OUT OF BALANCE

Ever have a sense that you are just a little out of whack, a bit off kilter, just a mite out of balance?

We were driving through the Great Smoky Mountains and I spotted this tree, that seems to epitomize that feeling.

Branch to side of tree 100_3446
Tree with branch growing along ground

I really have no idea how this happened, but it appears that the tree grew strong and tall, while a branch at ground level just moved to the right and then began growing alongside the tree.  It is clearly alive and well, just a bit out of kilter.

Then there are the trees that have been traumatized by raging forest fires, but which still remain standing, even though scarred.  Here is an example from Yosemite National Park showing the giant sequoia tree and its fire scar. 

USED Sequoia fire scar through tree (C)
Giant Sequoia Tree burned clear through from forest fire, still growing and healthy notwithstanding the injury received.

This fire scar has burned all the way through the tree so that you can walk through the tree without harming it.  The tree itself is many stories tall!

Trees, that sustain rearrangement or injury, can grow and thrive even after their injury occurred.  Indeed, great swaths of forest undergo fire damage on a routine basis and the result is that the forest regrows, healthier and stronger than it was before.  In fact, some trees, like the giant sequoia trees, require heat from the fire to open their seed pods; the seeds then need cleared ground so they can germinate and grow, something that they would not have but for the forest fire!

My problem is that when I am undergoing something difficult, I tend to think that it is bad, that no one has ever had this type of injury, in other words I go through a pity party of no small stature.  I might not express this outwardly, but inside I am drowning in in it. 

As a Christian, however, this is not the way I am to respond to difficulty.  We know that difficulty comes to everyone.  If persecution attacked our Lord Jesus Christ throughout his ministry, we certainly should not be surprised when hard times come upon us.

Paul admonished Timothy to be aware of these things:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. … But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:1-5, 14-17

How should I respond to difficult times?  Not by holding a pity party!  Rather, I should turn to the Scripture because this is the only Source that is profitable for:

Teaching – I will learn from the experience or difficulty

Reproof – Reproof can be said to be criticism for a fault.  It is from reproof that I will learn what should be removed from my life.

Correction – The reproof rightly received will result in correction of the error of my ways, my thoughts, my motives, my desires, etc.  The Holy Spirit will use the Word to correct that which He identifies as being in error.

Training in righteousness – Then, the Holy Spirit will be able to train my in the way of righteousness, because I have learned from the difficulties experienced.

What is the purpose of this teaching, reproof, correction, and training?  Paul tells Timothy what the purpose is … that the man (woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

You see, I may do a great many things that are good to do, but we need the Holy Spirit to prepare us to do good works for the Lord.  If we do good things in our own strength, we are doing them ourselves and they have no heavenly significance.  They may feather our cap in this world, but in the judgment, but earthly treasures are temporal, subject to destruction and theft.   Not so with heavenly treasures!

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Matthew 6:19-20

When we do good works for God through the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than in my own power, they resound in Heaven to the glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So, when I am upset by circumstances, by some hurtful word uttered against me, or by a slight that brings humiliation, my response should not be a pity-party.  Rather, the response should be a turn to the Word and reliance on the Holy Spirit to teach, reprove, correct. and train me in righteousness.

Don’t be out of whack, a bit off kilter, or a mite out of balance.  Don’t descend into the pit of self-pity.  Rejoice because your Lord and Savior loves you, has forgiven your sins, has brought you into the family of God, and has given you eternal life.  Everything else is, quite simply, irrelevant!

Praise the Lord that He has not left us alone but that He has given us His Word and His Spirit as our comfort, guide, and strength, even in difficult times like the COVID 19 pandemic!

Father, You are the Author and Creator of all things.  You know the end from the beginning.  You know all things, omniscience, You are all powerful, omnipotent, You are everywhere at all times, omnipresent.  Such power is beyond my comprehension, especially when I remember that You sent Your Son to die for my sins.  Such love is also beyond my comprehension.  Forgive me when I drift into self-pity or fear of difficult times.  Remind me to cast all my fears, apprehensions, concerns, problems, difficulties at the foot of the cross because You have borne them for me already.  Then let me praise Your Holy Name and glorify You with my thanksgiving.

PLAN AND GO – OR GO WITH THE FLOW?

I find it interesting when I talk to people about vacations.  Some folks just “go with the flow.”   No need to plan where they are going to stop, “there will be a place somewhere!”   No need to get tickets ahead of time, “there will be a seat available!” 

Others plan every hour and second of their time away from home.  They have hotel and restaurant reservations.  They have tickets, in hand, for various events they want to see or in which they want to participate.  And, they have maps galore including the most up-to-date GPS program available.  

I suspect that most people are a combination of these two extremes, but I am mostly a “planner” while my husband is more of a “go with the flow” guy.  It makes for some interesting times. 

taylor-mcgee-campbell-wisconsin-dormatory
Taylor University, Upland, Indiana — picture of McGee-Campbell-Wisconsin, my dormitory when I was a student in the late 1960s. It had been demolished by the time our daughter graduated from the University in 2000. 

We had two children in college at the same time.  They both were in out-of-state schools, each about 7 hours away from our home but in opposite directions!  This did not create too much of a problem until the year when Parents’ Weekend was held on the same date for both schools.  Normally we do things together, but given the circumstances, I went to our daughter’s school and my husband went to our son’s school.   

vmi-jackson-hall-1996
Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia, picture taken in 1998 of Jackson Hall (the dormitory) when our son was a cadet there.

Since we were going in opposite directions, leaving at different times, it never occurred to me to make my husband’s hotel reservations.  He made his own plans when he traveled for work so I didn’t think twice about his plans for this trip, especially since he was going to an area not far from his birthplace. 

I planned my trip and even arranged for an Aunt to meet me in the small Indiana college town as a surprise for our daughter.  I had started loading the car with things that she wanted for her dorm room when my husband asked: “Where am I staying tonight?”    I responded: “I don’t know; where did you make your reservations?”  

The blank look on his face was all the answer I needed.  No reservations.  “Well,” he said, “there are loads of rooms in the area.”  So I headed for Indiana and he headed for Virginia.  He knew the area well, in fact it had been his sales territory for a number of years, so I was not concerned about his ability to find lodging. 

What neither of us knew was that all of the gazillion schools in northern Virginia had Parents’ Weekend at the same time.   What he also did not know, but soon found out, was that no rooms were available in any of the hotels/motels near the VMI campus.

I, on the other hand, was safely booked into my hotel when I tried calling him on his cell phone.  At that point in the day, he told me about all the Parents’ Weekend activities and mentioned that he did not yet have a room.  He was confident that it would be easy to find one; he just had “not really looked”.

Later, he called to tell me that he found lodging – an hour away from the college and in the direction of our home.  He was not in a regular room but in the hotel’s conference room.  I then had a mental picture of a long table with all the chairs pushed in forming a fence with his sleeping form stretched out between the chairs, a book for his pillow. Rather like the Biblical Patriarch Jacob, I thought!   

conference-room-table

While he let me have that delusion for a while, later in the conversation he told me that the room had a sleeper sofa.  There went the Jacob analogy!

Praise the Lord that He is sovereign.  In our arrogance and sin, we think that we have our life all worked out, but we must remember that our life is always under His control, whether we plan and schedule or relax about the details.  Job learned this millennia ago when he said:

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” 

Job 42:1-2

Moving into the New Testament, when Pilate said that he had the power to either free or crucify Jesus, Jesus corrected him:

“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” 

John 19:10-11. 

In Proverbs 19:21 the writer says:

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.”  

I have to confess that my planning down to the infinite detail is something of which I must repent since it falls in the category of prideful sin.  You know, something along these lines: “I’ve got this, Lord.  You can take care of more important things!” 

I further suspect that Bill’s relaxed attitude is much more like that which our Lord desires.  Rest in His arms and let Him handle the details.  I’m basing this on the teachings in Matthew chapter 6, a chapter which I commend to your reading.

In it, Jesus talked about anxiety and told His disciples, and us, not to worry about our life or what we are going to eat or wear.  God knows what we need and He will work His will through us.  At the end of the chapter, He says:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:33-34 ESV 

Yeah, I believe that this supports my husband’s relaxed attitude about planning, and it is something that I have to cultivate in my own life on a daily basis.

Ultimately, both of us had marvelous times with the children on our respective Parents’ Weekends.   Even when things seem to be hectic, helter-skelter, and going awry, God has even the tiniest details in His hands.  What an incredible, caring and omniscient God we serve.  What a glorious blessing it is to call Him “Father” through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Thank You, Father, for guiding us through the hurdles that we encounter in this world.  Thank You for loving us and sending Your Son to be our Savior.  Thank You for blessing us with Your Spirit as He teaches and encourages us along the way.  Thank You that Your purpose always prevails, even when things seem out of control to our limited way of thinking! 

 

QUESTION — IS IT A POT OR PAN?

 

Often we have questions that seem insurmountable about things are so weighty that our head feels like exploding, but in hindsight the questions seemed irrelevant and trivial at best.  

Take, for example, the question “What is the difference between kitchen pots and kitchen pans?” 

pot-and-pan
A frying PAN and a stock POT.

One is supposedly a pot and the other is a pan.  So, which is which?  What, pray tell, is the difference?

According to Wonderopolis, a pot can correctly be called a pan, but a pan can’t correctly be called a pot. So if you ask a chef for a pan, you could get either a pot or a pan. However, if you ask for a pot and a chef hands you a pan, the chef would be wrong!  Is this really worth pondering at length?   And then there is the pot that can be used as a pan or is it a pan that can be used as a pot? 

pot-or-pan
I fry in this non-stick coated pan and I cook sauces in this pot. So is it a “potpan”?

For a non-chef kind of cook (like me), my response (I am afraid to admit) would be “who really cares?”  Isn’t that a tempest in a [tea]pot or pan? (Pardon the partial pun!)

But then there are other questions that are far more important, but even then we don’t always have an answer for difficult life questions that confront us. 

  • “What do I do for my career?” 
  • “Is this the right person for me to marry?”
  • “Is my church feeding me from Scripture or is it merely giving me warm, cozy thoughts to contemplate?”
  • “When I volunteer at the mission, am I doing it in service to my own ego or in service to my Lord?”

We can search counselors’ thoughts and life coaches’ theories but they fall short – well-meaning but insufficient. 

We can turn to Scripture and read until our eyes are blurry but sometimes even then the answer eludes us. 

Or, we can turn to prayer – and then commune with the One who loves us and who sent His Son to secure our salvation. This One does know the answer to even the hardest of questions, because He is sovereign.  I Timothy 6:15-16.  In fact, He knew the answer to the questions we were going to ask even before we were born! Psalm 139.

We still may not know the answer to the problem facing us, but if we know God as our Father who loves us and gave His son for our eternal life with Him, we can rest in His grace and sovereignty.

I married immediately after college graduation and then worked to put my husband through seminary.  Eleven years and two children later, I began attending law school, not only because my husband said I should, but because I believed that the Lord was directing me to this career.  After MUCH prayer, I applied, quite confident that I would be told that I was too old, I had two small children, and I was too stupid. I rather thought I would go through the motions and do everything I needed to do in application to the school and then God would close that door and I would be done with the “you should go to law school” comments from my husband and various co-workers. 

When the phone call came advising me that I had secured the one open spot to begin school in two weeks, September 1980, I was stunned.  I quit my job, and two weeks later found myself purchasing enormous books (none of which had pictures!).  I was terrified but determined to do this because it was clear the Lord had directed me to this path.

Three months later, my husband told me our marriage was not worth working on and he left the apartment.  Three months after that he left the church, the city and the state. I seriously began questioning whether I had misunderstood God’s plan.  I could not believe that He would have me in school with two preschool children, no means of financial support, no family close by to assist.

The children and I moved to federal housing and I completed my education through tears and questions about how we were going to live.  Needless to say, things were not easy for us and we did not have everything that our greedy little hearts ever wanted.  But when I began to falter and fears overtook my heart, the Lord would send someone or something to encourage me and remind me that He is God and in control and He had us in His Hands.  He did not give me answers, He gave me Himself and that was more than enough.

A quick glance at the First Century Christians belies the interpretation of Scripture that God will give us only good times in this world if we merely believe in Jesus. Simply put, Nero did not provide a good time for Christians!  Nope, can’t find any “prosperity gospel” there!  But, even during those horrific days, the Christians praised God and believed His promise of eternal life if they persevered and relied on Him. 

Jesus says in Matthew 6:31-33: 

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Jesus here is not promising all the goodies that this world has to offer.  No, He is telling his disciples that they should rest in God – seek first God and His righteousness … then everything else will fall in line according to God’s purpose. 

The details of life may be messy and hard and we may not know the answer to our questions now.  We may not understand the situation we are in, but we can remember that we are not God … we are temporal, mortal, dust.  He is omniscient, omnipotent.  He is not limited by time, indeed He created time for our benefit.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. 

“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.”

Psalm 90:4 ESV

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8 ESV

So, while we don’t know the answer to the questions we have, we do know the end result of our struggle is secured. God has given us Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and His Holy Spirit is our resident Counselor.  Our everlasting life and our presence with Him is satisfaction of our only real need.

Crazy questions may abound in our world.  But for the question that is the most important one of all, the question that transcends the here and now, the question that defeats mortality and the evil in this world, we can know the answer.  

The all important question is —  Where will you spend eternity?

For those in Christ, that answer is “With Him now and forever more.”     Matthew 25:36-40 and John 6:37-40. 

Praise His Holy Name!

Thank you Father for granting mercy and grace by sending Your Son to die the death that we deserve so that we can have eternal life with You.  Thank You for providing the answer to the only question that needs to be asked.  We praise Your holy name.