Monday, October 27, 2014

Psalm 6: tears, trouble and redemption.

Psalm 6:1-10 ESV
"O Lord , rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.  Be gracious to me, O Lord , for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord , for my bones are troubled.  My soul also is greatly troubled."
Father, I remember when this was me. I fully deserved the discipline I endured. The sickness of soul and body - wanting healing without repentance - expecting death despite repentance - amazed that you didn't pour your anger and wrath on me. Grateful but not really surprised. You already poured out your wrath on Jesus, so that you could show grace to me.
"But you, O Lord —how long?  Turn, O Lord , deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.  For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? "
You saved me not for my sake, or my family's sake, but so that you could display your steadfast love and receive the praise due to your name.

"I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.  My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. " 
At that time tears were my nightly food. So much pain! So much regret! Then finally repentance, confession, forgiveness and restoration. Years of weariness till I finally came to my senses. How much pig food did I eat before thinking "my father's servants have food to eat. Let me return and become a servant."  I didn't expect a robe, a ring or sandals for my feet.  I didn't expect a party. Even now I know that some Christians here will shun me if they learn of my past sins. Who would throw a party for a repentant Christian leader? We are supposed to be above fault. Only you Lord would do such a thing, because to you I am not leader, pastor, missionary but only "child, son".

"Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.  The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.  All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment."
The powers of darkness that struggled for my soul have been put to flight. God has freed me and answered my cry for help. Thank you Lord for wiping away my tears, washing away my sin and giving me a hope and a future.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Psalm 5: groans, enemies and grace

"O  Lord , hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but you. Listen to my voice in the morning,  lord . Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. "

It is easy to pray when I am in pain, when the waves look like mountains and my problems surround me like a gang of bullies getting ready to beat me down; or just afterwards when I lack even the strength to stand back up.  When that happens prayers come out as groans. Face down in the dirt, I don't even know what to ask you for Lord. All I can do is groan and hope you listen. At those times I'm not even sure it is me groaning. Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit groaning in me (Romans 8:26). Sometimes my groaning isn't for me, but for a loved one I wish I could help. They need you, but they don't acknowledge their need. They can't see how lost they are, and they don't have the faith to cry out to you. Today my groaning is for them, my King and my God. Listen to me. Listen to me. Listen to me as I wait expectantly for you. 

"O God, you take no pleasure in wickedness; you cannot tolerate the sins of the wicked. Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence, for you hate all who do evil. You will destroy those who tell lies. The  lord  detests murderers and deceivers. "
"Some of you were once like that ..." 1 Cor 6:11 I was like that, Lord. I was totally UNqualified to even think of coming into your presence. I was like the man standing far off from the temple, not even daring to go near, beating my breast and praying "Lord be merciful to me, THE sinner." Lord you are holy, perfectly good. There is no shadow in you, so how can I know you? How can I approach you?
"Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house; I will worship at your Temple with deepest awe. Lead me in the right path, O   lord , or my enemies will conquer me. Make your way plain for me to follow."
Grace - grace is my only hope. "Unfailing love" - because of your grace demonstrated in Jesus my Lord, I can enter your house. I can worship in your temple with awe.  Because Jesus died for me, I have the right to enter your presence. That's awesome, Lord!

"Lead me in the right path. Make your way plain for me to follow." I'm not the brightest lightbulb in the pack, Father. I can be easily misled and deceived. I need you to lead me, to make your path easy to find and follow. Show me the way Lord. I will follow you.

 "My enemies cannot speak a truthful word. Their deepest desire is to destroy others. Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with flattery. O God, declare them guilty. Let them be caught in their own traps. Drive them away because of their many sins, for they have rebelled against you."
 Lord, I don't have a lot of enemies. When I read the Psalms I have a hard time understanding all the talk of enemies. I know David had a lot of enemies, but my enemies are within. I know their names: lust, envy, self-hate, fear. They also tell me lies, deceive me and seek to destroy me and those around me. I long for the day when you have banished them forever and all that is left is the new man, the new creation. 

"But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. For you bless the godly, O   lord ; you surround them with your shield of love."  
This is a good conclusion to a prayer that begins with groaning. Lord, may my loved ones take refuge in you. Give them the gift of faith. Help them to run to you for help and safety. Spread your protection over them. Lord you know their names. I can't write them down here, but they are written on my heart and on your heart. Fill them with the joy of the forgiven, the joy of the children of God. May they join the rank of the family of God, those who wear white because they are washed clean by the death of Jesus. Surround them with love. Love as a shield - what an odd thought, what a powerful shield. What can penetrate the love of God surrounding me, surrounding us? What can separate us from that love? (Romans 8:31ff.) I run to you, Lord. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Psalm 4: Tremble but don't sin

I want to learn to pray, so I'm reading the Psalms and praying through them. This is what I read in Psalm 4 this morning.

"Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness. You have freed me from my troubles. Have pity on me, and hear my prayer!  You important people, how long are you going to insult my honor? How long are you going to love what is empty and seek what is a lie?  Selah  Know that the L ord  singles out godly people for himself. The L ord  hears me when I call to him.  Tremble and do not sin. Think about this on your bed and remain quiet.  Selah  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness by trusting the Lord .  Many are saying, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your presence shine on us, O L ord .  You put more joy in my heart than when their grain and new wine increase.  I fall asleep in peace the moment I lie down because you alone, O L ord , enable me to live securely." Psalm 4
Lord, you are my righteousness. I have no righteousness of my own, only what you have given me in Christ Jesus. You have freed me from my troubles, yet I still desperately need you to show me mercy and hear my prayers. Unlike David, I don't have any important people insulting or attacking me. Thank you for that. And you know that I don't feel like I have a lot of "honor" to be insulted. If someone were to insult and attack me, I would probably deserve it. It is sad that so many of the world's important people are chasing that which is empty (fame, fortune, gratification of their urges). They have believed a lie. Lord, please wake them up to your reality.

Lord, you single out the godly for yourself. That sounds like the NT phrase "set apart" that is the root of the word "holy". The struggle I have is with the word "godly" because if I heard someone say "you who are godly please stand up", I would stay seated. I am not godly... or am I? I know that you chose me to be "holy and righteous before you" (Eph 1), so there must be some sense in which I am godly (god-like). When I look at myself I see all the ways I am not like Jesus, but hopefully there are some parts of my character that are Christlike, godly. Because I am your child, your "saint" you hear me when I call. I should call out to you more often.

"Tremble and do not sin." Thank you for this reminder Lord. When I feel stressed and worried that is when I fall into old patterns and sin. There are "triggers" that tempt me to sin. High stress and uncertainty is one of them. I need to learn better how to handle these negative emotions without falling into old patterns of sin. Instead of sinning I need to meditate and be quiet. Nighttime is a good time to do a little introspection. Negative emotions can also trigger me to call on you, to examine my heart, to allow you to "search me and know me and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Through trust in you I can offer you a good and acceptable sacrifice. Today Lord I offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to you. So many are pessimistic. When I watch the news I feel like carrying a sign "Repent, the end is near." What I need is to experience your presence - may the light of your presence shine on me today. May it shine on our office, our workers, customers and the ladies we serve. Lord, you give me a joy that is beyond anything material goods can give, beyond any accolades that worldly accomplishments can offer. I fall asleep at night in peace knowing that you are my security. Wow! You give me your presence, your joy, your peace, your security and your righteousness. All of these are mine through my Lord Jesus. Thank you Father. Today I want to experience your presence. Thank you! Amen

Friday, October 17, 2014

Teamwork: Dealing with Conflict (Part 2)

"If you're not fighting, you're not trying hard enough."

I have met couples who claim to have never had a fight. Usually the woman is gushing about how wonderful her man is, as he stands silent nearby. I've known the woman for less than 1 minute and already she is driving me crazy, and I wonder "How does he stand this?" I don't believe it. The lack of conflict doesn't represent true happiness (the present of constant conflict doesn't either).  The truth is: Every couple, every team has conflict. Handling conflict well is a skill that we all should learn. There are times when even mature Christians need help resolving conflicts. Godly skillful marriage counsellors have been a great blessing to my wife and I. They helped us deal with hurts and issues that we didn't know how to handle. 

When I read Paul's letter to the Christians at Philippi I was surprised that he mentioned an interpersonal conflict between 2 church members. Can you imagine Pastor Jorge writing a letter to Jubilee Church, a letter that will be read out loud to the whole congregration, and near the end of the letter, the person who is reading the letter stops. Their face turns red, they clear their throat several times, then continue "Please tell Shirley and Ailyn to stop fighting." What would you think? Yet that is what Paul does. Here is what he said:

"So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends! I appeal to Euodia and to Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I say also to you, true companion, help them. They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me and Clement and my other coworkers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:1-9
I'm not sure I would have wanted Paul for my marriage counselor, but his letter to Philippi gives some valuable advice on helping people resolve conflicts. Notice how he handles things:

  1. He AFFIRMS the VALUE of those involved in conflict calling them "my joy and crown", "dear friends", "coworkers, whose names are in the book of life." Paul reminds them of their true identity as children of God and of their destiny - eternal life in the kingdom of God.

    Conflicts often arise because one party or the other feels "slighted" or "de-valued". It is almost always unintentional, but is often the root of many conflicts. If you're called to be a mediator, it might be good to start by affirming both parties.
  2. He brings in a MEDIATOR. Paul recruits a 3rd party to counsel and help these two sisters. When we get stuck, we need someone to help us get unstuck. Assuming that these ladies would like to experience healing in their relationship, a 3rd party can help. BTW, I would be willing to bet that they were, at one time, best friends.
  3. He REMINDS them of their GOOD PAST. They had a history and much of it was good. At one time in the past they had beautiful teamwork and along with Paul helped start the church at Philippi. Remember the good times. Remember that vacation when we drove our little car hundreds of miles into the wilderness looking for hot springs. We drove down roads that were closed for the winter and when we finally  arrived we found the hot springs were closed for the winter too. To stay warm we huddled under thin blankets together and drove back the next morning, joyful and laughing at how crazy we were. The car was covered in mud from tire to top, we were exhausted, yet happy. Remember those times... Good memories help bring healing.
  4. He ROOTS them in JESUS. "Rejoice in the LORD." It's a command, not a suggestion. My life is to be so rooted in Christ, that whatever slight I think life has thrown my way, it doesn't matter. I rejoice in the Lord. "The Lord is near!" - Many take this as a reference to the 2nd coming of Christ, but it can just as easily mean "the Lord is here. He is with you. He will supply all you needs and give you grace and help. Call on him!" When I have a conflict with another person, I am not helpless, I am not a victim. I have the resources of my heavenly Father to help me. When I no longer have love or patience to deal with a difficult person or situation, God will supply me with the love and patience I need. 

  5. He tells them to PRAY. When I'm angry at someone, I DO NOT want to pray. I want to stay angry, so I want to stay away from God. I don't want to talk to them, and I don't want to talk to God. I know if I talk to God, that if I listen to God then He will tell me to talk to them. So I hide. Paul challenges them to pray. If you begin talking to God about the conflict, then God will show you what to do. If you obey you will experience personal peace in your soul, and interpersonal peace in your relationship. It might take time for the other party to forgive you and reconcile with you, but you will be at peace.
  6. Finally he tells them to FOCUS on the POSITIVE.
    whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.
    When someone makes us angry we focus solely on their weaknesses and overlook all their good points. "My employer called me "stupid" when I ruined her favorite dress, so i want to resign." "Oh, okay. Does she make you work on your days off? "Oh no, I get every holiday off with pay and every Sunday too." Oh, okay. Does she cheat you on your pay? "Oh no, she pays more than the minimum and at Chinese New Year they gave me a big bonus." Oh, okay. Is she usually unkind? "Oh no. She has given me clothes and presents for my kids. She let me go home for my daughter's graduation." So you still want to resign? "Well she called me 'stupid' and I can't stand that."

    The person you are angry with is probably has some good points also. Instead of focusing on their flaws and weaknesses, why not focus on their strengths? Focusing on their strengths instead of their flaws and your heart attitudes toward them will begin to change. You will begin seeing their value and God given uniqueness.  

Conflict is messy. It brings out the worst in us and in the ones we love. It can also help us deal with our sins and weakness and grow stronger as Christians. Strong teams know how to fight well. It's a skill we all we need to learn. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teamwork: Can we resolve the issues and do we just vote you off the island?

My wife and I enjoy watching "Survivor". We wait eagerly for the next episode so we can see who will survive and who will be voted off the island. One of the key skills needed to survive in Survivor is the ability to work with others. The team challenges are designed to bring out the best and worst in people, emotions and character rise to the surface in the middle of these difficult challenges. Teamwork involves conflict. There is no teamwork without conflict. When I look up "teamwork" on google images I see pictures like this:

"Yeah right!" Everyone is smiling and happy, right? WRONG! If you're the one on the bottom, you won't be smiling.. Every team I have ever been a part of has had conflict. If your team has never had conflict then you probably don't have a winning team.

In his letter to the Christians at Philippi Paul mentions two women who are fighting with each other. They are probably in the "cold war" stage where they avoid each other and just gossip about the other. Maybe they have just dropped out, because they don't know what to do. They need help to resolve the issue. Have you ever been in a situation like this? I have. I've gotten myself so stuck in sin or interpersonal conflict that I can't possibly get out of it by myself. I need help. Paul realises that these 2 dear sisters are in this situation so he asks someone to help them. Here is what he says:

"So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends! I appeal to Euodia and to Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I say also to you, true companion, help them. They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me and Clement and my other coworkers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:1-9
For the next post or two, I'm going to explore Philippians 4:1-9 looking at it through the lens of working together. What can this passage teach me about teamwork? How can I help others who are in conflict with each other? Should I just be like Switzerland and stay neutral, let them nuke each other? If they are part of my team, do I let the team dissolve into conflict, members dropping out one by one til I have a team of 3 people only "ME, MYSELF and I"? What can I do to keep my team strong? If a member has fallen out of the team, what should I do to win them back?  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Labels matter, who are you anyway?

 Pastor Ruel has been preaching through the book of Philippians (I always type "Philippines", seems appropriate) and so I have been carefully reading and re-reading this wonderful letter. This morning I read
"Therefore, my sisters, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. " Paul to the Christians at Philippi (4:1)
 In one sentence the apostle Paul describes them in 4 different ways. In this situation he is not only telling them how he feels about them; he is also telling them how Jesus feels about them, about you.  Look at how Paul addresses the Philippians:

  • "my sisters" - the original uses generic "my brothers" so I took some liberty and changed it to "sisters". If you are applying this personally, then it is completely appropriate. To Paul and Jesus we are family, brothers and sisters. I have 2 sisters and I love them dearly.. In Christ I have many sisters. Hey Sis..
  • "beloved"- You and I are God's beloved. Some of us have suffered a lot of rejection and hurt. God will never reject you. He loves you. You are his beloved. Try looking in the mirror today and say out loud "I am loved. I am Jesus' beloved."
  • "longed for" - At Thanksgiving and Christmas my homing instinct kicks in. I'm like a bird flying back to its nesting grounds. I want to be with my family. I long to be together with them watching football, eating turkey, sharing love. God longs for us that way. He wants to be with us, to share a meal, to talk about life. When I was back to the US last time I spent time with my younger sister Margaret. She is 1.5 years younger than me and growing up we were very close. It was so great to stay with Margaret and her husband Steve. I can imagine living next door to them and visiting them every day. I miss her and I long for that closeness again. Jesus longs to be with me that way. A longing is stronger than a want, its an expression of a heart need. You are "longed for".
  • "my joy and crown" - In English we would say "my pride and joy". You make me feel happy and proud/honored. Sometimes we say "I'm honored to call you "friend". Jesus is honored to have me as his brother and child. As I typed that last sentence, I found it hard to believe. I need to say it out loud: "Jesus is honored to have me as his brother". I want to react "you have got to be kidding! No way! If you knew what I'm really like, you wouldn't say..." but then I remember - he knows exactly who I am; and he stills says "you are my pride and joy. You make me feel proud and happy." I don't understand how that is possible, but I will not call God a liar. All I can do is believe it and accept it.
  • "my beloved" - he ends his sentence by whispering to our hearts "you are my beloved. I love you."  Thank you Jesus.
Among all these wonderful labels I don't want to lose the command he is giving - "Stand firm in the Lord". Well, he just made it a lot easier for me. Today I'll stand firm, knowing I am loved, I am longed for, I am the pride and joy of Jesus and God the Father. I am family. Knowing who I am makes it easier to live the life God intends for me. Thank you Lord. I love you too!

Monday, October 6, 2014

6 essentials for those who don't want to quit

Quitting sometimes looks attractive. It sounds attractive to me to NOT do anything, not go to church, not read my Bible, not pray, just vegetate, act like a plant, veg. I forget that there is something else plants regularly do- they die and decay. Vegetating for me turns into death and decay. In fact I don't do Nothing, rather I do the wrong things, I sin.  I turn into the worst version of myself. Well maybe not the worst, but definitely in that direction.

So how can I NOT QUIT. Sounds like a stupid question doesn't - just don't quit. Paul in the letter he wrote to the Philippians shares his secret to "keeping on". Here is what he says,

"No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,  but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example." 

  1.  Adopt the attitude of a learner, a student. Don't think you know it all. Often I'm asked by an employer to talk to their employee about some part of their work where they are not up to standard. Most of the time people humbly receive the feedback but every so often there is someone who interrupts and says "I know, I know!" I want to shout at them and say "If you know, then why are you here? Why don't you do what you know you should do?" "Can you please just shut up and listen?" I don't say that, because I need to be more polite, but on the insides I'm shouting. If I have the attitude of a student, then it is OK not to know something, it is OK not to know how to do something. It is OK to be ignorant, but it's NOT OK to stay ignorant. Learn, grow, progress. Accept imperfection in yourself and others. Just keep growing.
  2. Focus. The finish line is a lot closer for some of us than for others. It is probably closer for my parents than for me and closer for me than for my children and grandson. I can finish the race. There is a prize waiting for me at the end that is worth the struggle and pain of the race. Paul says the key is "one thing" then he says that one thing includes 2 things: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. Science has proven that the idea of multi-tasking is a lie. Human beings cannot multi-task. We need to focus. How many times a day do I nearly run over some dummy who has stopped walking and is standing in the middle of the busy sidewalk staring at his phone? This is how we are wired. I can't focus on the past and the future at the same time. I need to choose one. If I am going to live in my past failures or successes then I am like the dummy standing on the sidewalk. I'm not moving. I need to focus on the next few steps ahead of me. What do I need to do NOW? I raise my eyes frequently to the top of the mountain, but then I focus on the path ahead.
  3. Believe you can and will finish. This is a long race. It's a tough uphill race. This is more of an ironman than a marathon. This is scrabbling over rocks on the side of a mountain, moving upward against the pull of gravity. This race is too difficult for me. But then I realize that Jesus put me in this race. I sometimes think he made a mistake. I'm not built to run or climb. Lord don't put your money on this horse! Scripture says he "took hold of me" for this purpose. He intends that I will finish the race, so who am I to say "I can't do it"? By God's grace I can and will finish.
  4. Press on. Move! Keep moving one leg in front of the other. Physics is our friend. An object in motion tends to remain in motion. Keep moving. Some translations say "I strain forward toward the finish line". When you are leaning forward your body wants to move forward. Lean forward into the Lord - Have a heart attitude that is leaning forward, pressing on, off balance in a good way - if you don't move your foot you are going to fall on your face - kind of off balance posture. What can I do to lean forward? Set my Bible next to my bed? Put pictures up of those I want to remember and pray for? Make pictures of my goals and dreams?
  5. Hold on to progress achieved. When you're climbing a mountain it is easy to go downhill. Gravity drags at you. Even when you stop to rest it is easy to slide downhill. You have to find a good flat rock to rest on. If you are not careful where you put your backpack it will start sliding and rolling back down the mountain. When you pause for a breath, you have to be careful. What progress have I achieved in my walk with the Lord toward the goal he has for me? How can I hold onto that progress?
  6. Don't climb alone. When I search google images for "mountain climbing" the first page fills with images of the solo climber. The only solo climbers on Mt. Everest are dead climbers. Mountain climbers assault the great peaks of the world together in teams, lashed together, in case one of them loses his/her footing and starts to plunge toward the bottom of the mountain. Other translations says "walk together with those who follow our pattern of living". Surround yourself with good people who have the same focus and goal. If you want to lose weight, join weightwatchers, stop drinking attend AA. If you want to learn to follow Jesus get into close relationship with those who have the same goal. This is probably my biggest struggle - I'm a natural loner who needs the community of other men. My biggest prayer request is to find or form such a community.