Prologue Part 10 – The Shadowlands

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years.

All around Adam and Eve, Creation continued to change. It was still good and still beautiful; still an expression of the Three-in-One’s creativity.

But it was broken.

The effects of Adam and Eve’s disobedience was spreading across the entire earth. Death had entered the world, and now it was a plague that was infecting everyone and everything. Plants; animals; fish; birds. Adam and Eve had seen animals that once loved one another fighting and killing and even eating one another. They themselves had found that they often disagreed and argued. Conflict seemed to be the state of the world now.

So much had changed. Not only did all the animals now fight and prey upon one another, they were also no longer friends to Adam and Eve. Some were threatening to Adam and Eve – they found that some of the animals could no longer be trusted, and some even attempted to prey upon them. The very animals that they had known intimately now feared, hated, or even desired to kill them.

Living in the wild was so different, too. They no longer enjoyed the protection and the blessings that Eden had provided for them. And where they had never had to work for their food – it simply grew, and fell into their hands when it was ripe – now Adam had to tend the land and work the ground, battling weeds and weather and even animals for the food that they needed to survive. Adam and Eve both missed Eden – it was a never-ending ache that nagged at both of them, a sense of loss that colored everything that they saw and did.

And the world looked different. Everything was different. The sun still shone, but even on the most glorious day, it wasn’t as bright or as colorful as it had been before…before the serpent and the Tree. The clouds seemed darker. The sky was blue, but somehow not as blue. It seemed as though some colors no longer existed. There was a vague memory of them…but Adam and Eve couldn’t quite bring them to mind or imagine what they had looked like.

The plants and trees…they died too. At times they would change – the plants would change colors or wither; the trees would shed their leaves and their bareness against the sky seemed to cry out for what once had been.

What Elyon had prophesied had come to pass. Creation had been corrupted, and as Adam and Eve watched, helpless to change it, the corruption grew.

Creation had been transformed. The Earth had become the Shadowlands. It now lay under the sway of the wicked serpent.

But Adam and Eve remembered. Elyon had promised that one day…one day, Logos would crush the serpent’s head. One day, they thought…perhaps all things would be restored.

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)

Before the Shadowlands – Part 2

Prologue Part 2 – The Image-Bearers

Together, Elyon, Logos, and Ruach shouted, voices thundering joyously, “Let Us make mankind!  And let us make them in Our image!”

Elyon spoke.  “Life!  Flesh!  Bone!  Tissue!  Corporeality!  Organs, vessels, and blood!”

As He spoke, Logos knelt in the clay of the Earth they had created.  As He touched the clay, it began to spin and grow.  He shaped the clay, the First Potter, forming physically what Elyon proclaimed.  In moments, what had begun as a lump of rich red clay stood, tall and majestic, mirroring Logos’ form.  All Creation held its breath, marveling at the intricate details of this new being.

Then Elyon spoke again.  “Life!  Breath!  BREATHE!”  As He spoke, Ruach swirled upon the form standing there.  Ruach-wind blew into his nostrils and his mouth.  The creation gasped, drew its own breath – and then opened its eyes.

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“IT IS GOOD!” the Three-in-One agreed, His joy obvious to all.

Elyon, Logos, and Ruach met in a flash of light and energy, appearing suddenly as one Being, yet each of their faces somehow distinct in one visage.  Together, they spoke to their creation.  “You are Adam, first of the Image-Bearers.  Welcome!”  Gesturing broadly at all that Adam could see, the Three-in-One said, “All of this is yours!  Enter into the joy of all that has been created for you to enjoy!  Subdue this Earth and have dominion over it!  Come, let us show you all that is yours!”

It was a good day, the sixth day of Creation.

And on the seventh day, the Three-in-One and all of their Creation rested.

Life on Earth was filled with wonder.  Every day, Adam would walk the land, conversing with the Three-in-One.  Sometimes, the Three-in-One would appear to Adam in one form, as He had on the day Adam had been created.  Other times, Elyon or Logos would walk with Adam, talking with him as Ruach would gently waft along with them.  After a while, Adam would run, dive into the water and swim, enjoying the beauty all around him.

Often, as they would walk together, animals and birds would approach.  The Three-in-One would stop and wait, allowing Adam to take the lead, for this world had been created for him and his kind.  He began to take the first steps in walking in dominion over this creation.  He would speak to the animals, listen, converse.  And he would name them, in so doing blessing them as the Three-in-One blessed him.  In this way he began to work out what it meant to be an Image-Bearer, to walk in loving dominion.

Every seventh day, all would rest.

Time passed. 

One evening, after a long walk with Adam, who had bedded down for the night, the Three-in-One began to talk about the next step.  Adam was ready, it was decided.  It was not good for him to continue to be alone, the only one in all of creation of his kind.  It was time to create his ezer-kenegdo – his mate.  His life-saver.

It was time for the Image-Bearers to begin to multiply and to have dominion over the entire Earth.

The next morning, Logos woke Adam.  Together, they walked and talked.  Logos explained that it was not good for Adam to be alone.  Adam didn’t understand – he had Elyon, Logos, and Ruach.  He had the animals, the birds, the fish.  Occasionally, an Immortal like Michael or Gabriel would come visit on their way to do the business of the Eternal Kingdom.  Adam was content.

“You must trust Me,” Logos told him.  “There is a need in your soul that you do not even realize.  You are created in Our image – you have much love to share.  Your capacity for love will grow as Our creation expands.”

Adam believed Logos, believed the Three-in-One.  As they gathered to him, he felt a deep tiredness wash over him.  He sat down, and then laid down in the clay – the same clay from which he had been formed.

And the Three-in-One danced and created again.

Elyon spoke words of life once again.  As He spoke, Logos drew a rib from Adam’s side and began fashioning another Image-Bearer – similar, and yet different from Adam.  And Ruach once again breathed life into this Image-Bearer – this new creation.

Eve.

Woman.

Stepping back, the Three-in-One watched, waiting for Adam to revive, and for Eve to wake up for the first time. 

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.

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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.

God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Whenever we feel like God has abandoned us, it is good to remember that while on the cross, Jesus Himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, NIV)

Jesus was actually quoting from the writings of David, and we’re going to delve into that a little more deeply this week.  But today, let’s just sit with Jesus’ cry in its context in Mark:

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”  Someone ran,  filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  (Mark 15:33-38, NIV)

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So what’s obvious with a simple, cursory reading of this passage is that Jesus, the Son of God, is crying out from the cross to his Father in heaven, asking why His Father has abandoned him.

Go back and re-read that last sentence.  Go ahead, do it now.  I’ll wait here for you.

Have you ever felt forgotten by God?  Abandoned by Him?  Wondered where He was?

You’re not the only one.

I know this is difficult to understand, but…God knows exactly how you feel.

On that first Good Friday, the Son turned His head towards the heavens and cried out to His Father, asking why His Father had forsaken Him.

That’s why the author of Hebrews could write, This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”  (Hebrews 4:15, NLT)

Jesus has faced the same issues you have faced and are facing.

He knows what it is to be tempted.  He knows what it is to be falsely accused.  He knows what it is to suffer.  He knows what it is to experience pain.  He knows what it is to experience unfulfilled longing.  He knows what it is to ask for deliverance and yet not be set free.  (Remember Him asking, “My father, if it is possible, let this cup be taken from me…”)  He knows what it is face the consequences of someone else’s choices, to be abused, to be beaten, to be mocked and taunted, to be treated unjustly, to be tempted, to be tested, to be wounded.

He knows what it is to cry out to God and to feel God’s silence in return.

And through all of that, He did not sin.  He did not take offense at His Father.  He did not rebel.

He guarded His heart, as we talked about a few weeks ago.

So as this week begins, if you are in a place of pain, discouragement, loneliness, even feeling abandoned by God or unheard by God…if you are wondering where God, why He hasn’t delivered you, or how much more you can take – remember:  Jesus understands.

Am I saying Jesus feels sorry for you?  Or that if you are struggling, you should just suck it up and deal with it because you’re not the only one?  Or that, hey, just keep telling yourself that it’s ok because Jesus understands?

NO!

I am saying this – Jesus understand exactly how you feel.  He went through the same, and much worse, on the cross for you because He loves you.  And He cares deeply for you.  He loves you.  He is with you in your pain, and He will never leave you.

If you feel alone, abandoned, forgotten by God – it’s a lie.

He will NEVER leave you.  He is WITH you.  Right now.  In the midst of everything.

And not only is He with you, He understands what you are going through, He has felt what you feel, and He WILL redeem this.  He will use what was intended to harm you to bring you good.

The separation that you are feeling?  The loneliness?  The pain?  The distance?

He can – and will – use it to bring you closer to Him than you’ve ever been before.

Just keep trusting Him.  Keep pressing in to Him.

He hasn’t left you.  He’s right with you.

And He understands.


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.

Pushing Through, or Pushing Away

As I work through what I want to write about these issues of pain and feelings of abandonment and distance from God and feeling forgotten by God, I am also trying to work through some of my own “stuff” on this.  And the more time I spend thinking about it, reading about it, and praying about it, the more I am seeing that this is more about what is happening in me than what is happening to me.

Last night, we began a Soul Care class with part of our church leadership.  In one of the sessions, Dr. Martin Sanders talked about the fact that many people miss out on intimacy with God because once they begin the journey, they encounter obstacles.  Instead of pressing in to God and pressing through the obstacles, instead, they back away, or even push God away.

That thought resonated with me.  When we encounter obstacles, or in the areas that we are considering, pain and suffering and hard questions, we face a choice.  We can push on towards God and push through the pain, suffering, and questions towards deeper intimacy with God.  Or, we can become frustrated and angry with God, end up bitter, and push Him away.

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Pushing on towards God and pushing through means we press in to Him no matter what.  It means that we keep pursuing Him, keep doing what is right, keep doing what we know, even when it seems there’s no answer.  It means we keep worshiping, keep giving thanks, keep waiting expectantly, keep trusting, keep reading His Word, keep praying, keep listening, keep making space for silence and solitude, keep journaling, keep investing in community, keep being vulnerable, keep serving others, and keep trusting God, even when it looks like He isn’t responding to our trust.

I have a friend in our church body who is doing that.  She has suffered with pain and unanswered questions and multiple diagnoses and surgeries and she has kept on trusting, kept on pursuing God, kept on walking in integrity in her faith while we have tried to help and support her on this journey.  Recently, God showed her something new, and she began taking communion every day with her husband.  She is running towards God in her pain, determined to grow closer to Him rather than further from Him.

But I’ve also known people who have pushed God away in their pain.  They’ve searched for answers and prayed and received prayer, but then given up.  They’ve allowed offense to come between them and God, and rather than pressing in to Him, have turned away from Him.  When He has gently tried to help them, they have rejected that help because it wasn’t the answer they wanted, and they have pushed Him away.  Sadly, in doing so, they’ve run straight into anger and bitterness.

I went through a season like that when we lived in Roswell, Georgia.  I became very angry at God because, from my perspective, He had made promises He hadn’t kept, had let us down, and had abandoned us.  Instead of pressing in, I ran from Him, and when He spoke to me, I pushed Him away.  Oh, I didn’t rebel outwardly, didn’t even visibly walk away from Him.  But in my heart?  I ran away, for awhile.  Until He gently, patiently pulled me back.  That’s a story for another time.

I am determined that in this season of my life, that whatever this looks like, I am going to keep pushing towards Him and keep pushing through the uncertainty and the anxiety.  I am better equipped this time – I have a family that loves me and is walking this journey with me; I have couple of close friends who are encouraging me and also asking me probing questions about what this journey is surfacing in my spirit; and I have a congregation and an amazing church leadership team that loves me and my family and are praying for us and supporting us.  I don’t know what this will look like – it could be nothing much, it could be a simple fix, it could be a much longer struggle, it could even mean some kind of surgery or more than that.  But whatever it is, I am going to keep pushing towards Him and keep pushing through whatever comes.

For today?  I don’t know where you are, or what pain you might be dealing with.  But I do know this – if you are in pain, you are facing a choice.  You can push on towards our Father, or you can take offense and push Him away.  Most often, neither provides an immediate solution, or immediate deliverance from your problem.  However, pushing towards Him will position you to grow closer in intimacy with Him, to experience all the good that He can bring from difficult situations and from suffering, and to find peace and rest in the middle of whatever storm you are enduring.  Pushing Him away results in fear, frustration, bitterness, and lost opportunities to see and experience the good He can bring from your pain.

So…in which direction are you pushing?


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.  Paperback copies will soon be available for purchase.

Why Christmas Matters

Over the millennia, God has appeared in many forms in His ongoing pursuit of intimate relationship with the ones that He created in His own image – people.

To Abraham, He appeared as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.

To Joseph, He appeared as an interpreter of dreams.

To Moses, He appeared in a burning bush, and revealed Himself as “I am.”

To Israel, He appeared as the One whom no one could approach except Moses, and later, the High Priest.

To Elijah, He appeared as a the One who sent down fire from heaven, and then later, as a gentle whisper.

To Isaiah, He was the One sitting high and lifted up, exalted on a throne, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  The sight of Him caused Isaiah to repent in terror at his own unworthiness.

To Ezekiel, He appeared as Glory that caused Ezekiel to fall face down in the dust.

To Daniel, He appeared as the Ancient of Days, seated on a fiery throne.

To Mary and Joseph – ah, to Mary and Joseph.  To them, He appeared as a newborn child, crying, still wet with amniotic fluid, umbilical cord needing to be severed, helpless and tiny.

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The One who spoke all things into existence appeared as a baby.  The One Who created Mary and Joseph in His image, Who holds all of creation together, the One Who simply is, existing outside of time, Ancient and yet making all things new, the One who will one day return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords – that One depended upon Mary for sustenance, and upon Joseph for protection.

And in that moment, the One who had appeared in so many forms and in so many glorious personal revelations set aside His rights and privileges and revealed Himself as Immanuel – the One who humbled Himself so that we could have the possibility of relationship with Him.

Wonderful Counselor?  Absolutely.

Mighty God?  The only One.

Everlasting Father?  Yes.

Prince of Peace?  Yes, the only One who will bring lasting peace.

But most wonderful, most amazing, most difficult to understand and accept – He is Immanuel.  God is with us.

His good friend John, who knew Him when He was an adult, wrote this about Him:  “The Word became human and lived here on earth among us.”  (John 1:14, NLT).  Literally, it means that He pitched his tent among us – He moved into our neighborhood and became one of us, so that we could know Him and one day, move into His neighborhood.

Never forget this deepest, truest meaning of Christmas – that the Eternal, Almighty, Omnipotent God loved you and wanted a relationship with you so desperately that He humbled Himself and exchanged the only Throne that matters for a feeding trough in Bethlehem, and later, a cross outside of Jerusalem.

And what gift could you or I possibly give Him this Christmas that would be enough to properly thank Him?

Would it be to give up all we have?  To attend every service we can?  To feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit those in prison?  To heal the sick and cleanse lepers and even cast out demons?

All those things can be good.  They each have a place.

But all He really wants is you.  Your heart, your love, your faith in Him.

“To all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn!”  (John 1:12-13, NLT)

He wants you to accept His offer of relationship.  It’s why He came.  It’s the whole reason for Bethlehem, for Golgotha, and for the empty tomb.

How do you accept His offer?

Just tell Him.

It’s as simple as that.  Thank Him, tell Him you’re sorry for trying to do this all on your own, and that you believe that He is Who He says He is – the Savior.

Then just trust Him.  He’ll do the rest.

Merry Christmas!


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, or want to try a new devotional for the New Year, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

The Problem With – and Power of – Worship

Few things seem to stir religious people up to anger and to conflict as much as does worship.

When I think back over my many years in ministry, I can see that by far the one thing that most causes conflict is worship.

Many churches in the past 20 years have gone through the “worship wars” – the battle between staying traditional (choosing a worship style that is more liturgical, formal, hymn-based, and employs pianos, organs, and choirs), and shifting to contemporary (drums, guitars, informal, more based on current worship songs.)

(Personally, although I grew up in the church singing hymns, I’ve always wanted more freedom in worship.  I figured nobody I knew drove around listening to organ music on their car radios, so why do that kind of music in church.  I love drums and screaming guitars and a driving bass line.  And you see – there, I did it.  That comment just offended some of you!)

Over the years, I’ve heard and observed people not just comment, not just complain, but actually become very angry, even sometimes nasty over the issue of worship.  Worship gets characterized as:

  • Too long, or too short;
  • Too loud, or too quiet;
  • Too hard to sing with, or too repetitive;
  • Too old, or too new;
  • Too fast, or too slow;

And the list goes on and on.

Why is that?  I think there are a number of reasons, but I think one reason that we often don’t recognize but that is extremely important is this – there is great power in worship.  And since there is great power in worship, our enemy often attacks the worship ministry, often tries to cause dissension around the worship ministry.

Now, I could write a book on the power of worship.  But I don’t need to – many great books have been written about just that.  But let me point out a few important things about worship:

  • Worship is one way in which we can help answer the prayer “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  What do I mean by that?  Simple.  The atmosphere in heaven is constant worship.  That’s pretty clear in Revelation 4 & 5.  So when we worship here on earth, we draw heaven’s presence.  We imitate what is taking place in heaven.  We participate in what is taking place in heaven.  In heaven, there is joy, peace, health, freedom, and God’s Manifest Presence, among other wonderful things.  So when we worship, we create a similar atmosphere to all of that.  It’s powerful!
  • Worship drives the enemy away.  For example, in 1 Samuel 15, there’s this amazing story of how King Saul was sometimes tormented by evil spirits.  But when David would come and worship in his presence, the evil spirits departed and King Saul found relief!  2 Chronicles 20 shares another story of how King Jehoshaphat defeated an enemy army by sending out the worshipers.  Worship frustrates the enemy and brings freedom for God’s people!
  • Worship gets our eyes off of our circumstances and onto God, thereby changing our attitude and building our faith.  In Acts 16, a story we’re going to look at more closely on Friday and then on Sunday, Paul and Silas were imprisoned, having been beaten and locked into stocks.  But they began to worship despite their circumstances – and God delivered them.  They got their eyes and their focus off of their suffering and onto God, and the very atmosphere were they were shifted because of it.  That’s powerful!

The focus on worship this week comes because of the incredible expressions of worship that were poured out for Jesus on Palm Sunday.  As we celebrate Palm Sunday every year, it’s a reminder of how expressive, how free, how physical, how emotional, how celebratory, how inviting, how sacrificial, and how holistic worship can be.  But as we celebrate this year, in the midst of our series on living Naturally Supernatural, we’re going to focus in on how powerful worship can be.  That’s where we are heading on Sunday morning.

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In the meantime, I encourage you to experience the power of worship for yourself over the next few days.  I doubt that there is anyone reading this who doesn’t have some kind of problems in your life.  So I want to suggest that you try this each day from now until Sunday:

Set aside 15 minutes.  Take 2 minutes at the beginning to pray about whatever problem is most consuming to you right now – a relationship issue, a concern for a family member, a problem at work, an illness, an emotional problem, an addiction issue – whatever it may be.  Then once you have prayed about it for 2 quick minutes, spend the next 10 minutes simply worshiping God.  Don’t ask Him for anything; just focus on Who He is and worship Him.  Do whatever you need to do to help you worship – read a couple of Psalms slowly, praying them out loud to Him; listen to some worship music (hymns, if you like!); play or sing some worship music; read Revelation 4 & 5 and imagine yourself in that scene, worshiping with myriads of others; whatever helps you to worship God, declaring His goodness and glory for 10 minutes.  Finally, for the last 3 minutes, give thanks to Him that He is greater than your problems and that He hears your prayers.

If you do that for the next several days, you will be amazed at how your view of God begins to shift and at how your problems, while still important, will seem much smaller compared to the greatness of God.

Will you give it a try?  Will you start today?

Paul’s “Thorn In The Flesh”

One of the basic, foundational truths that I strongly believe and preach and do my best to live out is the belief that God is good and that He always gives good gifts.

It’s amazing to me how many people struggle with that basic idea, and how many people will argue that “God is good, but He sometimes causes very bad things to happen.”  In other words, sometimes God causes us to be sick because “it’s for our own good.”

(This always reminds me of one of Bill Johnson’s powerful illustrations – none of us would give cancer to our children to “teach them a lesson.”  Yet we attribute that kind of cruelty to God all the time, not understanding that He does not cause sickness, but that He can redeem it.  There is a huge difference.)

Since this is a blog and not a textbook or scholarly article, let me deal with just one example that people use to try to prove that God sometimes causes bad things to happen to His people – Paul’s infamous “thorn in the flesh.”

Here’s the passage:

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.   That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:6-10 (NIV)

Let me point out a few important things from this passage:

  • Paul was an unusual man who had undergone an amazing transformation – from one who hated Jesus and persecuted Christians to one who personally saw the resurrected Jesus, experienced a vision in which he visited the third heaven, and was called as an apostle to the Gentiles.  I mention that only because the greater our responsibility and the higher our leadership, the more we tend to experience and the greater our burdens can become.
  • Paul says that he was given a thorn in his flesh “to keep me from being conceited.”  So the assumption could be that this came from God to keep Paul humble.  However, in the same sentence, he points out that this “thorn in the flesh” was a “messenger of Satan” – in other words, God was not the source.  It was a messenger of Satan.  It came from Satan, the father of lies, the one who comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy.  The same one, by the way, who wants to steal, kill, and destroy in your life and in my life.  God does not want to steal, kill, or destroy.  In fact, the opposite is true – God sent Jesus so that we could experience abundant life.
  • Paul doesn’t tell us what his “thorn in the flesh” was.  Many assume it was a sickness, possibly poor eyesight or some other physical affliction.  But Paul just doesn’t say.  It could have been a particular person, a relationship, or some other stressor in Paul’s life other than a physical malady.  We just don’t know.  But we do know that it tormented Paul, and that he prayed for deliverance from whatever or whoever it was.
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Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh may not have been an illness…

  • Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to remove this issue.  God’s response was to remind Paul that God’s grace was sufficient to get him through.  This is an incredible promise that we often misunderstand.  Here’s what I mean by this – even though God told Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul, God DID NOT TELL PAUL THAT HE WOULD DELIVER HIM, AND GOD DID NOT TELL PAUL TO QUIT ASKING HIM TO DELIVER PAUL.  Go back and read that last sentence again, especially the capitalized part.  You see, we read this passage and assume God says “no” to Paul – but He doesn’t.  He basically says, “Not yet, but I am with you in this and I will get you through it.”  GOD DOESN’T TELL PAUL “NO.”
  • Finally, the obvious – God promises grace in trials, and His strength in our weaknesses.  I don’t know about you, but for me, there is incredible comfort in that.  There is peace in knowing that whatever I may go through, God is with me, God will give me His strength, and God’s grace will carry me through whatever I am facing.

So the bottom line – what does this say to you and I today, 2000 year later?

God is a good Father.  He loves you.  He gives good gifts.  Sometimes, because we live in a broken world that will one day be restored, we experience pain and suffering.  Sometimes that pain and suffering is more than we can bear.  Sometimes we cry out and cry out and cry out for God to rescue us, and it doesn’t happen immediately.

But when we cry out, He always hears our cries.  He knows what we are going through; He is with us as we go through it; and His Presence and His grace is more than what we need.  His grace and His strength will shine through our weaknesses.

And it will be okay.

God’s got this, and God’s got you.

Life Happens

Last week, I knew that I was going to be out of town overnight on Thursday, and I wasn’t sure what time I would be home (and have wifi) on Friday.  So I sent out an email to my distribution list to let everyone know that my blog would be late on Friday.

And Friday came and went, and I didn’t get my blog written.  I thought late that afternoon, “no problem.  I’ll just do it tomorrow morning.”

And Saturday came and went, and I didn’t get my blog written.

Life happened.

Life-is-What-happens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mean, I’ve got some pretty good excuses – reasons – whatever you want to call them.  But the bottom line is that what I wanted to have happen and what I planned to have happen didn’t happen.

Life happens to all of us.  It frequently interrupts our plans for life.

It happens when it comes to healing, too.

All the theology is there:

  • God identifies Himself as “The Lord Who Heals” (Exodus 15:26) – it’s part of His character.
  • Jesus paid the price for our healing at the cross – at the same time that He paid the price for our sins.  The issue of whether or not it is God’s will to heal was settled once and for all at the cross (Isaiah 53:1-10; Matthew 8:16-17; and 1 Peter 2:24).
  • Jesus Himself testified, when asked if He was willing to heal, said “I am willing” – (Matthew 8:3, and repeated in Mark and Luke as well).
  • Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
  • Jesus never turned away a single person who came to Him for healing.  He did not heal every sick person in Israel, but He never said “no” to a single person who asked.

But the problem is, that even though the theology is there, not everyone we pray for gets healed.

There’s the tension – it is absolutely God’s will to heal; God is absolutely able to heal; but not everyone is healed.

And I don’t know why.

Neither do you.

Oh, we can come up with lots of reasons – the Kingdom is now and not yet, and has not fully come yet; the world still lies under the sway of the wicked one, and so God’s will isn’t always done (that’s why Jesus taught us to pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done); it wasn’t the right time; etc., etc., etc.

The truth is that we don’t know all the answers or all the reasons.  And we won’t until we get to heaven.

Life happens.  And we don’t always understand why.

This week, we’re going to walk through that tension.  We’re going to look at the truths that:

  • God is good;
  • God loves each one of us;
  • But there is suffering in this world; and
  • God can redeem our suffering.

So if you’re up for it, we’re going to dive into it.

Let’s begin with a prayer:

Lord, reveal Your goodness to me; and reveal Your truth to me.  Help me to trust Your heart for what I am unable to understand.  May Your kingdom come; and may Your will be done.  Amen.

Here is our reading list for this week:

  • Monday – Isaiah 53:1-10 (a repeat from last week; a reminder of the price Jesus paid for our healing.)
  • Tuesday – Philippians 2:25-30
  • Wednesday – 2 Corinthians 11:16-33
  • Thursday – 2 Corinthians 12:6-10
  • Friday – Revelation 21:1-5, Revelation 22:1-5