Just as You Are

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you. ~Psalm 86:5

Do you have any idea of how much God loves you? Don’t just skip by that question. Think about this for a moment. There really is a God. He is alive. He is interactive with all of humanity and He is madly in love with you – you personally – you who are reading this right now – yes you! It does not matter what you have done, who you think you are, how deserving you imagine yourself to be, what masks you wear, or what you pretend to be. God knows your deepest thoughts and innermost fears and He loves you. Just as a great father is crazy about His children so God is crazy about you and wants you to know Him personally.

God has been calling you, screaming your name, talking to you all your life. Through your friends; through the radio; in your own heart; that voice inside your head; that thought that occurred to you at just the right time; the message from that anonymous Christian that you ignored; in every moment that you have written off in your life as coincidence or chance – In all of these God has been calling you to come to Him and enter into close, personal, interactive, and loving relationship with your Creator. 

You do not have to put on a mask, pretend to be something you’re not, or in any way work to earn a spot at His table. You are called to come exactly as you are right at this moment. He has already accomplished everything that is necessary for you. He has laid the path and He has paved the way. All you need to do is accept the free gift of His love and give yourself freely to Him. He will never force you to come to Him. True love cannot be forced. It must be given willingly, freely, and fully.  That is what He is asking you to do.

Once you accept the free gift of His love and call on His name, He will begin a process of conforming you into His image. As you submit your life to Him then love, patience, kindness, long-suffering, and joy will begin to grow inside you. You will become a new creation in Christ.  Through the trials and difficulties of this life, a peace that passes understanding will begin to comfort and to define you.

God is calling to you. He is seeking you desperately - waiting for you to respond. His love for you is greater than you know. Now is the time to respond to His calling. There is no reason to remain away from the light of His love for even one more moment. Don't walk without Him any longer. Come just as you are. Won’t you respond to His call now?  

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. ~Revelation 3:20

Neither Death Nor Life

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. ~Romans 8:29-30 

I was recently blessed with the opportunity to meet a delightful man named Tom along with his wife Connie. Tom and Connie were married the year my father was born (provided I've done my math correctly). They are looking forward to spending the holidays this year with their children, several grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Tom and I had a chance to talk about his relationship with Jesus and his testimony gave me great hope and encouragement. Tom has a strong faith in God and is working to become more of a leader in his church and to put his lifetime of experience to work for God's purposes. But, at 83 years old, this wasn't always the case. Tom, you see - this vibrant and active man of God - didn't chose to put his faith in Jesus Christ until he was 72 years old.   

This is a great encouragement because, as Christians, most of us have people in our lives, people that we love, that do not know the love of Christ. Many of us have been praying and witnessing for years or even decades that God would move in the life of our spouse, or child, or parent, or friend. It is easy to become discouraged and fearful when, in our own impatience, we don't see the fruit of that labor. We question God or even our own faith. Tom's testimony illustrates to us that God is faithful and that His will will be accomplished. 

This should also be a great encouragement to those of you who do not know Christ. Do you have a nagging feeling that things are just not quite right and that there is something more? Perhaps you feel that it is too late or that you have waited too long. Perhaps you think that there is no way that you could possibly make such a radical change in your life now - you're too old to be learning a new way of thinking; too old to be reborn anew. What Tom's testimony says to you is that it is never too late to be remade into a beautiful and new creation by the mighty and faithful hand of God.    

The opening verse in Romans speaks of those that are predestined by God to be saved. How do you know if you are one of those that has been chosen? Knowing that you have been predestined for salvation is simple. If you fully place your faith in Christ and confess with all sincerity that He is Lord then you have your answer. You are saved because nobody can confess that Christ is Lord except by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:3). It is truly that simple (for more on this see our post Elegantly and Beautifully Simple).

So what if you are unable to make that leap? Does that mean you are not of the ones chosen by God for salvation? No. It simply means that it is not yet your time. God's Word tells us that all things work together for the good of those that love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). The only way to prove that you are not among the chosen of God is to die without knowing Christ.

Connie has been a Christian all her life and I am sure that she spent many hours praying for and worrying about Tom during his time apart from God. If you know Christ and have someone you love that is lost and separated from God, continue to pray and place your trust in God. If you do not know Christ then please take a moment to pray and ask God to reveal to you His truth that you might come to know Him and be made new. 

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:38-39

What is Sin?

But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul ~Proverbs 8:36

We don't hear much about sin today. We don't have a very good idea in our culture of what sin really even is. The thing in our common vernacular that is most often called sinful is chocolate. We have lost, as a common understanding, the very meaning of the word sin. 

I wonder how our culture today and its values and its morals would be viewed by someone from an earlier time. I also wonder how we today would respond to a message from say 100 years ago. As it turns out, we can find out at least on a small scale. I have been greatly blessed to come into a bit of a family inheritance: a Bible. As it turns out, my great, great, great grand father, H. C. Galbraith, was a preacher in the late 1800's. I have just received Reverend Galbraith's Bible and it is an amazing treasure. It comes complete with his handwritten sermon outlines and notes from the 1890's. 

In one of his sermon outlines based on the passage from Proverbs above, here is what Reverend Galbraith had to say about sin:   
Sin is any violation of God's Law or any neglect of duty or neglect to obey what God has commanded or led us to do. It separates man from God for God can have no fellowship with sin. Every impure word, act, association, or neglect of duty drives God further from us. He who commits sin wrongs his own soul by dwarfing its development and weakening its power for good thus defeating the design of God in its creation.
The greatest wrong is the loss of the soul. It is a terrible thing to barter the soul for a few days sensual pleasure. Thomas Payne recanted his infidelity when he was brought to face death. Hume, Bolingbroke, Voltaire, and others left a testimony that it was not safe to trifle with your soul's eternal welfare. Each of us asks in his heart "whose religion would you have me accept now Father? I am dying."   
From the perspective of a culture that seems so intent on denying the very existence of sin, it is striking to me how Reverend Galbraith went so much farther in defining sin than even our churches tend to do today. Most of those that regularly attend a Bible believing church would probably be comfortable with the definition of sin as being any violation of God's Law, but he - rightly - didn't stop there. Reverend Galbraith went on to define sin as being any neglect of duty or neglect to obey what God has personally commanded or led us to do.

In our rush to omit and to erase what we consider to be the little sins from what our society defines as right and wrong -- in our haste to justify those small things in our lives that we know, deep down, violate the will of God -- in these things we must recall that all the world's death, all the world's pain, all the world's anguish and suffering throughout history are the result of deception and one man's willful disobedience. One bite of fruit caused man to be separated from God and introduced death into God's perfect creation (for more on this see our post The Crafty Beast).

"Every impure word, act, association, or neglect of duty drives God further from us. He who commits sin wrongs his own soul by dwarfing its development and weakening its power for good thus defeating the design of God in its creation."

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 6:23

Compelled to Preserve

Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man [Jesus] is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” ~John 11:47-48

There were many reasons that the religious leaders of his day did not believe that Jesus was God's promised Messiah. In these verses we get a small and often overlooked clue - fear. The Pharisees and priests felt compelled to preserve what they had. It seemed that the surest way to keep the temple intact and to keep the nation of Israel safe was to maintain the status-quo and endure the Roman occupation. If the people were to name Jesus King of Israel instead of accepting Roman authority, then the Roman army was sure to come and put an end to such an insurrection.

When considered in human terms, with only earthly means and might, the fear of the Jewish leaders was absolutely valid. From their perspective there was no stopping the Roman army.  After all, Rome was the strongest force on earth. Isn't it ironic that the Jewish religious leaders left faith entirely out of their evaluation and out of fear chose the weaker side believing it to be the strongest? Their fear blinded them into choosing a human nation over God incarnate. In vain they put their trust in the things of the earth because in 70 A.D. their fears were realized. The Roman army did attack, the temple was destroyed, and the nation of Israel did cease to exist for nearly 2,000 years.

This is a poignant message for me. I find that I too am tempted to forget faith and to put my trust in the world. Like King Asa, I have put my trust in doctors (2 Chronicles 16:12), I have felt secure when my finances were safely stored up in a bank (Matthew 6:19), and I have trusted in my own abilities (Isaiah 9:9-12). Lately I have come to learn that God can take any of these, or my very life away in an instant, and that I am much much more secure when I put my faith and trust in God.

The Pharisees and priests were caught up in the routine and concerns of their normal lives. They were dealing with the very real and dangerous business of the Roman occupation of their lands as well as all of the mundane everyday distractions that this world provides. Then, suddenly, Jesus burst onto the scene, disrupted their routine, and forced them to face a choice. They were forced to chose between reviving and changing a faith that had grown legalistic and impersonal, or believing what their eyes could see and their mind could imagine; the forces threatening them at that time.  

Jesus - our promised Messiah, our Savior, God Himself - has come and is calling you to trust Him and to allow Him to be King over your life. Like the Pharisees before us, each of us faces a choice to either heed His call or to instead place our faith in the material world. Where do you choose to place your trust?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. ~Proverbs 3:5-6

Wheat and Tares

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.  But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.  So the servants of the owner came and said to him "...Do you want us to go and gather them up?" But he said "No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers 'First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"  ~Matthew 13:24-30

The tares in this parable were probably the weed darnel.  Darnel looks very much like wheat in the early stages of growth.  The farmer in this parable would not have known that there were tares among the wheat plants until the crop had matured enough that the differences began to show, at which point the roots would be too tangled to pull the weed without damaging the wheat. The presence of the tares was a problem because the flour ground from the seeds of darnel was poisonous. There was a Roman law which made it illegal to sow darnel in another's field.  Since this was apparently known to occur, Jesus' parable would have been very realistic to His listeners.

Jesus explained the parable privately to his disciples in verses 37-43.  We, the people on the earth, are represented by the wheat and the tares.  This includes the entire population of the planet not just "true" or "false" Christians. It is interesting that we should be indistinguishable spiritually until we mature.  I believe that this is another example of how the potential to embrace the gospel is in all of us.  We all face great moments of decision.  The gospel is joyfully presented with the ring of truth about it, the Holy Spirit nudges us to accept and believe, and yet to do so or not is still a decision.  The ability to make that decision and accept its consequences requires a certain amount of spiritual maturity.

Everyone I know who is a Christian loves people who are not Christian. We have an amazing web of family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.  This net interlocks with our lives so completely that it would be devastating to have everyone who will never believe in Christ suddenly taken away.  Part of loving is praying for the salvation of friends and family who don't know Jesus.  Sometimes we pray for years, sometimes for a lifetime and we cling to our hope that God will change their heart.  We value their presence in our lives and would not even want them removed.

There are, however, some people we wouldn't mind having removed from the population.  Some that we , as a society, remove to prison and there are plenty that should be in prison, but aren't.  Some of these people, sometime in the future, will intentionally devastate or end the life of another or others.  Wouldn't it be better if God's reapers (the angels) just plucked those evil people out now?  In spite of the damage they do, I hope that even these people are loved by someone.  They have parents, a spouse, children, friends.  Not only is everyone important to God but we are also important to each other and, that too, is important to God.

Consider for a moment the people who are very difficult to be around.  These people, Christian or not, impact our lives and our faith tremendously.  They test our patience, our knowledge, and our convictions.  No matter what they do we are commanded to pray for them, to take care of their needs, to love them, and at times to forgive them for things that, to us, seem inexcusable.  These commands show the world what it means to be a Christian, but they are primarily for the good of us as Christians.  Following the example of Christ, our faith is tested, proven, and refined. The tenets of our faith require an audience of tares. To whom would we witness without unbelievers?  What enemies would we forgive if everyone acted righteously?  Of what value is it to only love people who love you back?

What a joy it is to face the end of your life with your faith so strong that it withstood trials, evil, temptations, and the workings of the devil.  Followers and disciples of Christ face a reward at the end of life on earth and the tares we encounter along the way help to mold and refine us to prepare us for what lies ahead. At the same time, only the farmer - God - can truly tell the difference between the wheat and the tares. We have no way of knowing who will ultimately be saved. It is our duty to continue to grow spiritually and to obediently listen to God as we endure the difficulties of life with patience and grace.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us ~Hebrews 12:1

Through the Storm

So Joseph's master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the King's prisoners were confined... But the Lord was with Joseph ~Genesis 39:20-21

Joseph had been having a pretty rough time of things. His brothers were jealous of him, had thrown him down a well, threatened to murder him, and ultimately sold him into slavery. As a slave he had done everything right and, just when things seemed to be going pretty well, he was falsely accused by his master's wife and thrown into the dungeon where he was left for several years. Yet, through all of this suffering and injustice, we are told that God was with Joseph. 

There are times in our lives when things just don't seem to be going according to our plan. In fact they are going horribly wrong. Perhaps we lost a job, had a spouse leave us, are dealing with the death of a loved one, facing our own mortality, or have simply ended up in a place in life where we just don't want to be. It is easy and natural for us during the difficult times and seasons of our lives to question God's plan for us and to wonder if He is even here. 

There are many today that profess to preach the Word of God - well-dressed individuals with their shiny suits and their shiny smiles - that will tell you that God wants only the best for you here in this life and that if you are really on God's "good list" then you will be blessed by God with perfect health and with all the material wealth you need and want. If you don't have good health and lot's of extra spending cash then you must not be right with God. These false prophets lead millions of people away from God as they prey on the innocent by convincing them that they can buy their way into God's favor and gain wealth for themselves in the process.

The lure of health and wealth in this life is certainly powerful but it is not what the Word of God promises. God tells us that this life will be hard, that we will go through difficult times. He even promises that the closer we get to Him and the more obedient we become, the more difficult this life will be as He goes through the process of molding us into the individual masterpieces that He created us to be. God does not promise to save us out of life's difficulties and trials but rather He promises something much greater. He promises that He will be with us through them and that it is through these trails that we become more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ - suffering for righteousness sake just as He suffered for us.

Joseph was highly favored by God and was ultimately used by God to save an entire nation and to bring another nation, the nation of Israel, into existence. During his trails of being beaten, rejected and betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and wrongfully imprisoned Joseph still trusted God and knew that God was with him. He didn't know how God would use these trying times and I am sure that Joseph had many moments of doubt and dejection through those years. Yet through it all God was preparing Joseph for something that he couldn't comprehend at the time. Ruling an entire nation.
Those years in prison helped to mold Joseph into the man that God needed him to be in order to rule the nation of Egypt and see Egypt through a famine that would have destroyed it apart from God's intervention. God sees each of our lives with an eternal perspective and while it can sometimes be very difficult for us to understand the trials and difficult circumstances in our lives, God knows exactly what we are going through and asks us to trust Him and rely on His strength to carry us through any difficulty.

Are you going through a painful or difficult time right now? Is there some aspect of your life where you feel you just need to cry out to God? Remember that while God does sometimes calm the storms of our lives, other times He calms us through the storm. Either way He is always there with us and is always working out His plans and His purposes toward His ultimate and eternal goal. What a blessed promise it is to be a part of that!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  ~Romans 8:28

Walking Weary

I am weary, O God, I am weary, O God.  How can I prevail? ~Proverbs 30:1

The term "weary" paints a picture. I see someone walking, back bent, head down. Weariness has a heavy trod as if putting one foot after the other takes all the energy that is left. It is not tired from exertion or a poor nights sleep.  Weariness does not come on suddenly or disappear quickly. Weariness comes from the constant onslaught of responsibilities, worries, discouragements.  It is the daily burdens, difficult relationships, the constant effort of striving that makes us weary. In other words, weariness is a condition rather than a feeling.

God knows that his children get weary.  In addition to the daily burden of living, Christians assume the extra burdens of attempting to live as a Godly example to others, of resisting the temptations of materialism and decadence, of living differently from what is "normal" by cultural standards. It is hard to be a Christian. While it may be uncomfortable to admit that and seem ungrateful for the great mercy and love offered to us, God knew the Christian path would be difficult.  He promises trials, tribulation, and suffering in every book of the New Testament. He also promises rest and strength to everyone who turns to him.

God does not grow weary and has strength in abundance for all that will rely on Him. He will always supply you with what you need to do His work.  Like the condition of weariness, trust and rest in the Lord is also a condition - a habit of living. As you face the daily battle of surviving, daily give your worries to God.  Daily seek his peace and daily remind yourself of His priorities rather than your own.  God is the source of every breath. He is the source of peace amidst turmoil, joy amidst suffering, and rest although we struggle.  He is the source that, no matter how much we draw on Him, will never be diminished.

The LORD is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  ~Isaiah 40:28-31

One Bridge

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. ~Luke 19:10

Tom and Cheryl were lost. They had been driving and driving but were nowhere closer to reaching home than when they had started. They, however, were blissfully ignorant of this fact and were quite content to just keep going, arguing occasionally about the direction, but both certain that they'd get there eventually. Tom was a very reliable and capable man and, being confident in his own abilities, was sure that by picking the path that seemed right to him at the time that he'd find the way. Cheryl had a ton of maps that she had collected from all over the world and she constantly studied them and attempted to apply them to whatever landmarks she saw around her in order to help direct them. Whether or not these maps actually applied to where she really was never seemed to occur to her. One map, after all, is just as valid as any other.

There were two reasons that they weren't very concerned about being lost: One was that they didn't really understand that they were lost in the first place (Cheryl's maps occasionally kind of fit where they were) and the other was that they didn't think it mattered anyway because the trip itself was pretty fun. They had a really nice car and there were lot's of distractions along the way. There were fun places to play and do whatever they wanted. There were great restaurants, good places to gamble, and lots of other things to keep them amused and distracted. Life, they thought, is all about the journey after all. You'd better have fun on the journey because you may never arrive at your destination anyway.

One day, as Cheryl was busily trying to make sense of another one of her maps that had no relation to where they actually were, Tom saw another one of those roadsigns that warned that the path ahead held danger and that the road home was off the freeway and was down one of those tiny off-ramps onto a narrow and rocky little road. He was really sick of these signs and wished someone would just take them down.  They had tried following one of these signs before and it only led them away from all of the things that they needed like air conditioned hotels, restaurants that served good food with well dressed and polite waitstaff, and high-end shopping malls. It led them up rocky mountain paths and down into hot and uncomfortable valleys. His nice car got scratched and dirty and there were miserable broken people all along the way begging Tom and Cheryl to give them some of their hard-earned money. It was a truly horrific experience.

No, it was quite obvious to Tom that the nice wide highway with the smooth, well maintained pavement and with the malls, the restaurants, and the gas stations all conveniently located along the way - the road where that was kept free of the filthy beggars - this was the road that would get them home.  With his sense of direction (and Cheryl's variety of maps) they'd make it there even if they had to ignore the signs some wackos had put up everywhere.

You see, Tom and Cheryl's destination was a kingdom on the other side of a mighty chasm that was uncrossable. The King of that kingdom was very powerful and used all of His strength and all of His resources to build a mighty bridge, a single bridge, across the chasm. He then placed road signs all over the other side directing people to His bridge, the one and only way to the Kingdom. Rather than trust in Him, the people on the other side ignored the King's signs, built their own roads, and attempted to build their own bridges. The roads the people made were beautiful. The paths were comfortable. But the people simply didn't possess the ability to construct a bridge that would span the chasm. Everyone who attempted to use a bridge not made by the hand of the mighty King perished.  

Tom had heard these stories but didn't really believe them. He continued to ignore the signs that had been placed all along the highway, just like all of the thousands of other travelers that were on the road with him. The signs got bigger and bigger, placed every mile or so, and warned of destruction ahead, pointing to the correct path, but choosing to follow others and listen to his own pride (as well as Cheryl's maps) Tom, seeing a bridge ahead and sincerely believing it was the right one, drove he and his wife right off its edge and into the chasm.

There is a mighty chasm that separates us from God. In his great love, God has built a single bridge for us to cross that chasm and come to Him. It is through Jesus and Jesus alone that we may find our salvation. This is not a secret path or hidden way. God has been shouting His warning and calling to you. He has left a detailed map and signs to point you to Him. There are many human roads that look comfortable and promise glory but they all end in destruction. 

The path to God, the path that He calls us to travel, is difficult. You will get dirty along the way. You will have to learn to place the needs of others above your own. You will have to learn to let go of those earthly things that take God's place in your heart. The road will take you through hot desert valleys and up difficult and rocky mountain trails. You will be called to minister to broken people who will revile you for trying to help them. Through this journey, however, you will find who you really are, you will find the person that you were created to be. You will learn to truly love and to truly know God in a personal and intimate way and to live with Him in His kingdom.  

Jesus Christ died to pay for every sin you have ever committed and was raised from the dead to build that mighty bridge for you to cross to the Kingdom that your heart desires. Don't ignore His signs. He is calling you. Listen to Him and heed His call.
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. ~Acts 4:12

Thank God For Coffee

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. ~Psalm 100:4

It can sometimes be difficult to be truly thankful for the things that God blesses us with in this life. Usually we don't even recognize that it is God that has provided for us in the first place and instead assume that all things come from our own effort or through luck. Not only are we not thankful to God for those things that he has blessed us with, we are not even content with them. We are constantly desiring and striving for more, taking for granted what we have to such an extent that we begin to see ourselves as not being blessed at all but rather ignored or even abused by God. What a sad state. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus sets the standard for our desires:  
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)
It is difficult to imagine a section of Scripture that goes more against the very core of our culture than this. This call to living in a way so completely dependent on God is so foreign that many modern theologians errantly teach that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about the future Kingdom, that now we should fight for what is ours, but then - sometime in the future - all things will be provided. But if this is for us today, how are we to possibly live this way? How can we possibly not worry about tomorrow? I don't claim to know the mind of God, but I do believe that He has been teaching our family the art and the value of His providence and care.

This morning, as I pondered what I was to write and was preparing a cup of coffee, I literally stopped for a moment and thanked God for my coffee. You see, it has been over a week since we've had any in the house because our funds are limited and coffee is, quite frankly, a luxury item. Yet we have some now thanks to God's provision. How does that work? Well, for that to make sense, we need to back up just a bit. 

Over the past year and half, God has been teaching us the truth of His care and of our need and our ability to rely on Him. Sometimes, we need to be brought low in order to remove the blinders that the world places on us. For our family, it worked this way: After spending nine months unemployed and finally getting a job where everything but the paycheck is fantastic, we have had to make some pretty major adjustments.  We have gone through a process of cutting out everything that was wasn't essential.  The home phone, television, texting plans, even the internet for awhile. We have had to learn to live on a budget that, after all basic bills are paid, leaves us just a bit left over for food. For the last three to four months we have had a weekly grocery budget of $20. For a family of four that seems impossible, yet we've managed to keep to that budget without skipping any meals through the grace and provision of God. 

Here are some examples of how God has provided for us: A month or so ago, my wife volunteered to handle the coordination of providing lunches to kids at a play date put on by our church. Many people donated the makings of sack lunches for about 150 kids. The play date was a great success but their were a ton of leftover perishable lunches that ended up being given to us. We spent the next couple of weeks eating peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches for every meal. That got a little old, but we didn't have to extend the grocery budget. During that same time, our pastor put on a big lunch for the whole church to celebrate his 15th anniversary as pastor at our church. There were tons of leftovers that he handed out and we again ended up with a several large meals. My dad made too much potato soup and we ended up with a huge pot. You get the idea. 

None of these people knew anything about our finances yet they provided without even knowing that God was working through them and that they were meeting a real need. You see, sandwiches didn't just go "poof!" and appear in our refrigerator, BBQ pork and soup didn't fall out of the sky (thankfully) yet God arranged things so that our needs would be met. God works through each of us to meet the needs of those around us. The other day, a lady that I work with asked me if I wanted an old tin of coffee that she hadn't opened for years I haven't had morning coffee for awhile so I said "absolutely!". While God promises to take care of our needs as we trust Him, he also occasionally provides for our wants as well. I wanted coffee, but apparently I don't need caffeine because He provided decaffeinated coffee. Yet still I am thankful for His tremendous blessings.

It was only through a time of difficulty that I was able to see the amazing blessings that God continues to provide through all things. He is always there. He is always active. He is always good. How has God worked in your life recently? Take a moment to give Him thanks for your blessings and to praise His holy name!

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. ~Colossians 3:17

He Gets It

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. ~Isaiah 53:3

Have you been disappointed and hurt recently? Has someone that you trusted failed? Have you felt betrayed by one close to you? If you feel alone in your pain, it is important to know that God fully understands the mixed up turmoil of emotions that you can't fully describe. He gets the nuances, the contradictions, and even the history that made "that one jab" especially painful. 

It is unnecessary to spend your prayer time explaining every detail of your situation and emotions to God. He already gets it, and understands it better than you do. Not only is it unnecessary, but it is usually done in an effort to justify an anger, hurt, and bitterness that you know God does not want you to hold onto. You are responsible for your own reactions and emotions. You cannot control circumstances or the upsetting behavior of the people around you. Anger can be justified in many ways, but it is only righteous when felt on behalf of God. 

God's understanding of what you're feeling doesn't simply come from the facts that He created you and that He knows all things. God knows and understands what you are feeling because when He walked among us as a man, He too experienced a lot of disappointments. His ministry to His own chosen people was failing. The religious leaders of the day willfully refused to acknowledge Him. They refused to recognize Him in spite of the prophesies, in spite of the miracles that were performed before their eyes, and in spite of the fact that all the Scriptures they had dedicated their lives to study spoke of Him. Jesus did not match their preconceived expectations and they weren't destined to get past that - what a blessing that turned out to be for us gentiles and for the rest of the world. 

Jesus was also betrayed by Judas, one of his disciples, one of the twelve men closest to Jesus during His ministry. Judas conspired with the religious leaders and, because of his treachery, Jesus was arrested.  His remaining eleven disciples and numerous other followers ran and hid, fearing for their lives. Alone, Jesus faced the judgement of the people who were supposed to be most passionate about His purpose. The religious leaders, through their authority, brought Jesus before the ruling government: the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Pilate could discover no crime that Jesus had committed and so Pilate turned to the last people standing between Jesus and execution, the crowd. 

To this point Jesus had been betrayed by a friend, condemned by the religious leaders, abandoned by His followers, failed by the government, and now He stood before the people He had come to save - those who for over three years He had taught, miraculously fed, and healed; those who had followed Him and who had, just a week before, ushered Him into their midst singing "Hosanna!" - and now they cried out "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

The Bible doesn't tell us how Jesus felt at this moment. Using my imagination I come up with words like hollow, sick, alone, exhausted, weak, hurt, and sad. I don't have to describe these nuances to you, the story is in the Gospels. Don't just read them, be a part of them. Throughout these events, I feel that we are invited to place ourselves in the crowd. At our core, without the intercession of the Holy Spirit, we are in the crowd, screaming for Jesus' blood, jeering and mocking His hurts, betraying our Savior. Every time we let our selfishness get in the way of forgiving others we join with the crowd. In spite of this, with unimaginable love, we are valued, called, supported, and comforted by the very one we injure with our self centered behaviors. In spite of the wounds inflicted on Jesus for our sins, we are forgiven this and every other sin from our past, present, and future.

We at times feel discouraged, disappointed, and betrayed. In spite of our best efforts, we can't help but to inflict the same types of hurts on others. This is something that can be difficult to remember as we deal with our own pain. When you are hurting, take your pain honestly to God. He wants your truth and vulnerability rather than a masquerade of stoicism or an endless stream of justifications. God is patient and understanding but, by His power and grace, He desires that we forgive from the heart, accept His healing, and move on.

Be prepared for His compassion and healing because this too is difficult. What He requires of you is to forgive so excessively and to love so generously that you knowingly and willingly open yourself to be hurt time and time again. There is no way that we can do this on our own but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Not only do we have a God who understands and knows us, not only do we have a God who has experienced the world and the temptations and the trials we face, but we have the Holy Spirit of God living inside of us. It is He that, through our trials, our pain, and our suffering, over time, continually shapes us more into the image of Christ who suffered and endured all things for us. We are really never alone. He gets it.

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. ~Matthew 28:20 

Testing the Waters

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:38-39

The fear of getting hurt can be a powerful driving force in life. There are many times that, through the voice of our previous bad experiences, we shy away from situations that look potentially difficult or damaging. There are many fears that drive our choices, behaviors, and attitudes. Some of them are healthy and some of them, over time and if we allow them to, will cripple us.

Fear of rejection; fear of not being accepted or loved for who we truly are; fear of disappointing someone or being disappointed ourselves; these are all powerful influences on our psyche and affect the way that we interact with other people and can affect the way that we approach God. Our self image tends to define the behaviors and attitudes that we expect to find in other people. Our expectations of other people can begin to define our image of God and our understanding of what God expects from us.

Those who have felt unloved by other people, who have felt that they have had to work for the affection of others, can tend to approach God with the idea and the expectation that God only values and expects their service instead of who they are. They may be timid in approaching God and, trying to protect themselves, are only willing to test the waters in an attempt to see if God will respond. What they are looking for is some positive affirmation, some response, that shows that God values them in a real and tangible way. Even when God responds with the fulness of His love, His response is evaluated in the context of the previous human experiences and pain.

Our primary error here is in allowing our experiences in this life - our hurts, our disappointments, our fears, our insecurities - to define our image of God. Instead we must allow our intimate relationship with God to heal us of all our past and present hurts, disappointments, fears, and insecurities.  Our worth is not defined by what we do or by what others think of us. It is not defined by our material possessions, our physical appearance, or our abilities. It is through God's love for us alone that we find our true worth.

God created and designed you. He knows every dark part of your past and present and He loves you for exactly who you are. You are God's original and priceless masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) that he continues to shape and form as you draw closer to Him.  Are you timidly approaching God, afraid that your past is too much for Him or that you are simply not good enough? Never allow your past experiences to define God but rather let God define you through His immense and boundless love. It is by defining ourselves through His eyes that we begin to find the strength and gain the perspective to deal with all of our natural fears and doubts.

The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. ~Zephaniah 3:17     

Nothing Too Hard

Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee. ~Jeremiah 32:17

Our strength is limited. We have a finite amount of time and energy that seems to be in constant demand. Sometimes it can feel that we are running on a treadmill that steadily runs faster and faster while we fight just to keep up. It can be very difficult and even seem impossible to keep up with the challenges that seem to constantly bombard us as we struggle to find our way through this life. These challenges aren't always simply a busy life but more often they are emotional strains. 

There are people in my life that are at this very moment dealing with emotional issues that should break them, yet they stand firm. They are in situations that could threaten to destroy their marriage, their relationships, or even their own sanity yet they are holding fast and standing strong. I know people that are dealing with the loss of a child, another that lost a lifetime friend in an instant, a family that is struggling with potential cancer in their child, people that are dealing with devastating consequences of infidelity in marriage, others that are struggling with a marriage grown cold over time, there are those struggling with the loss of career, fighting cancer, recovering from a stroke, and even laying on their very deathbed. Yet they have hope.

Why? How is it possible, when simply living can seem so hard sometimes, how can these people stand strong in the midst of these crises? I know that if you asked some of them, they would respond that they struggle just to get by and pray each day for the little bit of strength to make it through. I bet that each of them would tell you that there are times that they just want to give up and stop fighting. Yet they don't give up. They don't quit. Through a strength and a power that is not their own and they press on. 

It is incredibly humbling to be blessed to be a small part of the lives of these people. Through their struggles and their sometimes devastating pain they, often without even knowing it, shine the light of God's love more brightly than a 1000 others whose lives are going along without a hiccup. It is through our weakness that God's strength is displayed and perfected. It is through these times of trial when we must rely on God alone for our strength that we can become beacons of hope shining brightly to others who are struggling themselves and may be in danger of giving up. It is at these times when we are most broken that we can be of the most use to God as we impact the lives of people in ways that we don't even realize.

Are you struggling right now? Are you dealing with some pain or some difficult trial that threatens to break and destroy you? Are you contemplating giving up and quitting? This may be the moment that you are the most use to God if you will just trust Him, rely on His strength, and obediently follow Him as He leads you through. Don't give up. Don't quit. Don't allow yourself to lose hope. Trust in your Mighty Father.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. ~Romans 8:28


Is Suffering Optional?

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps ~1 Peter 2:21

There are many today that teach that being a true Christian, if you do it right, means that God will take care of all your earthly needs. He will heal all your infirmities, bless you with financial prosperity, and grant you an easy and peaceful existence during your long, fulfilled, and happy time here on earth. All you need to do is to have faith, and of course, give to the church, in order to receive all the peace that God desires for your life.

This is certainly an appealing picture but is there any truth to it? There is a time in the eternal state when all of those things will come to pass but God's word paints a very different picture of His expectation of our time here in this world. Every single book of the New Testament discusses the promise and the expectation that followers of Jesus will endure suffering. Most of the apostles were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for their faith, some multiple times. All of the Apostles, with the lone exception of John, were martyred for their faith in Christ. Each of them, and millions after them, professed their faith boldly to their deaths and they died specifically due to those bold professions of faith.

In the ease and comfort of our western culture it is easy to forget that there are millions of Christians all over the world today that live in fear of persecution and even death. In China, India, Africa, the Middle East, and in many other countries Christians are arrested, tortured, and killed for their faith and yet they press on. In these countries where proclaiming Christ can lead to violent death, there are no casual Christians.

This is not the only form of suffering though. Regardless of where we find ourselves - in the midst of political peace or persecution - we must all deal with suffering in forms both great and small. The loss of a job, the death of a loved one, natural disasters, war, murder, rape, child abuse... suffering surrounds us and permeates this existence. 

This suffering is not pointless and it is not simply a filter to test whose faith is true (though it does that as well), rather it is to strengthen us, to develop our character, to lead us in our spiritual growth, to allow us the opportunity to show true love to others, and to bring us ever closer to a personal relationship of trust and faith in God through Jesus Christ. All of scripture, and our own experience as well, teaches us that this world is not a final place rest but an intermediate place of testing.

There are many who will tell you that this isn't God's plan and that God really wants you to have heaven here on this earth but just as Scripture teaches us to expect many trials and suffering, it also expressly warns us about such teachers: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Are you seeking only those that tickle your ears and tell you what you desire to hear? Remember to test all things with God’s word through scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. ~1 Peter 5:10

All the Answers

When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom. ~Proverbs 11:2 

Another of the primary objections that many people have to religion in general and to Christianity in particular is the propensity to claim: 1) to know the truth; and 2) to have all the answers to life's problems and questions. I attempt to address the issues of exclusivity and truth in the blog posts Exclusive Jesus?, The Morality Argument, and Absolute TruthBut what is the difference between knowing the truth and having all of the answers? Is there a difference at all and do Christians even make these claims in the first place?  

There is a very definite distinction between "knowing the truth" in the Christian sense and "having all the answers".  I believe, for example, that the Bible is truth and that it is the living Word of God.  I believe that it provides, as God intended, a sufficient and complete foundation upon which we are to base our understanding of God, the universe, the world, human society, and ourselves. I believe this because I have a personal relationship with the author. I do not claim, however, that the Bible holds the answer to every specific question that could possibly be asked but that it instead provides the framework through which we approach those questions and evaluate the answers. God is the light by which the world is illuminated and the Bible is the lens through which the world comes into focus. The lens is of little worth without the light.

There is a very large difference between knowing the truth of God and claiming to know all truth. While most Christians will be the first to humbly admit that they do not have all the answers, many Christians, I am afraid, do make the claim to know "all truth that matters". There are times that Christians hold their doctrine or their religious teachings above the Word of God. Religion is simply the final stages of man working out what he thinks God has revealed. All religion is of man and not of God. When we hold our interpretations and doctrines above God's Word then we begin to fall into the trap of prideful legalism and human arrogance. (For a further explanation of the differences between doctrine, religion, and relationship see our section on theology here.)

Life on this earth is a journey of constant growth toward a destination that we will never fully realize. The Bible tells us the truth of that destination and also serves as the map and as the signs along the road to point the way. Our true destination is perfection in our relationship with God. Those who know God live with the truth and the hope that they will spend all eternity in a constant state of learning, of exploring the richness of all that God has created. 

People, both inside the church and outside, tend to forget the journey and instead look at this current existence as all there is. We begin to define ourselves by what we achieve and by what we know here and now instead of what we are called to learn next. We become blinded to the fact that, no matter how smart we think we are or what answers we imagine we might have, our current understanding and knowledge pales in comparison to what we will always have left to learn. 

While our beliefs are foundational and important, and while it is vital that we have a very good understanding of why we believe what we believe, we must be careful not to place the knowledge itself on the throne of God. Instead of allowing ourselves to become distracted and consumed by our rules, our doctrine, or our religion, we need to constantly remind ourselves instead to focus on our relationship with God, constantly taking the next step that He sets before us on our journey toward Him. The more we focus on listening to God throughout each day, the less susceptible we become to falling into the ditch of arrogant legalism or prideful superiority.

As a Christian, I don't claim to have all the answers. I do, however, know the God who does and I invite you to join me on my journey toward Him. If you don't know Jesus please take a moment today to stop and simply ask Him to show you the truth then listen to what He speaks to your heart. If you do know Jesus then remember that until He returns or calls you home your journey is never complete and there is always a next step that He is calling you to take. No matter where we are in our spiritual journey in this life, whether we are just starting out or have been on the path for a long time, God is calling us all to a next step toward Him and toward the relationship that we were created to experience. 

Human pride will be humbled, and the loftiness of men will be brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.  ~Isaiah 2:11

Reintroduced to God

Prepare to meet your God, O Israel! For behold He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads the high places of the earth - the LORD God of hosts is His name. ~Amos 4:12-13

The prophet Amos was reintroducing God to a people who had turned to worshiping God as an afterthought, as a way to 'cover their bases'. They had lost the knowledge of who God really is; God is not an idol of wood or stone without the ability to hear or move or talk, He is not a God created by man in order to pander to our needs and to meet our expectations. He is living and real and His presence is so powerful that when we truly encounter it we realize that it is He that must be worshiped and we that must be humbled. It is only when we are distant from God that we can forget this about Him. I can imagine God's incredulity as He asks through Isaiah (45:9) “Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles'”? The same metaphor is used in Jeremiah 18:6 “Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand”. We are the created ones, we are the lesser ones. We will one day stand before God and He will need no further introduction. “Every knee will bow” (Philippians 2:10-11) in recognition of who He is; at that moment, even the people who never knew God in life will acknowledge and worship Him.

If we stay close to God now, our worship will flow sincerely and spontaneously. It reminds me of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in which a sailor falls under a curse, all his shipmates die and as the man nears death himself, he looks at the creatures of the sea and marvels at God's creation. “And I blessed them unaware” he claims, which lifted the curse and freed him to pray. The breathtaking beauty of nature often stirs us to think of God. Nearness with God necessitates worship, its just what happens.

Sometimes I need to be reintroduced to God - reminded again of his sovereignty. Whether these moments come through poetry, nature, or the fellowship of church family, it is a blessing to recognize that I have been minimizing God by worshiping on my terms and in my time. I fall into the trap of trying to bring God to me instead of presenting myself to God. It is ironic that we need God in the Holy Spirit in order to worship God fully. Ironic, weird, and beautiful. That's how our God works. We cannot control, predict, or understand Him. Instead we walk with Him, learn from Him, and praise Him.

God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. ~Job 37:5

Be Not Conformed

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ~Romans 12:2
One of the most shocking revelations of Jesus - both to His hearers then and to those who read and hear His words today - is his teaching that sin is not simply the physical act of doing something against the will of God but that it actually begins within our heart. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ~Matthew 5:27-28  
Here Jesus raises the bar from the physical act of committing adultery to even entertaining lustful thoughts about a woman. A few verses earlier He taught that harboring hatred toward your brother or sister is equated with murder. Our world and culture bombards us with images of sexuality and of violence and teaches us that it is natural and normal to think about these things. Scripture however, tells us not be conformed to this world and its teachings but rather to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Why? So that we may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable, and perfect.

Each moment of each day, through every situation in which we find ourselves, we are presented with the opportunity to either choose to follow God or to choose to go our own way and submit to our own thoughts and passions. This choice - this battle - is made and fought in our hearts and in our minds. Moment by moment, we choose what to allow into our thoughts and what to focus our internal resources on. In the book of 2nd Corinthians Paul writes:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ~2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Choosing to allow only those things that are true and worthy into our thoughts is a mighty battle. Here we must wage war against, not only the world and its messages, but against our own flesh and against Satan himself. We must never forget, however, that we do not wage this war on our own pitiful strength but we have the Spirit of the living God that raised Christ from the dead within us that strengthens and guides us. It is through His power that we gain the strength to take captive every thought to Christ.

I like to picture it this way. Imagine that you have a light inside of you - a physical light bulb - that shines the light of God's love. Above that light bulb is a water spout controlled by two spigots - one representing things holy and one representing things of the world. Whenever you think of things that are holy and good then it is like turning on the holy spigot and pure and clean water runs and washes the light bulb keeping it clean and shining brightly. Whenever you entertain thoughts of the world then it is like turning on the other spigot and the water changes to a dark and thick sludge that cakes the light bulb, baking onto it, and darkening its light making you look just like everybody else. 

It only takes a little sludge to darken the bulb and it takes a lot of water to get the bulb clean. Jesus tells us to be the light of the world, to be like a town built on a hill for others to see.  In the same way, Jesus says, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Guard your thoughts and let your light shine brightly!

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things ~Philippians 4:8

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