Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Good Advice

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you wish you could get some good advice? What should I do in this situation, and how should I proceed? Young Timothy, Paul’s assistant, found himself in that place as he tried to deal with some very complicated problems at Ephesus. There were some of his leaders under his authority who had departed from the faith and were teaching heresy. They had stopped preaching Jesus Christ as the center of their message. Timothy was asked to confront them and bring order out of the chaos. At the same time, the Apostle Paul gave him some good advice as to how he should try to live out each day of his life. The advice works for us as it did for Timothy: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.   Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim 6:11-12).

Paul gave Timothy four commands that can be remembered easily. They are simply Flee, Pursue, Fight, and Take Hold Of. Paul exhorts Timothy to flee any situation that had the appearance of evil, whether it was a religious controversy, materialism, or sexual temptation. Flight is sometimes our best option as it was for Joseph in sexual temptation. Fleeing that moment preserved Joseph’s character.

Secondly, Paul told Timothy what to pursue. He gave him three pairs of pursuits, the first being righteousness and godliness, which is our relationship with God and people. One God does for us, and the other we do for ourselves. Secondly, he told him to pursue faith and love. Without an authentic faith, we will never know God’s love. These two virtues are worth our pursuit. Finally, he told him to pursue endurance with gentleness. What contrasting qualities—one is hard as steel and the other soft as cotton and yet both are needed in our lives. We need to be strong in our convictions and yet gentle in our spirit.

Next, Paul commanded Timothy to Fight. Paul was a fighter, and those who followed him learned to fight the fight of faith. Timothy was being asked to keep his eye on the prize, which is Jesus Christ, and run hard in the race. “Give it all you have, Timothy.”

The last command Paul gave Timothy in this passage is to Take Hold of Eternal Life. We all receive eternal life when we accept Christ as our savior, but we don’t all live as if we have hold of it. That is what Paul is talking about.

What motivates us even more is to know that we are living our lives in the presence of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, “In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 6:13-14).

Thursday, February 20, 2014

God’s Provision

How prone we are to worry and fretting. Jesus knows how we are, and he addressed this weakness in his Sermon on the Mount. He encouraged us to not worry about our daily needs, such as what we eat or the clothes we wear. He cited the grass of the field and the lilies and the birds of the air as examples of God’s divine providence. They don’t struggle through every day for their provision. They seem to know they are taken care of. This statement is so powerful: “Are you not much more valuable than they?” I have never seen a beautiful Cardinal bird on the white snow that does not make me think of this statement. I say to myself, “If God takes care of that Cardinal who is so carefree, how much more will he not take care of me?”  Jesus told us that our Heavenly Father knows we need the basic things of life, and he will give them to us in the right time and the right way. Instead of fretting, Jesus said we should, “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:25-34).

Whatever you are going through and whatever need you are facing, the proper response is to trust God to take care of you. He knows your needs, and he has the resources to meet all your needs. Let’s remember that all God’s ways are meaningful. When he sends a storm our way, it is not an accident. When he disciplines us, it is with purpose. Though his ways are far above our finding out, they are the incredible ways in which he is working in our lives. The following story was related by Dr. Bryan Chapell and definitely underscores God’s sovereignty and divine provision for his children.

Missionaries David and Hazel Knowlton claimed these wonderful truths of divine providence in the deserts of Africa when they built a clinic to care for the needs of impoverished people. Initially their building plans were thwarted by the absence of gravel for a needed concrete foundation. Though sand extended for hundreds of miles, gravel was so scarce that local builders treated it like precious stone. After weeks of futile efforts to locate enough gravel for the project, David wandered into the desert one evening praying about his predicament. Shuffling his feet as he contemplated his situation, he struck his toe against a small stone in the sand. He stopped short. What was the rock doing here? He rushed back to the compound for a shovel, pushed away the surface sand, and found gravel!

The next morning David rounded up wheelbarrows and hired workers to take the “worth-their-weight-in-gold pebbles” to the building site. The laborers transported all the gravel they could find—enough for the clinic foundation as well as for the mission quarters and a storehouse.

In future weeks word of the gravel finally spread to neighboring villages. Gravel “prospectors” descended on the site to stake out claims. The government even sent representatives to manage the discovery of the new resource. But no one found any more gravel. Millennia earlier when God created the world, he planted that little pocket of gravel in an ocean of sand for David Knowlton to find for his mission project. Then at just the right time, God exposed those pebbles to encourage a heart, to establish a mission, and to turn back the forces of darkness. Such is the nature of providence.[i]

[i] Bryan Chapell, The Wonder of it All, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 1999, pp. 85-86

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Overcoming Failure

Failure is a perspective. We all fail, and that is the truth. What is important is what we do when we fail. Do we accept the failure as final? Do we incorporate the failure as part of who we are and let it change us? I am not writing a self-help blog today because I believe that serious moral failures can only be overcome with God’s help. With God’s help however, we can overcome failures that would have otherwise crushed the life out of us and robbed us of our purpose for living. God extends grace to those in failure and lifts them up if they accept his grace.

Maybe you have experienced failure in your marriage, and you can’t get passed it. Maybe you have failed as a parent, and you live with that regret. Maybe you have failed in your profession, and you bear the consequences. God’s grace extends to you another opportunity to do the right thing. Let’s look at Peter’s failure.

Peter was proud, so proud in fact that he boasted to the Lord that he would die for the Lord if necessary. Even if everyone else ran away, he would not, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” The Lord gave Peter a sober rebuke—one which he did not comprehend at the time, “today — yes, tonight — before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times “ (Mark 14:29-30).

Peter did the unthinkable; he denied the Lord, not just once, but three times. What emotions must have been swirling in Peter’s mind that day. After the third denial, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’"  Peter’s response is that “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62). Peter, from that moment, carried the burden of failure with him.

When the women discovered the empty tomb, they were met by an angel who delivered a message from Jesus. He calmed them down and assured them that Jesus was alive, but that he wasn’t there. He told them, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (Mark 16:6-7).

The Lord adds Peter’s name because they may have not included him because Peter didn’t want to hear from anybody. Others may have written Peter off, but Jesus didn’t, “Tell his disciples and Peter.”

Later, Peter and some of the disciples go fishing in Galilee, and as their lives are empty, so are their nets. Jesus appears on the shore telling them to cast their nets on the right side. They do, and the catch is enormous—153 large fish. Peter, upon recognizing that it is Jesus, dives into the water and hurries to see Jesus. Jesus has prepared hot bread and grilled fish for these hungry men. However, after breakfast Jesus draws Peter into an important conversation about his failure. He does it in such way as to help Peter deal with his own sense of worthlessness.

Jesus knew that this issue needed to be talked out, so he initiated the talk and engaged Peter. He was dealing with Peter’s failure, and now he was extending grace. He did not brush it off, but carefully asked Peter did he love him, and he asked this three times, exactly the number of Peter’s denial (John 21:1-19).

Before Peter had bragged that he would always follow Jesus even to death, but he had learned that his pride was an obstacle. He was trusting in self and not in God. Now he simply says, “Lord, I love you.” Jesus says that is enough, “Feed my sheep.” If you say, “I love you Lord,” that is enough. Jesus’ words to Peter were “Follow me!” Peter did that, all the way to death.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Every Child Needs to See

There is no such thing as the perfect family. All families have problems and have to deal with conflict because we are flawed human beings. However, the way families deal with conflict impacts every child in a way that affects the rest of their life. Those children that see conflict on a regular basis, such as mom and dad fighting, or mom and daughter yelling, or father and son in contest of who wins, are placed in a precarious situation. If they don’t see some resolution to the conflict, they will begin to internalize the negative emotions and maybe later act them out. What is so needed for these children is for the mom and dad to call everyone together and talk the conflict out and bring resolution for the entire family to see.

When children grow up in a family where the mom and dad talk things out and handle conflict in a calm, resolute way, the children learn how to handle their emotions. When they hear apologies and see firsthand mom or dad say they’re sorry and ask forgiveness, they learn how to do that. This is a vital skill that will be needed later in life and is so essential to building meaningful relationships. We aren’t capable of living perfect lives—we will make mistakes, and what we need is a means of restoring broken communication and broken relationships, and learning to forgive is how it is best done.

Often families identify a problem member of the family as the “real problem,” such as a rebellious adolescent or depressed mom, but in a family everyone is part of the problem. If I had a bicycle repair shop and someone brought me a broken spoke and asked me to fix the bicycle, I would respond by asking where the bike is. Families often do this as they focus on one member of the family as the problem and are often completely oblivious to the fact that the problem involves all the family.

When families avoid talking about problems, they create more problems—deeper problems. When they tackle, head on, any problem, whether it is a bad attitude, or out of control emotions, they are helping everyone in the family bring clarity out of confusion.

When families avoid talking about issues they have, they are allowing the problems to get bigger, but they are also failing to equip the children with the needed skills to solve their own problems. When we observe a problem in our children or ourselves, we must talk about it, regardless of whether they want to talk about it or not. This is always difficult when a family is not used to talking out their problems. The more they talk and seek resolution, the more accustomed the family becomes to solving problems, and this is what every child needs to see as they grow up.