Thursday, July 20, 2017

Romance, Influence, Job and Missions



Got a spouse? There’s your romance.

Got kids? There’s your influence.

Got extended family? There’s your mission field.

Got a job? Fulfillment and purpose are within reach in your current situation, regardless.

Yet, in spite of this, many people go about their day pining for—what?—romance, missions, purpose and fulfillment!

They miss the treasure, as the Uri Shulevitz story goes, right under their nose.

And the treasure is this:

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Colossians 3:23-24

Jesus Christ makes life real simple, and abundantly fulfilling, when we finally comprehend that:

Our romance, if married, is with our spouse.

Our influence, if we have children, is our children (nieces, nephews and grandchildren all count). 
Our kids belong to God, not us, and are our ministry, entrusted by God to us to raiseHis way, not our way, and for His glory, not ours.

Kind of enhances the level of respect and regard we hold for parenting in general and stay-at-home moms and dads specifically, doesn’t it?

In addition, our fulfillment and purpose, to be found in all of our Christian life, does not exclude work and place of employment. We live out Scripture there just as we do everywhere. And if we want to make a career change, we seek the Lord, testing our every motivation against His wisdom.

As for outreach, our mission, if we so choose to accept it—not impossibly, I might add—is to jump in right where God already has us.

Marriage. Family. Career. Mission.

We distract ourselves from all of it with nebulous—perhaps even stubbornly rebellious—self-defined “greater expectations.”

And in that, we distract ourselves from the Lord.

Take missions, for example.

It is disheartening to see Christians feeling “less than” simply because they are not “getting out of their comfort zone” and traveling to under-developed locales, or are not fundraising to evangelize the “98% unreached” people in exotic Spain or Italy.

I will never forget a Moody Bible professor who, when asked by a student to financially support their summer-break Australian beach Bible pamphlet ministry, responded with,

“Are you sharing the Gospel on the beaches of Chicago, where you already live?”

“No” said the student.

“Well,” he kindly and wisely responded, “After you have spent a summer sharing the Gospel here, perhaps I will support you sharing it over there.”

He’s right: our missionary journey begins right here at home, whether or not we ever leave its periphery.

And just as missionaries physically labor, listen quietly to people in pain, show up with food, or weed gardens—all without perhaps ever speaking the Gospel per se—we, too, can live the Word out locally.

In the same way, we no longer have to drive, bike or walk to work thinking:

“Is this all there is?”

“Another rote day at the office (sigh)”

“I despise this job”

or

“I can put up with such and such because I’m sure to get a promotion, at which point I know I’ll love my job.”

Instead, we can go to work every day with the single-minded purpose of serving the Lord.

Finally, honoring and respecting our marriages as a joy and children as a privilege (again, entrusted by God, not created by us) changes everything. 

We see those changes, even if only in our own countenance, patience and attitude, as soon as we begin to build on a Biblical, not worldly, foundation and when we operate from a place of God’s strength, not human weakness.  

This may be new for us; a spiritual paradigm shift.

But to ignore that shift and choose to merely continue on in the way we have been is to ask the question, 

“How’s that working for us?”

With Christ, we can experience a 180-epiphany, squeal to a stop and see, there in our headlights, an amazing gift: His equipping and positioning that allows us to willingly do everything as for Him, not man.

What a high calling that makes of all of life!


copyright Barb Harwood



“Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;” Proverbs 3:5-7a

Jesus said,

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:9-10




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

God's True Love of Discipline vs. a "Love-On" Only God


Anyone who has been a parent, or has had to supervise children in any capacity, knows that sometimes, to keep children safe—either from others, dangerous natural situations or from their own developmental immaturity and lack of discernment—discipline is required.

We don’t casually sit back and watch as a three-year-old toddles closer and closer to vehicular traffic. 

We don’t wave at a child about to jump from a too high structure. 

We don’t shrug our shoulders when a child elects to eat only pop tarts and potato chips. 

And we don’t say “Oh well, whatever” when those under our charge steal, blow-off their chores, physically hurt someone, lie, use foul language or strut around the house in a belligerent attitude.

In essence, we don’t let youth get their way when they are threatened or rebellious.

Instead, we alert and redirect when danger lurks.

We teach and explain why something is questionable or wrong.

We advise as to the pros and cons of pending decisions.

We steer them clear of negative influences, hold them accountable to promises made, and yes, we dole out punishment for infractions (in today’s world, punishment is often re-phrased as “consequences”).

We do this, hopefully, within a firm but loving countenance. But we do it. Not only because it is our responsibility as parents, but mostly because we love our kids.

What parent would never set a boundary or delve out repercussions for unruly, disobedient, selfish, quarrelsome and threatening words or behavior? Not any that I’ve ever known or heard of.

Although I have observed lax, enabling, lenient and indulgent parents, even they draw a line—some later rather than sooner—after the problematic situation slowly, like a marshmallow over a campfire, evolves from a warm, toasty-golden brown into a hideous, burnt monstrosity.

The point being, we readily and unquestioningly accept that the parental discipline of a child is simply another form of loving a child (let me be clear: normal, healthy discipline, not abuse!).

So why is it, then, that many people are uncomfortable, dismissive or even in disagreement with the truth that, first of all, God does indeed discipline, and second of all, that He is loving us in that correction?

Why is it that people, created by God Himself, can dish out punishment to their children as a way of keeping them secure, imparting integrity and preserving their innocence, but God cannot?

I think the place where many people get stuck in the lily pads is in their benign take on God as love.

“God is love,” people adore to opine. Although true—God, indeed, is love—God is also Creator, Judge and Redeemer.

He is unchanging, immutable, sovereign and just. All of it, all the time.

We miss out when we choose to paddle our canoe with only the oar of God’s love while telling ourselves there is no place for justice, discipline or correction within that love.

Hebrews can’t make it any more clear:

“and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

‘MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.’

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 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 12:5-11

When people absently toss out the pretty sound-bite,

God just wants to love-on you!” 

I, after wincing, am compelled to ask,

“What does that even look like?”  

How do we apply the “love-on” principle when someone intentionally cheats, cusses, lies, steals, thinks ill thoughts of their neighbor, gossips, covets material things in their heart, etc.

How does God “love-on” us in that? Does He look the other way? Pretend not to notice? Does He simply say,

“No worries, you are covered by the blood of Christ, it’s all good?”

Is God neutral towards us?

That is the sense I pick up from every person and church that adheres to the “love-on” school of “life in community.” We’re all so endearingly charming because of our foibles. God is so accommodating, so docile, so lenient!

But in reality, is He? (And do we sincerely want Him to be? Do we, as parents, want to be accommodating, docile and lenient when our offspring misbehave? Would that be loving them, or raising spoiled brats?)

Look closely: is life falling apart?
Are relationships stagnating or deteriorating?
Do difficulties at work take their toll?

That is the point! God is not accommodating, docile and lenient when it comes to sin!

On the contrary, God is trying to get our attention through these difficulties: not through hand-holding that condones continued disobedience or setting low expectations that never overcome. And certainly not by throwing Biblical discipleship out the window in favor of some vague “love-on” pat on the back!

Satan is the one who wants all of that. Satan wants to make it okay for us to never have to suffer in the sense of being accountable to personal sin to the point that we then overcome it.

With a “love-on” God, we languish from our not ever grasping the cause and the point of our suffering (because God is just too nice to ever hurt our feelings).

Therefore, we are never freed from whatever is tripping us up. Sin becomes its own suffering. All because we became enamored with a kindly, grandfatherly, “love-on” God void of discipline.

This is merely a figment of our desire for nonconformity to the God of Scripture. In this, we give ourselves permission to never grow up.

A right understanding of God as Love, on the other hand, necessitates God as Judge: of our heart, words and actions. 

When we spiritually, mentally and emotionally comprehend this truth, we will begin to thank God for His discipline, even though it at times appears harsh, feels traumatic and seems unfair (from a worldly, human perspective).

Then, having apprenticed under his corrective “time outs,” we begin to experience the fruits of the Spirit, allowing us to

“not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 in part).

A consistent, sure way to renew our minds is through the reading of Scripture, which 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

As the Hebrews verse mentioned earlier points out, to those who are trained in righteousness by God’s discipline, they will be cleansed, freed and imbued with peace. 

So we don’t recoil, we trust; and we don’t take offense, we receive.

What parent doesn’t hope for that response from their own child?

It follows then, since we, too, are children—God’s very own—that we would desire the same response from ourselves to His upbringing of us.

copyright Barb Harwood



“I shall give thanks to you with uprightness of heart,
When I learn Your righteous judgments.” Psalm 119:7

“My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD
Or loathe His reproof,
For whom the LORD loves He reproves,
Even as a father corrects the son in whom He delights.” Proverbs 3:11-12

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:6-10





Monday, July 17, 2017

Liberty


Paul Tournier, writing in his book, The Violence Within:

Jesus' "secret, the secret of his liberty, was that he allowed himself to be led by God."



"Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work." John 4:34

"Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things  the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.'" John 5:19-20

"I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." John 5:30 

"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." John 6:38

"For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me." John 12:49-50

"Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works." John 14:10





Sunday, July 16, 2017

Big Talk



“The woman Folly is loud;
she is undisciplined and without knowledge.
She sits at the door of her house,
on a seat at the highest point of the city,
calling out to those who pass by,
who go straight on their way.
‘Let all who are simple come in here!’
she says to those who lack judgment.
‘Stolen water is sweet;
food eaten in secret is delicious!’
But little do they know that the dead are there,
that her guests are in the depths of the grave.” Proverbs 9:13-18

“a chattering fool comes to ruin.” Proverbs 10:10b

“When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Proverbs 10:19

“he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.” Proverbs 12:11b
“the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.” Proverbs 28:19b

“An evil man is trapped by his sinful talk,
but a righteous man escapes trouble.” Proverbs 12:13

“The way of a fool seems right to him,
but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15

“He who guards his lips guards his life,
but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

“Every prudent man acts out of knowledge,
but a fool exposes his folly.” Proverbs 13:16

“A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back,
but the lips of the wise protect them.” Proverbs 14:3

“Stay away from a foolish man,
for you will not find knowledge on his lips.” Proverbs 14:7

“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways,
but the folly of fools is deception.” Proverbs 14:8

“There is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12

 “All hard work brings a profit,
but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23

“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” Proverbs 15:2

“The discerning heart seeks knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” Proverbs 15:14

“Folly delights a man who lacks judgment,” Proverbs 15:21a

 “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him,
but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Proverbs 16:2


“Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18

“A discerning man keeps wisdom in view,
but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.” Proverbs 17:24

“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint,” Proverbs 17:27a

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding
but delights in airing his own opinions.” Proverbs 18:2

“The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters,
but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.” Proverbs 18:4

“A fool’s lips bring him strife,” Proverbs 18:6a

“A fool’s mouth is his undoing,
and his lips are a snare to his soul.” Proverbs 18:7

“From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled;
with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied.” Proverbs 18:20

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself from calamity.” Proverbs 21:23

“Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” Proverbs 27:1

“He who trusts in himself is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26


Lip service. 

Embellishment of past accomplishments or future plans. 

Boasting of what we plan to do (somehow more socially acceptable than boasting of what we have already done).

Dream-catcher verboseness that we believe keeps us whimsical in appearance.

Social boldness of opinion arising out of pride (to cover inner insecurity). 

On and on go loose lips. The way of the tongue is multifarious. But the outcome is consistently predictable: folly—nothing more than “dust in the wind” as the rock band Kansas put it. 

And yet, even dust in the wind irritates.

Dictionary.com defines folly as:

“the state or quality of being foolish; lack of understanding or sense”

 “a costly and foolish undertaking; unwise investment or expenditure”

 “a foolish action, practice, idea, etc.; absurdity.”

The part I want to focus on is the “idea” part, or the point at which the foolish idea makes its way into words which may or may not lead to action. More often than not, once we speak the words, inaction follows because the mere speaking of the words is enough.

I know of what I speak. Nobody ever called me on my constant running commentary, because it was perfectly acceptable and common to talk a lot and “dream big” when I was growing up. I was completely unaware of what a poser and false witness to myself, and the real world, that I was.

Talk is cheap. Most people love it and count it as “conversation,” especially when alcohol is involved. It’s easy to spin webs of grandeur and “what if" -- easy to “keep telling yourself that" -- when primed with the rose-colored glasses of liquor.

But it didn’t stop there. 

In my sober moments, it was my imagined “romantic, free spirit” that usually got the best of me—the singing of Don McLean’s Vincent or American Pie or the reading of Thoreau’s Walden that would ferret me into delusions of lofty ideals that countered, in my mind, the pervasive shortcomings of “this world” that apparently only I was sensitive enough to notice or care about.

So words would flow out of a growing self-righteousness, along with groundless projections for the person I was to become. But those schemes never got any further than my lips and the ears of those listening.

Instead, they ricocheted back to me, only to be fed on for a little while longer before being filed away in the cabinet of “lost interest.” 

I either could not evolve as the person I had snow-globed myself into, or I quickly realized that the attempt didn’t quite measure up to the Don McLean feeling I had expected. 

Left wanting, I would move on to the next folly-in-waiting, and thus, the years of Gary Wright dream-weaving came and went, one after another.

Words run smooth and fast, caught in a current of self. They are easy, free and available to all. And oh, so tempting.

With them we craft futures out of oblivion, recklessly forging ahead because words, like numbers—so we tell ourselves—are concrete and material: they don’t lie when spoken out of good intentions.

So in well-meaning positive and counter-cultural thinking, we wax different from the world with our concoctions; our goal is to stand out, to satiate a craving to matter and be relevant. But the benefits, if any, are temporary at best and insidiously trapping at worst because we are operating from a foundation of foolish motives, not from a place of wisdom.

And the place of wisdom, as we see in Proverbs, and as anyone who has come to know the Lord Jesus understands, is with God alone.

Proverbs 4:7 says,

“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom,
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”

I will end with this, which is the answer to the folly of “big talk:”

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,

‘THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD,
AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN,
ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.’

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, things which we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2


 copyright Barb Harwood