Tuesday, June 25, 2019

God’s Marvelous Plans

Psalm 137 is a description of the attitude of the Jewish exiles in Babylonian captivity. Listen to their discouragement: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Ps 131:1-4). God’s people in exile had lost their focus. They wanted to go home, and that is all they could think about. They had lost their joy.

A 2003 article in The New Yorker magazine describes a man jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. The man was about 30 years old and lived alone. A suicide note was found in his apartment: “I’m going to walk to the bridge; if a person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.” It makes you wonder how many people we meet each day that just need a smile. They need some joy.

How many of you are living in the land of disappointment? You have been taken captive by forces that have brought you to a place out of your control. Have sadness and despair marked your life? Have you often wished for the joy of earlier years? Have you hung up your harp on the poplars? Have you lost your joy and your song? When allowed to share with a lost or hurting person, you have no joy to share. Your vessel is empty. Your life is even characterized by growing resentment. You spend your life longing and dreaming about something you don’t have.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke these words to them to encourage them: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:10-11). They didn’t like God’s plans because they were different from their own plans.

God wanted to prosper the Israelites while they are in the middle of their lonely trials, not by taking them out, but by teaching them how to live. This truth speaks to all of us who are in the middle of affliction. We may want to escape our circumstances in life. God, on the other hand, wants to encourage us with the plans he as for us right where we are.

Jeremiah wrote a letter to the captives, and it read like this: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer 29:4-7). God had no plans to take them out of Babylon. He wanted them to change their attitude toward their situation.

God did make an incredible promise to these people, and I think it holds for us today too: He said to them that when you accept you’re here and now, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord” (Jer 29:12-13).

We are so sure that if we could change our situation, our circumstances, our friends, we could find happiness. If we could just get rid of the bad memories, the painful experiences, then we would be happy. God says that is a false dream! What will change everything is you finding me and I will let you find me when you seek me with all your heart. God must be the object of our life. Anything else will be fools’ gold.

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Courageous Father

Your family needs a father who will see the danger and fight for their security. When a son or daughter is in peril of losing their character and purity, they need you to rescue them. When your marriage is hanging by a thread, your wife needs you to step up to the plate. You can, with God’s help, seek resolution of the issues. Without deflecting blame on anyone else, without making people feel guilty, they need you to lead the way. It’s scary, and you don’t know how it will turn out, but you cannot sit by and see your family carried off by thieves and robbers. Your family needs to feel protected by your leadership and your confidence in God. They need to see your enthusiasm and conviction to tackle a serious problem.

Your family needs a dad who doesn’t keep score and who isn’t petty and small. Instead, they need to see a bighearted man who can forget the hurts and seize the moment. Your family needs a dad who isn’t slavishly tied to his toys and games but cares more about people than things. They need to see a generosity that works rather than a petulant little man who is always defending his turf. They need to see your forgiving and contented spirit.

Your family needs to see a strong man, but not a controlling man who smothers out everyone’s personality. A man who has strong opinions but can leave room for other’s views. A man who can forfeit his place of honor and not pull rank just because he can. Your family needs to see a man of humility. Believe me, when they do, they will be attracted to you. Your family needs to see your kindness and gentleness. They need to feel your affection and love for them. They need to know how delighted and gratified you are to be their father and husband.

Your family needs to see a man who will lay aside his ego and self-reliance and seek God’s guidance. They need to know a man who demonstrates his dependence on God. A man who can be vulnerable enough to admit he doesn’t know how to solve all the problems, but he knows one who does, and his name is God. Your family needs to see a man who loves God with a passion and who enjoys his walk with God. Your family needs to see and feel your hopefulness even in the dark. They need to know that you will be faithful to God and them.

Four years ago, this month, I lost my father. I have so many wonderful memories of my father that comfort me. I remember when I was seventeen years old, my father injured his back and was in the hospital for three months. My brother had just left for Vietnam, and my mother and I continued to run the trucking business. I remember that one regular customer wanted his hay delivered to King City, a trip of more than two hours away, and it was mountainous. I told my dad, “I think we can do it.” My mom thought it was too much. With my dad’s confidence and with another worker, I started making two loads a day for more than a week. For a seventeen-year-old—this was extraordinary. As I look back, I am amazed at my father’s faith in me. His influence was shaping my life and preparing me for even more significant challenges to come. He would always say, “I will be praying for you,” something he said to me all my life.

To be a courageous father, we need God’s help, and he promises to give it if we wait on him: He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 4:29-31).

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Best Pit Crew

In professional racing, the winner’s possibilities of winning largely depend on how good his pit crew is. If the racer is going to win, he needs to be on that track, and that means that his team needs to make competent changes fast.

When we make mistakes, and we acknowledge those mistakes, how we go forward is crucial to our spiritual growth. The attitude we embrace makes all the difference. It is not easy to espouse the right mindset when you feel a sense of failure. Abram left Egypt disappointed in his behavior with Pharaoh, but he determined to do the right thing in the future. When Abram returned to the Negev, he went straight to Bethel. Abram wanted to do things right this time, so he returned to the altar where he first called on the name of the Lord. Abram had the best pit crew because he had God willing to help him change, and so do we.

When Abram when to Egypt, it was because he was facing the test of need, now in his conflict with Lot, he is facing the test of prosperity (Gen 13:1-18). Lot’s herdsmen were fighting with Abram’s herdsmen. There weren’t enough resources to feed all the animals in one place. They needed to separate, but how would they do that? Lot should have acknowledged his debt to his uncle and asked Abram to choose first, but that was not Lot. This is what Abram said to Lot: “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left” (Gen 13:8-9). What a change from the fearful, self-seeking Abram that we saw in Egypt. Abram had tried to manage a problem on his own without consulting with God, and it was a complete disaster. Now he trusted God, and God helped him assume a magnanimous attitude. The less we are consumed with our own gain, the less we are worried about being first, and the more energy we have left to enjoy our family and our life that God gives us.

The text tells us about Lot’s choice: “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered...So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east” (Gen 13:10-13). What a difference between the two men. One was magnanimous and generous, and the other was self-indulgent and self-serving. Lot’s choice would bring severe consequences to himself and his family.

When we lived in Puerto Rico, I developed their style of driving, which is survival of the fittest. One day when Marilyn and I went to the grocery store, we were looking for a parking space—an everyday practice. Suddenly, a space appeared; then I noticed there was another car wanting the same space, but I was faster. Too bad, better luck next time was my attitude. Marilyn said, “I hate it when you do that.” We went into the store and did our shopping; then on one isle, my eyes met the eyes of the woman that I had defrauded of her parking space. The Holy Spirit convicted me of that at that moment. I was scrambling for my rights and cutting in before others. It was no way for me to be living, so I asked God to help me, and he has.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Nitty Gritty

Abram, the man who answered God’s call and made an 800-mile trek from Ur to Canaan, now stumbles in his faith. The first test of his faith was whether he would trust God to take care of him and his family. A famine came to the land of Canaan, and Abram made an impulsive decision to go to Egypt for help because there was an abundance there. There is no record that he asked God for direction, but instead, he forgot to ask what God wanted him to do.

You can expect tests in your own journey of faith, but God does not use difficult circumstances to find out what we will do. Charles Swindoll observes, “He does not test us to observe our response of faith. He already knows us better than we know ourselves, and He already knows what the future holds. He uses tests to reveal us to ourselves!” Abram’s weakness was exposed in this test of faith, and that was his tendency to lie.

I have observed that there are two kinds of lies. The first is intentional, lying to deceive for fraudulent and malicious purposes. The second is lying to deceive for self-preservation and avoidance of conflict. Both are wrong and sinful, but the first is much worse while the latter is more common. The second category of lying is prevalent in marriage. It usually starts early in life but becomes a coping mechanism to avoid conflict. It was this second kind of lying that Abram resorted to, and it brought no good to his life and sullied his testimony before the world.

Abram agreed with Sarai, his wife, that they would refer to her as his sister because he was afraid for his life. He never calculated what would happen with this plan. Sarai wound up in Pharaoh’s haram. Sarai immediately suffered being isolated from Abram in a strange place while Abram prospered. He received from Pharaoh: donkeys, camels, and servants—a dowry. Abram got himself in a mess that he would never have been able to dig himself out of if God had not intervened (Gen 12:10-20).

Those new riches would prove to be more of a curse than a blessing.  The ill-gotten gain indeed drove a wedge between Lot’s herdsmen and those of Abram.  Then there was a young Egyptian woman named Hagar, most likely part of the gift of servants, who caused Sarai and Abram much grief. There are lessons to be learned from Abram’s experience of self-preservation vs. trusting God.

Guard your integrity:
If you detect that you are prone to veer from the path of honesty toward self-preservation when faced with a trial—then ask God for help. Seek his guidance and do not ignore such a deadly problem that will only get worse with time. You cannot extinguish what you cannot distinguish. You have to acknowledge the problem before you can work on it. You cannot change something you have not identified.

It’s never too late to do the right thing:
No matter how far you are into a decision, if you realize that it is wrong, take immediate action to reverse the decision. Cut your losses and run the other way. It’s never too late to do the right thing!

How Much Will Your Sin Cost Me?
No sin, no mistake is made in isolation. It will cost the people around you. When we forget God, we forget the world around us. When Abraham went to Egypt with his plan of survival, he left God out of the picture. His testimony before the world suffered. Our dependence on God provides for our needs and maintains our testimony to a lost world.