Friday, February 20, 2009

Rediscovering Our Refuge

At times, I wonder how much pain and grief we'd save ourselves if we didn't worry. This past week, Crystal and I were hit with a substantial health scare. I'll spare you the details, but I'll just say that last Friday, I had an MRI of the brain which did not come back normal. I then had a follow-up MRI this past Wednesday which confirmed that what they had seen was "inactive" and non-threatening (for now) and was probably caused by migraine headaches, which I have rather frequently. We will meet the Neurologist again in a couple weeks to go over the results in more detail, but for now, we are told that everything is ok.

The Great What If
We all have situations in our lives which cause us to worry, even as much to predict the worst of the future. Life's circumstances can be downright terrifying at times, and if we don't have anything more than our own strength to lean on, we may be overwhelmed when we are brought to the reality that we are in control of nothing in this world, but our own attitudes. We all know deep down inside that trials are on their way, but generally, I'd guess most of us would rather not think about the "what ifs."

Every other Thursday night, Crystal and I attend a newly married Bible study, and last night, I shared with the group about our recent medical concerns. During prayer time, one guy thanked the Lord that "I was going to die just like the rest of them in 50-60 years." I couldn't believe he said that! Crystal was laughing under her breath in disbelief, and I was just processing whether I should chuckle along or feel insulted that this guy was making a joke out of what had only days before had me fearing a brain tumor or a terminal disease. I later concluded that I was taking his joke way too seriously, and as I thought further about it, I took to heart the hard-to-swallow and possibly uncomfortably placed lesson that every good diagnosis is only a postponing of our ultimate mortal destiny. It's good to be reminded that every breath we have and every day we live is a gift from God. Every moment is to be cherished because if you're human like me, it's just a matter of time... before time is up.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow (You're Only A Day Away)
The Bible talks a lot about worry. One verse which has really stuck out to me throughout the last couple weeks is the passage in Matthew 6 which reads, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." I'm not sure how many times I've had to relearn this truth. I know I am a serious worrier. My overly entertained fears throughout the last ten days have been a testament of an embarrassing and wavering faith. Through the course of these past uncertain days, I've often found myself talking to God and exclaiming, "Lord, where is my faith? I can't change the future, so why get worked up about it? I can't know the future, so why predict it? I know You will take care of me, so why fear what lies around the corner? I believe your strength is perfect in my weakness so why am I so afraid of being weak?" It's incredible how foolishly prideful we are sometimes. We can have the greatest peace known to man before us, yet we won't take hold of it. We instead cling to fear as if it's the only option we have.

The Virtue of Expectation
It's almost second nature for many of us to expect evil from the future when we alternately should be focusing our attention on expecting good from the Lord. This doesn't mean that we will all be rich or healthy or famous. God never said life was going to be easy, but He did promise that He would carry us through the storms of life if we would trust Him. One image which has come to mind this past week has been the picture of Peter stepping out onto a troubled Sea of Galilee to meet a ghost-like Jesus walking upon the water. Matt 14:30 reads, "Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" So often, our attention is on the danger around us instead of on the Master of the Seas, and unfortunately, we sometimes only cry out for His help when we notice that we are sinking. These recent trials have really challenged my faith, and have left me asking myself if I am a lot like Peter, claiming to be a faithful servant, all the while shrinking in distrust when torrents of uncertainty crash through my otherwise comfortable life.

In closing, I'd like to share some excerpts of verses which have encouraged us this past week, and we pray that they will encourage you too.

Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Psalm 46
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. "Be still, and know that I am God."

Psalm 27
"The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? For in the day of trouble, he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD."

Psalm 31
"In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth. Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD."

Monday, February 16, 2009

No More Than We Can Bear

Lord, You will give me no more than I can bear.
When life surprises us with tragedies, and when fears make our bodies shake,
You are there to comfort us.
When the burdens of life seem so heavy, so overwhelming that our own physical well being seems at risk, You are there to carry us through our sufferings.
When relationships in our lives seem impossible to mend, and when so much of our waking days are spent wishing that another would want what we want, You are the Healer.
When decisions loom over us, yet the concrete seems so far away, You are Certain and your Words are the Light unto our path.

Lord, today I realized how little faith I have. I am a man of faith until I am again awakened to the fact that I am in control of nothing on this earth, except my attitude and reaction to the trials which have and will inevitably come into my life.
Lord, You will give me no more than I can bear, so may I trust You. May I truly believe that You are the Shepherd who leads me by still waters. May I be confident that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from Your love. May I rest assured that I am Your child and that You have plans of good for my life, and not evil. May I know that this is not the end, but may I believe with all my soul that You have a future for me. May I cling to You with everything I have, everything I am. Jesus, I lay aside all of life's treasures, and all the fool's gold that I have unconsciously compiled. May my greatest desire be in knowing You, O Lamb of God, O Faithful Friend, O Compassionate Father.
Lord, You will give me no more than I can bear as I rest in the enfolding of Your embrace. You will give me no more than I can bear.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Singlehood in the Rear View: Chapter 4

I thought another edition of Singlehood in the Rear View might be fitting for Valentine’s Day, especially as this is Crystal and my first February 14th together as a married couple. This has been a special day so far, complete with cards, candy, breakfast in bed, and a special lunch complete with sparkling grape juice, among other goodies. I’m thinking the day may be filled with some other surprises too, but don’t tell my wife.

What a Contrast
Married life is most definitely different than life as a single person. For one, the majority of my time is no longer spent looking and wondering if this person or that person is The One. There certainly is a new freedom, but with it, there comes another level of responsibility. Now, every decision in my life involves and affects another individual. As a married man, I have to work daily to keep the relationship between my wife and I at the top of the priority list.

When You Care To Send The Very Best
The other day, I picked up a card at the local Hallmark, and let me just say finding a good Valentine’s Day card is a challenge. I was flabbergasted at the number of cards which were written as apologizes. For example, a couple cards sadly began with “I know I don’t tell you I love you very often, but...” Others had such unromantic lines as “You make me a better person” and “I love you because you love me.”

How To Keep Your Valentine
I am no expert here, and I’m certainly not the perfect mate by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought I’d highlight some common guidelines which I’ve observed through the years in the lives of happy couples. Some of these seem like no-brainers, but it’d probably be startling to find out how many Christian husbands and wives out there don’t even consider the following practices reasonable nor significant.

1. Tell your wife/husband you love her/him every day.

2. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. In other words, work things out before you go to bed and don’t hold grudges.

3. Touch often. There’s really no good reason why you can’t keep touching after you get married.

4. Be open and honest with each other. Stay accountable with your mate.

5. Don’t belittle your spouse, whether in public or private. If there is a problem, focus on the problem, not the person. Phrases such “you always...” or “you never...” are a good way to knock the foundation out from under your relationship. Sarcasm may be funny to you, but your loose words may be more damaging than you think.

6. Pray together. It’s sort of a cliché, but the couple that prays together does have a better chance of staying together. It’s tough to pray together if you’re not getting along.

7. Study your spouse and learn how to put her/his interests first.

8. Keep dating (your spouse) after you say “I Do.” Babysitters may be expensive, but your marriage may greatly benefit from a long overdue weekend away. I recently heard of an author who showed his priorities at the end of the work day by always kissing his wife first before he kissed his little daughter. Kids need to see that mom and dad love each other, even if that means that mommy and daddy have some healthy alone time.

Cheers To Many More Years
I recently read some web reviews of the Atlanta church produced movie, Fireproof. As cheesy as the movie was at times, I think it had some excellent lessons. However, the secular articles I read poked fun at the film, claiming that it was over simplistic in its moral. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’ll give you a quick synopsis. Basically, Kirk Cameron is a firefighter whose rocky marriage is resurrected after he, “buys his wife roses, does the dishes, and finds God.” (as the article put it). In the movie, Kirk’s dad gives him a 40 day marriage to-do journal, and Kirk’s broken relationship with his wife does a 180 after 40 days of rethinking both his priorities and his connection with God.
I certainly don’t believe for a second that troubled marriages can be fixed in 10 easy steps, but I do believe in the power of Christ to change lives, and I would argue that this is the primary focus of the movie. I believe it’s important to always put the Lord first in our lives, and from that will outpour the fruits of the Spirit, which include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control... all of which will help you and I to be better spouses.

And now off to that surprise I was talking about.

To read chapter 5 of Singlehood in the Rear View, click here.