Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stop and Listen

I was reading through 1 Thessalonians 5 this morning and I came to verses 16-22. I laughed to myself because it almost seemed as if Paul had gotten so caught up in his letter-writing that he realized he had to end the letter and was saying a lot in a short amount of time.

Paul writes in those verses, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”

As I read it, I thought that I could probably park on these few verses for a long time because they say so much with so few words. What does it mean to be joyful always? How do we express that? Why do we seem to confuse joy and happiness? How would it look if we allowed ourselves to be joyful verses forcing ourselves to be happy?

Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to pray continually. What does that mean? How does that look when I am driving my car? If we look at prayer as communication, isn’t the most effective communication consistent communication? What happens when we try to pray sporadically?

We are to give thanks in all circumstances. That means we’re not to reserve our thankfulness and gratefulness for one holiday each year, we need to be continually thankful and grateful. When we are thankful and grateful continually, we will have a much different experience when we encounter difficulties in our lives than if we only mustered up thankfulness and gratefulness once in a while.

“Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” What does this look like? We don’t mindlessly accept everything that comes our way, we instead test it in light of what God says to us. We also don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, when we encounter something, we seek the Truth of God in the midst of it, and we hold onto that Truth. We avoid every kind of evil, even the appearance of evil.

Advent has always seemed to be a fairly reflective time of year for me. As we await the coming of our Savior, do we wait with anticipation, being joyful, praying continually, and giving thanks? When he comes, how will he find us? Will he find us expecting him or hoping that he would show up a little later? During this Advent season, prepare your hearts for the celebration of the coming of Jesus. We celebrate his coming the first time and we await his return. Glory to God in the highest!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I have the privilege of preaching next weekend as we kick off the Advent season. We are starting off talking about hope and the gift of fulfilled promises. As I have been contemplating the message and what God wants me to communicate, I have been reminded of the necessity to remember where we have been in the past to see hope for the future.

As I have been reading and researching, I came across Elie Wiesel's lecture that he gave in 1986 when he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Having survived the Nazi concentration camps, Wiesel had quite a story. It was difficult, he said, to conceive of Auschwitz with God and equally difficult to conceive of it without God. He said that they could have forgotten the past, but that was not an option. He said:

Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered. New Year's Day, Rosh Hashana, is also called Yom Hazikaron, the day of memory. On that day, the day of universal judgment, man appeals to God to remember: our salvation depends on it. If God wishes to remember our suffering, all will be well; if He refuses, all will be lost. Thus, the rejection of memory becomes a divine curse, one that would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.

Now, I have not had near the experience that Wiesel did. I cannot even imagine the horrors that he and so many others experienced at the hands of merciless human beings. I am grateful though for the insight that he has, for having gone through what he did and sharing it with others. My difficulties seem so small in comparison, yet my difficulties have shaped me to be who I am.

I was remembering back to when my oldest son was just born. His bilirubin numbers were low and he looked a little jaundiced, so we had to get a bilirubin light for him to "cook" under. He remained under the light for a good portion of the day. As new parents, we were unable to pick up and hold our new son, except to change him or feed him. As my wife and I stood there with our days-old infant and our days-old experience of parenting, we held each other and cried. Everything was new to us and this seemed far from normal. How could we get through this?

Of course, hundreds of thousands of parents had experienced situations with their newborns that were far worse than ours were, but we had not had those experiences. Although we knew that there were many who had experiences that were far more severe and extreme than our own, in the midst of experience, it's hard to get that kind of perspective. All that we knew was what we were experiencing at that moment. We held on to each other, to our faith, and finally, to the assurances of people who had walked this road before us, that everything was going to be fine.

I wonder what we would have done had we not had the luxury of people who had walked the same path who were willing to share in our journey. Part of our maneuvering through these "rough" waters was through the remembering of friends and family who had stood where we stood. We learned the importance of community and sharing life together, but we also learned the importance of listening to the experience of others. We also counted ourselves fortunate and blessed for the fairly minor issue that our newborn was experiencing, much more minor than what some of our friends and family had experienced with their own little ones.

As we look into this Advent season, the season of waiting and expecting the coming Messiah, are we remembering what God has done in the past? Do we see his provision and faithfulness? Do we realize, in the midst of dark days, that others have negotiated these waters before us and survived? God's word through the prophets to the exiles was of hope, of a future, of redemption. May we never forget that God has made a way for our redemption, are we willing to receive it? We have a hope, we have a future, if we rest in the One who has provided us with the means to redemption, for us and the world.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Emotional Health, Part II

This is Part II of a two-part post on emotional health based on a paper that I wrote:

There will be sometimes when, despite his love and mercy, God will allow us to be afflicted and encounter difficult situations. The psalmist finds himself surrounded by bulls and roaring lions, poured out like water, weak, thirsty, and near death. These crucibles in our lives can bring growth and maturity. The psalmist asks the question of the Lord, "How long?" Only the Lord can determine the length of severity of our trials, but he will use them for our benefit. As James says in his letter in the Bible, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."

Despite his difficulties, David controlled what he was able to and released what he could not. McCloskey writes that David "dealt with his pain by embracing it and moving through it, not denying it or going around it." God uses these times in our lives, although we may not be aware of it, and sometimes these difficulties are the very things that are necessary in order for us to do the work that is required for a change to occur in our lives.

In the midst of these difficulties in our lives, we also must realize that others see us and our reaction to difficulty. The psalmist knows that there are those who are seeking his demise and who know of his relationship with the Lord; he has become a testimony to the One whom he serves. We see in Psalm 22 that David does not cease praising and worshiping the Lord even during his difficulties, He continues to revere the Lord and shows us our final lesson.

The essential way to move through difficulties is to find our hope, our strength, and our confidence in our relationship with God; we put our faith, trust, and assurance in God. In Psalm 6:9 the psalmist knows with confidence that his cry has been heard by God. Psalm 22 ends with a song of God's faithfulness to the afflicted ones. The psalmist acknowledges that his soul is downcast and his inward being is disturbed, but he is encouraged to put his hope in God and to praise him in Psalm 42.

Successful leaders realize that God has given them a certain amount of ability and strength but they also know that he is their greatest asset, for without him they can accomplish nothing. The psalmists in these three Psalms speak of God's faithfulness, God's listening ear to cries for mercy, and their own history of faithful worship. Elsewhere in the Psalms, Asaph writes, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

The Psalms give us a picture into the emotional state of those who wrote them. We see them expressing their emotions, unafraid of being authentic and transparent. There is a stark realization within the psalmists that they are testimonies to God's grace and faithfulness, even in the midst of difficulties. As they lead people, it is not only through their own personal victories and success, but also their failures and difficulties. The way in which these difficulties and the emotions that are felt during them are handled can measure our emotional maturity. The difficulties have the ability to not only shape those who are going through them, but others who observe as well.

Despite difficulties and what may sometimes appear as a God who is not listening, we must find our hope in him; He is the source of our strength. The psalmists always came to rest in this truth, finding comfort and assurance there and reminding themselves of the history of God's faithfulness to his people.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Emotional Health, Part I

This is Part I of a two-part post on emotional health based on a paper that I wrote:

The book of Psalms is comprised of 150 chapters written by at least six authors and divided into five sections, or books. Within the book of Psalms we get a glimpse into the emotional and spiritual health and maturity of the authors. We see raw emotion, questioning of God, lamenting his absence, and rejoicing over his eventual victory. Warren Wiersbe writes that the Psalms reveal about the authors "their faith and doubts, their victories and failures, and their hopes for the glorious future God has promised."

A further and deeper glimpse at the Psalms allows us to see that the emotions expressed by the writers show the nature of the relationship that these writers had with God, and how these emotions played out within that relationship. We can draw lessons out from them in how we pursue lives of emotional maturity and successful spiritual leadership.

There are a number of Psalms that could be looked at to really get a good glimpse into the author's emotional state. I chose to look at Psalms 6, 22, and 42. Two of these were written by David, the King of Israel. David had his fair share of difficulty and heartache in his life. Some of it was self-induced, like his indiscretions with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband. Other difficulties, like King Saul's hatred of him, had nothing to do with anything that he had done other than to respond to God's call. A read through these Psalms will give you a glimpse into some of these strong emotional times that the authors experienced.

It seems that in the past, there was an emphasis for people, especially leaders, to ignore their emotions and to let their actions be guided by rational thought. To be emotional was to be flawed, imperfect, and no way for leaders to act. Within these Psalms, we see a contrary depiction of emotional maturity and spiritual leadership.

Openness to our emotions is the beginning of emotional maturity and successful spiritual leadership. The Psalmist in all three of the Psalms above is honest about the emotions that he has been experiencing. He is unashamed to speak of the tears that he has shed within his bed. He is sapped of his strength to the point of being incapacitated. It is essential to identify our emotions in order that we can rightly deal with them. Unattended, our emotions, especially negative ones, will not simply go away, but they will fester and build to the point of a catastrophic release which would be completely unhealthy. The psalmist allows his emotions to be seen and also identifies them, using words like anguish, downcast, and agony.

Peter Scazzero says that it is common, "to encounter Christians who do not believe they have permission to admit their feelings or express them openly." For some reason, we have found a need within the church to hide our emotions and feelings, but the psalmist shows us that we need to be honest about them. Scazzero says we are not to blindly follow our feelings, but to acknowledge them as "part of the way God communicates to us." Emotions don't get in the way of rational thought, but they help to shape it and actually make us smarter.

From a leadership perspective, an honest display of emotion can be helpful as well. Mark McCloskey considers emotional realism as a key principle for effective leadership. As leaders, people will be watching us and will see the way that we handle emotion. If we refuse to even acknowledge that emotion, it can be detrimental to our leadership effectiveness. We need to acknowledge our situation, embrace it, and move through it, realizing that we are being observed by others.

We also see that the psalmist acts in humility as he comes before the Lord and seeks grace and mercy. In Psalm 6:1, he writes, "O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath." The psalmist understands that there are consequences for sin and instead of passing blame to someone else, he owns it and appeals to the Lord for mercy.

Part II...............Coming Soon!