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).

When Life Gets Messy

lhStan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were known for their slapstick comedy, and they appeared in many films from 1926 to 1944.  The signature dialogue in their scripts was the disdainful comment: Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.

I know I’ve gotten myself into many fine messes, and when my life has been a wild mess, God’s taken me to the wilderness to get my attention. In fact, this is an underlying theme of the Old Testament: God intervenes in the wild messes of life.

No one likes to be taken to be taken to the woodshed, but there are times when God disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness (Hebrews 12:10). God does this to, instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you (Psalm 32:8).

I’ve come to realize that some of my problems are self-inflicted due to the poor choices I make; but, it is also true that I’ve been an innocent bystander caught-up in the circumstances of life. Like Joseph, we need to realize that God can be at work; and, we need to take an eternal perspective on life: As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day (Genesis 50:20).

While it’s hard to see the silver lining in the dust clouds of the desert, when we learn to trust God, we eventually make it to promised land and enjoy His blessings.

Jacob as an individual and Israel as a whole learned this lesson:

He found him out in the wilderness, in an empty, windswept wasteland. He threw his arms around him, lavished attention on him, guarding him as the apple of his eye. He was like an eagle hovering over its nest, overshadowing its young. Then spreading its wings, lifting them into the air, teaching them to fly. God alone led him; there was not a foreign god in sight. God lifted him onto the hilltops, so he could feast on the crops in the fields. He fed him honey from the rock, oil from granite crags, curds of cattle and the milk of sheep, the choice cuts of lambs and goats, fine rams, high-quality wheat, and the blood of grapes: you drank good wine! ~Isaiah 32:10-14 (The Message)

Because the messes of life will either define you or refine you, I’ve learned to ask a question:  What can I learn from this?  Then I make the decision to trust God, and I’m confident that He is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan (Romans 8:28).

Strength, Confidence, and Courage

Courageous-posterAfter the death of Moses, Joshua took the leadership reins of the Israelites and guided them along the path to the Promised Land.  In one of his first speeches, he admonished them, saying: “Only be strong and very courageous to ensure that you obey all the instructions that my servant Moses gave you—turn neither to the right nor to the left from it—so that you may succeed wherever you go (Joshua 1:7).”

Joshua’s call to courage reminds me of the words of Alfred North Whitehead: True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.

Some people act courageously because they assess a situation and move forward with confidence in their abilities.  There are others who are just as confident, but for a different reason; their available resources give them a sense of boldness.

David is a good example of both forms of courage.  In Psalm 27, he said: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Who is there to fear? The Lord is my life’s fortress. Who is there to be afraid of? Evildoers closed in on me to tear me to pieces. My opponents and enemies stumbled and fell. Even though an army sets up camp against me, my heart will not be afraid. Even though a war breaks out against me, I will still have confidence in the Lord.

Courage, as David used it in this Psalm, is resource-based. He speaks of his trust in the presence and power of God.

Earlier in his life, David displayed courage that was focused more on his own ability.  This was the  skill he used to kill the wild animals as attacked his sheep.

There may be times when you doubt your ability, but you should never doubt God’s availability.  Just as God was present to walk David through the trials of life, He is present for you as well:

  • God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble—Psalm 46:1
  • God is the shield of Your salvation, and His right hand will support you—Psalm 18:35
  • God will deliver you because He delights in you—Psalm 18:19
  • The Lord is near the brokenhearted, and He saves those crushed in spirit—Psalm 34:18

While there’s not a single one of us who can look to the future and know for certain what challenges await us, each of us can be confident in knowing that God is waiting to guide us.

Solomon believed this, and he wisely said: “The heart of man devises his way, but the LORD directs his steps . . . He that follows after righteousness and mercy shall find life, righteousness, and honor.”

The Ups and Downs of Life

rcWhen I was a freshman in college, one instructor required his students to memorize a motto of his.  I did, and I have never forgotten it:  It’s not what I can remember, but what I can never forget that constitutes knowledge; therefore, drill, drill, drill, and review, review, review.

Over the years I have been able to memorize many Bible verses, because I drilled and reviewed them until they were tucked away in my mind.  One of these is Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

When I meditate on a particular verse of Scripture, I focus on the individual words within the verse so I can understand the specific meaning of each one of them.  The word “through” caught my attention this morning, so I reflected on some verses that use this word:

  • God led Moses and the Israelites through the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14:22).
  • The Israelites were led through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:5).
  • In Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd leads His flock through the valley of the shadow of death.

There are times when life seems like a roller coaster and you are tormented by a series of bone rattling, and hope shaking ups and downs.  These are the times that you need to kick the “I can’t” thoughts in the seat of the pants, and focus on the “I can” of Philippians 4:13.

 

The you should review its truth and drill its meaning:

  • Through Christ, I find the strength to face the obstacles of life.
  • Through Christ, God lavishes me with his strength to overcome (Ephesians 1:7-8).
  • Through Christ, you are blessed with God’s unwavering love and mercy (Psalm 103).

When you live your life through the strength of Christ, you will be thoroughly blessed:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

    and the flame shall not consume you.  ~Isaiah 43:2

A Matter of the Heart: El Chapo or El Grande

seanpennWhen I heard the sarcasm in the voice of the news reporter, I paused long enough to hear him say: “He’s a man’s man.”   I wasn’t surprised to learn he was was speaking about Sean Penn’s debacle with the diabolical Joaquín Guzmán or El Chapo.

Neither one of the two come to my mind when I think of a “man’s man.”  One is a misguided political activist and lousy actor while the other is an infamous drug king pin.

When God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse to find and anoint a new king, Jesse gladly showed him his sons who were fine specimens of manhood.  Even though each of them had some physical characteristics that were desirable, Samuel was to consider more than just their strength.

Before this selection process began, God had reminded Samuel that the “Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (I Samuel 16).”

Only one of Jesse’s sons had the “heart” that met the criteria, and his name was David.  This young sheep herder would become a successful King of Israel and the author of many of the Psalms.

When you read the Psalms, several verses speak of the qualities God desires in a person.  Psalm One is perhaps the most familiar, but there are many other verses that speak of a man’s attitude and his relationship with God:

  • The man whose life is out of hand due to his arrogance and unrepentant heart (Psalm 6:2-6).
  • The man who thinks he has the world in his hand (Psalm 30:6).
  • The man who is right because he’s never left God out of his life (Psalm 16:7-11).
  • The man who walks hand in hand with God and recognizes Him as the Lord, relies on His strength, and rests in Him as a personal refuge (Psalm 18:1-3).

When people observe you, do they see a person who has a heart for God, and one who is walking hand in hand with Him?

What Did Mary Know?

maryHave you ever taken a moment to consider the momentous thoughts of Mary? I have, and I do, whenever I read  Luke 2: “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

When Mary pondered the magnitude of the angelic message, and the adoring words of the shepherds,  did she fully comprehend the magnificent meaning of that first Christmas?

When she gazed into the eyes of her innocent son, could she mentally grasp what she would emotionally gasp 30 years later when he took on the sin of the world?

How could she know that the son nurtured in her womb would have such a significant future and manifest awesome and miraculous power over creation?  Did Mary have an aha moment when Jesus changed the water into wine at the marriage supper at Cana?

Was she pleasingly puzzled when her son had a leg up on the religious charlatans of the day and healed the legs of a crippled man?

When Mary saw a crowd of hungry faces suddenly satisfied by a sack lunch that was multiplied 5,000 times, did she realize that her son could also satisfy the spiritual hunger of the world?

When her son of a carpenter was dying an excruciating death on a wooden cross, did her anguish confound her comprehension of God’s ultimate plan?

How fast did her heart beat when she heard that her three-days-dead son had removed his grave clothes, rolled away a massive stone, run off a squad of soldiers, and became the resurrection and life to all who would believe?

There are some things that I ponder in my heart:
• How could Jesus understand everything, but be misunderstood by most everyone?
• Who was his best childhood friend? Could it have been a boy named Judas?
• What did he and his cousin John (later called the Baptist) talk about?
• Did his brothers and sisters see him as unique or annoyingly odd?

I wonder, Mary Did You Know?

 

 

 

 

Christmas: God With Us

Immanuel_1_1110_624

Last night I was contemplating the significance of Immanuel and the powerful promise hidden within these 8 letters that form His name.

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Matthew 1:23

His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6-7

Because He is God with us:

We are in awe and wonder of His wonderful ways.

We are consoled by the counsel of His Word.

We bow in reverence of His majestic might.

We are children to the everlasting Father,

And joint-heirs with the Prince of Peace.

Because He is God with us:

The sins of the world are forgiven.

The gift of salvation is offered.

Names are written in heaven.

The Christ Child has come.

. . . Immanuel—God is with us . . .

Virgins, Mice, and Mothers

Mouse-Phobia.jpgBoth mice and mothers can be found hastily scurrying about the floor of kitchens.  The one will eagerly and earnestly scour the floor for the crumbs that fall from the delicious tidbits prepared by the other.  To be honest though, mothers choose not to coexist with mice.

Most mothers would rather stomp a mouse than study it; unless, you’re a mother in a lab studying Mus Musculus, the common house mouse.

Researchers at New York University were studying the mother-child bond and used mice to determine the role of the brain and how a mother nurtures her children.  The researchers had noticed that when baby mice fell out of their nest, their cries of distress alerted their mothers; however, virgin mice didn’t respond until they were injected with oxytocin. After a series of injections, the virgin mice were transformed and began to respond to the cries of the baby mice..

This research reminds me of the mercy of God.  It’s in His nature to nurture, and He responds to the cries of His children: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.  I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and spacious, to a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:6-8).”

When sorrows come and you cry out to God knowing: The Lord has heard the voice of your weeping. The Lord has heard your supplication; The Lord will receive my prayer (Psalm 6:8-9).  Then in response to His goodness, you can sing to the Lord and shout joyfully to the Rock of your salvation (Psalm 95:1).

Counting Down The Days

count-downMany people, and especially the kids, are counting down the days to Christmas and know that it is just a couple of weeks away.  A much smaller number of people are eagerly counting the days to another event that will happen eight weeks after Christmas.

In about 72 days, the umps will shout “Play Ball,” and baseball’s Spring Training will begin.  Each of these talented players caught the eye of a scout because he was an All Star during his high school or college years. When he steps across the white chalk line to play America’s Game, he joins the best of the best and the cream of the crop on a finely manicured field of dreams.

Aren’t you thankful that God didn’t scout you and make you prove your worth before He chose you?  He selected you just like He did the Hebrews:

“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” ~Deuteronomy 7:7-9

Even though there’s nothing special about you, Moses says that God has chosen you and made you the special object of His love. If the two verses above were a book, the four chapter titles would be:

  • The Lord Loves You
  • God Keeps His promises
  • You Can Be Redeemed From Whatever Enslaves You
  • God Is Faithful and His Love Is Steadfast

He doesn’t love you because you are good, smart, pretty, wise or because you have great faith. God loves you because He is love; and, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (I John 4:10).”

 

More Than Conquerors

conquerorsHe had to know it was going to happen at some point in time, and he may have thought what life would be like without him; however when he heard the thundering voice of God, he was still shocked:  “Moses my servant is dead.

Joshua took a deep breath and began to reflect on the life lessons he had learned from this mighty man of God.  He wiggled his toes as he thought of his pilgrim journey—the past as well as the future. The one had been the geography of the land and the escape from Egyptian purgatory, but the other was just ahead and was the long-awaited “milk and honey” territory.  One had been miles of pain traveled by foot, but the other would be acres of promises claimed by faith.

His thoughts were interrupted by the unmistakable voice of God:  “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone.  Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them . . . Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do (Joshua 1).”

Like Joshua, you have an inheritance to claim.  It’s more than a piece of dusty real estate, it’s a regal estate:  It’s a relationship that promises victory.  Paul said, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).”

When you read other translations of this verse, they speak of being “completely victorious through God; experiencing an overwhelming victory;” and, being “triumphantly victorious due to the one who loved us.”

There is not a single instance where God promised that the road of life will be completely smooth and detour free.  Moses and Joshua both experienced some trials and heartaches, and you will as well.  This is why Paul said, “We do not despair . . . even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison  because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).”

When the hard times come, “be strong and brave,” and “don’t despair” the eventual victory is yours because you will be “triumphantly victorious” in Jesus.