Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Run out of the cave!

I was cranky for most of the day today and I have no idea why.  It was just one of those days where I felt enclosed by a variety of things and the way I can tend to react to those times is just retreat.  Most times when I get into that mode, I feel like I need to be rescued … rescued from the encasement.  Often, that encasement is of my own making.

During my daily reading this week through Numbers 22 – 28, Psalms 139 – 145, and 2 Kings 13 - 19, I was reminded of a time when David was stuck in an encasement … a cave.  In his case, he was hiding from the lunatic King Saul who was on the hunt for David.

In Psalm 142, we read …

I cry out to the Lord; I plead for the Lord’s mercy.  I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles.  When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn.  Wherever I go, my enemies have set traps for me.  I look for someone to come and help me, but no one gives me a passing thought!  No one will help me; no one cares a bit what happens to me.  Then I pray to you, O Lord.  I say, “You are my place of refuge.  You are all I really want in life.  Hear my cry, for I am very low.  Rescue me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me.  Bring me out of prison so I can thank you.  The godly will crowd around me, for you are good to me.

David was literally in a cave, hiding for his life from a king who wanted him dead.  He was in mortal danger and was in a place where the world literally felt like it was encroaching on his ability to breathe.  In fact, the very person from whom he was hiding found him in that cave.  The anxiety and fear that was gripping him as he ran to safety was only budding more and more.  In fairness, that was NOT my situation today.  Few of us ever experience that real sort of suffocating pressure, fear or stress.

But life does dole out its strain and anxiety.  Sometimes it’s immense to the point of near-paralysis, and other times it’s just enough to put us in a crabby mood.  Admittedly, most of the time for me … I just get crabby (ask Helen … haha).

Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that most of the time the situations we let hang us up are insignificant at best … innocuous circumstances that we nurture, water, fertilize (word chosen purposely) into giant seemingly world-ending events.  In short, we make mountains out of mole hills and seek out the first cave we can climb into.  Whether the occurrences are real or contrived, David’s words in Psalm 142 provide hope for us … a rescue rope to pull us out of the cave.

Who did David acknowledge from the get-go that he needed to reach out to in his anguish?  He said, “I cry out to the LORD.”  No matter where we are … or how real or imagined our state of affairs might be … God is there for us to “pour out [our] complaints before him and tell him all [our] troubles.”  He reminds us, “when I am overwhelmed, You alone know the way I should turn.”  David was in hiding for his life and he was wise enough … even in his youth … to know that God was the first person he should seek out, not the help of last resort like many of us do.

I love watching the show Survivorman.  Les Stroud, the star of the show is astoundingly able to survive in the craziest places and under the most unbelievable circumstances.  For him, during a survival situation, a cave is a haven.  It provides protection and cover from the elements.  However, a cave in and of itself is insufficient to provide long-term care and sustenance.  In the same way, the cave for David’s hiding, and the caves we construct for ourselves, cannot provide for us provision or nourishment forever.  For this reason, David reached out to God, and by virtue of his words, he admonishes us to do the same.  I love how David expresses this in the Psalm: “You are my place of refuge.  You are all I really want in life.  Hear my cry, for I am very low.  Rescue me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me.  Bring me out of prison so I can thank you.”

God wants to be our hiding place, our place of protection.  Not just for the short-term, but for good.  Not just in times of trouble, but always.  Not just in (seemingly) little affairs, but in the grand schemes of life.  Not just to the kings, the privileged, the “holy”, but to all His creation and those of us that call Him our Lord.

No matter what mood you’re in, or how heavy the weight of the world may seem, don’t run to your cave.  It might seem like a comfortable place, but it won’t last.  It can’t provide for you over the long haul … its protection and cover only last a short while.  God wants us to run to Him, and for us to allow him to be our cover and protection always.  Retreating may seem to be the safe thing to do, but the things we’re running from will ultimately find us there too.  When we run to the Lord, His cover and safety is lasting.  The things that trouble or irk us can’t survive.  God will solve all and provide peace, because, “You are good to me.”

Let’s ask the Lord to reveal to us this week the caves we’re running to and hiding in … and let’s ask Him to remind us that only His care and fortification is lasting.  Think about committing some or all of Psalm 142 to memory so that you’ll forever be able to draw comfort from God’s word.

Either way, run away from the cave and to the source of REAL safety!

Secure in Christ,


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The big job might be the little job

When I used to coach little league baseball I would often marvel at the attitudes that needed adjusting … not the kids’ attitudes, but the parents’.  In fact, I used to say (and still maintain) that little league baseball would be amazing if there were no parents allowed.  Okay to that’s just a joke … sort of.

What is the issue at hand that made it so frustrating?  My reading through Numbers 15 – 21, Psalms 132 – 138, and 2 Kings 6 – 12, this week provided an example of the issue and also a bit of realignment that I would propose we all need from time to time.

In Numbers 16, we read about a guy named Korah who embodies some attitudes and attributes that … if we’re real honest … we can probably identify with … IF we’re real honest.  While the Israelites are still on their wandering ways, Korah one day incites a bit of a rebellion against Moses and Aaron.  In verse 3 we read

They united against Moses and Aaron and said, “You have gone too far!  The whole community of Israel has been set apart by the Lord, and he is with all of us.  What right do you have to act as though you are greater than the rest of the Lord’s people?”

This inflammatory attack by Korah comes from nothing short of pride.  Essentially, in saying “what right do you have” he’s saying “I deserve it just as much as you.”  Just as people say “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’” we can just as validly highlight that “I” is at the center of “pride”.  In other words, when I’m overly focused on me, it comes from a heart filled with pride.

Korah isn’t so much worried about why Moses and Aaron were the leaders of the Israelites (and frankly, if he’d thought it through he would have remembered that God Himself called Moses up on Mount Sinai to appoint him to the task … but anyhow …).  He’s jealous that he wasn’t assigned the honor and responsibility.

It’s a little like how parents used to come up to me and ask me why little “Johnny” wasn’t pitching or playing shortstop.  In some more extreme cases, parents would have the audacity to wonder why little “Jimmy” was playing a position when little “Johnny” was better.  Seriously?  Well, at least that last group was honest about what they were really thinking.

For us, when we really peer into our motivations at times, do we see the same underlying motivation?  Do we look at others in positions of authority or esteem and question why that person deserves to be in the position they’re in?  Inherently, we’re wondering less about them and more about ourselves … and asserting essentially that we deserve whatever recognition or position more than the other person.

I heard a story about a pastor who was approached by a congregant who shared that he felt called into ministry.  No doubt the congregant expected the pastor to take him under his wing, encourage him, perhaps recommend seminary training, etc.  Instead, the pastor handed the congregant a broom and instructed him to go out into the parking lot and sweep it up.  He had him repeat the task week after week until the congregant was finally “ready” for ministry.

The more we look to put ourselves on top, the less we deserve to be there.  Korah was so concerned that he should have been leader of the Israelites, that his attitude demonstrated how little he was equipped to be there.  If we have to tell someone we are a leader, we’re not.  When people notice that we’re a leader without our telling them, then we’ve arrived.

Further along in Numbers 16, Moses sets Korah straight, and provides us a little wisdom we can put to use ourselves no doubt … in verses 9 – 11 …

Does it seem insignificant to you that the God of Israel has chosen you from among all the community of Israel to be near him so you can serve in the Lord’s Tabernacle and stand before the people to minister to them?  Korah, he has already given this special ministry to you and your fellow Levites. Are you now demanding the priesthood as well?  The Lord is the one you and your followers are really revolting against! For who is Aaron that you are complaining about him?”

Moses basically says, “Korah, be grateful for the job you have … that you have any job at all.  God gave it to you, so it must be important to Him.  Your griping is basically griping to God, who gave you the opportunity to be in the role … any role … in the first place.”

We, too, should be grateful for whatever job, responsibility, recognition, etc., we get.  Whether we get to play in right field, or pitcher, if we’re on the field, we’re on the field because God allows us to.  On His team, there are no unimportant positions.  What Korah neglected was that He was being used by God in an equally important way, just not in the way Moses was.

How many stories have we heard in the past of athletes who had to ride the bench and play 2nd or 3rd string before they got their ultimate shot?  It’s like how God works with us … preparing and preparing and preparing until one day, he puts us in the game … and then we get our shot.  Beforehand, though, we have to be willing to be on the bench and do our part in preparing.  It doesn’t mean we’ll always get a shot, but we should prepare like we are just in case; and be grateful even if we don’t.

There are no insignificant roles, just people who treat significant roles insignificantly.  God forbid that be us!  Let’s ask God to prepare our hearts this week for whatever roles he has in store.  Ask Him to help us be as joyful in the sweeping of the parking lot as in being the senior pastor.  To God, all the jobs are the same … and they’re all His.

Serving God,


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

HE will see us through

Tomorrow morning we leave for San Francisco … ironically, Helen, Courtney and I on the same flight.  I have to be there for business and Helen and Courtney for an appointment during which Courtney is going to get fitted with her brace.  If I’m totally honest about it, and I am, I’m a little more than reticent.  Not for Helen or me, but needless to say for Courtney.  I see her about to get put into this thing that is hard, uncomfortable, intrusive, and possibly visible to others.  On one hand, I struggle for her, but on the other I know she is going to need Helen and me to be supportive and that’s what she’ll get from us.  As the dad, I will be granite … my little girl (and my wife) need that.

As I read through my daily plan this week (Numbers 8 – 14, Psalms 125 – 131, 1 Kings 21 – 22 and 2 Kings 1 – 5) I was moved in a couple different directions and was actually thinking about writing on another passage until I was just flipping through my Bible app and came across Psalms 126.  As I did, something about it made me stop on it.  When that happens, I know it’s time to pay attention.  When I looked at it again, it was all too evident that I needed to write it for myself, sort of the opposite of a “take my advice, I’m not using it” type of deal.

Psalm 126 reads …

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream!  We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy.  And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”  Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!  What joy!  Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert.  Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.  They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.

What we’re going through right now is rough … not life-threatening, but hard on the heart for our daughter.  We all have situations where it feels like we’re going through a tunnel … no lights, no ability to see around us, uncertainty about which direction we’re going, and no idea how long we’ll be in the dark.  When the Israelites returned from exile to Jerusalem it was as though they were being freed, as if they’d finally reached the end of the dark tunnel and were able to be once again on the outside, with light, safety, and the ability to see around them.

Right now we’re about to head into the tunnel.  We don’t know how long we’re going to be in it, we won’t be able to see around us, it’ll feel dark, and things will be uncomfortable.  Courtney most of all.  I guess what hit most about this Psalm wasn’t the hopefulness it provides me, it’s what it does for Helen and most of all for Courtney.  God’s blessed me with the ability to remain calm in squirrelly situations.  But 13 year-olds aren’t always blessed with that.  I think Courtney is pretty resilient over all, and is facing the upcoming tunnel like a true champ.  But there will be times when the tunnel will seem longer than it should be, the darkness thicker and the discomfort unbearable.  Helen and I will now have the opportunity to share with Courtney some foundational skills in living a life through challenge trusting in God.  Among God’s many promises, I’ll be able to share that hopefulness that He provides … that just as he restored the Israelites to their home and from the darkness of bondage and exile, He will restore us through the challenges life brings.

When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem, look at their response.  Joyfulness!  Laughter!  Singing!  Celebration!  They didn’t dampen the moment by reflecting backward, they looked at their new reality.  The past was no less real, but God gave them the ability to see their NEW state in light of their OLD one.  He was gracious in not leaving them in the darkness and scariness … He finished the job and brought them through to the other side.  He will do that for Courtney as well, and a year or so from now when her brace is off and (God-willing) her scoliosis has stopped progressing and maybe even reversed, there will be joyfulness, laughter, singing and celebration in the Rodriguez home.  Because He will have brought us all the way through.

Are there tunnels you’re in the middle of right now.  Do things seem scary, dark, obscure, and longer than you’d expected?  Take heart in knowing that God is working to bring you all the way through your situation.  Ask Him to remind you that He is busy at work, not sleeping on the job.  He’s 100% focused on YOU not someone else who has a problem bigger.  God’s got the ability to focus on your situation and mine all at the same time and He is no less omnipotent with either one of us.

Ask God in prayer to give you His peace, His comfort, His love over the situations you’re facing.  Ask Him to remind you as you meditate on Psalms 126 and other portions of His word, that He will finish the job.  He will bring you (us) through.  In fact, He will share in the celebration with us when He does.  Count on it!

Trusting Jesus through all circumstances,


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Centered on the central point ...

For the past month and a half, we’ve been struggling through some medical matters with our 13 year-old daughter who was diagnosed with a progressive thoracic scoliosis at the end of March.  Her degree of curvature is not quite enough for surgery (praise God), but it could progress.  The unfortunate standard of care for scoliosis today seems to be surgery for those that require it (a curve of 50-degrees or more, Courtney’s is about 40) and for others … pretty much nothing, or at best a bunch of stuff that no one agrees actually works.  We are not “do nothing” people.

God has been so good during this time … it’s been a huge burden to bear.  Yes, we realize there are many other maladies with which we could be contending, but when a teenage girl has to wear a pretty invasive brace, and could still face surgery, and may have to impede the progress of her huge love for dance, it’s difficult.  Through this, He has faithfully provided us answers.  He has granted us a peace beyond our ability to understand (Courtney included).  He has loved us.  Even if we have to go the surgery route, we KNOW He’s there with us and that there’s a purpose in it.

This has been the frame of mind for us for six weeks, but all the more poignant this week as I read through Numbers 1 – 7, Psalms 118 – 124, and 1 Kings 14 – 20.  Allow me a brief detour …

Consider the following, as I did while reading this week in particular:

  • How many chapters exist before Psalm 118?      594
  • How many chapters of the Bible exist after Psalm 118?      594
  • Add the two together and you get 1188.
·       What is the verse at the very center of the Bible?    Psalm 118:8

Which brings me to the verses that moved me this week … not surprisingly, culminating with Psalm 118:8 … Psalm 118:4-8 say …

Let all who fear the Lord repeat:
 “His faithful love endures forever.”  In my distress I prayed to the Lord,
and the Lord answered me and set me free.  The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.  What can mere people do to me?  Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me.
 I will look in triumph at those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in people.

That last verse, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people,” is Psalm 118:8, the geographically-central verse of the Bible.  I’d argue it’s the central point in general.  For me, this week, it was a point that centered me.

What we’ve battled with perhaps most over the course of the situation with Courtney’s health is trying to find someone to provide us “the” answer.  What’s “the” best thing to do.  The first doctor we saw was dismissive and basically belittled Helen and told her just to come back in six months … and “we’ll see.”  No thanks.  Then, Helen scoured the Internet (and I mean the WHOLE Internet) researching options, found several women whose daughters went through the same situation (and who, ironically, were also ballet dancers … a couple very accomplished in fact).  There were myriad different experiences, opinions, cautions, etc.  There were a whole host of potential treatment options.  None of them seemed reliable with any degree of certainty.  But …

Little by little, God’s voice began to speak to us.  Not audibly, but clearly.  As we slogged through the overwhelming amount of unclear information, God began to direct us.  A clarity and confidence began to emerge.  Before long, we settled on not only a course of treatment, but the solid ground of God’s peace.  We went to Him distressed.  He answered.  He set us free.  He reminded us that He is for us, and so we will have no fear.  His faithful love endured when we couldn’t.  Talk about a verse that literally spoke to my heart!

What we worry about in life rarely happens.  You ever notice that?  Even when it does, does worrying ever accomplish anything or help us conquer the circumstances?  In my experience … never.  Not once.  Sure, some will say that worrying at least prepares you for the outcome.  Hogwash.  Letting go of the worry is the best preparation, as long as you have Someone to whom you can let it go.  For us that Someone is our Father.

The reminder in all this is the central point … for this week and for all time.  It’s also the central verse of scripture … “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.

People are often well-intentioned.  They can be experienced and educated.  They can be our friends, relatives, trusted advisors.  But they’re not God.  Not holy.  Not omniscient.  Not omnipresent.  Not omnipotent.  People can and will let us down … unintentionally, but nevertheless.  God will NEVER let us down.  He … and his faithful love … endure forever.

If you haven’t trusted Him … or are not trusting Him now … why?  Who or what alternative is better?

This verse was a great reminder that I need look no further than right beside me (where God is ALWAYS) to find my help.  As the Bible says, “an ever present help in time of need.”  I can’t imagine a more empowering and comforting reality.

Let’s ask Him this week to reveal to us the things that we’re not entrusting to Him and perhaps looking to men (women) for our trust.  Ask the Lord to center us on the central point of His word … to take our refuge in Him in all the situations we face!

Centered on Jesus,