Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Take the Shortcut

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
I like taking the scenic tour, however, when time is of the essence, I want the shortcut. Find the quickest route from Point A to Point B. Simple geometry teaches that to find the shortest distance simply draw a straight line connecting both points and “Presto”, there’s the shortcut.
Proverbs 3:6 states God straightens out our paths when we trust Him. He makes a shortcut for us. Why then does it take so long to get to where we need to be? Perhaps our understanding of the mathematical principle is faulty. Is the shortest distance between two points always a straight line connecting them? Yes and no.
Sound contradictory? This principle is true when applied to a level surface. In that case the line is straight in direction and elevation. When applied to an uneven surface the line curves up and down in order to maintain direction. Technically, it ceases to be straight. Engineers tackle this problem all the time. Tunnels are cut through mountains; bridges span valleys and waterways producing a level, straight road. Most drivers enjoy the shortcut blissfully unaware of the enormity of the project; the time and monies spent and the difficulty, if not impossibility of travel before the highway’s completion.
Isaiah 40:3-5 prophetically foretold the ministry of John the Baptist, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). The prophet described the process of preparing for a king’s arrival. In Isaiah’s time before a monarch visited a region an advance team was dispatched. Their mission: build a roadway suitable for the king’s trip. The goal: remove obstacles, level depressions, smooth out rough surfaces and make the journey as comfortable as possible.
Depicted is an enormous construction project: valleys filled in, mountains and hills removed, rugged areas made level. He wasn’t talking about the building of a literal highway but the process of repentance that paves the way for the King of King’s arrival.
            We all have aspects of our lives and personalities which, left unchecked, hinder God’s plans and His work in us. Mountains of pride, unbelief and outright lies need to be removed. Our tendency to avoid conflict and by-pass difficult situations must be straightened out. Valleys of self pity, hopelessness and despair filled in with faith and hope. Our peculiarities and quirks undergo sanding to smooth rough edges. Labor intensive, this work takes time. God makes our paths straight but doesn’t cut corners during the process. This might explain the perception that we’re traveling a long time with little forward progress.
            We’ve grown accustomed to instant access to solutions. Technology ramps up the pace of life. God, the author and inventor of the advances we enjoy operates at a different speed. As a master craftsman and builder He takes all the time necessary to achieve the desired result. Unshackled by time as we know it, He’s in no hurry. It may feel like it takes forever but God lays out the direct path between where we are and where He needs us to be. So, take the shortcut.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It’s All Downhill From Here…Oh No!

“The path of life leads uphill for the wise to keep him from going down to the grave.” Proverbs 15:24
The popular phrase “It’s all downhill from here” sometimes means the hardest part is finished, going forward will be easier.  Many years ago an often used way of share one’s faith in Jesus subtly inferred this idea. “Come to Jesus, He has a wonderful plan for your life” is a statement of truth. Many times the implied and unspoken impression given was, “It’s all downhill from here.” Jesus’ wonderful plan included a stress and problem free life. That’s absolutely untrue. In reality, life’s hard with a target painted on you. Satan hates defectors from his camp; they are threats to his “success”. He purposes to destroy everyone and everything that God created. Life’s warfare, but there’s nothing to fear; believers have the power and weapons to send him packing.
This proverb reminds us that life for wise people is an uphill climb. Bummer, I prefer gravity working for and not against me. Life continues to present challenges. We can coast downhill but the end result is the grave or in the original Hebrew, hell, which isn’t a viable option.
Recently my husband Joe, and I visited Amicolola Falls outside of Atlanta. I remembered the beauty of the falls and conveniently forgot the steepness of their incline. I walk and workout on a regular basis. “Piece of cake”, I thought as we headed for the top. I made it all the way without difficulty, however, two days later despite my exercise regime, my calf muscles screamed in pain.
Walking by faith is also an uphill climb. While we do have times to pause and catch our breath the trek always involves scaling to new heights. Specific situations stretch our faith muscles beyond normal use, the same way my calf muscles bore the brunt of the hike. Later we feel the strenuous level of the test. As faith develops we take on and conquer newer, harder challenges. David experienced this when he faced Goliath.
This Philistine warrior was not David’s first life threatening encounter. To him, Goliath was a target too big to miss. His response to the giant’s threat was, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37). With God’s help David prevailed in previous dangerous situations and this one wouldn’t be any different.
            The point; David did not start out killing giants. Smaller scaled tests prepared him for the showdown with Goliath. The successful defeat of Israel’s enemy wasn’t the pinnacle of his faith walk. For David, “it wasn’t all downhill” from there. In short order he tackled another faith mountain believing he would live to see God’s anointing as Israel’s future king come to pass. Even his ascent to the throne brought more opportunities to keep climbing higher, developing greater faith and trust in his Lord.
            God is looking for mountain climbers, willing to believe where He leads is the best and safest place to be. He cheers on those eager to scale uncharted heights. The journey will tax every muscle and take our breath away. Reaching the top, enjoying the view, relishing the accomplishment spurs us on. The end result is always more glorious than we envision. Continue on, never give up, resist the temptation to say, “It’s too hard, I can’t do this.” If someone points you in another direction and tells you, “Go that way, it’s all downhill from there”, don’t listen. Keep climbing toward your goal moving onward and upward.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Whine-1-1, What’s Your Emergency?

“It is good that a man should both hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:26
If I were God I would have an automated system in place to handle whining. Every whine would be broadcasted live in hell, serving several purposes. First, the absence of negative words eliminates noise pollution in the throne room. Second, the inhabitants of hell now have something else to complain about (as if being there is not enough). When we think our life is a living hell, anyone there will trade places with us in a heartbeat. I doubt the misery in hell would love the company of hearty, robust whines. For the record, I am not making light of, or dismissing dire circumstance people find themselves in, but the residents of hell would gladly give up the real deal for anything we face here.
Lamentations 3:26 tell us it is good to wait quietly for God’s salvation. The words wait quietly in the original Hebrew mean just that; be silent as you wait for salvation to manifest. Psalm 45:1 states, “my tongue is the pen of a skilled writer.” According to Jewish scholars every word a person speaks is inscribed in the record book of Heaven, so the tongue truly functions as a pen. Jesus said we would have to account for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36). I think I need a BIG ink eraser.
What is the benefit of keeping our mouths firmly shut? Proverbs 18:21 reminds us, “the tongue has the power of life and death.” Our words, like God’s, have creative power. The Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land; they were finally home. One small obstacle stood between them and all the benefits the land afforded-the inhabitants. The first stop Jericho was a well fortified walled city. In the natural, taking the city was impossible, if you didn’t factor God into the equation. Joshua 6:2-5 recounts God’s battle plan for conquering the city. For six days the armed men, seven priests blowing trumpets and the Levites responsible for carrying the Ark of the Covenant made a lap around Jericho. On the seventh day, this process was repeated seven times. During the last lap, when the people heard the long blast from the trumpet they were to shout as loud as possible. According to God, if these instructions were precisely followed, victory was guaranteed. Sounds preposterous, unless you understand Quantum Physics and frequencies, and I don’t. In verse 10 Joshua gave the people a very unusual order. “Do not give a war cry, do no raise your voices, do not say a word (emphasis mine) until the day I tell you to shout!”
For most of those seven days God had peace and quiet. No moaning and groaning, no complaints and negative comments about how crazy His plan seemed. Until the appointed time for shouting the people quietly awaited God’s salvation; all doubts, fears and questions silenced. The power of negative words to magnify any perceived lunacy of the plan, causing this generation to repeat the mistake of their predecessors was neutralized. Almost seven days of total silence is a miracle in itself. Somehow they managed to pull it off. When the time came to shout they did, and the walls fell down.
The verse in Lamentations says in addition to waiting silently, we also should hope. This verse is the only place that particular translation of the word hope is found. The root of the word is to dance, twist, writhe or twirl about. Verbs, such as this, which have significance to binding or twisting indicate strength and denote firmness. Hope here is not wishful thinking, but strong, confident expectation. When one is fully assured of God’s ability to save, the matter is settled, there’s nothing more to say.
            But what if I’m not there? What if fear and doubt have me in a vise grip? What if I’m facing my own Jericho and the prospects of success look slim to none? Go back to basics. What has God told me to do? If I’m not sure, I need to spend time with Him and get reacquainted with His plan of action. How do I take time when I am under pressure? Like the Nike ads say, “Just Do It!”
            What I don’t do is just as important. I don’t go around speaking negative words about my situation. These reinforce and empower the mental images I formulate and believe. “As I think in my heart, so am I”. I remember I’ve read something like that in the Bible (Proverbs 23:7 paraphrase). It can take every ounce of strength and self control to keep a guard on my mouth. My emotions will clamor for an opportunity to vent my frustrations and fears. If I do, I’ll feel better temporarily, and reinforce the walls of my Jericho. No matter what, I need to learn to quietly wait for the salvation of my God and above all, not call Whine-1-1.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Welcome to Tornado Alley

“Anger is cruel and fury is overwhelming. But who can stand against jealousy.”
Proverbs 27:4
As I finished this piece Hurricane Isaac came and went leaving a trail of destruction. I’ve lived through hurricane seasons in Florida and feel for Gulf Coast residents. You take every precaution, make all the preparations and may not escape the storm unscathed.
Now I live in “Tornado Alley” and they’re a different beast. Hurricane’s slow development makes it easier to predict the track and strength, giving time to prepare. Storm cells that spawn tornados are identifiable; however, everything is literally up in the air until the twister touches down. Both storm systems are capable of producing extensive damage and loss of life.
I associate anger and fury with hurricanes. A catalyst (wave off the African coast) triggers the storm: threat, harm, hurt, danger, etc. real or imagined. Potential hurricanes fizzle all the time. Opportunities to get mad do the same; they’re not worth the expenditure of energy and emotional capital. Other times conditions escalate until confrontation occurs (landfall). Emotions highly charged for an extended period often result in substantial damage. Innocent people caught up in the tempest suffer its fury.
Jealousy is a tornado, explosive and irrational. Events that trigger jealous reactions catch all involved off guard. 1 Samuel shows this happening in the lives of Saul and David. Saul was a storm looking for a place to happen. Disobedience caused the kingdom to pass to another upon his death (1 Samuel 15:27-28). He was tormented by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:24). Sent by his father Jesse to carry provisions to his brothers serving in Saul’s army, David the heir apparent to the throne (1 Samuel 16:13) and Saul’s lives intersected.
Israel’s army stood paralyzed, intimidated by the Philistine Goliath. David took on and defeated the giant and found himself married to Saul’s daughter, best friend to Saul’s son Jonathan and living in the royal household. Initially “Saul liked him (David) very much” (1 Samuel 16:2). He was Saul’s go to guy. “Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it successfully” (1 Samuel 18:15). Things progressed splendidly until a simple song sung by some women put David in the crosshairs of his own personal F-5 tornado. Saul’s outbursts were unpredictable and dangerous. David eventually fled for his life and kept running until his nemesis died.
            It’s irrational that a song would trigger such a reaction, but that’s how jealousy works. Incidents that spark anger and fury find resolution through restitution and apologies. One mistakenly accused has the opportunity to prove their innocence. David was helpless to diffuse Saul’s jealousy; there was no wrong to right, no reason to apologize. As rightful heir to the throne, David refused to seize the position by killing Saul when opportunities arose. He remained loyal to God’s Anointed until the end and bitterly mourned Saul’s death.
            Jealousy took David and Saul by surprise; neither saw it coming. David was powerless to halt its assaults. Saul was unable or unwilling to control its hate. Numbers 5:14 teaches that jealousy is a spirit-herein lies the key for dealing with its outbursts. When we find ourselves in the path of a tornado named jealousy, here are steps to minimize the damage.
            First, fight the battle in the right realm with the right weapons. Jealousy is a spirit. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us our enemy isn’t “flesh and blood.” Among other things David was a psalmist and a worshipper. Saul’s mad rages subsided when David played his harp and sang. Don’t think any old music will do. Psalm 22:3 states that God literally abides in praise. A jealous spirit is no match for the living God; it’s not a fair fight, thank God! Pray for God’s wisdom to handle the situation correctly. Ask Him to bless your adversary, not just for the sake of getting them off your back, but for their benefit.
            Second, get out of harm’s way. For his own safety, David fled the scene. This may be the only sane course of action. Yes, you are the innocent party and no, it’s not fair you have to leave but do you want to subject yourself to unnecessary abuse? Unless God specifically instructs you to stay, “get out of Dodge!”
            What if you are Saul and not David? Not a comforting thought but a real possibility. How do you keep from becoming a spear throwing maniac? First, maintain a close, healthy walk with God. He will gladly let you know when you are getting too emotionally wound up. “Nip it in the bud” as Barney Fife of the Andy Griffith show would say. Hebrews 4:15 assures us that Jesus faced opportunities to throw hissy fits and didn’t. He understands exactly how we feel and can navigate us through the mine field called emotions to a place of peace and safety for us and for others. Ask God to show you why you’re upset, He will. Pray for the poor soul in your line of fire, they need it.
            Second, take advantage of trusted friends and counselors. Their unbiased view of the situation brings another perspective and clarity. They see dynamics and consequences you overlooked.
            No matter which side of the equation you’re on, with jealousy everyone loses. David and Saul both suffered as the result of Saul’s actions. This side of eternity will present ample opportunities to cross paths with this spirit. Identifying the enemy’s modus operandi gives us the advantage of recognizing the storm and taking steps to survive. Oh, and before I forget let me say, “Welcome to Tornado Alley.”