ADDICTION

…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. I Corinthians 8:6

 

Addiction: the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.

 

In the United States 115 people die every day after overdosing on opioids. The majority of people who transitioned to heroin misuse first abused prescription opioids (National Institute of Drug Abuse, March 2018). Opioid addiction is a well-known epidemic that is a public health crisis with devastating consequences—physical, emotional, and financial. We probably all know someone whose life has been touched by the effects of substance abuse.

 

But have we ever contemplated the effect in our lives of the polite addictions we all tolerate: overeating, workaholism, attachments to technology (think of hours engaged with social media or games), sleep deprivation, laziness, or any compulsion or obsession to which we are attached. Take, for example, a man I knew who was harsh on people who indulged in “social drinking.” However, on his back porch he had cases of Dr. Pepper stacked as high as they could go. He was “hooked.” And then there was the “night owl” who had as hard a time going to bed as some folks do getting up because of the fetish for the late hours.

 
I knew someone who was so attached to reading that she had no interest in cleaning the house or taking care of the children. And then, I suspect, we all know the hazards of getting involved with the Internet or certain television programs. They’re almost impossible to shut down, and yet they’re all socially acceptable.

 
The things I’ve mentioned are perfectly all right in our society. But what happens when they interfere with our particular calling? Henry Blackaby (Knowing God) has said that, “No, Lord” is a contradiction of terms. Jesus can’t be Lord when we say, “Wait,” or “Not now.” The only obedience we can offer is instant doing of our Father’s will. It’s the little things that keep us from pleasing our Father.

 
Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest) says, “We fail because we are ignorant of the way we are made, we put things down to the devil instead of our own undisciplined natures.” Just try a simple little test. Think about the things you look forward to doing. What happens if something (or someone) interferes with your “thing?” Is it almost impossible to delay or stop that particular activity or substance? Can you go a week without your favorite TV show or your favorite food or drink? You get the picture. Do you live with freedom or bondage?

 
To what do you say, “Yes, Lord?” Once we say, “Yes,” to God and set our wills to do his will, he gives us the strength to put away the distractions that keep us addicted. He can set us free. Do it now.

 

Father, we let little things rob us. Open our understanding of the vast, wide world of freedom to which you have called us as your children. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

 

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GREAT EXPECTATIONS?

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple… John 20:1, 2

 

We are all familiar with this story. The title of this section in my Bible says, “The Empty Tomb.” Jesus had spent three years living with, teaching, demonstrating, and revealing Truth to his disciples. In very clear language he’d told them several times that he would die but that he would live again, and they would have great joy. If we’d had an opportunity to talk with them, I’m sure they would confidently proclaim their knowledge of God’s Son and his mission and assure us of his sovereignty. We would probably be impressed by these great men of God.
And yet, after seeing Jesus’ crucifixion, their primary focus seems to be preparing and preserving his body and hiding from the Jewish leaders. What had come of the three years of intensive discipleship? Of the signs and wonders? The time of testing had shown them all to be small in their faith, at best, and deserters, at worst. All that abiding had culminated in a ragtag band reconvening to mourn their mutual disillusionment. (Or lost ambitions…)
Remember the men on the road to Emmaus? “…we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21) All their dreams and expectations were dashed because of Jesus’ crucifixion. Although he’d predicted everything that would happen, even saying, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19) He’d indicated the way he would die with every reassurance that he would rise again. But it wasn’t what they expected. It didn’t happen the way they’d planned.
When they reached the Empty Tomb, the disciples—women and men alike—were disappointed because Jesus’ dead body was gone. I suppose there would have been a modicum of comfort in cleansing and spicing and wrapping a corpse—it looks like that’s what they were expecting. Instead, Jesus had a RESURRECTION. He undid death and its power, and he brought LIFE—so much more than what they could ever think or ask.
Do we ever get disappointed (even disillusioned) because God doesn’t answer our prayers in the same puny, insipid, unimaginative way we pray? Oh, bummer, the tomb is empty. I can’t clean up or anoint the dead body—when God is all about resurrection. He’s about creating new life. He’s about moving in ways that we could never envision. He’s all about BEING GOD.
It’s time to stop grieving over the empty tomb and start rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit who is on hand to transform and to resurrect. It’s time to kick out our starved imaginations and let God be God.

 

Father, open our minds and hearts to see you in your power and glory. Come with your resurrection life. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

REPLACEMENTS

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. II Corinthians 5:17

 

When I was a child, we sang a song in Sunday school, “I’ll tell you the best thing I ever did do…was to take off the old robe and put on the new.” There was a refrain that compared the old and the new assuring us the best thing was the new robe. Did any of you ever sing that little ditty?

 

Today as adults we’re still being asked to change and replace things in our lives. I have friends who hate change—“Don’t move that chair.” “I don’t want to have to relocate.” “Why do I have to get another doctor?” “But that’s my favorite sweater.” And so on. We seem to forget that change is one of the givens in life. Every day brings something new and different, and we either get on board with change or we get run over and left by the wayside.

 

God calls on us regularly to change. He gives us the opportunity to discover his power in a new way; he calls us to accept a challenge we’ve never considered; he urges us to replace old habits and methods with his new, fresh work in our lives. “The old robe was tattered, all dirty and torn; the new robe was spotless and never been worn. I’ll tell you the best thing I ever did do was to take off the old robe and put on the new.”

 

The Holy Spirit implores us to let go of the fleshly nature that inhibits our exploring new worlds with him. He asks us again and again to die to those desires and weaknesses that have so long identified us. We’re comfortable with our sweet old selves and forget that his promise is always new for old, good for bad, strength for weakness, joy for sorrow, beauty for ashes. We hand in our hearts of stone; he replaces them with hearts of flesh. We give him the dark places of denial; he shines light and sets us free. And on and on.

 

We are afraid of change. What will God do to me if I surrender the old ways, the old habits, the old attitudes? Nothing God gives us in exchange for the temporal rubbish to which we cling disappoints. How can we even begin to think that the God of the universe will replace garbage with something of even lesser value? Do we really expect our loving Father to treat us so unkindly?

 

We surrender to him ourselves, our natures, our attitudes, our preferences, our whole lives and intentionally reach out to receive all the life that he has promised in Christ Jesus. All the love, all the fruit for all of eternity. How can we foolishly cling to junk when he offers us the treasures of the Kingdom?

 

Take off the old robe and put on the new.

 

 

Father, thank you for your Spirit that keeps working and refining us so that we look more and more like Jesus. Don’t allow us to be comfortable with the slightest vestige of the old self just because we’ve always been that way. Replace all the flesh in us with your dear Son. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

MIND THE CIRCUMSTANCES

 

Even the things that seem accidental are really ordered by Him. Proverbs 16:33 (AMP)

 

Blackaby says (Experiencing God) we are to pray and then watch what happens. Stay alert to see what God will do next. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

 

When my friend Barbara, an international development consultant, emailed to say she’d be in my area and wondered if we could visit, I immediately invited her to stay through the weekend. Never mind that I’d been miserable with allergies for two weeks—this was a circumstance I couldn’t afford to overlook. I pushed aside thoughts of weariness and a pounding head. Barbara didn’t come my way that often.

 

I planned meals, weekend activities (oh, my aching head), and prayed for strength to embrace this opportunity. And then, the day before arrival, Barbara wrote to say she’d contracted a bad cold at one of her conferences. Did I want to cancel? So, was God giving me an out and an opportunity to get better? Should I give in to the temporary discomfort and miss the long-term gain?

 

Without hesitation, I told Barbara to come on. (What was I thinking? Oh, I know. I had prayed and was watching the circumstances.) Over dinner, Barbara and I discussed economic issues that plague most of the partners with whom we work in developing nations and how we can lovingly and effectively walk with them to become self-sustaining. Barbara told me about two men in a nearby city who might be the exact resources I needed and who worked in areas where we had ministries.

 

In discussing activities for the following day, I asked if Barbara wanted to rest and work quietly in her room or if she wanted to attempt the itinerary I had planned. She begged off asking if she could be still and work. Instead of racing around on Saturday, both of us used the time to recover and have the quiet time we both so desperately needed. Something I wouldn’t have done had Barbara not come.

 

Sunday was good with church and a beneficial lunch discussing further networking and brainstorming about mutual concerns. By end of the day, Barbara had arrived at her next appointment and had connected me with the two resources who appear to be exactly what I need for my international partners.

 

Coincidence? Or God tapping me to mind the circumstance?

 

Father, you are still in control. Even when things seem inconvenient or random, remind me that your ways are higher than my ways, and your plans are much more grand than mine will ever be. You are Lord. Have your way. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

SHAWN’S FOLLY?

 

And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Isaiah 58:11

 

I have a new gardener, Shawn, not to be confused with Mario who cheerfully blows leaves from one side of my yard to the other. Shawn comes to my house when the season changes, and I have the great joy of planning what seasonal colors will be added for the next few months. Shawn is a master gardener while I’m just an amateur who loves to see God’s handiwork up close and personal in my garden.
I’ve been anticipating spring long before the pecan trees began to leaf, a Texan’s sure sign that the frosts are over. I’ve tried to second-guess Shawn with ideas of what we’ll add this year. We’re working on what I fancifully call the Fountain Garden (you can imagine why), and much planning has gone into the flowers and foliage. Shawn listed columbine, shrimp plant, hosta, caladium, and many other favorites that I love.
On planting day, I could hardly wait to get home from work to see the scrubby little plot transformed into God’s Eden. But…what? Was I wrong? Was this NOT planting day? As I moved from bed to bed, all I could see were miniature ferns and things staked to the fence. There were tiny bits of foliage poking out of the ground in new places, and there were suggestions of color in other spots. What a letdown. Surely, this wasn’t what I’d waited for months to see.
About bedtime, when the disappointment had thoroughly soaked in, I began to reflect on the whole process of gardening: While the planting has been done, it doesn’t yet appear what the garden will be like. Only in my mind’s eye can I envision the promise that I’ve nurtured in my heart. All the dull hours of cleaning and pulling out dead matter were necessary to give new life an opportunity to thrive without pests and invasive plants. It would have been a lot more fun to just dig a hole and drop in a colorful plant, but—I’m in this garden for the long haul. The digging and harsh tilling were essential to remove the rocks and provide room for strong, healthy roots to develop. As for the smaller plants Shawn incorporated (while I hoped for big bursts of instant color), as they grow, they will combine to make a mass of texture and color and will prevent the weeds from penetrating and spoiling the effect I’ve wanted.
Perhaps the most significant thought was from Hebrews (10:36). I paraphrase: “For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the proper work of the gardener, you might receive the garden of your dreams.” I admit, every morning as soon as the sun is up, I go out to see if anything has occurred in my garden. I like to think that God is also walking about in my heart garden to see if any new fruit is beginning to bud. Might there be a tiny spot of self control in that corner? Or possibly a new bit of joy about to burst into full bloom? I’m hoping so…

 

Our Father, you speak so often about gardens in your Word. Life began in a garden, and Jesus went often to the garden to be with you. Thank you for digging and planting and nourishing your life in us. Let it blossom fully for your Kingdom and your glory. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

DROP IT

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. I Peter 5:7

 

We all know we’re not supposed to worry or be anxious about anything, but have you ever experienced a dull sense of heaviness that isn’t readily identified? You don’t know what it is or where it possibly could have come from, so how can it be dispelled?
That happened to me recently. I went through the checklist to see if I’d overlooked anything:
• Was there anyone I hadn’t forgiven?
• Was there someone with whom I’d been unloving?
• Was there unconfessed sin?
• Was I worried about anything?
• Was I coming down with an ailment?

Over and over I tried to discover the cause of my dis-ease without any success. Finally, I went to the One who knows us better than we know ourselves and asked that he show me why I was walking around with a cloud overhead. That evening, I picked up Hannah Smith’s Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life that I’ve read for the umpteenth time. Hannah talked about how we heap various concerns on ourselves when we should be giving them to the Lord—not always just worries but concerns, too.

I reflected about my distress at the lack of courtesy that I seem to see in all aspects of the political spectrum—I’d picked that one up. Then I thought about my concern over how a community was lavishly spending money—none of my business, but I also put that on my back. I’d fretted over the way an event had been organized—again, out of my purview. As the Holy Spirit reminded me of the ways I’d allowed the affairs of others to weigh me down, I almost laughed. As if I didn’t have enough in my own life to think about.

The remedy was simple: casting all my care on him. These weren’t worries, but they still weighed me down. One at a time I gave them to the Burden Bearer and refused to take them back. I saw how foolish it was for me even to spend energy thinking about politicians or community spending or myriads of other things that hadn’t been assigned to me. And yet, I think I am not alone in picking up things that are not my responsibility. Where God gives us a task, he also provides the wisdom and the grace to carry it through with ease.

If you’ve picked up luggage that doesn’t have your name on it, drop it right away and let God carry it. We simply don’t have the strength to do more than he’s given us. When we do have a burden, we roll it over on Jesus and find it’s the easiest thing in the world to allow him to carry it for us.

Father, thank you for mercifully carrying our cares and for forgiving us when we forget. You are a good Father. AMEN.

ERROR

 

“God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Romans 2:24

 

I am part of a team going to explore Navajoland in response to an invitation of the bishop there. We will look and listen and learn from the Navajos and see how we can partner with them to do God’s work. In preparation for this marvelous opportunity, our team has been reading extensively and researching the history and culture of Native Americans.
To my distress I have read that:
“The Navajo’s concept of religion is so total that it can be said that there is no such thing
as religion in Navajo culture because everything is religious. Everything a Navajo knows—his shelter, his fields, his livestock, the sky above him and the ground upon which he walks–is holy. The Navajos for the most part, have long resisted Christianity. They look upon it as a ‘part-time’ religion where a man’s god is available to him for only a few hours on Sunday and then has to be sought out in a special house where his spirit dwells.” (Locke:  The Book of the Navajo)

 

Even though this may be a broad generalization, it seems that the Navajo are not the only ones who hold this opinion. These “part-time” Christians could be called “nominal,” Christians in name only or, perhaps, they are believers who have not yet been discipled. Nevertheless, that those who call themselves Christians do such a poor job of representing the Son of God, the Light, the Truth, and the Way is heartbreaking.

 

As true followers of Jesus, we are to lift him up so that when people see us, they glorify God. Our actions are to reflect hearts of love and integrity and bless and bring the life of Christ to our world, especially those around us. We have centuries of misperception to undo, and it can only be done by abandonment to Jesus Christ, scrupulously following the crucified Lord, and abiding in his resurrected life.  All the while depending totally on him…

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a massive global turning to Jesus Christ through the witness of his children who are walking faithfully with him?

 

Father, forgive us for our selfish, flawed portrayal of our idea of Christianity. Convict us and work within us that those who do not yet know you might hunger and thirst for you because of the Jesus they see in us. Humbly, I pray in Jesus’ name. AMEN.