Life’s Trials and Trails

pathA person’s path in life will be shaped by the trails he walks and the trials he endures. I’ve walked many trails that have been scenic adventures, and I’ve encountered several trials that were dismal and disappointing.

There will be times in life when nothing makes sense.  The trail will seem too steep to climb and too long to endure. When David experienced a situation like this, he realized that God had already walked where he had never gone and could see what was beyond his vision.

David said: When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path (Psalm 142:3).

The next time you have a tussle with a trial, remember that:

  • God never leads His children down the wrong path
  • You may not know where the path will lead you, but God does.
  • Just because you’re confused, God isn’t confounded.
  • God is present, and He will not abandon you.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

 

Inflection Points

Decision Point IconAn inflection point can be defined as a moment of dramatic change, especially in the development of a company, industry, or market (American Heritage Dictionary).  Wall Street defines it as a point on a chart that marks the beginning of a significant move either up or down.

Due to the stress and strain of the moment, inflection points can be hard to recognize in the present, and sometimes they are more easily seen from the perspective of history.

A significant inflection point in the Old Testament involved the Hebrew nation and its long awaited and highly anticipated move into the Promised Land.  Instead of crossing over to claim a fertile promise, they chose to hunker down in a dust-choking, water- deprived wilderness.

The dramatic change in the life of this fledgling nation occurred when they listened to the report of 12 spies.  The majority report was given by 10 spies, and this faith-deficient report nullified the needs of the nation.

The minority report was given by Joshua and Caleb. Their vigorous faith painted a different trajectory as they spoke of the vast resources of the Promised Land, and they invited their fellow Hebrews to join them on a journey to the land of milk and honey.

It only takes a casual look into the pages of Scripture to discover several other inflection points:

  • Andrew introduced his brother Peter to Jesus and a monumental movement began that transformed lives.
  • Paul’s weighty epitaph highlighted Demas’ ignoble behavior: Demas has forsaken me, loving the present world more than the one to come.
  • Think of the magnitude of David’s sexual interlude: His decision to peek into the private life of Bathsheba changed the course of many lives; innocent people died, and others suffered consequences that were not of their own making.

When faced with a critical decision, your choices can be evaluated with a few simple questions.  Perhaps David and Demas could have negotiated theirs better, if they had consider their situation in light of these:

  • Will my decision break any laws or violate any principles of Scripture?
  • Will my actions be incongruent with my core values?
  • Am I living in the moment or am I considering the short and long-term consequences of my choices?
  • If my conduct became headline news, would my mother be proud of me?
  • Have I asked for feedback from my mentor and trustworthy friends?

I’ll close with the wise counsel of Solomon:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).

Maybe or Maybe Not

lender-decisionsShould I stay or should I go?  Should my answer be yes or no? Some decisions are easy to make, but there are times when choices leave us baffled and befuddled.

The solutions to some problems are quickly discovered and come as easily and flipping on a light switch.  Frequently though, life can be a perplexing journey filled with head-banging frustration as you seek an elusive answer:

  • Where should I live?
  • Which doctor should I use and which treatment should I try?
  • Should I keep the job I have or should I seek employment elsewhere?
  • Is this the person I should marry?
  • Which college should I choose to pursue my education?

Psalms 25:12:12 offers the assurance that, The Lord shows his faithful followers the way they should live. And, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

The question remains: How can you know that you’re making the right decision? Let me suggest a few questions that might help you focus your thoughts:

  • Am I violating any biblical principles?
  • Will my actions be an embarrassment to my parents or grandparents?
  • Is it legal, moral, and ethical?
  • Who will it help and who will it hinder?
  • What is the financial, emotional, and spiritual cost to me and my family?
  • Will my decision lead me to do what’s good, better or best?
  • Have I prayed about my situation?

When you confuse your wants and desires with your needs, making the right choice can be difficult. Your discernment can be hindered due to either wanting too much of the wrong thing or desiring too little of the right thing—both can be obstacles when you pray for guidance:

George Muller, a champion of orphans and an evangelist, once said: Nine-tenths of difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.

Here are four steps to consider as you chose your path in life:

  • Yield to God, and be willing to will the will of God for life (Joshua 24:14-15).
  • Spend some time in prayer and meditating on God’s word (Joshua 1:8).
  • Seek the counsel of the wise (Proverbs 19:20).
  • Don’t rush your decision; take the time to think it through (Proverbs 21:5).

In times of indecision, I’ve found comfort in Jeremiah 29:11; and I think you might as well: I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. ~Jeremiah 29:11

The Passing of Time

90DC0B4CC6A44E2CA0F4CAE457EE06A3It will usually happen at least once a year, and if you’re fortunate to have several friends, it most likely will appear in the form of a two-word greeting that you hear several times on a single day: “Happy Birthday!”

Frank W. Boreham, an Aussie who died in 1959, had an interesting view on the significance of birthdays. He said, “Birthdays are mere records of time, not registers of distance. They tell me how long I have been on the road, not how far I have traveled.”

Boreham’s words are a challenge to live a life of dedication and discipline like the one Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 9:23-27:

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.  Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away.  Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air.  Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

How much time has passed since you first met Jesus, and how far have you traveled in your Christian walk?  If you’re still at the starting blocks, it’s time to start running.  If you’ve stumbled along the way, it’s time to get up and go again.

I encourage you to make the most of your time as you “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).”

 

 

Killing the Innocent to Save the Innocent

harambe-22A trip to the zoo can be an adventure of expecting the unexpected.  Whether it’s the chimps, the giraffes, or the elephants, somewhere at some time, one of these animals will do something unusual to the delight of the visitors.  No one, however, could have expected the series of events that occurred on Saturday and resulted in the death of, Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo.

When a 4-year-old boy climbed under a fence and fell into the gorilla’s enclosure,  Harambe, grabbed him and dragged him around his pen.  Even though the western lowland silverback gorilla is an endangered species, the zoo’s emergency response team shot him to save the child.

Some posts on social media have been angry outbursts directed towards zoo officials and the parents of the 4-year old boy. Some think the gorilla should have been spared at the risk of the child.

While it’s sad that zoo officials had to shoot the gorilla, I think they took the right course of action.  The question for you is: How do you make decisions. Do you have a decision tree that you follow or some hierarchy that directs you?

Dr. Norm Geisler has developed some principles to help guide him, and he refers to them as the Seven Principles of Ethical Hierarchy:

  1. Persons are more valuable than things
  2. Infinite persons are more valuable than finite persons
  3. Complete persons are more valuable than incomplete persons
  4. Actual persons are more valuable than potential persons
  5. *Potential persons are more valuable than actual things
  6. Many persons are more valuable than a few persons
  7. Personal acts which promote personhood are better than those which do not

Geisler’s Seven Principles, support the actions of the zoo’s officials:  Humans have more value than things or non-humans.  As much as I like my non-human dog, I recognize that humans are moral beings and animals are amoral; moral beings have rights, but non-human, amoral creatures do not.

I spend more time with my dog that I do most human beings; watch his diet closer than I watch mine; and, I’ve been known to cry when one of these, magnificent creatures dies; however, when choosing between the life of a 4-year old child and a non-human, I’ll spare the child every time.

 

 

*Some people draw the conclusion that Geisler’s view seems to imply that a developing child is of no value and that abortion on demand is justified.  This is not the case; Geisler has said: “An unborn baby is a work of God that He is building into His own likeness,” and he cites Psalm 139:13-15, which speaks of God’s providential care for the unborn.

Integrity

integSometimes I’m asked to comment on the ills of society or to meet with an individual who is in need of counseling.  The common denominator that frequently links the two is a lack of integrity.  Whether it’s a politician, a musician, an actor, or an individual, the lack of integrity can be at the root of their problems.

Earlier today, I read about a sting conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that focused on sex trafficking.  Two ministers were arrested in a sex for money scheme. The actions of these men is indicative of their lack of integrity.

Integrity is defined as an “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.”  It is an important trait that should be highly valued, and it is a part of Warren Buffet’s screening process: “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

Buffet’s quote reminds me of the people of Berea and the manner in which they validated the ministry of Paul and Silas—they did an integrity check:

“The people of Berea were more receptive than they had been in Thessalonica. They warmly and enthusiastically welcomed the message and then, day by day, would check for themselves to see if what they heard from Paul and Silas was truly in harmony with the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).”

The Bereans didn’t take the teaching of Paul and Silas at face value.  They checked it to see if it adhered to the principles of Scripture.

Searching the Scriptures was a daily habit of these people, and I suggest that it’s a practice you should adopt as well.  When you read a passage of Scripture, I recommend that you ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Is there a promise I can claim?
  • What lesson can I learn?
  • Is there a command I should obey?
  • Is there a sin I should avoid?
  • Is there a blessing I can share?

These questions will help you focus on the principles of the Bible and apply them to your life, so read them through; think them clear; pray them in; live them out; and pass them on.

Peyton Manning Retires or Goodbye Omaha

peyton-manning1Four years ago, Peyton Manning joined the Denver Broncos.  Before he stepped on the field for the first time, he first waked through the locker room to meet the

In this era of super-sized egos, Manning was a rare gem.  He loved and respected the game, and it showed on that April day in 2012 when he shook hands with the guys on the practice squad, the backups, and the starters.  Every one of the Broncos already knew who he was, but Peyton wanted to know each of them.

Most people who follow the NFL were pretty sure Manning’s career was over, so no one was surprised when the news began to leak out on Saturday night.  To show respect for his fellow Broncos, Manning had sent each of them a text before his final decision to retire became public.

As I think about the way this famous man has managed his life, I’m reminded of a couple of Scriptures:

  • Romans 12:3: I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.
  • James 4:10: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
  • 1 Peter 5:6: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time

I hope aspiring athletes will remember Manning less for his signature “Omaha” and more for the manner in which he has respected the game and the way he continues to invest in the lives of others.

Hessston, Kansas: Tragedy Strikes Rural America

Tigger-Eeyore-Winnie-the-Pooh-WallpaperOn February 23 at 11:27 AM, Cedric Ford made a post to his Facebook page: “Woke up this morning vibing God is good.”  Last night, channel 12 news identified Ford as the shooter at the Excel Plant in Hesston, Kansas. I’m not sure how a person can post those words on a Tuesday and then take a weapon on Thursday, and kill 3 people and shoot a total of 18.

Strange as it may seem, this incident reminds me of a critical moment in the life of Tigger in a Winnie the Pooh story.  Because his stripes washed off while bathing, Tigger was facing an identity crisis.

The usually boisterous and exuberant Tigger grew solemn and sullen as he mulled over his dilemma.  Because tigers are recognized by their stripes, Tigger isn’t sure who he is without his. In an effort to discover his identity, he tries being a rabbit, a bear, and a Christmas tree.

His problem is resolved when Eeyore tells Tigger, “You’re always the same person on the inside.”  The wisdom of Eeyore may have been comforting to Tigger, but it also presents a discomforting truth.

When you contrast Ford’s actions with his “God is good” words, you see the constant battle that rages between the stripes of your flesh and your spirit.  Paul spoke of this turmoil in Romans 7:

Here’s an important principle I’ve discovered: regardless of my desire to do the right thing, it is clear that evil is never far away. For deep down I am in happy agreement with God’s law; but the rest of me does not concur. I see a very different principle at work in my bodily members, and it is at war with my mind; I have become a prisoner in this war to the rule of sin in my body.  I am absolutely miserable! Is there anyone who can free me from this body where sin and death reign so supremely? I am thankful to God for the freedom that comes through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! So on the one hand, I devotedly serve God’s law with my mind; but on the other hand, with my flesh, I serve the principle of sin.

The tragic shooting of last night brings a harsh reality to light; the potential of committing horrendous and evil acts lies deep within each of us.

A fog of horror and disbelief hangs low over the city of Hesston as her stunned residents wonder: “What happened to the stripes of Cedric Ford?” Did he suffer a psychotic break?  Was it a violent outburst of anger? Was this a sudden emotional explosion or has his fuse been smoldering for weeks?

It’s too early to have the answers to all of these questions, but it’s never too late to pray.  I hope you will join me in praying for the employees of Excel, the citizens of Hesston, the first responders, and everyone who has been touched by this tragic event.

Choice Choices and Daunting Decisions

decisionEach day of your life, you are presented with the opportunity to choose to do or not to do. Many of these choices are minor, but there are times when major decisions must be made.  Some of your choices can be as simple as:

  • What clothes will I wear?
  • What should I eat for breakfast?
  • Which brand of toothpaste should I use?

Major decisions can be more taxing and involve questions like:

  • Should I be cremated or have a traditional funeral?
  • Should my money be invested in an IRA or a ROTH?
  • Should I use a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon for back surgery?

On occasion, people will call me when they are facing a perplexing situation that requires a major decision.  They will consult with me and ask for my opinion concerning where they should work, live, or who they should marry.  Their question is often:  How do I know the will of God?

Discovering the will of God is more of a mystery than what it needs to be.  Let me suggest five questions to help guide you.

  1. Is the action you are considering consistent with the principles of the Bible? God will never lead you to do something that is contrary to Scripture.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  2. Have you prayed and asked for guidance? For I know the plans I have for you; plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
  3. Have you discussed your situation with your friends? A nation will fall when there is no direction, but with many advisers there is victory (Proverbs 11:14).
  4. What will the results of your decision look like? If your mother reads about it on the front page of the newspaper, will she be proud of your actions or will she be embarrassed?
  5. Are you depressed, angry, or stressed out? If so, you need to clear your mind and calm your emotions before you try to make a wise decision.

I encourage you take some time to reflect on Psalm 37, and how it relates to your situation.

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act, making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday. Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him

Wisdom: Guidelines and Lifelines For Life

life-preserverI have never thought of myself as one of the smartest people in the world, and my GPA from high school is the evidence that proves it.  This may be why the book of James is a favorite of mine.

Like the book of Proverbs, James provides guidelines for life; and, for those of us who lack wisdom, it extends an invitation: “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).”

Later in the book, James lists seven characteristics of wisdom: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical (3:17).”

I find it interesting that when Solomon spoke of wisdom he also listed seven and referred to them as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom: “Wisdom has built her house; she has carved out its seven pillars (9:1).” Solomon’s list is found in Proverbs 8:12-14:

  • Prudence
  • Knowledge
  • Fear of the Lord
  • Counsel
  • Sound Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Strength

The Message describes these seven attributes:

“I am Lady Wisdom, and I live next to Sanity; Knowledge and Discretion live just down the street. The Fear-of-God means hating Evil, whose ways I hate with a passion—pride and arrogance and crooked talk. Good counsel and common sense are my characteristics; I am both Insight and the Virtue to live it out. With my help, leaders rule, and lawmakers legislate fairly; With my help, governors govern, along with all in legitimate authority. I love those who love me; those who look for me find me.”

Wisdom has been defined as the right use of knowledge, and, in the biblical sense, it’s the ability to judge correctly and to take the best course of action, based on your knowledge and understanding of God’s principles.

This concept of wisdom is in complete harmony with Solomon’s conclusion to Proverbs 8:

“Blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction so that you may be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching at my doors day by day, waiting beside my doorway. For the one who finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But the one who does not find me brings harm to himself; all who hate me love death (32-36).”

I’ll close with three thoughts, and I hope there enough to keep you thinking:

  • Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who obtains understanding. ~Proverbs 3:13
  • An intelligent man believes only half of what he hears, a wise man knows which half.
  • Knowledge is knowing the difference between a donut and a life preserver. Wisdom is knowing which one to grab when you are drowning.