When Does It End?

In the last couple of weeks…

  • Two family members have undergone surgery.
  • A couple of close friends have learned that they are facing medical tests which could lead to life-changing or life-threatening diagnoses.
  • A family member has been harassed to the point of requiring police involvement.
  • Another family member has been defrauded by someone close to them and is facing difficult decisions about how to handle it.
  • Another family member is dealing with physical pain that cannot be helped medically.
  • A couple of close friends are dealing with adult children who are making unhealthy and unsafe relationship choices.
  • A couple of friends are dealing with the possibility of imploding marriages.

And those are just the tip of the iceberg.  Those are just some of the issues in my immediate circles of family and friends.  There are a ton more.  And that doesn’t even touch on things like the deepening divisions in our nation, the threat of war with North Korea, and a hundred other disturbing news items that I could highlight.

Where does it all end?  When does it end?  It feels like one one thing right after another, like one thing gets dealt with and before it’s even completely dealt with, another thing is popping up.  It’s like life has become a giant, losing game of Whack-A-Mole.

How do you deal with all of that without becoming cynical, fearful, anxious, depressed – without just throwing up your hands and giving up?

Hope.  We have to have hope, despite all that is happening around us.

And what reason could there be for hope?

Jesus.  And…Jesus’ promise:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”  Matthew 19:28-29 (NIV)

Did you catch that?  At the renewal of all things.

Plant

The way things are now is NOT the way that they will always be.

The way your life is now is NOT the way that it will always be.

One day, all things will be renewed.  Re-made.  Re-created, as some Bible translations put it.

All things restored, put back as they were originally created and intended.

I know, it sounds too good to be true.

And there’s so much more there – so much deeper that we could dig into this.  But that’s beyond the scope of one short blog entry.

For today, it is enough to remember that there is hope.  That a day is coming – a day that Jesus called the “renewal of all things.”  On that day, He will fulfill what God promised in Revelation 21:3-5 (NIV):  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Still No “Lite and Fluffy”

I really really really really really wanted and planned on writing a “lite and fluffy” blog.  Sun is shining, flowers blooming, happy people, all is right with the worlds, unicorns and rainbows.  Really.

But life just doesn’t cooperate.

Life is hard right now.  Last week, in my sermon, I said that I felt like every day was like walking through chest-deep mud.  This week?  It feels like the mud’s 3 feet above my head and I’m using a snorkel just to breathe while I try to push through it.

It’s not just about me.  I’m doing all right, slogging along.  Further along than I was last week.  But my family is hurting.  I have friends that are hurting.  I learned things Saturday, yesterday, last night that tear at me.  There are people close to me, intimate friends, acquaintances, even people who aren’t as close but who are still very important to me who are just dealing with a lot of pain and loss in life right now.  And the more you know about the pain of others, the more you tend to carry.

I’m in this season in my life that is not fun but in which God is working.  In the midst of it all, I’m re-visiting and re-learning some important lessons.  I’ll just share a couple with you this morning as food for thought.

  • I can’t control anything and I can’t fix anything.  As Danny Silk says, on a good day, I can control myself.  But beyond that?  Nothing.  I can’t control how others respond, I can’t control what people do with sound, biblical advice, I can’t control the choices other make with their lives, I can’t control the circumstances or the suffering of other people, I can’t control the level of anyone’s pain, I can’t control the hard times that some people are facing, I can’t control debilitating illnesses that people are facing.  None of it.  I want to.  I want to take their pain away, remove their obstacles, fix things, heal illnesses.  But I can’t do any of that.  Only Jesus can.  All I can do is trust Him and pray for them.
  • “You will never rise above your level of self-awareness.  It is the lid on your life.”  Dr. Rob Reimer taught me this in one of the first Soul Care conferences I ever attended.  The older I get, the more I realize it is true.  There is stuff in my life with which I will never deal, address, or change until I am aware of it.  I am thankful for a loving family and close, intimate allies (as John Eldredge calls them) who are courageous enough to point out my blind spots.  I am thankful for the voice of the Father and for journaling as tools of self-discovery.  But this truth affects us in other ways.  You see, the people in my life will never rise above their level of self-awareness.  And when you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with someone and trying to help them but they either can’t or aren’t willing to see, you can’t help them.  They will never rise above their level of self-awareness, and they will never receive help or encouragement or strengthening because they won’t see their need for it.  (That was exactly what Jesus experienced with the Pharisees – they were blind to their own hypocrisy and sinfulness and couldn’t hear or receive what He tried to speak into them.)
  • This is a season.  It may not be the best season or the worst season.  It may be a season that I hate.  But it’s a season.  It won’t last forever.  And I can choose to let God refine me through, or I can fight Him.  I can recognize I can’t control anything and do everything I can to love and care for people in this season, or I can withdraw and hide.  But it’s only a season.
  • And finally, I will continue to rest on God’s promises, like Psalm 46:1 – 5 (NIV) God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 

Where Is God?

I first saw the question online last week – “where was God during Hurricane Harvey?”

I can’t take credit for the great answer I saw from someone (I don’t remember who wrote the blog, or I would give them credit) – God was present in His people, who were rescuing the stranded, bringing relief supplies to those in need, and coming in to the midst of the chaos following the hurricane to help however they could.

We are the Body of Christ in this world, and…

  • Wherever there is darkness, we go to bring the light;
  • Wherever there is pain, we go to bring healing;
  • Wherever there are captives, we go to set them free;
  • Wherever there is turmoil, we go to bring peace;
  • Wherever there is hunger and thirst, we go to bring food and drink;
  • Wherever there is spiritual hunger and thirst, we go to bring the Bread of Life and the Living Water; and
  • Wherever there is boredom and lack of purpose, we go to bring salt.

When the world asks “where was God when…” the answer must always be that God is present in His people, who do His work. God is present in His people, who are salt and light; God is present in His people, who love their neighbors and their enemies; God is present in His people, whose God-given vision can bring solutions to impossible situations; God is present in His people, whose self-sacrifice and service to others is like that of Jesus, who came not be served but to serve others.

You see, when a storm hits, it’s not an “act of God.” It’s not God’s wrath being poured out on the earth. A storm is a storm. It’s a result of weather patterns in a sinful, fallen world.

Where is God in the storm?

God is present in the refreshing rain, not in the torrential flooding.

God is present in the air we breathe, but not in the tornadic winds.

God is present in the deep blue sea, but not in the chaos of the storm surge.

God’s power is displayed in the might of a weather pattern, but God is not present in the destruction that is brought by the storm.

God is present, most of all, within us, His people.

Let us live our lives as God’s representatives in these difficult times, as Paul instructed us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a (NIV)

Flee, Be Silent, Pray – Book Review

Book Review – Flee, Be Silent, Pray

When I read these words in the Introduction to Flee, Be Silent, Pray, I knew I had to read the rest of the book: “Evangelical Christianity in America is an anxiety factory.  As a life-long evangelical, I’ve absorbed the notion that I can never do enough for Jesus. Words like discipleship and obedience carry connotations of trying harder, doing more, and always bumping up the commitment another notch. Evangelicals affirm grace and ‘faith alone’ in theory, but we also worry that we can never pray enough, serve enough, evangelize enough, read the Bible enough, or ‘grow’ enough to satisfy God. Too many sermons revolve around an obligation to do more things or to try harder.”

Author and freelance writer Ed Cyzewski, who grew up Catholic and is now an Evangelical, draws on the Catholic and early Church traditions of contemplative prayer to write this informative and challenging primer on prayer and spiritual formation. He uses Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart as a guide. He points out that while most of us understand the importance of prayer, studying Scripture, and meditating on Scripture, we often miss the vital fact that it is God’s love that is the foundation of all Christian spirituality. Making space for daily contemplative prayer, he writes, helps us learn to rest in God’s Presence.

This is a switch for many of us – we’ve been programmed to do, do, do…serve, serve, serve…but this book calls us back to abide, abide, abide.

At nine chapters long, Flee, Be Silent, Pray is not a long read, but it is one that you will want to take your time working through. Cyzewski leads us through these important topics:

• Chapter 1- Praying with Scripture – learning to abide in Christ, using Scripture to focus ourselves.

• Chapter 2 – Cheating at Prayer – avoiding repetition while learning to treasure recited prayers.

• Chapter 3 – Mindfulness for Anxious Evangelicals – how to use Ignatius’ Examen to help yourself be mindful of God’s Presence throughout your day

• Chapter 4 – Fleeing to the Freedom of Solitude – why solitude matters, and why it is so hard for us as evangelicals

• Chapter 5 – Be Silent – finding freedom from distraction and learning that silence isn’t an accident.

• Chapter 6 – Repeating Silence – learning how to do “centering prayer.”

• Chapter 7 – Expectations for Prayer – learning to pray without condemning yourself or becoming discouraged and quitting.

• Chapter 8 – Evangelicals Don’t Have Dark Nights of the Soul – yes, we do. This chapter talks about what they look like and how they help us grow.

• Chapter 9 – Do Evangelicals Actually Have Hope? – yes, we do. But our hope is in Jesus, not in correct doctrine.

In Chapter 9, Cyzewski writes these words, which stunned and challenged me: “There is no escape from the darkness, doubts, and uncertainty of life. We cannot live in perpetual victory, forever advancing toward spiritual dominance where we’ll emerge as the sole guardians of truth and biblical knowledge. That quest is a fool’s errand that generations have failed at. I have seen one evangelical friend after another run empty as they realized that their faith largely rested on affirming doctrinal statements without a structure of spiritual practices that could keep them grounded before God. One evangelical generation after another earnestly studies the scriptures in search of Jesus, trying to get past the fact that Jesus said studying the scriptures is not the same thing as pursuing him.”

Wow!

If you aren’t afraid to have your thinking about prayer and about your relationship with Jesus challenged and stretched, then I highly recommend this book. I’m still mulling over some of the things I read in this book a month ago, and I will be re-reading it because I know there’s more still for me to mine from it.

You can purchase the Kindle edition here. At $2.99, it’s well worth it!

The Plumb-Line

When I was a college student, my Mom introduced to me to Kay Arthur’s Precept Bible Studies.  Precept Ministries is founded on a simple truth – that the Word of God is the plumb-line for the Christian life.

I had to learn what a plumb-line is.  It’s a construction thing – a plumb-line is a cord, weighted with lead, that is used in building to check that vertical structures are straight and true.  A plumb-line hangs free, and gravity draws it to the earth, creating a straight line that can help ensure that walls are built straight.  A plumb-line is a standard.  In the Bible, a plumb-line is mentioned in a couple of different places as God’s divine standard by which He tests, judges, and rebuilds His people.  (That’s a simplified explanation, but this is a blog, not a theology textbook!)

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As I have grown in my walk with the Lord over the years, I have come to realize that the Bible is indeed the plumb-line for our lives.  It also contains a number of important plumb-lines.  They include facts like this:  God is good; Jesus is the complete revelation of the Father; the Holy Spirit seals us as God’s own when we believe on Jesus; there is absolute truth, and God is the source of all truth; Jesus Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and many other plumb-line truths that help us to build lives that pleasing to the Lord and well-grounded.

Over the past several weeks, as I have processed some of the things that I and my family have been dealing with, I have been reminded of one of the most important plumb-lines in my life: the belief that no matter what I experience, no matter what my eyes tell me, no matter what anyone else may say or believe or try to convince me of, God is good.

This truth has come to inform and to form every part of my life:  my relationships, especially with God; my approach to ministry; my preaching and teaching; my writing; my leadership; my view of God, of people, of this world, of what happens to me and around me and in me and to those I know and love.

God is good.

It’s not the only plumb-line in my life, but it has become one of the most important ones to me.  And it has become one of the primary filters through which I see life.

For me, that’s huge.  There were times in my life when I couldn’t see His goodness; times when I doubted His goodness.  Times I yelled at Him and wondered what the h*** He was doing to me and to my family.  (I’m just being real, folks.)

But He is good.  He is always good.

And I learned that, in part, through those dark times.

God is good.

What are some of your plumb-lines?  Which ones mean the most to you?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Curse God or Bless God?

Yesterday, I came across a Facebook post from one of my friends that said this:  Why are people so scared to curse God when something tragic happens, yet praise him when something wonderful happens?”  That’s a question that a lot of people have been asking, in similar or different words, for a very long time.  In fact, I think it’s a great question, because it’s so real and raw and honest.

angry-man

For me, the answer is that I’m NOT scared to curse God.  I know He’s big enough to handle that.  I know that on the cross, Jesus took on the curses of sin, sickness, and death for me.  So I’m not scared to curse God – it’s not that I would curse Him except I’m terrified of a lightning bolt from the sky or the ground opening up to swallow me if I did curse Him.  The issue for me is that I don’t WANT to curse Him.

You see, I know that all the problems, tragedies, and terrible stuff in my life is NOT from God.  So why would I curse Him, when He isn’t the source?  He is good, and every thing comes only from Him.  He is not the source of tragedies and problems and diseases and horrific events.  He is good; He is the very definition of love.  He cannot be the source of, or give, something that He does not have.

There are actually 3 very simple sources of all the problems, tragedies, and horrific things in this world:

  1. We live in a world that has been broken by sin.  Therefore, we live in an environment that is broken.  Because of this, there will always be tragedies and horrific events and diseases until Jesus returns and “re-sets” everything by making all things new.  There will be accidents with no one at fault and there will be natural disasters and we will age and our bodies will deteriorate and we will become diseased and broken, because that is the nature of the world we live in right now.
  2. We live in a world that is populated by people who have been broken by sin.  We are all born with a sinful nature.  We all make poor choices at times, we all sin at times.  And our sins and poor choices have consequences – sometimes for us, sometimes for others, sometimes both.  Murder, rape, genocide, wars, terrorist attacks – these are not because of God, but because people have chosen to indulge their own hatred, selfishness, and evil desires.
  3. We live in a world that is experiencing an ongoing, full-out, devastating war.  We miss that fact because it is a spiritual battle.  But there is an enemy whose sole purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy.  He is a powerful spiritual enemy that we cannot see, but that makes him no less real.  He is the voice that whispers “go ahead and do it” when the behavior is destructive.  He is the one who tells us “this is God’s fault” when, in fact, God gives only good things.  He is the one who stirs nations to battle and conquest, who lies about the very nature of our world and of God, and who knows that if you are a follower of Jesus, he cannot take you to hell and so he will do everything he can right now to make your life a living hell.  He is the one who wants to get your eyes off of Jesus and onto yourself and your problems.

So…I’m not scared to curse God.  But there is no need to curse Him.  He is not the source of my problems.  He is love, and He loves me no matter what, and He loves you no matter what. 

Can I just be raw for a moment?  My family and I are in a season where we feel like the hits keep coming.  My wife hasn’t worked in a year and a half because she has had to have 2 surgeries on her neck, and the recovery process has been long and tedious and interrupted by setbacks.  My daughter has experienced having to deal with loss and moving home and starting over.  I have something very wrong with my body.  Some days, I don’t even want to get up, or feel like I can do what I have on my schedule.  I expected answers last week, and all I got were more questions.  There’s a problem in my body somewhere, but I don’t know where it is or what it is, and that’s pretty scary.  I’m stuck waiting for test results, for next steps, for future tests.  In the midst of this, my uncle, who is just a few years older than me, is on life support in Pittsburgh with a very poor prognosis.  He may never regain consciousness.  Uncertainty and waiting is our life right now.

But I’m not complaining, and I’m not angry with God.  I know people who are going through far more than me, and have been dealing with things for far longer than me.  I look at what I’m dealing with, and then I look at what I still have – God loves me, God is with me, and God is for me.  My family loves me, and we’re in this together.  I have amazing friends who love me and check on me and pray for me.  My church family is patient with me, prays for me, and loves my family and I.  So I look at all that, and I don’t have any desire to curse God.  He’s not my problem, and He’s not the source of my problems.  I will continue to bless Him, and I will continue to press in to Him.  Because I need Him more than ever.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

The Potter and the Clay

I grew up in churches that sang hymns, with an occasional “chorus” sprinkled in.  One of the old hymns that we often sang, usually as an “invitation hymn” at the end of the service, was “Have Thine Own Way”:

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after Thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

It comes from a passage in Isaiah 64 – “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

The hymn and the verse clearly carry the message that God is sovereign and that we cannot tell Him what to do or even what He should do for us.  Like the clay, we can do nothing but allow Him to shape us.

hands of potter do a clay pot

Throughout my life, that verse and the hymn have both comforted me and discomforted me.  The comfort was in the fact that God had a plan and a unique destiny for me, and that He was shaping and forming me for His purposes.  The discomfort?  While I knew that God loved me, it just sounded…cold.  Like God would have His will and His way with me, no matter what I wanted.  Like what I wanted didn’t really matter.  I knew that wasn’t true, but that was the message I received.

But today, I actually read the verse.  It turns out that there is more to the verse than the potter and clay scenario.  Here’s what the verse actually says:  “Yet you, LORD, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Wow!  What a difference a few words make.  “Yet you, Lord, are our Father.”  What a compelling image that is.  How different a picture it presents – as opposed to a (perhaps) cold and calculating potter, one whose only aim is to shape the clay to his will; instead, a loving Father, gently and compassionately molding each one of us into the person He created us to be.  As opposed to a craftsman trying to get the best out of the material which he has at hand, instead, a loving Father who shapes us into the image of His Son, but who loves us completely despite any imperfections that we have.

It’s all about how we view God.  In times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, if we see Him as distant and aloof, it’s easy to take offense at Him.  It’s easy to let offense grow into anger, which can become bitterness and can motivate us to cut ourselves off from the One who is our Strength and our Hope.

But if we view God as our Abba – our Father – our Daddy – then in times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, we will choose to trust Him for what we cannot understand.  We will choose to lean into Him rather than run away from Him.

If we view the Potter as the Father Potter, then we understand that He doesn’t cause the evil that enters our lives, but instead, He takes what was intended for evil and works it out for our good.

Each of us are facing different challenges today – different problems; different struggles; different disappointments; different pain.  That’s part of life, and we cannot change it. 

One thing we can change, however, is how we view God as we go through difficulties.  And how we view Him will determine whether we trust Him.

So…how do you see God today?  Is He the Potter?  Or is He the Father and Potter?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.