Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Miscellaneous (page 1 of 7)

Concluding Punctuation’s Point

“I will question you …” (Job 38:3a; 40:7; 42:4)

“Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question …'” (Mark 11:29)

Periods are boundary markers. They limit, mark off, define. Periods are specks, scattered indiscriminately and profusely across the landscape of our conversations to guide us on our way. Periods are plentiful, profuse, prolific–with a gestation of mere seconds before one spawns a fresh litter of statements, assertions and observations. Periods are too commonplace to arrest anyone’s attention. Periods can become self-centered–too quick to assert what one thinks he knows. Periods at one and the same time both define and bore.

Explanation points on the other hand are tall, elegant and demanding. Exclamation points are brash, bold and boisterous.  They are found far less frequently than the common period, but in this way they serve their purpose–to arouse interest, to demand attention, to scream “Here! Look at me!” Yet the exclamation point’s power diminishes with its proliferation. Not everything can be urgent and ultimate. Not everything can be equally worthy of immediate attention.

Then there is the question mark–that lonely, bent figure, humbled under the weight of its query. What is this? Is a question mark a period risen up in protest in the face of assertions and declarations shouted loudly and presumed upon universally? Or is it an exclamation point that has gone off prematurely and now wilted under the weight of what was once giddy excitement and bravado? Or is the question mark a humble, bowing invitation to leave off our boastful assertions and our loud exclamations and to enter into real communication, genuine relationship?

The period is too nondescript to demand attention. The exclamation point is too gaudy for long term serious consideration. The question mark, however, is where real conversation begins. The question mark is the place where communication is birthed.

Those Inner Conversations

More than once Moses warned the new generation poised to enter the Promised Land: “Do not say in your heart …” (Deuteronomy 9:4a).

God is concerned over the self-talk of His people. It is what we “say in [our] heart” that is of consequence.

It is worth pointing out the obvious—God knows we talk to ourselves! These inner conversations are of constant occurrence. In fact, they can’t be turned off, only redirected. And that only by the grace of God. We see this warning repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. There are a number of ways to go wrong in talking to yourself.

1) The danger of self-congratulation.Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4; cf. 8:17)

The Israelites faced a danger from the seductions of the peoples of the land. Of this God constantly warned them (see, for example, the disaster at Peor, Numb. 25:1-9). But the ideas of others, as dangerous as they were, were not the only or even primary danger facing the Israelites. It was the conversations going on within their own hearts that made them especially vulnerable.

It is when we begin talking to ourselves about ourselves and our circumstances that we are in the most danger of going astray.

We all have this kind of self-talk going on within our hearts all the time. We see and experience and try to understand—but are prone to interpret and talk to ourselves in self-affirming ways (“because of my righteousness”). This stream of thought forms a jet stream that powerfully circles planet self, threatening to pull everything else into its flow.

What we fail to see is that God sometimes blesses one (in this case, Israel) because he is disciplining another (here, the Canaanites). We must talk and walk humbly. The reasons “why” our lives are as they are is much bigger than our performance before God.

2) We may err in our inner conversations by self-exaltation. We may not elevate others or our accomplishments over God, but we may elevate our very selves: “Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children’ (Isaiah 47:8). “I am” – that name has already been taken (Exodus 3:14); its Owner says He’s not sharing (Isaiah 42:8).

Self-exaltation was literally the problem of the Edomites. They dwelt in the physically lofty heights of a God-given land. They thought their elevated position made them untouchable. Thus they were warned: “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’” (Obadiah 1:3).

God did with the Edomites what he does with all who exalt themselves within their own hearts: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51).

3) We go astray when we engage in self-dependence. The self-talk can also lead us stray in the opposite direction: “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’” (Deuteronomy 7:17). Instead of elevating ourselves and denigrating others, we may overly exalt them in our eyes—making them even bigger than God. And with God out of the picture all we have left to depend upon is ourselves. That leads to fear, paralysis and despair.

4) We err when we talk ourselves into self-justification. The people of Jeremiah’s day denied their hardships arose from their responsibility: “And if you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things come upon me?’ it is for the greatness of your iniquity that your skirts are lifted up and you suffer violence” (Jeremiah 13:22). Ultimately, denial of responsibility is a denial of hope.

But not all self-talk is bad-talk. The Bible depicts the power of telling yourself the truth.

Take, for example, David as he prays Psalm 62. He begins his prayer so positively and confidently: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation” (v.1).

But, as so often is the case, things get difficult. Our confidence wanes. Our faith wavers. Our prayers change. By the middle of the psalm David is still praying. In fact he is still on the same theme with which he opened, but he has transitioned from talking to God, to coaching himself: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (v.5).

This telling-yourself-the-truth kind of self-talk is the application of faith to a wavering, struggling heart. We talk to ourselves this way because deep down we believe Jesus was right: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31b-32a).

We talk to ourselves as a hold out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus’ deliverance, Jesus’ promised freedom.

When we keep this up God’s blessings of freedom become increasingly real in our lives. Perhaps we even come to the place, as Isaiah predicted the people of Israel would, where we have to start talking to ourselves about the compounding, stockpiling grace He is pouring into our lives: “The children of your bereavement will yet say in your ears: ‘The place is too narrow for me; make room for me to dwell in.’ Then you will say in your heart: ‘Who has borne me these? I was bereaved and barren, exiled and put away, but who has brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; from where have these come?’” (Isaiah 49:20).

Don’t stop talking to yourself. Just start telling yourself the truth. And then keep it up. Those with ears to hear might hear the sound of heaven’s applause. Those with eyes to see might detect life, freedom and grace standing just off in the distance, rising with a smile on their faces as the conversation begins.

Haunted by Grammar

source

Entertaining Thoughts

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, emphasis added)

“The finest art has always offered transcendence – inviting us to stand outside ourselves and gain perspective. Artistic images, music, and stories engage our rational faculties, which mediate and critique our emotional and visceral responses. Entertainment makes an end run around the intellect, stimulating the nervous system in much the same way as drugs do.” (Lael Arrignton, A Faith and Culture Devotional, 54).

Planning for the Future

Retirement planning is big business these days. And the market is ripe. Baby boomers currently enter retirement at a rate of 10,000 per day. And estimate 33 million more will join the ranks of the retired over the next seven years!

Heading into 2017 there was a surge of confidence in people’s sense of preparedness to enter retirement. In 2011 only 24% felt such confidence; today the percentage has risen to 41%.[1] Whether that confidence is well-founded is, of course, yet to be seen. But it seems people are giving more and more attention to preparing for their retirement future.

Those in their 20’s are being urged to begin now to store away for their retirement years. The magic powers of compounding interest are paraded before their eyes with dollar signs dancing through their dreams of a better tomorrow, free of work and the stress it brings.

Anyone in their 30’s is warned that the window of opportunity is fast passing them by. Left feeling like dullards they are shamed into obtaining professional help and getting a “plan” together.

If you’re in your 40’s the time for warning is past and embarrassment is the tool of choice. If you are in your fifth decade of life and haven’t been working a wise investment plan you are not just foolish, but destining those around you to a life of taking care of you.

And, heaven forbid, you are in your 50’s … well, we have funeral services for you. Survival in retirement years is simply (ahem!) unrealistic.

Am I counseling not being intentional about preparing for retirement? Not at all. Of course there is some wisdom in this. It’s just that a related, but significantly different thought ran through my head the other day. I want to start asking people:

  • What are your post-retirement plans?
  • What are you doing to be ready for that transition?
  • How long have you been concerned and preparing for your post-retirement future?
  • How comfortable are you with your preparations for your post-retirement period?

In fact, the next time someone asks me what I do, I think I may just answer: “I am a post-retirement counselor”!

Jesus—the ultimate post-retirement counselor—advised, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Peter counseled us to make certain of “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Solomon counseled, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many” (Ecclesiastes 11:8, NIV).

As we prepare for 2017 year to give way to 2018, as we enter the gift-buying, gift-giving season, as all the while we all move toward our post-retirement existence … let’s take steps to make certain that we’re ready for our post-retirement experience, by the mercies and grace of God through Jesus.

[1] http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20161227/BLOG05/161229964/2017-will-be-year-of-change-for-retirement-industry

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