My Protector

I recently received this from my Sunday School teacher, David Martin and wanted to pass it along.
As I have shared with the class before, I am a world-class worrier. An anxiety expert. A virtuoso of vexation. While I have gotten better in this area over the years, it is still an on-going battle. So you can only imagine where my mind drifts during this pandemic. 

Last night I was engaged in another worry war. Coronavirus numbers grow. Quarantines abound. Even toilet paper is being hoarded, for crying out loud! These are target-rich times for all of us worry specialists. Wednesday night as I started to engage in a festival of foreboding, God led me to Psalm 35:1-3.

1 Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me!
2 Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for my help!
3 Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers!
Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!”  ESV

When David wrote these verses he was most likely being pursued by Saul who wished to put David to death. Now, I have never been stalked by a spear-yielding Israeli king, but unfettered worry is an enemy that can cause physical, emotional, and mental harm.

What spoke to me in these verses was the power and action and aggressiveness. David is asking the Lord to fight his fight for him. He was crying out to JEHOVAH TSABA* to go toe-to-toe with his enemies. Whoever messes with David, is going to have to deal his Father. My Dad is bigger than your dad. 

David is pleading with God to bring his holy weapons to the fight. "Take hold of shield and buckler**/Draw spear and javelin." Just imagine the God of the universe taking hold of shields, spears, and javelins all on our behalf against our enemies. As Mr. T used to say, "I pity the fool."

My most thoughtful, well-reasoned, and insightful worry-reducing ploys and tricks pale in comparison to what God can bring to the fight.

When I read the last two lines, I wanted to shout it out loud.  David  acknowledged that God is his salvation. Not the Israelite army. Not his warriors. Not man-made weapons. But God alone.  Even David, a man after God's own heart, needed God to speak that reassurance to him.

Look at how David punctuates the last line. It is not a mere period, but an exclamation mark. It is meant to be shouted.  Celebrated. Declared from the mountain tops. God is our salvation!

Will this completely obliterate worry from my life? Not likely.  I have spent many years honing the craft of consternation. But Psalm 35:1-3 will certainly be a powerful tool in my battle against worry.

*JEHOVAH TSABA:  The Lord our Warrior
**A buckler is a small shield.

Eating from Trash Cans

A woman had three sons, each of them married with children of their own. All three were scheduled to arrive at her house at 11:00 for lunch on Thanksgiving Day.

For days she carefully planned the menu. Most of Wednesday was spent cooking desserts. She put the turkey in the oven at 5:00 Thanksgiving morning.  The table was adorned with her best dishes and gleaming, polished silverware. By 10:45 everything was ready. She had done her best and she was pleased with her efforts.

Then she heard voices and strange noises from the area behind the house where the trash cans were stored. When she looked outside she could hardly believe her eyes. There were all three of her boys, along with their families, sitting in a circle around the trash containers. They were eating from the trash cans.

Using the can lids as serving trays they were eating potato and apple peels, carrot tops, and orange rinds. As she watched they scraped out what was left from the discarded vegetable cans and frozen food boxes.

She rushed outside, horrified at their behavior. “All of you come into the house this instant,” she cried.” This is crazy. I have a wonderful meal for you in there. Why would you want to eat garbage out here when I have turkey and mashed potatoes and hot rolls and apple pie on the table in the kitchen?”

The oldest boy replied “I’m sure you have a good meal inside, but we don’t deserve any better than this. We have neglected you lately and this is all we have a right to expect. It’s good enough for people like us.”

The middle son also refused. “This is really not so bad, Mom. If you’ve never tried it you don’t know what you’re missing. Would you like to join us?”

The third boy confirmed the decision to stay outside. “I’ve talked it over with my family and we don’t believe you really have anything any better inside. You can’t prepare a meal like you described. We think you are lying to us.”

The foolish, ungrateful  behavior of these children causes us to feel outraged. But we act in similar ways toward God when we refuse the banquet of blessings he has for us and accept, instead, the trash offered by the world.

God prepares a menu of blessings for us every day.  (Psalm 23). He knows we don’t deserve it but He continually offers us the best He has. Of course we don’t deserve his goodness, but He chooses to bless us anyway. To say He cannot bless us is to deny his power. To say He has not or will not bless us is to contradict his word. When we live in guilt, ignorance and denial we are as foolish as the three sons.

A Visit To The Grand Canyon

When we visit the Grand Canyon we approach it with some degree of reverence and look cautiously into it’s depths. We are impressed with the beauty, majesty, size and age.  We realize we are engaging only a small part of the canyon with only a small part of ourselves. After a short visit we walk away, get in our car and move on.

But that is not experiencing the Grand Canyon. We don’t go to the bottom and allow ourselves to be surrounded by it.  We don’t permit all our senses to become attuned to its sounds, colors, scent and sights. We don’t explore the side canyons and hidden pockets of splendor. We don’t sit still in the deepest recesses and view the animals and wild flowers. We don’t return throughout the year to view the seasonal changes.

If we really wanted to know the Canyon intimately we would read books about it and hire a guide for each visit. We would physically discipline ourselves to become strong enough to hike from one end to the other. We would stay there for days at a time.

But we don’t. And as a result of our look-over-the-edge-and-move-on visits we know it about like we know God.

We hurry into and out of God’s presence, perhaps impressed with a limited sense of his wisdom, majesty, beauty, size and power. We commit a small part of ourselves to peer cautiously into his Word, all the time knowing there is more. We stop short of a full sensory encounter then walk away content or even feel a little proud of our efforts.

We do not take the time and make the effort to experience God. We do not immerse ourselves and surround ourselves with Him. We refuse to explore the lesser-known facets of his personality.  We do not develop the stamina and self-discipline necessary to know his heart. Expecting immediate answers and solutions, we visit Him and then move on before some of his most beautiful, valuable truths can be received. We do not allow the Holy Spirit to be our guide. We may feel his presence for a few minutes but we don’t become intimate with him.  We approach God with a tourist mentality.

How can we correct this? We must make forming an intimate relationship with him the number-one priority of our lives. This will require a commitment of our time. Such relationships can not be rushed. We must establish regular times of prayer and Bible study, disciplining ourselves to concentrate of spiritual matters. The joys of experiencing God are available only to those who long for more than a quick, easy, occasional visit.

Who Is Going To Drive Your Car?

To win a contest a young American is taken to the south edge of Tokyo where he is given a set of car keys and an address. He is shown a car and told “Deliver this car to that address within the next hour and you will win $1,000,000. It can be done, but only if you take the most direct route.”

He now has four choices:

(1) Jump in the car and start driving, trusting to blind luck.

(2) Buy a city map in the lobby of a near-by hotel and start driving while reading it.

(3) Buy a map and hire a local citizen to give him instructions while he drives.

(4) Hire a driver from the taxi stand and let him do the work.

Throughout our lives we are on a perilous journey across unknown territory. The prize of “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23) is offered to us by our heavenly Father.

We have four choices:

(1) Stumble through each day, hoping to do more good things than bad.

(2) Blunder along, occasionally reading the Bible in search of advice.

(3) Sometimes ask God for guidance as we use the Bible, but stay in control and make all our own decisions.

(4) Allow God to “take the wheel,” then sit back and enjoy the ride.

If we truly believe He loves us, and if we truly believe He is all-powerful and all-knowing,  why do we hesitate to give him control of our journey?

A Daughter’s Driver’s License

A man had a daughter whose driver’s license was just two weeks old. In three days she and some of her friend were going to take the car out at night for the first time.

He was concerned about her. No, he was frightened for her. She was sweet, kind, open, trusting and generous. She was all the things he had taught her and prayed she would be.

But these very traits that were the cause for his concern. She was going solo into a world that was cold, mean and and full of predators that consumed girls her age. She didn’t have the savvy and experience to even recognize danger, much less avoid it.

He couldn’t be her constant chaperon and bodyguard. He couldn’t keep her locked in the house. What could he do to increase the chances that she would survive her planned trip?

He prayed for her. Every morning and evening and throughout the day he prayed for her. He offered fervent and sincere prayers for her protection.

He also continued to teach her all the things he had started teaching her years before. He emphasized  how to avoid the wrong crowd and refuse drugs. He warned her again to stay close to her friends and shun questionable entertainment.

He wanted her to make all the choices he would make if her were with her. He hoped she would benefit from his wisdom and experience.

God’s concern for us is very similar.

He knows the dangers and temptations ahead of us. He understands how helpless we are. He is fully aware of our tendency to wander into trouble without even knowing it.

For our protection, he wants us to fully and completely have his mind at all times. He hopes his values and priorities will guide each of our decisions. He knows that if we use his wisdom and experience we will avoid many of life’s serious problems.

The man loved his daughter. God loves his children.

The teenager partially recognized her immaturity and grudgingly admitted life might have taught her daddy some valuable lessons. But she still felt his fears were groundless. She was sure she could take care of herself.

Wasn’t that foolish of her?

God’s wisdom and knowledge are far beyond ours. His solutions and plans would have saved us from grief in the past. But we still resist his guidance.

Isn’t that foolish of us?

Valued by God

To me the term “…poor in spirit…” (Matthew 5:3) means total humility, admitting that on my own I can do nothing (John 15:5.) God loves me regardless of my lack of talent, beauty, skills or possessions. In God’s system I have great value. I am a child in his family adopted through the death of Jesus on the cross.

In the world’s system a thing like this is unheard of. We are taught that we must do something or be something or have something before we are granted the status of “valuable or important.” But God says “You are valuable to me exactly as you are right now.”

Should we ever wonder how valuable we are to Him all we need do is look to the cross. Jesus died there to buy my eternal freedom from the consequences of my sins.  God’s grace means love without accomplishment. It seems to be a crazy system, but it is the way God does things and I sure am glad.

Using My Wealth

God has allowed each of us some amount of earthly wealth. As we decide what to do with it we divide ourselves in one of three categories.

HURTERS

These people use their wealth to hurt other people. Their attitude seems to be “It’s all mine. You can not have or use any of it. In fact, if I can figure out a way, I’ll get a part of yours for myself.” They see people as objects to be used for their own benefit.

HURRIERS

These people are too busy to find ways to use their money for anyone other than themselves. Their attitude is “Life is short. I don’t have time to be concerned about anything except money and what it can buy.” They don’t necessarily want more money, but they have to hurry in their efforts enjoy what they have. They simply do not see or understand the needs of others.

HELPERS

To these folks, wealth is a gift from God. It is intended to be used by his children to benefit others. “What is mine is really ours and I will share it with you when I see your need. How can I help?” They are continually looking for ways to use their wealth to further God’s kingdom.

God will never ask us “How much money do you have” but He will call us to give an account of “Where and how did you get it” and “What are you going to do with it.” We need to be sure He will be pleased with out answers.

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When I concentrate on being a friend of God, I am blessed. When I concentrate on being a friend for God, others get blessed, too.

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What does God look like?  Anything He wants to, anytime He wants to,  for as long as He wants to.

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Because we are future residents of heaven we can get overly-involved in all the details of the place. We talk about gates and lampstands and thrones and living creatures and harps and scrolls. We must remember that the glory of heaven is not in the place that is heaven but in the presence that is in heaven….the presence of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.

Rules vs Relationship

Many people try to please God by obeying the rules He gave rather than by enjoying a relationship with the Son He sent.

The tendency to do this is strong because rule-keeping is more concise and specific. It lets us keep track of the good deeds we do and leads to self-satisfaction and self-importance. It gives us ammunition when we try to convince God we are worthy of His blessings.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were rule followers. They were very good at it.  They never “walked up the down staircase.”  But in their blind, narrow version of obedience they missed the thrill of knowing Jesus as friend and brother.

Establishing an intimate relationship with Jesus can be unpredictable. Some days we feel He is near while at other times He seems distant. (The difference is always of our doing.) Does Jesus care if we break the Father’s rules? Sure He does. But if we confess and repent He continues to protect and provide. Our relationship with our Savior can never be broken.

The Holy Spirit guarantees every child of God a life of comfort and pleasure if we obey Him out of love and gratitude rather than an attitude of blind rule keeping.

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After Adam and Eve sinned they ran from  God. After we sin we should run to God. (Hebrews 4:16) Why? Because only from God can we receive mercy, grace and forgiveness. Only through the work of the Holy Spirit can I learn to accept that forgiveness from God, let Him show me how to forgive myself and discover ways to avoid doing it again.

God’s Twitter

It seems that for many of God’s children Twitter has replaced prayer,  Facebook has taken the place of time in the prayer closet and cell phone contact is more to be desired than intimacy with Him.

The attraction of social networking comes from the fact that we all want to feel needed and need to feel wanted. We are comforted when we feel (accurately or not) that someone is interested in what we like, where we go and what we do.

We want to “reach out and touch” across the nation or around the world. Our sense of worth is enhanced if we have lots of “friends.” We value the fact that at any time from anywhere we can express our feelings, fears and victories to people who are significant to us.

As children of God we have access to an intimate relationship with Him that provides all this and more. We can contact Him across all space any time from anywhere.

Such privilege and power is called “prayer.” It is a 24-7, no limit, instantly received Tweet to the best friend we can ever have.

Our spiritual Facebook network includes the Friend who loves us like a brother. This love causes Him want to solve our problems and only He has the power and wisdom to do so.

If our need for earthly relationships is greater that our need for God, we will miss the joy, peace and power that Jesus died to provide us.

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No matter what I have or don’t have, no one can ever take away my most important possessions – my relationship with God and my membership in His family.

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I must never allow learning and thinking about God to replace talking and listening to Him.

BITS & PIECES, ODDS & ENDS – 7

If I want my life to be better tomorrow than it is today, I have to act and think  differently today than I did yesterday.

If I want to be a better person tomorrow than I am today, I will have to spend more time alone with God today than I did yesterday.

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Time is the great evaluator of man’s efforts, motivations and accomplishments. And since God is the creator and controller of time, His opinions are all that really count.

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If I can learn to let God be enough, I will always have enough

because I will always have God.

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Prayer was never meant to be a monologue.

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In good times I need to give God more praise and take for myself less credit.

In bad times I need to give God more trust and take for myself less pity.

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Is it possible for us to be so close to God – so attuned to His will 24/7 – that we will never again have to ask “What is His will?”  Instead our first thoughts and impulses will automatically be in line with His and there will be no unknowns between Him and us.