Sage Brush or Oak Tree?

Psalm 1 reveals a stark contrast between the righteous and the wicked.  It’s a deep, thought provoking and yet simple Psalm that heralds a warning about who and what we allow to speak into our lives. It contains only 6 verses, but they pack a punch and provide a much-needed wake-up call about using discretion in what and who we allow to influence us. Look at it:

1 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;
2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 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.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Do you notice the progression of walk, stand and sit? I don’t think it’s a small thing. It demonstrates the slippery slope of deception that we can begin to go down when we surround ourselves with the wrong kind of people, ideas, philosophies and world views so prevalent in our world today.  I don’t mean to suggest that we should isolate or cloister ourselves from those in the “outside” world or not associate with unbelievers. Not at all.  The apostle Paul makes that clear in I Corinthians 5. What I’m referring to is the subtle and sometimes not so subtle influences that we allow into our lives that end up shaping the way we think (Romans 12:2), believe and eventually behave.

The blessed or happy person does something regularly and with intentionality that leads to a different kind of life, one that bears good fruit.  Do you see it? It’s in verse two, where it talks about what he allows to bring him great delight.  It’s the Word of God and he meditates on it day and night or continually. The Word of God is the source of the righteous person’s delight and wisdom, which in turn leads to right thinking, right believing and living life wisely and with discernment. Verses 4-6 unveil the results of going down a different path, listening to a completely different set of voices and it’s tragic.

Proverbs 4:23 cautions us to “guard our hearts, for everything you do flows from it”.  We need to rely on the abiding presence and power of the Holy Spirt and practice greater discretion in guarding our hearts.  The devil prowls around like a lion seeking whom he might devour (I Peter 5:8), which is why Peter urges us to be sober minded and alert.  What is it that delights you? What brings you the greatest joy? Where is your mind and heart centered most frequently? For the Psalmist, the Word of God was the source of his delight. Why? Because it led him to understand who God is and revealed so much of what God has done in this world. This led to a very different understanding of the world and a very different way of interacting and living in it.  As the Psalmist thought long and hard on the truths of Scripture it transformed and shaped him, first internally and then externally and rather than be like the wicked who were tossed around like sage brush, he was like an oak tree firmly planted by streams of water which yielded good and pleasant fruit.

Want to be more like an oak tree than like sage brush? Mediate, think about, read, memorize and be a doer of the Word by the power of God’s Spirit within you.  Submit yourself to the Scriptures. Force yourself to listen to the Word and allow it to be the primary voice in your life.  As you do things will change. First, in the way you think, then believe and eventually the way you live your life. Your relationship with Christ will go deeper and the gospel will become even more precious.

Battlefields

It was exactly 7 years ago that my husband, Rob, was diagnosed with cancer. His ocular melanoma was discovered when he went to see his eye doctor about some minor shadowy vision he had been experiencing. He was quickly referred to and examined by a retina specialist whose strained countenance displayed the devastating reality we were facing. We walked out of his office in stunned silence, and sat on a bench in the sunny foyer to pray and try to process the diagnosis that had been pronounced over our lives. On that day in February 2011, our “normal” life came to a screeching halt.

When we arrived at home, I made a bee-line to the computer to google my way to some medical facts that would help me better understand this menacing and mysterious cancer. There was no optimistic news. The days that followed were dark and disorienting, but our merciful God convinced us of one powerful and guiding truth: Our battle was not going to be against cancer. Cancer was not our enemy.

God’s merciful instruction to our fearful and weary hearts was that the battle we were facing was one that could end in absolute victory. The battle we were going to face was (and is): What is going to rule our hearts and minds?

Proverbs 4:23 gives this instruction: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” 

2 Chronicles 16:9 emphasizes the priority of the heart: “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…”

In a sense, our hearts felt up for grabs: would we allow Jesus to reign on the throne of our hearts, or would we allow fear, despair, hopelessness, and anxiety to rule? There was no way we could control the outcome of a rare cancer diagnosis, but there would be a promised victory in our hearts if Jesus remained on the throne.

The battle for my heart still rages. The “battlefield” several years ago was cancer. The “battlefield” now is widowhood. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. That’s the battle. Your battlefield may be a different one than the one I face. Your circumstances (the “battlefield”) may be unemployment, infertility, a broken relationship, parenting heartaches, job disillusionment, or a health crisis. Our battlefields are different, but the real battle we face is the same: the battle for our hearts and minds.

This quote from Nancy Guthrie describes so accurately the truth of my own weakness in the battle and the strength of the One who has promised to never leave me or forsake me: “… I am not strong. However, I am tethered to Someone who is strong. I am not holding on to hope in terms of a positive perspective about the future or an innate sense of optimism, but rather holding on to the living person of Jesus Christ. I am grabbing hold of the promises of God, His purposes, and His provision, and refusing to let go.”

I recently came across an email that I wrote to a friend during the final weeks of Rob’s life. In part, it said, “These have been exhausting days, but God has been near. I think we are blessed to have such an acute awareness of the preciousness of time. I find that I need huge chunks of time to read Scripture and Scripture-saturated books. My mind wants to take me down the path of despairing thoughts at every turn. But God’s Word continues to be life-giving and heart-sustaining. I pray that the truth of Psalm 59:16, 17 will continue to be my experience: “But I will sing of Your strength; I will sing aloud of Your steadfast love in the morning. For You have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to You, for You, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.”

I still occasionally get knocked down on this unfamiliar battlefield of widowhood. I’m sure that you find yourselves wearied and beat up on the battlefields that you are experiencing. One of Satan’s schemes against us is to distract us from our focus on Jesus, and to keep us preoccupied with the thought that a change in circumstances would solve all our problems.

Peter took his eyes off Jesus and was focused on the waves that threatened his safety. That’s when he sank. And that’s when we sink too. John Piper says, “If we don’t ‘call to mind’ what God has said about himself and about us, we languish. Oh, how I know this from painful experience. Don’t wallow in the mire of godless messages in your own head.”

The suffering and hardship of this life are a ‘normal’ part of our fallen and sin-scarred world. Our best efforts at planning and ordering our lives cannot prevent unanticipated and unwelcomed trials. Battlefields are treacherous. They are filled with hidden dangers and heart-wearying pain.

But the actual battle, the battle for our hearts, can be won, even if no change in our circumstances ever occurs. That’s when we discover the hidden riches of the abundant grace of God, and the nearness to God that He promises in His ever-living and powerful Word. It’s in His Word that we learn of the character of the One who holds us and keeps us. My faith would be shipwrecked in a moment if I depended on myself or anyone or anything else.

Who or what will we trust for strength, security, and answers to our searing questions and disconcerting doubts? That’s the battle, and by God’s grace we can commit our way completely into the loving care of our merciful and ever-faithful heavenly Father:

Psalm 73:23-26

“Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand.

You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

 

 

 

 

Duty, Disciple, Delight

“I hate going to church.” Has your child ever said something like this? Maybe they don’t really hate going to church. Maybe they say they’re bored, they don’t understand what’s going on in corporate worship, or it’s just not fun. Or maybe it’s not church. Maybe it’s when you try to get them to have a quiet time or pray. Rather than coming away from those times with fresh insights from the Word or spiritually filled up, they come away acting like you just gave them homework to do first thing in the morning.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If not, congratulations, you have raised a perfect child. But if it does sound a little familiar, do not be afraid. You are not alone. If your child hates church, or is bored, doesn’t like reading the Word, or can’t say a prayer deeper than thanking God for the Chick-Fil-A nuggets he or she is eating as you speed off from the drive thru to sports practice, rest assured you are not alone.

Raising our children in the fear and the admonition of the Lord isn’t easy. It’s tedious work. Raising our children in church and under the authority of God’s word in the hopes that the Lord would awaken their hearts is discipleship and missions at its finest and hardest. I think many toddlers are still considered an unreached people group.

So, what do we do? There are all kinds of books written to address that very thing, but I want to put three words in your head as we think about how to move our children from bored with Jesus to beholding Jesus. From entertained by Jesus to enthralled by Jesus.

Those 3 words are: Duty, Discipline, Delight.

Duty:

Let’s not forget that anytime we try to learn something new or try to instill in us a new habit or way of living, it tends to feel more like a duty. It feels more like something we are forcing ourselves to do. Duty isn’t bad. Especially with young children, many of the beliefs, behaviors, and practices, we ask of them will feel like a duty and not something they enjoy. If we expect them to love everything about the church and everything about reading the Bible, then we are expecting more of them than we do ourselves. So, if your child says she is bored with church, it’s probably not because she is demonically possessed. It just might be that she is human. And bored isn’t always bad.

Discipline:

If we can relax a little and give our children some grace, give ourselves some grace, and realize that this loving Jesus process is more like tending to a garden and less like putting a frozen pizza in the microwave, we will begin to be better equipped to help our children move from duty to discipline. The discipline stage is where we can help manage expectations and build the faith into the rhythms of their life. This is the stage where we do the types of things that helps cultivate faith like praying with our children, having devotions with them, worshiping with them in corporate worship, asking them about kid’s church and youth group, applying the Word of God to practical problems at home and school. These disciplines don’t produce faith in and of themselves, but they do play a big part. In the same way tilling up the ground, sowing seeds, watering them, weeding the beds, and keeping pests out doesn’t ensure you will have an abundant harvest. However, it’s the only thing you can control that gives you the best opportunity to be a part of the harvest. Discipline stage is where children move from the “Do I have to do this?” Stage to the “This is just what we do as a family.” Stage.

Delight:

The last stage is delight. This is the stage we have no control over at all. This is the stage of faith that we pray to God about. This is the stage where God takes dead hearts and makes them alive. This is something only He can do. It is only God that can move a dead heart and make it come alive. Again, do not fear. Many of our children are somewhere between duty and discipline. Some of our children have confessed faith in Christ, but still need our help. Some of the deep things of God are not easily seen as delight to those young in the faith. If we are honest, all Christians wrestle with these things. We all move from duty and discipline, but hopefully because we are motivated by delight.

Keep sowing seeds. Keep tilling up the hard soil. Keep watering the ground. And by God’s grace may He grant us a bountiful harvest in this Next Generation.