I’M FINE

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. [1 John 5:14-15 (NLT)]

snowy egretsWhen asked about her boys, a friend used to answer, “They’re doing their own thing.” Years later, I learned “their own thing” meant they were breaking her mama’s heart with their addictions and run-ins with the law. Because she kept her pain concealed, she carried the weight of that burden alone for many years. We often hear similar answers when we ask someone how they’re doing— brusque responses like, “I’m fine,” “It’s taken care of,” or “We don’t need a thing.” Maybe everything really is hunky dory but those answers are often used when life has gone seriously awry and things are anything but fine. Those vague but terse responses are conversation stoppers. Even best friends, who suspect something is amiss, won’t pry and the subject is politely changed.

We wrap ourselves up in a nice package on the outside when inside we’re a mess. We allow people into the vestibule of our lives but won’t let them in to see the messy kitchen or dirty floor. We refuse to expose our vulnerabilities and then we wonder where our friends are when we need them. No one knows we need them if we refuse to allow them into our lives. The same goes for God. “Where are you God?” we complain without being willing to admit life’s a mess and we need Him.

Think of the paralyzed man whose friends took him to see Jesus in Capernaum. What if he’d told his friends he was just fine and didn’t need a thing? While his friends went off to see Jesus, he would have remained paralyzed at home and there would be one less miraculous healing. What if the blind man in Bethsaida or the centurion’s servant had said they were fine? Scratch two more healings!

As for Job’s friends—he could have rebuffed them at the door, telling them, “I’m fine; this is just a little setback.” Instead, he allowed them inside to see his scabs, sores and misery. Even with his friends’ erroneous theology, Job must have found comfort when they remained at his side. Perhaps their discussions even strengthened his faith in God.

We tell people we’re okay when we’re not and we often tell God the same thing. We’re so used to replying, “I’m fine,” when a stranger says, “How are you?” that we forget our friends and God actually care about the answer. Most of the time, when people inquire about our lives or ask how they can help, they sincerely want to know. If they’re not really interested, their response to our answer likely will be, “Sorry, I’m busy!” Even though God knows everything about us and all that we need, He tells us to ask Him. He knows we’re not fine, but do we? Fortunately, with God, we can be confident that He’ll never tell us He’s too busy!

Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful. [Ric Ocasek]

You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. [John 16:24 (NLT)]

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. [Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT)]

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COMPASSION FATIGUE

Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” [1 Kings 19:4 (NLT)]

hibiscusMost of us think of sloth as laziness: a dislike of work or any physical exertion. Having watched the local zoo’s sloth in action (or, rather, inaction), I think the sluggish animal is appropriately named. Spiritual sloth, however, is far different than being a couch potato. Originally, the sin of sloth was two sins: sadness and acedia. Compiled by Evagrius of Pontius, 4th century monk, these two “capitals sins” were part of a list of eight he believed to the greatest threats to devout monasticism.

We know what sadness is and it’s important to remember that the sadness which Evagrius found problematic for his monks was not clinical depression; it was that despondency or gloom that easily came upon a monk living an ascetic life of prayer, fasting and labor in the middle of the Egyptian desert in the 4th century. It was unhappiness with one’s present situation and the melancholy that comes from longing for something different. It was distress at one’s circumstances and the inability to give thanks in all things. In this troubled world, we certainly don’t have to be monks to suffer that kind of sadness.

Acedia comes from the Greek and means without care or concern. Rather than laziness, it is apathy or a fatigue of mind and soul. A spiritual boredom or weariness, acedia results in listless prayers, study or service. In the midday heat, the monks were tempted to let their minds wander during study and prayers and then fall asleep causing Evagrius to call acedia the “noonday demon.” Seeing the correlation between sadness and acedia, in the late 6th century, Pope Gregory combined the two sins into sloth .

A few mornings ago, I fell victim to compassion fatigue and began to understand spiritual sloth. The previous night’s discussion in Bible study had been disheartening. We’d talked of the recent hurricanes (with yet another one on the horizon), Mexico’s earthquakes, Puerto Rico’s devastation, Korea’s threat, the horrendous carnage in Las Vegas, a polarized nation, and the unrest in the Middle East. As I added that night’s heartbreaking prayer requests to my already burgeoning and depressing list, I grew numb with grief. “What’s the point? I wondered as I listed a two-year old just diagnosed with metastasized stomach cancer, a woman who may lose her feet because of nursing home neglect, and a friend’s suicidal son. “What difference can I make? Why bother?” I cried. At that point, my heart was so weary with grief that I no longer wanted to care or pray. I probably felt as Elijah did when, while fleeing Jezebel, he sat down under that broom tree and said he wanted to die. That’s spiritual sloth and it’s not just monks and Old Testament prophets that can be afflicted with it. The enemy wants us all to become so downhearted and world-weary that we fall into spiritual inactivity or sloth.

Elijah was cured of his spiritual sloth by food, rest, and a talk with the Lord. Although I didn’t eat, I was nourished by Scripture. I didn’t sleep but I rested in the words I read and then, like Elijah, I had a prayerful chat with God. God whispered to Elijah and gave him new strength. He whispered to me and refreshed me with his words of love, comfort, reassurance and hope.

I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. [Psalm 94:18-19 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8 (NLT)]

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MYOB

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. [1 Peter 4:14-15 (ESV)]

standard poodleThe store was called “Ms. Bossy Boots” and the sign in the window said, “I’m not bossy, I’m just helpful.” Having just had an encounter with a precocious youngster who’d been wearing some very bossy boots, I laughed. After advising me that I needed to put televisions in all my bedrooms, she informed me we couldn’t sell our house because she didn’t want new neighbors! She announced her disapproval of the appetizers, questioned the dinner menu, told me jam should be served with the bread, and criticized the vegetables. Following dinner, I was advised that any remaining cookies should be packed up for her. In a younger child, her behavior might have been slightly excusable. At her age, however, it was demanding and ill-mannered. Over-indulged by her mother and grandparents, she has not learned that it is the meek who will inherit the earth.

Most of us don’t behave like impertinent children but that doesn’t mean we aren’t meddlesome or bossy; we’re just more subtle than that cheeky little girl. When we put on our bossy boots, we excuse ourselves by saying we’re being helpful, interested, or supportive. If anyone had the right to interfere, it was Jesus but He refused to intervene when asked to settle a dispute about an inheritance. Because rabbis often resolved disagreements, it wasn’t such an odd request. Nevertheless, our Lord, knowing what constituted His business and what didn’t, refused to get involved. He did, however, take that opportunity to teach about greed.

We were told, “Mind your own business,” when we tattled in school and, “Keep your eyes on your own paper!” when taking tests. Keeping our mouths shut and our eyes on our own business remains good advice today. Far too often, our “helpfulness” is really just an excuse to be bossy or stick our noses into somebody else’s affairs. Soon we’re just a word away from engaging in gossip and self-righteousness while telling others how much we are doing, solving or repairing and how well we are doing it. The Apostle Peter lumps meddlers in with thieves, murderers and other criminals and Proverbs likens meddling to grabbing a dog by the ears. Whether we call it helping, tweaking, or enlightening, it’s wise to remember that just a few inches away from a dog’s ears are some pretty sharp teeth. Eventually, meddling will turn around and bite us!

Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears. [Proverbs 26:17 (ESV)]

And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, [1 Thessalonians 4:11 (ESV)]

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DOWN BUT NOT OUT

No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is unhealthy, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light. [Luke 11:34-36 (NLT)]

broken lightTo avoid the southwest Florida heat, I waited until dusk to take my walk. Thanks to Hurricane Irma, most of the street lamps in my neighborhood don’t work. For a light to function, electrical energy has to be converted into light energy and both a source of electricity and a working connection are needed. For many of the lights, the connection was broken when blowing debris shattered their bulbs. For others, Irma’s 150 mph winds broke the connection when it blew off their tops, wrapped their poles around trees, or knocked them to the ground. Without a connection to their source of power, those street lights are useless—they’re just a tangle of wires and a pile of glass, plastic and metal. Even though they don’t work, people have been cautioned to remember that their exposed wires are live. It’s not the electricity that is missing; it’s the connection that is inoperative. Two poles, however, were down but not out. Even though they’d been flattened by the storm, neither wires nor bulb had broken. In spite of the storm’s violence, they remained connected and were beacons in the night’s darkness.

When the storms of life batter us and knock us down, like those street lamps, we can lose our connection, not to electricity, but to God. Our minds may get so caught up in anger, worry, fear, depression, or self-pity that we become separated from our true source of power—Jesus. He told us to let our lights shine but we can’t shine if we’re not connected to Him. When our lives go dark, we should remember that God hasn’t gone anywhere—like the electricity, He’s still there. We’re the ones who are broken. Unfortunately, no Florida Power & Light truck is going to arrive and reconnect us to God.

Reconnecting is a choice we have to make. Reconnecting is trusting God and ceding to His will. It is prayer and reading the Bible; it is praise, thanksgiving and worship. Reconnecting is turning to God and choosing joy over misery, light over darkness, love over hate, forgiveness over rancor, peace over anger and service over selfishness. Fortunately, we’re not alone in this. We may not have FP&L but we have something more powerful (and far more dependable)—the Holy Spirit! If we allow Him, He will reconnect us to the light of the world. We may be down, but we don’t ever have to go out! By His power, our lights can continue to shine.

Remember this. When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness. This is also the case when people withdraw from God. [Augustine]

And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven. [Luke 24:49 (NLT)]

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

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ASK, SEEK, KNOCK

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. [Matthew 7:7 (NIV)]

camphorweedAsk, seek, and knock—three easy instructions. Ask. Ask as if we mean it, as if we truly care about the answer. Ask as if we believe we’re being heard. Ask with the hunger of a beggar begging bread. Ask with the fervor of someone sinking in quicksand pleading for help. Ask with the thirst of a dying man in the desert requesting water. Ask as if our very lives depend on the answer. Ask.

Seek. Seek as if we were searching for something of value—not a cursory look as if we’d lost a button or dropped a paper clip. Seek as we would for a lost wedding ring, wallet or child. Search as we would for an exit from a burning building. Seek by adding efforts to our prayers; after all, we can’t ask God for a harvest without first planting the seeds. Seek as if we care, as if our very lives depended on finding it. Seek.

Knock. Knock as if we truly wanted to enter. Knock with confidence—not shyly as if we don’t know whose door we’re at or timidly as if we’re not sure we’re welcome. Knock and keep knocking as if we desperately need the door to be answered, as if our very lives depended on it. Knock.

We have a promise—God’s promise—and we must ask, seek, and knock as if we believe that promise! Where there is a praying heart, He promises we’ll find a listening God—a God who loves us as a father loves a child. Like a good parent, however, no matter how fervently we ask, how diligently we seek nor how hard we knock, He won’t give us stones or snakes or anything bad for us. While there will be no money for drugs when we need rehab, no Ferrari when a bicycle will do, and no escape from facing consequences, there will be mercy, peace, grace, patience, wisdom, strength against sin, and understanding. He won’t sell, loan or rent His gifts nor will He take them back from us. Trust His promise to generously give good things to those who ask, seek, and knock.

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! [Matthew 7:8-11 (NIV)]

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WATCH YOUR STEP

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” [Genesis 3:12-13 (NIV)]

kittenWhen Satan presented himself to Eve, he was in the guise of a serpent. Remember, this was before God declared enmity between woman and the suborder Serpentes. The snake probably seemed as cute, innocent and harmless as a kitten to the naïve Eve. When Eve tempted Adam with that apple, he had no reason to suspect his wife. When Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, as miserable as he was, her suggestion must have been tempting. We know Sapphira consented to Ananias’ lie about the money he was giving to the church. Could his loving wife have been the one who tempted him to keep back some of it? When Peter told Jesus to refuse crucifixion, that temptation also came from someone loved and trusted. Unfortunately, temptation often comes from unlikely sources. If it really looked as threatening and evil as it is, we’d probably flee in terror before succumbing to it.

Indeed, temptation is seductive and rarely does our tempter appear to be the adversary he or she truly is. A colleague shows us how to pad the expense account, a supplier suggests a way to cut corners, a school friend suggests cheating on the test, a broker offers inside information, a customer proposes a shady side deal, tea and sympathy turn into an illicit affair, or a discussion in our small group turns into a gripe session or gossip fest. Talk to a recovering addict: that first snort of cocaine or heroin didn’t come from a wigged out junkie in a back alley; it came from a friend! Satan is no fool; if he arrived at our doorstep looking like the deceitful conniver he is, we’d never let him in. Instead, he finds ways to use people, often those we’d least suspect, even people we admire or love, to act as stumbling blocks to our faith.

Yesterday I wrote about not being a stumbling block to someone else’s faith. It’s not enough, however, not to be a tempter. We must learn how to recognize those stumbling blocks that ever so subtly lie in our path. Not every bad idea comes from someone we think of as “bad;” many come from our nearest and dearest. While Satan may skulk around like a hungry lion, he often looks a great deal like a cute innocent kitten.

We must not regard who speaks, so much as what is spoken; we should learn to know the devil’s voice when he speaks in a saint as well as when he speaks in a serpent. [Matthew Henry]

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. [1 Peter 5:8-9a (NIV)]

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