Glad Jesus Is in Control

6 Nov

I interrupt the regularly scheduled blog with this important control issue announcement. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a few of blogs about how the need to be in control has slowed my development of a full Christian life. (See In His Hands, Let Me Drive, and Trying to Play It Safe with God if you want to read or review them). Last Friday I had a practical lesson/reminder.

My wife and I had taken her mother from the assisted living facility she is in to have her hearing aids cleaned and adjusted. We were about half-way home after dropping her off when the unexpected happened. The road we were on has about a mile or two stretch that is straight, and speed limit is fifty miles per hour. I heard a dull pop and felt the front-end drop. I hit the brakes and fought the wheel to stay out of the line of on-coming traffic as the car fishtailed. I think Cindy had one hand gripping her seat and the other against the dashboard. A second pop dropped the front end even more.

I saw the road had a wide shoulder for emergency pull-offs so I headed for it. My speed had slowed so I felt it would be safe pulling onto the soft shoulder. The car got completely off the road before the left front wheel plowed deep into the gravel and brought us to a stop. We were not harmed. The car was a safe distance off the road. It was a beautiful fall day with moderate temperatures, no rain or snow. One of my first thoughts was I couldn’t have picked a better time and place, and I could have imagined much worse. Those things were not in my control anyway. Later I learned the first pop was the ball joint; the second was the tire.

After we were back home with a rental car provided by our insurance, I realized and enumerated several things.

1. I have been saying for months I didn’t think our eighteen-year-old car would be considered safe to drive. Yet, it held together until the ideal conditions I outlined above.
2. Things happened so fast, I don’t remember praying. If I did, it could not have been more than one word (like JESUS) as a plea filled with all my fears—which he answered whether I prayed or not.
3. We were glad Cindy’s mom was not still in the car with us.
4. I was glad Cindy wasn’t driving when it happened. I don’t know how she would have reacted and what the outcome could have been. (I know. If God is in control, why worry.)
5. Glad no cars were close to us when it happened so no other vehicles got involved.
6. Glad I was successful in keeping the car relatively straight as we slowed down and pulled off (though I’m not sure how much of that was me).
7. Glad it happened in a straight section of road (no blind hills or curves).
8. Glad there was a wide shoulder and no steep drop-off. (I drove that stretch later in a rental car and saw it was the ideal spot. The rest of the shoulder on that side of the road is narrow and rolls down into a deep ditch.)
9. Glad for the wisdom on pulling off slowly.
10. Glad the brake line didn’t brake until after I no longer needed them.

The story doesn’t have an end, yet. We suspect the cost for repair and the car’s worth might result with it deemed totaled. We may be thrust into needing to acquire a new car. I think this lesson has taught me I can let go of my control and trust Jesus in this. However, I would like some input from you.

A. This may be the last car we will ever buy. We tend to drive them until nobody else would want them and in another 10 to 15 years, it may be me and not the car that isn’t safe to drive.
B. With age in mind, we want something that sits a little higher than most sedans so it would be easier to get in and out of. We are thinking of something in the crossover SUV realm.
C. We also would like a smaller wheelbase than our Grand Marquis so it would be easier to park.
D. Economy is important (gas, maintenance, and repair costs low).
E. And, of course, safety.

I would like to hear suggestions from you.

And I would like to hear what lessons Jesus has taken you through to expand your trust in his control.

What have we done with the love shown us?

30 Oct

Judge but don’t judge and don’t not judge. It’s hard to navigate that course, I know. I hope I cleared up some confusion on that subject in my last blog: Tired of Hearing “Don’t Judge”?. The tricky part—if sorting out the difference between judge and don’t judge is not tricky enough—is our lives can be interpreted as judging even when we don’t say a word. And, I’m not talking about rolling the eyes or looking disgusted or any other form of body language. Living as best we can the Christian life—one of the set-apart ones whose lives are on a path contrary to the rest of the world around us—can seem judgmental to others.

So, how do we fulfill the commandment to go and make disciples? A corollary question was asked in last Sunday’s message: If we know we are supposed to be sharing the gospel, why aren’t we? The answer given came down a lack of love. We don’t love God and those he loves as we should. To see what that looks like, let’s consider the example given us in scripture.

God created and loved Adam and Eve. He opened all of creation for them to enjoy with one exception: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They were not to eat of it lest they die. You know the story. They disobeyed. In God’s love for them, he gave them a way to cover their sin and a promise for a permanent solution.

They lived another 900 years plus, then died. Generations passed until mankind had become so evil that God repented of ever making them. He purposed to destroy the whole creation. But, he remembered his love for Adam and the promise given. He found a man whose heart was toward him and made a way of salvation for him and his family from the judgment to come.

The Biblical history of the family of man repeats through many cycles of trusting God, becoming distant from him, rejecting him, experiencing judgment, repenting, and being restored to that loving relationship and promise. And even with experiencing the fullness of God through his son Jesus Christ, we see the cycle continues. Through it all, God’s love is constant. He doesn’t want any to perish. He doesn’t give up on us but pursues us and corrects us.

That kind of love cannot be manufactured. We can’t wake up and decide today I am going to love everyone I encounter. I guarantee that the moment we think we can, a pet peeve will pop up in our path to jolt us back to our real nature. Someone will cut us off in traffic, cut in line at the coffee shop, or fail to do what we instructed. What’s the answer?

The first two Blessed’s in Matthew 5 shed some light on the issue. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Or, those who recognize their spiritually bankrupt condition are blessed. We have nothing in and of ourselves to accomplish God’s purpose. Even Jesus said he did nothing of his own free will, but only what he heard or saw from his Father. If the Son had to depend totally on his Father, where does that put us?

Blessed are they that mourn. Or, as I understand this verse, blessed are those who grieve over the effect sin has had in their lives and in the lives of all those around them. When we remember the great gift of being forgiven and set free from our hate, rebellion, haughtiness, and total spiritual ugliness; others don’t look so bad. We can then show them the love of and the way to the Father’s love.

At the same time, we of the faith are called kings and priests. We are not to appear beaten down. After all, we are more than conquerors. But neither are we to walk around with our noses in the air, disdaining those who don’t know the excellent way. Think of the nouveau riche. They flaunt their millions while the truly rich or the “old money” could be living next door to you. In matters of eternity, we are of the privileged class, but don’t let that knowledge go to your head. Keep it in that love relationship with the Father who is the King.

As part of his royal family, we have been assigned the function of being priests. Remember, the role of the priests in Israel was to make constant intercession for the sins of the people. That is our role, too. The message that so melted and filled our hearts to overflowing is now ours to share. When it’s rejected, that rejection is ours to mourn over and intercede for. We are to stand in the gap for them. Again, God’s heart is that no one should perish. Evangelism is so much more than preaching the gospel message from a pulpit. And the responsibility for it belongs to each of us, not a select gifted few. The love given us was not for us to hoard. We also can’t hold it and hand out our natural love. We must give away God’s love, and it will come back to you.  That well never runs dry.

Tired of Hearing “Don’t Judge”?

23 Oct

Judge not and evangelize. Two themes brought up to me this past week. One in conversation, the other in Sunday’s sermon. And both drill deep into our first realization of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Spoken together, they hint at how we should conduct ourselves in this thing called the Christian life.

I received a second touch

My childhood conversion meant a lot to me until my late teens. Skipping church led to drifting away which took me to not seeing a need for Jesus in my life. I pushed into many anti-Christ activities. God’s mercy kept me from going too far, and in my early twenties he got my attention. I had washed out all the blood of salvation in my reinterpreting the Scriptures—all except for the one in John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” I could not argue around it. Either Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or who he claimed he was. If the latter, then I was the biggest fool who ever lived.

Show others the grace shown me

He revealed himself to me, and I knew the judgment I deserved. He forgave it all. I must give to others the mercy and forgiveness shown me at a minimum. Paul wrote to Timothy 2:1, “Therefore I [a]exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,” And again in verse 8, “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” The motive behind these prayers we see in verse 4, “(he) desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” My marching orders are clear, and his objective is clearly stated. I have no room, no righteousness in me, to justify being able to pass judgment on others. They are loved by the Lord and eligible to receive God’s mercy and grace the same as me.

A different judging

Jesus testified that those who don’t believe in him are already condemned. As a final word to the topic, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” What can my condemnation add? Nothing.

The quote from 1 Corinthians 5 follows an exhortation to the church to judge within their members. We are not to allow other Christians walk in ungodly ways. We are to judge—judge as in being discerning. Jesus gives instructions on how to handle a brother who commits a wrong against another (see Matthew 18:15-17). Paul in Galatians 6:1 that we are to go to the brother who has fallen from grace into sin and restore him, but to guard our own hearts while doing it lest we fall into sin ourselves.

I didn’t received forgiveness through the condemnation of others. In fact, I mocked the number of ways I heard a person could go to hell. No, that tactic had no effect on me. I gave up fighting against Jesus when he revealed himself and his truth to me. I came undone and confessed there was nothing in me worth saving, but he could have and use anything he wanted. His goodness led me to repentance.

Our role in God’s plan

We have two laws we are responsible to fulfill: Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves. That love is proven as we share the gospel of the kingdom through the ministry of reconciliation.

I will talk about the evangelizing in my next blog.

Trying to Play It Safe with God

16 Oct

I’m a plodder. That’s how I’ve defined my walk of faith. I have those in my life who hit the ground running once they experienced God’s love and salvation. Their faith knew no boundaries. I’ve often envied them, but I explained that I test the ground (scriptural teaching and experiences) to be sure it’s solid before I put my full weight on it. I plod along but continue growing. I’ve come to realize that has been my way of remaining in control.

Those rocketeers in my life have had no problem with letting go, or so it seems. Most people I know struggle in this area. People tend to hate change. They like the status quo in their lives. They are comfortable with the way things are done and see no reason to fix what in their eyes isn’t broken. And, they’ve forgotten that what they want to keep was once a change they fought. It’s not until the status quo becomes more painful than change do the people embrace it. At least, that is what leadership classes on change management teaches.

Warning shot across my bow

That tendency finds itself in direct conflict with the way the Lord deals with his own. I like how The Message Bible words Romans 12:1-2 “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

This version brings out the nuances that falling in step with the crowd is much easier than being different. Being too different brings conflict and rejection. Not good, in our thinking. But, going with the flow, accepting the if-it-feels-good-just-do-it mindset defined our lives before we asked Jesus to remove our guilt and give us new life of freedom. We are not supposed to continue in that. Jesus wants us to change. And the first change is who will be in control. Surrendering that control takes faith, and as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews wrote, it’s impossible to please God without faith.

Not leaving us forsaken is not passive

God fills his lesson plan for us with challenges. He knows our tendency to resist change. The heart that is not fully surrendered (we plodders) will pray for guidance and help, but will always be ready to shift into a Plan B, C, or D. We will work them until we can see no one or no other action we can do except to let the Lord take control.

Helpful reminder

I keep in my Bible a card explaining the Four G’s. They were distributed at our church a couple of years ago, and I need to look at it again and again as I struggle with releasing control. Perhaps they will encourage you, too.
• Great. There’s none greater. No power in heaven or earth can triumph over him. Knowing this means I don’t have to be in control.
• Glorious. No one can outshine him. Not even the sun at its brightest can outshine him. He puts his glory in us so we don’t have to fear others. Their opinions of us don’t matter. Our identity and our worth are secure in him.
• Good. He is good. Perfect. And he plans good things for us. We don’t have to look elsewhere for things to make us feel better about ourselves. Nothing else can compare.
• Gracious. His mercies toward us are new every morning. We can’t earn his favor. We can’t be his prodigy pupil. We enjoy our nearness with him by his grace and his grace alone. We don’t have to prove ourselves worthy.

Let us resolve to believe in what his word says about himself. Focus on his glory not our own. Then, prepare to be used. Yes, we are to handle his word carefully. The Berean church was praised in Acts for their examining and testing each new teaching against the word, making sure it is true. That is excellent, but not if it is a cover-up for maintaining control instead of exercising faith. Stand against the enemy. Walk uprightly. Run the race. Soar with the eagles.

Let Me Drive: Control Issues

9 Oct

One activity I do helps me see how much I like to be in control. I don’t consider myself a control freak. I’m comfortable delegating duties to others and leaving them alone to do it, but I do keep close watch to make sure it’s done right. However, that isn’t the activity I am thinking about. The real test is driving.

Without clear direction

Whenever my wife and I go somewhere, I prefer to drive. And, the control aspect displays itself most when I am too exhausted to drive another mile. I say to Cindy, “I’m stopping so I can rest while you drive.” I let her get into the driver’s seat. I sit beside her, fasten my seatbelt, drop the back of the seat to near prone position and am wide awake. I can do nothing to keep my eyelids closed. Has anyone else experienced that?

Her driving habits are different from mine. She makes me nervous when she is behind the wheel. I don’t know how much of my anxiety is based on fear or control issues. She’s a safe driver so I have little justification for the fear. It manifests with other drivers, too—not just my wife. My anxiety must be rooted in being more comfortable when I am in control. Having talked with others, I know I am not the only one who has done this.

Last week’s blog In His Hands got me thinking more about this subject. If Jesus truly holds today and all tomorrows in his hands, then peace in life’s storms come down to whether or not I can be comfortable with him being in control instead of me.

The more I try to explain myself, the more I find I need to define things, things like resting without worrying. I’m not against analyzing a situation and designing plans to work through it, but as Proverbs (reference) indicates, an established, worthy plan comes from the Lord. One of my biggest mistakes is having what I call the Plan B in my prayers. As I pray, I ask Jesus to work out the knots in the situation. In the back of my mind I hold a timeline or an order for specific ways for him to work (all according to my designs). When that happens, I have implemented Plan B. Since he knows even my thoughts, I have told the Lord how far I am willing to trust him. After my imposed deadlines have been passed, it’s, “Pull over. I’m going to drive.”

I’ve made my examples simple because most of our decisions (and with them the exercising of our faith) are circumstances we can manipulate on our own. However, we stunt or faith growth when we do. Every time we take back control, we stop our spiritual growth. We become more conformed to this world instead of being transformed into the image of Christ. The latter should be our goal and the receiver of our energy because it is God’s goal for us.

But what about the greater challenges we may face? I’ll speak about those in the next blog.

In His Hands

2 Oct
My granddaughters were getting ready for school, but the oldest one—the almost-ten-year-old one—lingered over her breakfast. Something rolled around in her mind. In time she expressed what troubled her. I hate it when I can’t come up with a simple solution for her. She and her sisters face things that seem unfair, too big for their too young lives. Then a thought captured my attention. I told her in a simple wording what she has been learning in church and as we have talked around the house. I said, “I don’t know what today holds, but I know Who holds today.” She smiled and nodded. I can’t take much credit for coming up with that phrase. I’ve heard versions of it over the years. My grandmother played the piano and sang duets with a neighbor of hers in their church. One of the songs in her old hymn book she said was her favorite. The words of the chorus are: “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand But I know who holds tomorrow And I know who holds my hand.” I learned to play the notes of the song with my right hand on her piano. I never thought I could control both hand and the pedals at the same time, so I satisfied myself with the two-part harmony only. Every time I visited her I would open her hymn book to the right page and play her favorite hymn. The words became etched in my mental file card. Since then I have found many evidences in the Bible that the words of the song are very true. Psalm 31, for example, says, “But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD, I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand;” David wrote those words during times of great distress and need. I reflected on these words and applied them to the turmoil in our own lives I smiled and nodded.

Too Many to Sort

25 Sep

I’ve tried for days now to decide what I want my next post to say. And frankly, I haven’t been able to settle on one. My thought are many and run the spectrum of thundering prophet to feeling more like a grubworm under a rock. Nothing has surfaced as the prize idea. It’s like looking at a jar of buttons without knowing what garment one will go on. 

I found myself looking at photos I’ve taken thinking I might find inspiration from them. Well, I enjoyed flipping through the many folders and files. But,  I became captivated with an image of a solitary figure–that one thing moment. Feel free to enjoy it for what it is or to post a thought, a verse, or a quote to go with it for a meme.

Have at it. Let me hear your thoughts.

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