‘TIS THE SEASON TO BE FRANTIC

Three Strategies for Staying Sane for the Holidays

young girl shout because of christmas stress

Christmas may well be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most stressful. Some research even suggests it can cause a heart attack!

Many variables contribute to the craziness—including the tensions produced by the dynamics at family gatherings.

Luke 10:38-42 gives an account of a household meltdown that can help us navigate the challenges which threaten a peaceful holiday.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Here are three takeaways for staying peaceful and calm the rest of December from this tale of two sisters.

One, monitor personal desires. Kudos to Martha for showing hospitality to Jesus and his followers.

But her desire to pull out all the stops (a common temptation for serving types) got Martha a loving but firm rebuke from Jesus. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.”

Luke says she was “distracted”—literally pulled in a zillion directions—”with much serving.”

Her desire, not bad in and of itself, went south when it deteriorated into a demand leading to an outburst. That’s precisely how idols work, if we don’t watch over our hearts and control their passions with the Lord’s help.

Two, resist critical judgments. Ken Sande has blogged about the progression of idols from desire, to demand, to judging, and punishing. Martha makes for a textbook case.

What puts her version of this slippery slope into a whole other category is her criticism/demand not just of Mary but of Jesus! “Lord, do you not care? Tell her to help me.”

Good grief, talk about an awkward moment around the living room. David Powlison writes:

We judge others—criticize, nit-pick, nag, attack, condemn— because we literally play God. This is heinous. . . . Who are you when you judge? None other than a God wannabe. . . . When you and I fight, our minds become filled with accusations: your wrongs and my rights preoccupy me. We play the self-righteous judge in the mini-kingdoms we establish.

Three, guard spiritual priorities. Jesus defends Mary for choosing “the good portion,” not to be taken away from her.

Much serving at the expense of much worshipping leads to much worrying.

Regularly choose the one thing necessary this Christmas for keeping your idols in check and your peace in place.

Question: How do you choose the good part during the busy holiday season?

BARS, CHAINS, & BIRTHDAYS

More Reflections Along the Jaw Rebuilding Road

Last Tuesday took me to yet another doctor appointment in Miami. Never have I looked forward to the 500 mile, day-long marathon trip as I did for this particular visit.

Time to remove the Erector Set pile of metal bars and chains holding my reconstructed jaw shut for the last 21 days.

crocodiles_resting_together

What a war! Two surgical residents. Pliers. Wire cutters. Suction. It started easy enough. But before long the yanking, twisting, pulling, and tugging increased. I stiffened in the chair like a 2×6 piece of red fir. My kingdom for some nitrous oxide–PLEASE!

Once the nurse turned the gas on high I settled in for the duration. Bloodied and sore after it all, the word “Armageddon” kept running through my head for some reason.

It felt SO GOOD to open my mouth again. No more practicing the ventriloquist act for this preacher. Never I have enjoyed so much like I did that night flossing and brushing both sides of my teeth!

Rarely have I anticipated solid food again with more delight. The first bite of fish (soft and sauce remain my culinary mandates for the duration) melted in my mouth. I moaned at the savory taste with pleasure. But then came a moan of a different kind.

Chewing brought pain–again. There simply was no opening my jaw wide enough to bite down on the food. Both sockets hurt with each movement. I could hardly manipulate the food with my tongue so as to position it where teeth remain for mastication.

Sigh. This will take longer than I think. Double sigh.

But–my chains are gone! I’ve been set free! Slowly my range of motion improves. Each day it hurts a bit less to get solid food down. RoboJaw 2 gets further in the rear view mirror with each passing day. I am so thankful.

The next day, Wednesday, I turned 44, spiritually speaking. I celebrated yet another spiritual birthday. For some reason I happen to be one of those Christians who knows just when the Spirit of God blew with power resulting in his spiritual birth (John 3:1-8).

I don’t know that it matters all that much or not whether one knows the time and date specifics of his regeneration–although a special friend of mine admitted she envies that for me.

What matters a great deal more is the assurance that one has been born again. You know the Lord has changed your heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). You enjoy the  assurance of hope in eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).

You fear no condemnation because Jesus’ propitiating sacrifice has satisfied the wrath of God most holy justly upon you for your sin (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1; 8:1). Your sins are forgiven. Those chains are gone. You’ve been set free and are free indeed (John 8:31-32)!

You trust that the blood of Jesus covers all your sins. J. C. Ryle expressed the inexpressible joy of this particular assurance so well:

This wondrous blood of Christ, applied to your conscience, can cleanse you from all sin. It matters nothing what your sins may have been, “Though they be as scarlet they may be made like snow. Though they be red like crimson they can be made like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18.) From sins of youth and sins of age, from sins of ignorance and sins of knowledge—from sins of open profligacy and sins of secret vice—from sins against law and sins against Gospel—from sins of head, and heart, and tongue, and thought, and imagination—from sins against each and all of the ten commandments—from all these the blood of Christ can set us free. To this end was it appointed; for this cause was it shed; for this purpose it is still a fountain open to all mankind. That thing which you cannot do for yourself can be done in a moment by this precious fountain. YOU CAN HAVE ALL YOUR SINS CLEANSED AWAY.

Have you been born again?

SAVORING THE BETTER FOOD

When Fighting To Consume Enough Calories Teaches a Spiritual Lesson

Day 20. Operation RoboJaw 2 is nearly three weeks in my rear view mirror. Lord willing, tomorrow in Miami, the wires come off this jaw!

Muir Woods, California, USA

The Lord has taught me so many things through this latest trial. One particularly important lesson came soon after surgery. I visited my PCP for a post-op follow up. He took one look at my weight and read me the riot act. “You’ve lost nine pounds in a week. You have to eat more!”

Easy for him to say. But I did and have. The scale stabilized right around 170 lbs. I look forward to getting back on the eat-anything-you-want diet until I can pack on another ten or so pounds.

Clearly taking in enough nutrients and calories matters greatly to one’s physical health. The wake up call in the doc’s office that day got me to thinking about the principle on a spiritual level.

The Scriptures refer to God’s word as our necessary spiritual food of a superior kind. Job put it this way: I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread (23:12). Jesus, after 40 days of fasting, said this: Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).

The Psalmist describes the truly happy man with a vivid metaphor in Psalm 1:1-3.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Are you taking in enough spiritual nutrition? How’s your daily feeding on God’s word? Does 1 Peter 2:2-3 describe your experience–Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

2017 is fast upon us. Might this be the time you can fortify your spiritual health habits with a regular diet of  feasting on God’s word? Here are some nutritional plan suggestions to help.

One, read five chapters of the Psalms and one of Proverbs a day. For extra strength read a chapter in both the Old and New Testaments as well.

Two, purchase a subscription to Table Talk Magazine. In addition to the excellent articles and devotions in each publication, they include a reading plan for working your way through the Bible in a year. I have used this resource for years. It’s a treasure!

Three, get a one year plan for reading through the Bible like you can find here. Don’t get discouraged if you miss a day. Most of us do. Get started again as soon as you can.

But don’t go days without feasting. You’ll lose too much weight!

Rather read and meditate daily on God’s word and grow into a flourishing fruit-yielding tree!

THE TRIPLE FENCE

An Extraordinary Benefit To Having My Jaw Wired Shut

One week down. Two to go. Robojaw 2 left me Meatless in Miami–a major upside to the whole jaw-wired-shut deal recorded in that post. Today another half-glass-full look at things from Revheff Smoothie Town.

Zipped mouth

It came to me during my morning reading in the Scriptures. Psalm 141:3 stopped me cold:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

King David prays. His sense of urgency in approaching I AM is palpable in the first two verses. Need drives him. Concern grips him. Several items make up his list of petitions.

Note the starting place. Of all the things I’ve ever prayed for to get help, I don’t think this particular issue ever made priority one: post a sentry over my speech. The Hebrew word for “guard” is closely related to the cognate “eyelid.”

David asks the Lord to keep a close eye on the gate separating his tongue from communication with others. Essentially he asks God to exercise great care over that strategic location.

Puritan Thomas Watson made this observation about how God has provided for this very protection by the wonders of creation:

God has given us two ears, but one tongue, to show that we should be swift to hear, but slow to speak. God has set a double fence before the tongue, the teeth and the lips, to teach us to be wary that we offend not with our tongue.

A double fence. What a word picture! For me He has ordained an additional barrier–a wired shut jaw. Amazing the economy of words one settles for when speaking so as to be understood requires so much effort at articulation.

The triple fencing of my tongue has led to three insights as to why we would all do well to take our cue from David and regularly pray the same prayer.

One, no one can tame the tongue in his/her own strength. James 5:8 settles this issue: But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Think of your tongue as a venomous viper ready to strike at the slightest provocation. Only one handler can tame it, but we must ask for His help.

Two, prayer on this score can spare us a world of difficulty. Prov. 21:23 advises: Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. I shudder to think how often ill advised words have gotten me into hot water. I posted about this quite recently here. James gets even more vivid with metaphors on this score in James 3:5-6.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

That which has the power of life and death at its command needs all the fencing it can get (Prov. 18:21).

Three, fenced tongues matter greatly to a church’s peace. Among the things God hates we find these in Prov. 6:19: a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. Few things disrupt unity in God’s church like runaway tongues.

May we follow the example of the One who when reviled opened not His mouth (Isa. 53:7).

That starts by making the tongue a high priority matter in our praying.

MEATLESS IN MIAMI

When Life Is More Than Food

I’ve seen this movie before. The sequel, like most, is worse than the original–at least with respect to the diet. Robojaw 2 leaves me not just meatless for three weeks, but “solidless” in every other way too.

food-by-syringe

The next twenty-one days for this titanium man mean ingesting only liquids through a syringe. My kingdom for dinner at Emeril’s.

I get discharged today. Things went very well thanks to abundant prayers and Class A cutters and their staff. I’m grateful–really I am. But why back in prolonged involuntary fasting mode–AGAIN?

They kept me alive back in ’05 for four months on IV TPN 12 hour-per day nutrition. Robojaw 1 left me unable to chew solids for an eternity, but at least I could blend meats and the like with lots of sauce in the Vitamix. But this time around enter a new wrinkle–chains on the jaw.

Chewing is my worst enemy toward jaw-rebuild success. That puppy has to stay immobilized. I don’t mind telling you–it’s a really strange feeling to have your mouth clamped shut. Makes spitting a whole new adventure, I assure you.

The Lord gave me some perspective on the matter this morning. I started reading a book called Taste:My New Life Without Food. A couple in my church gifted it to me just before I left for the latest Miami procedure.

Author Gordon Meier, a pastor like me, hasn’t eaten ANYTHING since 2012–thanks to some rare, bizarre intestinal disease I won’t bother to spell out.

He drew me in immediately with his story. I also appreciated his handling of God’s word.

Commenting on Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 6:25-33 about how life is more than food–and a whole lot of other things–he writes:

And whenever I struggle, wanting to eat something so badly, I am rebuked and reminded that my spiritual roots need to go deeper into him, and I am learning to allow Jesus to be my bread that satisfies. All other food only appeals to my surface appetites. My appetites need to be transferred to and focused on that which will last. . . . Physical food simply doesn’t last. But Jesus lasts. He is the essence of what ultimately satisfies (30).

Oh yeah. That’s why I’m meatless in Miami again.

Let me better feast the feast that ultimately satisfies.

I’ll drink to that.

 

CHURCH PEACE: A WARFARE MATTER (2)

Four Spiritual Warfare Strategies for Preserving Peace in the Church

In my first post on this important aspect of preserving unity in the church, I argued for the need to fight for peace in the invisible realm.

Roman Soldier Armor

Paul lands his letter to the Ephesians on the strategic topic of spiritual warfare. He presents four battle tactics for successfully defeating the enemy of our souls in every kind of conflict.

  1. Trust your God.
  2. Know your enemy.
  3. Wear your armor.
  4. Say your prayers.

I can’t say everything I would like to about these tactics. I have to save something for the men’s retreat I get to lead this weekend. But here’s what I can offer on the third strategy.

Three, wear your armor for its protection. The Lord equips us with six crucial pieces of battle weaponry for both offensive and defensive purposes in dealing with the enemy.

  1. The belt of truth. The belt held everything else together for the Roman soldier. Since Satan’s principle scheme to defeat us involves deception, it is absolutely imperative that we arm ourselves with the truth of God’s word to counterattack.
  2. The breastplate of righteousness. This piece covered a soldier front and back. It protected all his major organs. The more we live out Christ’s righteousness gifted to us by faith, the less ground we give Satan to trip us up. For example, if we harbor resentment toward someone rather than forgive, that presence of unrighteousness in our lives opens the door for enemy infiltration (2 Cor. 2:10-11).
  3. The gospel footwear. As shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. Shoes for the soldier meant two things: mobility and stability. Believers are to be ever on the move for the gospel in brokering peace between a rebel race and a holy God. And they must stand firm in that gospel of forgiveness when the accuser comes to indict for various offenses (Rev. 12:10).
  4. The shield of faith. This we cannot do without. The Roman warrior used a huge, fireproof shield behind which he could position his entire body. We must do everything we can to sustain our faith or Satan’s flaming darts will surely get through to do their damage.
  5. The helmet of salvation. This piece protects the mind. It orients our thinking toward all three phases of Christ’s saving work: past, present, and future. Given the similar usage of the word “helmet” in 1 Thess. 5:8, it seems Paul wants us thinking extra hard about the future and what God has in store for us in the New Heavens and New Earth.
  6. The sword of the Spirit. This, Paul explains, is the word of God. This is a mighty weapon! It serves both offensive and defensive purposes. Offensively we wield it in evangelism. Defensively we make use of it in, among other things, fighting temptation, just as our Lord did (Matt. 4:1-11).

Please don’t miss the emphasis in the text of putting on and taking up this provision of God which is our armor.  We must do this.

How the last strategy, prayer, plays into that weaponry will have to wait for part three.

 

MEDITATION MADE DOABLE

Eight Steps for Setting Your Mind on the Things Above

holy_bible_book

Recently I preached a vision casting message for our church.

I called it ACUTE–A Vision for the Future.

The “A” in the acrostic stands for Awakening–Seeking Our Spiritual Transformation. My text was Col. 3:1-4. You can listen to the audio here.

As promised, this post includes a link to an article I wrote for Tabletalk magazine sometime ago called On Your Heart. It outlines a process for effective meditating on Scripture–perhaps the most strategic way to set your mind on the things above.

Won’t you join the Awakening Challenge? Memorize one verse per week and meditate upon it regularly.

Imagine the rise in spiritual temperature in your congregation God might give as a result!

CHURCH PEACE: A WARFARE MATTER (1)

Four Spiritual Warfare Strategies for Preserving Peace in the Church

Religious celebrations of Easter Week, SpainConclusions matter.

From dessert and coffee at a restaurant, to the the climax of a story, to (this matters especially to pastors like me) how the sermon ends, the way things come to a close can make all the difference in the experience.

Lately in my study I’ve camped out a lot in Eph. 6:10-20. Paul’s treatment there of the challenging subject of spiritual warfare forms the focus of my church’s men’s retreat at the end of this month.

Think about it. He ends this exquisite letter to the the church at Ephesus on this note: we Christians are at war. We find ourselves in a never-ending conflict with formidable forces. Much opposition confronts anyone serious about walking in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Among those things, and the first place he starts in Eph. 4:3, is doing our best to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Safeguarding the treasured gift of unity in your church means you have to go to war over it.

It’s a high-stakes, dangerous, but utterly worthwhile undertaking.

Here are four strategies (a preview of our retreat content) for waging the spiritual battle.

One, trust your God for His strength. Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (10). This same power raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20). We have everything we need in the way of strength for this ongoing struggle. We draw from the One who effectively disarmed the enemy at Calvary (Col. 2:15).

Additionally our powerful God has equipped us with impressive battle gear designed to protect us so that we may stand and not fall (11). More on that in strategy #3.

Two, know your enemy for his schemes. The objective in this fight is plain–that you may be able to stand (11). Satan and his minions deployed in the invisible realm (12) plot our undoing. We must give him/them no ground.

The enemy attacks on multiple fronts: accusation (Rev. 12:10); deception (Gen. 3:1-6); sins like anger (Eph. 4:26-27) and withholding forgiveness (2 Cor. 2:10-11); just to name a few. Luther said it well in A Mighty Fortress:

For still our ancient foe,
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Lesson?

Don’t underestimate the foe. Arm yourself with a informed knowledge of his shrewd tactics.

Three, wear your armor for its protection. The bulk of the passage focuses on the battle gear God supplies every believer for spiritual warfare (14-17). Paul repeatedly emphasizes our responsibility to put it on–take it up–all of it. We dare not engage this battle every day without every one of the six components.

What they are and some thoughts about them, plus strategy #4, will come with my next post and the second part on this subject.

In the meantime, take heed to this exhortation from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Do not relax. “Maintain the field!” You are always on duty in the Christian life, you can never relax. There is no such thing as a holiday in the spiritual realm.

Peacemaking warriors! Maintain the field! Ever on duty, battle to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace in your churches.

SWEET REASONABLENESS

Something for Which To Be Well Known

So there I am last Monday morning. I show up at the hospital for a 9:00 AM appointment. Time for a “swallow study.” Gotta love the consequences of a jaw do-over.

Reading my hurry-up-and-wait book, I overhear a nearby conversation. A radiology tech apologizes profusely to an elderly couple. “They scheduled him for the wrong procedure. What he needs is a swallow study.”

 

Oops, Young Person Made a Mistake

Forget about the book.  What’s the deal here? Administrative mistake apparently. Let’s just say Mama three seats over was not happy.

Exit the tech. Ten minutes later the same young lady returns calling my name. I follow her into radiology. Thinking to make light of things I ask, “You’ve got me down for a swallow study, right?” She stops dead in her tracks. “Ah, no, an esophagram.” Terrific. Murphy lives.

Now I come to a halt. “My doctor ordered a swallow study.” Apparently he didn’t. It takes us the better part of 90 minutes to get to the bottom of things, but somebody messed up somewhere, no doubt about it.

Now I face a peacemaker’s decision–go off on the poor girl for something she had nothing to do with–or I can choose the Philippians 4:5 way. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”

Talk about an interesting Greek word! That term translated “reasonableness” shows up only five times in the New Testament. One resource unpacks it this way:

The word signifies a humble, patient steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting in God in spite of all of it (Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 2:214).

Wow. There’s a challenge. A favorite cross reference of mine using the same Greek term is Titus 3:2–show perfect courtesy to all people. No exceptions. The gospel way is the sweet reasonable way . . . WITH EVERYONE.

I want to be known for that. Do you?