Archive for the ‘Fear’ Category

Do not fear!

I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. —Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

Note: I periodically turn to previous blog entries for content that is relevant today. This entry is based upon an article I wrote in 2015.

Many people today are scared. Constant fear is slowly become part of the human condition. It’s running rampant right here in America. The majority of Americans now believe that their children’s lives will be harder than their own. They worry about unemployment and the economy. Many fear illegal immigrants. Others are afraid to gather in public places for fear of violence. Why wouldn’t people be afraid? Many media outlets and politicians survive by instilling fear in the public.

On a cosmic scale we hear about giant solar flares that could destroy technology, pushing humankind back into the Stone Age. A large meteor or asteroid collisions could destroy the Earth.

In the natural world, super volcanoes threaten to cause destruction on a planetary scale. Earthquakes like the recent one in Haiti and tsunamis in diverse places threaten thousands of lives. Many fear that global warming will cause killer storms, droughts, melting polar ice, coastal flooding and forest fires.

On the human plane, we have just just witnessed the rapid collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan and the ensuing chaos and death. Many fear the threat of terrorism in the homeland as a result of Afghanistan’s demise. Others fear home grown terrorists. Yet others worry about flesh eating bacteria, brain eating amoebas, the CORONA-virus Delta variant, and a growing list of drug resistant bacteria and viruses. Some hunker down in their homes, worried about wearing masks, riots, violence by/against the police, and mass murders making public places unsafe. Some fear that computer hackers will steal their identities and wealth.  Others fear hackers will disrupt our critical national infrastructure, as we recently saw with the hack on the Colonial pipeline.  There are wars and rumors of wars. Religious persecution is increasing around the globe. It can all be paralyzing.

Do not fear.

There are two types of fear mentioned in the Bible. The first is fear of the Lord. This fear is not associated with being frightened. It is a reverential awe of God and is to be encouraged. According to Psalm 111, fear of the Lord is the “beginning of wisdom” and leads to rest and peace.

The second type of fear is detrimental. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy it is described as a “spirit of fear.” A person can be completely overcome by a spirit of fear, virtually frozen and unable to function. Such fear weighs a person down physically, emotionally and mentally.

Unfortunately, many Christians have succumbed to a spirit of fear. Some fear those of other religions and are reluctant to reach out to them in Christian love. Some fear those who are different from them culturally or racially. Some of us are hesitant to invite those in need into their lives for fear they might lose something or it might cost something. Some are afraid to leave the comfort of their homes and familiar surroundings in order to reach out to the needy. Others are hesitant to give of their wealth for fear they might later find themselves in need. A few are afraid of just about everything.

Christian fears often boils down to a fear of losing something—possessions, comfort, safety, security. In Philippians chapter 3, verses 7-8 (ESV), St. Paul describes how he has let go of the things of this world in order to focus on what is truly important: ” But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

It is impossible to grasp the outstretched hand of Christ as long as we tightly cling to things of this world. David tells us in Psalm 34 verses 4-7 (ESV):

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”

Take the fears before you today and give them to the Lord. You may paralyzed by a fearful nature, facing a health crisis, unemployment, divorce, a call to missionary service, or other difficult challenges. The best first step in any situation is to cast aside your fears—let go and let God!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 10-12 (ESV)

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”    —Oswald Chambers

Enduring Truths for Recent Graduates

Eight years ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for writing it.  Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in the Tribune-Democrat news at this link: http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

“Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it at: https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/12/22/a-gift-for-my-daughter/ 

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

The tough work of prayer

Prayer is like a battle. The enemy is constantly placing barriers in your way to keep you from reaching your final objective.

Life is a series of continual distractions that make it difficult to find time to commune with God. Even if one manages to slip away to a quiet place for a few minutes, odds are they will find themselves distracted by thoughts about what lies ahead in their day or week. I’ve heard so many people complain, “My days are so busy I just can’t find time to pray.”  In reality, if you have a busy day ahead you can’t afford not to pray. Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi says:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

This is tough advice!  Who, after all, is not anxious about something, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?  And how difficult is it to present your prayers to God with thanksgiving in every situation? “Dear God, I thank you for allowing me to crash my car into that tree yesterday.”  Prayer is tough work indeed.

The nation has just gone through a painful, extraordinarily divisive presidential election process. The political rhetoric is still turned up to near the boiling point. Political disagreements have resulted in many friendships ending and have even caused divorces. Sometime it feels like the entire world has gone mad amidst the name calling, threats, riots, burning and looting. Many politicians will tell you that they have the answers to all our problems, but they don’t. Only God can fix this mess!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  —Psalm 121:1-2

More than any time in recent history, America’s Christians need to join together in praying for our nation and those whom have been elected to serve. So, what about that politician from the “other” party?  Should you pray for him or her?  “God, please help this idiot to see how wrong he is.”  Well, not exactly.  You can certainly pray that the Holy Spirit would convict the individual politician to make decisions that honor God, especially politicians who profess to be Christ followers.   

If you have a beef with a particular politician—get over it.  I don’t mean this in the traditional fashion that contemporary culture says “get over it.”  I mean that, as Christians, we are obliged to forgive those who have trespassed against us, just as we pray to God to forgive us our own sins.      

“In Jesus, we experience freedom not only from sin and its hold on us but also from guilt, shame, worry, Satan’s lies, superstitions, false teaching, and eternal death. No longer hostages, we have freedom to show love to enemies, walk in kindness, live with hope, and love our neighbors. As we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven” —Patricia Raybon, Our Daily Bread

Now here’s where it really gets difficult.  Not only are we told to “forgive as we’ve been forgiven,” but in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. —Matthew 5:43-45

Is there a politician or other leader whose behavior absolutely disgusts you?  If so, think of that person, then pray for him or her. Really!  Pray that God will soften their heart.  It they profess to be a Christian, ask God to fill them with the Holy Spirit.

Since 2001, The Presidential Prayer Team has been the source thousands of Americans have turned to for encouragement and inspiration to pray for America’s leaders. It is a non-partisan organization.  I encourage you click the “About Us” link below to visit their website and sign up for the daily prayer alerts.

A Prayer for Good Leaders

Father God, good leaders, come from you. Lord, this nation needs leaders with discerning hearts and wise minds. I beseech you today asking you today to give us wise leaders that will lead this nation in the right direction. Remove wrong people that are corrupt and living against your word from influential positions. Let our leaders be people who honor your holy name for it is only from you that they will get true wisdom. It is in the mighty name of Jesus that we believe and pray, Amen. —Anonymous

Do not let your hearts be troubled

Jesus Watches Mary of Bethany Weeping at His Tomb

In John 14, Jesus’ disciples are troubled by the Lord’s words and behavior.  In John 13, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and tells them that one who wishes to be a leader must be the servant of all.  He informs them that he is going away to a place where they cannot follow, foreshadowing his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Jesus tells them that one of the disciples will betray him. Finally, he tells Peter that he will deny Jesus three times. By this time, all the disciples are pretty shaken.  But next Jesus reassures and comforts them saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1) *.  He then goes on to explain that He is going away to prepare a place for them in heaven.

Such comforting words are needed today. The entire country is politically supercharged over the upcoming election.  Harsh words are spoken on both sizes of the aisle. Violent protests fill the streets of many major cities nightly. I continually hear people from the left, right, and middle expressing fears and worries over the future of America. This shouldn’t be a concern for Christians.

Here’s a news flash. The upcoming election has already been decided. The future of America has already been decided. Despite the hate and chaos, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as he wills it. The Father’s plan for Christ followers is the same as Jesus plan for His disciples.  He is preparing a place for Christians in Heaven. This plan was established before the Earth was created. It may seem to sometimes that God is moving slowly, but he isn’t.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter:8-9

Time is a perception that humans use to help wrap their minds around what occurs in life, but time is meaningless to God.  We see this clearly in Exodus 3:14, when God tells Moses that God’s name is “I am.”  We see this in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Mike Bennett, who writes for the Christian website Life, Hope and Truth, explains it like this:

The Bible tells us God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17). In other words, God’s plans are so sure that it is as if they had already happened. So, when the One who became Jesus Christ volunteered to die for our sins from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), it was as if He had already been slain. Jesus also described other things that were planned “from the foundation of the world,” and they are just as sure. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34).

“My spirit shakes with terror. How long God, how long? from Psalm 6

Rest assured that God is in control and nothing can change that. No matter what appears to be happening, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as He conceived it before creation. For many this is a difficult concept to grasp. Jesus is the key to God’s plan.  This is stated plainly in John 1:1-5, where John describes Jesus like this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

If you are a Christian and find yourself fretting over the coming election or other events occurring in the nation, I encourage you to read (or reread) the Gospel of John.  I guarantee you will find great comfort in its words.  Even if you are not a Christ follower, I encourage you to read the Gospel of John and carefully consider its words, for it is a guide to eternity.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” –John 6:68.

* All Bible passages are NIV.

Managing Change

Changes“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

 

(Note: All Bible quotes are NIV.)

Most people naturally resist change. Some scientists have theorized this is caused by an innate survival response programmed into human beings at the genetic level. Businesses desiring to grow and remain competitive are often forced to change or face failure.   Change Management is a business discipline used to bring about organizational change while minimizing the impact on the affected individuals (employees, suppliers,  customers etc.).  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  She has written about the 10 common reasons people resist business change. They are:

  1. Loss of Control – Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.
  2. Excess Uncertainty – If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.
  3. Surprise, Surprise – Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.
  4. Everything Seems Different – Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit.
  5. Loss of Face (dignity) – By definition, change is a departure from the past.
  6. Concerns About Competence – Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.
  7. More Work – Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.
  8. Ripple Effects – Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.
  9. Past Resentment – The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight.
  10. Real Threats – Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.

Fortunately, the business world has amassed a substantial body of knowledge describing effective methods for managing organizational change. Change Management consulting is a lucrative field of business and can be very effective in ushering in change.   

The seasons of our lives are full of changes as well. People resist life changes for many of the same reasons they resist business change. Human lives are in a constant state of flux. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes this quite poetically:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

 a time for war and a time for peace.  

Life changes come in two overarching categories. The first encompasses personal lifestyle changes one might need to make, like losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, quitting tobacco, eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, spending more time with family, reducing social media time and the like. These changes often never come about because they usually involve great individual effort, sacrifice and self-discipline. When one accomplishes such a change, it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in their life.

The second category of life changes consists of unplanned/unexpected events that life seems to drop on one’s head. Each morning one awakes never knowing what the day might bring—a serious accident, grim medical diagnosis, stroke, heart attack or other life changing event might occur. This category also includes external influences such as political upheaval and societal changes. Unfortunately, the body of knowledge for managing this sort of change is very broad, continually evolving and is riddled with disagreements between the so-called “experts.”  Several fields of study offer solutions for managing the changes of life. These include psychology, psychiatry, sociology and their related disciplines.  

Fortunately, for believers there is a body of knowledge for managing life changes that is totally reliable, one-hundred percent accurate, and immutable. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible. Biblical truth never changes because God never changes. Jesus Christ is a solid rock, an unalterable holy alter upon which we may lay all our hopes and fears.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Believers have no reason to fear changes in their circumstances.  Scripture assures of this:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8   

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

As children of God, believers have no reason be afraid of life changes. Oswald Chambers said it like this, “If your faith is in experiences, anything that happens is likely to upset that faith. But nothing can ever change God or the reality of redemption. Base your faith on that, and you are as eternally secure as God Himself. Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again.” 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Psalm 40:4

Rooted in the Word

Rooted in Christ

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2: 6-7

My wife and I lived near the Chesapeake Bay in the Hampton Roads area of southern Virginia for over seven years.  During our time there the region was struck by four hurricanes and a tropical storm.  All the storms caused great destruction of trees, as most trees in the area are evergreens, including many pine trees which have extremely soft wood.  Pine trees also tend to have shallow roots that run outwards near the surface of the soil.  We frequently saw massive pines that had snapped clean in two in the middle of the main trunk or ones that were blown down fully intact, because the roots were not deep enough to withstand the high wind.

Pine Tree Damage

We presently live in South Dakota, in the upper Great Plains.  To say it’s windy here would be a gross understatement. The average wind speed in our region is around 12 mph.  Days with 25-35 mph gusts are not uncommon. On the windiest days in the late spring and summer it’s fascinating to watch the hardwood trees in our backyard swaying to and fro in a mesmerizing dance. Sometimes they appear ready to break in two, but they always stand up straight whenever a gust subsides.  One of the reasons hardwoods are strong is that, unlike evergreens, they have deep roots, an invisible support network that provides a firm foundation.  

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord  Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.  –From the hymn “How Firm a Foundation”

Windblown trees are a wonderful metaphor for Christians. Everybody is shaken to and fro by fear and emotions at one time or another, but not all respond in the same way.  Some are like softwoods with weak, shallow roots and some are like hardwoods, with strong, deep roots. Christians need to cultivate strong roots in Jesus.  Each of us can grow and strengthen our roots through the Word of God.

The first chapter of the book of Genesis begins with the familiar words, “In the beginning,” painting an image of two forms of the triune God, the Father and the Holy Spirit:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  –Genesis 1: 1-2

Chapter 1 of the Gospel of John echoes the opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning…”, and describes the preincarnate Jesus as “the Word of God,” who was there with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit at the creation.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.   –John 1: 1-5

During these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, are your fears and emotions tossing you to and fro?  Do you find your faith being challenged? If so, then maybe you need to strengthen your roots in the Word of.   Immerse yourself in scripture today to cast out fear and emotions.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. –1Peter 5:6-11

*All Bible quotes in this post are from the NIV.

An Unshakeable Kingdom

Peace be Still by Arnold Friberg

“Peace, be still,” by Arnold Friberg

The tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have many Americans on edge, as they struggle to understand what is causing it all. Sadly, such tragedies have become common in our country. The public and government responses to these shootings are predictable: the left calls for stricter gun control laws, while the right emphasizes the Constitutional right to bear arms and attributes the shootings to mental health problems. Unfortunately, most Americans fail to recognize the root cause of the problem. Why is this?  Perhaps it’s because we live in a country where, for many, the idea of good and evil has become an archaic concept, something associated with ancient religious superstitions.   

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council explained it like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in. 1 Peter 5:8 says, Satan “…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Those lacking a solid spiritual foundation very easily become his prey. Yes, evil is real.

Chaos often breeds isolation, which for some people means empty lives nearly devoid of human contact. Isolated and confused, they might seek meaning in their lives through narcissism—an egoistic admiration of one’s self, which is a form of idolatry. Narcissism is easily fed through social media, where one can simply manufacture a false persona in an effort to gain approval from others.

Over prolonged periods, isolated individuals can  become enveloped by darkness.  Some may seek meaning or self-purpose through infamy—mass shooters are not soon forgotten.  Mass shootings are only one symptom of the problem however. It manifests itself in many other ways, including drug and alcohol addiction, pornography addiction, child abuse, human trafficking, suicide and countless others.

To begin to fix the problems in America, we don’t need more laws or more gun rights.  We need a spiritual revival of our Judeo-Christian roots. Dr. Jack Graham, the pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX explains it like this, “All of us are involved in some kind of a spiritual battle—a warfare that’s going on increasing.  A battle that is getting hotter and hotter right now and predictably so.  In fact, the Bible tells us that in the final hours of human history that perilous times will come.  Difficult dangerous times will come.” Dangerous times are not exclusive to American Christians.  Persecution of Christians because of their faith is running rampant around the globe.

Of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the Rev. Franklin Graham wrote, “The Word of God tells us to ‘mourn with those who mourn,’ and that is what our nation is doing. We grieve the tragic and devastating loss of life in El Paso and Dayton this weekend. The number of victims of the mass shootings is much higher than the headlines reveal, because each mother, each father, each sister and brother, each wife and husband, is also a victim—a victim of the heinous and senseless evil unleashed by two murderous gunmen. Their loved ones have been stolen from them.” And “”As we mourn with these families and communities, let’s continue to sincerely lift them up in prayer before the Lord.” Despite what some politicians have said, prayer is a proper response to mass shootings.

Fortunately, Christians needn’t despair at what they see happening around them. They can be confident that God is in control of their lives, even when the world appears to be coming apart all around them. Throughout the scriptures Jesus remains as solid as a rock. We see this vividly portrayed in Mark chapter 4, when Jesus and His disciples are on a boat in the midst of a terrible storm. Jesus is asleep on a cushion when his frightened disciples wake Him, fearing they are about to perish. Jesus rises and speaks the words the simple words, “Peace, be still.”  Immediately, the wind ceases to blow and the water grows calm. His disciples then marvel that even the wind and the sea obey Him.    

The same Jesus who calmed the storm is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakeable kingdom. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” Christians need only do their best to imitate the life of Christ. God will take care of the rest.

Discipline and Discipleship

Discipline - Boot Camp summer 1975Army Boot Camp, July 1975

It was sunny and warm in Louisville, Ky. on June 28, 1975. That’s the day I boarded a bright yellow school bus at an Army recruiting station for a short journey to Fort Knox, where I was scheduled to undergo Army basic training or boot camp as it’s commonly called. Only a few weeks earlier I’d been a bright eyed college student receiving his associate degree in Munich, Germany.  My mother Phyllis and stepfather Ray were still in Germany—Ray was an Army officer and second in command of a tank brigade in Friedberg, about an hour north of Frankfurt.

I had departed Germany in early June to visit family in my home state Kentucky before attending boot camp.  The last stop was Louisville, at the home of my favorite aunt and uncle, Sarah and Carl.  At the end of that wonderful visit, it was Aunt Sarah who drove me to the induction station and hugged me goodbye as I began a nervous, one hour journey to Fort Knox.

After what seemed like hours, the bus turned into the main gate of Fort Knox. Entering the post felt very familiar, as I’d lived there during my freshman and sophomore years of high school while Ray was assigned to the Armor School. The familiarity helped quell my sense of dread that had been increasing steadily since we departed Louisville. The post was sprawling, hilly and hot. The eclectic mix of architecture ranged from a beautiful state-of-the-art hospital to drab three-story concrete barracks to the low slung, pale yellow wooden buildings dating back to World War II.

About ten minutes after entering the post, the bus turned down a side street and then swung into the parking lot of Delta Company, 13th Training Battalion, 4th Training Brigade, home of the ‘Delta Demons’. Peering out the window I could see two tough looking fellows wearing olive drab fatigues and the iconic Smoke Bear hats that identified them as drill sergeants. Their fatigues were starched stiff with creases that looked sharp enough to slice an apple. They fit like gloves. Their boots were polished to a mirror finish. Not a hair was out of place. All you needed was one look at these impressive gentlemen to know that they were pure badass!

The driver opened the bus door and we were greeted by a booming voice.  ‘Off the bus and line up.  Move it ladies’.  After a clumsy exit fumbling with our bags and bumping into each other, we managed to get into something resembling a line. The empty bus quickly pulled away, leaving us feeling isolated and helpless.  It was then that we were introduced to the two gentlemen who would fill the roles of father, mother, confessor and mentor for all of us in the coming weeks.

Staff Sergeant Hunter, the platoon sergeant, stood about five feet ten inches tall.  He was built like an NFL linebacker. Drill Sergeant Hunter was just tall enough that he could press the stiff brim of his Smoky Bear into the bridge of my nose as I stood at attention while receiving his instructions.  The assistant platoon sergeant, Sergeant Anderson, stood about five feet seven inches.  He was lean, wiry and just mean looking. They immediately commanded our attention.

These fine men, as I would learn they both were, taught us so much: military customs and courtesies; how to wear the uniform and properly groom ourselves; how to spit shine a boot; how to polish brass; how to make a bunk; how to roll our socks and underwear and store them in our lockers; how to make a barracks GI clean; how to get physically fit; how to do close order drill; how to march and sing ‘jodies’, those sometimes naughty songs marching troops sing to help them stay in step; how to fire and clean an M-16 rifle; how to fire M-60 and 50 caliber machineguns; how to fire a recoilless rifle; how to throw hand grenades; how to do fire and maneuver without shooting your buddy; how to take out a pillbox; how to use a field telephone and radio; how to give first aid; and how to doctor blisters on our feet.

But most of all, they taught us about how to be soldiers—about responsibility, self-discipline, and respect for country, Army, unit, comrades, family and ourselves.  At first we listened to them out of fear of punishment. One small misstep could lead to running laps around the compound holding your rifle above your head with two arms while yelling ‘I’m a s#!thead’ or the dreaded ‘Drop and give me fifty’, meaning pushups. Even worse, you could end up pulling ‘KP’ in the mess hall, peeling potatoes, dicing onions and mopping floors.   But there came a point in time when we listened out of a sense of respect for our drill sergeants and our fellow soldiers in the platoon.  In the end, a soldier’s sense of responsibility, respect and self-discipline becomes a normal way of life.

It’s easy to learn military discipline in Boot Camp, where you’re isolated, restrained, focused and under the watchful eye of a drill sergeant.  Sadly, developing discipline in one’s spiritual life isn’t so easy.  I often wonder why this is so.  I was the picture of discipline during my military career, yet my Christian discipline suffers. ‘Disciple’ is the root word of discipline.  A disciple is a student or follower who is trained by a teacher and subsequently spreads the teacher’s beliefs.  I had a lot of training and learning as a Christian, but have I ever really been a disciple?  I think not and I believe I’ve finally figured out why. 

In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, the late Christian scholar Dr. Dallas Willard explains that self-transformation stems, in large part, from the practice of spiritual disciplines.  He cites many disciplines, which he divides into two broad categories of ‘abstinence’ and ‘engagement’.

Under abstinence Willard includes chastity, fasting, frugality, sacrifice, secrecy, silence and solitude. These deal with our physical bodies.  Engagement includes celebration, confession, fellowship, prayer, service, study, submission and worship. These deal with our spiritual lives.  The disciplines are the means to an end; just as we practice to learn a sport, we practice the disciplines to become more Christ-like.  Willard provides many scriptural references to the disciplines in the life of Jesus and the Apostles. The abstinence disciplines focus inward and help build self-discipline and restraint; they are about habits.  The engagement disciplines look outward, helping us become servants of Christ and others; they are about building Christian character.  

Using Willard’s criteria, a quick self-analysis reveals that while I’m strong in the engagement disciplines, I have a long way to go in the abstinence disciplines before I can become a true disciple of Christ.  I have a lot of work to do, but I’m going for it.  How do you measure up? Consider leaving a reply.

 

 

 

Unemployed? Seek the Lord in Your Day of Trouble.

Prayer

In the Day of Trouble I Seek the Lord

Today millions of Americans are facing the challenges of unemployment or under employment. These can lead to fear, frustration, depression and even physical illness. However, they also present opportunities for growth.

When you’ve lost your job or find yourself in a job that is not self-sustaining, a whole-person approach is needed as you strive to improve your situation. I like to use the “Wheel of Life” to help illustrate this. The circles on the outside of the wheel represent six areas of one’s life that contribute to the whole we refer to as “self.” Neglecting any of these puts the entire wheel out of balance, leaving one struggling and feeling out of sorts.

Wheel of Life

 Wheel of Life

Family and Social Life.  A period of unemployment or underemployment opens the door to opportunities in each the six areas on the wheel of life. It is a good time to spend extra time with family, renew old connections with friends and build your social network (which will improve your chances of finding self-sustaining employment).  Don’t forget to have some fun!

Physical Conditioning. It also provides an opportunity to improve your physical condition through proper exercise, sleep and nutrition. It is a wonderful chance to shed a few pounds and look your best for your next interview..

Career and Financial.  Dedicate some of your extra time towards education. You don’t necessarily need to pick up another degree or certification. Focus on learning something that will help make you more employable. Perhaps you can focus on improving your Microsoft Office software skills. There are free training courses galore on the Internet. If you need to improve your speaking skills, you could join the local Toastmasters chapter. The possibilities are endless.

Finances.  Being unemployed or underemployed is also the perfect time to work on improving your finances. Perhaps you’ve been talking about downsizing your household.  Start by selling off things you don’t really need.  Put together a new budget, trying to reduce frivolous spending. Try keeping close track of where your money actually goes. You might be surprised at how most of it gets spent.

Mental.  Take time to relax and stretch your mind.  Put down your phone, turn off the computer and TV, and pick up a challenging book that you’ve always wanted to read.  Spend some time with people who challenge your way of thinking. Visit an art gallery or museum that would not normally be of interest to you.

(Read Psalm 77: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2077&version=ESV)

Spiritual.  Lastly, Psalm 77 provides a simple, yet perfect framework for approaching the spiritual realm when you’re unemployed or under employed. When things aren’t going your way, it’s comforting to be reminded God has not and will not abandon you. The Psalmist finds comfort in reflecting on how God helped his people in the past. We should follow his example.

Pray fervently—then pray again. The Psalmist prayed throughout the entire night. He felt abandoned by God. He spoke what was on his mind. We can be totally honest and open with God, telling him about our feelings, our fears, our doubts and our desires. We can ask him any question. Because Jesus suffered every temptation we have faced and felt every emotion that we have felt, we are free to discuss our deepest thoughts and feelings with God. Through Jesus’ experiences, God the Father has firsthand experience with everything we might face in our lives (v.9-10)

“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.” ― Oswald Chambers                                              

Recall how God has blessed you in the past. The Psalmist did not simply spill his heart out to God. He thought about everything the scriptures say regarding what God has done for his people in the past. God blesses those who have faith in him (v. 11).  Too often we dwell on what God hasn’t done for us rather than being thankful for the multitude of blessings he has provided.

Focus on the future. Think positively about your situation, hopes and desires. What is God teaching you? What is His will for your life? Make a list of Biblical promises you can identify about your future? (v. 13)

Reconsider your present circumstances. Ask God to strengthen your faith as you strive to cope with unemployment. Remind yourself that you can always trust  His promises (v. 14). Share your experience with others.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,  that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   ―Hebrews 4:16

 

As you continue to search, remember to always follow the light!

The Risen Lord [by Arnold Friberg]

“The Risen Lord” by Arnold Friberg

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. –Psalm 61:1-2 (ESV)

Christmas day has passed, but many Christians around the world continue to celebrate the Christmas season through the day of Epiphany on January 6. The joy and hope of the Christ Child still shines brightly! Unfortunately, joy and hope will fade for many as the Christmas season passes and they return to their often mundane daily routines.

This can be a particularly difficult time for those who are already living with the fear, anxiety and depression that frequently accompany periods of unemployment. Fortunately, if we open our eyes and look we will see that God is present always in his Word, Holy Spirit and blessed sacraments.  

While you’re job hunting, networking, sending out resumes and filling out countless job applications, don’t forget to make some extra time to spend with God in prayer and studying the Word.

Spend time with other job seekers and pray with and for them. Take time to use your God given talents to help others in need. God knows your needs before you ask and He already has a plan for you. His plan will produce fruit in your life at the time He has appointed.

Meanwhile, don’t miss out on the joy today has to offer.  If you will only seek Him, God will give you joy with or without a job. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

It is impossible for one to know what God has in store for him or her, but rest assured that He only wants the best for us all. Christians may take comfort in the knowledge that God’s love does not depend upon our success in this world. He doesn’t look at our education, work history or awards. He loves us unconditionally. While we busy ourselves with the worries and toils of this life, He is preparing us for something bigger and more glorious than we can possibly imagine.

The Bible promises that those who make seeking the Kingdom of God their top priority in life will be blessed with everything they need in this world. While you struggle with the pain of unemployment and all of the other burdens you will bear during this life, remain close to Christ and let His light show you the pathway that He would have you follow.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So we do not lose heart, though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. –2 Corinthians 4:6, 16-18 (ESV)

Prayer: The link below leads to a website not associated with this blog.

Prayer of the Unemployed