STEP TWO, IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

In my last blog, I shared with you that the first step in moving in the right direction is that I must daily surrender the thought that my way is better than God’s.

That’s not an easy thing to do unless you’ve come to the end of yourself.  In other words, it means that you have given up trying to figure out life on your own, and charting your own course.  Going it on your own never ends up leading to a good place physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.  

As long as we are full of ourselves, and often are, we leave no room for God in the every day moments of our life.  Daily there is the subtle questioning, “Why would I need God’s direction when I feel like I’m doing just fine figuring it out on my own?  I don’t need God’s instruction.  I don’t need to listen to His voice.  I’ve got this.”   

Right.

Like the time, when I was in middle school, I decided to ask my dad for the keys to the car during a moment when he was distracted.  There wasn’t even a hint of the thought going through his mind, “Oh, Shawn needs the keys to the car because he wants to back the car out of the parking space and pull the car up to the front door so that he can show me that he really does know how to drive.”  But that was going through my mind.  I had this driving thing figured out.  I mean, after all, I had driven down our street at 10mph numerous times (at least 3 or 4).  No more need for instructions, or driving lessons.  I was pretty much a pro at this.  

So, after hitting the car in the parking spot next to me while trying to back out, and continuing to accelerate out of the parking spot, the debris of bumper parts, trim, and paint chips made two things very clear:  I didn’t have it figured out, and I would be forever grounded with no hope of early release.  

I made a wreck of what I thought I ruled over.  Chaos overtook what I thought I had mastered.  Had I asked my dad if I could have backed the car out, he more than likely would’ve said “yes,” but not without him being in the seat next to me giving me instruction so I wouldn’t wander into the parking space that was occupied next to me.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve rushed ahead, seeking to impress God and others, and even myself, with my prideful “I’ve-got-this” mentality.  And each time I’ve gone it alone, without seeking God’s wisdom and counsel, I’ve found myself wandering from His commands and into places that have wrecked me (sometimes a fender-bender; other times a collision), and left a trail of varying debris. 

But thankfully, God reminds us in Psalm 119 of the second step we can take in moving the right direction so that we avoid wandering from His commands.

STEP TWO:  I MUST SEEK GOD’S INSTRUCTION WHOLE-HEARTEDLY.

When we have surrendered the thought that our way is better than God’s way, the next step is to seek God and discover what His instructions are in navigating every day life.  He hasn’t left us to try and figure it out on our own because He knows that our hearts are prone to wander.  That is the honest confession of the psalmist when he says, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from Your commandments!” Psalm 119:10.  His plea seems desperate because he knows the tendency of his own spiritual drift.  It’s our tendency as well.  

The instruction of God’s word keeps our heart in the right lane.  Without it, and our acknowledgment of his counsel, we drift dangerously into the wrong lane.  It is nothing less than distracted living, and nothing good comes from a distracted heart.  Just ask King David.  He should have been at war, but he wasn’t. He should have turned his eyes away from Bathsheba, but he didn’t.  Distracted living.  Just ask Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples.  He should have trusted Jesus, but he was distracted by the waves.  He should have stood up for Jesus rather than fold like a lawn chair, but he didn’t.  Distracted living.  The Bible is full of stories of men and women who thought it best to go their own way, and not one of them fared well.   

Before we are too quick to point out their distracted lives, we need to add our names to the story as well.  When I look back at the debris left in the wake of my moments of spiritual drift, it’s easy to see (if I’m honest with myself and God) the times where I did not seek or heed God’s instruction.  I can look back and see moments where I was only half-heartedly seeking God; like driving down the highway paying no attention to the instruction of the warning sign that reads, “Bridge out ahead.”  Half-hearted seeking leads to wholehearted distraction; and wholehearted distraction can lead to a whole lot of damage and debris.  

But life’s landscape does not have to be littered with the debris of our self-seeking ways.  So how do we navigate life well so as to take steps in the right direction by wholeheartedly seeking God? 

READ the Scriptures daily; they always point you in the right direction.  

TRUST completely that the Scriptures are God’s word to us for our good.  His way may not be the way we would choose, but it’s always the best and right way.  He knows life’s terrain infinitely better than us.  

CHOOSE to follow His ways.  To know the right way to go and not to is foolish.

ENJOY the path He has you on because it leads you to the life you really desire, not the life you think you do.  

This life we travel is marked by steps, and depending on the steps you take will determine the joy or sorrow of your journey, and ultimately your destination.  So, let today be a day you choose to take another step in the right direction.   

STEP ONE, IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

I have a friend, Holt, who is a mountaineer.  Currently he’s somewhere in South America scaling a mountain, and I’m here just trying to navigate through my bedroom at night without stubbing my toe.  Don’t me wrong, both are adventurous, and at times treacherous.  

Recently I asked him about some of his treks, which include his climb up Mount Arat in Turkey, three times, with an expedition team in search for Noah’s Ark.  Pretty awesome.  (By the way, you can watch the documentary, Finding Noah, on Amazon Prime). As we were discussing mountaineering, and the skill it takes to navigate a mountain, especially one that is glacial, he mentioned some of the equipment needed, as well as techniques necessary, for having a successful and safe ascent.  For example, it is vital that hikers know the right path to take in order to avoid the dangers of deep crevasses.  To insure that the right path is taken, the lead hiker will use a pick axe to methodically test out the ice so as to locate what is safe to walk on and what is a potential dangerous and deadly crevasse.  It’s often slow-go and, as you can imagine, very intense.  This isn’t some Sound of Music, Julie-Andrews-run-up-the-mountain singing moment.  Every step matters in order to reach the summit.

Holt shared with me that not only was there danger in ascending Mount Arat, but they had to constantly be aware of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), a terrorist group known for taking climbers hostage due to the dispute between Turkey and the Kurdish people.  Mount Arat lies in the midst of disputed territory; a geo-political quagmire.  As climbers, they had to make sure of their next step, as well as stay alert to the possible threats and attacks of the PKK.  Not just your average stroll up a hill.   

This journey in life is a lot like that.  Every step matters.  Life is a beautiful thing; a gift from God.  But it can also be treacherous, full of dangerous crevasses that look much different than what you find on a mountain.  In our ascent in becoming a better person, and as followers of Jesus becoming more like Him, it is critical that we take right steps in the right direction.  That’s not always easy.  And if that isn’t hard enough, add to it the fact that there is an enemy who doesn’t want us to reach the summit.  That was true of Jesus in the wilderness when Satan tempted Him to misstep and fall victim to the crevasses of power, pleasure, and wealth.  And for us, Satan tempts us no less.  

The enemy is cunning.  He is malicious.  He is a liar.  He will tell you that there is an easy, and much more pleasurable, shortcut to reaching the summit, all the while leading you down a path that is full of painful, sorrowful, wounding, and even deadly crevasses.  He is not a great guide for your expedition through life.

Fortunately, God has not left us to find our own way.  In Psalm 119, the psalmist gives us practical steps for how to navigate well through the ups and downs of life in the right direction. 

STEP ONE:  I MUST DAILY SURRENDER THE THOUGHT THAT MY WAY IS BETTER THAN GOD’S.  

“How can a young man (person) keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to Your word.”  Psalm 119:9

Regretfully, I’ve had many moments where I thought my way was better than God’s.  Although I would have never confessed that verbally to God or others, inwardly I was mapping out my own trail as though I had been down the road further than Him; as though He didn’t have my best interest at heart; as though God just didn’t understand the circumstances or situations as well as I did; as though I was more trustworthy; as though I knew the “mountain” better than Him.  Or maybe it was just because I wanted my own selfish way.  However, there hasn’t been a single time where I have sought to be my own guide and counsel that it has worked out well for me.

You might be thinking, “It’s worked out well for me so far.”  The problem with that statement are two little words:  “so far.”  It may seem like you’ve got this figured out “so far,” like working a Rubic’s cube and having three sides solved, only to find that you’re just one move closer to screwing it all up.  And you will, if you go your own way.  We’re not capable, apart from Christ, to navigate life in a way that leads us to do what is true, pure, and right.  Listen to this ancient wisdom that has always been, and always will be, true:  “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way to death.”  Proverbs 14:12

Several years ago I was in the Congo equipping pastors who would be planting churches, as well as preaching in a couple rural villages.  On one particular morning, I was traveling in the back of an old, and very small, pickup truck, sitting on a crate.  It was a very bumpy and curvy trip down, what seemed to be, a rough dirt road.  And it was a long trip.  Did I mention I was sitting on a crate?  Needless to say, it wasn’t the most comfortable ride.  But several other pastors were packed into the back of this truck with me.  To pass the time we talked about life, and church, and . . . the roads.  Occasionally, the truck would stop and the driver would talk with a group of men who had shovels and what looked to be a rake-like tool.  I thought nothing of it.  After the driver’s brief discussion with the men on the side of the road, we would be back on our winding way.  Once we arrived to the villages, I would preach and leave them with a solar powered MP3 player that was pre-loaded with the New Testament in Swahili.  After a long day we made our twisting and turning journey back to Lubumbashi.  When we got off the truck I asked one of the men, who was my translator, why we were swerving so much down the dirt road we travelled.  For some reason I didn’t think to ask earlier.  In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t.  He informed me that the reason for the curvy ride and frequent stops along the way was to avoid the active land mines that had been placed in the road by the warring factions in the Congo.  The men with the tools were paid by drivers to inform them where to go, and where not to go so as to not detonate the explosives.  Welcome to the Congo. 

At the time, I was in a little bit of shock at what I just heard but quickly came to realize that God had gone before us.  Thankfully we had a knowledgable and experienced driver who knew when to stop, what to ask, and had travelled that road many times before.  I don’t even want to think what would have happened had I been driving.  My way would not have been best; it would have been disastrous.   

I tell you that story to say this:  we travel a treacherous road that is laden with the enemy’s deadly devices.  If we do not know the way to travel, we will find ourselves as casualties of his attacks. By God’s grace, and because of His goodness, He has not left us without a map or a guide.

Read carefully, again, that verse in Psalm 119:9:  “By guarding it according to Your word.” 

Later in Psalm 119:66, it reads, Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments.”    

My life, and my steps, are best guarded not when I live according to my word, or my thoughts, but when I submit to God’s word and His ways.  If I am going to make right decisions, which are always wise decisions, then my judgment and knowledge must be formed by God’s word at work in me.     

God has given us His word, and for those who have by faith fully trusted God in Christ for salvation and the forgiveness of sin, we have His Spirit who guides us into all truth.  We are able to guard our way by living our lives according to what God has said and shown us in His word.  It’s a lot like the driver who knew where to travel on the the dangerous road in the Congo.  As we read and take in the truth of God’s word, the Spirit of God directs our steps.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Proverbs 3:5-8

So today, as you continue your ascent up the mountain before you, take one right step in the right direction by letting every action, attitude, thought, and motive be tethered to the truth of God’s word.  Don’t concern yourself with tomorrow’s climb; focus on the steps before you today.  And as you take one more step in the right direction, allowing the Spirit of God lead you, your climb will be much more enjoyable.

THE BELOVED OF HIS SOUL

beloved_by_panhead13-d6q1tw9Jeremiah is not an easy book to read.  I feel for the guy, and for the people of Israel and Judah.  But even more, my heart grieves for God that His own people, the beloved of His soul, would chase after false gods and the pseudo-pleasures of this life.  Truth be told, we are no different than Israel and Judah, and God’s heart still grieves for the wandering soul.

Day after day, and year after year, Jeremiah warned the people of God that unless they repent, they would experience the discipline of God at the hands of their enemies.  God had been patient, offering mercy to penitent hearts, but still Israel and Judah sought to dig the empty wells, and hold onto the broken jars, of their own selfish pursuits that would never satisfy; it would only lead to a famished soul.

The very thing they desired and chased after, is the very thing God allowed them to experience.  From the outside it looked as though they were prospering; living life to the fullest.  Even Jeremiah seemed dumbfounded when he asked God, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all who are treacherous thrive?  You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; You are near in their mouth and far from their heart.”  Jeremiah 12:1-2

That’s the lie of the enemy, Satan, isn’t it?  He has a way of making that which is toxic at the core look like a delicious desert.  He promises the riches of the world that are alluring, while turning your eyes away from the small print disclaimer that speaks of the true price you’ll pay.

God reminded Jeremiah that what looked like prospering and thriving was really a people dying.  And it broke God’s heart.  He would step back and give His own people over to their ruthless enemies who they had become like.  And the reason God was willing to do that was so that Israel and Judah would come to their senses (repent of their sins) and see that only in God is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. (See Psalm 16:11)

For God to step back and watch His people choose the lesser things over the immeasurable treasure of being in relationship with Him, grieved Him.  “I have forsaken My house; I have abandoned My heritage; I have given the beloved of my soul into the hands of her enemies.”  Jeremiah 12:7

He disciplined them because He loved them.  I realize that seems an odd statement, especially in today’s culture where discipline has gone the way of rotary phones.  Even now some of you are even wondering “What are rotary phones?”  But the writer of Hebrews sheds some light on why God would discipline us as His children when he says, “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives . . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.  For the moment disciplines seems painful rather than pleasant (can I get an “Amen”), but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ”  Hebrews 12:6, 10-11)

For those who have placed their full trust in what Jesus Christ did on the cross so that we might be forgiven of sin and have a relationship with God, you are His beloved!

He has proven that by giving the beloved of His soul, His only son Jesus, into the hands of the enemy; not because Jesus was disobedient, but because He would be the sacrifice for our sin, our rebellious disobedience.  Jesus, by taking on our sin, was rejected and abandoned by His own Father, while on the cross, so that we would not have to be.  It is in Christ we find forgiveness of sin, the fullness of joy, true treasure, and an eternal inheritance that is being kept for us until the day we see Him face to face.  It is in Christ that we are the beloved of His soul.

So, if you are at a place in life where you are more like Israel and Judah, digging empty wells and holding broken jars; chasing after what will never really satisfy, but will only leave your thirsty soul famished, come back to the true Lover of your soul; to the One who calls you His beloved.  

     

KICK THE CAN

diy-can-for-kick-the-can-gameWhen I was a kid, summer afternoons and evenings were when our neighborhood came to life.  It was a day when the only time spent inside the house was to eat a meal.  There were no smart phones to waste time on, no video games (outside a pixelated Pac-Man or Frogger on the Atari 2600), and no Netflix.  From morning until dark there was always something to do:  ride bikes; play football or baseball in the field just down the street; for my Fort Worth friends, it may have been intense games of two-square; or, wait for it . . . a game of Kick the Can.  Best game ever.  We would play that, literally, for hours.

If you don’t know about the epic game of Kick the Can, you seriously were deprived as a kid.  But for those of you who have played it, I’m guessing there is a sense of nostalgia stirring at even the mention.

It’s a lot like hide and seek, but with a twist.  You have a person who is “It” (not the clown, by the way), who is supposed to guard the empty Folger’s coffee can.  (Just a side note if you decide to play: make sure that the coffee can is empty before you use it.  Not saying that I would know anything about that though). The person who is “it” would count to 50, and all who were playing (the more people, the better) would go and hide—behind trees, cars, bushes, the neighbor’s St. Bernard, wherever.  The point of the game was to try and kick the can before the person who was “it” could run back to the can and say, “1-2-3 I see (your name goes here).”  And if you were caught, you were captured until someone kicked the can to free you.  There were a couple of rules:  1) if you were “it,” you couldn’t be closer than 10’ to the can.  2) if you broke rule #1, we kicked you instead of the can.

I’m kidding.  But rule #1 was legit.

Over time, we had to modify the rules a bit because of . . . Alan.  Alan didn’t play fair.  He was notorious for staying too close to the can, which made it virtually impossible for us to run from our hiding place to kick the can.  So, I came up with some strategies that were specifically implemented whenever Alan was “it.”

• Strategy #1:  Get several people with you to hide in the same place, and then rush the can in a group.  Alan never had a chance.

• Strategy #2:  Have several people rush from different directions at the same time.  Alan cried one time because of this.  I feel bad about it now.

• Strategy #3:  Have the friend who came over to stay the night, and who Alan didn’t know, rush the can.  You can’t get a person out, if you can’t call their name.  Brilliant.

After using all my strategies, we had to modify the rules again.  But it was fun while it lasted.

To kick the can was a big deal, because there were always people who were captured and needed to be set free.  In order to be successful you had to have good timing.  You had to be fast, which always helped if you had new tennis shoes.  We all run faster with new tennis shoes.  You had to be strategic (see above).  And you had to take risks.  Rushing the can in order to free the captives was not for the faint of heart.

The reward for kicking the can?  There was a lot of celebration by those set free.

Looking back, though, Kick the Can reminds me of something bigger.  The truth is that all of humanity was once held captive because of sin. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He (Jesus) Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Hebrews 2:14-15.

All of us were once held captive, because of sin, by our enemy, the devil.  He guarded the “can” of sin and death.  There was no hope for release from our bondage.  But God being rich in mercy sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly laid down His life by dying on the cross to set us free from sin and death.  Jesus has kicked the can of sin and death, by way of His crucifixion and resurrection, and has made a way for those bound by sin to be set free.  The prophet Isaiah said that Jesus would set captives free, and open the prison to those who were bound in sin.  The apostle Paul wrote, “He (God) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.”  Colossians 1:13

Some of you who are reading this are still captive because of your sin.  The great news, though, is that Jesus has made a way for you to be set free.  You can’t free yourself.  You need a Savior; One who has kicked the can of sin and death.  And the way that you find true life and freedom is by turning from sin and turning to Jesus.  I’d love to talk with you about that if you’d like to know more.

Here’s why this is so important:  this is not a game.  This is reality that is affecting your life now, and will for all eternity.

For those who have trusted Jesus as Savior, and are following Him faithfully, we are called to go to those who are held captive still.  We need to realize that there are those around us who need to hear the great news of Jesus, and how He has made a way for us to have life, be forgiven, and set free.   We need to have a sense of urgency in telling our family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and others because life is like a vapor.  We need to be strategic.  And we need to take risks.  You might risk your reputation; you might risk a job promotion; you might risk being criticized or mocked.  Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are risking their very lives.  And some have lost them for the sake of this gospel hope.  This is a hostile culture when it comes to making much of Jesus and what He has done for us.  But the risk is far less than the reward.

The enemy is still trying to keep captive those who do not yet know Jesus.  I hope you’ll join me in taking risks to go and kick the can, but it’s not for the faint of heart.