Friday, August 31, 2007

Jesus - My Friend, My Lord, My Savior

The Lord is my Shepherd
. He gives me everything that I need
. He makes it so that every night I sleep in peace and safety
. He leads me toward a quietness of spirit
. He restores my soul when I’m worn out by the day’s activities
. He guides me in the paths of righteousness so that I can give Him glory and praise.
. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil, for Jesus, You are with me.
. Your correction and Your guidance are meant to comfort me.
. You give me success after success even when I'm surrounded by my enemies
. You bless me over and over and over
. Surely Your goodness and love, Your mercy and grace will follow me every day for the rest of my life.
. And I will dwell in Your very presence in paradise for ever and ever.
Psalm 23

As with the wind, God cannot be seen. However, the effect of His presence in a person's life are unmistakeable.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dr. Phil Screws Up

It doesn’t matter what a woman looks like. Her age is not important, nor what kind of a job she has. It doesn’t matter her race or religion. What a woman looks for in a relationship; the only thing in a relationship that will meet her deepest need and fulfill her most intense longing is to have someone listen to her while she talks. Master this, men, and you will have a friend for life. It doesn’t matter if you are a paedophile or even an atheist. A woman will travel across three time zones to visit you in jail as long as she knows that you will listen to her once she gets there.

This is not as easy as it sounds. While listening is recognised by most men as an important step in communication, they see listening as only the first of two steps. When a man is talking to another man, they simply do what comes naturally. It’s as easy as 1 - 2. When communicating with a woman, however, the second step must be avoided at all cost. Do not, under any circumstances, I repeat DO NOT! go to the second step which is fixing the problem about which you have just been told in exquisite detail. The woman in your life has no interest in fixing the problem. In fact, fixing the problem would defeat the whole purpose of telling you about the problem in the first place. The purpose of telling you about the problem is, of course, to tell you about the problem.

Even a professional listener like Dr. Phil screws up on this every single day. It’s somewhat disturbing to watch, what can only be a sadistic human being, set women up by letting them talk on and on about their problems. He seduces them by asking for further details of their problem. Their hearts are lifted as they think, “Why O why is this man married to someone else?” And then he springs the trap. Day after day women are reduced to tears as yet another man, in this case one that they trusted to simply listen, begins to give them advice on how to fix their problems. Some, in deep despair even pretend to take his advice just to get out of his vile presence.

I still haven’t quite figured out exactly how it works, but this I know. Your only role in any relationship with a woman, the only reason that she tolerates your presence in her life, is to test you as a potential long-term listener. If you can listen compassionately, that’s a plus, but it is not necessary. As long as you sit there, without interrupting and without giving ANY hint whatsoever that you came up with a solution to her problem after the first three seconds of her story, you will see this woman again and again. Fail to do that, and you may as well be a sleeping dog just outside a restaurant in China.

I know that some men are foolish. My simply mentioning “listening only” will make some men want to try it, especially after having a few drinks of alcohol. If you want to try this “listening only” approach and if you are a bit of a rascal whose motive for listening is more than 50% to make her weak in the knees, I have this advice. Wait until she’s done telling you the story, and then ask, “Could you tell me the whole thing again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything?”
. If you do this, the results will surprise you.
. If Dr. Phil could master this skill, he would have a show that is watched by millions of people.

I’ve given some advice here, but I warn you. This information is not to be used irresponsibly. It you don’t want any given woman around you for the rest of your life, you must not give her the impression, even for a few moments, that you care about what she’s saying. As soon as she says, “You know what?” begin flipping through the channels on the tv. Keep typing on the keyboard of your computer while she talks. Perhaps, right when she is in mid sentence, tell her to look at the cartoon strip you were studying just before she interrupted your morning reading. Better yet, go to the bathroom for a prodigious bowl movement and let her talk to you through the bathroom door. Whatever you do, do not give her any hope that you are, nor do you have any potential to become a good listener. If you sense that you're being scouted as a potential listener, you must let her down respectfully but in such a way as to leave no doubt as to your deficiencies in this area. You must let her move on with her life. Unless you want a soul-mate, this is what you must do. This is what a gentleman would do. Enough. Go in peace and don’t Dr. Phil the women in your life.

Monday, August 20, 2007

"Would You Please Forgive Me?"

Suppose you got a loan for $400,000.00. It was a legitimate cause. You run a construction company and you needed a new piece of equipment. But suppose you had a gambling problem. Suppose the money didn’t get sent to the machine company. Instead, you blew it. All that money from the bank and more is gone. You’re about to lose everything. So you go to the Bank Manager and say to her, “I know that I’ve messed up. I totally blew it. Would you please forgive me? Just let this debt slide, ok? Would you please?”
Suppose the Bank Manager said, “I can see that you mean well. I can see that you’re sorry. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to pay off all your debts out of my own pocket and I’m going to make sure that you get all the help that you need to deal with this gambling issue, to deal with your marriage problems, anything at all, all at my expense.”
Suppose you’re deep into crime. Over the last ten years a million dollars worth of forged checks and stolen items have passed through your hands. Now you stand before the Judge and he asks if you have anything to say for yourself. As chance would have it you have something really important to say. “Your Honour, I am very, very sorry for all that I’ve done. I see the error of my ways and I plan to change from this day forward. So I was wondering, would you not just forgive these latest crimes of mine, but would you also simply wipe my slate clean? Would you please treat me as though none of that other stuff ever happened. I need a clean start. I need you to see me as a law abiding citizen. More than that. Would you see me as your own child and begin to take care of me? Please?”
Suppose the Judge stood up, came down from the bench and took you in his arms. While he is giving you a big hug, with tears streaming down his face he says to you, “Your debt is forgiven. As of right now, you have no criminal history. I will cash in everything that I own and pay off your debts. And because justice demands that a penalty be paid for your crimes, I’m going to do your jail time for you. Go in peace and don’t do this anymore.”

Pretty absurd right? It would never happen. Not on this planet. Not in this lifetime.

Except that it has happened. On this planet no less. And the consequences are taking place during your lifetime.

We owe a debt to God. We owe a debt far greater than anything we could accumulate toward another human being. The punishment that we have coming to us, the debt that we owe due to our rebellion against our Creator means that we deserve eternal separation from God. We are separated from God by this impossibly huge debt forever and ever, unless someone can pay this debt for us. But who could do it but God Himself? Well, the answer is no one. And that is why God, in His love stepped down from His throne and came to earth to pay our penalty for us. The only thing for us to do is to say yes to this offer of forgiveness, this offer of salvation, this offer of renewal.
This what some call cheap Grace or cheap salvation. In the Bible, at the end of the “Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus follows up his admonition to pray ‘Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,’ with a story of two men who went to the Temple to pray. The one man stood before the alter and told God what a good man he was and how lucky God was to have such a wonderful follower on His side. In fact, he told God, ‘I’m not nearly as bad as that other man standing over there.’ The other man that was being talked about had fallen on his knees before God and beat his breast saying, ‘Please forgive me dear Lord. I’m a dreadful sinner with no reason to expect your forgiveness. Without your mercy and grace I am lost.’ Jesus said to His disciples that this man, and not the former went away forgiven.

There is nothing cheap or easy about this type of forgiveness. The hardest thing that we humans can do is to admit to ourselves and to our Creator that we have not just done wrong, but that we are wrong - that we are fundamentally, essentially, totally and completely flawed. Not a single one of our “good” acts come and go without at least some tinge of pride, arrogance and corrupted self-love involved.

Unlike we humans who seem to get a kick out of withholding forgiveness, God longs for us to come to Him to receive forgiveness. He longs to heal our broken relationship with Him. That is why, while we were still His enemies, He took the first step to reconciliation. All that’s left to complete the transaction is our part, the reaching out an accepting this forgiveness, this freedom from guilt.

Now someone might say this is just a fairy tale; it’s just wishful thinking. Not so. There is not a human on earth that would invent a religion with this plot. Our arrogance and pride ensures that all manmade religions allow for the major role of redemption to be played by ourselves. In every religion but Christianity, their god plays the minor role; he jumps to our demands while we work our way to Nirvana or paradise or nothingness or whatever else it may be called. Only Christianity hammers away at the reality of our situation. Only Christianity reveals the concept of Grace. The concept of Grace, or undeserved favour, is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions past and future. Jesus and Jesus alone has done what we cannot do for ourselves. He provides for a healed, intimate and forgiven relationship with our Creator. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I'm in over my head and I need Help

Every day, people struggle with things like:
The bank just foreclosed on my house. The x-ray showed a spot on my lung. My child was killed by an impaired driver. I can’t afford to feed my family. My spouse left me for someone else. The place where I’ve worked for the last 20 years is closing its doors for good. Insurance will not cover the loss. The person that raped me is still out there.

People’s thoughts go something like:
I can’t handle this. It’s too much. I can’t cope with this. The pain is too, too great. I think I’m losing my mind. I’m in way over my head. Why? Why? Why?

1st Corinthians 10:13 reads, “No test or temptation that comes your way is different in nature or severity than what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; He’ll never let your be pushed past your limit; He’ll always be there to show you the way out and to help you through it.”

That is an awesome verse. It’s an awesome reminder of God’s love for us. It’s a great reminder that our “Temptations” are not without purpose. It’s too bad then, that people have twisted this verse to mean something totally other than what it says. When it’s twisted, as people often do, it comes out saying that God will never give us more difficulty than we can bear, or more relational or emotional or physical pain than we can handle. They couldn’t be more wrong.

First of all, the verse is saying that God will not allow us to bE TEMPTED beyond what we can handle and that He will always give us a way out. We may not choose to escape from temptation but He will and does provide that option for us. When we have an opportunity to steal, God will give us a reason and a chance to not steal. When we’re tempted to gossip, God will make a way for us to stop. When we are tempted to judge someone as having less value and deserving less respect than someone created in the image of God deserves, God will remind us so we can change our point of view. When ever we are tempted to think or to act in a way that goes against the character of God, He will give us a chance to either choose to gain victory or defeat. That’s what the verse is saying.

The second and more important point is this. God can and does give us more than we can handle. He does it frequently and for a good purpose. The purpose is always to bring us out of ourselves and to Him. “We don’t need God,” is the rallying cry of the world. “I’m gonna do it my way,” is the deepest desire that we have. Well, God uses the consequences of doing it our way to show us that we do indeed need God. As the saying goes, “To what will you look to for help if not to something that is stronger than yourself.” Being in over our heads is how most of us came to be Saved / Born Again in the first place.

Once again, Paul gives us a hint at the true meaning in 2nd Corinthians 1:8-11 - “I don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally.”

This is what’s going on when we hear about jail-house conversions. Most people don’t believe in them but they are just an extreme example of what God longs to do with all of our difficulties. He uses tragedy to jerk our chain. He uses pain to show us that we’re on the wrong track. When an impaired driver kills someone, When a woman leaves her spouse because he’s violent with her, When someone loses a business because of gambling, When a man’s infidelity is exposed, all these and more are opportunities to changes one’s course in life. When our weakness is shown to us in the blinding light of reality, it’s time to pay attention. It’s time to turn around. It’s time to repent and give control of our lives to Jesus.

Rather than alter the meaning of 1st Cor. 10:13, those of us who have been granted salvation should say with Paul, “I rejoice in my difficulties, in my sickness, in my loss, in my tragedy, in the times when I’m in over my head, because “When I am weak, then I am strong.” When I’m at my wits end, when I’ve tried all my options, when all hope is lost, when I haven’t a clue what else to do, then, THEN I remember my God, my Creator and Saviour and Lord who will not spare anything, not even Himself to change me and shape me to conform me into the likeness of Jesus.

God is great and God is good. Amen.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Anxiety and Depression

Humble yourselves under God's mighty hand, so that at just the right time He will lift you up. Cast all your anxiety upon Him because He cares about you and for you.
1st Peter 5:6-7

What's the connection between humbling ourselves and casting all our cares upon God?
. What's the connection between humbling ourselves and God lifting us up because He cares about us?
. When is it that we aren't humbling ourselves?
The answer to the last question is clear.
- We aren't humble before God when we're trying to run our own lives.
- We aren't humble before God when we're trying to solve our own problems without God's help.
- We aren't humble before God when when we don't rely on God's wisdom and love.

If we believe that God is the Creator of all that's seen and unseen, then why wouldn't we rely on Him, especially in our most difficult times? That's easy. The fact is, we don't trust God. We don't trust God because He doesn't do things the way that we'd do them. Because we don't trust God and because we depend on ourselves to decide what's best for our lives, we experience anxiety and depression at almost the same rate as those who don't even know Jesus as their Saviour and God as their Creator. Rather than casting our cares upon God, we not only carry them ourselves, we pile them up so high that we stagger beneath the weight.
. We can only cast our cares upon God when we humble ourselves enough that we admit that we need God's help.
. We can only cast our cares upon God when we're honest enought with ourselves that we admit that we don't want God's help.
. We can only cast our cares upon God when accept that we want to be in control of our affairs. In reality, we WANT to determine the solution to our problems. We want to set the course that our lives will take.

God loves us. God cares about us. God wants to lift us out of our problems. Problem is, He can't do that when we are clinging tightly to the very issues from which He is trying to rescue us. And we can't allow God to lift us out of our problems until we humble ourselves enough to rid ourselves of the pride that causes us to run our own lives instead of casting our worries upon our Lord and Saviour.

This is no small matter since, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."