Monthly Archives: October 2018

Trusting in God

“How can I be sure of this?” (Luke 1:18)

Zachariah asks this question of the angel Gabriel after Gabriel tells Zachariah that his prayer had been heard and that his wife, Elizabeth, will bear him a son.  Zachariah protests, “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Zachariah’s question is one all too often asked when we get a sense that the Lord wants us to do something that is challenging or hard to believe.  The more daunting the word or decision, the more inclined we are to ask the question.  Also, with the Lord’s involvement, the more likely the course of action he is asking of us will be out of the ordinary and counter to conventional wisdom.

We are looking for assurance and signs, while God is looking for us to trust him. 

While in the early years of our marriage, we had three daughters.  Then there was an eleven year gap and we had a son when my wife, Marilynn was 42.  We were thrilled and delighted in him.  Since our daughters were close in age and enjoyed close relationships growing up together, we wanted our son to have the same experience.  Therefore, we were open to having more children so that he too, would have a sibling to grow up with.

In another year Marilynn became pregnant, but the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.  Marilynn had a sense that the Lord still wanted us to have another child.  I didn’t have a strong sense one way or another, but I trusted in Marilynn’s discernment that this was God’s will for us.  He blessed us with another daughter, Emily, who was born with Down syndrome and some serious heart issues.

You might think that with this outcome, our discernment may have been faulty.  Certainly conventional wisdom in our culture thought so at the time.  But the blessings flowing from Emily’s life over the years to our family have far outweighed the burdens.  While I have written about Emily a number of times in these posts, let me just say that her inclination to love, her purity of heart and her joy have had a huge impact on every member of our family.

This past weekend my wife and all four daughters, including Emily, traveled to Kansas City where we  spent the first 10 years of our marriage for a mother/daughter reunion.  Emily who is now 32, entered into a joyous time with her sisters and mother of visiting old home sites where Marilynn grew up, where we spent our first years of marriage, and even Marilynn’s grandparents’ former farm.Kansas CIty

In Jesus’ last discourse to the disciples, knowing that he was about to suffer arrest, torture and death, and that his disciples would all be scattered, he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)  It was God’s will for Jesus to suffer the cross for our salvation.  God knew the outcome he had in mind – Jesus’ resurrection and the establishment of his church.

Like with Jesus, God knows the outcome he desires for us.  It may involve a piece of the cross, but also an eventual resurrection in our circumstances. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

 

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Knowing the Enemy

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  (Eph. 6:12)

During this period preceding Halloween, our culture seems to be fascinated with movies depicting the devil and evil forces, yet seems oblivious to the existence of the devil and the impact of spiritual forces on our personal lives.  We tend to have little knowledge of the enemy of life, and the enemy of God and God’s will for us. 

I have a good friend who spent most of his Army career in defense intelligence serving in Vietnam, Cambodia and in the preparation of Desert Storm.  I have always been fascinated by his stories of how he and his teams were able to develop and provide important intelligence to his superiors that guided our strategies in these various theaters of war.

How ironic that we wouldn’t think of going to war without knowing our enemy and his plans, but yet we don’t even acknowledge that we have an enemy of life and one who is dedicated to defeating the purpose and desire that God has for each of us! 

All are tempted by the evil one — even Jesus in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry; even Peter and the apostles at Jesus’ passion; even Paul who said, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing.” (Ro. 7:19)

I know that I have been tempted at one time or another by all of the capital sins of pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth.  Sometimes I have fallen to these sins.  Sometimes, through God’s grace and mercy, and the power of the Holy Spirit, I have resisted them.  Let me share one example.

As an attorney for an oil company, one of our responsibilities was to represent the company before state legislatures on legislation impacting our company’s operations.  As a result, we would develop and implement the lobbying strategies on the company position developed by our planning department for whatever particular legislation we were attempting to impact.

One of the employees in the planning department started to take it upon himself to critique our lobbying strategies to our management and anyone who would listen to him.  At first his criticism dealt only with one issue, and then it expanded to all issues.  He was becoming a real thorn in our side, and I found myself doing constant battle with him.

Then one day, I came across the above passage from Ephesians and I realized that my battle was not with him as a person, but with the pride that was at work in both of us.  I started to pray for him and that both of us could lay aside our pride and work in greater harmony.  After a few months, I noticed that his responses to our work were less critical.  I began to bring him more into the rationale of what we were doing and why we were doing it.  We eventually became friends instead of rival competitors.

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:27)

Anxiety and Peace

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything 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 minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7.

St. Paul is basically telling us that prayer guards our hearts and minds against anxiety. 

After returning to work following a week off for the Christmas holidays a number of years ago, I found myself facing several deadlines that all of sudden seemed impossible to meet.  That night I was unable to sleep because of my anxiety over all the pressure I was facing.

Appraisals of performance were due by the end of the week on employees reporting to me.  A speech, integrated with slides and video, for the annual kickoff meeting of our entire marketing department was also due, along with the finalization of our litigation budget for outside counsel.  On top of these things was the general negative fallout from my having declined to take a new assignment a few months earlier that had been proposed by our management.

I shared my anxiety with a small group of Christian men with whom I met every Tuesday evening.  They encouraged me and prayed with me for peace and to determine how I could practically deal with each task.  By week’s end all but one of the appraisals were completed.  The speech was finished and our staff was able to do most of the work on the litigation budget.

In looking back it is easy to see that I had lost my peace because I had not taken my anxiety to the Lord.  I started worrying and condemning myself for letting things slide.  I was not guarding my heart and mind with prayer to Jesus as St. Paul suggests.   

Jesus encouraged us not to worry but to seek his kingdom and righteousness first.  He said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”  (Mt. 6: 33-34)  He told Martha when she complained that her sister was listening to him instead of helping her with the preparations, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

The boundary between peace and anxiety is a thin line and easy to cross, but we have Jesus as a sentinel to guard our minds and hearts if we choose to call on him. 

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)