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Archive for August, 2012

“Think of ways to encourage on another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of His coming back is drawing near (Hebrews 1o:24,25).”

I don’t know what prompted me to do it: seek advice that is. I am a typical male. I hate to stop and ask for directions.

It could have been the Corp of Cadets at the university in my town. With school back in session, the campus is full of these young men and women.

The other day I passed some of them at an exercise station, the kind with balance beams and wooden bars. As I walked by these students,  about 10 of them were in a circle. They had their arms around each other and were yelling some kind of chant, moving their bodies up and down in unison.

I got the point of the cheer. It was designed to develop and show their comaraderie and unity.

I chose to see some counsel because of a family matter that couldn’t get resolved. It concerned a path one of my kids wanted to take.

So about three days ago I got the idea to send some Emails around to some men I trust. One was a mentor of mine. Another was a high school principal.  The other Emails went to my pastor and an elder at my church in charge of the high school group my child is a part of.

Within a couple of hours these fellows had all responded. What impressed me also was the consistency of their advice.  Although their suggestions differed somewhat, their comments were more like shades of the same color.

Their counsel tended to agree with my wife’s view of things, even though I had not brought her ideas up specifically in my request for advice. While I agreed with my spouse generally, these men gave me some specifics that helped sway my view toward hers.

As we met with child and discussed the pertinent issue, I spoke out the written suggestions of my counselors. With input from my wife and kid, I made a decision.

All seem settled, that is until I heard my wife and child heatedly discussing the issue again in another room a few minute after our discussion. So much for my effective leadership!

I was quite flustered and basically just delegated the whole thing to my wife to solve. (Men: I wouldn’t recommend this as a conflict resolution strategy.)

During the last three days since there has been an edge of contention in my household.  The argument finally came to a head this morning as I was trying to sleep in. (It’s Saturday.)

Again my wife and child were having a loud discussion. Forget trying to sleep.

I came upstairs and got involved in the battle. I wasn’t much help. Indeed, in my pre-coffee state I just added fuel to the fire.

Finally, some thing occurred to me.  It became clear as day that my wife’s spirit was just flat out against the whole approach I was taking. Even though I was trying to be conciliatory and my wife was willing to compromise, it was clear that no matter how I framed the issue, she was not comfortable with how things were going.

It was after comprehending how she was feeling, I made a decision that from my perspective was completely in line with with what was in her heart. What was interesting to me was how, within the next hour or so, I had this complete sense of peace about me. In addition, my wife had the same spirit.

We were both in unity. We both were positive we were making the right decision regarding our child.

None of this would have happened if I had not chosen to ask advice from some other guys. Their thoughts acted as a catalyst to bring my thinking around to that of my wife. It took three days, but at least I finally was open minded and made the decision that seemed to be the best one.

The wise man of Proverbs tells us that healthy counsel is very valuable:

Timely advice is lovely,  like golden apples in a silver basket. To one who listens, valid criticism  is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry.  Trustworthy messengers refresh like snow in summer.  They revive the spirit of their employer. (Proverbs 25:11-13).

This same wise man writes that involving my wife in the decision making was a smart thing to do to:

 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11)

This sage closes this  thought by reiterating how effective it is in a conflict to not be a loner.

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

My adult son and I have been watching the Little League World Series. I am intrigued by how, whenever there is a home run, the entire  team of the boy who hit it greets him at home place and enthusiastically celebrates.

To me. the peace my wife and I gained, a rlesult of a decision borne from our teamwork, was to me a home run. And it was a sign to me that our success was a sign  of God’s pleasure.

He was at home plate jumping up and down with us. If those counselor friends of mine had been here, they would have been patting us on the back, too.

It’s this kind of fellowship I ought to be engaging in every day.  In addition, in the times we live in, and with the difficult contests of life sure to be ahead, it’s essential to be a part of  a community of saints like this.

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“So do not fear, for I am with you;  do not be dismayed, for I am your God.I will strengthen you and help you;  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).”

My oldest son and I have both gotten into a reality show called “Stars Earn Stripes”. The premise of the show is that male and female celebrities, through feats of dare and do, make money for charities  which benefit those who serve or have served in the military.

Each star is paired with a real soldier who mentors them. These men are the real deal. They are decorated snipers and members of special forces.

As part of the show, the authentic servicemen put their celebs through tough training. They teach them how to fire a weapon, stay afloat with a huge amount of gear on, and safely perform acrobatic-type deeds.

After this period of training, the teachers and their celeb students go off on a difficult mission. The whole scenario is definitely meant for the testosterone set, as there is plenty of shooting and a lot of explosions.

When the stars achieve a favorable outcome, they are awarded “stripes”. This earns them money for their designated charity.

Failure in the main mission means relegation to a “shootoff” between another competitor.  If the star loses, he is eliminated from the show.

In one episode, a male star is troubled by the prospect of having to jump out of a helicopter high in the air. He is to only be secured by a tether. His destination is a rooftop, where he is to land.  After touching down, he is to rappel down a sheer wall.

This man is not the macho type, and in fact it is not clear why he is even a celebrity. He is one of those people who is “famous for being famous”.  When he is shown, the subtitle on the TV screen notes that he is an “entertainer.”

However, he has proved his mettle to date. In a previous show  his female celeb partner, a wrestling diva, tells an interviewer that this man is a weak link. Yet, he comes through with flying colors.

Now, as he looks at this week’s task, he is scared to death. He walks with his trainer, telling him his doubts. He is torn because not only is what he is being asked to do is unsafe, but because he does not want to let down his comrades and the charity he is seeking to benefit.

Finally, his team jumps on the helicopter. At the moment of truth, this star jumps into the air, lands on the building, and rappels down it. He successfully completes the entire treacherous mission and stays in the competition.

Afterwards, his mentor and the Army general in charge of the show commend him. In their lauds,  they tell the star that his ability to face down his fears and still accomplish the task he was given is the definition of true courage.

I could relate well to this celebrity’s predicament.   These days I too am facing the prospect of taking on a job I am not temperamentally suited for.

Furthermore, I know it will be a test every single day.  One of my close friends, when I told him of this job, said to me,”If you take it, bring a gun.”

When I think of myself in the day-to-day situations involved in carrying it out,  I think of all the things that could go wrong. I become fearful.

Yet, I don’t have much choice at the moment. Like this star, I have people depending on me to overcome my fears and move on to success.

The longer I live the Christian life, the more I understand that it is made up of one trial after another similar to those portrayed on “Stars Earn Stripes”.  However, I am learning that as  I encounter these difficulties, I gain insight into the thoughts of the Scriptures, which tell us to rejoice in our trials.

The Bible tells us that to successfully negotiate our tests, we need to exercise single-minded trust in God. As the celebrities put their safety into the hands of their expert soldier mentors on “Stars Earn Stripes”, we are to put our faith in the God of all wisdom who is capable of bringing us through (James 1:2-6).

In the past I have seen trials as something just to endure so I can move on to greener pastures. My mental image of them is like that conjured up by William Shakespeare in “MacBeth”.

“Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!”

However, I no longer view them as annoyances (or worse) which get in the way of what I want in life. I now see them as the essence of life itself.  I have learned that life in God is indeed to be a daily trial of  faith.

The reason I can hold this perspective now is not because I am deluded or insane. Nor is my view due to some special talents in my possession.

My slant on trials is based on my growth in comprehending the nature of the God I serve.  I believe now that He puts these potentially vexing circumstances in my path so He can show Himself faithful in delivering me through them.

God has a plan for my life that concerns me doing good and glorifying Him. This course doesn’t involve me sitting on my  duff and sipping Dr. Peppers as I watch others participate in combat. The path God has set for me includes  meaningful tasks that accomplish His purposes and give light to others as to who He really is.

Unfortunately, somebody else has a plan for me, too.  This person is known as Satan.

AKA the devil, he intends to have me wallow in my fears to the point where I choose not to participate in God’s purposes for me. Minimally, Satan works so that I  procrastinate in carrying out God’s plan and hide in my foxhole.

L.B. Cowman’s  devotional “Streams in the Desert” notes how God used Paul’s life as an example of a person who endured great suffering, but who refused to be defeated.  In fact,  Cowman reveals that such incidents as the apostle’s  shipwreck were used by God to glorify Himself and shed light on His nature.

Cowman writes of God’s process in trials:

It is a common misconception that the Christian’s walk of faith is strewn with flowers and when God intervenes in lives of His people He does so in such a wonderful way as to always lift us out of our difficult surroundings. In actual fact, however, the real experience is quite the opposite.  And the message of the Bible is one of alternating trials and triumphs in the lives of a “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), everyone from Abel to the last martyr.

Indeed, in God’s scheme of things He uses trials to give us the big time rush of exulting in victory with Him.  He involves us in these difficulties out of his love for us! Amazing.

Having this knowledge in my service manual I know will help me to overcome my fears as I move into my daily missions (i.e., trials).

 

When I am fearful, I must remember the words of the greatest English bard, Mr. Shakespeare:

“Our doubts are traitors, 
and make us lose the good we oft might win, 
by fearing to attempt.”  

Further, I must definitely keep in mind his words as he attests to God’s heart in giving me my trials:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.” 
― William ShakespeareHamlet

 

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“Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.  Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation,  and make me willing to obey you (Psalm 51:10-12).”

There is a trail that runs between  my town and the other major city in my area that I have been wanting to hike. As the weather this week is unseasonably cool and overcast, I thought that today would be as good a time as any.

I was even more convinced I needed to go on this walk last night. I read of a man who felt very cold in his spirit and walked back and forth for three hours dealing with it.

I did not have a very good day yesterday. It didn’t get any better  this morning.

I had not been out of bed long when our power went out. I was cranky and irritable, and it spilled out in how I treated my family. Come hell or high water, I knew I needed to get out on that trail and look under the hood.

The Hucklberry Trail  begins at a shopping mall and ends six miles later at the public library in my town.  It meanders along railroad tracks, rural roads and streams.

The trail runs through a forest. As the hiker gets closer to my  town, it runs by cornfields and pasture land. The vista becomes quite wide and the Blue Ridge Mountains come into view.

Eventually, the trail curves and goes under the bypass and onto the campus of the local university. It continues by the football stadium, which houses the local idol worshipped here on Saturday afternoons. I am only half joking : ).

As I began my walk, I begin to search my spirit for muck. I asked God to reveal it.

I have been particularly frustrated by my current unemployment. I can’t seem to find a job good enough to fit my skill set and support my family.

I recently turned down a job offer in Asia and other opportunities elsewere in the States because I felt like God had led me to return from my overseas post and stay put where my family lives.

I determined before I left this overseas assignment that I am needed at home, and my own walk with Him would benefit from the fellowship at my church. The Lord seemed to back this up in speaking to me from the Scriptures.

In returning home, I believed I would best be “seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33)”. The “bargain” with God (if you will) is that  He would meet our financial needs. Yesterday I was wondering down deep in my heart where God’s end of  this deal was.

I told my wife this morning that I felt like the Lord was sqaushing me. Indeed, I had read a verse earlier in the week which pretty much told me that. He is mashing me like a piece of clay these days (Isaiah 45:9).

I am hopeful that God is actually answering my prayers in this process. While my situation is not easy, I am trusting that perhaps He is remaking me for new purposes that will glorify Him.

There is Scriptural precedent for God doing this. He once  remade the whole nation of Israel. He led Jeremiah down to a potter’s house to give him the object lesson:

The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said,“Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.”  So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel.  But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.  Then the Lord gave me this message:  “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. (Jeremiah 18:1-6).

Hiking down the Huckleberry Trail, I was taken by scenery that reminded me of the legacy from which I came. The railroad track reminded me that my father once earned his living working on trains.

The small park which memorializes the coal mine that used to be there also made me look at my bloodlines. My grandfather was a coal miner a a  good part of his life.

Thus, God affirmed the goodness of work to me by noting how my grandfather and father worked to provide for their loved ones. A good man leaves behind a legacy to his kids of industrious labor. My patriarchs surely did that for me.

The Scriputes  also illustrate through  Jesus’s Jewish ancestors what it means to give our children a legacy.  Abraham and Rahab left behind a godly heritage for the Son of Man. They were models of faith combined with action (James 2:21-25). 

The trail not only gave me teaching from my heritage. It also put into my mind that there are dangers out  there which can destroy me.

A man walked by with a dog. From afar, it seemed to be loose and perhaps menacing. Then, as man and pet came closer, I noticed the leash.

God brought to mind that Satan is out there ready to devour me. However, God will rein him in if I do what He tells me to do, which is to resist that beast (James 4:7).

However, the Lord had more than the externala for me out there this morning. He got down to business by having me look at my own heart. One mess in  there is my battle to be bold in sharing the gospel.

I saw a man about a hundred yardd ahead of me. I thought I should try to catch up to him and share about Jesus, but it was inconvenient. I didn’t want to be bothered.

In addition, I wondered why I was motivated to share with this man out of guilt. Where was the joy of knowing Christ that made me overflow with excitement at the prospect of telling this man about Him. “Oh, wretched man that I am”, was the message in my soul at that point. 

The trail was also prone to temptations. A scantily clad woman jogged by. I thankfully only glanced her way, but I was reminded of  a dependency that I know I have which can wreck my soul if I let it: lust.

I was aggravated at that woman. “Why, doesn’t that woman know that she tempts me and subjects herself to predators on lonely stretches like  this!”

I also was teed off by the bikers who kept coming by from behind and warning me of their presence. (“On your left!).

I jump out of my skin when that happens and have had a pet peeve toward bikers all summer. I was humbled when I saw that along the way a billboard revealing the park rules which REQUIRE bikers to warn pedestrians as they come upon them.

Thus, the Lord  gave me a new item in my messy heart to deal with out on the path: a critical spirit. As with my other known sins, I confessed them and obtained God’s forgiveness and cleansing (I John 1:9).

Yes, the walk today was a “flush and fill” operation. I am hoping that a lot of the trash heap in my life was swept away by bringing it before God to clean up.

I’m also desirous that the garbage in my heart was replaced with the blessed Holy Spirit. I surely need His presence and leading in the days ahead.

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A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies (Proverbs 31:10).”

As they lay in the bed in their hotel room, Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami can’t sleep. They are under a lot of pressure.

In an episode of the TV drama “Friday Night Lights” Coach Taylor will be coaching his Dillon High Panthers in the Texas state championship game the next day. A pressure-cooker situation under any circumstances, the heat is increased by the instability of his 15 year-old freshman quarterback J.D. McCoy.

J.D. is probably the best quarterback in the state, but he himself is under a lot of pressure to perform from his tightly wound father. In fact, after the game which got the Panthers into the final, J.D.’s Dad hit him in the face repeatedly in front of  the Taylors and other witnesses because the boy didn’t follow his instructions about how to play.

By law, both Eric and Tami (who is the Dillon principal)  have to report the incident to Child Protective Services, and do so. This causes the breakup of Tami’s relationship with J.D.’s mother, a close friend, and an even more adversarial relationship between Eric and the quarterback’s intrusive father.

At first, J.D. is angry at his father’s beating. However, he eventually sides with his father and becomes upset with Coach Taylor for reporting his Dad’s indiscretion.

As Eric and Tami stand on the balcony in the middle of the night, looking over the city of Austin and in sight of the stadium where the state championship is to be played, the coach says,”I have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow.” Tami replies,”Well, you’re going to win. Or, you’re going to lose. Either way, the sun will come up the next day.”

Tami Taylor exhorts her husband with some wise words that help him to see the big picture and what is important. In essence, Tami is saying that life is unpredictable, but whatever happens life goes on regardless.

Tami’s statement echoes one Jesus made in the Bible. In the context of this statement, Jesus had just told his disciples to seek the higher values, i.e. God’s kingdom and his righteousness, over temporal concerns and added that they would have everything they needed as a result.

Maintaining such a character in a world that has no interest in pursuing godly qualities, and in fact goes after the opposite, is not easy. Thus, Jesus gave His followers some practical advice to handle the pressure:  “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:32-33).

Both Eric and Tami Taylor continue to keep this perspective in the days ahead. Things don’t work out as they hoped, but they still keep their character.

First, the Dillon Panthers encounter a huge deficit in the state championship game.  Coach Taylor courageously benches J.D. in the second half. He has played terribly and acted disrespectfully toward both Coach Taylor and his teammates.

Even though Coach Taylor’s move almost pays off, Dillon loses the championship by a whisker. Even so,  the coach encourages his team and compliments his players in the locker room in front of their parents afterward for playing like champions.

You would think that having almost won the state title and having taught values to his players would make Eric’s job secure. However, in the world of Texas high school football, this kind of behavior is not necessarily prized.

Indeed, J.D.’s wealthy and influential father works behind the scenes to pull off a coup to replace Coach Taylor with J.D.’s personal quarterback coach. The school board is faced with the choice of potentially losing their star quarterback or saying goodbye to their highly successful coach.

At first, Eric refuses to defend himself. He tells Tami that he has some pride, and that the board knows his record.

Tami wisely advises Eric that he needs to come to the board meeting and speak. She knows he has no chance of warding off the attack of J.D.’s father otherwise, and it is clear that his livelihood is at stake.

Although Eric bravely fights for his job in front of the school board, they opt to keep J.D.’s father happy. Eric is basically demoted. He is offered the position of head coach at a previously defunct  high school the board intends to resurrect across town in a lesser district as a consolation. 

At a wedding where Tami informs Eric of  the decision, she continues to display grace, telling Eric,”No matter what happens, wherever you go, or whatever you do, I will be behind you.”  Eric takes Tami away from the wedding  and drive  across town to view the ramshackle East Dillon High facilities.  He obviously plans to make the best of the new situation and coach next season at the reopened school.

The show ends with Eric and Tami standing on the abandoned school’s tiny football field with their arms around each other. Eric is a man with plenty of godly traits, and fortunately for him, he has a wife who is even godlier and helps him to make right choices despite the pressures of life.

Knowing what he has in Tami influences Eric’s decisionmaking.  During the wedding, as various couples, including Eric and Tami, dance a band sings the following lyrics, which help to explain the coach’s choice:

When a man loves a woman
Can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’ll trade the world
For the good thing he’s found

Eric Taylor has won a state championship previously and  just took his team to another final. He is a highly respected coach and would have no trouble landing a job coaching elsewhere.

In fact, this is not the first time Eric has put  his career behind his wife and family. Once he was offered and took a coaching position at a major university in Texas even though Tami had just had a baby and elected to stay in Dillon. When he saw his family suffering from his absences, he leaves his new job, a dream come true, and returns to coach the Panthers.

Yes, Eric knows what he has in Tami.

 When a man loves a woman
Spend his very last dime
Tryin’ to hold on to what he needs
He’d give up all his comfort
Sleep out in the rain
If she said that’s the way it ought to be ( When a Man Loves a Woman, Jody Watley, made famous by Percy Sledge)

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