Compass

I love to sail.  There is something about the open water that makes me relax.  Then, if you throw in some adventure (e.g. high winds and big waves) the stress disappears very quickly.  Yes, it seems odd.  The more danger the more serene I am.  But, I am something of an odd duck.  The sailing company I belong to not only teaches the basics of sailing they move you towards knowing enough to handling your own boat safely.  Therefore, the owner has implanted a series of benchmark tests.  They are kind of like karate belts.  So, for each level you have to know a certain amount of technical knowledge and be able to implement it.  After several months of sailing I was at the point where I could be tested for 1st Mate.  This is a pretty significant level as it allows you to take the boats out by yourself.  It makes sense then that you would need to know quite a bit.

The day came for my test.  The owner took me out.  I was hoping for a light wind day so that I could pass the test easily.  As we began to take the boat out, I thought it was going to be a pretty calm day.  The winds were fairly light.  The sky was cloudy but peaceful.  Things changed very quickly.  When we were about two miles out from downtown Chicago, a storm blew up out of nowhere.  The winds picked up.  And before you know it we were sailing in 35 mph winds.  Then, the clouds engulfed Chicago.  It began to rain.  And literally, the city disappeared.  The only thing you could see was clouds.  Fairly quickly I became disoriented.  I could not tell which way was north or south.  I was not sure in which direction was the city.  I tried to look calm but inside I was beginning to panic.  I told the owner that I could no longer see Chicago (he had gone down below to check on something).  He hollered back up, “Use the compass.  That is what it is there for.”  I thought to myself, “Duh, what a novel idea.”  I shook my head thinking there goes a passing grade.  But, it worked.  I looked at the compass.  I got my bearings.  And we made it back to the city without any issues.  Without the compass I would have been wondering adrift in Lake Michigan, confused and worried.  Yet, the compass gave me a fixed point – something reliable and secure, even when the circumstances changed around me.

One of my commitments during Lent is to spend additional time in prayer after I arrive to the office.  In the morning I spend some time reading the Bible and in prayer but I wanted to have some further time prior to starting work.  It has been a wonderful discipline.  I have found myself getting into a good mindset before the work day begins.  Over the past week, there have been a couple of days where I arrived at the office tired or edgy.  As I took those few moments spending time with God, I found the irritable emotions gradually disappeared.  My heart lightened up.  The stress faded away.  I looked forward to what awaited me.  I imagine that if I did not spend time with God, the tired, edgy emotions would have driven the day.  They would have influenced my conversations and consumed my joy.  Yet, as I spent time with God, my emotions became pointed in the right direction – towards grace, peace, joy, and a desire to serve.

Philippians 4:9 states, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Edginess makes me think of worst case scenarios; Christ makes me think of good things.  He is my compass.  He sets the tone for my mood.  Without him, I would be wandering through the circumstances of life being tossed all over the place by my emotions.  Yet, in Christ, I find a fixed vantage point – something reliable and secure.  Certainly, I still have emotions.  Yet, these times of prayer have made them less consuming because Christ calms me.  He helps me navigate life.  So I am reminded when emotions start to get the best of me, “Look to Christ.  That is what he is there for.”

Oh, by the way, I passed the test.

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Forgetfulness

I am becoming increasingly forgetful.  I am only 43.  This does not bode well for the future.  Granted, I have a pretty good short-term memory.  I can memorize a great deal of information quickly; however, not so when it comes to reminders and appointments.  If I don’t write it down there is a good chance that I will not remember it.  I like to say it is my compartmentalization.  I forgot it because it was tucked away in some mental drawer somewhere.  So begins the rationalization.

It is interesting that we view forgetfulness as always a negative thing.  No one wants to be labeled as forgetful.  It is viewed as the beginning of the end.  So, we try desperately to never forget.  There are clever mnemonics that help you string together facts.  We engage in visualization that might help for a while.  To do lists and sticky notes are also a good way to keep on top of mental notes.  In fact, it is possible to take dietary pills that are intended to help you remember things (not sure if they work).  All in all no one wants to be classified as forgetful.  It is never a good thing.

As Lent begins this week, I have been reminded about God’s forgiveness.  Yet, recently God’s forgiveness has taken on a more potent quality to it.  It is not simply a pardon; it is an act of wiping the record clean.  Hebrews 8:12 has come to mind, “For I will forgive their wickedness, and will remember their sins no more.”  Let me paraphrase this for us.  If we confess our sins to God, He will forgive our sins and forget them.  “Remember their sins no more” right!  Wow!  God will no longer remember our lies, lusts, anger, bitterness, or any other sin in our life.  To be honest, I don’t have a clue as to how God accomplishes this.  I have been burned by sin many times over the years.  I most certainly can forgive that person’s offense.  But forget the act, absolutely not.  It stays there in my mind – a scar from some verbal insult which occasionally pops up when I think about the person or encounter a similar situation.  I am not alone.  I have counseled many people who have echoed this sentiment.  “I can forgive but I cannot forget.”  It would be wonderful to be able to do so but it is humanly impossible.

Yet, God is not human.  He is divine.  He has the capacity to do things that we are unable to do.  Obviously, He knows all things about us even the secret thoughts (this is a bit scary).  He knows our future (oh it would be nice to get a glimpse into this).  He is sovereign over everything (when I think of the Middle East I thank God that we worship a sovereign being).  These are all wonderful things that prompt me to worship Him.  I worship Him because He has qualities that are unique from me, greater than me, mysterious to me.  One of these qualities is the capacity to forget sin.  Oh, what joy to know that God wipes my sin from his mind and remembers them no more.  There is no lasting remnant of offense towards Him.  It is gone.  The Psalmist states he separates our sin as far as the east is from the west (in other word permanently).

I am truly humbled by this truth.  I look at the past.  I think of my own sinful acts.  I remember them.  In many ways, I am still ashamed by them.  I have received forgiveness for them; however, the act itself serves as a form of torture knowing that I failed.  Yet, God not only forgives me, He forgets my sin.  As I think about the uniquely beautiful qualities of God, this rises to the top.  Oh, the joy of such grace.  In fact, it prompts me to bring my sins to God because He can do something that is impossible for me – truly clean the slate.  As I start to celebrate Lent, I stand humbled by the profoundness of His grace, not simply forgiveness but forgiveness with forgetfulness.  Oh, so undeserving am I!

Your Child

There is a natural defensiveness that arises in any parent’s heart when someone makes a negative comment against that person’s child.  We have experienced this emotion on several occasions over the years.  When those moments happen, I get defensive.  As soon as a comment is made, emotions flare up in my heart.  I mean what parent would not immediately jump to protect their child.  Our children are our flesh and blood.  They are the most precious things we have in the world.  When someone negatively criticizes our child, it is personal.  The person might as well be attacking us.  Certainly, we need to be objective; however, I have yet to meet a parent whose claws don’t come out when someone points a finger at his or her child.

I was chatting with my very insightful wife yesterday.  She made an amazing connection to this parent-child relationship which I believe provides tremendous perspective on the issue of gossip, bitterness, and slander.  She likened our paternal relationship to that of God’s relationship with people in general.  Biblically, we are children of God.  Through redemption, we are adopted into a father-child relationship with God.  We can call Him Father.  In fact, the book of Romans indicates we can call him “Daddy.”  This is how close the relationship is between God and us when we are saved.  It is absolutely beautiful to think that we can refer to Almighty God in such a fashion.  In response, He calls us His sons and daughters.   He views us with a deep intimacy similar to how we see our own children.  In fact, God has a more potent unconditional love than we do as it is not flawed in any way.  So it is fair to say God loves His children far more than how much we love our children.

I wonder then what God’s reaction is when people criticize His children.  Think about it.  When we slander another person, what do you think God’s emotional reaction is?  If someone slandered my children, I would be furious.  Is it not fair to say that God’s reaction is similar when one of His children is unfairly judged?  Or, what would God’s response be when we gossip about other people behind their back?  Imagine walking down the hall.  As you get ready to turn a corner you hear voices.  One of the voices mentions your child.  You stop.  Rather than turn the corner, you sit and listen.  What would you be thinking if the group of people were gossiping about your child?  I personally would lose it.  Now, I am not saying God would react in the same way (He is perfect; I am not).  However, I have to believe that God gets very upset when people gossip about one of His children.  Or, lastly, what if you were chatting with someone and they divulged to you that they are bitter towards your son.  I believe our reaction would be “You need to let that go.  It is my child.  You shouldn’t stay bitter towards them.”  God says the same thing to us, “Don’t remain bitter towards one of my children whom I love.  You need to let it go.  If is a legitimate issue, I will take care of it.”

This insight continues to rattle around in my brain.  I find myself remembering to stop short before I think negatively about another person (let alone say something) realizing that this person is God’s child.  I would not appreciate an attack on my child so I am absolutely certain God doesn’t like it.  We might as well be attacking Him.  As for me, this is a powerful reminder to me when that fleshly urge pops up to put down another person down.  Rather, it prompts me to build them up.  Because conversely, what joy it must be for God as our Heavenly Father when we affirm one of His children.  He must love it.  I would.

The Funks in Life

I usually experience some emotional down days in January.  I am not sure whether it is the weather, post-holiday blues, or simply a bout of slight depression.  It is probably a combination of all three.  Yet, I can’t explain it.  It simply occurs.  These moments usually last for two to three days.  And no, I am not self-prophesying by believing it will happen therefore it does happen.  On these days, I am lethargic, lacking motivation, and feeling like life is blasé.  I’ll want to stay in bed or escape to a television program.

In the past, I have tried to shake these moments in various ways.  Sometimes I overanalyze it by engaging in some deep reflection as to why I might be discouraged.  Is the depression a result of sin that God wants to bring to light?  Am I not celebrating God’s blessing in my life?  Am I exhausted?  In other cases, I try to fix it by praying, exercising, or sleeping.  When it is particularly intense, I even engage in self-talk by telling myself to “choose joy today.”  Granted, each of these considerations is good.  I think we should think about rest and prayer when we feel depressed.  However, I also think that there are times in our life where we simply get depressed.  There is no explanation for it.  It just happens.  We wake up in a funk.  Sometimes we can shake it; sometimes we cannot.  It is the result of life lived in a broken world with hearts and minds that are not yet fully renewed.

The problem when we encounter these episodes is that we overreact to it (or at least I do).  I don’t like to feel depressed therefore I passionately try to resolve it.  If it persists, I then get more depressed because my attempts to resolve it did not work.  This is what happens when a type-A personality meets depression.

What I really need to do is give myself grace.  Don’t over think it.  Don’t react to it.  Simply let it be.  Go about my day in the midst of the funk realizing that life is sometimes bland.  However, this blandness is a passing mood not something that has to define me or cause concern.  I need to simply keep living life.  Working.  Praying.  Eating.  I need to realize that in a day or two it will pass.  I will wake up joyous.  I will see God’s blessings with vividness.  And the depression will be a passing thought.  Yes, this is what I need to do – give an allowance for funks in life.

See, the problem for me is that I truly want life to be full of joy, happiness, and peace.  So, I disdain down days.  Yet, this is an unrealistic hope.  Life is not always going to be “I’m on top of the mountain with such joy I just want to shout”; it involves the mundane and ordinary.  Christ is with me when I am up and when I am down.  I need to remember that lack of joy on a given day does not mean that Christ is any less present with me.  It simply means I am having a down day.  If anything I need to look forward to the true hope:  in glory there will never be a depressing moment.  In fact, maybe these “days” are a means for God to remind us that we are not there yet – that we haven’t arrived.