Friday, July 24, 2015

"Life Is Bad"

Scott and I haven't been on vacation since -- well, never. We've done weekends away, and long weekends with the kids, but that was even long ago, longer than I care to remember. Between taking care of my mom, finding suitable care for two dogs, being self-employed (translation: very broke), we have found it's more stress trying to get away than actually staying home. But it's vacation season, and all my friends are out having fun in the sun, posting shots of beautiful sunsets, endless landscapes and contagious grins. They all looked so happy and relaxed. I just want to caption each pic with "Life is good!", but I think it's been taken.

1 Kings paints a picture of just how good life was for the Israelites under King Solomon:
"The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They were very contented, with plenty to eat and drink." (1 Kings 4:20) 
And it's no wonder, when we read exactly what it took to supply just a small portion of the populace, the king's palace:
"The daily food requirements for Solomon’s palace were 150 bushels of choice flour and 300 bushels of meal; also 10 oxen from the fattening pens, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep or goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roe deer, and choice poultry." (v.22, 23) 
That was daily, Folks. Life was good! Verse 34:
"And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon."
What a ministry! Lots of family and friends. Plenty of food and drink. And a popular ruler whose wisdom came straight from God Almighty. What could be better than this?!

But -- and there's always a "but" when people get too big for their britches, as we often do -- seven chapters and who knows how much later, we see Solomon has developed a couple of chinks in his spiritual armor: extravagance, idolatry, and pride. Despite God's warning at a time when Solomon appeared most devoted and surrendered to his Master, Solomon went his own way, and his people with him. It's human nature: "The bigger they are, the harder they fall," we say; "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall," the Bible says. Solomon had everything a man could want in this life, but he was most obedient when the only thing he really wanted was to love God. And if a king, the one God appointed to build His Holy Temple, the son of the "man after God's own heart", could fall into such a trap, who are we to think it can't happen to us? Well, we've all seen it; spiritual giants fall from their pulpits. It can happen. But how do we avoid it?

Whatever it is: vacation, new car, bigger house, job transfer, even taking on a leadership role at church; I think we need to faithfully lay all our goals, all our thoughts before the Lord. We need to constantly ask what His desire is for us in our current situations. We cannot decide that because God has blessed us in abundance, it is our right to use it to excess, or even use it for ourselves.

I know a guy who has it all: boats, cars, vacation homes. His phone is constantly blowing up with new clients. In fact, he's relaxing on a beach somewhere at this very moment. And it's been this way as long as I've known him. So what's wrong with someone working hard and enjoying the fruits of their labors? Nothing, at first glance, but best to make sure Satan isn't just dying to see you succeed. Satan? Yep. You see, as long as this guy has it all, as long as he thinks he's got this whole "life" thing under control, he will never see his need for Jesus. That seems to be the bottom line for us: it was hard for Solomon and the Israelites to humbly accept their need for God so long as the wine, women and song were in abundance; and it is no different for us today. The minute we decide for ourselves what our path should be, the minute we get comfortable enough to think we are in control, the minute we decide to sit back and pat ourselves on the back for the great work we've done is when things tend to take a turn from the holy, straight to the hell in a handbasket. That's when "Life is bad." I'm not sure I could sell any T-shirts with that, but I'm certain I could get an "Amen!"

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Passion Looks Like

Do you remember General Hospital circa 1979? I was glued to my television for that hour everyday -- and then to the telephone for more than two hours afterward; it was all my friends and I could talk about! Nothing -- I mean NO thing could keep me from Luke, Laura, and Scorpio. Remember the guy with the weather changing machine? Mikkos Cassadine. Remember we had an unusual cold snap for a week or two that summer? I was hooked! I stayed faithful to "my show" for two or three years after that, but eventually I woke up to the fact the plot was always the same -- just new scenarios and not so new characters. Besides, I was in my last year of high school -- life was calling. Even after all these years though, it doesn't take much to be transported back to those days: the excitement of daily cliff-hangers, the challenge of guessing plot lines, and the thrill at getting them right. People love passion and mystery. Well, let me show you what God's passion is all about.

Micah 6:5b:
"I, the LORD, did everything I could to teach you about My faithfulness."
My first response was, "Wow! Everything God could possibly do?! That's sayin' something." But, knowing the translation I use for everyday reading is a bit loose, I checked other translations to see how they rendered those words:
"So that you might know all the righteous acts of the LORD." 
Not exactly the same. The other translations seemed to be saying not so much that God pulled out all the stops in His effort to be made known, but that He withheld nothing; He desired to be completely revealed to His chosen people.

Well, I don't think either is completely right, or utterly wrong. What parent doesn't do everything in his power to get through to a child whose behavior is self-destructive? What lover doesn't give all he has to make sure the one he pursues knows just how special she is to him, and what he is willing to do for her? Why would God be any lazier or less interested than we? Matthew 7:9-11 talks about our Heavenly Father as the giver of good gifts, contending that if sinful, finite people will do whatever it takes to bless friends and family, how much more a holy, perfect God with unlimited resources and boundless imagination. Wouldn't that same God be extraordinary in the pursuit and revelation department? Wouldn't He pull out all the stops just so you would know Him -- all of Him?

Relationship with God is not some guessing game. We don't have to sit around searching the sky for signs, or reading tea leaves, or guessing the next plot twist. God reveals Himself and His will to us in a myriad of ways (His Word, Creation, prayer and worship, other believers, events, etc.), we just have to seek Him with all our heart. I tuned in each and every day to see what my favorite characters were up to. I yelled out to the television when danger lurked around the next bend. I talked with others and shared my thoughts; rehashed episode after episode. I would have moved heaven and earth to place myself in front of that television by 2:59, Monday through Friday. God wants -- will pull out all the stops -- to reveal Himself -- all of Himself -- to me. Am I seeking Him with the same passion? Am I tuning in through prayer and Scripture reading? Am I crying out to Him? Do I share with others and meet regularly with other believers to discuss what God has revealed to me or done for me as of late? Would I move heaven and earth just to meet with Him? Micah 6:5b tells me He would do that for me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Did You Say?

It was shortly after my husband and I separated. For months I'd been applying Band-Aids to my childcare situation, using a rotation of parents and oh-so generous friends -- none of whom I wished to impose upon indefinitely. I was struggling financially, and while additional hours were available at work during the holiday season... childcare. I was homeschooling when I wasn't working; the dissolution of our marriage, though a long time coming, was difficult, to say the least. It was Christmas, a time of joy and promise, and I was emotionally and physically tapped. As I stepped out on my front porch in the wee hours of a frigid December morning, preparing to go to work, my neighbor -- a notorious nightowl -- was hanging Christmas lights. I'm not sure if we exchanged pleasantries or any other remarks; I only remember her words: "Have a good night; I love you." At a moment when the night was not the only thing in my life void of light; at a moment when loneliness was something I dared not even consider lest it consume me without a fight, there was love. She spoke the words with such authenticity and ease. Those words changed the course of not only my workday, but have warmed me and encouraged me every time I've thought it since.

This morning I was reading Micah 6. God is defending His actions toward Israel (not that they had any just cause against Him). Of all the things He could have used to defend His character or His provision for them -- crossing the Red Sea, quail falling from the sky in quantities so large they gorged themselves, remaining forever with them in fire and cloud -- He uses the account of King Balak sending Balaam to curse God's chosen people, Micah 6:5 reads:
"Don’t you remember, my people, 
how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed
         and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead?"

God did not even interact with, or directly bless His people in this circumstance; He merely intervened to stop the plans of a wicked king and his lackey. So why, of all things would God use this occasion as proof of His love for Israel? Among other things, God knows the power of the spoken word. He knows what we can do, what we feel when we lift up our voices in praise to Him (James 4:6-8). He knows how important it is for us to be in agreement with Him about who we are and where we fail (2 Timothy 2:21). He longs to hear us speak our requests to Him and tell us what is on our minds (1 Timothy 2:1-3).  God spoke the universe into existence (Gen. 1); His Word is sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12) and is a complete source for sanctifying and equipping His saints (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The power of words.

In this "intelligent and enlightened" society, hate speech is so prevalent it requires laws to prevent it. We tell ourselves lies about valuing and respecting diversity, while truthfully we fear and hate it to its very core. Technology has made it almost effortless to contact someone on the other side of the world, in some of the most remote locations, yet type of education or familiarity has not taught us the value of uniqueness, made our world any more smaller or unified. Our speech vilifies and condemns people that appear the least bit different, or live life in a way we consider strange, or express an opinion that sounds even a bit unlike our own. How sad that we speak curses on one another simply because we are different. What would be possible, if we were to speak words of love, encouragement, blessing? I found out in the yellow-white glow of artificial icicles.