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Wednesday
Jan112017

The Second Level of Sonship

If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Hebrews 12:8 (NIV).

Warning: Many would consider what you are about to read heretical.  Read it before you make a judgment.

First, let’s level the playing field.  Generic Christianity believes that a simple, verbal confession of Christ saves you.   A shrinking number of Christians insist that a person must sincerely repent and be baptized to be saved.  Apostolics believe that salvation requires repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ Name, and the infilling of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 2:38). The point is that everyone believes that something must happen to the thinking of any individual who wants to be saved.  This “something” brings a person into a brand-new relationship with God.  The most common word in the Scriptures used for this is “son,” or child.  (Gender-neutral). 

Our initial experience of faith qualifies us to be related to God.  It is a relational aspect resembling natural birth.  When a baby is born into the world, he or she is related to the parents.  The DNA of the parents infuses every cell of the new-born.  No one can dispute the fact that every person on the planet came from a specific set of parents.  This cements the blood relationship.  Spiritually, we must ask if this is the same in terms of our relationship to God.  Is there anything necessary beyond the new birth to qualify us as children of God?

Jewish custom answers these questions.  Although born into a Jewish family, sonship was not fully established at birth.  That’s why Paul wrote the Galatians and said, “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:1-5. The legitimately born child had the potential to ascend to a fully credentialed member of the family, but was expected to go through training and maturation before being granted that position.  The child’s status progressed from relational to positional. As a precursor to this idea, John said, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13.  Other Scriptures that expand on spiritual adoption deal with the same concept. (Romans 8:15, 24; 9:4; Ephesians 1:5).

To clarify, the new birth qualifies you to become a child of God.  It represents the first level of regeneration.  But, if you want to move into legitimate, full-blown Sonship, you must submit to discipline, chastening, rebuke and even tribulation to be adopted into the family.  Does this sound like heresy?  I thought so too, until I began thinking about it.  I reflected on the fact that multiplied millions of people claim Christianity as their faith, yet the vast majority have few, if any, earmarks of true Christianity.  Why is that?  Even in local congregations, a sizable number of attendees populate the rolls, but a much smaller percentage of them get involved in the church.  It appears that many people get their spiritual DNA, but fail to progress to Sonship.  In the political realm, just because you sign a petition doesn’t mean you are ready to become an activist for the cause.

If this assessment is not true, then why did the writer to the Hebrews bother with the discourse on discipline and chastening?  What would be the benefit of such a passionate exposition on an aspect of living for God that was totally unnecessary?  If I can have a relationship with Christ and forego the stress and discomfort of tests and trials, then why would I expose myself to those rigors?

New Testament writers expressed this sentiment so strongly that it could easily be interpreted as thematic.  Over and over, believers are challenged to contend, fight, endure, improve, struggle and advance in their devotion to God.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV) 

The litmus test for sonship, however, comes down to submission.  The believer who resents rebuke, who will not accept correction, who refuses to lay down his or her own will and take up the will of God, and who resists the light yoke of the Lordship of Christ cannot advance to sonship.  They de-legitimize their spiritual birth.  The rationale for this conclusion comes across as brutally logical.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:9-11 (NIV). 

This discourse leads us to a final question, a concern that many readers may have about this article.  Does failure to be disciplined disqualify one from salvation?  Perhaps not.  I would never throw God’s grace into question.  At the same time, however, the church will never triumph in a hostile world unless true warriors who are dedicated to the max emerge.  I do not believe that God calls us to mediocrity.  I do not believe that it is God’s will for us to be “Christians-in-name-only.”  Let us re-dedicate ourselves to “become the sons of God,” and grow up to our full potential in Christ.  Like my Dad used to say, “If you just get your foot in the door, don’t be surprised if someone stomps on your toes!” 

Wednesday
Dec212016

Whatever Happened to Joseph?

Joseph, the earthly father figure for Jesus, dropped out of sight and sound after the nativity.  We see him briefly in Jerusalem when he and Mary lost touch with the twelve-year-old Jesus.  After that, he is nowhere to be found in Scripture.  This seems extremely odd for a man who sacrificed his reputation to give Jesus the appearance of legitimacy before He was born.  His refusal to divorce Mary, his offering of protection from the killer Herod, and his willingness to raise Jesus speaks of responsibility and commitment.  We know he taught Jesus the carpenter’s trade, but just when we should see him as a proud father, he vanished without a trace. 

Apocryphal accounts suggest that Joseph died sometime before Jesus reached maturity.  While this seems plausible, nothing in the canon of Scriptures backs this story up.  We are not told of when, where or how Joseph died, if indeed, he did.  One would expect that the death of someone who was as important as Joseph would attract the attention of a Gospel writer.  Even Matthew, who provides us with the most detailed record of Joseph’s life, fails to mention his death.  Neither Jesus nor Mary speak of it.  The inauguration of Christ’s ministry, the occasion of many of the miracles, the week of passion and many more significant moments of the life of Jesus came and went without a word spoken of Joseph. 

Could there be another explanation?  Did something happen that may have caused even more sorrow than death?  Did the disappearance of Joseph occur due to some painful or embarrassing facts?  As difficult as it may be to contemplate, something could have happened, in my opinion, that people who were related to the situation could not bear to reveal.  More to the point, I wonder if Joseph became disenchanted with his life with Mary and Jesus?  I do not throw this out as wild, irresponsible speculation.  I base it on the contrast between the hearts of Mary and Joseph.  Mary pondered the events of the incarnation and of the Jerusalem encounter with Jesus and the lawyers, and kept them in her heart.  (Luke 2:19, 51).  Nothing is ever recorded about the response of Joseph.  Both times happened when Joseph was obviously alive, yet we are told of Mary’s heart, but not Joseph’s. 

Once I began to follow this line of thinking, the questions seemed to mount.  Did Joseph begin to resent the birth of Jesus as time went by?  Did it complicate his status in the world?  Did it cause problems with his peer group?  Did he fail to understand the great plan of God in the incarnation?  Was he unable to get past the fact that Jesus was not his biological child?  I certainly don’t want to unfairly assess the situation, nor do I want to accuse Joseph of unfaithfulness or impropriety, but these questions beg to be asked, even if there are no satisfactory answers to them. 

Let’s press on.  How would you like to parent a perfect child?  Did Joseph sense a dysfunctionality with Jesus?  (If he did, it did not come from the heart of Jesus because the Scriptures tell us the Jesus was without sin.  Hebrews 4:15.)  Joseph, however, could have been confused and conflicted in raising Jesus.  I can envision many moments when Joseph possibly felt frustration and exasperation.  Later, when, according to custom, Jesus was to enter the carpenter’s trade, but declined to do so, Joseph could have wrestled with feelings of rejection and failure.  These possibilities would have been exacerbated without the heartfelt discernment or conviction that Jesus had a special mission in the world.  Without keeping them in his heart, whatever things Joseph understood in the beginning could have eroded over the intervening years. 

Mary was a different story.  The revelation she kept in her heart provided her with determination to stay engaged in the life of Jesus.  We see her at the marriage of Cana.  We see her at the cross.  We see her at the resurrection.  We even see her in the upper room.  “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” Acts 1:12-14 (NKJV).  Special note was made of Mary’s presence.  No word of Joseph. 

Is there an overarching message here?  It appears that the secret of Mary’s continued involvement stemmed from the musings of her heart.  For us, when life ratchets up the pressure, when people and circumstances disappoint us, when dreams and aspirations fail to materialize as we want, we must return to our initial revelation of Christ in our hearts.  Never forget that we are dealing with divine perfection.  If we try to fit God into a flawed, human mold, we will stumble.  If we try to make God into something we can control, we will fail.  If we try to use God to fulfill our will, He will refuse to cooperate.  It is not our world.  It is His world.  It is His purpose.  It is His mission. 

If Joseph did not die naturally, he may well have died spiritually.  If he died spiritually, it was because he did not keep his relationship with God fresh and vibrant.  He may not have allowed the Son to evolve into the leader.  Take a lesson from Mary.  She was a chosen vessel, but her significance diminished as the fully developed Christ ascended.  Her parenthood faded and she became a follower.  Jesus did not come to do our will.  He called you and me to do His will.  Let us do His will, regardless of the cost or the changes it causes in our lives. 

Tuesday
Nov292016

Thoughts that Liberate

I am not your judge.  A judge decides guilt or innocence, and has the power to choose your fate.  The realization that I am not your judge may seem trite, or patently obvious, but it sets me free from responsibility for your decisions.  Therefore, I am completely absolved of guilt for who you are or what you do.  I can agree or disagree, give or withhold support, or play the part of an innocent bystander.  Ultimately, you alone will determine your legacy and your destiny.

I can love you.  Whether you deserve it or not, whether you accept it or not, whether you even want it or not, my insistence on loving you does not diminish me as a person.  I will not enable you to do wrong things, nor will I be silent whenever I should speak out, but my love for you remains my own personal, sacred choice.  I am liberated to love.

I can forgive you.  If you have done something to hurt me, I will strive to forgive you.  A lack of forgiveness keeps the door open for bitterness, resentment and hatred to find a way into my heart.  You may feel better if you know that I forgive you, and that’s good, but forgiveness sets my own spirit free from bondage.  The forgiveness I offer you is not between you and me.  It is between God and me.

I am the architect of my own attitude.  I have observed that people who are oppressed struggle with desires to do or to be something that they think is forbidden to them.  They may not be free from political oppression or tyranny, but when that oppression is generated by perceptions, culture, prejudice or pre-conceived notions, then the struggle is self-inflicted.  If there is no actual tyrant, no one should become his or her own tyrant.   

I can believe.  I can break any shackle that tries to bind me with chains of impossibility.  I can escape from any wall or ceiling that threatens to stop me from believing.  No law, no opinion, no sneer, no criticism, no rejection or no captor can control my spirit if I choose to exercise my faith.   

I never have enough time.  Even if I started earlier, it still wouldn’t work because my vision is bigger than I thought it was.  It’s better to have a vision too big for the time allotted, than a small vision that wastes time.  Freedom to pursue a big vision liberates my creativity and challenges me to be all I can be.

More liberating thoughts: 

If you walk far enough, you will see everything you need to see.
Out of earshot, most people pleasers don’t.
As the wind blows mosquitoes away, big thoughts drive out petty grievances.
Rainwater reveals the lay of the land.
Scavengers come for the scraps because they are unwelcome for the main meal.
Dream about doing important things, but not about being important.
The reason I walk is because I have someplace to go.
Why do the ducks always misread my motives?
Kids will always throw mud in the water as long as they are kids.
Don’t marry face, body, brains or brawn; marry heart.
Watch out for people who can’t laugh at themselves.
God reserves his most spectacular views for those who get out of bed early.
Why simulate when you can go there yourself?
Time forgives no one who refuses his offerings.
Go to the trees; they will not come to you.
True love can only be validated by action.
Not wanting something is equal to having it.
Walk slowly through the crowd.
If you’re not going to think about the solution, don’t think about the problem.
In business, say only what is necessary; in love be lavish.
Don’t die from someone else’s disease.
Appreciate the gratitude of others, but don’t rely on it.
Isolation is dangerous.
First, you must care.
Think, decide, and then act boldly.
Plan all the way to the end.
Master the art of timing.
Despise the free lunch.
Never change too much at once.
Learn when to stop.
Once in awhile, tear up the agenda.
Your relationship with God comes first.
Reflection is a later by-product of looking into the water.
Where you walk determines how you walk.
Progress is more a function of direction than distance.
Most of the time we see what we expect to see.
A pebble in your shoe is worse than a tree limb across your path.

Friday
Nov252016

Your Private Relationship: Jesus as Best Friend Forever  

(This is the first segment of the next chapter in the book, Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.  It will be published in the first part of 2017.)

All of us have a private side to our lives.  It is the repository of our sacred beliefs and core values.  We secure our true feelings, opinions, likes and dislikes, worries, fears and impressions within its confines.  Unspoken words, plastic smiles and insincere gestures hide our real thoughts from the world at large.  Sometimes we reveal this side of ourselves to others, but we often conceal it for fear that we might offend, insult or otherwise antagonize other people in our lives.  We curb many of our true expressions and feelings in order to live in peace with others.   

The restraints we put on our actual thoughts are often laughable.  If someone bakes a pie or cooks a dish for us that tastes terrible, we might tell them, “Wow!  That didn’t last long at our house!”  (Meaning: we took one bite and threw it in the garbage.)  If new parents show off their homely baby to us, we might say, “Aw, what a cute little nose!”  (Meaning: “That’s the only thing about that ugly kid that I can compliment!”)  This is the core of comedy.  Professional comedians make real versus polite thoughts their stock in trade.  The rest of us may not lie outright, but neither do we expose our true thoughts.  We equivocate, hem and haw, use euphemisms, change the subject and squirm when we find ourselves on the hot seat.  

What is not so humorous is that our private, secret thoughts have the power to shape our souls.  We either act in ways that confirm our private thoughts, a behavior we call authenticity, or we act contrary to our true beliefs, a trait known as cognitive dissonance.  Whichever path we take, our true selves eventually become apparent. For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7. This became the premise for David to write, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.”  Psalm 51:5-6. Inner truth translates into outward behavior.  But even more importantly, inner truth produces inner joy.  When you forge a private relationship with God—regardless of the price you have to pay for it—you are at peace with your soul. 

Let’s now drill down into these inward parts.  They will not simply appear unless you know what you’re looking for.  Your private relationship with God is built on five elements: confession, transparency, discipline, thought life and authenticity.  No one can maintain an honest relationship with God unless these practices prevail.   

Confession 

The word from the Greek that is tranlated “confess” is homologeo.   Literally, it means “to say the same thing.” It may be further understood as “agree, admit or acknowledge.” A similar and somewhat more emphatic word is exomologeo, “promise, consent, admit, confess or acknowledge” and from this, “to praise.” (Bible.org)  The normal idea conveyed by confession is that the implicated person agrees with the allegation.  We usually think of confession as an admission of guilt to authorities.   

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s signature work, his nineteeth century classic “The Scarlet Letter,” reveals the destructive nature of unconfessed sin.  Chillingworth, the husband, and Dimmesdale, the guilty minister, both harbored wrongdoing in their hearts for years.  In the convoluted tale of troubled consciences, they both end up emotionally destitute because they discovered the freedom of confession too late to do them any good.  The final sentence of the book reads, “Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister’s miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence:—’Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!’”   

Classical literature may advance the notion of confession, but it is the Scriptures that establish its practice.  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  James 5:16.  Also, 1 John 1:8-10 which states, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.  Most people have associated confession to a priest as the orthodox channel to absolve sins due to the  confessional, or confession booth which the Roman Catholic Church incorporated into its tenets of faith centuries ago.  Confession to God, however, goes deeper than exposing personal sins to an agent of a church or even to another person.  It speaks of an honest relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  It it practicing  “truth in the inward parts.” It is ‘‘Be true. Be true Be true!” 

Confession is far from automatic.  Legally, it only comes after a guilty person makes a decision to reveal his or her guilt.  Many guilty people, in fact, never confess.  Although their guilt may be proven in a court of law, and in spite of eyewitnesses who saw them commit the deed, they stubbornly deny it.  What motivates a refusal to confess?  It could be fear of reprisal or punishment, it could be embarrassment or shame, it could be the avoidance of property loss.  Whatever the reason, guilty persons who refuse to confess are conflicted within themselves.  Confession indicates that a guilty person has worked through any inner conflictedness and has come to terms with his or her guilt.  Punishment notwithstanding, confession shows a state of emotional and spiritual peace.  That makes confession a vital element in a relationship with God. 

Transparency 

Vows to be transparent and counter charges that it has not been forthcoming have dominated American politics in recent decades.  Secret deals, obfucation of political maneuverings and blatant hypocrisy have been decried by those in and out of power.  The widespread tendancy of closed-door proceedings has let to many states pass Sunshine laws that mandate transparency in government.  “Sunshine laws are regulations requiring openness in government or business. Sunshine laws make meetings, records, votes, deliberations and other official actions available for public observation, participation and/or inspection. Sunshine laws also require government meetings to be held with sufficient advance notice and at times and places that are convenient and accessible to the public, with exceptions for emergency meetings.”  www. investopedia.com.   

Devious minds ruin interpersonal relationships.  One cannot have an opaque personality with his or her spouse, or with a business partner, and enjoy a close relationship.  A lack of transparency may point to deeper rifts between persons, like untrustworthiness, deception, disrespect or even fraud.  If this is true between humans, how much more with God?   

Failure to be transparent with God reveals either a gross misunderstanding or denial of God’s omniscience, or a willingness to engage in self-deception.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky, through the character of Father Zosima, in “The Brothers Karamazov,” said “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”  Zosima’s thoughts, no doubt, were based on his knowledge of the Scriptures.  Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 1 Corinthians 3:18.  If you are transparent with God, it will become far easier to be transparent with others. 

Transparency underlies confession.  Confession addresses one’s actual transgressions, but transparency deals with motives, intentions and desires which cause the sins.  It is in these areas that a pure relationship with God finds its greatest traction.  For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  Hebrews 4:12-13.

Saturday
Nov122016

Trump as President:  Thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Election and Aftermath

I visited a country church back in May of 2016 and a farmer walked up to greet me.  He proudly pointed to a Trump button on his lapel and grinned.  I knew then that this was going to be big.  I had never seen anyone at the grass roots level do anything remotely like that before. 

Trump campaigned as an uncouth, brash, plain-spoken man, just like most of America.  People forgot about his billionaire status because he didn’t act like an elitist.  He talked like your buddy at the machine across the aisle, or your ill-mannered uncle that makes everyone laugh at the family reunion.

The ground game, usually credited to the Democrats, actually worked for the Republicans this election cycle.  It was not organized top down, but was more spontaneous and driven by passionate believers in Trump’s policies.  This is how conservatives defeated Clinton and, by virtue of that victory, Obama’s legacy.  If liberals want to win back power, they will not get there by riots, protests and calls for assassination.  (Yes, really!)  Go to the ground game and try convincing America that liberal policies are better for the country.  If that doesn’t work, then observe your liberal ideas privately in your own home.  That’s what you told conservatives to do. 

Elitism is dead … or at least I hope so.  Wisdom is different than knowledge.  The people with more degrees than a thermometer have no greater wisdom than the average Joe in proverbial Podunk. 

Liberals overlooked Bill Clinton’s shenanigans because they liked his politics.  The same liberals castigated Donald Trump’s indiscretions because they hated his politics.  Reminds me that the issue is never the issue. 

Left-leaning university students had a post-election meltdown because, evidently, they had never been forced to deal with adversity.  Professors allowed them to opt out of tests if the election made them too upset.  These universities are supposed to be preparing these students for the ups and downs of life.  There is a bigger test than a mid-term coming.  When they fail, who will they blame?

If you could superimpose the electoral map county by county upon a demographic map of welfare recipients, I wonder if blue areas would be a perfect match. 

Do the anti-Trump protestors in the streets have jobs? 

Why does Lawrence O’Donnell still have a job?

How did Juan Williams ever get a job?

It’s been nearly 100 years since the GOP had the kind of political power they received Tuesday, November 8, 2016.  That could be a meaningless statistic if they don’t use it.

Your legacy is only as strong and durable as your successor makes it.  BHO is about to find that out. 

BHO’s greatest legacy is that he lifted the hopes and ambitions of an oppressed race to the highest level of achievement.  Whether one agreed with his politics or not, that cannot be denied.

Tuesday
Nov082016

Things I Have Learned After Forty-Six Years of Marriage

(My wife and I were married November 7, 1970.  Here are some thoughts about our marriage.)

When she pauses, and says, “I don’t know,” she doesn’t like the idea.  It ain’t gonna happen.

When she asks the same question again, she didn’t like the answer I gave her the first time.

When she says, “What do you think about this?” it’s a done deal.

When she says, “Could you help me for a minute?” it will be more than a minute and I will do the work.

When she thinks that I’ve had enough candy, she hides it.

When she walks past me without saying anything, I forgot to do something.

When she is upset over something a friend of hers said, she doesn’t want me to fix it.

When she looks at me with puppy dog eyes, she wants me to fix it.

When she gets her coat at a party, I have three minutes to wrap it up and head for the door.

When I get my coat at a party, it will be thirty minutes before we will leave—maybe forty-five.

When I get nine out of ten things on her list done, she will ask me about the tenth thing.

When she asks me if I want her to travel with me, the answer is always yes, even if she wasn’t planning on going in the first place.

Even when I think she is interrogating me, I never doubt that her motive is love.

No matter how much I think she is nagging me, I know it is always because she cares about me.

Her questions about my diet and exercise are about her concern for my health.

Forty-six years of living with me can only be explained by her deep and constant love.

 

Thursday
Nov032016

Spending Time with God

(This is the final segment in the Time-Management chapter of Hand-in-Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.)

The heading of “Spending Time with God” suggests a hundred different broader topics, like prayer, meditation, supplication, and so on.  Each one would profit your inner person immensely and begs exploration.  Our focus on time-management, however, narrows our concern to this question: how does a person preserve and prioritize time spent with God?  If you can succeed here, you will open all other aspects of your relationship with God. 

  • Location.  Depending on how long you can stay, make it comfortable, even temperature, low light, maybe some piano music (or whatever you prefer) and a bottle of water.  A daily retreat needs to be conveniently accessible; an occasional oasis should be more difficult to reach.  Also, your location can have a subtle effect on your thinking.  The farther you are away from your regular haunts, the more objective your perception can be. 
  • Time of Day.  Fatigue and sleepiness fog up the mind and cut prayer time short for many.  Early morning hours promise the best segment of time to devote to God.  Not only are you clear-headed and fresh, you also are less likely to hear your phone ring or have other interruptions.    Avoid giving God leftovers of your time.  The dregs usually suffer from poor quality.  Don’t let the tail wag the dog.
  • Distractions.  Your time with God will crash and burn if you permit even the possibility of distractions.  Phone calls and email notifications are the usual culprits, but your own mind may be more intrusive than these.  You may suddenly remember an appointment, you may rehash a conversation with someone, you may allow a worrisome thought to push its way into your meditations, or you may have a moment of inspiration about an article to write or a talk to give.  Keep a pen and paper handy and write down those thoughts.  Get back to them later, but deny them access to your privileged time with God.
  • Mood.  You have two options.  You can either override your mood and force yourself to follow a known script to communicate with God, or you can flow with how you feel and see where it takes you.  Moods can sometimes seize control of your direction and steal your purpose for spending time with God; or, your mood might open hidden areas of your heart that need aeration and catharsis.  It all depends on—you guessed it—the mood you’re in.  If you follow your mood, make sure you have enough time to finish.
  • Happenings.  Like moods, the current or recent events in your life most likely create a mindset that dominates your thoughts.  the death of a loved one, a divorce or strained relationships, a serious illness, a job loss or other major traumas in your life are hard to lay aside and enter a business-as-usual prayer time.  You may as well deal with the trouble while you are in direct communication with God.  Let your emotions out.  Believe me, God won’t mind.  He’s heard it all before.  Read some of the Psalms of David if you want to be sure. 
There are some red flags that pop up that threaten your time with God.  Your relationship with God will be sharply degraded by allowing these influences to prevail.  You must define them, oppose them, and overcome them. 
  • Busyness.  Your spiritual capacity gets depleted daily.  If you wouldn’t drive past a gas station if your fuel gauge says empty—no matter how high the price per gallon may be, or no matter how busy you are—why would you bypass a few moments to talk with God?  If you find yourself running past your times of refreshing, God is furiously waving a red flag of warning in front of you.
  • Negativity.  Unbelief often disguises itself as a nagging doubt, a flash of cynicism or a feeling that you are wasting your time in prayer.  These may be common human weaknesses, but they should not be dismissed as harmless.  If you find yourself struggling with negativity, you need to counter it with fasting, ingesting the Word of God, and stepping up the intensity of your prayer time. 
  • False constructs.  Don’t get locked into a rigid viewpoint on the act of praying.  Mindless repetition, insistence on a certain kind of prayer, or any prayer that seems mechanical or sterile will eventually cause you to lose vibrancy in your relationship with God.  Spontaneity and sensitivity to God’s Spirit breathes life into your time with God. 
  • False prisms.  Just as a prism redirects light rays, books, magazine articles, telecasts, websites, and the people in your life can redirect your thinking about God, prayer, and all things spiritual.  If your close associates have an evil heart, or are motivated by carnality, or if they have a wrong view of God, their opinions can interfere with the purity of your relationship with God.  God doesn’t want to hear someone else’s thoughts.  He wants a direct line into your heart.  Ultimately, discipleship comes down to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 
  • Fear.  Deep, introspective prayer may dredge up sludge you may never want to think about.  Fear of self-examination, fear of the pangs of conscience, fear of a negative effect on present relationships, fear of divine orders to rectify a problem, and much more, all serve as roadblocks to efficacy with God.  Remember, your relationship with God can only be as strong as your willingness to be transparent.  Whatever your fear may be, God’s grace is sufficient to cover it. 

Jesus showed us how to spend time with God.  And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. Matthew 14:23. The most important prayer that was ever prayed was a deliberate, separated place.  Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:36-39.  The time you spend with God—in seclusion, in transparency, in introspection—will become your greatest source of spiritual strength.

 

Tuesday
Nov012016

Your Time Management Relationship: Jesus as Present

(This is the next chapter in the book Hand-in-Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ).

Time management may seem like a strange chapter in a book on a believer’s relationship with Jesus Christ.  Actually, when you think about it, it strikes at the heart of the subject.  Our lives are ruled by time.  We have watches, clocks, timers, alarms, hourglasses, and metronomes.  We intall digital timing components on our devices like computers, appliances, automobiles, and all kinds of equipment.  Our vocabulary is filled with words that reflect our sensitivity to time, like fast, slow, early, late, prompt, tardy,  second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, decade, millennium, light-year, sprint, pace … and more.  We measure almost everything in life in terms of time.  The critical factor of time pervades our lives. 

At the same time, few concepts are harder to understand than time, especially considering the timelessness of God who interacts with creatures bound by the constraints of time.  But, since we cannot escape it, and since our eternal destination depends largely on what we do with our time, it is vital that we look closely at the element of time.  This is a difficult subject to read about, and more so to write about, because most of bear our share of guilt as time wasters.  Swallow hard and press on. 

Your Time is Your Life 

These are some common statements about time:

·        When I get time…

·        I never have enough time…

·        I ran out of time…

·        I didn’t do it in time…

·        Time flies when you’re having fun.

·        There’s no time like the present.

·        This will save us time.

·        Time waits for no man.

The average lifetime lasts approximately seventy-five years.  That means you have 26,700 days, 640,800 hours, and 38,448, 000 seconds to live. These figures then translate into the value of your time. The longer it takes to perform a task or to do a job, the more expensive it becomes.  Why?  Because, ultimately, we measure every task by two things: expertise and the time the job requires.  While the skill level varies, the time it takes stays relatively constant.  Every time we do something, that part of our life is gone forever.  It cannot be retrieved.   A plethora of implications derive from this thought, and we will explore a few of them in the following paragraphs, but as we do, make sure you consider this: to give God your life is to give Him your time!  Unless He has claim on your hours, days, weeks, months and years, He does not have your life.

Time management occupies the minds of many pundits as seen in the following quotations.  “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” -Annie Dillard.  “Dost thou love life? Do not squander time, for that the stuff life is made of.” -Benjamin Franklin. “There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.” -Brian Tracy.  “Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.” -Will Rogers.

The quality of our lives impact our allotment of time.  Habits, addictions, compulsions and worries all steal time from us.  Haste, impatience, brashness and stubbornness all grant false gifts of time to us.  Procrastination, fear, indecision and lack of planning all waste time for us.  Bitterness, hatred, anger, envy and jealousy all turn time against us.  Keep a tight rein on your attitude and emotions.  They can strip objectivity from you and take over your life.

You Have Enough Time for the Big Things

A thoughtful teacher once demonstrated the value of important things in life by placing a large jar on a table.  He then put several large rocks into the jar, followed by gravel, sand and water.  Each time he put something into the jar, he asked the class if it was full.  The students said yes each time.  Yet, there was always room for the next ingredient.  At the end, he asked if they could guess what the demonstration meant.  They said, “You can always pack more into your life than you think you can.”  The teacher agreed, but he said the illustration highlighted an even greater truth.   “Just like the space in the jar, your time is finite.  Put the big items in first or they’ll never fit!”

So, why do we tend to do little things first, and leave the bigger things until later?  Because small things in life are easier to manage than bigger things.   Often, the big things never get done.  At the end of a work week, or a season, a semester—or a life, many people whine that they just didn’t have enough time to do the important things.  The truth is, however, that they put the big things off because they were more challenging,   more costly, or took too much time.  In fact, if you do the harder things first, the easier things will get done too.  If they don’t, it probably won’t matter in the end.   I said in my heart, “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” Ecclesiastes 3:17.  If hours were rubies and days were diamonds, how much more careful would we be in deciding how to spend them?

Sacrificing the Important for the Urgent

Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” The thirty-fourth POTUS organized his workload and priorities by a process known as the “Eisenhower Principle.” His leadership was exemplary among modern presidents, and his take on time management was cutting edge in the 1950’s.

It’s true.  Urgency too often trumps importance.  The more we feel pressure to do something immediately, the less we consider its relative importance. This unfortunate consequence bleeds out  in many ways.  Personal health care probably serves as the most flagrant example.  Long-term structured diet and/or exercise programs get sabotaged by an immediate craving for something sweet, fattening or otherwise bad for our bodies.  Legal matters, like making a will or upgrading an insurance policy get preempted by the urgent.  For students, the term paper gets overridden by a spontaneous social event, a video game or mental fatigue.  The phone ringer, a text message, or a friend dropping by torpedo many important projects.  Moreover, urgent things seem exciting and important things seem boring, making interruptions irresistible.  One droll message on a placard says, “The failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part!”

But, the spiritual aspects of life are the most likely to get shoved to the back of the priority line, and too many of us have no accountability partner to keep us on the straight and narrow.  Nobody breathes down our necks when we fail to pray or when we skip our Bible-reading.  This is a critical factor in your relationship with Jesus Christ.  A shallow relationship permits constant interruptions by the urgent; a deep relationship makes time for the important.  Choosing to do the important things reflects the greater presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Speaking of the Spirit and the flesh, Jesus said, “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”      John 8:29.

Expediency: Managing Your Time

The preceding commentary on our use of time is not always clearly defined.  Often, we don’t know how much time a task will take.  Complications arise that turn a simple chore into a major event.  Sometimes we launch into a project before we realize how involved it is.  That’s why we must impose time-management techniques on the way we live our lives.  While we can’t control everything, here are some directives that must be utilized to manage your time. 

·        Preparation.  Once in awhile, you need to get away by yourself and think about your life.  This is not vacation time, recreation time or relaxation time.  Use this block of time to weigh out the important things in your entire life.  My predecessor, who was raised on a farm, used to tell me “Time out to sharpen your sickle is never wasted!” 

·        Priorities.  Always put relationships first.  Money and personal pleasure rank last in your priority list.  Obviously, we have to make a living, but wealth accompanied by the guilt of destroying your relationships is not worth it.

·        Positioning.  Understand your time limitations.  Look at all your tasks in terms of the time they will consume, and position them accordingly.  Unimportant tasks must not command big allotments of your valuable time.  Assessment of time carved out in your day or week is vital to your quality of life.

·        Planning.  Decide what you need to do and set a definite time to get it done.  Indefinite planning creates an illusion that you have handled something when, in reality, you have not.  Plan with a clock and a calendar.

·        Profitability.  Keep a sharp eye out for the success—or the lack thereof—of your efforts.  Cutting losses applies to your time as well as your investments.  As soon as your endeavor no longer yields a profit, abandon it and do something that will work. 

Here are some additional tips on managing your time:

·        Establish habits.  Develop a habit of putting your everyday items (keys, billfold, checkbook, etc.) in the same place when you turn in for the night.  Okay, even your shoes!

·        Do not trust your memory.  Write down important information, or even potentially important information.  Do it immediately, because you WILL forget!  Distractions will cause your brain to derail, and you will do one of two things.  Either you will never get your thought back, or you will waste valuable time trying to remember it.

·        Handle papers once.  Dispose of papers as soon as you are through with them.  Lay them out for urgent action, file them until you need them, or throw them away.

·        Multi-task.  While you are waiting for your computer to go through a series of maddening updates, do something other than stare at the screen!  The computer won’t mind.  File papers, read the Bible, make a phone call—whatever.  To piggyback on a phrase, time is a terrible thing to waste.

·        Make lists.  Don’t rush out to the store for the item you need right now until you have written down everything else you need to buy at the store.  Even better, organize your list according to the aisles of the supermarket or box store.

·        Make every trip count.  Not only will you save time by accomplishing several things on the same trip, you will save gas, miles on the odometer, and the agony of frustration.

·        Maximize your efforts.  Make sure you have your hands full.  How many times have you gotten a block or two away only to remember that your phone or checkbook is still lying on the kitchen counter?  Before you walk out the door, remember to remember.

Redeeming the Time

This phrase, found in two Pauline epistles, seems ironic given our understanding that time cannot be redeemed.  Yet, Paul writes about it emphatically.  See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16 ; and, Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Colossians 4:5.  How is this possible?

While you cannot go back and re-live a moment, you can begin again.  The Greek word for redeeming is exagorazō, which means to “buy up” or to “rescue from loss.”  (Strongs).  Mistakes can be rectified, wrong thinking can be corrected, damages can be repaired and losses can be paid back by rescuing the bad results back from permanance.  Indeed, this is what the born-again experience is all about.  We may not be able to enter the second time into our mother’s womb and be born, but we can achieve the same outcome through salvation in Christ.  God, Master of Everything, from His position of eternal essence, redeems the time for us.  He counts us as though we never existed before we connected with Him in faith. 

Redeeming the time is also about course correction, a term that became familiar to the world with space exploration.  “Spacecrafts travel through very long distances.  Spacecraft have inertia, which means that they will keep going in the path they are in unless something changes that. If that path is off by even a tiny bit, they will keep going in that path, getting more and more off course, until they are far from their intended pathway.  If a spacecraft is allowed to go far from its intended course, often the mistake cannot be corrected. Spacecraft often do not have enough fuel to make large course corrections, and by the time the error is realized the object in space they were supposed to fly to may have moved a long distance from where it was supposed to be when the ship met it.”  (www.qrg.northwestern.edu/projects). 

When believers make wrong choices and stubbornly cling to them, they lose valuable time both in their personal walk with God and in fulfilling their mission.  Every bad choice represents a potential loss of time.  When we repent, we correct our trajectory and preserve the time that would have been lost.