True-faced; a lament from the weekend.

Yahweh, You are the God who saves me;
    day and night I cry out to You.
May my prayer come before You;
    turn Your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
    and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
    like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
    who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
    in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
    You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
    and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
    my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Yahweh, every day;
    I spread out my hands to You.
Do you show Your wonders to the dead?
    Do their spirits rise up and praise You?
Is Your love declared in the grave,
    Your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are Your wonders known in the place of darkness,
    or Your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to You for help, Yahweh;
    in the morning my prayer comes before You.
Why, Yahweh, do You reject me
    and hide Your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
    I have borne Your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
    Your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
    they have completely engulfed me.
Ben Korah, Psalm 88

Which One Do You Want?

You regular readers, though few, greatly loved, will realize that I rarely “borrow” someone else for this blog.  Even rarer, a first actually, is to host a podcast that someone wiser than me has produced and to “double-share” it, both in this blog and for those of you who so graciously email back and forth with me.  But here goes, so if you received the email, you already have this, and it is my prayer that anyone reading it there or here will take courage to actually listen to Steve Elliott’s podcast.  Follows the email:

Dear family and friends,
Last week was a rough week again because of some personal issues with growing in Christ that can be challenging, discouraging, hopeful, fulfilling and exhilarating all at the same time.  Thus no blog last Sunday; this is it, two days late.  My spiritual mentor will be pleased after some discussion of conflict that I am inclined to see some of the things we discussed his way.  One should always have someone in your life who can say, “Well, I think you are wrong,” and my wise friend provides that for me.  Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree, but more often than not, I lean into his direction after some time with the Lord.

The week culminated in a time of prayerful weeping with one of our pastors, as I shared my heartbreak over some of the things my wife and I have been encountering with dear friends.  Reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero notes, “the way to true peace will never come through pretending what is wrong is right.  True peacemakers love God, others and themselves enough to disrupt false peace.”  Then he goes on to discuss “Embracing Conflict – the Path to True Peace.” (Matthew 10:34-36)

If you have the courage to listen in to one of Steve’s best, he addresses an “elephant in the room” that we so often try to avoid, and does so with the deft touch of one led by the Holy Spirit.

The podcast is well worth 36 minutes of your time.
with profound love for each of you receiving this,
yours and His,

Which one do you want

Show Me Your Way

“What is God’s will for my life?” is the wrong question!  “But,” you will reply, “shouldn’t I want to know what God wants me to do?  Where He wants me to go?  Who He wants me to be?  What is wrong about this question!?”

The error in the question is in the phrase “for my life.”   Simply delete these three words, and you have the right question: “What is God’s will?”  Discovery of His will cannot help but lead you to what He has for you to do, where to go, who to be.

There are some of great significance that He has spoken to in an audible voice: Abraham was told to leave his family and go to a land which he did not know, and that God would let him know once he arrived there.  He obeyed the voice whenever He spoke to him (Genesis 22:18).  Moses, we are told, spoke with God face to face (Exodus 33:11), and Joshua very clearly heard the voice of Yahweh (Joshua 22:2).  Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah and others in the Bible heard His voice, and do not forget the voice that spoke over Jesus and declared Him to be Father’s beloved son (Matthew 3:17).

Conversion of St Augustine.jpgAnd in case anyone thinks God became mute after the Bible was written, consider that Augustine heard a voice telling him, “Take it and read,” referring to a copy of Scriptures he had with him under a fig tree.  In modern times, in The Cross and the Switchblade David Wilkerson and his wife both heard a voice calling him to New York to begin working with gangs there.  Martin Luther King, Jr, sat at his dining table in 1956, worried about his and his family’s safety as he began working for racial justice in America, when he heard Jesus’ voice telling him, “I will be with you.”  In fact, more than one-fifth of evangelicals will hesitantly admit to hearing a voice at some time during their prayers; and that number climbs higher if you provide a caveat that allows them to admit, maybe they were mistaken.  God is still speaking, sometimes in an audible voice when He feels like doing so.

But for those of us that have not heard a voice, how do we determine what God’s will is?  Start with the Bible and God’s character.  The God Who Is There is perfectly consistent and will not violate His previous directions when understood correctly.  You can become a Bible scholar and still not know Him (see January 25, 2015) , but if you know Him, you will want to know as much as you can about Him.  His will is as perfectly consistent as He is.  If he says in the Bible, “Do not commit adultery,” you can be pretty sure He will not direct you to leave your spouse and marry someone else.

But what about His will that is not in the Bible?  Many of the decisions we make in life and the attitudes in which we live are there, but there are circumstances where His will becomes less clear.  An example was a teenager who once asked his pastor if he should be baptized, having become a believer at 14 years old.  The young man wanted to obey God but did not want to anger his parents who did not want him to be baptized “in another church.”  His pastor wisely avoided giving him a direct answer; instead he told the young man to pray over which command of Jesus he felt took priority in his life right now: to be baptized as Peter instructed the first converts to do (Acts 2:38), or to obey his parents as Paul taught the churches (Colossians 3:20).  The teenager decided to obey his parents and it opened a whole new relationship for the pastor with the family.  When he reached 18, though, the young man was baptized by immersion, in obedience to what he now saw as his adult responsibility.

But what about personal circumstances?  What about things not in the Bible at all?  Whether or not to go to college, where to find a job, where to live, who to marry, for whom to vote, what to buy?  What is God’s will in these circumstances?  While not addressed directly in the Bible, many of these subjects can be touched on by many Scriptures: e.g. What type of gifts do you seem to possess (Exodus 35:30-33)?  Though the Bible will not give you the name of who to marry, it narrows the field significantly by telling you who not to marry (2 Corinthians 6:14)!  Use wisdom in making purchases (Isaiah 55:2).  A thorough knowledge of the Bible will be helpful for determining many of the decisions we face in many circumstances.

Yet there are still some occasions that we must make decisions, even day-to-day ones, in which God’s will is not apparent, and on which the Bible is silent.  Then we turn to godly counsel.  I have noted before, that when seeking a counselor one has a 50-50 chance at getting one who is good or one who is loopy.  But seek out leaders or godly men and women who have faced similar decisions to what you are facing, and request their advice or experience. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Ten CommandmentsFinally, there is the issue of recognizing God is not a static list of rules and regulations, but a person.  Granted a magnificently greater person than we have ever encountered in another: He IS God, after all!  But He cares for us like a father cares for his children.  A dad may plan a few days with his family to go to the Ozarks for recreation.  But his children’s expressions of desire to go to Disney World in Florida could make him change his mind.  It does not change who he is, nor does it alter his character, but it may make him reconsider a decision.

In the same way, much of “God’s will” is subject to our interaction with Him, especially on the details.  He is not some statue or stone that does not understand or feel.  He is the living God, who delights in sharing His life with us; sharing our joys and anxieties; working together to work out His will in our lives.  “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12)  Note: He will not change His character nor personality, but He can change details of what you are doing together.

Upgraded Tablets.jpg

Accounting and P&L Statements (profit and loss)

“How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!”  Psalm 119:9-10

Accounting 103“Let’s do some accounting” never sounds fun except to numerical nerds who just enjoy mixing up numbers in creative ways.  But accounting is very valuable!  It helps you know if you are advancing or losing ground.  It clarifies whether or not an endeavor is worth continuing or if you should change direction, reverse course, or stop altogether.

Accounting 102Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) hold up not only in finances, but also in construction, recreation, government, science, marriage, philosophy, physics, almost anything that you might consider doing.  One of the basic GAAPs is called Full Disclosure:  “For a business, the full disclosure principle requires a company to provide the necessary information so that people who are accustomed to reading the information can make informed decisions concerning the company.”  Translated into other fields, it means being transparent enough in what you are doing that others can evaluate whether you are doing something worthwhile in their eyes or not.

So if you want to live for Jesus, you must count the cost; do some accounting. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30)

In following Jesus, it means becoming “accountable” to someone or others so that they can evaluate if you are living for Him or not.  Now accounting is usually not the stuff of nightmares, but when we begin to live in full disclosure, even to a very few trusted friends, this principle can become very frightening.  We all want to maintain an image of respectability, of self-control, of being in charge.  Very few choose to fully disclose, even in business . . . until they get caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

In marriage, becoming “accountable” means living for one person, and for no other.  It means shared passwords, almost no secrets (well, some! see ), letting another into the darkest parts of your heart and trusting, hoping, that you will still be loved.  It also means looking into the darkest parts of someone else’s heart, and loving that person anyway!

Accountability is always difficult, but it is the only way to live at peace with each other, and with God.  Establishing accountability with two or more trusted friends, and your spouse if married, can keep you on track for a right relationship with our Heavenly Father.  “Three things contribute most to righteous living: good upbringing, strong character  . . .  and witnesses!🙂 (Eldon Post)  And those witnesses really do help!  A wise friend of mine speaks about two groups of three and four men with whom he meets regularly, that he says are the people who can tell him when he is wrong.  Consider in your life, who can tell you that!?  Who do you allow to speak into your life strong words of correction?

John Wesley understood this accounting principle and established a method of accountability to be practiced with two or three others.  He proposed 21 questions that each of the three could ask each other any given meeting.  These are noted at the end of this blog.  In Cultivating a Life for God, Neil Cole asks ten accountability questions, the last of which is, “Have you been completely honest with me?”  This adds a layer of integrity that requires one intent on sinning to go even deeper into sin if he answers this falsely!  “Sin will take you farther than you ever intended to go, it will cost you more than you ever expected to pay, and it will keep you longer than you ever intended to stay.” (Kay Arthur)

If there is no one who can ask you the difficult questions of these lists, no one who can say to you, “You are wrong,” expect to encounter significant loss of value to your life.  You may be able to get back on course to where you would like to be someday, but this will take so much longer than if you maintained an accountable course all along.

Acounting 101So to whom are you accountable?  Who looks at the P&L sheet of your life and “can make informed decisions concerning your company?”  Let’s do some accounting.

John Wesley’s Small Group Questions:
1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
6. Did the Bible live in me today?
7. Do I give it time to speak to me every day?
8. Am I enjoying prayer?
9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time? (my note: avoid sloth/care for your health)
12. Do I disobey God in anything?
13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
16. How do I spend my spare time?
17. Am I proud?
18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
21. Is Christ real to me?

John Wesley’s Class Meetings: a Model for Making Disciples, by D. Michael Henderson