When You Are Angry with God

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Sometimes life hurts. And when we hurt, the natural response is anger. When another person is responsible for our pain, our anger turns toward the one who has injured us. But sometimes there’s no clear culprit in our suffering. At those times, it’s natural to place the blame on the One we know is in control of everything. And so we unleash our anger on God.

Can we blame the young woman of bitter feelings when she finds herself experiencing her third miscarriage in fifteen months? Can we blame the parents for their profound anger toward God when they learn that their baby boy has Down syndrome? How can the elderly man not blame God when he discovers that he has Parkinson’s disease?  Can we blame the victim of a horrible car accident or a cruel rape for lashing out at a God who seems not to care?

Let me remind you of some very important truths when you are angry with God.

 After you blame God for all your suffering, don’t forget to thank him for all his goodness.

I have been asked more times than I care to recall, “If God is good why does he allow _______? Human suffering? Half of the world’s population to starve? Countless babies to be born with severe birth defects? A young father to accidentally run over and crush his two-year-old child while backing out of the driveway?

I’ve been tempted to respond to that question with a question of mine own. “If God is mean why does he give ______?” If God is mean why does he give us a healthy body? A warm bed to sleep in and a roof over our head? A job? Life, even though we are jealous, envious, and spiteful? A son or a daughter who loves us no matter what?

Skeptics often ask, “If God is good explain to me how there can be so much evil in the world.” Ask the skeptic, “If God is so mean explain to me how there can be so much good in the world.”

Don’t get mad at God because he doesn’t do what you want him to do.

Too often we treat God like a pit-bull attack dog. When we see someone or something that’s not to our liking we say to God, “Sic ‘em.” God doesn’t work that way. And, by the way, what gives us the right to think that we can use God as our secret militia to stamp out anyone and everything that does not operate to our standards or specifications? Until we become all knowing and all-powerful, until we can balance grace and justice, then we should resign as chief warden of our little universe.

Too often we want comfort while God wants us miserable.

Would it surprise you, then, for me to say that there are times when God wants us to be miserable? Yes, God is a God of comfort. He comes into our lives to bring comfort and joy and peace and happiness. But, there are those times when God comes to bring discomfort. To issue us a wake-up call. To move us out of complacency. To stretch us. To challenge our comfort zones. To help us see beyond the walls of our measly existence. To break down the barriers we erect because of our prejudices and hate. This was brought home to me once again, when I read, “Counselors are trying to make many people comfortable whom God is trying to make miserable.”

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

While you desire judgment and destruction, God demonstrates mercy and forgiveness.

God is a God of grace. Time and time again, God has displayed his unmerited favor and love upon us. And all the while, we deserve judgment and punishment. So, the next time the angry erupts, remember that we deserve judgment, but God grants mercy.

A young mother who lost a baby said, “We still don’t have all the answers, but we’re working it through. Our anger and pain have gradually been replaced by his peace.”

We all experience tragedy. How we respond to God during suffering will, to a large degree, determine if we will emerge from that crisis weakened or strengthened. When life hurts, we have two choices. We can become bitter at God or better with God. We can build barriers between God and ourselves or build bridges to a deeper relationship with a loving and caring God.

The choice is ours.

Recently I wrote a book on Psalm 23, Soul Therapy: The Healing Words of Psalm 23, that speaks to the heart, quiets your spirit, and eases loneliness. This psalm is a picture of contentment; it represents that mental state and physical place for which everyone longs. I share how Psalm 23 can comfort and empower your life. Click here to claim your copy.

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Four Lessons of Contentment

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Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., observes that our society is marked by “inextinguishable discontent.” Our quest is usually not for contentment but for what is better and what is next. We want a better job with better pay and a better boss. We want better relationships and a better car and a better house. And, we have a propensity to live endlessly for the next thing—the next weekend, the next vacation, the next purchase, and the next experience. We are never satisfied, never content.

Here are four lessons about contentment.

Contentment is learned.

When several of the men who had been prisoners of war during the Vietnam War returned home after surviving the horrors of Hanoi, a number of those brave men said, “We learned after a few hours what it took to survive, and we just adapted to that.” They didn’t whine or complain because they had been captured. They learned contentment.

Contentment is an inside job.

Contentment isn’t denying one’s feelings about unhappiness, but instead it exhibits a freedom from being controlled by those feelings. Contentment isn’t pretending things are right when they are not, but instead it displays the peace that comes from knowing that God is bigger than any problem and that he works them all out for our good. Contentment isn’t a feeling of well-being contingent on keeping circumstances under control, but instead it promotes a joy in spite of circumstances looking to God who never varies. Contentment is a state of the heart, not a state of affairs. Contentment is not based on external circumstances, but rather on an internal source.

Contentment comes by surrendering to God.

Contentment is a matter of accepting from God’s hand what he sends because we know that he is a good God and wants to give good gifts to his children. We accept, therefore, from God’s hand that which he gives. All that is needful he will supply. Even pain and suffering that seemingly cannot be corrected he can redeem.

If we fail to surrender to Christ, we will forever be discontent. Our freedom will be suffocated. We will be in bondage to our desires. Our relationships will be poisoned with jealousy and competition. Potential blessings will be sacrificed. Discontentment has the potential to destroy our peace, rob us of joy, make us miserable, and tarnish our witness. We dishonor God if we proclaim a Savior who satisfies and then go around discontent.

Contentment is often hidden from the casual observer.

Those things we expect to bring contentment surprisingly do not. We cannot depend upon contentment to fall into our laps from education, money, or status because contentment arises from a different source.

The secret of contentment is hidden from the casual observer. What is that secret? Remembering what Jesus has done for you. Because of the cross the believer is freed from the chains of sin. Because of the cross, their salvation is secure. Because of the cross, they have a friendship with God. Because of the cross, their future is heaven. Isn’t that enough? What else really matters? Life’s essentials are taken care of.

Then, you are content.

Did you know that if we practiced love our relationships would be stronger, our jobs would be more meaningful, and our ailments would be fewer? Earlier this year I wrote an encouraging book on love called Chapter 13: The Excellence of Love. The book gets its title from perhaps the greatest statement ever made on love in 1 Corinthians 13. This book provides a guide to love, and, if practiced, it will make us well and whole. Click here to claim your copy.

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Five Reasons Worry Kills

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Worry is anxiety full-blown. Worry paralyzes people until they can’t do anything for fear that it will be wrong. The very word worry comes from the Old English word that means “to strangle.” It strangles the very life out of us. There may be more significant sins than worry, but few are more disabling and destructive.

Here are five reasons why worry is counterproductive.

Worry Is Needless
Randy Reid, a 34-year-old construction worker, was welding on top of a nearly completed water tower outside Chicago. Reid unhooked his safety gear to reach for some pipes when a metal cage slipped and bumped the scaffolding on which he stood. The scaffolding tipped, and Reid lost his balance. He fell 110 feet, landing face down on a pile of dirt, just missing rocks and construction debris.

A fellow worker called 911. When paramedics arrived, they found Reid conscious, moving, and complaining of a sore back.

Apparently, the fall didn’t cost Reid his sense of humor. As paramedics carried him on a backboard to the ambulance, Reid had one request: “Don’t drop me.” (Doctors later said Reid came away from the accident with just a bruised lung.)

Sometimes we resemble that construction worker. God protects us from harm in a 110-foot fall, but we’re still nervous about three-foot heights. The God who gives and sustains life can be counted on in the smaller issues of our lives.

Worry Is Senseless
Most of us are familiar with the poem:
Said the robin to the sparrow:
‘I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.’

Said the sparrow to the robin:
‘Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.’

While it is true the birds do not sow, reap or store in barns, they build nests for their families, scratch for food and yank worms out of the ground. But they don’t worry about next year’s worm crop. They sing while they work and live day by day. And God, day by day, provides for them.

Worry Is Useless
Once upon a time, there was a man who worried all the time. He worried about his job, his health, and the economy. He worried about whether he worried too much. A woman co-worker chided him for worrying all the time. “It just doesn’t work,” she said.

“What do you mean, it doesn’t work?” he replied. “Sure it does! Nothing I worry about ever happens!”

Worry changes nothing. Although we pride ourselves on being practical people, worry is perhaps the most impractical thing we do.

If worry changed anything, it might be justified. But there is no evidence that it improves anything for good. Worry is useless. Even more, the evidence indicates that worry makes things worse. It wastes our energy. It exhausts us. We seldom get the restful sleep we need. It impacts our appetite. We eat less, and what we eat is less beneficial to our bodies because worry throws off our digestive system. It skews our mental attitude. We think negative thoughts leading to inner turbulence, fearfulness, lack of confidence.

Worry Is Faithless
A quick glance at the headlines in today’s paper will convince us that there is much in this world to worry us. Nuclear war. Hunger and famine. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Gas and heating oil prices. Wildfires. The list seems endless. As long as the focus of our attention is on these headlines, we will worry. But when our perspective is eternal, we trust God to give us what we need.

The great prayer warrior, George Mueller, who started an orphanage and kept is funded through prayer alone, once wrote, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” Worry can be a signal to redirect your faith. It can be a built-in reminder for you to get better acquainted with your heavenly Father.

Worry Is Godless
Worry is an affront to God. It is a practical denial of what we say we believe. When we worry, we align ourselves with godless people. We deny God’s values. We, therefore, live as though we, too, were godless. Consequently, we reject our heavenly Father. A Father who has promised us, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11 NIV).

Worry cannot live in the presence of God. It cannot breathe in the atmosphere made vital through a relationship with our heavenly Father.

Therefore, stop worrying.

 

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Four Critical Decisions to Save Your Family

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A man worked for a television studio, but, unlike so many in the TV industry who seldom watch television themselves, this man was addicted to it. He would come home from work, turn on the tube and watch it all evening—usually until it went off the air. He spent little or no time with his two children or his wife. In fact, his kids hardly knew they had a dad. All they knew was that someone living there watched TV all the time.

Needless to say, his marriage was hurting and deeply immersed in isolation. For some reason, however, he and his wife decided to attend a Marriage Enrichment Conference, and that weekend literally changed his life. He realized his priorities were totally wrong and that he was setting a bad example for his children.

When the man got home on the evening following the conference, the first thing he did was take the television set from the family room and store it in the garage. Then he took a family portrait he had stuffed away in a closet and hung it on the wall where the television set used to be.

Next he called his wife and two children into the family room for a family council meeting. As he shared with them his new set of priorities and asked for their forgiveness, his 12-year-old son interrupted him and said, “Dad, now that there is a picture of our family where the television used to be, does this mean we are going to be a family now?”

This husband and father had made a giant step, from spending night after night doing nothing of value, to deciding to be a dad who cared about his family and did something tangible about it.

If it seems that your family is not connecting, let me suggest that you:

Pray about your priorities.
Ask God to help you order your life according to his priorities.

Think through your promotions.
Often promotions come with a corresponding increase in workload and hours. Is it worth it?

Consider changing jobs.
No job is worth sacrificing your spouse or children. No career is more important than your relationship with those you love.

Stop gift wrapping the garbage.
Or anything else that drives you to perfection and sacrifices valuable time with your family. As I was mowing my yard the other day, I thought, “Do I want to be remember for having a beautiful lawn or having a wonderful family?”

We must be diligent to screen out any attacks—vicious or otherwise—that would rob us from spending time with our family. A recent survey by Massachusetts Mutual Insurance found that Americans believe “parents having less time to spend with their families” was the single most important reason for the family’s decline in our society. Spending time with our family is our right. Frank Minirth, M.D., states, “A child’s birthright is the right to spend time with his family.” And every other member of the family has that right, too.

 

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Four Choices to Make in a Crisis

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The Chinese language uses two characters to form the word crisis: one means danger, the other opportunity. A crisis can blindside you, bringing pain and added hurt; or it can provide an opportunity, leading you to a new adventure and a new season. The outcome is dependent on your response.

Here are four choices that confront you in a crisis.

1. You can give up or go on.
Choose to go on. Persevere. It’s the ability to hang on when it would have been easier to let go. Persistence jumps to the forefront for those people who survive a crisis. Persistence is the key that keeps us from giving up and letting go.

The dictionary defines perseverance as “the power of going on in spite of difficulties.” Popular colloquial phrases describe it as: “Keep on keeping on.” “Hang in there.” “Put up with it.” “Stick-to-itiveness.” “Don’t quit.” Its synonyms are determination, endurance, tenacity, plodding, stamina, and backbone.

So don’t quit. Never give up. Keep going. Hold on. It has been said, “Life is like reading a book. It begins to make sense when we near the end.” Perseverance maintains the stamina needed to endure the pains and hardships of life. So hold on, hang in there, don’t quit.

2. You can retreat to the past or move forward into the future.
Choose to move forward. Crisis by their very nature is frightening and depressing. We tend to retreat to the past—what is familiar, what is comfortable, what is known. Don’t do it. Move forward. Faith is required in moving forward. To move past the dangers to meet the opportunities of a new day, to move ahead in life, to grow, always requires faith. As we move forward on faith that the unknown becomes known, that the darkness becomes light, that the night becomes day. Moving forward in faith is like walking toward an eye-opening electric door. The door only opens as we move forward toward it.

Facing a crisis often feels as though the rug of your life has been pulled out from under you. But remember that if the carpet has been pulled out, God is under the rug. He will catch you, support you, encourage you, and soften the blow of the fall. You can count on him for that. He can be trusted. Oswald Chambers wrote: “It is no use to pray for the old days; stand square where you are and make the present better than any past has been. Base all on your relationship with God and go forward, and presently you will find that what is emerging is infinitely better than the past ever was.”

3. You can withdraw from people or connect with people.
Choose to connect with people. Too often when faced with a crisis the human tendency is to isolate ourselves from others, going into hiding. We need to communicate to others for help, support, encouragement, and strength.

The connection is at the heart of religious experience. Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of sociology, spent years in the South Sea Islands studying the religion of primitive natives to discover what religion was like before it was formalized with prayer books and professional clergy. In 1912, he published his influential book, Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, in which he suggested that “The primary purpose of religion at its earliest level was not to put people in touch with God, but to put them in touch with one another.”

Crises are a time to connect with others, not to withdraw.

4. You can fear the future or trust the Savior.
Choose to trust the Savior. Fear is very much a part of a crisis. Fear is a God-given emotion. If anxiety is out of control, it is the most paralyzing emotion of all. Fear makes a person doubt their abilities and paralyzes the free use of their talents. It brings on “cold feet,” makes one a “chicken,” and eats away at one’s “guts.” Fear causes one to miss a sure two-foot putt, a free throw in the closing seconds of a game, a promising opportunity for financial gain, a friendship that could last a lifetime. Fear motivates us to make more money, “just in case;” to always have the resume out, “you never know;” and to look over your shoulder, “you can’t trust anyone.”

In the ancient Greek language, the word for fear meant flight. It’s the picture of pheasants being flushed from their nesting areas and flying because they have been frightened by the approaching danger of a hunter. It is the soldier in battle fleeing the enemy when being shot. “Did you hear those bullets?” asked one soldier to another. “Twice,” he said, “once when they went past me and once when I passed them.”
While fear is present when facing a crisis, it does not have to paralyze us.

An antidote for fear exists. One faces their concern with fact. God says that we do not have to fear because his presence accompanies us through the crisis events of life. God is saying that we can walk through a crisis because he walks with us

 

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Five Actions to Simplify Your Life

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Henry David Thoreau, in his classic work, Walden, urged, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” The pensive Gandhi reminded us to “live simply so that others may simply live” while Robert Browning so succinctly declared, “Less is more.”

Simplicity has seldom been more needed than it is today. Health requires it. Sanity demands it. Contentment facilitates it. Simplicity is crucial to rightsizing one’s life, finding harmony and balance, restoring one’s life. If we find ourselves overextended in our emotional, financial, and time commitments, simplicity is one of the best ways to reestablish equilibrium.

Here are five ways to simplify your life.

Keep first things first.
Keeping first things first is a matter of focusing time, attention, and energy on the most important tasks. When we keep first things first we do not lose sight of our priorities. The benefit of keeping first things first is that it gives us a sense of order to what we do. Focusing on what matters most helps us feel more satisfied and fulfilled. The downside to this approach is that because many people haven’t thought through their priorities, they find it hard to figure out what is the most important thing to do first.

For believers who have said a magnificent “yes” to God’s reign and rule in their lives then they will have the courage to say “no” when simplicity requires it.

Make a lifestyle adjustment.
Our priorities impact our values. When we establish our priorities then our beliefs and values will be readjusted. All of us—parents, students, business people, gang members, police officers, burglars—are driven by what we value. Our values reflect what we give our lives to. Our use of time and our expenditure of energy reflect what is important to us.

A fisherman was sitting lazily beside his boat when a well-dressed businessman came upon him. The businessman was disturbed that the fisherman was idly lying on the bank. He asked why he was not out in the river catching fish.

The fisherman said, “I’ve caught enough fish for today.”

The businessman said, “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?”

“Why would I want to do that?” asked the fisherman.

“You could make more money, buy a bigger boat, go deeper and catch even more fish and pretty soon you would be rich and have a fleet of boats like me,” replied the businessman.

“Then what would I do?” the fisherman asked.

The rich businessman said, “You could sit and enjoy life.”

To which the fisherman replied, “What do you think I am doing now?”

The fisherman’s values were reflected in how he used his time. He knew he was successful, even though it was not apparent to other people. He knew that his success was not measured by how much he owned or how much money he had in the bank but his sense of inner contentment. Contentment, as the fisherman knew, comes not from how much we make but from learning to be content with what we have. Value is something internal rather than external.

We are not likely to relax, limber up, and enjoy a simpler life unless we have found inner peace, which eliminates the constant struggle to possess more.

Get rid of clutter.
Clutter is anything that distracts, creates detours in our lives, gets in our way, and makes our lives unnecessarily complicated. Clutter could be too many possessions, unreal expectations, over commitment, controlling people, or emotional baggage. It has the potential to leave us feeling out of control and victimized.

A president of a large publishing company sought out a world-renowned Zen Master. After unloading the tremendous business of his life onto the Master without provoking much response, he decided to be quiet for a moment. The Zen Master began to pour tea into a beautiful Oriental teacup until it overflowed the cup and spread across the grass mat toward the executive. Bewildered, he asked the Zen Master what he was doing. The Zen Master replied: “Your life is like a teacup, flowing over. There’s no room for anything new. You need to pour out, not take more in.”

Simplicity seeks to unclutter our lives. Emotionally, we release our worries, we reconcile our friendships, we forgive our enemies, and we begin anew each day. Materially, instead of possession gluttony, we practice de-accumulation. Like a long-distance runner, we strip away anything that will impede our progress. “The ability to simplify,” according to the painter Hans Hoffman, “means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Remember that what we own has a tendency to own us. So de-accumulate. Give things away. Or better yet, don’t buy what you don’t need. Masses of things that are not needed complicate life. They must be sorted and stored and dusted and repaired and serviced and resorted ad nauseam. Most of us could get rid of half our possessions without any serious sacrifice.

We buy stuff we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like, with money we don’t have. Get rid of the clutter and you’ll be able to relax, limber up, and enjoy life a lot more.

Learn to say no.
No matter how simple that perfect golf swing or flawless piano concerto looks to the casual observer, it is the result of much careful preparation and execution. The truly great ones make the difficult look effortless because they have practiced. The same is true with living simply. It doesn’t just happen that some people have lives that appear as easy. Things that are worthwhile are worth working for and sacrificing for.
So never equate simple with easy. Simplifying your life will take work.

The work of saying “No” to a society that wants us to buy now and pay later. The work of being disciplined in our spending and time use habits. The work of being focused in keeping our eyes on Christ and his kingdom rule.

Find your freedom.
Richard Foster in his classic book Celebration of Discipline writes, “Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.”

One of the principle advantages of living simply is the life of freedom that accompanies it. A simple life is free from anxiety—about our reputations, our possessions, our tomorrows. It is being controlled by that which is life-giving and refusing to be controlled by that which is destructive.

Simplicity brings with it the freedom to enjoy life. The freedom to be all that God created us to be. The freedom to relax. The freedom to limber up. The freedom to enjoy life.

Recently I wrote a book on Psalm 23, Soul Therapy: The Healing Words of Psalm 23, that speaks to the heart, quiets your spirit, and eases loneliness. This psalm is a picture of contentment; it represents that mental state and physical place for which everyone longs. I share how Psalm 23 can comfort and empower your life. Click here to claim your copy.

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Five Reasons to Keep the Sabbath

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Rest and relaxation are not optional. Rest was never meant to be a luxury, but a necessity for growth, maturity, and health. Rest is so important that God included it in the Ten Commandments. We do not rest because our work is done; we rest because God commanded it and created us to have a need for it. The Sabbath was made for man because God knows that our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being demands periodic breaks. The old proverb is true, “If you don’t come apart and rest awhile, you will come apart.”

Here are five reasons to keep the Sabbath.

The Sabbath reminds us that life has a rhythm.
In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between action and rest. We need to regain that rhythm.

When you listen to an orchestra, all the parts work together in harmony. The music has balance and rhythm. Without rhythm, the music is awkward and out of sync. It just doesn’t flow right.

To have rhythm in your life, four ingredients are necessary: rest, worship, play, and work. Too many of us change and reverse these ingredients and end up with work, work, work, and perhaps a little play.

Gordon Dahl wrote, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.” Or to keep with our metaphor, their lifestyles resemble a song in dire need of rhythm.

The Sabbath renews our reverence of God.
The Sabbath is a holy day because it is God’s.

This usually raises some questions like these: “Does that mean it’s all right to watch television on Sunday? Is it all right to go to a ballgame on Sunday? Can we eat out, read the newspaper, play softball, or go grocery shopping on Sunday?”

Those are good questions. The only thing wrong with them is that you have asked the wrong person. It’s not my day. It’s the Lord’s day. Ask him, “Lord, how can I honor you on this day? How can I take this day and give you glory, reverence, and praise so at the end of the day I can say it was your day?”

Take time to be holy and to worship on the Lord’s day. Worship on Sunday should be our highest priority—more important than our work on Monday. Do you know what we say to our children when we don’t make church attendance a regular habit? We’re saying it’s nice, but it’s not a necessity. When we consistently head off to work on Monday without being consistent in worship on Sunday we have sent a clear message to our children what is most important. Furthermore, we have ventured off into dangerous waters both for our personal health and for the well-being of our family.

The word holy literally means set apart. Let me encourage you to set apart one day a week as a Sabbath to reverence God and rest your bodies. When you do, you not only gain a personal benefit but a spiritual benefit as well.

The Sabbath renews our reliance on God.
The Sabbath is a day to be nourished and refreshed as we let our work, our chores and our important projects lie fallow, trusting that there is a God at work taking care of the world when we are at rest.

The Sabbath is a testimony of trust.
Perhaps one reason we hurry so much has little to do with poor time management or economic necessity as much as it does with faith in God. Perhaps we simply do not believe that God will be true to his word. Perhaps we are not confident that God will take care of our needs.

There’s the story of the two birds perched high above a busy city watching all the people busily scurrying from one activity to another. The Robin said to the Sparrow, “Why do those humans scurry to and fro?” “Perhaps,” said the Sparrow, “they do not realize they have a heavenly Father like ours that cares for them so.”

Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch lady known for her family’s hiding of Jews during World War II in which she was imprisoned, used to say, “Don’t wrestle, just nestle.” That’s what trusting is all about.

The Sabbath is the time we snuggle up close to our Heavenly Father knowing that we can rest confident, secure, and victorious.

The Sabbath restores our souls.
Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is a day that we partake of the wisdom, peace and delight that grow only in the soil of time—time consecrated specifically for play, refreshment and renewal. Many of us, in our desperate drive to be successful and care for our many responsibilities, feel terribly guilty when we take time to rest. But the Sabbath has proven its wisdom over the ages. The Sabbath gives us the permission we need to stop, to restore our souls.

In the deep jungles of Africa an American traveler was making a long trek. He had hired tribesmen to carry his load of equipment and luggage. For several days they marched rapidly rarely stopping to rest. The traveler had high hopes of a speedy journey. One morning the traveler found his African tribesmen refusing to move. For some strange reason they just sat and rested. On inquiry as to the reason for this strange behavior, the traveler was informed that they had gone to fast and they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.

Here’s the point: The speed in which we live and the corresponding lack of rest in which so many of us experience does for us what the march did for the jungle tribesmen. The difference between them and us is that they knew what was needed to restore life’s balance; too often we do not.

The Sabbath is a day of remembrance.
The Sabbath is more than simply resting our bodies. It’s greater than merely restoring our souls. It’s higher than recharging our minds. The Sabbath is foremost a day of remembering God’s role in our lives.

Remembering, worshipping, and resting are acts of contemplation. Yet in the midst of our busyness, we are starved for contemplation. We need that time to remember what God has done for us in our lives.

Rest in not just a psychological convenience; it is a spiritual and biological necessity. “Remember the Sabbath” is more than simply a lifestyle suggestion. It is a commandment, an ethical precept as serious as prohibitions against killing, stealing, and lying. To forget it is dangerous—personally, morally, and socially.

Let us, then, for one day a week, cease our striving for more, and instead taste the blessings we have already been given, and give thanks. God does not want us to be exhausted; God wants us to be peaceful and happy. So let us keep the Sabbath.

Did you know that if we practiced love our relationships would be stronger, our jobs would be more meaningful, and our ailments would be fewer? Earlier this year I wrote an encouraging book on love called Chapter 13: The Excellence of Love. The book gets its title from perhaps the greatest statement ever made on love in 1 Corinthians 13. This book provides a guide to love, and, if practiced, it will make us well and whole. Click here to claim your copy.

 

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The Help in Confronting the Bully

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The movie The Help set in Mississippi in the 60s depicts the relationship between the prominent white families and their black help. Skeeter an aspiring writer recently home from college decides to interview the black women to learn their perspective. At first, only Aibileen, the housekeeper of Skeeter’s best friend will talk. In time, more and more of the maids begin to share their stories—some of the shame, sadness, pain, and some of the kindness, friendship, and grace. As the narrative unfolds and knowledge of Skeeter’s undertaking becomes public, Hilly, another friend of Skeeter’s expresses her disdain and her contempt. Hilly emerges as the antagonist to Skeeter’s campaign and will do everything in her power to thwart this venture to get her way.

Though the movie does not use the term bully, Hilly is one. She would not call herself a bully. In fact, she sees herself as a hero to save the town and its culture by keeping the help in their place. She exhibits characteristics of a bully. Her agenda is self-serving. She wants to maintain the relationship between the whites and the black like it always has been. To accomplish her plan, she employs her strong personality to convince weaker members of her group to go her way. And, they succumb to her, forming an unhealthy alliance. She is highly opinionated, challenging anyone who disagrees with her. She murmurs and gossips, always negative. She accomplishes most of her toxic work behind the scenes, often using other people to carry out her desires, making them the fall person.

Most of the town’s other white women feel entitled to this way of life where the black maids clean their homes, prepare their meals, and raise their children. Their needs and preferences fulfilled. Why would they trouble themselves to confront and deal with Hilly’s bullying? And, why would they upset the apple cart of class and convenience that has existed for generations? As long as the black help remembers and stays in their place the white women feel they have a good thing going.

Skeeter writes about this system based on racial prejudice with one class ruling over another. As she interviews the various black women, she realizes that the only thing different is the color of their skin. They all have hopes and dreams, disappointments and heartaches, joys and celebrations. Furthermore, Skeeter acknowledges that her family’s maid, Constantine, did the greatest thing for her—she taught Skeeter to love herself and not to buy into racial prejudices.

Skeeter’s book is published and quickly becomes the talk of the town, even though she changed the names of the people and the city. But it will take more than Skeeter’s book to confront Hilly’s bullying—even though it’s quite apparent that Hilly is in the book.

Bullies thrive where the majority remains silent in fear. It will take the courage of a strong, gracious, and resolute person. Not someone who loves a good fight, but that rare individual, though often silent and reserved, who exposes the bully for who they are.

That exposure came when Hilly accused Aibileen of stealing Hilly and Skeeter’s friend, Elizabeth’s silverware. Aibileen garners the resolve and bravery finally to confront Hilly, an action that is out of character for Aibileen and outside the social protocol of the time. Inching close to Hilly, Aibileen whispers to Hilly, “All you do is scare and lie to try to get what you want. You’re a godless woman. Ain’t you tired, Miss Hilly? Ain’t you tired?”

In the first sentence, Aibileen reveals Hilly’s motives. She uses scare tactics and lies to get her way. In the second sentence, Aibileen shows Hilly’s character, though she claims to be a Christian there is nothing Christlike about her behavior. She is indeed godless, doing her cunning work behind the scenes in a way that does not honor God or God’s creation. The godless operate in the cloak of secrecy and the shadows. They don’t want to be exposed for who they are. The godly, on the other hand, have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Exposure carries no threat to them. Lastly, in one question, Aibileen challenges Hilly to stop her escapades. A bully has to keep up their lies and their deceptions. Their constant chatter and conniving and coverup are taxiing. It’s tiresome and laboring. The pointed question fitly spoken will often accomplish the delicate work of exposing the bully.

As Aibileen leaves Elizabeth’s home, walking away from the only life she has known—as the help—she says: “God says we need to love our enemies. It’s hard to do, but it can start by tellin’ the truth.” Indeed, it can.

I suppose we will always have bullies. But, fewer would wreak their havoc if godly and courageous people stood up to them, exposing their true colors, and their disruptive actions. Therefore, we must never drop our guard, always question the actions of bullies, always tell the truth, and forever take the moral high ground.

 

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Giving Your Best

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The Statue of Liberty stands gracefully on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York City. The copper statue, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel. The statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886.

The robed woman represents Libertas, a Roman goddess. She holds a torch above her head, and in her left arm carries a tablet inscribed in Roman numerals with “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776). A broken chain lies at her feet. The statue became an icon of freedom and of the United States. She has welcomed immigrants arriving from abroad and tourist wanting to see this grand statute.

The height of the statue from feet to torch is 151 feet and from ground level to torch it stands 305 feet (the length of a football field.) Most people view the statue by looking up from a ship, a ferry, or by standing below it. When it was designed and installed no one would have dreamed that one-day people would view it from airplanes and helicopters looking down on it. That day came and interestingly enough they saw the grand detail of the Lady Liberty’s crown and hair.

The Bartholdi and Eiffel placed as much emphasis on a part of the statue that when created would never been seen. It shows their commitment to excellence.

Jesus was committed to excellence. The Gospel writer Mark summarized Jesus’ life: “People were overwhelmed with amazement, ‘He (Jesus) has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’” (Mark 7:37 NIV). God gave his very best—his Son. And his Son gave his very best—his life.

Giving your best is a good definition of excellence. Excellence is not success, being the best. Excellence is not perfectionism, doing everything perfectly. Excellence is giving your best.

Here are five ways to giving your best.

Discover your niche.
For Bartholdi it was sculpting. For Eiffel it was building. Find what you do well then do it.

Give attention to detail.
The difference between something good and something great is the attention to detail. Again, just look at the details of the Statue of Liberty.

Take the time to do it right.
People will never know how long it takes one to do something; they will only know how well it is done.

Give the needed effort.
Long ago an ancient Greek wrote, “The gates of excellence are always surrounded by a sea of sweat.” Excellence requires work. Anyone doing something effortlessly has spent hours, practice, and diligent effort to master their skill. There are no shortcuts to excellence.

Stay focused.
As coaches told me, “Keep your head in the game.” Mental focus is required in the pursuit of excellence.

In conclusion, let me remind you of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.”

Whatever your role, position, or lot in life, always give your best.

 

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Redefining Success

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What does it mean to be successful?

Success usually brings to mind financial achievement or being number one. Others would define success by the bumper sticker: He who dies with the most toys wins. Some like to think that success is being busy—on the go, racing from one appointment to another, having much to do with too little time to do it.

The problem with these definitions of success is they exact a high cost. The Executive Digest said, “The trouble with success is the formula is the same as the one for a nervous breakdown.” That’s sobering, uncomfortable, and too often true.

Maybe we need to take a look at where we are and where we’d like to be. Maybe the definition of success that we are familiar with is not the correct one.

I’ve looked at success in a new light and have come up with the following acrostic:

Service

There is no such thing as success without service. The secret of success lies in meeting the needs of others. And when we are meeting people’s needs we will discover fulfillment.

Understanding contentment

Let’s not measure success by how much we own or much money we have but by a sense of inner contentment. Real success is always internal, never external.

Character

Character is of greater value than how much money or status we have. A man’s best test of character is revealed in how he treats people around him. So measure your success not by your possessions and achievements. Measure success in the quality of your character and conduct.

Compassion

What really matters is not money, power, and ego but issues of the heart—like compassion, kindness, bravery, generosity, and love. Do you love people more than things?

Excellence

Excellence is not being the best but being your best.

Significance

The popular notion of success has not cut it. A growing number of people yearn for significance more than success. Significance comes by giving ourselves to something that is greater than us and that will outlast us.

Sacrifice

A problem in our society is that we are spending our entire lives looking for something worth living for. It would be better if we found something worth dying for. A young pilot in the RAF wrote just before he went down in 1940, “The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice.”

My book, Defining Moments: How God Shapes Our Character Through Crisis, takes a fresh look at the hard times that God uses to shape our character. This book offers hope that God can be found in crisis and shows how He turns our struggles into defining moments—opportunities to dramatically transform His people. Click here to claim your copy.

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