The Good Life, part 3: Fireworks and Wishes (4th of July)

FirecrackerLast night, standing in the parking lot of my church, I heard loud, popping sounds behind a screen of trees. Apparently, the children next door were celebrating the Fourth of July  two days early.

It fit in with my thoughts. I had wanted for this week’s blog to relate to Independence Day, so was seriously considering interrupting my series on The Good Life. But then I saw that the events of July 4, 1776, were a perfect illustration of what was on my heart to say next about “the good life.”

In 1776, many Americans  were ready to be done with English rule. They desired “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Does that sound like “the good life”?) But the 57 men who signed the Declaration of Independence didn’t just wish for the freedom to pursue these things, they did something about it. Over ninety declarations of independence were circulating around the colonies at that time. But these 57 men sent their declaration directly to the king of England. In so doing, they laid on the line their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor (as the last line of the Declaration says).

They are examples of what the previous blog said about The Good Life: they desired something passionately, and that desire motivated them to achieve something that made their lives worth living.

They also show that desiring things is a necessary beginning, but it’s only the beginning. As the old nursery rhyme says, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

Wishing, alone, will get a person nowhere. Some people wish for something with all their hearts and feel robbed because what they desire never happens. But things do not become ours just because we want them. It doesn’t work that way when we go shopping, does it?

“Well,” some people might object, “I’m not just wishing for something to happen. I have faith that God will do it.” That’s an excellent statement in the sense that only God can guarantee good outcomes. But it implies that God fulfills His promises all by Himself.

One of the events that says otherwise is the story of the Israelite’s possession of the Promised Land. God had promised it to them. But the first generation of Israelites didn’t receive their promise. They didn’t think right–they believed the giants in the land were more powerful than God. They had no faith in Him.

The second generation did have faith in God, but their faith was not passive. They didn’t camp on the east side of the Jordan and wait for God to give them the “all clear” signal. No, they understood that God had guaranteed them the land, but He required them to play a part in taking possession of it–a part that required faith and courage. It took faith and courage to show up for battle. It took faith to follow God’s unusual battle plans. Then, after He performed a miracle (like causing the walls of Jericho to fall), they needed faith and courage to follow up on that and complete the conquest.

As James 2:20 says, “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, faith that does not do its part, is not really faith. It’s wishful thinking.

When Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites, the Lord said to him,

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8 NKJV).

Hmm! There’s a part for us to play if we want to experience the success God has promised.

Fireworks&PeopleThere’s a reason why our memory of the Fourth of July, 1776, is emblazoned on the skies every year with multi-colored bursts of fire. On that day, a group of men rose above mere wishful thinking. They placed “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” then courageously played their part in birthing the great nation known as the United States of America.

What kind of “good life” do you desire? If it is, indeed, a good desire; that is, a healthy, God-inspired one, don’t say it couldn’t happen. Don’t doubt your ability to partner with God in reaching such a goal. You will no doubt need new attitudes and behavior in order to be successful, but God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). If you let Him, He will make you a person of faith and courage who can lay hold of The Good Life of your desires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too Good to Be True?

I found out the hard way that E 85 is not good for a Honda CR-V. It uses gas that is 5% ethanol (or is it 10%?) but not 85%.

Now, I’m no dummy. When I buy a car that requires Regular, I don’t pump it full of Premium (even if it’s cheaper, which thankfully it hardly ever is). I certainly don’t use kerosene or diesel. So why did my vehicle end up in the service department with a tankful of E 85? It so happened that I filled up at a different gas station than usual, and didn’t notice that the fuel choice on the right end was E 85, not Regular.

My point is this: The human brain and entire body operate correctly on positive, faith-filled thoughts, not negative, stressful ones. Just like a car operates properly on Smiley Facegasoline, not kerosene. What does that say about our Creator? To me, it says that he did not intend for us to ever be anxious. Is that too good to be true?

It is common to feel noble about anxiety: I’m anxious because I am responsible. I can’t tolerate the possibility of my plans working out badly. Or–I worry because I love my children. I can’t bear the thought of anything harming them.

How about asking for God’s wisdom and blessing on your work then operating in trust and confidence? How about committing your children to the Lord’s care and protection then telling them the Lord will bless them and enable them do whatever is necessary?

The two quotes below from the Bible carry surprising news.

1 Blessed is the one

2 . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:1-3 NIV)

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:9 NIV)

Did you notice? Both of these passages promise fruitfulness, prosperity, and success. If we do what? Think deeply about God’s ways and obey them. Not by anxious striving.

How does that work? Partly because God’s requirements are wise. We will get better results doing things the way he says. And partly because, when we look to him and cooperate with him, he covers all the bases we cannot.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:31-33 NIV).

1-2 If God doesn’t build the house,
the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn’t guard the city,
the night watchman might as well nap.
It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
giving rest to those he loves? (Psalm 127:1-2 MSG)

When bad things happen to you, have you thought It must’ve been God’s will. Did he tell you to put diesel-grade thoughts in your brain? Did  the anxious words that came out of your mouth agree with the Word of God? (Phil. 4:8)

Considering the bible passages above, would you say it is his will for you to fail or to succeed? Is it his will for you to lack or to have what you need? Is it his will for you to work long hours for minimal results–or to receive the Lord’s wisdom to work efficiently then sleep peacefully, knowing the Lord will prosper your efforts?

Why do we think that peace and blessing are too good to be true? The Bible is full of promises and stories that show God’s will for us is good. Where did we get the warped thought that worry and poor results are normal? Well, from experience. Not many people are thinking and living the way the above verses describe, so we don’t see many examples of how God intends things to be.

But the main reason we have such dim expectations of God and life can be seen in what happened to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Let me paraphrase what satan said to her that influenced her to eat the fruit God had forbidden. “I can’t believe God told you not to eat this fruit. It won’t harm you. It will make you wise like God. God’s holding out on you, girl.” The devil caused her to doubt God’s goodness. He’s been doing it ever since.

Are you going to fall for it? To believe that love, joy, and peace are impossible in this world?

How about meditating (thinking in a deep, personal way) on his ways and his promises? They are not too good to be true.

Mustard Seeds and Mountains

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bush in the picture is a mustard plant. Our Israeli tour guide casually pointed it out to us–and, as you can see, several of us whipped out our cameras. After that, I noticed this yellow-flowered plant everywhere.

The reason I mention this shrub is because of what Jesus said about its seeds:

“if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). 

The mystifying thing about this statement is that Jesus, at another time, said the mustard seed is the tiniest of seeds. How can a tiny bit of faith produce enormous results?

What Jesus said right before this gives one clue. He had just chided his disciples for their unbelief. Unbelief neutralizes faith. Perhaps if their faith had been been small, but pure–with no trace of unbelief–it would have succeeded in “moving the mountain” before them.*

However, there’s another clue, which is also very helpful. It is in one of Jesus’ parables.

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:30-32). 

Faith is a key ingredient of living in the kingdom of God. It is one of the things that grows as the kingdom becomes larger and larger in our lives. So, when Jesus said that faith like a mustard seed could move a mountain, I believe he meant that

  • small faith can do amazing things–whenever you have no doubt at all
  • small faith can grow into great faith*–which works all the time, because doubt has been replaced by complete confidence

Years ago, my neighbor and I were talking about a mutual friend, “Jane,” who was scheduled for surgery–again. My neighbor told me that she was planning to go the hospital with her because her husband never did. That night, when I tucked my kindergarten-age son into bed, we both prayed for successful surgery for Jane. Mentally, I asked, “And, Lord, let her husband accompany her.” I can’t say I asked with much faith–just much compassion.

A couple days later, I talked with my neighbor again. She told me, “Jane’s surgery went well. And guess who sat with me in the waiting room? Jane’s husband.”

I was awed. Not only had the Lord listened to my one small request, but he had seen to it that I knew about his answer. Through this incident I began to realize that God cares about the small stuff and that he encourages his children to come to him with their concerns. My faith began to grow. You know, you can’t believe God when you don’t know “he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).

Years later, when my son was a sophomore in high school, his leg was injured in a Monday night JV football game. All day Tuesday, he struggled to walk from one classroom to another. Wednesday morning I joined my prayer buddies for our weekly 5:00 AM meeting. We prayed for Mark’s healing. When I arrived home at 7:00, he was in the kitchen fixing himself a bowl of cereal.

“How’s your leg?” I asked him. Mark looked at me, dumbfounded. He was so totally restored that he had awakened, dressed, come downstairs, and walked all around the kitchen without even remembering his injury.

I no longer doubted God would intervene. I was making bigger requests. My faith had grown.

Here’s my point: Start small. Get to know God’s kindness and care for you by asking for simple things. You will begin approaching him with more and more confidence.

Yes, your faith can move a mountain. If not today, then eventually–if you let it grow. You have Jesus‘ word on it.

__________

*I first heard these two ideas on faith from my pastor, Ronald Callahan, in a recent sermon.

 

How Important Is Self-Esteem?

Quote People

A quote by Bobbe Sommer:

Having a low opinion of yourself is not “modesty”. It’s self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not “egotism”. It’s a necessary precondition to happiness and success. ~Bobbe Sommer

A quote from the Bible:

4 I . . . [make] mention of you always in my prayers . . . 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus (Philemon, verses 4 & 6 NKJV).