become very “me” focused.  I want to be happy, I want satisfied, I want attention, I want conversations to center around me…. On and on it goes, I want what I want.  The funny thing is, when I begin to seek my own satisfaction so fervently, it becomes the very thing that eludes me.  Every conversation, every relationship, every attempt to “please me” somehow crosses my own “event horizon” and is sucked into the void.  The more I focus on me, the emptier I feel.

I recently had a bout with my “black hole syndrome.”  For a period of time I allowed myself to become very selfish in my pursuits and desires.  I took extraordinary measures to ensure my own pleasure, satisfaction and gratification.  I was even willing to sacrifice in order to obtain this goal (sacrifice at other’s expense of course).  Ironically, the more diligently I pursue my own fulfillment, the emptier & less fulfilled I become.

When this aching emptiness gets my attention enough to bring me to my senses, I am “re-reminded” of the truth of God’s Word.  1 Corinthian 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” These instructions go beyond living in peaceable community.  When I begin to apply this truth to my life, the black hole closes.  This wisdom does more than benefit my relationships with others, it benefits me.  I no longer watch attempt after attempt to satisfy myself disappear into a bottomless chasm.  Instead, I forget about myself, seek the good of others, & at last, find fulfillment.

bee together

When I was in grade school, I think it was 4th grade, a beekeeper came and talked to our class.  He had recently been out on an emergency call to remove a beehive from a family’s home.  He told us how he had removed the beehive safely and successfully.  The next challenge he faced was merging these “new-bees” into his existing hives at home.  Bees rely on odor and pheromones to identify one another within a bee colony and will fight and kill “outsider” bees that intrude their hive.

A special technique is used when a
beekeeper merges two colonies.   To merge colonies a beekeeper will place the hives together, separated by several layers of paper.  Over a period of several days, the bees will work their way through the paper.  As they take the time to work through the paper, the bees become accustomed to the other colony’s pheromones.  Eventually the bees penetrate the barrier that the beekeeper placed between them.  When they do, they all smell the same, like the paper they’ve all gone through.  Fighting is avoided and the bees are united.

Just recently I had the opportunity to enjoy time with a tight knit group of friends that I do not get to see often.  This close group was completely unacquainted with each other only a couple of years ago.  On the rare occasions we get to be together there is openness, understanding, transparency, deep sharing and encouragement.  This level of closeness is not unique to this group, but this group serves as an example of one of the key ways to obtain this level of intimacy. My group of friends has not given up meeting together.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

There is something about the way bees are unified that I believe holds true in our human relationships.  The bees become unified after they have passed through the layers of paper.  Too often, when we encounter barriers in our relationships it signals the end of the line.  But we are instructed to “ not give up meeting together.” There are levels of knowing and being known that will not be achieved until we have “passed through” some barriers in our relationships.  There are depths of friendship that are not achieved until we have “passed through” some shared experiences.  God has made us for relationship.  He has made us to be part of a family, part of the same body.  We need one another and we need one another in a way that goes beyond the superficial.   If we are to ever move below the surface it is going to take a greater level of commitment to one another in our relationships.

Who are your closest brothers and sisters in Christ?  What is your level of commitment to them?  Some are in the habit of not meeting together, not building relationship, not pressing through barriers, not passing through shared experiences.  What about you?  What habits are you developing when it comes to your relationships?

do you hear what i hear?

Just recently, I spent some time in a crowded shopping mall.  It was full of the typical holiday commotion that you would expect to find in a mall this time of year.  It was nearly in a state of complete chaos, but I will dismiss it as “general holiday excitement.” People were bustling all around, trying to find the perfect gift.  In the midst of the busyness, I sat down, enjoyed a cup of coffee and watched.

As I watched the shoppers scurry around I sipped my coffee and listened to the Christmas songs that were playing over the mall PA system.  For whatever reason, I began to pay close attention to the words that were being sung.  “In the dark streets shineth the everlasting light…” Song after song poured out of the speakers. “Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the new born King…”,  “The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good…”

I felt like I was the only one who was listening, or the only one who cared about what was being sung.  “These songs should be acknowledged as more than just background music,” I thought to myself.  Wonderful truths were being proclaimed to the mass of oblivious shoppers. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  But no one batted an eye at this incredible announcement.

“God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.  Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day.”  No one acknowledged the song, but it continued all the same. “To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy!”

One after another the songs came.  And not the typical mall Christmas songs either.  They weren’t playing songs like “Here Comes Santa Clause” & “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”  They kept playing the good ones.  O Holy Night, What Child Is This, The First Noel… With each song, it was as if someone was intentionally trying to get a message across.

I understand that people had other things on their minds.  Not everyone had the luxury of sitting with a cup of coffee and simply observing & listening.  But still, the contrast of beautiful, life changing truths being sung to people who appeared to be completely indifferent was stark.

I kept listening.  I sat and thought about the words I was hearing.  Tears welled in my eyes.  I felt overwhelmed by God’s love.  I felt thankful.  I felt sad for those who weren’t hearing what I was.

I have been back to the mall since then.  Unfortunately, I think I was more like the other folks as I attempted to get some shopping done.  Not only when I am at the mall, but just in life in general, I can get so distracted and caught up in the frantic pace of life.  What was it about that day at the mall?  Why was I so moved by the beauty of Christ coming to save sinners?  Why was the significance of Jesus’ work so apparent to me then? I think, very simply, the difference was that I took time to be still.  I took time to listen and to let the truth settle in my heart.   Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It becomes more pronounced around Christmas, the rushing around and forgetting what the “season” is really all about.  But it is a problem that we deal with all year round.  Take some time to hear.  Take some time to “be still & know.

 

 

thankful

It was mid November two years ago that my wife and I were taken off guard with bad news.  My wife was 12 weeks pregnant & her doctor had set up an ultrasound.  We went in for what we thought was a routine test to confirm that everything was ok.  The nurse moved the ultrasound device back and forth across my wife’s pregnant tummy.  We held
hands and watched the black and white shapes on the screen, waiting to be told what, exactly, we were looking at.  Then, as the nurse pulled the device away from my wife’s stomach and began to wipe it with a cloth and put it away, she casually told us, “yea, it looks like this terminated a couple weeks ago.”  We couldn’t comprehend what she was saying.

What had “terminated?”  And what in the world did she mean by “terminated?” This was just a test to confirm that everything was still “ok” in there, right?  Why was she tossing around words like “terminated?” The cold delivery seemed to amplify the impact of the news.  My wife had miscarried.  It was the week before Thanksgiving.  We spent the holiday trying to wrap our minds around what had happened and struggled to understand why.

In our time of confusion and pain our church family comforted us.  A surprising number of women had experienced this same heartache.  They willingly opened up old wounds and shared my wife’s sorrow.  Some of them had miscarried multiple times.  Women recalled painful memories in order to comfort my wife and assure her that she was not alone.

Almost exactly a year later my wife gave birth to our 3rd little girl. Again, the week before Thanksgiving. (November 17th). With the birth of each of our children, my wife has struggled with postpartum depression.  As we brought our new baby home and prepared for the holidays, the symptoms began to intensify.  This was her third time through postpartum depression, but this time seemed more severe.

As church folks often do after the birth of a baby, people began to bring meals to our home.  But somehow, with my wife struggling with depression, these meals took on greater significance.  These nightly visits from friends brought us more than food.  They brought comfort and peace.  They brought reassurance and strength. They brought concerned family members sharing our burdens. They brought love.

I ate meals that had been prepared by friends with tears in my eyes, overwhelmed by God’s love for me and for my family.  His love took on many forms.  It was meals delivered to our home.  It was a woman willing to sit with my wife, just to keep her company, or watch our kids so she could rest.  It was a friend who took our older girls to play at her home at a moments notice.  It was friends lifting up my wife and our family in prayer. Our church family became a very real expression of the love of God.

Two years in a row I have seen the incredible love of God expressed through the church. Of all the things I have to be thankful for, I am  most thankful to be a part of the Body of Christ.

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26-27 (NLT)

just a matter of time

I can’t seem to escape it sometimes.  Occasionally, I will try to put the thought out of my head all together, but the reminders are everywhere.  Pictures of my kids from just a couple years ago remind me of how much they have changed and how quickly they are growing. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, changing seasons… they all work together to keep me aware of the ticking of the clock.  Even subtle wrinkles, just beginning to form at the corners of my eyes, seem to insist that I remain conscious of the fact that time is passing and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

An awareness of how short life is can almost haunt me at times.  I think it used to be a good thing.  When I was younger and would hear the “old-timers” talk about how short life is and how quick it goes, I believed them.  I took them very seriously.  In high-school I kept myself reminded of their warnings .  When others would complain about teachers, classes & school assemblies, I did not share their disdain.  When they would talk  longingly about graduation  and “getting out of here,” I knew that it was a time to be enjoyed and would all too soon be gone.  I feel like this awareness also helped me to thoroughly enjoy my years in college as well.  But now…. now it causes me to be anxious. If I will allow it, it will fill me with dread.  Time is moving too quick.  Time with my kids, time with my wife, time to accomplish anything of significance… It is running out!

In my struggle with the fact that I have an ever approaching expiration date, I find 2 significant comforts that I need to be reminded of regularly.

1.  The idea of time “running out” isn’t something that bothers me alone. It didn’t sit too well with God either.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Our mortality upset Him to the point of taking extreme action. He gave His Son so that we  “shall not perish but have eternal life.”

2. The second comfort I find is the result of this “extreme action”- eternal life.  In a very real sense, time is not ticking.  Those of us who believe in Him will not perish!   My time with my wife, with my kids, with many of my family and friends, it is unlimited.

What a relief.  I find an overwhelming sense of peace knowing that I’m not the only one concerned with the fact that “the end is coming soon.”  Not only was someone else concerned, it was someone who was able and willing to do something about it.

Through God’s love and through Jesus I don’t have to wring my hands as I watch the pages of the calendar steadily fall away. Instead, I confidently look forward to eternal life.

“And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.” 1 John 2:25

Pride & Theft

Just recently I was approached by the parent of a student in our youth ministry.  This parent was very complimentary and said some incredibly kind things about myself and our ministry.  In my attempt to be humble I responded by saying things like, “that is very nice of you to say that,” and, “well, we have some great young people…”

I walked away from the conversation secretly pleased with how humble I had been.  However, the next day while taking a run, I had some time to reflect on the situation.  I have concluded that my “humility” was deceptive pride. I had seemingly deflected all of the credit and praise that was being given.  I had carefully crafted my responses to appear as though I refused to take the credit, while in reality taking both the credit that was being offered as well as credit for being humble.

My error was two-fold.

1. Pride.  Pride is a serious offense.  So much so that the Bible says in James 4:6 that “God opposes the proud” or, “God resists the proud.”  The definition of “oppose” is “to actively resist or refuse to comply with, disapprove of and attempt to prevent, to compete with.”  When I am proud I put myself in a position where God “actively resists” me.  I can not think of a less desirable place to be than in direct opposition with the creator of the universe. But that is the direct result of pride in my life and repentance is necessary.

2. Theft. The second part of my error is that of thievery.  Even if my attempts to deflect praise had been sincere, they still would have been wrong because the praise belonged somewhere.  Romans 13:7 says, “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (NKJV)  The compliments that were being given to me were genuine.  The student that was being discussed has undergone serious life change.  There is beautiful fruit growing in this student’s life and someone is responsible for that and is due the credit. Correctly identifying who the praise should be given to, then, is an important determination.  I underhandedly took the credit, though it did not belong to me.  That is theft.  However, simply refusing to accept it is inadequate as well. When I am given something that belongs to the Lord I must give it to “whom it is due.”

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:17 (NIV)