Thursday, September 18, 2014

Big Boys (and Girls) Don’t Cry or Do They?

By Allen White

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll —
are they not in your record? Psalm 56:8

“Big boys don’t cry.” That’s what I grew up hearing. Now, Fergie tells us “Big girls don’t cry” either. But, honestly, some things in life are so terrible and so painful that it should evoke tears.

Lament is not a word that we use a lot. Jeremiah wrote an entire book of the Bible called “Lamentations.” We tend not to go there. According to the dictionary, lament means “to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret” or “to mourn.” (Source: Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/lament)

David, the psalmist here, had much to lament in his life. Some of those things were his own fault: adultery (2 Samuel 11), murder (2 Samuel 11:15-17), his children’s unchecked behavior (2 Samuel 13-15) – these things were David’s fault. But, in writing this psalm, David had done nothing wrong at this point in his life. In fact, David was following God’s will and was being hunted down like a fugitive. If you’re following God’s will, shouldn’t it all be rosy? Think again.
David had been anointed king over Israel to replace Saul (1 Samuel 16). David humbly served in Saul’s administration (1 Samuel 16). David wasn’t presumptuous about his future reign. He patiently waited, and Saul threw a spear at his head (1 Samuel 19:9-10). So, David ran.

David wasn’t safe anywhere he went. Saul searched for him in every dog house, hen house and outhouse in the region (a little Tommy Lee Jones there). Saul was the predator. David was the prey.

David had done nothing wrong. David was the recipient of Saul’s jealousy, anger and resentment. The problem wasn’t David. The problem was Saul. But, David faced the consequences of Saul’s sin. It was unfair. It was unjust.

David poured out his lament to God. “Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack. My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride” (Psalm 56:1-2). David needed to have God on his side. David didn’t have anyone else.

The result of David’s lament was this assurance: “Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help. By this I will know that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise- in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:9-11)

What can man do to him? They could beat him, imprison him, torture him, kill him – that’s what man can do. But, David’s focus was not on his enemies. His focus was on God. “…when I call for help…I will know that God is for me…What can man do to me?” If God is for us, then who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

God is for you. Say that to yourself: “God is for me.” Say it softly, out loud: “God is for me.” Shout it if you need to.

What are you up against today? God is for you. Ask for His help. Give Him your praise. God will vindicate everyone who is treated unjustly. Maybe in this life, but definitely in the next.



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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Quit

By Allen White

for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13

Nothing makes you feel more powerless than being in a situation that just baffles you. You don’t know what to do. You don’t know what to say. You don’t know how to get help. You feel trapped. You feel alone. You feel forgotten.

Whether it’s a relationship, a project, a job or a train wreck, it’s overwhelming to feel stuck and not have an answer. It’s frustrating not to be able to figure things out. But, there is something powerful in such a circumstance.

When we have reached the end of ourselves, we have no choice but to turn to God. When we have no solution, no plan, no control or just no clue, we turn to God and say, “I’m stumped. I need your help.” In these situations God’s work is more obvious because we know that any positive result was because of God and not because of ourselves.

So, here’s some good news: while God’s work is often mysterious, it’s not foreign to believers. As this verse states, God is already working in you and in me. That doesn’t mean that everything that we do is godly. Often it’s far from that. But, we don’t need to wait for God to intervene from on high. He’s already with us. He’s already working in our lives.

The key is to stop and give the situation over to Him (Philippians 4:6-7). We must learn to run to God before we think we need to. When we reach the end of ourselves and our only choice is to turn to God, well, that’s a pretty great choice, isn’t it?

God is at work in your life. In all of the good things and in all of the bad, God is at work. In all of the crises, the victories, and the mundane, God is at work.

How do you need God to work in your life today? How does God need to work in you today?

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Problem of Comfort

By Allen White

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

This verse is nearly an oxymoron. “Happy are those who mourn.” If they were happy, they wouldn’t be mourning. If they are mourning, then they are not happy. But, again, the happiness, the deeper inner joy, and the comfort are not in the present situation.

The rabbis referred to the Messiah as the “Comforter.” Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Comforter” as well (John 14:16-17). But, we have some misunderstandings about comfort.

If you are comfortable, you don’t need a comforter. Jesus didn’t come to comfort the comfortable, and thus make us more comfortable (sorry Trinity Broadcasting Network). The end goal of our relationship with Christ isn’t comfort. It’s salvation.

I would go so far as to say that our comfort gets in the way of our relationship with God at times. We have to be “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. For some of us, our comfort should cause us to mourn because it’s keeping us from God’s blessings in our lives. It’s distracting us from Kingdom work.

But, there are those who mourn. Why? They mourn because the world, by and large, is a terrible place. Who would have imagined that in the 21st century the world would still be plagued with war, human trafficking, hunger, piracy on the high seas, injustice, slavery, extreme poverty, racism and so many other things? The condition of our world and our culture should cause us to mourn.

Most people have suffered considerable losses in their lives. They’ve lost their hopes and dreams. They’ve lost their retirement or their livelihood. They’ve lost family and close friends. Our losses cause us to grieve and mourn. We can’t sweep them under the rug, but sometimes we can’t face them either. What do we do?

We turn to our Comforter. Ultimately, He will right ever wrong and put things in order. The world will be transformed. Just not right now. We believe that God is a just God (Isaiah 30:18). It’s one of His divine attributes. We mourn the slowless of God’s justice.

One day Jesus “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4). But, what about today?

From Celebrate Recovery, we learn to “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to him, and
that he has the power to help me recover.” You might be thinking “Recovery? I don’t need recovery.” If you are mourning something today, if your life is overcome by deep sadness, then you need recovery. You need to know that you matter to God. You need to know that He has the power, on His terms, to help you through your current circumstance and every circumstance after that.

What are you mourning today? What injustice or unfairness enrages you? As we trust in Jesus, He will bring comfort.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Are You on God’s Bad Side?

By Allen White

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." James 4:6

When we are proud, God is opposed to us. That’s what this verse says. Considering God’s power and might, it would be wise to have God on our side rather to live in opposition to Him.

I’m not saying this to be clever. I’m saying this because I don’t know that we understand how truly serious this is. Pride is one of the greatest hindrances to our spiritual well-being. It’s one of the seven deadly sins, according to Pope Gregory the Great (Source: gotquestions.org http://www.gotquestions.org/seven-deadly-sins.html). (So is gluttony, but we talked about confession yesterday, and I’ve lost 15 pounds).

Pride puts us at the center of our universe. Pride is the desire to prove everyone else wrong just to prove that we’re right. Pride is the compulsion for control. Pride is hogging the ball, the remote, and the credit. Pride puts us on the wrong side of God.

Grace is not given to the proud, because the proud see no need for grace. Like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, who did everything right, the proud don’t have a need for the Father’s grace (Luke 15:29). They are in control. They are calling the shots. The proud can take care of themselves. As St. Augustine said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils. It is humility that makes men as angels.”

So, here’s the problem: proud Christians depend on God for their eternal salvation, but depend on themselves for everything else. God’s saving grace has been applied and their destiny is secure. But, when it comes to everyday living, “if it’s meant to me, it’s up to me.” (That’s a clever phrase, though unbiblical).

God cannot work in us if we don’t allow Him to work. If we are expending all of our energy trying to figure things out and don’t seek God for answers, guess what, God doesn’t give any answers.

God gives grace to the humble, not just for eternal security, but also for daily living. The humble don’t necessarily have low self-esteem. The humble have an accurate view of themselves (Romans 12:3). They have strengths and weaknesses. They are not the center of the universe. The humble acknowledge their weakness so that God, in turn, demonstrates His strength (2 Corinthians 12:10).

God doesn’t love the humble more than the loves the proud. God loves us all. God gives grace to the humble, because they are humble enough to ask for God’s grace. Why would the proud need to ask for God’s grace? They’ve got it all under control.

How do you need God’s grace today? Have you asked Him for it? God is not stingy with His grace. He won’t scold you first. God is glad to be on your side.

A beautiful hymn by Annie J. Flint captures this well:

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

If you have time, the lyrics to this hymn are priceless: http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/He_Giveth_More_Grace/

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Soul Cancer

By Allen White

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD "-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:3-5

Unconfessed sin is a cancer on the soul. As David writes, it doesn’t just affect us spiritually, but it also takes a toll emotionally and physically.

The deception of sin is that it allows us to believe that we have control over it, when sin actually has control over us. Sin causes us to think, “I can stop any time I want to.” But, here’s the deal: if you could stop, then why haven’t you stopped? If you don’t believe me, then I would challenge you today, to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and quit. Cold turkey. If you think you are in control, then you can quit today and never go back to it. Let me know how it goes for you. Let me know when you need to quit again.

I’m not saying these things because I am better than you. I am saying these things because I am you. I’m just as fallen and as prone to sin as the next guy. I’m just as easily deceived into depending on myself until the next crisis arises. So, I suppose that I am just as prideful and stupid as anyone else.

The power of sin lies in our secrets. My friend, Paul, says “I’m only as sick as my secrets.” We worry about our loss of reputation or embarrassment if someone found out what we were up to. We can’t believe that we let ourselves become trapped by sin, yet part of us doesn’t want to get away from it. The result isn’t life and peace, but guilt and shame.

Here’s the deal: if you were truly in control of your sin and could quit, then you would have quit already. You can’t. If you are trapped by over-working, online relationships, smoking, mindless web surfing, endless television watching, pornography, over-eating, over-exercising or over-anything else, you need the help of other believers to escape this trap. If you are trapped, that thought is terrifying.

Why can’t I just confess this to God? Why do I need to involve anyone else? Because you’ve already confessed this to God, and you’re right back in it. James writes, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). We need the accountability from someone who loves us, but is not impressed with us. This isn’t a person who keeps a “record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5), but someone who encourages us so that we don’t give up. Paul writes, “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

The blessing of confessing our sins is found in the beginning of this Psalm:

Blessed is he
       whose transgressions are forgiven,
       whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
       whose sin the LORD does not count against him
       and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2)

My hope and prayer for you today is that you will find the blessing of forgiveness and freedom through your confession, true fellowship and God’s power.


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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Feeling Stuck?

By Allen White

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. Romans 7:15-17

The Apostle Paul doesn’t seem to be a guy that many of us can relate to. He planted the church throughout Asia Minor and Southern Europe without an airplane, a computer, a telephone or a television. He wrote nearly half of the New Testament (13 of 27 books: Romans through Philemon). He was arrested, beaten, left for dead and run out of town. He preached to politicians and prisoners. The Apostle Paul is out of our league.

Yet, this passage in Romans is probably the most “human” of his writing. When I read these words, I feel like Paul is writing about me. “Why did I just say that, I know that it hurts their feelings? Why did I just eat that, I’m not even hungry?” The list can go on and on.

Don’t take this passage as an excuse to place blame for our actions. We are responsible for how we act. If we don’t understand why we do what we do, then we need to figure that out. The point is this: you and I are powerless to overcome the temptations in our lives. God never encourages us to resist our temptations (James 1:13-14). He directs us to run from them (1 Corinthians 6:18). There is no way through temptation, that will benefit us, but there is a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Left to us, we will never become the best versions of ourselves. We seek comfort, safety and self-preservation. We want to be soothed. We want to escape. An old saying goes “The path of least resistance makes both men and rivers crooked.” Left to ourselves, we’re a bit of a mess.

But, God is not content to leave us there. “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).

On our own, you and I will never achieve the lives that God will bless. We’re just not that good. But, as God does His work in us, He will transform our lives through the work of His Spirit. The key is control. If we attempt to control our own lives and to control the people and circumstances around us, we cannot receive the blessings of God. Our desire for control always results in sinfulness. If we allow God’s Spirit to control us, the results are much different. “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

How’s your peace these days? What’s the quality of your life? Are you dragging through your days or are you enjoying life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:9)?


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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Control Freaks Anonymous

By Allen White

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

Who are the “poor in spirit”? What does that even mean? Are they depressed? Are they weak spiritually? It’s an odd term.

In his gospel, Luke just says, “blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20). We understand “poor,” so let’s start there. There are a lot of different reasons why people are poor. We are not going to explore all of that today. Let’s consider poverty in its purest form, if you will.

The advantage of the poor is that they’re disadvantaged. The poor have no wealth. The poor have no power. The poor have no influence. Most people in the United States are among the wealthiest people in the world. If you don’t know where you rank, check out this Wealth Calculator (http://www.globalrichlist.com). (If you earn only $2,000 per year, you are in the Top 20% of the world’s richest people).

Here’s why the poor are blessed: the poor cannot help themselves and must depend on God. Their survival depends on reliance on God. They are not self-made, they are unmade. They have fewer encumbrances in life. They don’t worry about their cell phone reception or their air conditioning. They don’t have either.

Don’t get me wrong here. It’s not more spiritual to be poor and less spiritual to be wealthy. Christians become confused and carry some unnecessary guilt over this. Jesus did challenge the rich young ruler: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
This was a loaded statement.

First of all, none of us can achieve perfection, but the rich young ruler thought that was the path to eternal life (Matthew 19:16-20). Jesus was simply pointing out that legalism doesn’t lead to righteousness.

Secondly, the implication here is that the rich young ruler trusted in his wealth and his ability to create wealth more than he trusted in God. If he could obey the Law and provide for his needs, why did he even need God? He didn’t.

Now, if you are wealthy and successful, don’t get discouraged. After all, Jesus adds “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

The whole matter does not involve what you have or what you don’t have. The bottom line is who or what you depend on for your well-being. How big of a deal do you consider yourself to be? Are you the king of the world? Maybe it’s time to resign and to realize that there is very little that you can actually control. Oh, you can drive yourself nuts trying to control everything. (“Hi, my name is Allen, and I’m a recovering control freak.”) You and I must realize that we are not in control, but God is in control.

Whether your life is up and to the right or in the red, your circumstances can change very quickly. Some have seen that happen in the last few years. And, there’s nothing that you could have done to change that.

To acknowledge that you are not in control and that you must depend on God is to be poor in spirit. To recognize that you cannot control anyone or anything and that God has control over all is to be poor in spirit. Not financially poor, but poor “in spirit.” The poor in spirit live as though their entire lives are solely dependent on God and His goodness toward them. Well resourced or overdrawn, we’re all in the same boat.

As we learn to depend fully on God, we receive something that we could never acquire or achieve: the Kingdom of God – in this present world and in the world to come.

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