End of your rope

“David also conquered the land of Moab. He made the people lie down on the ground in a row, and he measured them off in groups with a length of rope. He measured off two groups to be executed for every one group to be spared. The Moabites who were spared became David’s subjects and paid him tribute money.” ‭‭2 Samuel‬ ‭8:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬
Can you imagine, lying down on the ground as a soldier stretched a rope over you to decide whether or not you were to be executed? Imagine you’re the one at the end of the group. You’re thinking, “Will the rope be long enough to spare my life??”
Being a servant and paying tribute to a foreign king may not have exactly been desirable outcomes, but compared to execution, I’d bet the result was welcomed!
Are you at the end of your rope? What outcome in your life appears less than desirable? Can you think of an outcome that’s worse? Let that motivate your gratitude for all the good in your life, even those things that appear at first to be less than desirable. 
Grace and peace,
Dd

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You Shouldn’t Have

Hebrews 10:25 “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

I choose to call it “trusting.” Others might call it “gullible.” Either way, I’m not the toughest person to pull one over on.

It was a little harder for my wife. Living with me every day and keeping the secret was much harder for her than it was for the invitees, who only had to maintain the ruse for the few minutes we visited at church and such. Easy or hard, they managed. And I was totally surprised.

Though still a few days until my birthday, my wife managed to gather most of my closest friends to surprise me. After the initial shock of their presence when I arrived at home, we enjoyed the evening together, celebrating and laughing in fellowship.

There were, of course, many cards and gifts. Each reminded me of my friends’ generosity and thoughtfulness. I was overwhelmed.

One of my friends made a poster-sized collage of photos of my friends and me that she had collected over the years we have known one another. Taken at weddings, birthday parties, ice cream socials and the like, twenty eight photos memorialize many happy moments (and the various hairstyles donned over the years!).

And as happy and warm as those photos made me feel, the most touching part of her work was the note she had written that anchors the photos together. In it, she thanked me in detail for our friendship and uplifted me with kind words of encouragement. After the party, I sat quietly and read the note to myself again, letting the words boost my spirit. “Thanks again,” I thought to myself, “for such a lasting gift.”

We don’t always realize the power of our words. I have close friends who are still broken, even months afterward, by harsh words of rumor and criticism. They have left a lasting scar.

Kind words of support and care can have a lasting impact, too. Like my friend’s note, we can draw strength and healing from the good and pleasant words that we hear from others, especially from those who know us best.

God, show me someone today that needs encouragement, someone who has been hurt by the words of others, and give me the right words to say to build them up and point them back to you, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Amen.

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Who Won?

Proverbs 2:7 “He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless.”

Have you ever been to a sporting event where it seemed that the officials unjustly awarded the victory to one team because they did not call the game fairly?

At one of my daughter’s gymnastics meets, she did not get the score on a particular element that I, as her unbiased dad, thought she deserved. She did a much better job with her routine than the girls before her or after her, or at least I thought so. But her score did not reflect it.

Her grandparents were there, and my father wisely pointed out to me as I began to grow angry with the officials, “If she had done a perfect routine, with zero mistakes, then they would not have been able to mark any deductions. But they saw her faults and scored her routine accordingly. You may think she was less imperfect than her competition, but the only way to ensure a ‘10’ is to do it perfectly. The officials did not cause the mistakes, they simply observed them.”

I hate it when he’s right.

Fortunately, I don’t really see God as a cosmic referee, giving us a deduction every time we make a mistake. He cares about the details of our life, but I think he has a much better grasp of the big picture than we do.

If a sports official saw things like God does (and some of them think they do!), then keeping score and marking deductions would not be necessary. She would simply watch the competitors do their best routines, and declare the best contestant the victor. Impartiality to that extreme is a little hard for my finite brain to accept, but with perfect objectivity would come a perfect outcome, every time.

Rules and rewards, penalties and points, that’s how we turn a subjective game into an objective outcome. No matter how bad the judgment seems at the time, if we executed perfectly every time, then we would always win.

Sometimes I tend to focus on the inequities of life. An unfair official can spoil a well-executed routine. I won’t go so far as to say it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, as that would be the height of hypocrisy. I will say, though, that life is much more pleasant when our focus is on the glass that is half full instead of half empty.

My dad often says (as do I, as my kids would attest), “It is more fun to laugh than to cry, so you may as well laugh.” We can’t always control the outcome of the game, but we can choose to control our reaction.

And win or lose, I’d rather laugh than cry. Wouldn’t you?

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What Are You Talking About?

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.”

One of the many joys of being raised in a Christian home is that sometimes I read a scripture and it reminds me of something my parents used to say. Other times, I’ll read a scripture that I had heard put to music as a youngster, and the melody returns quickly to my mind. Or I’ll hear a Bible story and sometimes remember the first time I heard it, sitting in Vacation Bible School hosted by a small Baptist church, or at Sunday School in the renovated attic of the church office.

I learned to recite the books of the Bible, and that there are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New. I learned that the first five books of the Old Testament are called the Torah, and the first four of the New are the Gospels. I learned the names of the Apostles, that Paul wrote thirteen letters (now books of the New Testament), and learned to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

I memorized lots of scriptures, too. I learned the “Romans Road.” I could quote the Armor of God from Ephesians. I memorized verse after verse for one reason or another, many of which I believed I had long forgotten. But, from time to time, when faced with challenges or concerns, the Holy Spirit may bring a verse to mind to comfort me or challenge me to do the right thing.

In contrast, I have a friend that became a Christ follower a little later in life. She hears what I think is an “old” Bible story, like David and Goliath or Daniel and the Lions’ Den, and she’s confronted with the truth from those scriptures for the first time. These aren’t children’s fairy tales to her, but powerful, living stories of God’s faithfulness. The scriptures, while somewhat familiar, are alive and new to her. I’m humbled by her appreciation for stories that I’ve taken for granted, and her appreciation for verses that have long been engrained in my memory. Yet I’m thankful that the stories and verses are familiar to me, and I’m able to repeat them to my children as easily as The Three Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood.

I’m still challenged, though, when it comes to my own children. What will they remember? Will there be scripture verses engrained in their memory like there are in mine? Will they know the Bible stories well enough to recite them to their children, and their children’s children?

I know it’s important to watch what I say, but it’s a new challenge altogether to watch what I’m talking about.

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Why Are You So Angry?

What are you so angry about? (Ephesians 4)

Ephesians 4:26, 31 “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”

A good friend of mine pointed something out to me that I’m not sure ever really occurred to me before: Relationships are all we have. When you cut through it all, it’s not our possessions or position or perception that defines us, it’s who we know and who knows us. How we interact with others, and how others interact with us, that’s what really matters in life.

Recently, it seems I’ve been exposed to much more conflict than “normal.” Of course there are always disagreements in life, but it just seems more prevalent right now. Whether it involves family, friends, co-workers, or business partners, long-time relationships all around me are quarreling

I guess I should count myself fortunate that I am not the one personally involved in the conflicts. The best I can tell, no one is angry with me, so I am not affected. Or am I?

Our pastor has said something numerous times that applies in this context: Hurt people hurt people. Holding on to bitterness and resentment doesn’t really affect the other person, it affects the one that is holding on to the bitterness. On the other side of that coin, though, acting out in bitterness and resentment not only affects the other person, it also affects the one acting out. Further, it affects others as well. When you look at it that way, bitterness is a pretty selfish act, don’t you think?

It bothers me when the people who are closest to me are hurting. It also bothers me when they are hurting others. But it bothers me most that there is very little that I can do about it. This is yet another area where I must trust the Creator and the Prince of Peace to remedy the problems of this world. If he can use me to that end, then I’m available, but I must trust him to do what he has promised to do, and that is to bring peace and salvation to people.

There are always two sides to a conflict. Too often, we concentrate on what the other side should do rather than on what we ourselves can do. Or, we focus so much on what we can and can’t do that we forget about what God can do. And what he will do, if we ask.

Our church has a core value: Focus on the things that unite us and not on the things that divide us. I think that principle has merit in a church setting, but I also think it has application in our homes, schools, and workplaces. If we concentrate on those things we have in common instead of focusing on the differences, we leave very little to feel bitter about.

We can’t let our selfishness destroy the relationships God has put in our lives. That may seem like the easy route today, but it won’t seem that way tomorrow.

Look for the tough road today. More than likely, that’s the one God wants us to take.

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Well Done!

Matthew 16: 26-27 “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

It was the end of the school year, and as is the common practice, they were handing out awards to many of the students to recognize their achievements.

At my children’s school, they gather all the classes together and hand out the awards in a group ceremony. The process takes quite a while, but it shows the individual growth and maturity from grade to grade, and recognizes the students before a larger audience.

As a proud father of two successful children, I am struck that it wasn’t their various awards that taught me a lesson. Rather, it was the compassion I felt for one student in particular that did not receive an award at all, a student nearly everyone can identify with.

I heard the story later, but apparently this student had won an award of some kind every school year, because at this school, every child in kindergarten through second grade gets recognized for something. Now, this child was in the third grade, where not everyone gets an award. So, at eight or nine years old, he has to come to the harsh realization that only a few can be the best, only a few will be singled out. So he went home that day, devastated by disappointment.

I don’t really know the parents, so I don’t know how they reacted. And in their shoes, I don’t really know what I’d say to my distraught child. In my heart, I hope they pointed him upward.

Everyone faces disappointment at some time in life, and God is there to comfort us. While it certainly isn’t wrong to receive accolades from others for the things we do, our focus should be on what God thinks of us. He has a perfect plan for our life. Sometimes that includes recognition before man, sometimes it does not. In the end, though, the only reward that matters is the one that comes from above.

Next time you face disappointment in this life, remind yourself of the greatest reward:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

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Today?

Ephesians 5:15-16 “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

There’s something about a deadline that heightens the urgency of a situation. It’s difficult to articulate, but pressure-packed situations have a certain allure, a thrill, that just doesn’t materialize without urgency.

When I was in school, I very rarely completed my projects in advance. Whether I had two days, two weeks, or two months to complete it, I always found myself scrambling to finish my work just in time for the deadline.

I know what you’re thinking: “You shouldn’t procrastinate.” Funny thing: I almost always started the project as soon as it was assigned. I didn’t put it off. But for some reason, it never came together for me until right before it was due.

These days, I try to create artificial deadlines for myself. It doesn’t always work, but every so often I’m able to fool my natural tendencies into finishing before the real deadline arrives.

When I think about the deadline that God has established, I have to remind myself of my normal behavior. The Bible says that no one knows the day or the hour, but someday Jesus will return for us. And we have until that day to let everyone know about his grace and his forgiveness.

I can’t help but think that God knew my nature, and didn’t want to tell me the deadline. Instead, he wants me to treat every day like his arrival is imminent.

Don’t put off for tomorrow what could be done today. After all, today could be THE day.

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