Hearing From God by Positioning Yourself Rightly

There are times when I think God is quiet towards me when, in fact, he is speaking but I’m unable to hear. Why?  I’ve discovered several reasons, but one of the biggies is how I position myself spiritually. The way that we listen to God and others is important. Deficit listening skills affect every relationship. I didn’t comprehend that for years because, well…………..I didn’t listen well. Clear communication with God and others around me is crucial for healthy relationships, so it’s a good idea to think about what kind of receiver I am, on the listening end.

In our early years of marriage, I didn’t understand that my husband is a thinking-first, internal processor while I am a feeling-first external processor. When we disagreed, I started throwing a lot of words and ideas at him, wanting him to toss the same back to me. Sometimes he did holler back, mainly to  defend himself, but eventually he’d exit the premises, so he could think. Alone. Quietly. I misinterpreted that as a lack of caring, which I usually shouted at his retreating back. We needed to learn to communicate more productively when we disagreed.

In the book of Habakkuk, chapter two, the prophet has finished quite a list of complaints to God about the unpunished evil in the world around him. God replies and Habakkuk complains more. Then, a marvelous change occurs in his attitude, and he re-positions himself completely towards God.  Instead of shaking his fist at the heavens, he takes a humbler posture.

“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post.  There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint “Habakkuk 2:1.

Commentator, Matthew Henry’s wisdom about this verse is powerful.

“When tossed and perplexed with doubt about the methods of Providence, we must watch against temptations to be impatient.  When we have poured out complaints and requests before God, we must observe the answers God gives by his word, his Spirit, and providences; what the Lord will say to our case.  God will not disappoint the believing expectations of those who wait to hear what he will say unto them.”

In the past, I used the same poor listening skills with God that I used with Ken, expecting him to fit through my narrow funnel of hearing.  When Habakkuk positioned himself rightly, God told him profound things and inspired him to write a few of the most beautiful verses in the Old Testament. (See the bottom of the post for my favorites.) God wants to speak weighty things to me today. I don’t want to miss any more than I already have in the past. What can we learn from this prophet to improve our God-listening skills?

  • Designate quiet times and spaces in each day.

Most of us live in a crazy, loud world compared to ancient times. Media, traffic, families, workplaces and such create a lot of noise.  Whether Habakkuk went to a literal watchtower or a figurative one, there is an implied quiet there. Ancient watchtowers were often manned by one or two people, high in the sky, away from the bustle of their communities. Whether it’s a quiet room in your home, walking trail or even your bathroom with the vent fan running, (my mom used to do this for quiet) it’s so important to carve out physical quiet in your day, specifically to talk with God and listen.

  • Be prepared to wait.

God does not move on our timetable.  That’s an important fact to wrap our 21st century minds around. He may take days, weeks, months and even years to respond to a prayer request or complaint. Think about the lapse of time between all the Old Testament prophecies about Christ and his date of birth. Being impatient with him demonstrates a lack of trust. We are implying that he is doing nothing, simply because we can’t see his movements.

 

  • Accept that the answer you receive may not be the outcome you expect.

Notice that Habakkuk says, “how he will answer my complaint,” in verse one.  In the first chapter, the prophet implies that God is not doing what Habakkuk thinks he should do concerning the evil Chaldeans, who are oppressing the Israelites, but here I see a change in his attitude. There used to be times when I looked for that one right answer from God. When it didn’t come the way I imagined, I felt disappointed. I missed entirely the other things he did instead in those situations.  He is Alpha and Omega who sees the entire picture and knows what is ultimately best. We see a limited viewpoint of any set of circumstances, colored by our own perceptions, experiences and prejudices.  God is not limited by any of that junk.

I want to position myself in a spiritual watchtower where I hear and discern the words and movements of God in my world and the world around me. I long to pray effectively, lined up with the will of God. Wherever you are in your God-listening skills, are you ready to come up to the next level?

 

Treasures from Habakkuk

(all from NLT)

“For as the waters fill the sea, the earth will be filled with an awareness of the glory of the Lord.” 2:14

“But the Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.” 2:20

“I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works.” 3:2

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren…yet I will rejoice in the Lord!” 3:17-18

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” 3:19

 

What To Do When It Feels Like God Isn’t Listening

In the past, I dabbled with the thought that God was ignoring me. I knew this was false, yet I use to agonize during God’s silent seasons with me. For example, he seemed quiet on the matter of me finding a teaching job for many years, although he faithfully opened other career doors of opportunity for me. When fraudulent behavior and unethical corporate practices decimated my husband’s business like a tsunami, some days, I only heard the roar of the waves.

When you are a leader, these types of experiences are unsettling since people under you often expect you to be a God-hearing vision caster 24/7. Parents can feel the pressure from children, spouses from their mates and so on. Every true God-follower will experience deserts and dry seasons in their faith and just as Satan pounced on Jesus in the wilderness, he waits to attack us in the same places. Starting with Adam and Eve, our enemy tries to trick humans into doubting God’s character, particularly his love and power.

I remember praying faithfully and fervently for a couple’s broken marriage relationship that still ended in a bitter divorce. I know God does not override our free will to choose sin, which is what one partner did. Although I hurt deeply for this couple, I also struggled that through the whole, agonizing process, I couldn’t seem to see God’s hand moving in their situation. By faith, I know he is always active on behalf of his children but at that time, I felt like my prayers hit a wall and then slid back down.

Nowadays, I’ve learned to trust God’s heart when I can’t see his activity, and it seems like evil is winning. It’s a faith stretcher.  I’ve met many Christians who experience that struggle of feeling like they are faithfully conversing with God, but he isn’t talking back. These are not new, 21st century feelings.  The ancient prophet Habakkuk cried out to God with similar emotions.

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save. Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore, the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:1-4).

God answers the prophet and reveals his plans for judgement on the wicked. Instead of finding comfort in that, Habakkuk is in despair. He rails on God some more concerning the activities of evil. I remember times when I landed in similar valleys where I struggled to believe the truth of God’s word because it seemed so far removed from present, painful circumstances.

God doesn’t scold Habakkuk in his brokenness and despair. Instead, he says, “Okay, I’m going to share more of my plan with you and I want you to write it down and then see that the message is spread around your country.” In the next post, we’ll dive more deeply into what God said and Habakkuk’s change of heart. For now, may I share a couple ideas on what to do when you find yourself feeling disconnected from God, in a valley of doubt and discouragement?

  • Feed your spirit man rich food. The old saying is true; whatever you feed grows and whatever you starve dies. Even though devotions and Bible study might feel like a chore, don’t forsake them; they will strengthen the best part of you and help take your emotions out of the driver’s seat. Storing up God’s word in your heart and mind gives the Holy Spirit the materials he needs to help you climb up out of your valley.  
  • Read Stories of Other’s Successful Journeys through the valleys of despair.

There are hundreds of books and websites available where brothers and sisters in Christ share their narratives on overcoming debilitating circumstances. I’ll list a few below.  Also, there’s a great website I worked with for awhile entitled, “Why Is This Happening?” (whyisthishappening.org) Great stories from overcomers are available on the site.

  • Spend your prayer time on others needs more than your own.

My prayer times used to become myopic during valley times, until I learned the discipline of casting my cares on God and then moving on to intercede for someone else’s situation. God wants to know that we trust him with our stuff.  Jesus set the perfect example of caring more for the tragedies of others rather than his own, many times. Dying on the cross, he spoke to John about caring for his mother, Mary, and also taught salvation to the lost soul crucified next to him.

  • Continue in the last clear direction God gave you until he gives you a new one. My former pastor, M. Wayne Benson used to say, “If you’re not hearing from God right now, then keep doing the last thing he told you to do.”  Don’t equate God’s temporary silence towards you, with indifference. Whatever Satan may be screaming at you, remember, as the Newsboys song says, “The cross has the final word.”

One of the beautiful things about seasons is that they change. You may think that impossible right now, during your winter, but spring will come to your life again.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3 ESV).

Recommended books:

You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Turbulent Times,” by Max Lucado.

“It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way,” Lisa Ter Keurst

 

 

Hope When You Feel Helpless

When feelings of hopelessness edge into my heart, its first cousin, helplessness, often accompanies. Yesterday, both tried to climb over walls I’ve put around my heart to guard it against such things. Some pernicious health issues created a pathway to my wall and carelessly, I let the cousins start climbing.  Their hands made it up over the bricks of morning worship and prayer and even beyond the lessons from my current devotional study about displaying God’s glory in our lives.  Just as they began to fling their legs over the top of the wall, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a power verse. “Greater is he that is in me than he who is the world!” (I John 4:4)

I belted that phrase and then sang a scripture-based song, “Whom the son sets free, is free indeed. I’m a child of God, yes I am!” The last I saw hopeless and helpless, they were running away with their ears covered. They will most likely attempt to breach my walls again because my health situation is not resolved, and Satan is nothing if not persistent. This is not my first fight with him on this battlefield but when I stay in step with the Captain of the Host, victory comes.

There are many ways our enemy tries to attack our faith in God’s power and love, and for some of us, it’s directly on our physical bodies. For others, it’s our families, our finances, jobs, churches, mind and emotions or any other place in our lives where Satan thinks he can advance his army.  Sometimes he confronts me on multiple fields of battle. Truthfully, there have been days when I’ve allowed hopelessness and helplessness to climb the wall and camp out in the garden of my heart for a time. Let me tell you, once you let them all the way in, it’s tough to get them back over that wall.

The forces of hell will plot against God’s kingdom until the final judgement. I find hope and strength for my battles throughout scripture, but today I want to point you to a passage in the book of Nahum I recently discovered. In the first chapter, the prophet describes the fierce anger of the Lord towards the enemies of his people.

“The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and rage. He takes revenge on ALL who oppose him and continues to rage against his enemies. The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he NEVER lets the guilty go unpunished. He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm.  The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet. At his command the oceans dry up, and the rivers disappear. In his presence the mountains quake, and the hills melt away; the earth trembles… “Nahum 1:2-6 NLT (emphasis mine).

I love what commentator Matthew Henry, says about this passage. “Let sinners read it and tremble, and let saints read it and triumph.”  For Satan, his army, and those who choose to align themselves with darkness, this passage, and others like it, are terrifying. They’ve experienced God’s wrath. I don’t think only Egyptians screamed when the Red Sea crashed down on them or that only the inhabitants of Jericho quaked when their mighty walls crumbled.  Wherever evil resides, the unseen world of darkness exists in tandem.

For the believer, these types of scriptures are assurance that God sees every injustice against his children, whether in the natural or the supernatural, and will deal with every perpetrator of wickedness in ferocious ways.Your feelings of helplessness or hopelessness may come from sinful acts committed against you by humans but understand there is always a vile puppet master pulling the strings behind them. This is why Paul instructed the church in the book of Ephesians, that Christians are not wrestling merely with humans and we best be wearing our spiritual armor.

It’s Satan’s delight to keep our vision horizontally focused on enemies we can see in the natural, pitting Christ followers against each other and against unbelievers.  Passages like the one in Nahum remind us that this is a vertical war between good and evil, with the outcome already determined in heaven.  Satan knows this and is simply working to take as many spoils of war as he possibly can, namely the souls of men.

If he can distract me with hopelessness and helplessness about my own situations, how likely am I to see and respond to the needs of others in their broken moments? Maybe a fellow believer falls because I’m not there to throw my arm around them and help them to the med station. Or perhaps my unbelieving friend sinks deeper into the enemy’s darkness because they can’t see my lantern pointing the way to the Light. That’s why scriptures like Nahum’s first chapter are so powerful and affirming. They remind us that we are marching with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s the God who piles up seas then tumbles them down and crushes giant walls like brittle leaves. He’s always working on behalf of his children and against the forces of evil whether we can see it in the natural or not.

I’ve developed a phrase that I roll out repeatedly, to speak to my soul when I find it trending towards hopelessness.  I say, “I don’t know exactly what God’s gonna do, but he’s gonna do something.” Then I choose to focus on the tasks God places before me and the needs of others rather than continuing to stew about my own situations.

Be encouraged today by the knowledge of God’s power and might inserted into your circumstances. Sometimes I am helpless to change sinful or painful situations to any great degree, but God never is and loves to demonstrate his authority over heaven and earth on behalf of his children. Here’s a few more passages to meditate on concerning his power and might.

Job 26:7-14, Psalm 136,  Isaiah 14:27,  Isaiah 52:10, Psalm 66:7, Ephesians 1:19-21,

 

Hope for Those Who Love Prodigals

The agony of loving a prodigal can be unbearable. As I’ve wept and prayed with their family and friends, they’ve taught me valuable insights. First, when someone who walked with God chooses the world instead, life can become a roller coaster. Wee hour phone calls slam you with news of arrests, overdoses or other dire circumstances. Often those with substance abuse problems steal from family and friends. Their new “friends,” are people who can’t take care of themselves, let alone anyone else. They are rarely trustworthy people and often add to the self-destructive lifestyle of your prodigal.

Secondly, your pain is intensified when your wandering soul is a parent who carries children along in their wild current. This complicates boundaries and availability. How often does one offer resources to the unstable parent, for the sake of the child?  Complex questions arise in these gut-wrenching situations.

Third, there are many kinds of prodigals. Your prodigal may be a high functioning, productive member of society, yet they want nothing to do with God and his people anymore. This describes my Uncle Donald, a vice president for a large pharmaceutical corporation. He grew up in a Christian home, professed a personal faith in Christ and then turned his back on God for his entire adult life until near the end. His younger sister, my Aunt Mary Lea, chose the same spiritual path, while functioning well in society.

Fourth, parents instinctively want to blame themselves for the choices of their prodigal child, but they shouldn’t. All humans make their own choices to respond to or reject God’s grace and love extended specifically to every person, regardless of home environment.  My mother and her sister, Miriam, grew up in the same home as Donald and Mary Lea. They both loved and served God their whole lives. Did my grandparents do everything wrong with Donald and Mary Lea and everything right with the other two? Doubtful.

I include my own family’s story to encourage parents who might be agonizing over their family dynamic in light of a wayward child. Franklin Graham, director of Samaritan’s Purse Ministry, son of evangelist Billy Graham, lived a wild life, until he turned 22. Franklin will tell you that Billy and Ruth Graham were amazing, godly parents. Unfortunately, some children from solid, Christian homes choose sin for a season, for reasons they don’t even fully understand.  They break the hearts of everyone who loves them.

Prodigals are featured throughout scripture including the one in Jesus’ famous parable. Manasseh, king of Judah during the prophet Nahum’s season of ministry, went completely nuts for sin. Bible scholars declare him to be the most evil king in all of Israel’s history. The surprise in Manasseh’s story is that his father was Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings.

Manasseh’s story is a fascinating one told in 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33.  To summarize, he became King at the age of twelve and in early adulthood, dove into the worship of Moloch, to the point of sacrificing his own child in Moloch’s fires. Most of Israel followed him into idol worship, child sacrifice and immorality. The Bible is silent on the reasons for his descent into madness. That’s a wise example for anyone judging parents of prodigals.

Before Manasseh’s tale turns for good, it becomes much worse, for him and Israel. God loves his people too much too allow them to continue in sin without intervention.  He sends the Assyrian army to brutally conquer Judah and take Manasseh away as a captive. The original Hebrew text indicates that the Assyrians pierced either his nose or his cheek with a large ring attached to a chain and led the humbled king off into captivity in chains, like a pig to market.

As horrific as this is, God cared more about the condition of Manasseh’s eternal soul than his earthly life. That’s why he sent Nahum first, then the Assyrians, when Manasseh refused to repent. The same is true of your prodigal. God may allow excruciatingly painful circumstances into the life of a wayward child to recapture their attention and their heart.  During his captivity, Manasseh repented and transformed entirely. He is mysteriously returned to his throne and allowed to rule Judah until his death. The Bible gives no more details as to why the Assyrians did this but the point is that he came back as a very different king.

He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel” 2 Chronicles 33:15-16.

God’s grace reaches into the prodigal’s chosen pigpen, although his mercy may be severe at times, like it was for Manasseh and Judah.  He loves mankind too much to allow people to choose hell as their eternal home, without allowing them a taste of it here on earth. This is where discernment, wisdom and the leading of the Spirit is critical in your relationship to a prodigal.  Only God can instruct you when to help them and when to leave them to the consequences of their own poor decisions as painful as that may be.  Only God can redirect a wayward heart back to himself.  We serve as prayer warriors against the dark kingdom and as lighthouses on their journey home.

The fifth thing prodigal’s families taught me is not to try and get in between them and their destructive relationships, without a clear directive from God.  Although our intentions are to rescue, they are usually not perceived that way. We may find ourselves cut off from our loved one entirely. Take comfort that God sees all evil doers and will deal with them himself. The entire book of Nahum is a judgement against Assyria, for conquering Judah, even though Manasseh and the kingdom were steeped in sin. Read the short book to see how God feels and behaves towards those who mess with his children, even wayward ones.

I’ve watched the endless power of God’s love and provision towards those who love a prodigal. He supplies comfort when everything turns sideways. He grants discernment to determine when to intervene and when to stand back.  He sends the Holy Spirit to groan with them during prayer times and weep with them when there seems to be no change of heart in their loved one.  He understands our situations intimately and He cares deeply.  He is always a source of hope in hopeless situations.

Hope for Hopeless Situations

When I am confronted with hopeless situations in my own life or my people’s, the temptation to circle the drain emotionally is almost overwhelming.  As a One on the Enneagram temperament scale (see links below) I’m already tilting at windmills, trying to right all wrongs. When a situation becomes “hopeless,” things are seriously akimbo, some which can’t be rectified on this side of heaven. This is when I am most thankful for God’s assurances in his Word, that He is in control when life is out of control. His compassion is as near as the mention of his name.

Phrases like, “There’s nothing more we can do,” and “There’s no way out of this,” or “This can’t be fixed,” used to take me down to a low, scary place where I questioned God’s goodness and love. When my husband nearly died of pneumonia, at the age of 27, I railed at God for a few days before godly friends and family guided me back to the narrow road of faith. I wish that was my only memory of questioning God’s character in painful circumstances.

These days, I tell my emotions to carry on in the back seat a while as my spirit drives the rest of me to better places, many of them in Psalms, like 119:76, 9:9, and 46:1. God’s comfort is unfailing when everything and everyone else is failing, unstable. There is a gem of a story about this topic hidden in the book of Nahum. I say hidden because, so few believers take the time to read the minor prophets. My pastor husband calls them the “white pages” of the Bible. I missed the story entirely until yesterday, when I took the time to learn about this interesting prophet and his audience.

First, Nahum is part two of the story of Nineveh, with the book of Jonah being part one. The city’s repentance in Jonah’s day, lasts about a hundred years before they once again become bullies, conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and threaten the lower kingdom of Judah. Judah’s troubles don’t end there. Their ruler, King Manasseh, ranks on the top five evil Israelite king list, and leads his countrymen into idolatry and human sacrifice. Imagine being a sincere follower of Jehovah in a homeland melting down its morals at idol’s feet and about to be invaded by Assyria. I wonder if they felt hopeless.

God selects Nahum as the prophet of the hour.  Most of his prophecy first assures his countrymen that Nineveh’s aggressions will not go unpunished.  Every evil thing they’ve perpetrated against God’s people, God will now rain down on them.  Read the book and visualize for yourself, it’s a very short read.

Secondly, God might choose to stop speaking to Hebrews so immersed in sin they are sacrificing their own children in the fires of Moloch and Baal, but he doesn’t. Instead, he sends them a prophet whose very name means “comfort.” God sends compassion to his few, faithful followers, with skin on. Isn’t that what we need the most when we are facing hopeless situations with no easy resolutions?

Inside God’s detailed plans for bringing justice to Nineveh and the Assyrian empire, he inserts treasures of comfort for those still listening, desperately trying to obey him in their fallen culture.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in him” Nahum 1:.7

“The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel, though destroyers have laid them waste and have ruined their vines” Nahum 2:2.

We need lots more Nahums in the body of Christ, people who lovingly remind us of God’s faithfulness and goodness.  I want encouragers that follow Nahum’s example. Gently remind me that God sees everything that’s gone wrong for me and mine. Nothing escapes his notice. His ability to be present with me is constant. Then, I need the assurance that even when the outcomes of situations are wretched and pain-filled, he is my ever-caring refuge of compassion and strength.

In this age of 24/7 news and social media, too much of what I see and hear can be negative. On the other hand, I don’t want to be a walled off Christian, ignorant of and unwilling to interact with the sorrow and suffering of this world. As some did for me, I want to speak good news and peace into dark places for other people, the places where Satan thinks he’s had the last word. Nahum echoes Isaiah 52:7 when he says, “Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace” Nahum 1:15.

Christ our Savior and Prince of Peace is unchanging and ever available. When I invite his presence and carry his words of assurance to those facing hopeless situations, the atmosphere changes. Broken hearts can start to mend, wobbly knees stabilize, and weary minds are refreshed when I carry mercy and courage into the trials of people’s lives. I want people to associate my name with comfort, just like Nahum.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

Resources to learn which Enneagram number you are and then what to do with that information.

  1. The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile https://www.amazon.com/Road-Back-You-Enneagram-Self-Discovery/dp/0830846190
  2. The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile

https://www.amazon.com/Path-Between-Us-Enneagram-Relationships/dp/0830846425/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=ARK25595S822WDB4PDG6

  1. The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr https://www.amazon.com/Enneagram-Christian-Perspective-Richard-Rohr/dp/0824519507/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1KCL9TILOJ4J9&keywords=richard+rohr&qid=1561577490&s=books&sprefix=Richard+%2Cstripbooks%2C161&sr=1-3

 

 

Standing Alone In A Compromised Culture

Standing up for your beliefs gets lonely when no one joins you. I worked in a skilled care facility years ago, as part of a team that did music and activity therapy with Alzheimer’s and stroke patients. One day, my team leader asked me to start “enhancing” the notes I put into patients’ charts. She wanted me to indicate that certain patients participated at higher levels than they were, to justify their stay in a rehab facility as opposed to a regular nursing home.

An awkward conversation followed. She pleaded with me, explaining that our department could experience layoffs if the patient count didn’t remain at a certain level. I knew, I couldn’t lie, regardless of what name my superior called it or the resulting consequences. Tight-lipped she listened to my explanation, and although she accepted it, after that I ate lunch and took my breaks alone. The team made it clear I’d been culled from the herd.

The prophet Micah expresses some of those lonely feelings in chapter seven. From his perspective, he’s one man standing alone for righteousness, amid people who called themselves God followers.

“How miserable I am! I feel like the fruit picker after the harvest who can find nothing to eat. Not a cluster of grapes or a single early fig can be found to satisfy my hunger. The godly people have all disappeared; not one honest person is left on the earth.  They are all murderers, setting traps even for their own brothers. Both their hands are equally skilled at doing evil. Officials and judges alike demand bribes.  The people with influence get what they want, and together they scheme to twist justice” Micah 7: 1-3 (NLT).

Micah poetically describes the corruption and lack of integrity within Israel and Judah, alluding to righteousness as a fruit that can’t be found anywhere in the culture around him. Fellow believers, all in for God, share similar feelings with me sometimes. Along with me, they’ve felt spiritually alone when they make a stand against a cultural current that contradicts God’s values. Family gatherings, workplaces and friendship circles can become cold and distant when you are the one salmon swimming upstream.

In the 6th grade, my daughter Jennifer, experienced God in a fresh way. Her heart became sensitive to behaviors that didn’t please her Heavenly Father. She realized that within her circle of school friends, conversations trended towards gossip and criticism. Since most of the girls professed faith in Christ, she tried to say sweetly (truly, she is one of the kindest people I know) that maybe they all needed to stop talking about other girls’ flaws. Sadly, they did not receive the suggestion well and shunned Jennifer the rest of the year. The loneliness she felt tore my heart, while at the same time swelling it with admiration for her courage to follow Jesus more faithfully.

How did Micah hang in there and how do we stand firm when God calls us to be a spiritual trendsetter instead of a cultural lemming?  First, I need to recognize, like Micah did, that although I might be strong in one area of righteous living, I might be weak in others. If there’s even a glimmer of pride in my stance, I’ll probably tumble hard, at some point. Standing for righteousness demands that I do it cloaked in humility, otherwise, I can come across as legalistic, judgmental and arrogant. Micah acknowledged his own sin within a wicked culture, and I need to do the same.

As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. For though I fall, I will rise again.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.  I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against him. But after that, he will take up my case and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies” Micah 7:7-9 (NLT).

Second, only intimacy with God will show me where the narrow roads are and which broad highways I need to exit from. The Bible gives us a wealth of guidelines and laws but only the Spirit of God can help us to rightly apply them to circumstances.  Lots of complex situations created by sin, which I might encounter, are not specifically discussed in the Bible. Handling them in a Christ-like way takes finesse and wisdom from God.

Third, the only way I can endure the rejection of standing solitary without caving, is when my strength comes from God alone, not the approval of others. I don’t like it when people are ticked off at me because I won’t go with a flow, I believe to be wrong. People who are cheering for you one day may be snarling at you the next. Remember the crowd that shouted “Hosanna,” to Jesus one week then screamed for his crucifixion the days later?  Some things never change. When your behavior pricks people to consider that they might be caught in sin, they seldom thank you, initially.

David’s Psalms comfort and stabilize me in those moments. Psalms 11 and 13 are special favorites of mine. There are many others in which David cries out to God concerning his feelings of fear, isolation and loneliness, caused by opposing wicked King Saul.

I want to live dangerously, like Micah, Joshua and Caleb, Corrie Ten Boom, A. W. Tozer and so many others who stood up for God’s agenda when the Christian culture around them did not.

God, help me to steer my ship right into the wind and waves of people’s rejection and disapproval if that’s the price for obeying you.    

 

 

Qualities of Good Shepherds

What kind of leaders should I follow?

What kind of leader do I aspire to be?

These two questions plunked themselves in front of me when I read the second and third chapters of the book of Micah. The prophet’s word pictures about self-serving leaders initially left me without any personal conviction. That’s why it’s important to study the Bible, not just read it.

“…. you skin my people alive and tear the flesh from their bones” (Micah 3:2b NLT).

“You false prophets are leading my people astray! You promise peace for those who give you food, but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you” (Micah 3:5 NLT).

Once I started to dig a little, that familiar sense of “Uh, oh. I think God’s speaking to me too,” started rising. For me, digging means reading the passages in a couple of different translations and checking out a couple of my favorite commentaries. (I’ll share a list under the “Lamp and Sword” section.) That’s when the Holy Spirit started exposing some of my past mistakes.

I observed Micah’s contrast between the qualities of God as a shepherd in chapter two, with the features of leaders whose motives are self-motivated, in chapter three. Upon quiet reflection, the Spirit reminded me of past behaviors where achieving my goals became more important than feeding, nurturing and protecting those under me. The memories didn’t limit themselves to my various professional roles as a teacher and pastor but also included my life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and so on.  Here’s two examples:

  • I insisted my young daughter leave the house each day with neat hair and well-coordinated outfits so she would reflect well on me. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until she hit junior high. I realized I’d never taken the time to teach her those skills for herself. I should have been “feeding” her that information all along and allowing her to experiment a bit. I think that’s what a good shepherd mom does. I learned that from watching how she shepherds her daughters now.  She’s willing to let them create some interesting outfits, with her guidance, rather than squeeze them into her personal style box for the sake of “what will people think?”
  • At one school in which I taught, I felt pressure from my administrator to achieve unreasonable goals with my choral groups. Instead of sitting down with him to negotiate and modify the objectives, my pride led me to become a bit of tyrant. I felt that if I said that the goals seemed beyond the current crop of students, it reflected more on my teaching abilities than anything else, so I took that challenge for a few months. Choirs stopped being fun for the students and me. Finally, in discouragement, I sat down with my principal. To my amazement, he said, “Oh, those were just some ideas I had. When you didn’t offer any others, I figured you were good with them.” A good shepherd director would have sorted this out sooner than later.

I could tell many more tales of times I put my needs, wants and fears ahead of those of the people under me. Any time any shepherd puts their own concerns above the flock’s, that flock is in danger. The shepherd’s attention is focused inward and not on that little lamb who wandered off into thorn bushes, or the sheep who’s eating the poisonous plant.  Apparently, the shepherds Micah is speaking to, developed self-preservation to an art form. God inspired the prophet with graphic, bloody language to help wayward leaders see the damage they were inflicting emotionally and spiritually on the people of Israel and Judah.

The Bible has much to say about good shepherding.  Reading some of those passages, a list of character traits emerged to me. These are qualities I look for in leaders and want to be deliberate about growing in myself. My goal is that anyone following me on any level might feel nurtured, encouraged, fed, trained and equipped to do the same for other sheep.  I know it’s a lofty goal, but I think God wants us to dream large about these things.  Here’s some of the qualities of good shepherds that I found.

  • They are willing to sacrifice themselves for the needs of the flock.  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” John 10:11. There is a balance in the life of Christ that I want to model. The gospels frequently speak about him spending time alone with God to care for his own emotional and spiritual needs yet he ultimately sacrificed his own body so his flock could live.
  • They lead people to times and places of refreshment. “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams” Psalm 23:2 NLT. Caring leaders take time to create environments for their flocks which encourage laughter, refreshment, celebration and rest. They don’t continuously drive the flock towards a goal, only feeding and resting enough for simple survival. They take time to meet needs along the way.
  • They care about people as people, whether they can help the leader towards their goals or not. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” Matthew 9:36 NIV. I want my compassion and care to extend consistently towards those who are in desperate need of help and possess no ability to further my personal goals, except to make me more like Jesus.
  • They are aware of what’s going on in the lives of those who serve alongside them and under them. Know well the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds” Proverbs 27:23 NIV. I’ve served under Christian leaders who are oblivious or worse yet, uninterested in my personal struggles. By their behavior they’ve indicated to me that my value is in what I produce, not in who I am. Sadly, several non-believing employers I’ve worked under expressed more concern about my life than a couple of my brothers and sisters in Christ in authority over me.  God help me if I’ve ever made someone feel that way and strengthen me Lord, to never do it again.

My list is not the definitive one concerning good shepherds, but it’s the one God brought to my attention. Maybe Micah can speak to you too.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

 

 

Here’s a list of my favorite go-to commentaries.  They are all available online.

  1. Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary (Concise) This version uses more precise, updated language than the original.   https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc
  2. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Faussett and Brown. These guys focus on the original languages and what words meant at the time they were written. This adds a lot of understanding to texts particularly where we might be interpreting meaning based on our own cultural biases. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/
  3. Bible Hub is an online collection of over fifty different commentaries.  I’ve used Guzik’s Bible Commentary, Barnes Notes, Scofield Reference Notes and Gills Bible Exposition. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/

 

 

 

Living With a Heavenly Viewpoint

“Only one life, ‘twil soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” My grandparents posted this saying in their home and conducted their lives by it. Yesterday, reading the fourth chapter of Micah, I realized I hadn’t thought about such things deliberately, thoughtfully, for a while. The truth about the brevity of here and now often takes a back seat to the earthly things that drive my days. I recall repeated conversations with high school English students in a similar vein, like this sample.

Student:  Gonna have my own auto body shop. Won’t be writin’ any papers there.

Me: Body shop?  Need customers to come to your place instead of others, right?

Student: Yeah…….

Me: How?

Student: (Pauses) Facebook!  Maybe some flyers?

Me: Great ideas! Who’s writing your copy?

Student: My what?

Me:  All the writing you want to put on social media and flyers. Needs to be error-free, eye-catching. Not too wordy. You can’t use dull words cause then people might stop reading after the first line.

Student: Well, I guess I’ll find a wife by then and make her do it.  (Laughter from all)

Many times, I dealt with myopic students who couldn’t envision the use of language skills in real life. Some focused on being the next great sports legend in need of two skills, throwing balls and granting interviews. The college bound students going into the sciences, couldn’t see the relevance of composition and speech. Others aimed towards technology or trade, couldn’t understand how strong writing and speaking skills could help them achieve their goals.

Although these students knew that high school only lasted four years, they didn’t live that way. They created an existence that made high school their world, instead of the short journey of education and experience it’s intended to be. I’m not throwing stones, because I believe I’ve lived the same mistake on a grander scale.

Theologian Dwight Pentecost stated that there are more verses in scripture about the time period we call the millennium than any other time period discussed in the Bible. I didn’t know that and maybe you didn’t either. Why? Most verses about the thousand-year reign are found in the Old Testament prophets. These books don’t often turn up in Bible studies and sermons. I wonder if that’s partly why God spoke to me about pedaling my way through the minor prophets in my blog this year?

When I consider my earthly life as only a launch pad, my perspective about my resources shifts. My concern about lost souls sliding towards a God-less eternity, becomes motivating to engage with them authentically so I earn the right to share the truth about Jesus. Every time I am confronted in some way with the mortality of this body and the eternity of my soul, my “whys” restore their focus back to heaven’s priorities.

Why write my blog?  To inspire and encourage other believers in their faith and motivate them to also engage with the unsaved.  Building a platform so that a publisher will pick up my book becomes a secondary goal, instead of primary.

Why labor to landscape around my house?  To create places of refreshment for people to relax in and reflect on the wonder of God’s designs. Wanting the beauty of gardens for myself and a supply of cut flowers simply for my own enjoyment isn’t as motivating.

When I first began writing, I started a novel which may still be completed someday. The story idea comes from my grandparents’ experiences in full-time ministry. I dreamed of a series of novels, beloved in the same way as Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series, filled with quirky, endearing characters.

There’s a place for well-written Christian fiction which brings laughter to the heart and causes us to reflect on our relationships. That’s an eternity-minded why, but it wasn’t mine. Mine was far more narrow and self-oriented.  Last Spring, at a writer’s conference, God challenged me with the question, “What if I helped you write a different book for now?” He gently reminded me that heaven’s agenda is greater than my small goals.

The book he re-directed me towards will be a collection of true stories from seasoned pastors and leaders about ministry’s unique challenges faced and navigated successfully. The heart of this book originates back to when my husband, Ken, and I first started full time service.  Lots of goofy, painful things happened, which no one talked about in seminary or Bible school. Our inexperience, and lack of mentors, left Ken and I feeling lonely, constantly questioning our calling and gifts and attempting to leave ministry many times.

The goal is to make a dent in the number of pastors leaving ministry each year and to encourage those in the trenches through the wisdom and counsel of experienced leaders. I become excited when I think about how many ministries and churches could be impacted positively, if their leaders didn’t feel so discouraged and lonely. See how God shifted my focus from dreams of my beloved books on library shelves to building up weary leaders?

God interrupted Micah’s crucial message about impending judgement, to write about the millennium. As high a priority as repentance is to God, he instructed his prophet to interject a sidebar about the life yet to come. God wanted the Israelites to consider the life he started preparing for them as soon as he shut the gates to Eden. He still wants his children to think about his long-term plans for us as we dream, plan and live.

The thought occurs to me that if our minds remained focused on heaven’s priorities and eternity’s viewpoint, we’d most likely find ourselves with a lot less repenting to do overall.  What do you think?

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

Here’s a link to an interesting article by Dr. David Jeremiah, well-known Bible teacher, about what he believes concerning the millenium.

https://davidjeremiah.blog/the-millennium/

You may come from a denomination that does not accept the millennium as a literal thousand-year reign. There are different theological points of view on this. That’s okay.  The fact that there will be a new heaven and a new earth where we will rule with Christ eternally, is indisputable and should motivate us to live accordingly regardless of how or if you believe the thousand-year reign fits into that timeline.  I’ve recommended this book before and will do so again.  “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn, is a wonderfully written, theologically sound volume on all that Scripture teaches about our future lives with God.  Understanding heaven better changed the way I view my current life and priorities.

 

 

 

Trusting Our Righteous Judge

Receiving a summons to appear in court, is a knee-quaking moment. The sheriff at my door seemed jaded and looked at me as if he believed me to be guilty of the crime represented in the envelope. I felt like a criminal.

Years ago, we unknowingly hired an unscrupulous lawyer to take care of some legal business for us. He handled the business satisfactorily, but his disorganization concerning billing and contracts led him to believe that we signed a contract for him to do further work for us. When he tried to bill us for work, we didn’t agree to, and he hadn’t done, we called repeatedly and explained to his part-time secretary that he was mistaken, and no such contract existed.

The foolish man insisted on suing us, and we appeared in court. As defendants. Suspected criminals.  Our assigned judge asked if we minded him handling a couple bail cases before he proceeded with ours. Like we would say no? This provided more time to try to stop our hands from shaking.

Beefy sheriff’s deputies escorted two ridiculously large prisoners into the courtroom, both in hand and leg shackles, and seated them five feet away from us. All the movies and stories I knew about jailbreaks, prison shanks and such ran through my mind. I silently prayed while trying to appear unfazed by this terrifying development. We didn’t find this turn of events calming.

At that time, we felt no peace to spend more money on lawyers and Ken represented us himself before the judge. The smug look across the aisle, on the face of the lawyer representing our dishonest lawyer, made us question that decision. Truth isn’t always enough to prove innocence.

Quickly, it became clear how disorganized and mistaken our lawyer proved to be.  No documents could be produced proving his case and we possessed many that proved ours. The judge scolded the representing lawyer and we enjoyed a David beats Goliath moment, as the judge ordered us to pay only our agreed-upon fee.

I recalled those feelings of terror in the courtroom, when I read through the book of Micah.  A prophet to both Judah and Israel, Micah carried the message of God’s anger and impending judgement to sinful Jews.  Chapter two reminded me of our plight as defendants along with all the stories I’ve encountered about people who’ve lost homes, businesses and savings through fraud.

Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them.  They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance” (Micah 2:1-2)

Our dishonest lawyer caused us weeks of stress and many hours of time as Ken organized our case. God observed similar scenes in Judah and Israel, and his rage boiled. Wicked Hebrews stole houses, lands and fortunes from their own people, apparently with forethought and glee.

Just as in ancient Israel, fraudulent behavior is not limited to the world but sometimes crops up amongst believers also. Churches and relationships are fractured as a result. This type of behavior is contemptible to God. He expects better of his children.  To the evildoers of Judah and Israel he said,

I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves” (Micah 2:3).

God’s nature and character are unchanging.  What angered him three thousand years ago still lights him up today. Delayed judgement sometimes leads people to think it will never come. God’s laws of sowing and reaping will always apply however, and as Hosea said, “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

If you are a victim of fraud, cheating, being lied to, etc., God sees it all.  He’s recorded every penny, relationship, possession and job taken from you. You may be living in reduced circumstances due to the sin of others.  Although our case with the disorganized lawyer ended well, at another time, a large corporation our business affiliated with, cheated us and other agents, out of significant sums of money through illegal business practices. The loss of revenue forced us to reduce our staff and move to smaller offices.  Years later, when a case came before a judge, on behalf of agents, he ruled for the corporation, unjustly.

Remember, your heavenly Father, who sees the fall of every sparrow, cares deeply. Confronted with the choice between forgiveness and bitterness, with God’s grace, Ken and I chose the process of forgiveness. Please note I said process. As a result, we maintained our peace and intimacy with God and made room for him to work restoration in our lives.  You can choose the same.  Pray for those who wronged you. They are walking in unawareness of impending judgement, which never turns out well.  Read any of the minor prophets for confirmation of that.

When my heart is right and clean before God, it’s easy to hear his voice. He shares wisdom and insight with me concerning instances where I’ve been wronged.  Sometimes he tells me to let it go and assures me that he will deal with those individuals. The other agents, in the situation above, paid big dollars to take their case to court. God did not give Ken and I a green light on that because he knew the outcome and didn’t want us to waste our money. Bitterness might have led us into a case God didn’t want us involved in.

Other times, God directs me to confront people and hold them accountable for wrongdoing, like the unscrupulous lawyer. We could have paid his dishonest fee, and he would have dropped the court case. In that instance God told us to stand and fight.

I’ve discovered there are no simple formulas for responding to those who sin against me. Only intimacy with God empowers me to forgive and go forward in knowledge and discernment concerning those who wrong me.  I encourage you to start every day with God speaking to you through His word and prayer. I trust my Righteous Judge to empower me to deal with every complex, unfair circumstance that intersects with my life, and you can too.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

If you are currently dealing with or trying to recover from circumstances in which you were wronged, I encourage you to read the following Bible accounts. Understanding how God directed these folks to behave towards their enemies helps me understand His ways and methods in these types of situations.

  • David, God’s chosen king for Israel, runs from King Saul’s murderous rage for many years. Check out his attitude in these portions of his story found in I Samuel, chapters 24 and 26.
  • Joseph’s journey to ruler of Egypt involved treachery and deceit from those closest around him. Read Genesis 37 and then 39-41 and observe Joseph’s demeanor and behavior.
  • Caleb and Joshua were ready to take the promised land as soon as they spied on it. Instead they were defrauded of living there for forty long years because the other ten, cowardly spies spread evil reports amongst the Israelites. Read Joshua 14:6 to the end concerning Caleb’s reward.  Joshua was not only given the honor of replacing Moses, read Joshua 19:49-50 to learn about his reward. Why did God bless them so generously?

What kind of attitude do you think they both maintained during those endless years in the desert?

 

 

At Odds With God

Being at loggerheads with God is a tough row to hoe. I hate being in that place and yet, recall times when my attitude and agenda positioned themselves perpendicular to God, instead of parallel. When we set our hearts towards a specific outcome and God does the unexpected, we don’t always adjust well. Once such time for me occurred when I re-entered the teaching field after many years of absence.

In my forties, I returned to college and added an English degree to my existing Music and Communication degree.  My goal to become an English teacher, seemed quite attainable.  God led me to add that certification, so I felt certain he’d reward me with the position I desired.  My passion for directing choirs and plays became eclipsed by my desire to teach literature and composition.

No matter how I kept re-working my resume, the only job interviews I could land were for music teachers. I felt angry and frustrated with God that I kept my end of the deal, and he didn’t come through on his.  Spending all the time, effort and money on that English degree seemed like a waste, and so I reluctantly accepted another job in Vocal Music. God clearly opened the door, as the school asked me to come interview before I ever applied.  I set my heart to teach direct choirs again, heartily unto the Lord, and trusted him to heal the disappointment of not teaching English.

Jonah behaved horribly when things didn’t go as he hoped, and the people of Nineveh repented. After initially running away, Jonah preached his judgement message in Nineveh. I can only imagine the dangers and ridicule he faced delivering that news. Judging by his reaction to the city’s massive move towards humility and repentance, we conclude that he didn’t rejoice in that outcome at all.

His outburst to God is both tragic and hilarious.

“He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you were a compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’” Jonah 4:2-3.

As I paraphrase this passage, here’s what it sounds like to me.

“God, I never wanted to go to Nineveh in the first place. Those people are perverse and wicked and deserve to be destroyed.  I just knew that they’d probably repent if I went there and preached and then you wouldn’t judge them, like you really should.  Just kill me now.”   Jonah didn’t think Nineveh deserved mercy and thought there should be a different outcome for his efforts.

God answers back. He grows a leafy plant to shade Jonah from the desert sun then sends a worm to destroy the plant.  Jonah repeats his request to die, and God explains his object lesson.

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, thought you did not tend it or make it grow.  It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than hundred and twenty thousand people (children in the Hebrew) who cannot tell their right hand from their left-and also many animals?’” Jonah 4:10-11

The above verses abruptly end the book of Jonah.  We don’t know if the prophet ever walked parallel with God again.

When we are in a perpendicular place with God, he asks us the same question, “Why are you so upset about this thing over here, that didn’t go your way, instead of seeing heaven’s vantage point on this matter?”

When we find ourselves at odds with God, we need to acknowledge that we are the odd man out.  We think we deserve explanations about stuff that goes sideways, but God is not beholden to our limited thinking abilities.  He’s under no obligation to answer all our questions. God is looking for people of faith who can say, “This makes no sense to me, but I’m going to obey God heartily and cheerfully and walk through the doors he opens for me and not bang my fists against the ones he closes.”

That last vocal music job I took turned into an English job during the second year. God delayed my dream, but he did not deny it because it originated with him just as Jonah’s call did.  I wonder if we might have heard from Jonah again in the Old Testament if he hadn’t gone off on such an angry bent.

Stop overthinking every situation that goes a different direction than you expected.  If you keep your heart pure and humble before God, he will cause even your honest mistakes to be part of your destiny journey.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time”

 I Peter 5:6.

If you are on the outs with God right now, please don’t stay there.  Accept that he is weaving a complex tapestry with your life. You can only see a small portion in any given moment.  Trust the One who sees the entire work from beginning to end.  Don’t be a Jonah.