WHEN YOU CAN’T SLEEP

Someone struggles as soon as he hits the sack. He goes back and forth from crying out to God and sparring with his opponent. He wants relief from his distress and he wishes his adversaries would lay off. They have turned his glory into shame and it has robbed him of sleep.

We’ve been there. We lie down. Our body tries to rest but our mind races on. It is rehearsing an argument we endured eight hours before, an uncomfortable confrontation at work, an annoying exchange with a “friend” who should have known better.

Psalm 3 is a morning prayer, Psalm 4 an evening prayer. It was used in the temple and set to music (see psalm intro).  “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer” (v. 1, aimed toward heaven).

“How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (v. 2, aimed at people he can’t stand). Distress is mental, a result of pain, trouble, or worry. He went from glory (being appreciated, honored) to shame (being humiliated, put down, attacked at the core of his being).

Three things are done to deal with the insomnia:

  1. He reminds himself of his true identity: “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him” (v. 3). He doesn’t feel close to people, but he feels close to God. He expresses confidence in the Lord against the emotional turmoil that threatened to derail him. Good move.
  1. He deals with his emotions. We know how anger steals rest. He does what Jesus did on the cross (see I Peter 2:22,23). First, he keeps his conscience clear: “In your anger do not sin” (v. 4). Anger can make us say or do stupid things. Second, he keeps his heart open: “Search your heart.” And, third, he keeps his mouth shut: “Be silent.” It does not help when we are angry to either repress it or express it; it does help to confess it, to agree with God about our anger. We quietly pray, confessing it and asking Him to take it.

The psalmist is able to “offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord” (v. 5). His anger does not turn him outward in retaliation but upward in trust. Anger is not a wrong response to the folly of people, as long as you do not let it overtake you. If you are going to stay awake, instead of fuming, ask yourself, “Anything I did to cause this?”  Let God shine the searchlight, not to condemn but to convict.

  1. He could get cynical, taken up with imaginary arguments against his accusers: “Many are saying, ‘Who can show us any good?’” (6a). He resists the fight his mind wants to pick with their snide remark, wisely opting for a blessing instead. Heaven responds to his godly request, “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord” (v. 6b), and his countenance changes.

The outcome is remarkable. “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound” (v. 7). He is captured with the same kind of joy experienced at an over-abundant harvest (a good memory replacing a bad recent one), and his mind returns to a place of rest: “I will lie down and sleep in peace” (v. 8). Wow! That is not where he started the psalm only moments ago. Good night!

GOD IS FAITHFUL

Every year during football season Lucy promises to hold the ball. Charlie Brown makes her pledge not to move it, reminding her that she has tricked him many times.  She vows, “Never again.”  Naive as ever, Charlie charges toward the ball. She pulls it away. He wipes out.  When he protests, she chides him for believing in the human race.

Life teaches people to distrust.  When divorce took a ten-year old boy from his mom, she promised often she’d be by. He finally learned not to expect her.  When he is told later in life to trust in God, he says, “Prove it!”  Cynicism comes along as a way of coping.

It’s not a new problem. Solomon asked, “A faithful man who can find?” (Prov.20:6). All the more reason to look at the unchanging faithfulness of the Lord.

GOD IS FAITHFUL. It is the way he is. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).

He is faithful to his word. The Bible testifies that “the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised” (Genesis 21:1). She laughed at the idea, but He came through anyway. “Let God be true, though every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).

He is faithful in his love. Moses said, “Know therefore that the Lord your God…is a faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations…” (Deut. 7:9).  That is a lot of love!

He is faithful to finish. I have books I’ve not finished, projects I’ve only started, and so do you.  Not God. Paul wrote his Philippian friends, “I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians l:6). Call him alpha and omega.

He is faithful to forgive.  God’s word promises: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John l:9).

He is faithful to protect.. St. Paul told Christians, “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (II Thess. 3:3). What great news!

And what does God’s faithfulness call us to?

  1. l) Many of us have been let down by family and friends.  We wonder, “Who can I trust?”  The answer:  You can trust God.  He will never let you down.  That is why the Bible says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews l0:23).  Sarah “considered him faithful who had made the promise” (Heb. 11:11).

2)  Faithfulness.  God calls us to share his character. Paul reminds us that “it is required that those who have been give a trust must prove faithful” (I Cor. 4:2).  This is not short-term loyalty but obedience to the ultimate:  “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:l0). Jesus said that “whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke l6:l0).  Faithfulness does not start with grandiose visions but with paying the bills, returning what we borrowed, cleaning the kitchen when no one knows who messed it up, being kind to people we suspect may not like us.

How does it come about? Our faithfulness grows as we trust in a faithful God.  Faith breeds faithfulness.  It comes less by the grit of the teeth than surrender of the heart.  The more we are looking to a faithful God, the more we will walk in his ways. We become what we behold. The Spirit produces the fruit, and he can work faithfulness in you. Day and night God is proving his faithfulness to you in many more ways than you can see.  Let us proclaim with Jeremiah,  “Great is thy faithfulness.”  And as we do, we grow in faithfulness.

HELPING SINGLES PREPARE FOR MARRIAGE

Karen and I have worked with hundreds of young adults. None has ever claimed to have the gift of celibacy. Every single young adult we know is hoping to be married, and at least for many of the gals, the sooner the better. So how are singles to live as they anticipate that change in status?

TRUTHS TO EMBRACE:

  1. God is not mad at you. He is not punishing you for something you did as a teenager. He is not waiting for you to get it together. He has a plan for you, and it is not related to the way you have messed things up. We sometimes turn God into a monster, and we think He must be trying to teach us a lesson, but it is not clear what. If He has not made it obvious, don’t worry about it. Picture God as the perfect Father who knows how to show love and is exceedingly patient and kind. That is how God treats you.
  1. Delays are not denials. Waiting in the Bible is purposeful. While you wait, God works. He is doing something wonderful in you, though it may cause pain. Think David. He was not ready to take the throne at seventeen. After thirteen years, during which God schooled him through pain, he was prepared. He cried out, “How long…?” feeling forgotten and defeated. Read Psalm 13 if you sometimes feel that way. He felt ashamed and as if the enemy was winning. But he managed to close the psalm trusting God and affirming His love. If you are going through affliction, it is developing character, which can only make you a better mate. Maybe like David you are not quite ready (ouch!). That might hurt if you are thirty-five. Ask God, “Anything else I can do while I wait? Affirm to Him, “I know you are not taunting me.”

Try not to give up hope. Hopeful people are good looking. Sometimes God’s timetable defies understanding. It was that way for some well-known and highly blessed women, like Sarah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth, but God was fulfilling His good plan in their lives and in their bodies. It is more about Him than about you. Upgrade your confidence in God’s sovereignty and His ability to make good on His promises.

SOME WORDS TO GUYS:

  1. Get ready financially. Get a good job and get out of debt. Learn generosity. Build testimonies of God’s provision. You are called to lead in marriage. Gals appreciate guys who have some clear direction in their lives.
  2. Get ready morally. Pornography kills commitment. It is relationship without responsibility. It will suck the confidence out of you. It will bring passivity rather than action. Do what you can to overcome this winnable war. Get help and walk in accountability.
  3. Get ready physically. Give your wife the gift of a strong and healthy body. Call it temple maintenance. It is spiritual to get physical.
  4. Be bold, even when it is hard and you are uncomfortable. You will need to take some risks. Look to mature mentors to help you. Rejection does not feel good, but it may happen on the road to fulfillment and success. You are going after something worth going after. Be aggressive, even when you feel like you can’t. “He who finds a wife find a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).  Finding means looking. Avoid the paralysis that comes from fear. Let a fear of the Lord trump timidity. Don’t think that you are different from other guys. This is a difficult area for most men.
  5. Don’t rely on “a words from the Lord.” I’ve seen too many disappointed young men who relied on well-meaning prophecies or personal words. Because of the intensely personal nature of God-given relationships, our fear is sometimes factored into our ability to listen. Don’t convince yourself that God told you something without listening to wise mentors. I am thankful that my mentor caught me up short when I was living a contented single life. It led to marriage within nine months. Don’t say that God has not spoken to you yet about marriage. He already made it clear in His Word. That is enough to go after a wife.

SOME WORDS TO GALS:

  1. You are beautiful. When I spoke to a group of young adults at a camp last year, I showed them a clip from Lion King, who bought a lie that compromised his identity. I asked them to share a lie that might do the same for them. A girl said, “I am afraid I am not pretty enough to get married.” Satan was tampering with her God-appointed destiny, and in her weakness she bought the lie. The truth is that no woman is beautiful to everyone, but every woman is beautiful to someone. God made you and He made you well.
  2. Bitterness is not beautiful. Neither is a victim or a woman who feels entitled to be married. Character is the most important ingredient in a successful marriage. Be the kind of person that someone would want to be married to.
  3. Take advantage of the single life. Paul says it offers advantages marriage cannot give you, like single-minded devotion to the Lord and independence. Some of our children traveled the world before they got married. Do your best to have enjoy your life. Don’t settle in for substitute romance with novels or soaps. Make the most out of your life now. You will be glad that you did, because marriage that includes children will definitely limit your options.
  4. Don’t expect marriage to change him. If you are counting on it, don’t marry him. If he can’t convince you now, he won’t after you are living together.

Marriage is God-ordained, but is not the ultimate—Jesus is. Don’t put all your marbles in the marriage basket; put them in the Jesus basket. Then you will live successfully as a single or married person. There are countless lonely married people, just like there are lonely singles. Your life is found in God. Don’t expect your partner to meet needs that only God can. The more you pursue Him, the greater your joy whatever your station.

TENT-MAKING—AN OPTION TO SUPPORT-RAISING

The army of laborers in the harvest is increasing. This arises out of a profound move of God among young people. This will necessitate financial resources. But that potential shrinks as the workforce increases.

The apostle Paul spoke of two ways to support full-time ministry (I Cor. 9):

  • Living off the gospel (9:14), and
  • Supporting the ministry by working (9:15-17)

A third kind of support, similar to the first, comes from the life of Jesus through “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases…These women were helping to support them [Jesus and the disciples] out of their own means” (Luke 8:2,3). Gratitude expressed itself in generosity. Jesus and the disciples did not raise support; their work did.

End-timers in the church of Thessalonica had put down their shovels. They considered labor irrelevant in light of Christ’s return. Paul corrected them and said, “Get back to work.” He wrote that he didn’t eat anyone’s food without paying for it:  “On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help (option #1), but in order to make ourselves a model (option #2) for you to follow” (II Thess. 3:9). I encourage option two for the following reasons:

  1. Young people today tend to overestimate ministry and under-estimate both work and marriage. The statistics are revealing. Young people are waiting longer to get married, which also means that some don’t. Many young men are too taken up with doing ministry to stop and think about marriage. I have urged young men, including those considering ministry, to get a job, get a house, get a wife, and get a kid—in that order! Some put off marriage for ministry, not realizing that marriage creates ministry and prepares for it.
  2. A tent-making skill opens the door to do strategic ministry in the marketplace. A friend was potentially offered a position in an Arabic country in his field of expertise. He was surprised at how excited I was. I saw him going as a missionary but getting paid for it by his company. I have encouraged my children to develop practical skills that can be used to fund ministry, their own as well as others. Some young people are frankly lazy and need to learn the importance of labor.
  3. Living by faith means trusting God for our resources. Those who have been on three short-term mission trips and are raising funds for an extended tour may have only learned to live by the faith of others.

The second option helps young people to reinforce the truth that:

  • The marketplace is the mission field. When we put in an eight-hour day at work, we can learn to let our lights rather than thinking ministry begins on Friday night when we hit the streets.
  • The family is ministry. Raising up young warriors is kingdom labor and strategic work.
  • Hard work is godly, because it is like God to work. Some feel that full-time ministry means that they are entitled to receive support, an outlook that could cripple them for life.
  • Better to care for others than being cared for. It would be unhealthy for young people to move from parental support to the support of others.
  • Fundraising can give a wrong message. Some young people have the picture that support-raising enables them to do ministry while others do work. The difference with this kind of support-raising is that the people who are funding the work are not the recipients of the ministry. New Testament elders and apostles lived off the gospel. That is, they were paid by people who received their services. Neither apostles nor elders raised support. It was given to them in return for services rendered (see I Cor. 9).
  • Working is a testimony to outsiders. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (I Thess. 4:11,12). If all people know to do is teach the Bible and counsel, they do not interact with the world as effectively as people with serviceable skills. The tent-making can serve this young adult generation well and serve as a viable option to raising support.

UNCLE MORDECAI

Mordecai didn’t father Esther. But when Esther’s parents died, he assumed responsibility for his cousin. He was no doubt significantly older, so she was able to see him in a father role.

 

When Esther, “lovely in form and features” (2:7), was taken into the king’s harem, Mordecai did not stop fathering. “Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her” (v. 11). What a great “dad.”

 

Here’s a young woman brought into the citadel in Susa, the capitol of Persia, without her natural parents and far from home. He assumed responsibility for her well-being. “Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so” (2:10). Way to go, Mordecai. Way to obey, Esther.

 

Imagine if fathers took the same careful watch over their sons and daughters. We just dealt with the problem of pornography. We just gave teen girls the protection they have always needed, so they won’t find their love outside the home. We just gave kids a good reason not to smoke, drink or use.

 

And because they enjoy a healthy relationship with Dad, they like being with him. We just created a natural curfew, and kids obey it, because they have no reason for staying out late. They just found out who they are, so they don’t have to go looking for themselves with those who cross the lines and don’t need God.

 

As the story thickened at the citadel, Esther “continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up” (2:20). He raised this girl, and she didn’t graduate out of needing his guidance, even as a woman in the court. What wisdom he carried. He could not have known that God would use his faithfulness to save the Jewish people from extermination and exalt this Jew to a place of prominence in a Gentile court.

 

The strongest words Mordecai spoke to Esther related to risking her life. He urged her to “go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people,” (4:8) the focus of a sinister plot. She replied that “for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that the person be put to death” (v. 11).

 

Mordecai didn’t buy her reason: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape? For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.” And then the question quoted thousands of times for people walking into their God-appointed destiny: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:13,14).

 

These words gripped her heart. She responded that the Jews in Susa should gather and fast for her. She and her maids would also, and then she would go before the king. And then the words, equally time-tested: “If I perish, I perish” (v. 16).

 

She didn’t. The king received her, and she was used to save her people. How important for young people to have a father like Mordecai, if not a physical father a spiritual one. In the last days, these kinds of relationships will increase, lifting the curse upon an un-fathered generation and bringing revival in a troubled land (Malachi 4:5,6).

 

“He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found!” So the word goes out to the older generation to see your important mentoring role in these last days! We need more “parents” like Uncle Mordecai.

JOY REGARDLESS!

What if…

  • you decided that no person could rob you of joy, not an overbearing employer, not an irritable spouse, not a stubborn relative?
  • you decided that no situation could take away your joy, not a car breaking down, not a cough that hangs around, not a turn in your finances?

 

What if you had joy, regardless!? On the eve of the crucifixion, Jesus prayed that His disciples would have His joy in them (John 15:11). Here’s the good news: we have the mind of Christ.

 

Here is His mind regarding joy:

  1. We serve people. Jesus could have said, “Tonight I need to be served.” He chose instead to wash feet. (John 13:3). Joy is the response of a servant. A selfish person announces to the world, “Here is what I need to be happy. Do your part.”

 

As a pastor I cannot afford to abandon joy and get discouraged, because I will miss opportunities to serve. Sadly—I have.

 

We might think that joyful people are that way because God has given them a personality or has favored them. Not the case. It is because they have favored God.

 

  1. We don’t allow the misery of others to determine ours. Miserable people say dumb things, and if you work for one, he may say or do things that threaten your peace. Will you give him permission to make you mad?

Grouchy spouses do you a favor; they give you the chance to experience the highest goal of heaven—Christlikeness. Don’t abandon joy!

 

  1. We do not let bad experiences take away our joy. We upgrade our confidence in God’s sovereignty. We know that He can turn bad into good, He is going to do it in this situation. Jesus told His disciples in advance that one was going to betray Him and that Peter was going to deny Him. Not the circumstances that make for a pleasant dinner.

 

We can say stupid things when trials come our way, like, “This is a bad time for a flat tire.” (And when is a good time?). I told the Lord the last time I had car trouble, “Just so you know, this is a good time for car problems.” That way we don’t need to live circumstantially, as if joy is determined by everything going right. Have you noticed—it doesn’t?! Jesus could have said, “This is not a good time for a betrayal.”

 

  1. We overcome grumbling with gratitude. What is more likely to happen—your boss developing a wonderful disposition or you learning to respond to a cranky disposition? Quit your grumbling and start living above the circumstances. Gratitude releases the storehouses of heaven.

 

I started with “what if.” Well—“what if not.” What if I let the neighbor or the spouse get to me? What if I inwardly boil at the overbearing boss or lose it because the car breaks down? Then I am living circumstantially.

 

Jesus said one more thing about joy in the Upper Room. Wrong expectations tamper with joy. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” Simple question: Am I still in the world? If so, abandon the smooth ride concept. Won’t happen. You can, however, camp on the second part of the verse: “But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Cheer does nor vanish with trouble; it vanishes with an unrealistic outlook. And we ride the emotional roller coaster up and down according to how people and situations treat us. Have a good day!

 

The good news is that the Holy Spirit is the producer of joy, not you or me, and He can put it in you whether your week goes well or not. We need to develop an indifference to bad days. Or as my friend George, now in heaven, used to say to me, “Until further notice, celebrate everything!”

 

 

 

 

 

THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH

Listen to this: “…a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).  What a revival in the early church, touching even orthodox Jewish priests. It says that they became “obedient to the faith.” Faith is not meant to be known—it is meant to be obeyed. Inherent in the Gospel of grace is obedience—once you know it, you do it.

 

Not to do is not to know. Or as a friend of mine says, “We behave our beliefs.” Paul called it “the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26). For the apostles, to believe is to obey. They are siblings, and they always hang together. In fact, they are sometimes used interchangeably.

 

The children of Israel never made it out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. The writer of Hebrews identified their disobedience as unbelief. At the core of a failure to obey is a failure to believe.

 

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way…” Either we put our trust in God and demonstrate it with an obedient heart or we trust in lesser gods (like ourselves or others or money) and we disobey.

 

“To whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter because of their unbelief” (Heb. 4:18,19).  He goes on to say that “we who have believed enter that rest” (4:3). Obedience demonstrates a believing heart. Disobedience detects a heart unwilling to trust.

 

Obedience is never presented as optional in the Scriptures. God does not suggest—He commands. Those who understand grace take His commands as invitations to trust the God who is at work within us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). He told the Thessalonians, “Faithful is He who called you, and He will do it” (I Thess. 5:24).

 

So it is more a matter of God doing it in me than me making it happen. But if it doesn’t happen, it’s my fault, not God’s. My part is to surrender to His ability and trust Him for the outcome as I step out in bold obedience. I will not be let off the hook if indifference or laziness keeps me from my God-appointed assignment, as the passive investor sadly demonstrates. (Matthew 25:26).

 

Jesus told His followers that making disciples was “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). If we asked Jesus whether obedience was optional or not, what would He say? As the brother of Jesus wrote, “Faith without works is dead.” Is dead faith saving faith? I doubt it. For John the Beloved, a disobedient Christian is an oxymoron.

 

Get over the crazy hurdle that talking about the commands of God or the necessity of obedience puts people under the law. We either read the Bible to be informed—or transformed. I’m choosing the latter. How about you?