We can learn much from the past. Or, we can ignore it and risk committing the same mistakes over and over again.

In some cases, I have learned from my prior mistakes. One example was when I was searching for a wife. In the early days of my search, I tried to pretend I was an exciting, adventurous, and fun-loving man. The only problem was I was actually a serous-minded and slightly introverted person.

However, a pretty sorority girl thought I was what I pretended to be. I think I could have married her if I had kept up the charade. But I knew I couldn’t. So, I ran away.

I resolved I would never do that again. I would learn from my past – and I did. In my next serious relationship several years later, I was authentic – maybe too authentic. I freely shared my faults and made no attempt to go out of my way to impress her. I even took her ice skating on our first date, which I had never learned how to do. Boy, was she impressed! She figured I was genuine if I was willing to demonstrate such weakness. She eventually became my wife.

One reason we don’t learn from our foolish mistakes is because of the human tendency to cling to our foolishness. “You cannot separate fools from their foolishness, even though you grind them like grain with mortar and pestle” (Proverbs 27:22, NLT). We have an innate tendency to stubbornly repeat our mistakes. It hurts our pride to admit we are wrong, so we don’t. We can become like “an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction (Ecclesiastes 4:13, NAS).

Another reason we don’t learn from the past is we don’t remember it. Recently I was reviewing my journal from ten years ago. To my surprise I was dealing with similar issues then as I am today. First, I was surprised life hadn’t changed that much. But I also gained perspective about resolving my challenges today through reviewing what worked from the past. Journaling our thoughts, feelings and behaviors and then reflecting on them, can help us correct our mistakes and not repeat them. “I considered my ways and turned my feet to your direction” (Psalm 119:59, NLT).

A third reason we don’t learn is we don’t want to change. We don’t want to grow but feel comfortable. But the irony is when we choose to follow Jesus, he will change us. Sure it’s painful. But God promises us that “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful, yet to those who have been trained by it,  afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11, NAS). But are we willing to pay the price for peace?

One way we can learn from the past is from the Bible. God says, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4, NLT). Many teachings and examples of wise and foolish behavior are given to us in the Scriptures.

We can also learn from the experiences of others, especially mature Christians who have grappled with similar challenges.

Most of all we can ask God to give us an open and teachable heart. We need God’s help to soften our hearts to changes he wants to make. He calls to us when he says “Today when you hear my voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled” (Hebrews 13:5, NLT). May we learn from the past so our lives will grow and better reflect the love, joy, and peace he wants to give us.

The coronavirus helps us realize we aren’t in control. When simply going to the grocery store is like going into a war zone where the enemy is invisible and deadly, it makes us fearful. It doesn’t help our peace of mind that the newspapers and TV trumpet threatening news almost non-stop about the virus and the economy.

So, in times like these, I search for guidance and comfort from God and his Word. He has been a reliable refuge for me for 49 years. I firmly believe he is in complete control of circumstances and he has purposes in allowing this pandemic to occur. What those purposes are we can’t fully know.

I found myself depressed this morning as I looked over the week of denial of rights and privileges. Going shopping without the fear of catching the virus, face-to-face contact with friends, babysitting our grandkids, getting the car washed or going walking without masks are no longer privileges I have. And I felt sad watching my portfolio shrink by 15% in one month.

One way I cope is by looking on the bright side. This morning I thanked God for ten positive things this virus has brought to me. These included more time with my lovely wife, more opportunities to read and write, learning new technology for on-line meetings, and practicing better hygiene. This pandemic is also helping me to turn to God for feeling safe as I depend of him to control circumstances.

But we may still question why God would allow such a bad thing to happen? So many people dying. It’s in these times in which we feel weak that we are more motivated to allow God to access our lives. When we feel self-sufficient, we often muscle him out of our lives, which defeats one of his main purposes for creating us – to have an intimate relationship with us.

Another possible reason is when we depend on this world too much to meet our needs, we don’t hope for a better life. That better life is in heaven with God forever. Moses hoped for a better life when he chose ill-treatment with the people of God rather than enjoy the passing pleasures of this life because he was looking to a better place – which was in heaven (Hebrews 11:24-26).

So, how do we respond to this pandemic? Or any other tough time?

One of the first things we can do is to focus on the truth, not lies. The truth is God is still in control and will bend these circumstances to cause good. He promises to all believers that he “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28, NLT)

We can also continue to take it a day at a time and do the next responsible thing until the day is done – leaning hard on his promise that with each step, “as your days, so shall your strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25, NKJV).

Finally we can pray. This time triggers fears within us. Will I get sick? How much will it hurt my finances? How will I adjust to the changes? God’s counsel to us is to “give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT).

We talk to ourselves all day long. Some things we say are true and some are lies.

When I was a child, I told myself I needed to be taller to be important. That was a lie. Instead, I needed to tell myself the truth that I was important even though I was the shortest kid in the class. Because I believed this lie, I struggled with self-esteem through much of my early years.

As an adult, I told myself I could do any job. But that was a lie. I boldly applied for many jobs just because they were promotions. I told myself once I got the promotion, I would be able to figure out how to do the job. But that didn’t happen. There were a few jobs I just couldn’t do – and I had to endure much pain and humiliation in discovering this.

In recent years, I have told myself I was immortal. But that was a lie too. I’m not. It took a life-threatening physical condition for me to face the truth I was going to die someday. This lie had kept me clinging to life too much and hindered my hope of living in a future life that is far better than this one.

So, why do we lie to ourselves?

Sometimes the lie may feel better. “You can do any job you set out to do.” Feels good, doesn’t it? But is it true? No, it isn’t. But God says we can do any job he leads us to do if we depend on him (Philippians 4:13). May we tell ourselves the truth when we are contemplating a new job and avoid the pitfalls of a bad decision.

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I had a lot of questions after reading the exam reports from the hospital. Some of the findings were downright scary. I had checked into the Emergency Room a few days earlier because of feeling a tightness in my chest and wanted to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack or aneurysm.

But after all the tests, they didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong.

Now, I was headed to my doctor’s office for his interpretation of the results. He is a “no sweat” doctor who is good at putting medical jargon into its proper perspective. I was desperately trying to depend on God’s promise to help, strengthen and uphold me (Isaiah 41:10), but I was still nervous. I had several imperfections in my body that made me feel fearful. I leaned heavily on God’s promise to run interference for me. Since God is sovereign, I asked him to control what the doctor said to me and pictured Jesus leading the way, telling me to “Stay behind Me, I will handle this.”

And he did. He used the doctor to address each of my ten concerns. Some issues were not a big deal, but on others he coached me on things I could do to reduce the problem. I came away from the appointment greatly relieved and encouraged.

I trusted God to keep his promise to uphold me. I relied on the truth, and received his help.

But it’s hard to trust the truth we know. It’s like knowing  God will protect us if he wheels us across Niagara Falls in a wheel barrel, but not so sure we are safe when we are sitting in the barrel being wheeled across. It’s much easier to depend on truth when we don’t have to deal with our doubts and fears.

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Gazing Upon God

How can we gaze upon God when we can’t see him? He is invisible. No one can see him and live he tells us. Yet he wants to reveal himself through the eyes of our faith. We see him through the Word, nature, circumstances and in many other ways. But he also can reveal himself through our contemplation. What’s that?

I recently read a book entitled Embracing Contemplation – Reclaiming A Christian Spiritual Practice. Many of my thoughts that follow are based upon this book.

Biblical contemplation is gazing on the face of God as he reveals himself through the Spirit. “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (27:4, NIV).

We depend on him to reveal himself. We don’t conjure up the presence of God and dictate what we see. Instead, we expect to receive an experience of his presence as he chooses.

This makes my “skin crawl” even as I write this. I am a conservative evangelical and have been trained to cling to the Word and mediation to insure purity of experience of God. In practicing contemplation, we depend on God to show himself to us as a direct experience through the Spirit, not indirectly through nature, circumstances, and people’s lives.

We trust God to use the Word to reveal himself in a deep way to our hearts. It’s one thing to know God loves us; it’s another to experience it. “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT). God uses his Word and our minds to reveal to our hearts how much he loves us.

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God is always with us, but mostly we live as if he weren’t. Jacob wrestled with him all night and didn’t realize he was wrestling with God. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16, NAS) Jacob later said. How often do we fail to realize God is in our circumstances, although he controls them all?

Many days I fail to see God in most of my circumstances. I seem go through a day as if I were on my own again, making life work through my wits and wisdom. I feel good about the pleasant things and complain regarding the painful ones.

God expects us not to fear because we always have him with us to protect and help us through every painful and scary circumstance. “Do not fear, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10, NAS) he says to us.

And yet I fear – why? Because I am more aware of the overwhelming circumstances which I believe I am going to face alone than his promise to help, strengthen and uphold me in them. The challenge is to believe what God promises, not what my sinful nature is screaming at me. May we grow in obeying the commandment to put to death the screaming of our old nature by depending on the Spirit, and listen to the quiet comforting from Jesus that we are safe (Ephesians 4:22-23).

His presence shows up in little ways – in the eyes of a child, in the plea for help from someone needy, in the life of a godly person, as well as in the life of Jesus. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NAS).

So how do we become more aware of Jesus throughout the day and depend on his presence?

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I have found contentment to be illusive. “The glass seems to always be half-empty” for me. I never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but I always seem to want better or more.

When I was getting promoted quickly in the Air Force, I noticed my fantasies for the future kept becoming more grandiose. I am embarrassed to say that they eventually reached imagining being President of the United States.

As I view my life from a more mature perspective, I am finding greater chunks of my life where I do feel satisfied. My wife, family, income and home are where I feel most pleased. Other areas are a work in progress.

So, what does it look like to be content?

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The dictionary says it is being satisfied, pleased, happy, and fulfilled.

So, what keeps us from being satisfied?

The Bible says none of us will be content in the long-run. “Human desire is never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20 (NLT).

That sounds pretty grim.

“Won’t I be satisfied by the next promotion, car, or success of my kid?” we ask ourselves. Well, no.

John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil.  He was at one point the world’s richest man and first ever American billionaire.  Considering he was a billionaire in the early 1900’s he is still considered the richest person in modern history.  When a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.”

Saint Augustine prayed “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

But we don’t rest in God. We depend on ourselves and pursue riches at the expense of higher priorities, like our relationship with God and our families.These riches include power, reputation, and pleasure.

But God says, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these; Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NLT).

So, how do we become content?

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I wasn’t interested in discovering who I was growing up. I was more focused on figuring out who I needed to be to feel safe, respected, and loved by others. I knew being myself did not guarantee these needs would be met. So, I denied parts of me which were not approved of by others, such as weakness, and pretended to be the person who would be respected and approved of.

At twenty, I realized I tried to please others too much rather than myself. Who was I? What were my likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and priorities and values? I needed to know the real me so I could make wise decisions. I began to search for who I really was.

A few years later I received a new me when I became a Christian. The Bible describes this new self as follows: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But the old life still had influence and hindered me from experiencing the new person. I was a new person but the condition of my heart still reflected the sin of the old me. This condition is described in Romans 7:25 as, “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

We are people who have been given a new life. A life which is becoming like Jesus in what we trust, what we do and how we feel. We are unique expressions of his life filtered through our personalities, experiences, strengths and weaknesses.

When people challenge us to be real, we can tell them we are children of God who are being transformed into being like Jesus. Being real includes sharing where we are at in living out this new person.

So, how do we discover if we are living in the new self or stuck in our old habits and thoughts? One useful exercise is to discover how we feel about the various issues in our lives. This is not easy for some of us because we are skilled at repressing our emotions. But with perseverance, we can learn to experience them better.

Feelings are closely tied to our hearts. And our hearts are the focus of God’s work for it drives our whole lives (Proverbs 4:23). If we experience fear, maybe we aren’t trusting in God’s love and care. If anger, perhaps someone is blocking our goal for respect. If we feel sad, we may be looking at the negative side of an issue too much.

The feelings are warning lights to consult the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what is going on. I pray nearly every day, “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23-24). Because of the constant conflict between my new heart and the old, there is a lot of confusion in my soul. The Holy Spirit brings clarity and what I need to do to walk in the new life.

So, let’s be real – with God, ourselves and others. To be real, we need to maintain the perspective that we have been bestowed new selves that have great dignity, acceptance and love. Yet, our old selves which are selfish, proud, and rebellious still drag us down. We need to work with God to put to death this influence so we may experience the joy, peace and love of the new life (Romans 6:6). To be real, we also need to be honest about where God is in transforming us into our new identity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on Psalm 34

Many people think of me as brave. They think of me as a warrior and fearless. They may not know that my courage comes from relying on God and his faithful help.

I know it’s hard to turn our fears over to God. We think we know what is best. But God continues putting me in situations that perplex and scare me, making me realize how frail and needy I am.

When I keep my eyes on God, I realize what a great, good God he is. He can do anything and he loves me so much he helps me with all of my problems. When I trust in him, I become less fearful and more courageous.

But sometimes my focus is on the “worst-case scenarios” and I become overwhelmed with anxiety– like when Saul was trying to kill me and I was running for my life. My focus on God became blurred by a blizzard of fears.

When I cry out for help, he rescues me from danger, real or imagined, and enables me to thrive. Yet, I often don’t pray until I’m desperate – until my back is against the wall. But he is faithful to answer my prayers anyway. May I remember to give him credit for his rescues and not chock them up to good luck.

I encourage you to give your fears to him and discover how good he is. Let’s take refuge in him and we will experience radiant joy and blessings.

We all want a long life filled with satisfying things. Listen to me and I will tell you how we get it – by being truthful and doing good in God’s eyes, especially in showing love to others. God chose me to be the future king because I was a man after his own heart and did good.

God watches over us- which we realize when we keep our eyes on him. The Lord stands ready to help us in all the seasons of our lives, if we only continue to reach out to him. Sometimes I feel lazy and don’t want to put the effort in to trust him. And I suffer for it by being more afraid.

I have faced many troubles in my life so far. Yet, God has richly blessed me as I have looked to him instead of my circumstances for deliverance. I was able to overcome the strength of a lion and a bear in protecting my sheep. I successfully fought Goliath by focusing on God’s worthiness and power, not my dangerous circumstances. And God enabled me to do the impossible.

May we learn to look to God for our protection and help and not to good circumstances. He will reliably rescue us from being crushed. Let’s take refuge in God for he will help us through all our troubles.

 

 

Because of artery disease, I have to undergo yearly tests to make sure another aneurysm or other problem hasn’t developed. This year, a screening test showed there was bleeding from around a stent.

The doctor wanted to take a closer look to determine why there was bleeding. So, he ordered a more accurate test and wanted it done urgently. During the wait for the test and results, I entertained a number of “worst case scenarios” of what would need to be done.  These included “it couldn’t be fixed” to major surgery.

I tried to keep my focus and trust in God’s goodness and help, but tended to rely on a good outcome. As the day approached to receive the test results, I felt increasing fear and depression. I knew God could heal me, but would he?

My thoughts were riveted on getting bad outcomes.  The night before the appointment the doctor called and said he had the test results – and there was no bleeding. There was nothing wrong!

I was elated and knew God had healed me. Why was it so hard to trust God to be willing and able to work this miracle?

When we fail to consistently keep our eyes on God during threatening circumstances, we often experience fear and depression. Peter was able to walk on water when he kept his eyes on Jesus – but when he stared at the wind and choppy water, he started to sink. God manifests his reality and power to us as we look to him for support.

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By focusing on Jesus, we remember we aren’t facing life alone. Our confidence becomes his presence and not good circumstances. He will always be with us – but good circumstances come and go.

David was able to kill Goliath because he focused on God’s power and faithfulness. He saw life as it really is – under the complete control of God. He was not fixated on dangerous circumstances, but on God’s help – and he did the impossible.

So, how do we keep our focus on God and not become victims of our circumstances?

We can’t by ourselves. But we can “do all things through him who strengthens us” (Philippians 4:13). With God’s help, we can put our trust in God’s control of our circumstances and help in going through them. Otherwise, we will become dependent on the uncertainty of good circumstances – a sure way to feel anxious.

Another action to keep our focus on God is to control what we see and listen to. We are bombarded with the things of the world through TV, newspapers, conversations, our worldly thinking, and social media. But God wants us to set our minds on the things above (Colossians 3:2) – things like God controls our circumstances, loves us, and always works whatever happens for our good. We limit the input of the world and think about whatever is good, acceptable and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).

It helps to recognize how difficult it is to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24) and to focus on God. We have many thinking habits and dependences leftover from our old life that drive us to depend on muscling our way through life. We resist depending on a supernatural God. I wanted to give glory to my body for the good test results. However, I knew my body had failed but God was the strength of my body and healed me.

We must work hard to change what we rely on. If we don’t, we will continue to be tossed to and fro by our circumstances. God says, “Be diligent to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11) – this rest sees God in all things and frees us from being controlled by scary circumstances. Where is your focus?