Always get a consult.

tomas-gal-434717They “did not ask counsel from the Lord” (Joshua 9:14).

That turned out to be a big mistake. The Gibeonites had heard of how Israel had won great victories at Jericho and Ai and were shaking in their boots. They needed a plan, and they came up with a good one. We’ll dress up in old clothes and pretend we came from some distant country. Hopefully they’ll have mercy on us,  and we’ll save our lives.

It worked. Joshua didn’t consult the Lord, but made treaty with them. Three days later they discovered that these guys were locals. Too bad, so sad. They had already made a treaty, and now had to put up with them.

Lesson learned? Always get a consult.

Easier said than done. After all, why bring God in on every little decision that has to be made? Come on, I wasn’t born yesterday, I‘ve been around the block a few times and I like to believe I’m smarter than the average bear. I’ll definitely call God in on the big stuff. But I can handle the rest, right?

On the other hand, how hard is it to ask, “What do you think, God?” He knows what’s going to happen down the road. He knows the truth behind the masks people wear. He’s not fooled by those who set out to scam you. And he cares about what happens to you. He’s always around, always listens, promises wisdom to those who ask, and looks beyond appearances to the heart and motivations of people. What do you have to lose?

So that has become one of my mantras. Always get a consult. When someone asks you to do something, or when you have to make a decision, when you don’t know what to do, or when you are absolutely certain you know the right course of action. Just ask, “What do you think, God?”

He may not say anything and let you decide. He may bring to mind some scripture that speaks to that. He may use someone else to guide you. He may close a door. He may show you another option you never thought of. Who knows? But at least you kept him in the loop. And he is definitely a good one to have in the loop.

But no matter what, always get a consult.

Look at me!

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Photo by Carlos Martinez on Unsplash

My little friend C. stopped by to see me the other day. With a whopping five-and-a-half months of life under her belt, she has developed quite the personality. When I said, “Hi!” and our eyes met, she flashed a huge smile, kicked her legs and excitedly waved her arms.

But when I looked away for a second to talk to her handler (aka Grandma), I saw out of the corner of my eye that she stopped. When I turned back to her and made eye contact, she smiled and squirmed again. This is my kind of game. I looked away and looked at her over and over again, with the exact same result. She was delighted when I looked but was dismayed when I didn’t.

Reflecting on that brief visit, I thought, “Wait a minute, I’ve played that game before.” We all have. There are times in life when it seems like God has turned away from us, and we’re dismayed. But when it seems like he’s paying attention to us, we’re all giggly and happy. Bad stuff happens and we’re like, “Hey, God, I’m over here.” Good stuff happens and we’re all, “God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!”

King Saul once felt that way. He said, “God has turned away from me and answers me no more” (1 Samuel 28:15). But Saul had turned away from God a long time before that. In fact, when Saul said that, he had employed a medium to conjure up the spirit of Samuel!

Does God turn away from us? Just the opposite. God comes looking for us. Like he looked for Adam and Even in the garden when they were hiding in the bushes. Or like a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep. Or Jesus, who shows up in this world to seek and save the lost.

The best reminder of God’s gaze on us comes in the words of the benediction, “The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:25). I hope you’ll never hear those words the same way again, a reminder of God’s persistent gaze upon our lives, so that we can respond with excitement, joy and yes, a giggle!

Note: the picture is not C. She is much cuter!

 

 

 

They’re watching me.

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Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

I know they’ve been watching me. I’ve known it for a long time.

No, I’m not paranoid. I’m simply aware that the advertisements that frame my searches and litter the news articles I read are not random. They are reflections of me. They are linked to things that I have either searched for, shopped for, or recently purchased.

As I was recently reading a New York Times article about Haiti and its people on my phone, I noticed that the advertisements that showed up every 300 words or so were for yogurt. Usually the ads are for Harry’s Razors (which I have purchased) or Stitch Fix (from whom I sometimes buy clothes) or some Mac maintenance software (I own a Mac). But yogurt?

After a bit of thought, I realized that I had just bought one container of yogurt at a local grocery store recently, after a long period of not buying any yogurt at all. Hmm. Another ad that kept showing up was for Target. I hardly ever shop at Target, but I had gone there just a week ago to pick up a few items. Hmm. I had been searching for some information on reading and writing short stories, and Medium suggested a few articles for me. Hmm. Someone is watching me. Someone knows what I am doing. Someone knows the places where I go.

Apparently, they are watching what I buy and where I shop, as well as what I am looking for. In some ways, this is threatening. In other ways, it’s kind of exciting. Rather than getting a lot of junk advertising – and I get plenty of that – I get stuff that actually interests me. And I learn some things about myself. I don’t pay much attention to what I buy or where I shop. But someone does, and if I pay attention, I discover something about me.

So now I am thinking, “How can I tap into this?” If someone knows what I am thinking and doing, then someone knows what other people are thinking and doing, too. Like the members of my congregation. Like the people I preach to each Sunday. If I could tap into that information, I could hit the nail on the head every week. I would know exactly what sins to mention and how to shape my presentation of the gospel. I could cut right to the chase each and every week!

As I write those words, they sound kind of crazy. But they aren’t. I could pay and get that info. I could acquire mountains of data and details about my members’ lives. But I don’t have to. Like wise Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” No one is inventing any new sins. We just keep doing the same old ones. Immorality, dishonesty, and hate. You got a body and a mind? You know exactly what I am talking about. I do. And I do.

More than a few times, someone has spoken to me after church and said that I must have bugged their home. What I talked about that Sunday addressed the very thing that had been going on in their lives that week. Of course, I hadn’t. And it wasn’t even me who was addressing the situation. It was God. It was his word speaking to them, to their situation, and to their hearts.

So I’m not all that worried about someone knowing where I’m going, what I’m doing, or what I’m thinking. Someone already knows. The one who counts already knows. It’s convicting. He’s forgiving. And it keeps me on my toes.

 

 

 

Too many emotions

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Here we are, just nine days away from Christmas, and I am conducting a funeral tomorrow afternoon. I know, death doesn’t take a holiday. Anything can happen around the most festive days of the year as well as those which seem quite ordinary. There really isn’t a “good” day for a funeral, is there?

But when it happens near a significant holiday, there is a challenging dynamic. It’s already an emotional time of the year, filled with excitement, memories, expectations, travel and celebration. Add to that a few tablespoons of grief, a few ounces of sadness, a pinch of fear, and a large measure of mortality, and you’ve got quite a stew of feelings to deal with.

It’s like too many emotions at once. Why can’t we deal with just one at a time? We could grieve today, then put that aside to consider our mortality, and when that’s over, spend time with family for support and comfort. It never works out that way. You have to handle all the feelings at once, from the tears of missing someone, to the joy of having family together, to the guilt of not having said or done more, to the memories stories that create laughter. You cry, compose yourself, laugh and find some comfort, only to feel the tears well up once again. You think, “I should be able to handle this,” and “I just can’t handle this” simultaneously. You’re a mess.

You know what? God created that mess. He made you. With emotions. And they aren’t a bad thing. When Jesus was born, he came with a whole set of emotions. Since he was the sinless Son of God, emotions can’t be a bad thing. They are just part of the package of being a person. Of being you. Jesus cried, grieved, felt compassion (felt like a punch in the gut), anger, despair, frustration, joy, loneliness, peace, love, amazement, and probably a whole lot more. And we like the fact that he was emotional. We can relate to that.

So it’s OK to be an emotional mess. At a funeral, at Christmas, on your birthday or on Tuesday. It’s just part of being you, someone wonderfully and fearfully made in the image of God, who by the way, is very emotional in the Old Testament as well as in the gospels. He’s jealous of you, laughs at those who challenge him, grieves over sin, gets angry at times, but loves his people to the end. What? God’s an emotional mess? Thank God!