January 31

Scripture reading for today:  Psalm 119

     We’ve had a month together, thinking and reading and praying about our powerless, unmanageable lives.  Some days we’ve felt discouraged; I pray that there have also been days when a ray of hopeful light peaked through the clouds of despair. I know you’re under pressure.  I suspect those charge cards are coming in from Christmas – rebuking us of our over-indulgences.  Funny how that works – the same little voice in our head that said, “Go ahead!  Get it!  You deserve it!” is the same voice that condemns, “How could you have been so irresponsible, gluttonous, and foolish?”

    All of us are under pressure of some kind.  True foolishness is believing that while living on planet earth we will ever find perfect peace.

    Let’s leave this month with a reminder of what we might expect, if we choose to continue to walk this path – using the Christ-centered twelve steps as a guide:  you may not find perfect anything, but you will discover how to be grateful for good enough, you may not find fame and fortune, but you will find freedom and fulfillment, you may not experience relationship bliss, but you will develop the skill sets to be reasonably happy in all your relationships.  Hey, we’re not in heaven – yet.  But while we’re here, we can figure out WHY we are here, and join God in his grand epic adventure.  That’s pretty cool.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  2 Corinthians 1:8-9

I double dog dare you.  Take the plunge.  Go to the next step….If God can raise Lazarus from the dead, he can revive your life too!

Advertisements

January 30

Scripture reading for today:  Exodus 14 – 15 and Zephaniah

    When my husband and I were first married, we had one car. It was a Plymouth Valiant, and it had a few…issues. It wasn’t air conditioned, and the heat worked sporadically at best (usually only when the engine overheated). When you hit the brakes, you had to remember to jerk the wheel to the right or you’d end up in oncoming traffic. There was a nifty hole in the floorboard, which made for a nice view of the road beneath your feet. What a wreck! But it got us from point A to B, and we were grateful.

    Times have changed, and with over 30 years of marriage behind us, our cars have improved with age. In fact, when I have to drive the car that doesn’t have the heated-seat feature, I feel slightly annoyed. No one likes to ride in the car that has the CD changer under the front seat. We prefer the vehicle that has the dashboard model.

    Our brains adapt to the situation around us, and that becomes our “normal.”  If you asked me to go back to the days of driving a Valiant, I’d hate it…for awhile. Then I’d get used to it. It’s the transition that would be difficult.

    That’s how it was for the Israelites. Suffering in Egypt, anything seemed like a blessing. But it wasn’t long before “…the people complained and turned against Moses.” (15:24)

    I wonder if the transition stage from trying to be God (in control) to becoming imitators of God (willing to dance with Him and do his will) is what’s tripping us up with the first step.

    Transitions are tough. Your brain is in the business of asking you to keep things “normal”—whatever that means for you today. How good is your “good enough”? Take some time today to reflect on the things in your life that you accept as normal. Ask yourself: Is this the abundant life?

We were created for an abundant life. We were destined to be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with God in the next life. That’s our destiny. But if we choose to create our own little world of “normal” without regard to God’s intentions for us, we may miss out on the abundant life He has for us.

God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;

taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is;

not as I would have it;

trusting that you will make all things right

if I surrender to your will;

so that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen

Reinhold Niebuhr

January 29

Scripture reading for today: Exodus 12 – 13

     Today’s reading is about right remembering. Because God is our Creator, He knows exactly how our brains work. The smallest neuron does not escape the attention of God.

    He knows we are a people who are prone to forget. In an effort to help His people with the hard task of right remembering, He provides some instructions that should help this community remember what has happened to them. What is it exactly that God wants them to take away from this experience?

    Does He ask them to remember that He is a God that can turn a stick into a serpent? No.

    Does He ask them to remember that He is a God that can turn a river into a stinky river of blood that kills the wildlife residing in the Nile? No.

    Does He ask them to remember that He can cause frogs to swarm an entire land? No.

    Does He ask them to remember that He can pester them with gnats? No.

    Does He ask them to remember that He can plague them with flies? No.

    How about the livestock incident? Does He want them to remember that He can kill the country’s livestock in a flash? No.

    Fresh boils break out on people and animals; is that what God wants them to remember He can create? No.

    Does God want them to remember the hail storm that was more devastating than any in all the history of Egypt? No.

    What about the locusts? No.

    The darkness? No.

    The death of Egypt’s firstborn? No, not even that.

    “And in the future, your children will ask you, ‘What does all this mean?’ Then you will tell them, ‘With mighty power the LORD brought us out of Egypt from our slavery. …It is a visible reminder that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt with great power.”  Exodus 13:14, 16 NLT

Make today a day when you remember rightly. The plagues are so easy to identify, and they make for great storytelling. But God has asked that we remember well and true. Look today for His hand. Look for His mighty hand. Look for the ways He has extended His hand in an effort to bring you out of your personal bondage.

So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”  Galatians 5:1 NLT

 

I don’t know where you are on your journey of faith, but God’s word teaches us that when the son of God sets us free, we are free indeed. This may make absolutely no sense to you today. But know this: the moment you admit who you are—powerless—and acknowledge who God is—power-filled—you move closer to your freedom potential. Sometimes we have the capacity for freedom before we grasp how to actually live it out.

January 28

Scripture reading for today: Exodus 7 – 11

     Today’s reading seems like a lot of chapters, but you will zip right through it. Sometimes I can’t help but think, Why was Pharaoh such a hard-head? Pharaoh was presented a solution: let God’s people go, and life will go on as normal. Fail to comply, and trouble will abound.

    “Pharaoh’s heart, however, remained hard; He still refused to listen, just as the Lord had predicted.”  Exodus 7:13 NLT

    And so—plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and finally, the death of Egypt’s firstborn—rained down on Pharaoh. Once Pharaoh relented, “Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds” (14:5), which inevitably led to death at the Red Sea.

    How easy it is to mock Pharaoh. What an oaf! How could he be so stupid? Doesn’t he know that God’s purpose always prevails? Who would be so foolish as to go up against Creator God himself?

Take a few minutes and dare to compare your life to that of Pharaoh. What forms have your personal plagues taken?

Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.  Isaiah 46:9-10 NIV

January 27

Scripture reading for today: Exodus 4 – 6

     Most of us know all about Moses. Epic movies have been made about this guy who is famous for setting the Israelites free. Oppressed, helpless, and hopeless, enslaved in Egypt—the Israelites were in a big mess. Along came Moses (also famous because of his adoption by an Egyptian princess) and saves his people in very dramatic fashion.

    His story is great for children’s Bible studies. It’s dramatic, and the ending is a killer. When my children were little, I struggled with how much to tell them about Moses. His adoption and his amazing leadership of his people—those were no-brainers—great inspiring stories for my children to hear.

    But do I leave out the part about Moses murdering someone? What about Exodus 4, when Moses tries to get out of God’s big dream for him? Does a mother really want her children to know that there have been people, like Moses, who have dared to argue with God?

    In the end, I decided that honesty was the best policy, and my children got the unedited version of the life of Moses. Parts of it are still points of discussion at our house.

    Truthfully, some of the messy parts of Moses’ story have become my favorites. For example, God “became angry with Moses” when Moses whined and complained and tried to duck out of his responsibility to lead his people. I love that story. I love that Moses was honest, God got mad but didn’t get mean, and that God and Moses had a conversation (not just a “God said it, so I better do it” kind of compliance). What I really really love is this: Even though Moses was a real pain, God still used Him in a grand way, and even provided special assistance to Moses to allay Moses’ fears. It’s true, Moses was a very insecure leader. But lead he did. Moses was able to lead not because he was perfect, but because God had the power to make it happen.

    Maybe you’re trying to be perfect at something. Maybe the something you’re trying to accomplish is big and grand and even a “God thing.”  Perhaps your anxiety is rising as reality sets in; you’ve got a big task and a small ability to make it happen. That’s a good thing. That’s honest and even realistic. All of God’s big dreams for us are completely unattainable if they are independent of God himself. So if today is one of those whining, fearful days when you are pretty sure you cannot and will not, then welcome to step one!

I love knowing that I can do anything God gives me to do as long as I am clear on my part in the story. I know that apart from Him, I can do nothing. But with Him, all things are possible.  And, I appreciate knowing that we all mess up along the way.  Our powerless living is no excuse for giving up when we have a God who is in the business of restoration.

I can do everything through him (Christ) who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 NIV

 Apart from me, you can do nothing.  {Jesus} John 15:5 NIV

January 26

Scripture reading for today: Exodus 1 – 3

In yesterday’s devotion, I mentioned that my youngest child was reading a book in which the very premise is the antithesis of everything our family professes to believe. At first, he was scared to tell me that he had checked it out of the library. He was worried I would disapprove.

I did disapprove. I did not like it that my son hesitated for a moment about telling me that he was reading a book, even a book that challenged our beliefs! I explained to my boy that if reading a book could shake his faith, then all that proved is that his faith was pretty unsettled before he picked up that book. I assured him that if this is what we discovered, it was a good thing to learn at nineteen rather than at 40. I asked him to come to me if he had any questions or concerns about what he read. In the end, he ended up telling me example upon example about how this author had really missed the boat. It has been a really cool experience. But what if he had found things in the book that he had wanted to incorporate into his belief system? Would I have thought that was cool? I hope I would have had the maturity and trust in God to let my son have his own journey. Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t have to find out how mature I am.

In the book of Exodus, we’re going to read about the trials and tribulations of a big family system (You’re going to love it!). Families are messy things. Children raised in staunchly Republican families turn into Democrats. Hippies end up birthing Wall Street tycoons. This kind of wild family stuff started with Adam and Eve and is still happening in our families today. Lots of problems pop up in all families.

Here’s something else that happens in families. In healthy families, parents know that problems are normal and they work toward solving the problems. They acknowledge the discomfort they feel when their kid tells them they’re reading a book that claims that God is for the weak and not for real. In healthy families, parents have learned to deal with their own emotions and can therefore be available when their children are emotional. Healthy families adapt to the developmental needs of their children.

Nineteen is an appropriate age to explore one’s beliefs; (I wouldn’t offer my seven-year-old a book on hedonism.) Healthy families seek the truth.

Dysfunctional families see the world a little differently. Instead of being solution-centered, they’re into appearance management. Instead of nurturing their babies, parents want their children to meet their needs by performing well and not blowing the family’s cover. Guidance is missing in unhealthy families. Parents either overreact or under-respond—in a wildly chaotic fashion. Dysfunctional families teach shame.

What kind of family were you born into? No problem is ever solved by pretending it doesn’t exist. If you were raised in a toxic family, step one is a great place to acknowledge your powerlessness over your family of origin.

As God’s messenger I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves…Romans 12:3 NLB

January 25

Scripture reading for today: Haggai and Psalm 98

     I’m currently reading a book that challenges everything I believe. My son is reading a book written by a famous agnostic philosopher, and the author is also sharing a perspective wildly different from what we usually read around our house. (My son is reading this book because of a lyric in a song; go figure.)  No doubt you’re tempted to suggest that my son and I stop reading books written by heathens. But the book I’m reading was written by a world renowned theologian! We’re going to have to come up with a different strategy if we want to go through life without our preciously held beliefs being challenged.  Books are not the only way our beliefs get challenged. When we decide to get serious about recovery, honesty has to become a treasured value. So let’s get honest. Sometimes we question our belief in God.

            Where were you God? Where were you when I needed you? Didn’t you see the violence? The abuse? The injustice? Didn’t you care? There are times in recovery when we are full of questions about God. The pain of past trauma can be intensified when we begin to struggle with these hard questions about God. It is important to acknowledge that these questions about God are not academic questions. No theoretical explanation of the problem of pain will soothe our raging, confused hearts. These are urgent, personal questions about God and about God’s involvement in our lives. We want to know that God sees and cares and intervenes in our lives. We need God. We need God’s love. We need God’s help. It is an important source of encouragement to know that we are not the first to ask these hard questions. There is clear biblical precedent for asking difficult questions about God. People of faith have always struggled with questions like these. We can take comfort and courage from knowing that the prophets also asked urgent questions similar to our own.[1]

 

Step one is the perfect place to admit that we don’t have all the answers. It’s the perfect time to tell ourselves the truth; we may not like all the answers that time reveals. That’s pretty powerless, isn’t it? How does that make you feel? But find comfort in this word of encouragement: God is much bigger than our feelings about Him.

How long, O Lord, must I call for help but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.  Habakkuk 1:1-3 NIV


[1] Devotional for January 23, 2007 found on line at nacronline.com. Written by Dale and Juanita Ryan, copyright 1991, taken from their book Rooted In God’s Love.