Monthly Archives: January 2017

The design of chaos

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confusion

When we lived in England I witnessed a scene of purposeful chaos.

It took place in a convenience store and was unsettling to say the least.

We had stopped to fill up on petrol and grab some beverages before heading out for a day of soaking up and reveling in the local history.

My husband was filling the tank and I went in to buy some drinks and pay for our gas when suddenly a large group of loud and very excited people pulled up between the store and the pumps in 3 or 4 tall vans – all with no windows.

Guessing, I’d say there were 30-40 men and women who poured out of the vehicles, into the store, all speaking a language I couldn’t understand.  They pushed and shoved each other, and those of us in the store. There were about 8 of them who stood at the counter shouting at the clerk  – it seemed like it was over candy bars.  The rest bullied their way through every aisle, shouting and demanding that people get out of the way while the shouting continued at the counter.  And then, as suddenly as they had arrived, they took off.  It was as if a switch was flipped and in unison they rushed out of the doors, into the vans, and sped out of the parking lot.

Dumbstruck, those of us who had been in the store stood in open-mouthed shock at what had just occurred.  The silence was interrupted when my husband, who had no idea of what had taken place inside, came in to see what was taking me so long.  I said, “Did you SEE THAT?!?”  Because the vans had blocked any line of vision into the store, he hadn’t seen much of anything except that the vans were there, and then they were gone.

I was rattled, but I couldn’t even really explain why.  In probably what was less than 10 minutes a whirlwind had just occurred in our midst but none of us could think of a single word to describe what had actually transpired.  It was just a bunch of people in a convenience store.  So what if they were loud and rude?  Nothing really happened, right?

Wrong.

We found out later that the convenience store had actually been robbed – not at the cashier, but from the shelves.

The chaos that ensued in those moments was designed to distract us from what was actually happening all over the store.  It was confusing.  It was unsettling.  It was scary!  And it was meant to be so.

The thing that struck me was how successful the chaos was in keeping all of us from seeing what was really going on.  We were in the midst of the crime scene and we didn’t recognize that a crime was taking place!

I’m telling you this story because I think that the evil one is using the same tactic right now, fairly successfully against God’s people.  Things are chaotic right now, and it’s so easy to focus on the chaos and miss what is actually taking place in front of us.

The issues are important – racial tensions, immigration laws, economic policies – I get it.  They affect real human beings and I’m not trying to diminish the significance of the impact of what people in power do.

But let us remember that, for those of us who follow Jesus, we serve the King of Kings who holds the nations (and their leaders) in his hands and who does with them as he pleases.  Let us remember, that he is redeeming for himself a people – from every tribe and tongue and nation – to enjoy his fellowship forever.

I am finding that the anxiety that the chaos is designed to produce is effectively turned into peace and joy by lifting my gaze to the One who holds the whole world in his hands.

NONE OF THIS is out of his control or outside of his will for us.  EVERY EVENT AND CIRCUMSTANCE we are experiencing is both for our good and for his glory.  ALL OF THIS – is for good purposes.

Do not let the chaos of these days distract you from what is really happening!

As we each seek to be good citizens of the lands of our birth, let us more fervently, more ardently, more rigorously seek to be good citizens of the Kingdom in which our true citizenship lies forevermore.

Let us refrain from adding to the din.  Let us not allow the chaos of these days distract us from the purposes God has called us to.  Let’s not be sidelined from following hard after him and telling others what great things the Lord has done for us.  Do not let the turmoil of kingdoms that will be blown away as dust is from the scales, trouble you in the slightest, but keep your hearts and minds stayed on the solid Rock – Christ Jesus.

Remember to Whom you have been called.  Remember to Whom you belong.  Remember the promises of true and lasting peace and justice which have been given to us by the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe.

Remember and don’t forget, for we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

Satan may love to stir up chaos that is designed to distract, confuse, and even frighten us, but remember, God delights in taking chaos and making order out of it.

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I’ve already failed…

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I’ve already failed…

I was so excited when it came!  A gift to myself – it’s truly beautiful.  I couldn’t wait to take it out of the wrapper and finger the crisp pages of my new Bible.  Here I am – “way old” as my grandson describes me – and this was the first time I had picked out my own Bible.  So really, I was very excited when it finally came.

I looked at the beautiful cover and the perfect pages and wide margins in it  – just calling me to invest in the treasures that are there.

But I have only written in it twice since then.  And I’ve only read it to find other things – not to simply spend time with my Maker.

It’s January 10th of the New Year, which isn’t very many days into the New Year… But I’ve already failed at my reading plan.

I’ve been reading blog posts about how important a Bible reading plan is – how God sovereignly works through your reading plan and why I should keep at it even when I don’t want to keep at it… But there is this heavy weight of guilt and obligation that can clang through the lines of those blog posts, isn’t there?

So I’m not here to tell you that you should have a plan to read your Bible.

I’m here to give you reasons that you’ll want to read have one.

  1. Your Bible is a love-letter from your Dad.   I first realized this when I was about 40 years old.  I really wish I had realized this earlier in my life.  It revolutionized how I looked at the pages of Scripture.  Perhaps this realization hit me hard because the failings of my own dad, but I’ve talked to people who have had great dads and they are moved by this as well.  The Almighty Creator of the Universe has cared enough about you to tell you about himself and why you are here. Don’t you want to hear him tell your story?
  2. There is an understandable story line… if you know the story.  When I’m teaching students how to articulate and defend their faith, I start the year off with this news:  The overarching story of the Bible is this – that God has created and redeemed a people to Himself.  They rarely have a clue what I’m talking about in September.  I have to repeat this many times through the year and have to point to it again and again through our lessons, but usually around January or so, some of them start to get it.  “Wait, Mrs. Chapman – this is what you meant!”  Yes, child, now you see.  God didn’t need anything or any one.  He was enjoying sweet and perfect fellowship already.  But He was so full and overflowing with love and generosity that he chose to create mankind so that we could participate in the beautiful communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, too.  And He has woven the story in such a way that He has permanently secured the safety of his beloved children by including sin and rescue and all-powerful safe-keeping from all that would work against us.  Everything in Scripture is an explanation of how and why and who and when and where God has gone about creating and redeeming His people for His glory and for our good.  
  3.  We can know this good Father – intimately.  When my circumstances are hard I feel far away from God.  I know that’s pretty normal – but I also know that it’s not good.   I need to be reminded that I am loved.  I want to know that there is a purpose in all of this harsh reality and that I am not being subject to the whims of “fate.”  I know that isn’t true, but I have to struggle hard not to believe it.  When I separate myself from my maker, the silence that I allow to creep in is menacing.  Once it becomes menacing, it’s not long before it becomes crushing.  But this is something I am doing to myself!  All I have to do is browse the Psalms to see that David ran to God when his heart was broken, not away from Him.  I want my heart to stop aching.  The only way I have found for that to happen is being reminded of the infinitely good purposes of God.  Joseph, Job, David, Isaiah, and so many more remind me that my circumstances and gut-wrenching sadnesses are not unique to me and are nothing new.  God has seen all of this before.  He doesn’t just get His people through the horrors that sin produces, battered and scarred to go on another day.  He uses every shred of every second for good purposes that far, far outweigh their cost.  One day, we will say, “Huh?  What sadness?  Oh, yeah – I’d completely forgotten about that!”  It will be like the trash in the dump – nothing to even consider.  But I can’t remember that if I’m not being reminded of who God is.  I need to know Him.
  4.  He prepares us for what lies ahead.  I like the verses that talk about “living in peace with all men” and all things being done “decently and in order.”  I mean – I like the thrill of adventure and all, as long as it’s all fun and good.  But my life just isn’t like that.   So try as I may to have things run smoothly, they don’t.  They get screwed up and wonky, and downright nasty and ugly.  Unforeseen circumstances, unmet expectations, unrealistic notions, and hey, let’s just call a spade a spade – selfishness, greed, angry demands, and short tempers can mess with the whole “decently and in order” thing… often before 7:30am!  How can we live in peace with all men if we can’t even live in peace in our own minds?!  I need instructions.  Carefully worded, re-readable, understandable instructions for how to handle the things I know will come along.  So do you.  Thankfully, God has been kind in this regard.  There are lots of places to start but may I suggest First and Second Corinthians?  Those people were messed up…. like us.
  5.  Like begets like.  That’s a quaint way of saying, once you start it’s easier to keep going.  Reading and understanding produce more reading and understanding.  If you want to know God better, understand how to live a life that honors him better, and not struggle with the same old garbage that keeps dogging you year after year – there is one simple solution.  Read God’s instruction manual and pray for understanding.  He will help you keep reading and increase your understanding again and again.  When I was about 21 or 22 years old I realized that I wasn’t being very purposeful in how I read the Bible.  I started out plowing through Genesis but the brakes of overwhelming confusion seized up when I hit Leviticus.  I remember thinking, “WHAT is with all these rules and all of this blood?!?”  Let’s just say it didn’t go well after that. After a long hiatus, I determined I could spare 10 minutes per day.  That was my limit or I knew I would get frustrated and just quit again.  But soon, my 10-minutes per day of gritted-teeth determination melted into a desire to know and understand. It’s a little amusing to me now that reading the Bible 10 minutes a day seemed like such a chore – but the memory of it is clear enough to have compassion for anyone who is struggling.  Give yourself the gift of 10 minutes a day.  You’ll soon be craving more.
  6. It’s a balm for our souls.  I’ve hinted at this above, but I don’t want anyone to miss the point.  Reading Scripture helps!  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being selfish in a way that looks to God to help!  Reading the Bible gives me perspective on the details that sometimes try to swallow me up.  It lifts my gaze to One who is higher than I.  It reminds me who I am and Whose I am.  Reading my love letter from my Dad reminds me that I have one, and that He’s a good, good father.  He reminds me that I can run to Him and cry or even rail and that he will always be there and still love me.  Reading my Bible helps me live better – love better.  And probably, most importantly, keeps me worshipping the One who loves me most.

So, don’t feel guilted into developing the discipline of daily reading.  Start again today because you’re shamelessly looking for God to bless you.  Look forward to all the benefits and fulfilled promises of knowing and serving the God who made you and takes care of you.  

Below are some sites for plans that are really helpful.  Some love the 1-year plans – I don’t.  I like the 3- or 5- year plans.  I’m a slow reader and I like the freedom of being able to park somewhere for a while if I want to.  But if I have no plan I can get lazy and have trouble getting “un” parked.  Hopefully, these will help you, too.

Lots of plans to choose from here

Design your own plan here

Get your kids in on the reading here
How do you keep yourself on track?  Was this post helpful to you?  Leave a comment below!

Tempted to despair…

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Tempted to despair…

I suppose it is pretty natural to have times when each of us is tempted to despair.  Life’s trial hurt – badly.  Sometimes the pain is so bad that we begin to lose sight of any way out of it.  We begin to wish that we might die rather than go on living – enduring – what we are facing.  

 

I have certainly felt that way, and I’ve talked with enough other people who have experienced real pain to know that I’m not alone.  In fact, I think it’s a fairly normal human experience to have at least a few of these dark valleys during our lifetimes, if not many more.

 

But what do we do when the circumstances of life seem to press in so hard that our chests ache with the heaviness of it all and there is not even a pin-point of light that gives us hope that it will soon be over?

 

We need the LIGHT of truth as desperately as we’ve ever needed it in those times, and yet, if you’re like the countless others I’ve talked with about these tunnels of darkness reading your Bible, praying, or even listening to sermons is more than your numbed mind can manage.

 

How do we cling to the things we know to be true when nothing about our experience helps us believe them?

 

I’ve been in such a time.  Recently.  As in, right now.  But I’ve been in times like this before, too.  I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’d thought I’d share them.  When my eyes are shrouded by darkness I need help to know that the light is there even though it is hidden from me.   Sometimes a friend is able to remind me of what I already know is true, and that is really and truly wonderful when it happens.  But friends are busy with their own lives and the fight against this darkness is a minute-by-minute struggle.  What then?  How do we get through in a way that glorifies God and doesn’t give in to the lies of the evil one?

 

Below is a document I have begun for myself.  It’s still a work in progress – I keep adding to it.  It is a call from the truths of scripture to endure – knowing that even this trial is a gift from a loving heavenly Father who wants me to know him to the depths as well as to the heights.

 

I hope it helps you – or someone you know who is struggling.  I’d love to hear what you might add.

 

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When I am tempted to despair, in an effort to take every thought captive to the mind of Christ, be anxious for nothing, be thankful in all circumstances, and rejoice always I will:

 

    1. Remember whose I am:
      1. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  Therefore, glorify God with your body.”  I Cor 6:19-20
      2. “Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider him that endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you will not grow weary or fainthearted.”  Hebrews 12:2-3
    2. Remember who I am:
      1. “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the ones he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’”  Heb 12:5-6
    3. Remember how I am loved:
      1. “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Rom 5:8
      2. “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  1 John 1:3
      3. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  John 14:2-3
    4. Remember that I am valued:
      1. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; for you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31
    5. Remember that I am not alone:
      1. “It is the LORD who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Deut 31:8
    6. Remember the faithfulness of God:
      1. “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”  Ps 40:1-2
    7. Expect Him to be faithful again:
      1. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”  Ps 27:13-14
    8. Ask for wisdom and clarity:
      1. “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God and He will give it generously to all without reproach.”  James 1:5
      2. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”  Ps 119:105
    9. Remember my blessings and how I enjoy them:
      1. “…what do you have that you have not received?…” 1 Cor 4:7
      2. “O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  His love endures forever.” Ps 118:1
      3. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to all mankind.  For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things…. Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”  Psalm 107:8-9, 43
    10. Remember that this is normal for the believer:
      1. “We are experiencing trouble on every side but are not crushed; we are perplexed but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might also be visible in our body.”  2 Cor 4:8-9
    11. Remember the lessons I have learned:

 

  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Rom 8:28

 

    1. “That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that suprasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within, us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”  Eph 3:16-21
  1. Praise God for His goodness and mercy:
    1. “For you are my hope, Lord God, my security since I was young.  I depended on you since birth, when you brought me from my mother’s womb. I praise you continuously.”  Ps 71:5-6
  2. Ask God to help me:
    1. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Matt 7:7
    2. “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16
  3. And after I have done all of this, I will fasten on the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for my feet put on the readiness of the gospel of peace.  I will take up the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, I will hold tightly the sword of the Spirit and pray in the Spirit.  And after all of this, I will stand firm.  And when the time is right, I will do the next thing that God has set before me to do in the race that he has set me on, knowing that his good and perfect will is neither to be trifled with nor railed against.  God help me.

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Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

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wolves-and-sheep

The Bible doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about wolves – or more precisely, people who are described as wolves.

 

Zephaniah and Ezekiel both describe Israel in her stubborn, defiant rebellion as being like wolves who devour and leave nothing behind.

 

Isaiah describes them as inhabiting the desolate places with jackals and hyenas.

 

Jesus told his disciples to be on guard because he was sending his disciples out like lambs among wolves – and we all know what happens to little lambs in the clenching jaws of wolves.

 

The people who are wolves in our lives have voracious appetites to destroy.  They don’t just want to take us out of commission.  Their desire is not to make us simply limp, or waver, or even just to shut us up.  They want to take us out completely.

 

And the first thing that happens with every wolf attack is that he (or she) bounds into and scatters the flock seeking out the target and going for blood.

 

Such a lovely picture, eh?

 

So why would I be thinking about wolves on New Year’s Day?

 

Because they’re everywhere, and if Jesus thought it was important to warn his disciples against them, then it must be important to remind every generation about them, too.

 

Most of us are pretty naturally on the lookout for the wolves “out there.”  We are on guard against the atheist aunty to loves to come to family gatherings and openly mock our faith.  We pray for wisdom and discernment in dealing with the militant co-worker who wants to goad us into a religious argument just to try to make us look like the racist-homophobic-intolerant-judgmental-bigot he’s already declared all believers to be.  We are even on guard against the Hollywood machine that wants to pound your faith into the ground with production after production of buffoonish portrayals of weak-minded “Christians” who are idiotic in their approach to…everything.

 

Those things are real, and we need to guard against them, but I don’t really think they are the wolves in our lives.  Those are the things meant to embarrass, insult, and maybe even injure – but they don’t destroy.  If anything, they (hopefully!) sharpen our defense of the hope that is within us and motivate us to live above the fray in a manner worthy of our callings – worthy of the Name by whic we are called.  “Christians” mean we belong to Jesus the Christ after all.

 

But wolves are much more dangerous than any of these things.  Wolves are malicious, calculating, and cruel.

 

Wolves destroy marriages, friendships, mother-child bonds. Wolves split churches and denominations. Wolves tear down and never build up.  Wolves target godly reputations, fruitful ministries, and long records of good works to twist and distort them by making them appear prideful or weak or wanton.  Wolves target the good and want to rip it to shreds.  

 

We’ve all seen it happen and so we might be duped into thinking that we would quickly recognize when a wolf has crept into our sheepfold, but we don’t.

 

There is another passage that is chilling when you know how brutal wolves can be.

 

Matthew 7:15 states, “Beware the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

 

They’re in the sheep pen folks.  They look like sheep and sound like sheep.  They quote Scripture and tell testimonies and teach your Sunday School classes.  They are not the cartoonish wolf with a sheepskin badly slung over it’s back with wolf claws and jaws sticking out so you can immediately sound the alarm bells and put everyone on high alert.  They’re good at looking like sheep.

 

In fact, they’re so good at it that Jesus then gives us instruction for how to recognize them – he says, “you will recognize them by their fruits.”  Thorn bushes don’t grow grapes and thistles don’t grow figs.  And ultimately, though they might fake it for a good long while, wolves don’t grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, or self-control.  Only the Holy Spirit can produce that kind of fruit.  Wolves seek to destroy all that.

 

The remainder of Matthew 7 describes other ways that we will be able to recognize those wolves who pretend to be sheep – they will produce diseased fruit, they will do many things, “in Jesus’ name,” and they will be fools who build on shifting foundations.

 

It is often very, very difficult to recognize a wolf.  It is especially difficult because each and every one of us can have wolf-like fangs of sinfulness that we bear if we feel threatened or claws that take swipes at our fellow sheep.  Knowing the difference between a sheep behaving badly and a true wolf is exceedingly difficult, but Jesus told us to beware of them so it must also be true that he will give us the wise discernment we need to learn to do tell the difference.

 

In recent years I’ve had my spiritual eyes opened a bit to this and have begun to learn what it means to “beware the wolves among you.”  A few patterns have emerged, and in my observations, it has been particularly helpful to note the stark contrast between wolves and shepherds.  Jesus, our ultimate Good Shepherd, is also our ultimate standard.  Of course, no earthly shepherd is as all-Good as Jesus, but in general terms, the shepherds among us demonstrate some characteristics that are in notable opposition to those of wolves.  Comparing the truly good with the truly evil makes the differences easier to see and recognize.

 

So here are ten comparisons that have been particularly helpful to me:

 

  1. Wolves tend to themselves – Shepherds tend to the flock.  
  2. Wolves use people for their own purposes – Shepherds use themselves up for the good of others.
  3. Wolves make much of their willingness to stand against evil – Shepherds make much of God and how He enables them to stand against it, especially through their weakness.
  4. Wolves like to keep things secret and in the dark – Shepherds know that the light of truth clears away the darkness.
  5. Wolves call goodness, truth, and beauty into question – Shepherds praise these things.
  6. Wolves impugn motives without knowing enough – Shepherds are slow to judge motives, knowing that they usually don’t know enough.
  7. Wolves say harsh things to cut down and destroy – Shepherds say hard things in order to build up and restore.
  8. Wolves seek attention, praise, and status even at the cost of others – Shepherds deflect attention, praise, and status especially to bless others.
  9. Wolves skillfully gossip, malign, and covertly discuss the situations of others – Shepherds hold confidences even at great cost to themselves.
  10. Wolves drive people apart – Shepherds draw people together.

 

Again, any one of us can display wolf-like sinfulness.  But these wolf-characteristics cannot be generally true of a sheep.  The two cannot co-exist in one person.  In short, Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

 

Near the end of Matthew 7 Jesus says that the wise man will be able to withstand the storms and the floods and the wind that seek to destroy because his foundation is Jesus – the rock.  It doesn’t take a theologian to figure out that the wolves he spoke of in the previous verses might be some of the storms and floods and wind.

 

As this new year emerges it presents us with untold billions of things to be talking to God about.  One major theme in all of these is the increased persecution of the church around the world.  Those persecutions could take the form of mass executions, imprisonments, or torture.  Or it could come walking into our fellowships – our sacred families of believers – and sit down among us and eat with us and pray with us and then seek to devour and utterly destroy everything good it can sink its greedy jaws into.
Beware the wolves among us, but don’t fear them.  Because the Good Shepherd continues to care for his sheep and has already laid down his life for them!  Ultimately, we can rest in the knowledge that He will deal justly with the wolves even as He gathers His sheep to Himself.