Friday, August 29, 2014

Betrayed By a Friend

By:  M. Johnson

"It is not an enemy who taunts me—I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend. What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God. Let death stalk my enemies; let the grave swallow them alive, for evil makes its home within them."Psalm 55:12-15 (NLT)

Of all experiences in life, betrayal by a trusted friend is one of the most difficult to bear.

Because of his preaching of judgment, Jeremiah found himself increasingly isolated until finally his close friends turned against him, seeking his downfall (Jeremiah 20:10).

Similarly, our lamenting psalmist describes an intimate friendship: "my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, with whom I kept pleasant company" (verses 13-14).

They had worshiped together in the house of God, but now the friend has joined the enemies. From his enemies he could hide (verse 12), but how can he deal with treachery?

Betrayal by a close friend is devastating. It produces a feeling of worthlessness for having trusted an untrustworthy person. If foments anger and depression. It raises questions about our judgment. Because of the intimate friend's knowledge of our situation, such betrayal has great potential for further damage.

The betrayed psalmist turns to God, but with what language! He curses them to "go down alive to Sheol" (verse 15). In ancient Israelite thought, Sheol was the grave, around which might hover the specters or shadows of the dead.

But here the thought perhaps includes also the idea of punishment for the "evil [that] is in their homes and in their hearts" (verse 15). So also, Jeremiah prayed that his enemies "will not succeed" and that "their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten" (Jeremiah 20:11).

Can we do better, even in the extremity of betrayal by a friend? We can perhaps not rid ourselves of our negative emotions, but we can keep in mind that revenge is counterproductive. The word "forgiveness" in New Testament Greek means to "let go" -- not necessarily to have a change of emotion. If we can let go of such experiences we can move beyond our betrayal.

Help me, Lord God, to let go of the hurts that have come my way. Amen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Enjoy All Our Years

By:  E. Jones

However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. - Ecclesiastes 11:8

Twenty-six years ago I drove my wife to the emergency room. For the next eight hours we played backgammon while waiting for her condition to improve. It didn't. The pain became unbearable; they gave her drugs. This helped, but not enough. My parents were in Atlantic City, gambling. Hers in Charlotte. So there we were, a young couple facing our first life or death moment without friends or family nearby.

I forget what I wore that day. A surf shirt, probably. I do recall wearing a white headband with the word "Coach" printed in blue marker. I guess I was a good coach because later that evening she delivered a baby boy, our first.

Birthdays are a big deal in our family. Not as big as Christmas, but close. Birthdays mark our beginnings and suggest we might leave a lasting impression on others. In our family, when it comes to birthdays, nobody does a better job of celebrating our legacy of life than my cousin Ricky.

A typical "Cousin Ricky" birthday box includes a specially mixed CD with songs from the year you were born, DVD movies tailored to your tastes, toys from the Dollar store and candy. Lots and lots of candy. Sometimes the candy has melted by the time the box arrives, but that's okay. Chocolate in any condition and shape is good.

In the past I've received a plastic whistle (with compass) to help ward of bears and keep me from getting lost on the trails above Black Mountain, old Westerns DVDs, several copies of the movie Jaws (in case the player eats one), CDs with music from Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Beach Boys, Beatles, etc… and candy. Lots and lots of candy.

The writer of Ecclesiastes advises us to enjoy all our years – not just those early ones when people were making a fuss over us. Too often we adults discount birthdays and other days and pretend they're not a big deal. But they are. Every day is huge. If you don't think so, try living without one.

I wish every family had a Cousin Ricky. I wish I cared about people as much as Ricky. None of us knows how many years we'll have together; but it seems to me, setting aside one day out of 365 to acknowledge the life of someone we love is a small testimony to their worth.

The Psalmist writes: All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. - Psalm 139:16. When it comes to birthdays, "B" in the moment. Inhale the sweet smell of fresh cut grass on a ball field and hear the sequels of laughter on a playground. Taste and see that God is good today and everyday.

The next time a friend or family member has a birthday, give candy and a song from their good old days. The shipping will probably cost more than the gift but that's okay. It's the thought that counts.

And thoughts of love and life are priceless.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Child's Faith

By:  S. Jaynes

A little child will lead them. Isaiah 11:6

“And dear God,” my little boy whispered, “I pray that you give Mommy and Daddy another Jaynes baby.”

After four years of praying for God to bless us with a second child, we realized that might not be His plan for our family. However, every night my little boy, Steven, prayed for another “Jaynes baby.” But how do you tell someone to stop praying a prayer?

As I pondered this dilemma, God took care of it for me. Just before his fifth birthday Steven and I were sitting at his child-sized table eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He looked up at me, and with all the wisdom of the prophets asked, “Mommy, have you ever thought that God might want you to have only one Jaynes baby?”

“Yes, son, I have,” I said. “And if that’s the case, I’m glad He gave me everything I ever wanted in one package when He gave me you.”

“Well, what I think we ought to do is pray until you’re too old to have one. Then we’ll know that was His answer.”

Steven had no idea how old “too old” was. He knew Sarah in the Bible was 90 when she delivered Isaac. But whatever the outcome, Steven wasn’t having a problem with God saying no. My son knew I said no to him many times, and no didn’t mean “I don’t love you.” Rather it meant “I’m your parent, and I know what’s best for you.”

God taught me a great lesson that day. Through Steven’s childlike faith, God gave me an example of the attitude of trust I should have toward my heavenly Father who loves me and knows what’s best for me . . . and sometimes that means accepting when His answer is no.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sweeping the Places No One Sees

By:  N. Jeter

I must admit I’m not a very thorough housekeeper. As long as things are reasonably organized and superficially clean, I’m satisfied. Though I have a horror of clutter, I tend to neglect ceiling fans and baseboards and the rather out-of-the-way areas that a more conscientious cleaner might maintain well-dusted and well-scrubbed.

But I’m indebted to an elderly woman in England for reminding me of the importance of sweeping the places no one sees.

Early in the morning on a recent trip to England, I looked down from my bedroom window and spotted a small gray-haired woman slowly and meticulously sweeping the concrete slab in front of her home. The street was lined with row houses and this particular woman had basement rooms, just below street level, so that you would actually have to lean over the railing to see her front porch.

Why, I wondered, would anyone wake up so early in the morning to sweep a place so inconspicuous, so out of the way … a place that no one ever really sees?

Perhaps she was expecting a special guest. Perhaps she was obsessive-compulsive and couldn’t rest knowing that the porch remained unswept. Whatever her reasons, it struck me as I watched her that I, too, have unswept places that no one sees. Often I’m so busy fixing and cleaning the more obvious places that I don’t take time for the places that only God and I can see. I know deep inside that it should be the other way around: if I start by allowing God to sweep out the secret places of my heart, then some of the more visible places will take care of themselves.

King David understood and demonstrated the importance of coming clean before God when he prayed such transparent prayers as, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, NIV) and “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV)

Do you desire to keep your heart continually cleansed before God? Praying without ceasing, as Paul commanded in I Thessalonians 5:17, is a good place to start. Here are ten easy ways to incorporate prayer into your day:

1. Pray in the morning when you first open your eyes. Thank God for making it through the night and for the day ahead.

2. Pray in the shower. Thank God for his many attributes, like his goodness, faithfulness and grace.

3. Pray over breakfast. Thank God for the food he has blessed you with and that you don’t have to go to school or to work hungry.

4. Pray during your daily quiet time. Pray for your family, your friends, your neighbors.

5. Pray during your morning commute. Pray for the people on either side of you. Pray over the work day and ask the Lord for wisdom, guidance and divine appointments.

6. Pray over lunch. Thank God for food to nourish your body and give you strength for the day.

7. Pray during the mid-afternoon slump. Pray that the Lord will help you finish the day strong. Pray for your colleagues and bosses.

8. Pray during your commute home. Pray for the people on either side of you in traffic, that God will reveal himself to them in a special way. Pray over their homes and their lives.

9. Pray over dinner. Thank the Lord for a productive day and a chance to unwind.

10. Pray before going to sleep. Pray that God will give you and yours the peaceful rest that you need. Thank him for the day and for his many blessings.

Remember the elderly lady in England to whom I’m much indebted? There’s a little more to her story. Later that day, I glanced out of my window and saw an elderly gentleman arrive at the woman’s doorstep, flowers in hand. Mystery solved! Love is a powerful motivator. And love, too, should motivate us to rise early in the morning, to sweep out the inmost places through communion with God, getting everything straightened out before the “day-to-day” has a chance to introduce its dust and grime into our lives.

This spiritual housekeeping is our most important task of the day.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Worst Case Scenarios

By:  E. Jones

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself, enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face. The "worst" is never the worst. Lamentations 3:29 (The Message)

"What's the worst that could happen?" I asked the college admissions officer.

"You could flunk out."

"Not if you won't let me in, I can't. Please, sir, isn't there some place you can put me?"

I sat in the admissions office at NC State hoping they'd give me a chance. That's all I needed, just a shot. But a look of disgust spread across the face of the clerk reviewing my transcripts. Months earlier, with SAT scores in the lower latitudes and grades barely above average, my college application had been swiftly dismissed.

"Son, I'd like to help, but honestly; you have no business at this university. Worse, you have no hope of graduating."

I persisted. (Tenacity was all I had left after he'd insulted my intelligence.) He finally relented, admitting they had a few unfilled slots in the Industrial Arts Program. Art, I thought. I hate art. And painting boring buildings at that.

"Okay," I said. "Industrial Arts it is."

Four years later I graduated with a degree in English.

My life remains a series of "worst case scenarios" that never happened. As a professional writer, I'm assured of only one thing: rejection. Each month my wife asks me; "Where's the work gonna come from?" I never know. But it always does.

And always has.

Despite my caustic personality I spent eighteen years as a paper salesman, three times making the President's Council. After a career in sales (and even though I could barely spell HTML), IBM hired me to code web pages. When I left Big Blue, I launched my own web design firm even though I knew nothing about running a business. Despite suffering through one of the worst economic periods in the past 50 years, I prospered and eventually sold the business. Each time it looked as if I'd reached a dead-end. I hadn't.

The Old Testament writer laments: Life is hard. Amen to that! But the writer also coaches us on how to deal with life's adversities. Seek solitude, pray, don't doubt God's goodness, and stop asking "why me, what's next, and how, when and where, Lord?" We're to face our difficulties with a full-on, in-your-face tenacity.

Mark Twain once quipped; "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

I have, too. And the thing I've found after each "dead-end" was the next thing was better than the one before. Each lost job led to better work. Not necessarily better pay (as my wife is quick to remind me), but more fulfilling. I still dream about my prior jobs but when I wake up, I call them what they are: nightmares. I don't want to "go back" because God is calling me to "come on."

What "worst-case scenario" looms before you? Don't run from it. Seek God in silence, voice your concerns, and wait for His strength. Chances are, your "worst case scenario" won't happen, but if it does, at least you'll face it with God by your side.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them. Psalms 126:5-6 (Today's New International Version)

Waiting on God and His Light in the Heart

By:   A. Murray “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they t...