Archive for December, 2009

God Made Us to Need Him!

ReadmuchAccording to Proverbs 3:5, we are not to lean on our own understanding. Why? Because our own understanding of things will always come up wanting and short sighted. We are limited at best in what we understand and our natural desires are more powerful than our natural reason. Emotions and feelings taint the true picture. When David gazed too long at Bathsheba he relied on his own understanding. His judgment became clouded and the consequences were dire. When the nation of Israel reached the banks of the Jordan for the first time, they began to reason. They questioned the next step, sent spies into the land and based on their own understanding of the situation made a disastrous determination. Was David without knowledge of God? Did the Israelites not see the miracles of God? Yet in both instances, regardless of what God had previously done human nature was allowed to reign and once again people superimposed their will over the will of God.

          All moral failure stems from the same problem. As we seek to be in control and in charge of our lives we run the danger of allowing our own understanding to rule. Rationalization and justification take over and leaning on our own understanding seems to be the right thing to do. Scripture tells us that “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death”. (Prov. 14:12)  So there must be a better way. There must be a method by which we can reach decisions that work well for us and please God. In short, we need Him, He made us that way. Think about it, the God of all creation created us to need Him and to seek His favor yet we dare to expect that we can do it better, that we can know more, that we can be in control. Not only is our nature misguided but arrogant as well. It is inherently hostile to the things of God. This is why there is only one thing that God asks of us and that is complete and absolute surrender of ourselves to Him. Once we do this He is ready, willing and able to intervene on our behalf. His power is demonstrated only in our weakness. It is incredible and it defies the logical reason of man that we can know and hear from the God of the universe yet there is no other way to have spiritual life with God but on His terms.

declaration-independence-smThe first meeting of the Continental Congress was opened with several recited prayers, Bible reading and an unscripted prayer by Rev. Jacob Duche, an Episcopal clergyman. When he read Psalm 35 it electrified the assembly. It’s a Psalm of reliance upon God, a call for vindication by God and a declaration of His righteousness. What did they know then that many do not now? They thought it wise to pray and seek the council of the Lord. They thought it wise to lean on His understanding rather than their own. The so-called enlightened wisdom of today’s governing body says there is no place for leaning on God’s understanding in fact there is no place for God. How did we get here from our reverent beginnings? It was fairly easy. Some along the way stopped reading God’s word. Some read it but stopped meditating on it. Others twisted it’s meaning. Many allowed foreign idea-ideologies to creep in. Most lost their personal relationship with their Savior. When a person doesn’t have that right relationship with God then they cannot behold Him in reality. When He is no longer real then they cannot trust. They are then left with nothing else but “to lean on their own understanding”.

          The  full verse of Prov.3:5 commands us; “Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding”. Only two of the spies sent by Israel had a different view. Joshua and Caleb wanted to cross the Jordan and enter the “Promised Land”. They trusted in the Lord and refused to lean on their own understanding but the Israelites chose the view of the eight spies. This view reasoned that the circumstances were too difficult. They allowed fear and emotion to taint their worldview. As a result they were found by God to be disobedient and were left to wander in the wilderness for forty years. The entire generation above the age of ten perished in the wilderness, never seeing the fullfiment of God’s promise, except for two men. The only two adults left alive when Israel entered the “Promised Land” were Joshua and Caleb. Their relationship with God remained in tact and He did not forget them. They trusted in the Lord with all their heart and refused to lean on their own understanding. God made them to need Him and they recognized their need. Do you?

Spare the Rod???

Water2          As He inspired the scriptures God often used the imagery of the shepherd and the shepherd’s rod or staff.  Being the original multi-tasker He has several purposes in mind as we consider how the shepherd uses his staff and how God intends us to understand His role in relating to each of us. The staff was used particularly in Old Testament history as a symbol of authority. As God’s representative Moses demonstrated God’s power before the Pharaoh, struck the rock in the wilderness to produce water for two million people and caused Israel to succeed in battle when he held the staff above his head. The staff was his symbol of authority. Likewise the shepherd is master over the flock and performs many functions with his staff as he cares for the sheep.

          First, let us consider the matter of discipline. Discipline is not a very inviting word. It has taken on more of a negative connotation in our culture today than it probably deserves. It is often more associated with punishment than its more accurate definition of instruction or guidance for a code of conduct or behavior. As the shepherd pokes and prods the sheep they acquire the learned behavior necessary for living in the flock or community of sheep. As parents it becomes necessary for us to supply the loving discipline in order for our children to acquire the desired behavioral traits that benefit life in community. While the shepherd uses the tangible and visible staff or rod, God uses circumstances to get our attention. Likewise we must find ways to gain the attention of our children in a loving but guiding manner. This writing is not meant to discuss the pros and cons of corporal punishment, which must be an individual decision. Often we hear the phrase, “spare the rod and spoil the child”. I believe that the rod represents far more than is often brought to mind by that phrase. As we explore the many purposes of the shepherd’s rod perhaps we may discover the many ways of spoiling a child. Disciplines are generally designed to produce a positive result. We can easily see in the life of any successful superstar that discipline allowed them to excel in their particular field. Tiger Woods is perhaps the greatest golfer of all time but we never would have heard of him without the discipline to practice golf consistently over a long period of time. Disciplines allow us to hone our abilities for living the life God intended. It is the word from which we get disciple.

          Protection is another function of the shepherd’s staff. He defends the sheep against predators by using his rod. In the same manner God protects us by means of His direction in our lives. We may not be aware of all His efforts on our behalf and it becomes all important for us to seek Him and His will for us as He knows what is best for us and never intends us harm. As we model God’s love for us in raising our children, it is important for us to make wise decisions in order to protect them from all possible harm. Acts of discipline and protection maybe painful at times but necessary guidance for proper direction.

          Separation of the sheep in the flock was also accomplished by the staff.  God calls for separation for His followers. To be considered Holy, a believer must be set apart or separate. This simply means that we are available for use by Him for His purpose.  This does not mean that we are separatists. The scriptures tell us that we are to be “in the world, not of the world”. We are called to be recognizably different. We hear so much today in regards to peer pressure among young people. If we raise our children according to God’s plan, peer pressure will not have it’s ugly result. If a young person has a good sense of who they are and what they believe then their choices will be much easier. Hopefully their actions will impact others around them and peer pressure will be reversed. We need to teach them to be separate in their thinking, deciding their values in advance of their decision making opportunities.

          Gathering is yet another use. The shepherd gathers the flock by using his staff. He gathers them for feeding, protection and providing rest. The imagery continues as God also desires to gather us in community for the purposes of feeding, guiding and causing us to rest. Perhaps the most violated of all God’s principles is the principle of rest. Many believers today do not even comprehend God’s concept of rest. His rest allows for a time of reflection and meditation on His Word, it allows us to receive direction, strength and wisdom from Him. This is difficult if not impossible to pass on to our children if we haven’t mastered this discipline ourselves. This is one area that needs nurturing from the time children are small. It can be quite a task to convert a teenager to the discipline of resting. Most of them cannot slow down for more than a minute or two without exploding.

          Comfort may be the most interesting of all uses of the shepherd’s staff. All of the above items and more are necessary for the sheep to be comforted by the shepherd. These are all items of provision for the flock’s well being. Psalm 23 states, “…Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me…” .  By a touch from the shepherd the sheep know his presence. While it might seem contradictory, an act of discipline can be an act of comfort. We all need boundaries especially our children. They are comforted by the knowledge that someone else exercises concern and caring over their well being. Someone else provides for them and instills values and stability to face the challenges of life. In the same way God wants to do the same for each of us. We often criticize our children for not wanting to listen but in reality it may be that we are the ones who are most disobedient. Perhaps this is largely due to the fact that many Christians are unsure of how to listen to God. He speaks but doesn’t yell. We need the discipline of rest and intentional deliberation of His Word. We need to know His presence, His prodding and poking as He gently guides with His staff.

          While this doesn’t exhaust all the uses of the rod, it is easy to see that using the rod too sparingly may easily spoil the child. A lack of discipline doesn’t send a message of comfort and love; it creates a void, a void of boundaries, a void of reassurance and a void of the presence of another who really cares. This is the way God designed the necessities of life, He modeled it through the shepherd. “I am the good shepherd, I know my own and they know me. (John 10:14)

We Need Some Celebrity Ground Rules…

imagesThis is a new category for me, the “Rant”. Quite frankly I have some serious observations and questions when it comes to celebrity status and what we as a culture find news worthy. For instance, I think Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer that ever played the game. He brings an excitement to a golf tournament like no other. With five holes to play, he can be four strokes behind the leader, pull an eagle out of his bag of tricks and end up on the eighteenth hole winning the match by one stoke after sinking an unbelievable 37 foot putt. Now that’s worth watching. That, my friend, is news worthy. The celebrity value that Tiger offers the world is his remarkable skill at playing the game of golf. That’s it, that’s all there is, there ain’t no more. As tragic as the events of this week are, I am not interested in his moral failures and I don’t care if he wants to redesign the look of his Escalade by merging with a tree and I don’t care if his wife pounds the windows out of the vehicle with a nine iron. This isn’t any more interesting to me because he is a celebrity as opposed to the average guy down the street who might get an honorable mention on page twenty of the local paper.

          Yet we find all the major networks covering this soap opera as if we should care. We are told that he has been unavailable to discuss his actions with the police. Try that excuse on for size the next time they knock on your door. Here’s an observation that raises a question. Observation – It’s an extreme rarity to turn on any TV show or movie where infidelity is not only portrayed but featured as a normal part of life. Question – Why do the same networks that promote this tripe across the airwaves (and cable) as normal everyday human behavior act so shocked when it manifests itself in real life. During prime time TV it is standard fare but when the 11:00 news comes on it’s a breaking story. The media gurus suffer from their own schizophrenia. One minute they are de-sensitizing us and the next minute they want to play up the shock value.

          Here’s another question for us to deliberate. Why do we expect people who have no moral center in their lives to behave morally? Why should they? Tiger is far from the first of the rich and famous to embark on this path. David Letterman speaks of his infidelities as though he forgot to take out the trash. There was a time in our culture when society would have turned their back on such behavior. Where have our sensibilities gone? Some would say that we are more enlightened than our predecessors. I think not. The truth be told the candle of our enlightenment has been flickering for some time. Those of us who hold to Judeo-Christian values are called to be the light of the world. It’s time to let our light shine. The enemy is making great strides in deceiving even the elect. The most popular trend in naming new TV episodes is to name them after sin itself. Greed, Wife Swapping, Desperate Housewives and the unbelievable latest, Californication. It would also seem to me that a large majority of movies being produced today feature horror, violence, nudity and moral degradation. OK you liberal minded, tell me, who is being glorified in all of this?

          So why then are we so enamoured with those who have acting skills, sports skills or entertainment talents? I think it’s time for some ground rules. Let’s value these people only for their area of expertise and contribution to their craft. More often than not I hear them complain that their  private lives are invaded by the paparazzi and I agree. Let’s leave their private lives out of the news. I’m really weary of it all any way. And while we are at, I would find it refreshing if they would keep their political views to themselves as well. Just because a person can sing well doesn’t make them my candidate for telling the rest of us how we should live. Let’s give them boundaries like the rest of us.

          The moral of the story is just this. Those who think they have it all, often find out that really have nothing. Recently I read this quote by Luis Palau, a Christian pastor, author and broadcaster. “A self-made man doesn’t make much.”