Resolutions: One Whose Eye Sees Clearly

A repost from last year.  May God bless you and yours this coming year.


Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times, but turned his face toward the desert. When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered his oracle: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened.” – Numbers 23:1-4

Balaam is an interesting man.  He is a prophet of God, but he works for an evil Moabite king, Balaak.  This puts him in a serious conflict of interest when Balaak summons him to curse the Israelites before they can overrun Moab.  When Balaam first gets the request, God tells him not to go because Israel is a people blessed by God.  Balaak does not relent and finally God releases Balaam to go as long as he says whatever God tells him to say.

Before Balaam was truly ready to speak on God’s behalf, he needed to go through a humbling experience with a talking donkey and an angel of death.  He needed to be reminded that it was better to fear God than a Moabite king.  When Balaam finally stands before Balaak, he is clearly a changed man.  The result of his transformation is proclaimed in the verse above; Balaam is now “one whose eye sees clearly.”

In the world of optics, resolution is very important; the better the resolution, the better the image. High definition TV’s, high resolution cameras, and prescription glasses are all intended to give us a clearer picture.  This is really what our resolutions should be about for the New Year – clearer vision.  Resolutions can give focus, clarity and definition to our intentions but that is only part of the picture.  It doesn’t help us at all to have good vision if we aren’t looking in the right direction.

I think that was Balaam’s problem.  He obviously could see before, but he wasn’t looking in the right direction.  He knew that God was on the side of Israel, but he didn’t want to be the one to bless them against the will of Balaak.  Once God had opened Balaam’s eyes, they stayed focused on God and not on Balaam’s fears and doubts.

In looking forward to a new year, and making the almost required resolutions, we would do well to check our vision.  Is it clouded by negative thoughts, fears and doubts?  Are we looking in the wrong direction or at the wrong things?  Are the worries and distractions of this world skewing what God wants us to see?  This year ask God to give you a vision of where He wants you to go.  Be one who “hears the word of God.”  This year, if you decide to make any resolutions, make sure they are being made by “one whose eye sees clearly.”

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Unrighteous Anger

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. – James 1:19-20 (NIV)

There is a lot of anger being thrown around today.  We see it on our TV screens, we hear it on our radios, we read it in magazines and papers and it seeps into our hearts and minds.  In Christian circles we have made excuses that our anger is “righteous,” but it is just that; an excuse.  Anger makes us feel powerful; it makes us feel like we are in the right.  When we look at the world and others through the lens of wrath, we see too much of what proves our point and are blind to most everything else.

Righteousness is rooted in not getting angry.  While James may not have had this in mind, it is clear that the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) are remedies to the angry heart and mind.  If we are day by day allowing the Spirit to do His work in our lives, the fruit will be righteous.  James tells us three things that helps put us in the Spirit’s hands: listen, be quiet and get a longer fuse.  Good advice, but hard to follow in our angry world.

If we want to avoid the anger James is warning us about, we need a quiet place, a quiet heart & mind and a humble attitude.  Our days are full of noise and busyness, which can shorten our fuse.  If we can find that quiet place, even if it is a closet in our room, it can provide the opportunity to listen for God’s voice.  However, the quiet place has to be matched with a quiet heart and mind.  It does no good if we spend all of our time in a quiet place making noise about our life and our wants.  There is a real need of being still before God.  Each day we need to let the quietness of that place sink into our hearts and minds to drive out the angry noise of the world.  But that is still just a beginning.

Anger is too easily motivated by pride.  To be slow to anger is to be humble.  When we consider the needs of others, the hurts and pains that may be at the center of their life, we will have a different attitude toward them.  Instead of anger, we may find compassion, love, mercy and grace.  Humility is the last place that anger tries to find a home.  Humility is the open door for the Spirit to bear fruit in our lives.

Where is your quiet place?  When was the last time you felt silence and calm in your heart and mind?  How long have you held anger toward someone who may need your love and kindness?  Let’s work together to come against the anger of our world with the fruit of the Spirit and the humility of Christ.

Gardening Tips: Follow the Sun

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)

We have attempted a garden this year with some success; zucchinis, tomatoes, butternut squash and others. Each plant has an unique and incredible differences.  One of our biggest and most anticipated is a giant sunflower.  It has reached about 8 feet in height and a single flower is beginning to emerge.  In watching this flower develop, one characteristic stood out; it follows the sun.

This is actually a common trait among many plants, but the sunflower has the amazing ability to reset for the next day.  Once the sun has set, the sunflower turns back to the east to wait for the sun to rise. It isn’t just drawn to the light, but has an expectation of the light returning.

This is a good patern for us to follow as people of God.  We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, but sometimes we lose sight of Him.  The darkness of this world, our situation or even our bad choices block our view of Him.  In those times we need to reset our perception to look with anticipation for His light to shine on us again.  We need to position ourselves to receive His
light and love.  So follow the Son and live in such a way that even when He seems out of sight, you are still living like
He is coming back.  If a sunflower can do it….

Read the Directions: Some Assembly Required

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – II Peter 1:3-8

I have had varying success with putting things together over the years; toys for the kids, furniture for the new apartment and more car parts than I could list here.  The worst are the items that come with poor directions or no directions at all.  A simple piece out of place is the difference between celebration and defeat.  In fact, the quality of the directions and ease of assembly are often rated on websites like Amazon.  It works out much better with good instructions, good tools and good products.

However, it is another story when I am expecting to pull something out of the box that is ready to go and instead spend time and effort putting it together. It can be frustrating for us in our walk with God.  When we have those powerful, transformational moments with Him, we expect everything to be different and better.  It was frustrating when I would have an encounter with God and the world didn’t seem to care.  I had not learned that more assembly was required.

When we have those moments, with some exceptions, it is more like the box has been opened, the tools have been provided and the directions are available, but we need to put in the time and effort to get things assembled; it is crisis and process.  When we are disciplined about the process, we are taking on qualities “in increasing measure.”  God has supplied the tools and materials, and even guides and directs us through His Holy Spirit, but we need to get busy assembling to be effective and productive.

The next time you have one of those encounters with God that shakes you up and reorients your vision, keep this in mind.  Live with the expectation that our life with him will always be marked with the directions “some assembly required.”  And take comfort in the promise of Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

The Discipline of Presence: History Lessons

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” – Exodus 14:10-14 (NIV)

I wish I could read this story and not be able to relate to the complainers.  I wish I could say the thought had never crossed my mind that sometimes it would be easier to not be a follower of Christ.  The reality is that I can fall into the unmerciful grip of the-way-things-used-to-be far more easily than I would like to admit.

Israel had seen the unmistakable power of God revealed through wonders, signs and plagues, and yet just a short time after the taste of freedom is in their mouths, they are willing to spit it out and eat the sour grapes of slavery.  But this story is not a window, it is a mirror.  I see myself and the ugly scars of my past misdeeds and am warned by the words from Moses, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today… The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

It comes down to understanding the redemptive power of God.  What the Israelites did not yet understand, and what we forget too often, is the power of being redeemed.  When God redeemed His people from Egypt, He didn’t go half-way, but their doubt in His ability to protect them doesn’t affirm this truth.  I have waned in my trust in God’s ability to be my redeemer in this present day.  I get stuck on thinking it would be better to go back to my life before God asked me to move forward.  I forget about the promised land on the other side of the raging waters and the barren desert.  At those times I need to rest in the power and presence of being still.

Being still is less about lack of activity and more about our attitude.  It is the absence of anxiety and busyness. It is the ability to exist in an atmosphere of calm despite how the winds in the world are whipping.  It is not easy, but life without being still before God is far more difficult.  The way to the Promised Land for the Israelites might have taken weeks or months, if they had found their satisfaction in that place of stillness.  Instead, it took them forty years.

I don’t want to keep hitting my head against the same wall.  I want to know what it is to be still before God.  I want to take that stillness with me through each day, resting in the peace of God.  Paul gives the best advice in moving toward this goal: “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:16)  The Israelites were willing to regress in order to feel safe again, but Paul encourages us to keep moving forward, bolstered by what we have already experienced, learned and gleaned.  Paul challenges us to be perfectly who we are today so we can build one more layer tomorrow.

I am praying for a mind and heart that hunger for stillness.  I am praying for discipline to build on all that has come before to live perfectly in the present.  I am praying for faith that testifies, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

The Discipline of Presence: Being About Today

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)

It is clear from the gospels that Jesus understood humanity.  He was fully aware of our failings and flaws and into this world of imperfection He spoke words both compassionate and confrontational.  If we want to be fully present in the lives God has given us, we need to soak in the truth of this passage.

Worry, fear, anxiety and doubt all arise from a lack of trust or misplacing our trust.  Christ is reorienting our view to the one who is worthy of our trust.  He asks us to give up what if-ing our life to death and take hold of the truth that God will take care of us.

If we want to live life abundantly, we need to be about today.  When we exert our emotions and will to grasp for control what has not happened yet, we enter into a cycle of frustration and disappointment.  We can feel like the universe is out to wreck our plans, or even think that God is punishing us when things don’t go our way.  What if instead of trying to control the future, we worked on being prepared for the day we haven’t passed through yet?  What if rejected the idea of things going our way and partnered with God in seeing things go His way?

This isn’t about getting rid of your calendar, or not setting goals.  This is about having a different attitude in how you get to tomorrow.  When you are confidently giving all you have to today you avoid the regret and feelings of failure that worry, anxiety, doubt and fear leave in their wake.  When you step into each day available to the will of God, you become a tool in the Master’s hand, perfectly fit for His work in you and the world.  When you are rooted in the truth of His love

In the world of addiction recovery there is a saying that seems appropriate for this passage: One day at a time.  The reality is that we are all addicts – recovering sinners, if you will.  We have been set free, but we have a hard time living like we are no longer slaves to sin.  It is easy to fall back into the mentality that we know better what our future holds than the one who created time.

Jesus wants us to take one day at a time on our road to becoming like Him.  He wants us in that place between “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” (Philippians 3:13)  He wants us living in today.

I don’t want to be spread out over days, weeks and months.  I don’t want to feel thinned out by the ticking hands of a clock stretching me beyond the moment that God has prepared. I want to be a man about the business of today.

Prayer for this week:

Lord, help me to be about your work each day.  Let me live in the space between what has been and what will be with integrity and purpose.  Help me be fully present in my life with you, my family, friends and those you bring across my path.  Amen.

Provision: Everything We Need

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. – 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

When I went through basic training, we did a number of marches and two bivouacs (a fancy term for camp-out), and every time we had soldiers who were unprepared.  It was never an issue of whether they had been given the right tools, equipment or clothing; it was their attitude and lack of discipline.  The Army had given all of us the same training, technology and time; it really came down to whether you put the effort in to use it.

I remember working for a manufacturing company doing fairly labor intensive work when I finished with college.  I actually enjoyed the work itself, but it still tops my list of worst job ever.  Management and supervision consistently were at odds, creating an atmosphere of discontent and unhealthy competition between the shift crews.  Supervisors would sabotage one another to make sure their production numbers were higher; crew members would badmouth other crews; staff meetings were brief and uninformative; training was inconsistent and infrequent.  Even with all of these shortcomings, management and supervision still expected perfection.  As you can imagine, there was a lot of turn-over in low-level staff and plenty of shortcuts being taken to meet quotas.  Fortunately that job was short-lived.

I am sure that my experiences are not isolated from some that you may have had; a new job with high expectations and no support.  It is a frustrating and even damaging environment to be in for very long.  It is easy to slowly give in and do what you can to blend into the background.  If you choose not to give in, every day can be a study in frustration, anger and the want ads for another job.  In this kind of situation there is no hope in ever pleasing your boss or satisfying his standards.

God, however, is a much better boss.  He starts with mercy, teaches with love and disciplines with compassion.  His desire is for us to be like Him, but He is patient with us in reaching that goal.  And He gives us everything we need to do the job.  He gives us the right tools, the right information at the right time “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  You will never find a job with a better benefit package than doing the work of God.

However, just as a soldier must constantly maintain discipline to be effective on the field, so we must also be disciplined to truly experience all that God has given us.  It does no good to say, “I’m a soldier for Christ” if you are not willing to live out what that means.  It is arrogance that demands the benefits of being called a workman approved by God, if we are not making every effort to submit ourselves to God.

God is loving, gracious, kind and compassionate. He loves blessing His children, but there are some things that we must strive toward.  Not because He is unwilling to give them to us, but because it is only in the striving that we become capable of handling what we strive for.  If we are called by God, we must strive toward our calling; if we are anointed for His work, we must strive to walk in the anointing despite the cost; if we are holy and dearly loved, we must strive to abide in the one who is holy – the one who is love.

The world is like that nightmare job – bad management, infighting, competition against each other instead of for each other, muddling through for the off chance we can party for a while to forget how miserable it will be when the weekend is over.  The only way we can overcome this world is to refuse to play by its rules.  So when you are having one of those “working-in-the-world” moments, remember that you work for the God who wants you to excel in all things, provides all you need to do so and gives you a multitude of brothers and sisters who will encourage and edify you toward that end.  Don’t settle for being all you can be, strive for being all He has called you to be, for He is faithful to help you on your way.

Provision: Worry is A Waste of Life

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? – Matthew 6:25-27

It is easy to worry. The “what if’s” come one after the other when we are facing difficult situations and we find ourselves in a hypothetical hysteria. We have allowed our worries to lead us into a world that doesn’t exist and probably won’t.  There is one who knows the future and holds it in His hands, but He is gentle with those who think they can hold it in their own hands.

Fret, worry, anxiety, fear… these are prison guards of a bounded life, dictated by worst case scenarios, armed with self-pity and doubt.  They maintain order through intimidation and manipulation, keeping their prisoners so focused on what might be lurking in their cell that they cannot see the way out.  The irony of this prison is that we are our own warden.  We can dismiss these cruel guards at anytime if we would only trust in the one who casts out all fear.

This is exactly what Jesus is asking us to leave behind.  He wants us to live with the truth that tomorrow is in the hands of its author and fully engage the life He has given us today.  By no means is this an excuse to be lazy, waiting for our needs to fall from the sky.  Instead it is an attitude adjustment.  We plan, we organize, we prepare, we work, but always understanding that whatever we need must be found in Him, even if our plans fail, our organization crumbles and our preparations fall short.

There is no question in scripture that we live in an imperfect and painful world; that we will have trouble in this life.  Christ is clear here that by accepting that our worrying cannot change the world, we free ourselves to live fully trusting that God can meet us each day with what we need in the moment. If the cares of this world our pounding on your door, keep living the life God desires of you.  When we worry our eyes are on ourselves and what we lack.  When we trust God our eyes are on Him and He lacks nothing.

Handling Brokenness Part 3: Plank-sightedness

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

When I was in the military we had inspections on occasion.  You always wanted to make a good impression during inspections because it helped officers and NCO’s to remember your name and it kept you out of trouble.  One of the tricks you learn is to stand as close as you can in ranks to the worst dressed soldier.  There are always a few who don’t polish shoes, iron shirts or keep their hair trimmed.  By comparison, you will always look much better. 

The only problem is that outward appearance isn’t the only thing that counts in being a soldier.  In fact, some of the NCOs and officers were willing to let things go during inspections because they knew how good the soldier was at his job.  His skills and work ethic were far more important than how nice of a crease he had in his shirt.  The other problem was that the more experienced inspectors did not compare you to the man next to you; they compared you to a set standard and that usually revealed more flaws than judgment by comparison.  In the end, it was far better to ignore how everyone else looked and just work toward the standard.

It is very easy for us to see God as an inspecting officer checking us for cleanliness and orderliness, His good little soldiers putting on proper appearances.  We may even convince ourselves that we look pretty good compared to some of our comrades in arms.  Unfortunately that can lead to a false sense of accomplishment.  There is only one standard for the Christian and that is Christ.  One of the reasons that Jesus shares this passage about specks and planks is to remind us that we change the world by changing ourselves, not by trying to change everyone else.  He is also reminding us to have a humble perspective about where we are on our journey toward being like Him.

The comfort for all of us is that God sees us through His Son, unblemished and whole, as the children of God we can be.  But He does not leave us to our own devices; He gives us a drill sergeant in the Holy Spirit to constantly remind us of the standard we are working toward – Jesus Christ.  Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to those around you; you won’t see well anyway with that plank in your eye.  Don’t bother trying to fake it; you can’t satisfy God anymore than His Son.  Instead, do all you can to listen to the Holy Spirit who disciplines us for “the race marked out for us,” and we will all look like Jesus at the finish line.

Pressing On: Acting Our Age

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. – Philippians 3:15-16

My children are a wonder to me. It is indescribable what the depth, breadth, width and height of their love and trust in me has done to transform the way I think, speak and act. They can repair a broken day with a simple embrace, soothe the worries of modern life with laughter and recalibrate my perspective with the words “I love you, Daddy.” But in the midst of this incredible little universe dwells the horrid, unrelenting presence of sin. Disobedience, selfishness and anger rise up in little hearts and the beauty is tainted and warped just a little each time.

I could pretend that sin wasn’t there. I could just convince myself that my daughters are so special that whatever they do is righteousness. I could hold them to a different standard than the one God holds for all of us. Unfortunately I have met some of those children and it is never a pretty sight. God calls me to something better as a father. He asks me to look at them with His eyes to see them as they are and as they can be. He also has given me the privilege of helping each of them bridge the gap between what is and what can be with faith, hope and love. He asks that I help them grow in their knowledge of Him and His mighty power.

In the passage above, Paul is asking us to “live up to what we have already attained.” I expect my two year old to act like a two year old, I expect my ten year old to act like a ten year old and God expects me to act like a 42 year old man with a long life in God’s family. I am not sure why I should expect my children to act their age if I am not acting mine, and yet I fear that may be the case more often than I would like to admit.

My wife and I are working hard to lead our girls toward maturity step by step, trial by trial and lesson by lesson. We take time now and then to discuss what may be holding one of them back when they hit a bump in the road. We pray that they will have eyes to see, ears to hear and minds to understand. As we do so, God is doing the same work in us. I have had my fair share of bumps in the road over the years; times when I was content to not only sit in the middle of the road, but roll back, out of gear and out of gas. And every time my heavenly Father was there to lead me back to obedience and forward motion.

In this life of pressing on, God knows where we are and where we can be and what we need to get from the one to the other. How are you doing? Are there still areas in your life where you don’t act your age? Have you come to a bump in the road and lost your forward momentum? I pray that you will call on the mercy and grace of God to help you move forward toward maturity in Christ; and I will ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.