Monday, May 7, 2012

"Trust" in Relationships

Jim and I were talking about relationships the other day and the word trust came up. So I was just wondering today what The Word has to say about trust as it pertains to relationships. I looked at well over 150 verses and here is what I found.

Most Scriptures are about trusting in God and His Word as our only source of strength, truth, and hope.

The second highest listing is about what not to trust in. These are some of them: emptiness, extortion, princes, man, deceptive words, neighbor, close friend, lover, oppression, perverseness, brother, bow/sword, flesh, cities, your works, your treasures, riches, your own mind. Some of the items are bad things and understandably something I should not trust in. But, friend, lover? Am I not to trust in these? So I dug further....

These are the only verses I found that said you are to trust another person: Proverbs 3:29 (neighbor), Proverbs 31:11(husband trusting his wife), 1 Chronicles 9:22 (gateskeepers - office of trust), Hebrews 13:4 (honor the marriage bed). [Granted, there may be more, but this is what my search on revealed. A study of the original language would be more accurate.]

I thought this was very revealing. We are to trust in God and basically Him alone. He is our only source of strength, hope, needs being met, comfort, security, absolute truth. Our confidence placed anywhere but in Him is on rocky ground. He alone makes me steadfast and purposeful in the short life I have been given in this world. And trusting in anything else will be my downfall because everyone and everything in my life at one time or another will disappoint and/or fail me. And I them. All of us are imperfect beings and cannot help but fail at one time or another. God is the only one who will never come up short.

Now, here's the catch. Although the Scriptures do not have many verses about trusting others, it does say that we are to be trustworthy and faithful. Look at Proverbs 11:13 (confidence keeper), Proverbs 13:17 (messenger), Luke 16:11 (in wealth), Proverbs 8:6 (in speech), Exodus 18:21 (as men of integrity) and 1 Timothy 1:12 "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service." God found Timothy trustworthy.

Here is the key: while our trust is to be in God alone, we are to live as a reflection of His trustworthiness. How we will live, work, play, and speak should be above reproach as He is above reproach. We are to live so others can trust in us. I am to love others -- that is a commandment. And I must do so with all my heart -- providing grace, hope, and help, believing in who they are striving to become -- and thus, being trustworthy. Choosing to love others is an act dependent upon my heart. Trusting others is depending on their heart. God's heart is the only one I can truly rely upon.

Where is our trust placed? in people? possessions? routines? jobs? titles? reputation? Or in our God? We must choose.

Further Thoughts:
  1. Do a word study on trustworthy and faithful.
  2. How would my life be different if I completely trusted God and lived as a reflection of His trustworthiness?
  3. What do I need to change in my thought pattern and actions to trust God more?
  4. Do I currently reflect trustworthiness? If yes, in what ways? If no, why not?
  5. How can I become more trustworthy?
Father, I have put my trust in many things in my life. Some have been faithful and some haven't. Forgive me Father. I recommit to trusting in You alone. Help me to reflect Your amazing trustworthiness. Change in me what needs to change. And strengthen and solidify those areas I am already doing well. Amen.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

It's All About Relationships

"Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:37-40 NIV

The greatest relationship we will ever have is with our Father. No other relationship should ever come before the intimacy we have committed to develop between us and our Creator. We have chosen to become His follower, and our complete being needs to be focused on total surrender to a love relationship with the Father. But we do not live on an island. Every day we are developing human relationships. As we consider the relationships we build in our earthly lives, we have to begin here -- "Love your neighbor as yourself." To be a commandment second only to loving God with your entire being states that how we handle relationships is a vital aspect of our social existence designed by our Creator. We cannot dismiss them and neither can we address them half-heartedly. Both reactions negate the importance God has placed on relationships.

This is a challenge for me. As an introvert, I am drained by people. Don't get me wrong; I love being with people. It's just that I must integrate "me" time into my day to recharge. That can tend to lean me towards selfishness. I will plan out my day to balance people time and recharge time. Unfortunately, the enemy will use this to his advantage and tempt me with an abundance of alone time to the detriment of time with people.When all is said and done, I am making life about my comfort rather than meeting other's needs.

Don't get me wrong; boundaries are not a bad thing. Balance is good as well. But when it is used as an excuse, it can become a hindrance to following the Father's commands.

So relationship-building requires selfless love for others. With the same intensity that I am protecting my personal time, I must love on others for I am to love my neighbor as myself. Obviously, I am loving myself all too well. I must work on loving others better.

But what does it mean to love others and who are our neighbors? I had a wonderful step-dad. Raymond loved everyone. There wasn't a person he would meet that he did not thoroughly cherish. And since he was a man who lived in the "now" in everything he did, he would take time for anyone, anytime, anywhere. I never knew someone who could make genuine friends of their co-workers and the mailman. He simply oozed time for one-on-one conversation. I say conversation, but his "conversations" consisted of asking a question and listening to the other person's answer with complete rapt attention. And then his entire body would reflect the emotion most empathetic with the speaker. If they were recounting something joyful, Ray was joyful. If they were sad, Ray was sad with them. If angry, he provided calm. If frightened, he gave safety. His entire focus was on other people and their needs -- any person his life came in contact with.

A week after Ray passed away, there was a knock on my mom's door. There stood a twenty-something girl holding a potted flower. "I just heard that Mr. Wells passed away," she said. "I had to find out where he lived and come to tell you how sorry I am and how much I will miss him." The young woman was the check-out girl where he bought his groceries.

That must be how Jesus walked on the earth -- completely focused on others. Attentive. Sympathetic. Helpful. Listening. Responding. Empathetic. Compassionate. With a selfless love.

Further Thoughts:
  1. If I am to love others as myself, in what ways do I love myself?
  2. List the ways Jesus showed love to others.
  3. How did Jesus find balance between his own needs and meeting the needs of others?
  4. What is hindering me from loving others like Jesus did?
  5. What is one change I need to make today to better love those around me?
Lord, forgive me for my selfish ways. Show me today how to love better. Open my eyes to other's needs. Open my ears to their heart's cry. Teach me to love Your kids as You love Your kids.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Judges 6:25-32 "Take a Stand"

"Tear down your father's altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height." ~Judges 6:25-26

Gideon's family had taken to worshiping foreign gods, and God wanted Gideon to do something about it. He must tear their altars down and build new ones to the one, true God. Gideon did it, but he was so afraid of what his family would think, he tore them down at night. He still had some growing to do in his trust of God, but he was experiencing a very real human fear of rejection for his beliefs and for following God's ways.

We're experiencing the same things today. We're not tearing down Asherah poles -- at least I haven't lately. But there are other altars that have been built into our lives that we must tear down and replace with the altar of the one, true God. Maybe we have allowed the god of complacency to enter into our lives. Or the deceiver. What about laziness or anger. Maybe it's a person who is taking all our time and thoughts. Maybe an activity or hobby. Sometimes very innocuous activities that in and of themselves are fine can begin to take a top drawer position in our priorities. There are all kinds of "gods" we allow to take over our lives and maybe we don't even realize it is happening. But when we allow those things to creep in, we are slowing and surely, pushing God aside.

Our God is a jealous God. He does not take being replaced lightly. The very first commandment God gave to Moses was, "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3) Too often we hear that and think, "Well, I don't worship other gods. I worship just God. I go to church; I pray to God." But whenever we place anyone or anything above God in our hearts, we are worshiping that person or thing. God must take top priority in our lives -- in all our thoughts, actions, motives, emotions, decisions..... He wants to be in every part of our being. And if he isn't, He will encourage us to tear down the altars and build the right one.

He may demand our respect and attention, but it is for our own good. If He is not Lord of our life, if anything else steps in the place where He belongs, we are choosing a path that is outside of His will. It may be unpopular, but we must take a stand. He will be Lord with or without me. I choose to stand with Him.

Further Thoughts:
  1. Do you stand for God and His truth, or are you letting other things take priority?
  2. What causes us to veer away from standing firmly with God?
  3. How can we prevent straying from placing God first in our life?
  4. What price do I need to pay to stand with God? Am I willing?

Father, I believe it is going to get harder and harder to stand with You. The world's philosophy is like a giant magnet enticing me to attach and conform. But my heart remains with You. Keep me close, Father. Even though it may be difficult, help me to stand in Your truth and as Your servant. Amen.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Judges 6:23-24 "Death Cannot Hold Me Down"

"But the Lord said to him, 'Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.' So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites." ~Judges 6:23-24 NIV

I'm not exactly sure what the Israelites thought would happen to them after they died. I guess I've never really thought about it before. As I look back at each of the patriarchs' deaths there seems to be a finality to death. The most important part of their death was where their bones were buried.

And then Jesus came and everything changed. He gave us hope of eternity with Him in a place He is preparing for us. Yet we still fret for our safety. Of course there is a natural and understandable human desire to live a long life with people you love around you. We find no joy in suffering or pain. Again I say, of course. But there is so much more to not fear.

How much time do we spend fretting about our loved ones and our own safety? Look at how much time and money is spent on crash reports, helmets, five-point harness car seats. Now hear me, those things are all fine and good. I certainly don't have a death wish for myself or my loved ones. But I think we have become so bubble conscious that it has just put a greater fear of death into our psyche. We, as believers, do not have to fear death because a greater life than we have ever known is waiting for us. This life is like going away to college. We are living in temporary housing in a far away place. It's restrictive and in miniature. It has its joys and sorrows, ups and downs. We work; we increase our knowledge of people and the world, but it's not our real home. That is still on the horizon. And we should have no fear of it.

In this passage, God is reassuring Gideon that he is not going to die in the conflict with the Midianites. So Gideon builds an altar and calls it The Lord is Peace. We've also been assured that we are not going to "die" in the battle. We will just move on from this life to an eternal home. In the meantime, we continue to lift up praise to the Father and rest in His peace.

Further Thoughts:
  1. Are you afraid of death? Why?
  2. How does your fear hinder you from accomplishing all that God has for you in this life?
  3. Find a Scripture to hang on to when you have the most fear.
Father, I'm only passing through. Teach me how to be wise and safe, but not live in fear of death. I anticipate the end of the troubles of this world and look forward to eternity with You. In the meantime, use me up right here, Lord of Peace. Amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Judges 6:11-24 "I'm Not Capable"

"But Lord," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." ~Judges 6:15 NIV
Recently, I was watching an episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition (ABC). They told the story of a young girl who had a terrible disease. (Let's call her Annie.) While she was in the hospital, she made friends with another little girl who was battling cancer. (We'll call her, Liz.) Annie felt so badly for Liz and what she was going through, she decided to do something about it. This little girl went out and started raising money for cancer research. Annie raised hundreds of dollars and remained friends with Liz. Even years later when the show went in to build Annie a new house, she was in the middle of a project making key chains to sell for cancer research.

How many times when God calls us to do something do we say, "I can't." "I'm not trained." "I don't have enough money." "I'm too young." "I'm from the weakest tribe and am the least in my family." Gideon had given up before he even began, and here's why. He started from the lie that so many people get caught up in -- God only uses the strong and the capable. Actually, it's quite the opposite.

Look at how many times God uses the weakest of the weak -- some real weaknesses and some perceived. Moses (speech impedement), Joseph (second from the youngest of 12 and made a slave in a foreign country), David (a boy facing a giant), Ruth (a young widow from the wrong family), Rahab (a prostitute), Peter, James and John (fishermen that changed the world). You see, although God wants us to develop our gifts and talents, go to school, train up in our positions, He also wants us to understand that the real power comes from him alone. All we must do is be willing to let Him work through us. There is nothing God can't do with a person possessing a willing spirit. Slaves can be freed; nations fed, and giants defeated. Gideon was just another person falling into the trap of self deprecation believing that God can only use the strong. But he was wrong and God changed the history of the Israelites through Gideon.

What are you facing that God has asked you to do, and yet you feel unworthy to do it? Me? I'm in the middle of writing a manuscript. The deadline is looming, and I'm really not sure I have anything to say that anyone would want to read. And truthfully, I'm right. But God has something to say. If I am open to Him and willing to let Him use me, great things can come out of this book. In our weakness, He is made strong.

Further Thoughts:
  1. What is God calling you to do in which you feel completely incapable of doing?
  2. What specifically do you need from God to make it happen? List the ones you know and trust Him for the ones you don't know you need.
  3. What are you doing right now in your own strength?
  4. What lies have you been believing?
  5. How do we practically allow God to work through us?

Father, forgive me for trying to work your miracles for You. Of course, I failed. Use me, Lord. Give me Your strength, Your creativity, Your words. You know what you want to accomplish through me. I trust You to do it. Amen.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Judges 6:1-6:10 "Sorry, I Forgot....Again"

"I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave them your land." ~Judges 6:9 (NIV)

Here, once again, the Israelites did evil in God's eyes and the Midianites swooped in. For seven years God's chosen suffered under a foreign oppressor. It finally got so bad that they cried out to God for help -- again. This time, God didn't just rescue them, but reminded them of where He had brought them from and their disobedience to Him. Thus, they are suffering.

When I read this passage, two questions popped into my mind. 1) Why are we so forgetful? 2) Is there a way to break the cycle of forgetfulness?

All of life is filled with peaks and valleys. We experience them in our marriages, our jobs, our weight, our moods, our exercise plans, our bank accounts. So is it just inevitable that we will have peaks and valleys in our spiritual walk? Probably. My daughter, Gabby, was just at youth camp. She said that the speaker, Matt, gave a great final sermon on coming down from the mountain top that they had been on all week -- both physically and spiritually. Gabby summarized it this way, "You can't keep the high, but Jesus can keep you in the lows." With sin, pain, and disappointment in the world, we are going to experiences many highs and lows. But we serve the King and have His Spirit living within us. There must be a way to minimize those lows that cause spiritual forgetfulness. I need to be able to face the next mountain I need to climb by remembering how God enabled me to conquer the last mountain. And the one before that. And the one before that.

Here are some ways I know I can remember:

1. Stay in the Word and Prayer!!! If I become slack and don't maintain regular times alone with the Lord, I drift in my thinking and attitudes. It's like checking the rope daily to be sure the boat is connected to the dock. If you don't, wind, rain, and the pounding waves will loosen that rope and the boat will drift away. I need clear rope-checking time every day.

2. Faith Journal. I have not been good about keeping this and need to do better. When I just stop and think for a while about my life and the things God has brought me through, I am completely overwhelmed by His faithfulness. I have so to speak been rescued from Egypt; I have faced plague and famine; I have met up with opposing armies at insurmountable odds. God has worked in my life, and I must remember His power that can conquer any obstacle I face and trust the He will be there again. But to do so, I must stop and remember. Quiet reflection time is difficult to find with jobs, families, responsibilities. But floundering in the insecurity of facing battles without power is so much worse. All I have to do is remember and believe.

3. Keep myself accountable. I'm a list maker. If I don't, I will not remember. Already this week I double booked myself because I didn't write down the first commitment. Maybe I need some more vitamins or possibly shock therapy, but I just do not have a good memory. Used to; but time has robbed me. In the same way as I use lists to keep track of my "to do's," I need accountability to keep track of my spiritual walk. I have my husband and one main female accountability partner, but then I am also in an accountability group. Those regular meetings help keep my mind on God's activity in the world today. I am constantly reminded through those ladies of God's power at work in and through every day people, and it builds my faith and attentiveness to His plan.

4. Run from sin. If I am doing #1-3, this one is so much easier to accomplish. Because I spend time with my loving Father, I want to obey Him. Because I remember His faithfulness in the past, I don't want to hinder Him working in and through me in the future. And because I am accountable to several people, I have fellow warriors fighting through the battle with me and I am made stronger.

I know I am going to face times of doubt and fear. I know that I will sometimes start up a mountain with trepidation. But I will push through because I have safeguards in place to make me stronger. I never want to forget again -- He is always with me.

Further Thoughts:
1. When have you forgotten and what were the consequences?
2. Do you really want to be there again? Why or why not?
3. What's your plan to not forget God's faithfulness?
4. Who are you going to ask to hold you accountable?

Father, we are frail and weak, but that is no excuse for forgetting your amazing grace and faithfulness. Empower our minds to remember, Lord, and help us develop daily habits of remaining focused on You and the goal -- to run the race well in Your strength and power.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Judges 2:15-3:6 "He Means It, Part 2"

"Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did." ~Judges 2:20b-22

Every disobedience has a consequence. As children, when we would disobey our parents, we were disciplined. As an adult in the workplace and in life in general we still face consequences and may be reprimanded or even fired for not following instructions. You break the law; you face the courts. You abuse your body, you suffer health problems. The list goes on and on. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. (Isaac Newton) We can't expect to live any way we want without facing the results of our actions. Yet that is precisely what the Israelites chose to do.

Here God had given into their hands a beautiful home to call their own. All they had to do was take it and destroy the pagan worship that existed there. Along the way, He even provided a new kind of leadership to help them move forward. After Joshua died, the leadership were the elders of each of the tribes. So God provided judges to preside over all the people and give guidance. Yet they ignored them and "prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them." (2:17b) So what was their consequence for breaking covenant with God? He did not give them victory over their enemies. They had to live among those with the foreign gods and they had to battle their enemies. God was not going to pave the way for them. It's kind of like a parent practicing tough love. As a parent, we can make the way easy for our children. But if they choose to not obey our instructions and/or the rules of our home, then we can let them fend for themselves so to speak. It's taking the easy road or the difficult one. It's their choice.

It seems that God has two levels of obedience. (Hear me out. This isn't heresy.) One is foundational and mandated. The ten commandments for one. Very clear "rules" that we are to follow. Some may call them rigid and restricting, but they are for our own good. I would equate it to God telling the Israelites to get rid of all foreign gods and worship Him alone. That is a basic precept -- to have no other God's before Him. He also gave them judges to rule and instructed that those He places in authority over you should be respected and obeyed. Another basic precept. Yet the Israelites chose to ignore the judges and suffered the anger of God. Disobedience of God's instructions can have dire consequences in our lives and should not be taken lightly.

The second level of disobedience is the daily guidance by the Holy Spirit. It's those times that we know the Spirit is prompting us to do visit a sick friend. Or do something kind for a stranger. Maybe it's confronting a friend on sin in their life. Or removing something from your own life that in and of itself is innocuous but that has hindered you having healthy relationships - with God and others. These are not necessarily sins against God's edicts, but they are hindering you and others from His full blessings. Jesus told us He would send a Counselor to guide us. When we choose to ignore that guidance, we are missing out on a much fuller life than we have now. And continually disobeying those promptings could eventually lead us down a path of greater disobedience, compromise, and sin.

Whether we can see the big picture or not, when God says something, He means it. We must make the decision whether we are going to trust Him and accept His full counsel or not. The results of our choices are consequences or blessings. He has given you the right to choose.

Further Thoughts:
  1. Are there foundational laws that God has established that you are willfully disobeying? Confess those sins now and make a 180 degree turn from them. He will forgive you.
  2. Are there blessings that you are missing out on because you choose not to follow God's promptings? Why are you ignoring Him?
  3. Can you trust God? Why or why not?
  4. Are you experiencing consequences of your sin? If so, recognize that God can use them for good. (Read 3:1-4 and stand up to the challenge.)

Father, I want everything you have for me in my life. I want to be a blessing to You and to others. Forgive me for the laws I have broken. I sinned against You. And forgive me for the times I ignored your Spirit's promptings. I made others and myself miss out on Your blessings. Lord, I want to do better as Your servant. I accept the consequences to my choices and trust You completely. You are my God and You alone. Amen.