SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

Glen Canyon - Lake Powell
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)]

“What keeps you awake at night?” he asked. The questioner, however, wasn’t interested in my husband’s snoring or my reaction to caffeine or spicy foods. He wondered what things weigh heavy enough on my heart that I’m kept from peaceful sleep.

While a venti latte in the late afternoon can keep me awake and I may take a midnight trip to the bathroom, other than my recent bout with bronchitis or when I’m in physical pain, not much robs me of a night’s sleep. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when things like worry, resentment, disappointment, fear, regret, and even despair overwhelmed me enough to deprive me of sleep. Nowadays, I’ve found that resting in God’s word has a way of pushing aside my concerns better than any lullaby or sleep aid.

Unfortunately, it took me way too many years to understand that things like anxiety, apprehension, and angst simply push God out of His rightful place. Even though I knew better, I felt responsible for the happiness and success of everyone I loved. I thought I had to be perfect (or as near to perfect as possible) to be loved by God or man and I worried because perfection was unachievable. Some nights, I also brought a bag of remorse, guilt, and grief to bed along with my concerns and cares. Instead of counting sheep, I would catalogue regrets, troubles, offenses, and misgivings.

It took a few crises to knock me to my knees where I belonged—praying instead of worrying and surrendering to God instead of trying to be Him. Once I resigned as ruler of the universe, I finally found the peace Jesus promised that had seemed so elusive. Understanding that God does a much better job of running lives than I ever could, I turned it all over to Him. After all, He’s up all night anyway so there’s no reason both of us should stay awake!

Better than melatonin, chamomile tea, or lavender aromatherapy is the reassurance found in God’s word that God is firmly in control and He is bigger than all of our burdens combined. Our job is to hand those burdens over to the Lord and leave the rest up to Him! As for regrets, the Apostle Paul told the Philippians that he focused on forgetting the past and looking forward to what lay ahead. [3:13] We should do the same. If God can forgive us, we can graciously accept His forgiveness and forgive ourselves. If He can say “over, done with, and gone” about our offenses, then we can do the same for others.

Now, instead of sheep, problems, fears, or regrets, I count my blessings! Even if the day went every which way but right, there’s always something for which to be thankful—even if it’s that tomorrow is another day! If I ever happen to find myself wakeful, I figure it’s the Lord telling me the day’s work isn’t done and there’s something about which I need to pray.

What keeps you awake at night? Is there a Bible verse that might help you sleep better? Resting in God’s word probably is more effective than many of those sleep medications on the market and there are no undesirable side effects! Like those prescription meds, however, there is a warning—you can get dependent upon God’s word. Indeed, the peace that passes understanding is addictive!

God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you. [Augustine]

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe. [Psalm 4:8 (NLT)]

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GROWING JOY

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. [1 Peter 1:8 (NLT)]

Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. [2 Corinthians 6:10 (NLT)]

cherriesWhile both are joy and happiness are pleasurable, there seems to be a fine line between the two. Happiness is more like satisfaction. Dependent on external circumstances, it needs everything to go right or as close to right as possible. On the other hand, because joy doesn’t depend on what is happening to us or to the people we love, it is possible even when everything has gone terribly wrong. Happiness is an emotion which, like anger, sadness, fear, and jealousy, is short-lived but joy can be a permanent state of mind. Because happiness takes the short view, it’s hard to be happy in suffering. Because joy takes the long view, it can endure through suffering.

After writing yesterday’s message, I wondered what God thinks of our pursuit of happiness. He certainly isn’t against happiness but, since happiness is circumstantial and temporal, God doesn’t promise that we’ll always be happy. Since God’s concern is the permanent and eternal, however, He does promise us joy and that joy is built on His presence in our lives! Unlike happiness that needs pursuing, we don’t have to pursue joy. Instead, when we pursue God, joy will find us! Joy is possible in all things because we know who is with us now and what awaits us in the future; we know we’re just in the prelude to our real and eternal life.

Rather than coming from people, things or circumstances, joy is a one of the fruits the Holy Spirit plants in our hearts but, like any fruit, it needs cultivating and tending. Rather than peach scab and brown rot, unrealistic expectations and discontent can hamper our receptiveness to God’s joy and ruin a harvest. Like weeds, envy and greed compete with the fruit for nutrients while anger, adversity, and resentment are like the destructive aphids and fruit worms that destroy new growth and keep fruit from developing. Instead of birds, racoons, deer, and groundhogs, things like guilt, unforgiveness, worry, and fear can destroy or steal the fruit from right under our noses!

So, how do we nurture this fruit and bring it to harvest? We apply weed killer with gratitude and acceptance, fertilize with forgiveness and humility, water with compassion and generosity, eradicate bugs and worms with a heavy dose of perspective and humor, and protect our joy from pests with a strong fence made of God’s word, worship, and prayer. The fruit of the Spirit exists because of God’s presence in our lives. While joy, like love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is produced by the Spirit, whether we harvest His fruit is entirely up to us.

Remember, O my soul, it is thy duty and privilege to rejoice in God; He requires it of thee for all his favors of grace. Rejoice then in the giver and his goodness, Be happy in him, O my heart, and in nothing but God, for whatever a man trusts in, from that he expects happiness. … Let God be all to thee, and joy in the fountain that is always full. [The Valley of Vision – A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Arthur Bennett, editor)]

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [Romans 14:17 (NLT)]

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! [Philippians 4:4 (NLT)]

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THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. [1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (KJV)]
variegated fritillary butterfly

At my age, I think I’d prefer a hazy mirror and blurred reflection to my bathroom mirrors that seem cruel with the clarity of what they reveal. Mirrors in Biblical times, however, were usually made of polished bronze and their reflections were blurred. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul wrote of seeing an unclear reflection in a mirror. When the first Bibles were translated into English, the words “glass” and “looking glass” were commonly used for the word mirror. Both words, however, are anachronisms since glass mirrors were not introduced until well after Paul’s letter was written. Nevertheless, as a result of the early translators’ use of glass, several later Bible translations turned that flawed mirror into a blurry window or a clouded windowpane. The Greek words Paul used, however, were dia spektrou which meant “by means of a mirror.”

Initially, I thought the proper translation was necessary to understand that verse. After all, when looking in a mirror, we are seeing ourselves; when looking through a glass window, we are seeing others. Then I looked at the more important (yet easily overlooked) word: “darkly.” Rather than speaking of a poorly lit room that would make it difficult to see in any sort of mirror, Paul was speaking of our human limitations. The literal translation of the Greek words used, in aenigmate, mean “in a riddle” or “an enigma.” Regardless of the translation, whether we’re looking at an imperfect mirror or through a smoky window, what we’re seeing is incomplete and distorted. Like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle, it is incomplete. What we’re able to perceive is just an outline, a hint, a rough sketch, of what is to come.

Although God revealed Himself to us through His word and in Jesus, what we know of Him is neither easily explained nor clearly understood. Like the picture on a puzzle’s box, we have an idea of what it will be like once done but we don’t know exactly how it fits together. In spite of having numerous translations of the Bible and countless scholars through the ages who’ve offered interpretations, commentary, and clarifications, much is still left to conjecture. Because God and His plan are an enigma, there is a great deal we will never know, much less comprehend, this side of heaven. With our limited comprehension and flawed eyesight, we only catch a fleeting glimpse of Him now. Someday, however, we will see Him face to face and what was obscure will become clear when the darkness becomes light.

So, what do we do until then? How do we get through this puzzle called life with our incomplete knowledge and understanding? We do it with faith, hope and love!

The heavens shall be open, and I shall see the Son of man, the Son of God, and not see him at that distance…but see him, and sit down with him. I shall rise from the dead…for I shall see the Son of God, the sun of glory, and shine myself as that sun shines…and be united to the Ancient of Days, to God Himself. …No man ever saw God and lived. And yet, I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him, I shall never die. …As he that fears God, fears nothing else, so he that sees God, sees everything else. [John Donne]

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. [1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (MSG)]

The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. [Revelation 22:4-5 (MSG)]

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THE SAD STORY

After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. … In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. [Judges 2:10, 21:25 (NLT)]

tulipAs a history of Israel’s disobedience, idolatry, and moral depravity, Judges is one of the saddest books of the Bible; it also is one of the bloodiest and violent. After starting well with war against the pagan tribes of Canaan, it ends with civil war and Israelite killing Israelite. While some tribes obediently drove the pagan people from their land, others found it easier to tolerate sin than fully eradicate it. By the time of Gideon, altars to Baal and Asherah poles had been erected and people wanted to kill Gideon for destroying them. It only went from bad to worse after Samson. Micah sinfully set up a shrine for his idols, wrongly fashioned a priestly ephod, ordained his son into the priesthood, and then purchased the services of a Levite as his personal priest! After the Danites stole his idols, ephod, and Levite, they set up their own idolatrous shrine with the Levite as priest. Did no one remember God’s laws given to them by Moses that specifically covered priests, ephods, Levites, and the worship of idols?

As for violence—along with the carnage of battle, there’s a disembowelment, a tent peg hammered into a head, eyes getting gouged out, and a king’s thumbs and big toes get amputated to humiliate him. Thirty men are killed just to pay a gambling debt and a father’s foolish vow ends in the sacrifice of his daughter. After 300 foxes are set on fire in a vengeful act that destroys a town’s grain fields, vineyards, and olive groves, a father and daughter are burned to death as payback!

Instead of conquering the fertile land they’d been given, the Danites moved north, burned the peaceful city of Laish, and mercilessly killed its inhabitants. When the men of Gibeah raped and killed a Levite’s concubine, the Levite dismembered her body to summon the tribes of Israel. Then, after they nearly eradicate the entire tribe of Benjamin in retaliation for the concubine’s death, the men regret their actions. To right the wrong, they slaughter every man, woman, and child in Jabesh-gilead except for 400 virgins who are given to the surviving soldiers of Benjamin. Needing more virgins, another 200 young women were forcibly abducted from Shiloh. How did this happen? What happened to God’s law? How did Israel fall into such sin, violence, and mayhem?

Scripture tells us that one generation after Joshua’s death, the people forgot and, within one generation of the death of each judge, they forgot again! There was a reason God wanted his word passed on through the generations and a reason he commanded people to keep repeating the law to their children. Whether the command to put His words on hands, foreheads, and doorposts was literal or figurative, God wanted His word to be an inescapable part of His people’s lives and the lives of every generation that followed. Why? Because God’s Word means life!

When I look at the disobedience, idolatry, moral depravity, and violence in Judges, I can’t help but see parallels today. As my mother would say, it seems that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Indeed, it does! There’s a reason the world doesn’t seem much better in 2022 than during the 300 plus years of turmoil recounted in Judges. As they did nearly 3,400 years ago, people continue to do whatever seems right in their own eyes. We’ve allowed the full story of God’s redemption to be forgotten, disregarded, or never heard. The people of Israel didn’t need a king; they needed God. So do we! What are we going to do about it?

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6:6-8 (NLT)]

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THE JUDGES

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. [Judges 17:6

red shouldered hawkWhen the book of Judges opens, Joshua is dead after leading Israel’s united force to military victory as they entered Canaan. The land has been divided among the twelve tribes and it became each tribe’s responsibility to clear any remaining enemies from their territory, which they failed to do. No longer a unified people, Israel lost its way spiritually and began to take on the pagan practices of Canaan. After the optimism in the book of Joshua, Judges is filled with immorality, political division, and spiritual decline. Angry at Israel’s apostasy, God turned His people over to their enemies and, when they went to battle, He fought against them.

Eventually, Israel’s suffering would be so great that the people would cry out and turn from their evil ways and idolatry back to the Lord. When Israel called out, God heard their cries. He would designate a judge and empower the person to deliver the people from their enemies. The book of Judges names twelve judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson.

Although they occasionally settled civil disputes, the judges’ main purpose was to serve as political and military commanders who would lead an army against their enemies. Like a judge, they executed judgment, condemned, and punished but the justice they meted out was to their pagan oppressors. After their victory, a period of obedience and peace would follow during the judge’s lifetime. Sadly, it never lasted and, eventually, the nation would fall back into its sinful ways. When the people repented, God would call up another judge and another cycle of regeneration and degeneration would begin.

Following Samson’s death, the people again returned to their old sinful ways and the last chapters of Judges are filled with horrific stories of idolatry, sexual perversion, lawlessness, civil war, and senseless slaughter. That downward spiral continued in 1 Samuel where we find four others referred to as judging Israel: Eli, Samuel, and Samuel’s two sons. These judges, however, were more like civil magistrates than military leaders. Although previous judges had been called by God, Samuel erred by appointing his corrupt sons as judges. Fed up with their wickedness and wanting to be like the nations surrounding them, Israel demanded a king and God gave them what they wanted.

While Judges clearly reveals that, without a leader, people will go astray, the books of Kings and Chronicles show us that having an earthly king isn’t any better. From the time of the judges through the period of the kings, we see a cycle of rebellion, retribution, repentance, and restoration. What Israel never seemed to understand was that they didn’t need a judge or a king to deliver them from foreign oppressors—what they needed was a Messiah to deliver them from their sins!

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. [Isaiah 9:1-2 (NLT)]

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SINS OF OMISSION

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. [James 4:17 (NLT)]

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. [The Book of Common Prayer (1928)]

snowdrop - windflowerA sin of commission is the willful act of doing something that violates God’s commands in Scripture. With a little self-examination, our sins of commission are pretty easy for us to spot because they’re blatant and (more often than not) deliberate. While we may try to rationalize our actions, we know when we’ve lied, cheated, coveted, stolen or worse.

On the other hand, sins of omission are not doing what is right or failing to do as instructed. For example, adultery is a sin of commission but not respecting, honoring or loving our spouse is the more subtle sin of omission! [Ephesians 5:22-33] The things we’ve left undone that should have been done are as much a sin as the things we shouldn’t have done that we did!

Many of Jesus’ parables are as much about people not doing what is right as they are about people doing what is wrong. A priest and a Levite ignored the plight of a fellow Jew lying naked and half-dead in a ditch, the invited guests didn’t come to the great feast, the five bridesmaids didn’t bring enough oil, a servant didn’t invest his master’s money, the Pharisee didn’t humble himself, the son didn’t work in the vineyard, and the forgiven debtor didn’t forgive his fellow servant’s debt. All were sins of omission.

Take a moment to think of the things Scripture commands us to do that we frequently don’t. Chances are we frequently ignore at least one of the commands found in Ephesians—to always “be humble and gentle…patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults.” [4:2-3] Furthermore, we are to rid ourselves of “all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander” and be “kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” [4:31-32]. For that matter, do we always serve as the “salt of the earth” or the “light of the world”? [Matthew 5:13-14] How are we doing on the loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? [Matthew 5:44] Chances are we haven’t erased from our lives “all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.” [1 Peter 2:1] We frequently pass by people in need [1 John 3:17]. Do we always love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and how are we doing on loving that obnoxious neighbor with the dog who poops on our lawn? In the forgiveness department, have we skipped over the adulterous ex-spouse, the friend who betrayed our trust, or the co-worker who maligned us and got the promotion that should have been ours?

When a woman in the crowd called out, “God bless your mother!” Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” As His followers, we are to be doers of the Word. That’s all of the Word—both the dos and the don’ts and the shalts and shalt nots!

The omission of good is no less reprehensible than the commission of evil. [Plutarch]

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. [1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)]

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