If you love me …

Nail in handsWe have these little formulas concocted in our heads that go something like this, “If you love me then you will…”  We apply these formulas to our relationships and think that if the other person truly loves us, then they will act or behave a certain way.  Some of those ideas are correct, but some of them are quite flawed.  Too often our “love formulas” are simply selfish, based on what I’m going to get out of the deal.  A guy pushes his girlfriend to go farther than she wants.  A gal pushes her sweetheart into buying too many expensive gifts.

When it comes to God, sometimes the little formula in our head goes something like this:  “If You love me, then You will make my life easy.”  We might not say those exact words to God, but when circumstances get difficult, we begin to wonder if God loves us or maybe has forgotten us.

God spoke through Isaiah, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me. (Isaiah 49:15–16)

You may think that because of some recent experience in your life that God has forgotten about you, but you would be wrong.  You might think that because something has turned painful in your life that God no longer loves you, but you would be wrong.

You may not understand why things happen like they do, but He has not forgotten you.  Your name is inscribed on His hands.

Drought

DroughtHere in Southern California we are going through the worst drought in recent history.  You see once green lawns starting to turn brown.  Flowers are withered.  When I’m out on my morning walk and I see clouds up in the sky, I think, “Is today the day?”

God’s people are promised a day when there will be rivers flowing in the desert.  We are promised a day when dry ground bubbles up like a spring.  And yet to be honest, sometimes that’s not the way things are now.  What do we do when we are living in a drought?

Isaiah wrote of a day when Jesus would return, a day when drought is turned into showers of blessing.  Isaiah wrote of what to do until that day comes.  Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. (Isaiah 35:3). Weak hands are those that tend to let go of what they are to be doing.  If you are tempted to let go of things, work at strengthening your grip.  Feeble knees want to make you stop walking. If you are tempted to just stop moving altogether, start getting your knees back in shape so you can walk again.

Isaiah goes on to record, Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)

My friend, we don’t need to be afraid because the rain is coming.  Even better, the King is coming.  Don’t let go.  Keep moving forward.

Be Prepared

Boy ScoutThe Boy Scout motto is simple, “Be Prepared”.  That’s a great lesson to learn in life.  When you know that something is coming around the corner, you will do much better if you are “prepared” for it. When you’re at the end of the semester and your final is two weeks away, it’s a good thing to study and “be prepared”.  Before you get married, premarital counseling is a great way to “be prepared”. In the reality of an uncertain economy, having some money put away in the bank for that rainy day is a good thing because it’s good to “be prepared”.

During one of the darker times in Judah’s history, the growing empire of Assyria was swallowing up cities and nations left and right.  They had already taken away Judah’s neighbors to the north, Israel and Syria.  The little nation of Judah was the next target for the Assyrians, and so the nation did what was responsible, they got prepared.  They built up their nation’s military strength.  They fortified the walls of Jerusalem, even tearing down some of the houses in order to use the stones to strengthen the walls.  Isaiah writes, “You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11).

As you are learning to do the responsible things of life, don’t forget God’s word to Judah.  Make sure that God is a part of your preparation.  Include Him in your plans.  Asking for His help is the first step to “be prepared”.

Mud

Mud…and find out what pleases the Lord. (Ephesians 5:10)

We certainly live in a dark world.  Society all around us seems bent on stirring up all the wrong kinds of passions in people.  TV, movies, and the internet are just some of the many ways that filth is pumped into our already corrupt culture.  It’s almost like there’s one of those giant mudslides filling the street outside your house, sweeping away everything in its path.  Anyone who dares step their foot into that flow runs the risk of getting caught up and swept away.

It’s into this dark world that God shined a light, the light of God’s grace.  When we opened our heart to God and cried out to Him for help, He rescued us from that mudslide.  We are learning that we also need to keep clean on a daily basis, because even the best of us still get dirty.  We’re learning that the best kinds of cleansing showers come with prayer, meditating on God’s Word, and hanging out with other believers.

Yet that mudflow continues to move right outside your front door.

My friends, be careful of getting too enamored with mud.  Don’t try looking for the “health benefits” of mud.  It might look a little harmless at first, and then you get caught again in that relentless flow that drags people into hell.  We have plenty of things to get involved with that don’t involve that mudflow.  Learn how to discover the things that “please” the Lord.  It’s really not that hard.  Be a light in this dark world.  And don’t forget to rinse off from time to time.

Little Foxes

Little FoxThe Song of Solomon is an amazing piece of Hebrew love poetry. It deals with love on so many levels – romance, friendship, sex, and perhaps even paints a picture of God’s relationship with His people.  It is filled with metaphors that would make some blush, as well as practical tips to keep love alive and flourishing. One such tip is a warning: “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (Song of Solomon 2:15 NIV).

Ancient Greeks called foxes “bushy tailed vermin that plunder the vines”.  Yet, Solomon’s warning isn’t for just any fox, it’s the “little” foxes we ought to be concerned about.

In the context of a love poem, the vineyard might be a picture of the relationship between the lovers.  There are times in any relationship when we wrestle with “big” issues.  We might look at the little foxes and think they are nothing more than a cute little nuisance, at least compared with the big problems we might face.  I’m not suggesting that we ignore the big problems.  Yet, perhaps just catching and removing a few of the smaller issues could change the whole atmosphere of a relationship, one from striving against each other to working together.

That little fox might be a little bit of bitterness.  It could be letting your mind wander just a little too much in unhealthy places.  It could be refusing to accept a small flaw in your partner.  It could be a little bit of jealousy.  Catch that little fox and toss it over the fence.

The Bigger Picture

Big PicturePart of what makes Job a messy book comes in trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong in the book.  Job’s friends said a lot of “right” things, but they were things that didn’t apply to Job, and so in the end they were “wrong”.  Even though God calls Job a man who has spoken what is “right” about God (Job 42:7), Job doesn’t quite handle himself correctly through the entire ordeal.  Job has charged God being “out to get him” (Job 6:4) and being “unfair” (Job 27:2).

Now I don’t think God’s “self-image” is shattered by a little grumbling on our part.  But there’s a bigger issue when it comes to our complaining, and it’s that we flat out don’t know what we’re talking about.  We think that what we see with our eyes and experience with our senses is the complete picture of what God is doing, when it’s not.

When God shows up in the book of Job, He starts with questioning the extent of Job’s knowledge.  God talks about just a few of the amazing things of His own creation.  Job begins to realize just how little he really understands about life.  Job says, “You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me”. (Job 42:3)

Friends, when you’re tempted to complain about your troubles, it’s not a bad thing to realize that you might not see the bigger picture.  There is only One who knows the bigger picture and He is both wise, good, and loving.  You really can trust Him.

“Messy”

MessyOne thing for sure about life is that it is not “neat and clean”.  There are times in life that are nothing but messy and difficult.  It’s when life is so difficult and confusing that people start asking questions.  They wonder why things are happening.  Or they can wonder what they did wrong that resulted in the pain they’re in.

Sometimes during these times of trouble, people will turn to religion.  Religion seems to be a place with answers.  Different religions will give a set of answers to the problem that is described to them.  Some of us study long and hard to memorize the prescribed set of answers to every given situation.

The problem comes when we think we have the answers to a specific situation, only to find that the answers don’t really apply to that situation.  That’s the problem that Job’s friends had.  They saw everything as black and white.  They were convinced that trouble only comes because somebody has done something bad to deserve it.  And they were completely wrong.  They had lots of “knowledge”, but no “wisdom”.

Job had to listen to his “friends” condemn him over non-existent transgressions.  At one point, Job says, “But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?” (Job 28:12 NIV)

The life of Job is a difficult one.  It’s extremely messy.  For much of the book there are no real answers to his pain.  Be careful of sharing your “answers” when what you need is to learn wisdom (see Job 28:28).

Examples

follow-jesus-footprints1Since Pastor Rich is out of the office this week, Dave Dunagan wrote this week’s article:

Sometimes I think about what it must have been like to live in Bible times. It would have been awesome to be present when Moses lifted his arms, watch the water separate, step out upon the dry land, and then pass through to the other side of the sea. Imagine being with the children of Israel as God led them through the wilderness, standing in awe at the sight of the “fire by night” and the “cloud by day” as He directed their path in the desert. If only I was there to see all these wonders with my own eyes, my faith would be strong, and I would not be tempted to sin and disobey the Lord.

Yet, the Bible tells us that those who were present did stumble and sin and that God in His righteousness judged them.

The Bible, speaking of the children of Israel, tells us “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them… Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” (1Corinthians 10:5-6)

        Let us take this as a reminder that it is easy to stumble. Every day we need to keep our eyes focused on the Lord. Every day we need to seek His help for “…God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1Corinthians 10:13)

Beloved, let Jesus be our example. Let us seek to stay on His path and follow His lead. Then you’ll be able to walk in victory!   

Happy

HappinessSince Pastor Rich is not here this week, Dan Looney wrote this week’s article:

The constitution guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. However, you have to catch it yourself.

Countless studies have been done regarding depression and sadness. Psychologists and scientists have concluded that therapy and drugs can offer relief. Recently, modern science has begun to research how happiness works and have discovered some amazing truths.

Studies have shown that our circumstances account for only 10% of our level of happiness, and about 50% comes from what the study called our “genetic set point”. What I find most interesting is that the remaining 40% comes from “intentional activity”, which includes our values, helping others, living a healthy life and a sense of community or belonging. These things are under our personal control.

I like science. In this case, as with many other studies, science unintentionally reinforces God’s word. God has been teaching us for thousands of years what science is discovering today.

Can happiness be described with these words…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? God tells us to love our neighbor, to help one another and to gather together. We belong to the community of believers. Let your “intentional activity” be Jesus. Trust Him. Your happiness depends on it.

Dan

Builders

WallBuildingNehemiah had a great concern for the city of Jerusalem.  Even though the Jews had begun returning to Jerusalem, the city’s walls lay in ruins and the people were unprotected from enemy attacks. When the people of the city heard that Nehemiah had come to help them rebuild, they all pulled together and the work started.  Nehemiah 3 might sound like a long boring list of names to you, but don’t miss the lessons hidden in it.

First, there is a work to be done.  Until Jesus returns, you and I are charged with kingdom business.  There are lost people who need to be found.  There are saints that need to be nourished, comforted, and strengthened.  The work we face is a “great” work (Neh. 6:3).

Second, things go easier when we all do our part.  I counted about fifty individuals or groups of people that took part in the project.  Many hands make quick work.  We all are members of the body of Christ.  We all have a part.

Third, the work just may start at home.  It seems that many of the builders took the responsibility of building the section of wall that covered their neighborhood.  Some built right next to their homes.  More than one builder was sure that their family was involved.  “And next to him was Shallum the son of Hallohesh, leader of half the district of Jerusalem; he and his daughters made repairs” (Nehemiah 3:12).

It is a good work that God has called us to be a part of.  Find your spot on the wall, grab a trowel, and let’s build together.

This is a collection of Rich's "Pastor to Person" articles for Calvary Chapel of Fullerton