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Choosing the Right Road Under Pressure

Ever Felt the Pressure of a Deadline?
     I speak pretty good Spanish… and have forgotten more French than most people know… But, I have a great accent in both languages. The curse in this is that people often approach me and say “say something in Spanish!!!” What you may not know is the pressure that crushes someone put in that position: “Produce greatness at a moment’s notice!!!”

     Sometimes, I feel crushed by that same pressure on a Thursday or Friday while preparing for my Monday post… More often, it’s an even heavier pressure… on… Monday morning. Don’t you just love how the pressure of a deadline forces you to flourish or fold? Can you feel it on your shoulders, in your head, or in the pit of your gut?

Are You A “Muster” or a “Truster”?
     In any situation, we find this fork in the road – Muster Street or Truster Trail… When we muster results – which often… we must… The solution is based on hard work and ultimately comes down to one word: me. Mustering results is about “force”. When we force things, the outcome depends more on strength and wisdom but under pressure creates excess tension & stress. Victory rings hollow because we’ve fought and won… the wrong battle.
     God always desires us to trust in Him and not lean on our own understanding. To be a “truster” overall depends on one word: He.  Trusting God with outcome is about “flow”. Outcomes, which always depend on God anyway, remove great pressure from us.

Back to Jonah, “That Guy”, and You

      Often, I’ll sit across the table from a guy who’s struggling in his marriage/significant relationship. We’ll talk more and a few other issues will become evident – sometimes family of origin, maybe related to habitual sin, often another issue about work/business troubles… And, “oh, my quiet time is a little spotty.” 

     We’ve blogged this before, right? If he could rub his bible three times and make one of those problems go away with a wish, he most often picks the work troubles or the marital/relationship issues. If he had a second wish he’d ask God to clean and polish up his life with a little “Porn-B-Gon”… But, rarely if ever does he start with “just pray that God helps me abide in Him and know him better…” Funny, right? The one solution that could solve all of the other problems (or at least make them bearable) is the last one to come to the table…

     Solve the right problem or you’re boasting in your strength… Boasting in your wisdom… Looking through Jonah’s eyes and fighting, sometimes winning, the wrong battles.

     When we lean on wisdom and strength… specifically, our own, we’re trying to solve the wrong problem. This is most often because we’re seeing the problem through our own eyes. Jonah needed to see the problem through God’s eyes – there were over 100,000 children in that Assyrian city who did not know the Lord… Jonah was more concerned with his own comfort… 

How’s That Working for Ya?
     Ever played Jonah? Ever gone on a long journey to find what you’re looking for only to find it wasn’t what you were looking for? No one knows if Jonah ever found his full satisfaction in the Lord… We just know that God rebuked him for being more concerned about a plant that brought him temporary comfort from a permanent problem.

     Some of the problems that face us are not problems that can be solved in a Genesis 3 world. Those problems require perseverance that only comes from God. Those are the times when instead of God calming the storm on His child’s behalf, He lets the storm rage and calms His child. This is a place of peace under pressure. This is our witness to a lost and dying world.


Be Encouraged

     I can’t think of many other reasons God would put this verse in the scriptures for us, but to encourage us through the times when we mistakenly take the wheel and veer toward “Muster”…

“This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength    or the rich boast of their riches,24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:    that they have the understanding to know me,that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,    justice and righteousness on earth,    for in these I delight,”

declares the Lord. (Jer. 9:23-24)”


Benediction

     May you win many battles… because you’ve fought the right ones. May you boast in the Lord and not your own strength. May you boast that you know Him not just know about Him. Therefore, may the outcomes He delivers to you come from Him, letting the stress and strife of the storm pass you by unscathed.

in Christ,

AP



Can You Love the Impossible to Love?

“We love because he first loved us…”
1 John 4:19

     A friend just told me a story about a guy who insulted him in public – cussed him out while he was stopped at a traffic light. My friend was probably in the wrong and probably had cut the guy off. Instead of apologizing, he pretended to be someone he wasn’t and wound up intimidating the guy with deceit. 

     Our eyes, ears, interpretations, and feelings can easily deceive us. When we respond only to them, we stand in the seat of Jonah the Prophet. Jonah was clearly a passive-aggressive exploder – the kind of person you and I probably find impossible to love. When confronted verbally, he often responded non-verbally with avoidance. When confronted more severely, he cranks up the pity-party music and deflects with suicidal ideation. “Throw me overboard… I’m the reason everything is miserable and I’d rather die than carry out my assignment.”

     This deep seated self focus makes it impossible for us to love or be loved – giving love is a selfless act and receiving love demands humility or it quickly devolves into a gift giving contest where one party tries to “pay back” the love. That’s not love at all… it’s false humility.

     Cristine and I had one of the most extravagant dates ever on Saturday night at a restaurant we’d never have eaten at were it not for the gift card that got us there. We felt like the Beverly Hillbillies as the valet parked our Toyota minivan between a 4 door Porsche and a $100K+ Mercedes. We were so wrapped up in the extravagance that we almost missed the meaning:

Christ loves us extravagantly. Not because of what we have done, but because we are His. So much so, that one day He will sing over us with rejoicing – see Zeph. 3:17. It’s unconditional love and while the meal we had was outrageously delicious and refined, it’s nothing compared to what we’ll taste in heaven.

     I shared my friend’s story with her as we ate, not knowing what we were in store for later. We drove to a nearby outdoor mall for a walk under the stars in the unseasonably warm evening. Pulling into the parking lot, a pedestrian raged at me:

“Hey, d!c#! Don’t you know how to F&$ing stop?!”

     Ouch.

     Wounded heart? I mean, who would publicly spout that much venom if they weren’t deeply wounded, and likely lost, separate from the love of Christ?

     Thank God for my friend’s story. I could have pulled a Jonah and yelled back at the guy to protect my honor… Yet, like Jonah, I knew I was in the wrong and God was far more concerned with the soul of that man than with my dented pride or Jonah’s comfort (see Jonah 4:9-11).

     Wish I could say I got out of the van, humbled myself before the guy, shared the gospel and brought him to salvation in Christ… But, that just wasn’t on the agenda. He was too busy staring the van down all the way to when I parked and aiming one, singular finger at my face as he walked to his destination.

     What’s important is that God got through to me – 

“Don’t get so caught up with the glitz and comfort of the things that are here today and gone the next… let your heart be broken for those who are far from me and far from each other. Don’t get so caught up in what others do to “not” deserve love that you forget to love them like I loved you when you were dead in your sin. That guy was created in my image and I love him, too. I will sing over him with rejoicing someday. The world has taught you well to love those who love you and are kind to you. But, I am the Lord and I challenge you to love them, bless them, pray for them even when they curse you (twice in the same breath).”

     I can love a God who would pick me up out of the mud I made and stuck myself in. In His honor, how can I not love a few people who throw mud at me?

     Love without expectation of anything but cursing in return. If you get better than that, it is a blessing. If not, you will be blessed at the judgment seat as one who overcomes.

Give ’em heaven.

in Christ,

AP

5 Ways to Help the Hopeless

     Do you know someone who’s always hopeless or pessimistic? They’ve tried and failed. They tried again with a better plan or better people and the people, the plan, or both fell through. “Maybe, it’s just me.” they think. They look at the sky and see a half a cloud, so it must be about to pour, right? You plead with them – “It’s (insert your city or town). If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it’ll change.”

     “Wrong.” they say, listing all of the valid exceptions: “Lima, Peru –  it never rains; Seattle, WA – always raining; and San Diego – always sunny and 72.” 

     You beg and reason with them until you’re blue in the face. You may even begin to question yourself in light of all the evidence they present. Maybe, you’ve even walked away from them for a season. 

     “You have a negative view of the past, of the present, and of the future. You feel that nothing is going to get better—that it’s terrible now and it’s going to stay this way the rest of your life,” says Dr. Archibald Hart.

     “My life has always been rainy… There’s no hope. I’m a Seattle and all of my friends are San Diegos.” Hoplessness, shame, and pessimism are lies that affirm this: “the past = the future”. If that were true, why bother? But, we can bother. We are called to bother. Jesus died to dump hopelessness, shame, and pessimism in the lake of fire.

     David asks God the tough questions throughout the Psalms about why the wicked prosper and prods at God “how long will you let… [this injustice continue]” Jeremiah models it, too, in 20.18:

 “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?”

The great news for your friend who is hopeless, burdened by shame, and weighed down by pessimism: Elijah, Moses, Job, Jonah, Jeremiah – great men of God all despaired for their lives. Yet, all saw miracles of God before their own eyes (or once they were out of the belly of the fish and could see something… Ah, you get the point.)

  1. Silence is Golden: So, how do you handle your “mostly cloudy” friends?Know when words just won’t do. When Job lost everything… and then lost it all again… and again… His three friends started out on the right foot:

    Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. 2.13″

    Sometimes, words are necessary. Other times, words are the worst thing to bring to the table. This is more art than science – advice from the Holy Spirit is more often than not the only true barometer.

  2. Let Them Grieve without Giving Your Advice – when dealing with someone who’s stuck in the past, or even a present crisis, leaving your Home Depot/DIY apron in the truck is the rule of the day. As I grow wiser, I’m learning when my bride is hurting or just plain worn down by life that one of the most valuable questions I can ask is this:

    “Are you telling me this because you’re seeking a solution or because you just need to vent?” 

    Men, this has kept my marriage on the rails more often than not – but it is wisdom for all kinds of relationships. Don’t let your talent at fixing things derail your ability to pastor a friend or confidant.

  3. Encourage Sincerely – When you’ve received permission to offer your opinion or advice, pray that God gives you the words to say and that you stay away from the Hallmark aisle of your brain. Nobody – I mean nobody – likes canned speeches and trite verses.
  4. Don’t Minimize the Past – “It’s really not that big a deal.” is incredibly an minimizing and impersonal way of saying “Your suffering is nothing.” Yes, we all need to weight our present suffering against the suffering of Christ on our behalf, but God is a personal God, not a God of facts. Take into account that everyone’s personal struggles are just that: personal. Minimizing their personal affects feels like you’re minimizing them.
  5. Point to Jesus – The most important bridge to build is from past or present pain to future hopes and dreams and only the death, resurrection and ransom of Christ offers us proof and assurance that the past does not equal the future. Fluffy, flowery Jesus talk doesn’t really help – see #3 – but, a real expression that we’re all stuck for now in this broken world, redeemed, and soon to be delivered is the only truth that can build that bridge.
    You’re not their Messiah – a lot of times, we get hung up trying to solve their problem, rather than carrying the burden for a time. Keeping this in perspective is a crucial guardrail in staying out of the muck while pulling them out. Great lifeguards know you can’t save everyone, merely offer a steady hand to those who will accept it.

     In a Genesis 3 world, we will all have trouble. But, Christ assures us in light of this He has overcome the world and will deliver us from our light and momentary troubles. Ultimately, we will one day meet Him at the Bema seat (2 Cor. 5.10) and be rewarded for the things we did in His power and crowns for the pains we suffered in the meantime.

Great rewards await… all who overcome.

in Christ,

AP


Who Are YOU Sleeping With? Monday Morning Momentum

     Sometimes, it’s hard to read the Bible. No, not because we don’t have time or because it’s hard to understand – the number of translations, bible apps and online tools out there have eliminated those excuses like a trailer park in a tornado. I mean sometimes, it’s like watching a car crash – you know it’s coming, you know it’s going to be bad, but you can’t do anything to stop it.

     Take Jonah, for example. His job was easy – deliver a specific message to a specific people at a specific time. Oh, and God says “I want this in my inbox by Monday”. Jonah doesn’t just balk, he walks. God told him to leave Atlanta and head to NYC, but he hops a ride to Vegas – Jonah, what the dilly?! You know Jonah can’t outrun God, right?

I Hate Slasher Movies Because of the Dumb “Victims”
     Do you stare at those pages like you do at the girl in the Friday the 13th movies who could have grabbed the gun but grabs the flashlight, could have run down the road, but hides under the bed and scream – “Nooooo! Jonah! Don’t go that way! He’s gonna get you!!!”
 

     Jonah’s story turns when he sleeps with the fish. What’s it like to be catching some z’s on rough seas one minute, in a calm ocean the next, and moments later everything goes dark, warm, and slimy on you?

     Let’s go further back – I’m reading about Moses and Pharaoh. “Moe” goes to his adoptive Dad, Pharaoh – “Pops, it ain’t right. You gotta lay off me and a million of my people and let us go.” But, God had already hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It’s not going to go well for him. But, still, don’t you kind of root for Pharaoh and yell at your bible – “Just humble yourself, Akhen-amon-ramses-guy! You’re out of your league. You can’t kill Superman with bullets! It’s a losing battle!!!”


     Worse, look at Exodus 8:9. Bring a Frog to Work/School/Castle Day. Moses has been given chance number 3 to bow down before the one, true, living God and pray for his nation and instead of saying “Ok, son. You’ve never done me wrong and the blood from the Nile trick has stained all of our laundry. I’ll pray to your God right now, for repentance and some All-Temperature-Cheer.”

     Instead… Car crash. After Moe gives him a chance to pick the time that he prays to God on Pharaoh’s behalf, Tuten-nuttin tells Moses something that brings us back to the Friday the 13th factor: “Tomorrow.”

     What?! Wait ’til tomorrow?! Pharaoh – I don’t think you’re following the story. In my bible it says the frogs “will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed…” Really?! You’re that proud that you’d rather go home tonight and sleep in a bed of frogs, regroup, and hope that you get some inspiring dream that will make this go away your way instead of God’s way?!”


     Pride. Is… Ugly. 

     But, heck, his linens were already Freddy Kruger red, what’s a little squished frog juice going to matter…

     Sometimes, we get into places where our pride gets the best of us. It has us sleeping in dark, unfamiliar places with uncomfortable clutter all around us. I know. Last night my wife and I got into a… dispute… with each other and I failed miserably to not “let the sun go down on [my] anger”. Why? Pride. Just like Pharaoh. Just like Jonah. So, I slept with my junk and woke up feeling funk.

Great news:
     Jonah was a prophet with a tough message to give to tough people. You’ll probably never be called into a country that routinely kills prophets and be commissioned by God to deliver a message they don’t want to hear. Pharaoh was under the heart hardening spirit put on him by the Creator of all that is seen and unseen – he didn’t stand a chance.

     But, you and I do.

     How sincerely can we walk today in humility and surrender to God, even when what He’s asking us to do seems like a no-win face-off with Jason Voorhees’s machete vs. us with a flashlight? How committed are we to the ministry of reconciliation and obedience to the God who has redeemed us?

     If we are truly surrendered to the Father of Christ, we can at any moment dump our junk at the foot of the cross, leave our pride by the roadside, and refuse to sleep with the fish, with the frogs, with the funky junky heart.

Be Encouraged
     This stuff isn’t in the bible so the kids will have something fun to color on Sundays while you’re at church. It’s there because God wants us to learn from greater people with greater missions than ours and because He… loves… us.

Much love,

AP