The Good Life, part 4: LET IT BEGIN WITH ME

PANNING FOR GOLD

Digging into Psalm 34:12-14

Do you recognize the words in the title? They are the second line of a timeless song from the 1950s.

angel with halo

Let there be peace on earth,

And let it begin with me.

Actually, peace on earth–and THE GOOD LIFE, which is the theme of this blog–do not begin with me or any other person. They begin with God. Peace and a good life are possible for us because God is the Prince of Peace and He is good.

Hold it; hold it! I can hear some folks thinking. If God is good and the Prince of Peace, why isn’t the world in better shape? Why isn’t my life better?

I’m glad you asked. 🙂

Jesus brought the kingdom of heaven back to earth, but not everyone chooses to become  a citizen of it. And not all who have become citizens of it live there full-time.

Similarly, the good life is available for “whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days” (Psalm 34:12), but — well, let’s look at this verse in context.

12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,

13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.

14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:12-14 NIV).

Oh! You mean desiring the good life is not enough? You mean it is not even enough to pursue the good life with faith and courage?

Well, according to the psalmist, if you want the good life–if you want to change your world–you first have to change yourself!

A sterling example of this is the heartbreaking scene towards the end of the epic adventure film “Lawrence of Arabia.” The unconventional, charismatic British army officer T. E. Lawrence had done the impossible–he had managed to create a coalition of fiercely independent Arab sheiks, and, with their assistance, had conquered a major city.  However, in the following weeks, the sheiks refused to work together to restore normalcy to the city. It became a nightmare of rubble, disease, and starvation.  Lawrence, himself, fell into depression and made no attempt to re-forge their former unity of purpose.

Better a patient person than a warrior,

    one with self-control than one who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).

If I want real, lasting victory–it has to begin with me.

What are some of the things that need to change about me if I want a really good life? Let’s go back to verses 13 and 14 of Psalm 34:

  • “Keep your tongue from evil.” That would include gossip, sarcastic remarks, off-color jokes, and pessimistic talk, right?
  • “Keep your lips from telling lies.” In other words, don’t mislead or take advantage of others by giving them false information. Don’t bury your heart by pretending to be someone you’re not. And don’t say things to yourself that are contrary to God’s gracious plans for you. Don’t say, “I can’t,” “Nothing good will ever happen to me,” “I’d better be content with a little. Who am I to expect anything special from God?” You’re of great worth to God. He delights over you with singing (Zechariah ). He has great plans for your future (Jeremiah 29:11). That’s the truth. Stick to it!
  • “Turn from evil and do good.” Well, that covers the waterfront: Don’t do what’s wrong, and do do the things you know you should.
  • “Seek peace and pursue it.” Stay out of strife. Did someone insult you? Don’t let it under your skin. Is you co-worker in a foul mood? Do yourself and the whole workplace a favor–be extra cheerful. Wherever you are, replace anxiety, frustration, and contention with faith, calmness, and harmony.

Imagine how good your life would be if your were this positive, mature, and holy.

Holy. Free from the internal garbage that keeps you from being and doing all God created you for.

Is that impossible? It must not be. God doesn’t ask us to do anything He doesn’t enable us to do.

15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16 NIV).

And it’s not as hard as it might seem. It’s not so much a matter of fixing yourself, as it is letting go of your old self and letting Christ’s life flood into your thinking and your desires.

not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:9 NIV).

put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and . . . put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV).

Three years ago, the Lord said to me, “It’s time to dream. It’s time to plan.” My dream to move from Illinois, which had been my home for over forty years, happened quickly because the Lord caused my house to sell in ten days! Another dream–to write a novel based on the life of the apostle Peter–hasn’t taken off so fast. But as I have held onto the dream and learned to cooperate with God, I have changed a lot. It had to begin with me.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Life, part 2: The Fountain of Desire

PANNING FOR GOLD

Digging into Psalm 34:12

This post is dedicated to . . .

Whoever of you loves life 
and desires to see many good days . . . (Psalm 34:12 NIV).

Is it alright to love life? To desire good days—actually, to desire a lot of them?Fountain

As I considered these questions, a more profound one came to me: does God have desires? Do things matter to Him?

I concluded that He must have feelings, because Jesus told his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15 NIV). Not just desired but eagerly desired.

Is it any wonder that we have many desires? We were made in His image.

I imagine you are thinking, “Some of my desires couldn’t have come from Him.” You would be right. I want to address that shortly, but first may we consider the difference between honoring our desires and ignoring them? I see an example of each in the story of the “lost son” in Luke 15:11-32.

Usually, when this story is told, the emphasis is on the father who loved his wayward son unconditionally and welcomed him home after he had partied his inheritance away. But I want us to look at the two sons. The younger son apparently had a taste for life. He liked to enjoy himself. However, his notion of how to enjoy life was immature and distorted. It caused him to self-destruct. On the other hand, eventually, he was capable of appreciating the home he had left behind and desiring to return to it.

The older son took pride in his hard work and responsibility and despised his fun-seeking younger brother. He was indignant that their father received his brother home again—especially that he fully reinstated him as a son.

The older son appears to have been driven by obligation. The younger son was drawn by his desires.

The older son’s best reward for his efforts was pride. The younger son reaped joy and, ultimately, love and self-esteem.

The older son was faithful but his heart was far from his father. The younger son was neither faithful nor loving—at first. But the day came when remembered his father with affection and realized it would be a pleasure to work for him.

There is a pernicious (plain English: nasty) idea out there that God wants us to be serious and dutiful—that the less we think about our desires the happier He is with us.

There’s some truth to that last point. God is selfless, so when we put others above ourselves, we are like Him. Yes, God is selfless, but He is not desire-less. If you doubt that, read the whole story of the lost son and see how longingly the father watched for the son’s return and how extravagantly he showered him with gifts of love. He also told his older son that he would have held a feast for him and his friends at any time, if he had only asked.

So here’s the truth about what the Lord wants from us:

Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing (Psa. 100:2 NKJV).

Anything less grieves God’s loving, generous heart. It also diminishes our fruitfulness, because joy and desire are huge motivators.

Earlier, we acknowledged that not all desires are good. In fact, the lost son’s youthful desires ruined his life. But there’s a way to live from your heart safely.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart ( Psalm 37:4).

When did the younger son’s desires become healthy? When his heart turned back to his father and he took delight in being back home.

What if your life is in disarray because of unhealthy desires? Connect with the heavenly Father.

What if you are a good Christian, but you’re not enjoying it? Unstop the fountains of desire. Uncover how you feel about things. Resurrect your dreams.  Don’t drop your responsibilities but develop a taste for them. Let your actions spring from desire, not just duty, and approach the Father with an open, trusting heart.

As Proverbs 4:23 says,

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (NIV).

 

The Good Life, Part 1: TAKE A TASTE

Stuffed Mushrooms

PANNING FOR GOLD

Digging into Psalm 34:8

I made some stuffed mushrooms for lunch today. I chopped some zucchini, red bell pepper, and onion; added parsley, garlic, lemon juice, and crumbled goat cheese; stuffed the mixture into the mushrooms; and popped them in the toaster oven. They came out looking good, but when I bit into one—oh my!—it tasted even better than it looked.

In the middle of Psalm 34, David makes an interesting suggestion:

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;

    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

The caption at the top of the psalm, as well as the first several verses, show that this psalm was composed in thankfulness and praise to the Lord for rescuing him from King Saul and King Achish.  So the goodness of the Lord that David is talking about must be that he rescues believers from danger.

Well, yes, but then he goes on to say:

 9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing.

10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Hmmm. Now he has gone on to a whole different way that God is good—he not only helps people in danger, but he is a giver of good things.

Most Christians would quickly say, “Oh, yes, God gives us everything we need—not everything we want, but everything we really need.” If you point out to them that Jesus said He came to give life in abundance, they would say that means an abundance of love, joy, peace, etc.—in other words, spiritual blessing.

That’s not how the Jewish people understood the Lord’s blessing. They trusted God to bless them spiritually by atoning for sin, but they also very much expected Him to bless them abundantly with material things.

Their history started with Abraham. He was a nomad in a strange country. But the Lord promised it all to him and his descendants at the appropriate time. In the meantime, the Lord caused him to become enormously wealthy and influential AND enabled his formerly barren wife to bear their son when she was ninety years old.

Abraham’s son Isaac also experienced an economic miracle because of the Lord’s blessing:

1 A severe famine now struck the land, as had happened before in Abraham’s time. So Isaac moved to Gerar, where Abimelech, king of the Philistines, lived.

2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt, but do as I tell you. 3 Live here as a foreigner in this land, and I will be with you and bless you.

12 When Isaac planted his crops that year, he harvested a hundred times more grain than he planted, for the Lord blessed him. 13 He became a very rich man, and his wealth continued to grow. 14 He acquired so many flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and servants that the Philistines became jealous of him.(Genesis 26:1-2, 12-14 NLT).

God created life to be good. That’s why we feel distressed when our resources are in short supply. Distress (pain) is the response the Lord built into our beings to let us know when something is wrong. Scarcity is not good, minimal health is not good, strained relationships are not good. God never intended his people to be saddled with this kind of experience.

Why do Christians have them? A big reason is: we settle for all these things because we don’t really believe God is good and that he is generous with those who allow Him to be. We don’t know how pleased He is when we seek Him about the things that we lack.

Let’s taste and see how good God is. If we seek Him, we will lack no good thing.