No Room For Compromise

I had the opportunity to hang out yesterday with a couple of young adults whom I have great affection for and was able to hear from them what some of the general attitudes are regarding right and wrong and was is considered acceptable among their age-group. I wasn’t the least bit shocked, but still deeply troubled.

NoCompromiseI am convinced all over again of the need for disciples of Jesus to be rock solid on our commitment to Truth. I believe that if we compromise at all, we have compromised completely and the stakes are so high. I’m not talking about things that are left to the individual conscience (Romans 14, which, of course calls for limiting ourselves in certain circumstances even if our conscience doesn’t convict us!), but rather those things that are very clearly universally wrong for all people at all times.  Keep reading, I’m not calling for protests, militant take-overs, boycotts, or “take our Country back” rallies.

I’m neither a legalist nor a pharisee. I do not believe that being morally upright will get anyone to heaven. I believe that it is the work of the Spirit of God working in an individual to reveal the Son of God who provides salvation through grace alone apart from works of the Law. I believe that this justifying work brings a change in us that causes us to want to live a righteous life (not have to), because it is Christ’s righteous life in us.  Further, I do not believe that everything that has been called sin by the pharisees among us is necessarily sin. What I do believe, though, is that Scripture is very clear on what IS sin…on those things I am unwilling to compromise.

On that last point I should be clear: being unwilling to compromise on what is and is not sin is not to say that I am perfectly delivered from all that falls within that category. What I must never do is to change the category of that thing that I struggle with from sin to mere “preference” simply because I like it. I must still call it a sin.  Changing my mind on it doesn’t change God’s.  If I know that Scripture is clear and I take an “oh, well” attitude, I’M STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR IT because God is the judge, not me.  What is DEMANDED of me for forgiveness is to recognize it for what it is and repent of it (which involves turning away from it).

What I must also do is to unconditionally and authentically love those who are completely engulfed in sin without judgment or pride.  I must also never make the mistake of believing that loving them enough not to judge is the same thing as being unwilling to confront them regarding that sin.  Sin kills.  If sin kills and I am unwilling to address that with someone I love, the last thing I am really doing is loving them.  Confrontation peppered with grace is incredibly loving and strong…and difficult.  But important.

We are all victims of the same cancer called sin.  None of us can live perfect lives this side of heaven, but what we can do is live lives that are pleasing to God through acknowledging and repenting of those things that have offended His holiness and caused separation between us. Then forgiveness, healing and restoration comes.

With that at stake, there is no room for compromise.

When Despair Creeps In

weaknessIf I am being completely honest and transparent with you, I’m struggling.  I’m wrestling with the mental affects of chronic pain.  Now, chronic pain can be labeled in different ways and is usually reserved for pain that has no real end in sight.  Hopefully, that is not the definition for me.

I have been dealing with some form of pain in my left shoulder for over a year.  It’s a very life-altering thing that has changed how I do life in significant ways.  I am hopeful that there is an end in sight as I am recovering from surgery performed one month ago tomorrow.  In light of that, I have hope for normalcy.

That being said, I’m still dealing with some significant pain.  I write that not for pity, but with a mind for those who are dealing with pain much more severe than mine and with little hope for relief in the near future.  I know something of the mental anguish that is involved with extensive physical pain.  I understand a little of the twinges of depression that try and creep in.  I feel the despair that lurks around the edge that maybe this will never go away. It’s very real.  It’s very challenging.

Any time we have challenges like this in our lives, it causes one or two things to happen.  One, we get angry.  We give into despair and begin a downward spiral of sadness, anger, rage and self-destruction.  In short, we run away from God.  We don’t understand why He would allow this in our lives.  We can’t get our minds around a loving God who would allow such suffering with no relief in a way no earthly father would, if he could stop it.  Yet, the suffering continues.

A second possible response sees things differently.  Though he hurts the same, he runs in a different direction.  He runs to the God of all comfort in the midst of pain.  He holds onto God’s promise that was made to Paul during his suffering: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul’s reply, appropriately, is, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)

This second response is the one I am holding onto.  I understand that bad things that happen in my life are not for my punishment (that was taken care of by Christ on the cross).  Instead, as John Piper put it, they are for my purification.  I am made strong through suffering.  I am made more Christlike in tough times, because that is where I learn to rely on His strength rather than my own.  I feel weak.  I know God is strong.  That’s the glory of the Gospel…the glory of the cross.

I work my shoulder everyday.  I go to physical therapy faithfully.  I pray for healing regularly.  I believe it will come.  I am content, though, knowing that in my weakness, He WILL BE strong!

Hold on!

Have You Met My Friend? His Name is Todd.

todd_field2 Did you get to meet my friend? Some of you did. Others never had the pleasure.  His name is Todd.

Todd is a dear friend of mine with some of the most amazing talent I’ve ever personally experienced.  A singer-songwriter with a gift for identifying the most important things in life and putting them to music, Todd can have you laughing one second and crying the next.

On May 14th of last year, Todd MacDonald moved to his permanent residence to be at home with Jesus.  He had fought a long, hard battle with cancer and finally got to go home.  I’ve never experienced any more grace in one person under trying difficulties than I did in Todd.  He demonstrated for me what happens when God’s kids are called to suffer.

When Todd first called me to tell me about his cancer, I marveled at how he was dealing with it with such strength and courage. When I mentioned to him how I was struggling with the news though he seemed so strong, his words were, “David, it’s all the grace of God and right now and I’m the one who needs it”.  I began to truly understand the nature of God’s provision.

Todd was in the middle of a recording project when he first got sick.  Several of us encouraged him to finish that since the future was so uncertain and his diagnosis seemed so bleak.  He did and it’s an incredible work called Pilgrims Here.

toddmacdonald3What many of us didn’t know was that he had written an additional twelve songs that he completed shortly before his death.  That album was only recently finished and released called World Full of Wonder.

Soon after Todd’s death, his dad sent out a message letting us know of the surprise album. In part, it read:

In May of 2012, before Todd became too sick to continue working on his CD, he was able to complete 12 original vocals with acoustic. In our long stay with him in Nashville, Donna and I continually witnessed a few things about Todd. He was totally aware of what his future held and his faith never wavered. He knew he was just a “Pilgrim Here” and rejoiced in that. He was more concerned about the suffering family and friends would go through after his passing. Typical Todd! He was obsessed with the completion of his CD. So much so, that he would not leave Nashville for his mother’s home until forced to do so. His earthly works were not yet complete; the CD had to be finished!

Recalling my last phone conversation with him, his voice being so weak and frail, I’m amazed at the strength of his voice in these recordings and the depth of his faith and thinking while walking through such a painful and challenging time.  I can only think that it’s an even greater revelation of the grace of God at work in his life.  Especially poignant to me is the amazing message he left for his family and friends, “Don’t Cry For Me.”

I would love for you to share in this incredible work.  If you would, take a few minutes and at least sample some of the songs he has left us.  I know you’ll be encouraged by them.  If you decide to purchase some of the songs or all of the album, the proceeds will be put into a trust to benefit Christian ministries.  As his friend, I will be honored for you both to listen and to take part in sharing his music with your friends.

I believe that God is not done with the music of Todd MacDonald, but instead, has orchestrated this in a way that the ministry He gave Todd will long outlast the years Todd was given on this earth.  I find it a little more than ironic that Todd’s favorite Christian artist is Keith Green, an amazing singer-songwriter whose music continues to reach millions after his own death at an early age (and who I often thought about when facing the prospects of Todd’s death).

So, check it out and if you do, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  Also, if you decide to purchase any of the music, I’d love to know which ones you got. Thanks!

P.S. I miss you, my friend.

Who’s to Blame?

Ever wonder who’s to blame for all the junk in your life? When you sin, did the Devil make you do it?  When you stumble, is it because your parents didn’t teach you well enough?  Are you overweight because McDonald’s serves those dog-gone fries?  We’re great at assigning blame.  That’s nothing new, of course. Remember our first ancestors?  Adam: “It’s that woman you gave me. She gave me the fruit and I ate it.”  Uh, who ate it, Pal?  Eve: “It’s that blasted serpant’s fault!” (my paraphrase). So, it’s been happening from the beginning and we have continued the tradition right on through today.  

Here’s a thought to consider: What if God is the cause of much of the junk in your life?  Gasp!  “Heresy! Heresy!  This guy’s a heathen!” (or heathern if you’re from the South).  OK, I’m not talking about the sin, just the hard stuff…maybe even much of the stuff you blame the Devil for.

Consider a couple of passages of Scripture (you’ll have to read these on your own) where Job assigns the blame for his calamity squarely at the feet of God Himself:  Job 16:14 and Job 19: 6-12.  

Job is actually right in assuming that God ordained that these bad things to happen to him, but wrong in assuming that they are for his downfall.

Look at it like this: Satan is the agent through which Job’s challenges come, but God is the Sovereign…even when it is bad.

I am reminded again how even the bad that comes, for one who is in the favor of God, is not ultimately bad. As John Piper has said, for the one who has been redeemed by Christ, suffering is not punitive, it is purifying. What great encouragement!

In light of Christ, we can rejoice that “all things work together for good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28),  All things are purifying. Job was purified through his suffering, in the end coming to see God more clearly than he had ever seen Him before…this time looking at God through humbled eyes.

I want to encourage you, when you are walking through the wilderness of despair because things just aren’t working out for you, before you start placing blame everywhere else, consider a couple of steps first:

1. Look in the mirror.  Is there something in you that needs to be dealt with (a character flaw that needs to be cured, a sin that needs to be killed, an attitude that needs to be adjusted)?  If so, lay that down in prayer. Ask Christ to minister to you in these areas.

2. Look to Christ. Is there something that He is wanting to do in your life to make you more like Him?  The refining fire is usually painful.  Did you get that?  It is usually painful.  In other words, what you are going through is not uncommon; you’re not the only one in the world dealing with this, so don’t fall victim to following the pity-party-path.  If you are being refined, it is a blessing!  You are not being left to your own depravity, but the Spirit of God is active in you.  Choose to celebrate this fact in the midst of your pain or discomfort.

3.  Share it.  Walking through refinement alone is sometimes necessary.  However, most of the time you have the opportunity to gain support from those around you, encouragement in the toughest parts, and people to celebrate with when you see the growth.  Often, it takes those on the outside of the “cloud” to point out to you just how much growth is actually occurring in you.  Take advantage of these gifts God has put in your life.

The bottom line is this: God is a good and sovereign God. Deal with this.  Understand that often what appears as evil in our lives is actually the grace of a holy God and the only way you are going to know the difference is by walking closely with Him in prayer.  

The real change in Job happened near the end of the story, when it was just Job and God in conversation.  Then again, that’s when real change always happens.

The Amazing God of Manasseh

To read the account of Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:1-17, 20) is absolutely amazing in regards to the mercy of God. Manasseh did everything he could to provoke God. Reading about his faithlessness and sin toward God is like watching a fatal train crash. I found myself actually getting angry at him myself as it was mentioned he went as far as burning his own sons as sacrifices to idols. How could God ever forgive someone for something so vile?! Besides that, he “led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.” God spoke to them and they refused to listen and “he did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.”

And yet…

There’s that phrase…and yet. It often follows when talking about God. I can read about the horrible way God’s people act and of how faithless we can be, then follows, and yet.

Manasseh was entirely faithless…completely faithless, AND YET God was faithful. The following is a remarkable passage in light of Manasseh’s depth of depravity:

12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

Look at that! God was moved by his entreaty and forgave him. Is there really no depths from which God cannot restore? Is there really no one too far gone that God cannot bring back. If God can bring Manasseh to restoration after such amazingly depraved actions, surely there is hope for anyone…there is hope for us.

The Lord, my God, is an alarmingly merciful God. Yes, a God of justice and judgment, but of mercy and grace. Thank you, Father, for your abundant and sufficient loving-kindness. Your mercy endures forever!

What are some ways God has shown you the “and yet” kind of grace?

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

You may not know the children’s book that bears that title, but it really doesn’t matter – it says it all.

I awoke this morning with high expectations for the day in spite of some important and possibly difficult meetings today.  I spent time in the Word and praying and climbed out of bed ready for the day.  Then it all hit: the shirt I rummaged to find and so carefully ironed turned out to have a big stain right on the front I never noticed before I so carefully ironed.  After again rummaging around for what seemed like an eternity, I finally found another one to my satisfaction.  Then the kids.

Is there a full moon out?  Have we been invaded by space aliens, cause my kids are psycho.  I mean, seriously.  Within minutes of dealing with them, I had to go into the bathroom to try a couple of different comb-overs to try and cover up the area where I had pulled my hair out.  Soon after, I came upstairs and had to tear the bathroom apart to find something Karen failed to tell me I was going to need to find for a friend…before she left the house to volunteer at Jacob’s school. Sigh.

Licking my wounds while coming up stairs to hibernate in my micro-office at home, I sat down at the computer, breathing heavily, and looked at the clock…

8:00 A.M.

Seriously?  All that happened before the day really even started?!

I am amazed at how good days go bad so quickly when circumstances are allowed to control me.  I awake with a great attitude only to be knocked in the side of the head by all the forces of evil who have other ideas.

What do I do?

I slow down.  I stop.  I breathe.  I pray.  I embrace grace.  I ask for forgiveness.  I move on.

Circumstances do not have to control me (or you).  I do not have to succumb to a bad start.  I can still have that good day, because greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world. [1 John 4:4]

I will rejoice and be glad in it.

How about you?

The God of Manasseh

To read the account of King Manasseh of Judah is absolutely amazing in regards to the mercy of God. Manasseh literally did everything he could to provoke God to fury. Reading about his faithlessness and sin toward God is like watching a fatal train crash in slow motion. I found myself actually getting angry at him myself as it was told of him going so far as burning his own sons as sacrifices to idols. How could God ever forgive someone for something so vile?! Besides that, he “led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.”  Seriously??  God spoke to them and they refused to listen and “he did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.”

MercyAnd yet…

There’s that phrase…and yet. It often follows when talking about God. I can read about the horrible way God’s people act and of how faithless we can be, then follows, and yet.

Manasseh was entirely faithless…completely faithless, AND YET God was faithful. The following is a remarkable passage in light of Manasseh’s depth of depravity:

12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. (emphasis mine)

Look at that! God was moved by his entreaty and forgave him. Is there really no depths from which God cannot restore? Is there really no one too far gone that God cannot bring back. If God can bring Manasseh to restoration after such amazingly depraved actions, surely there is hope for anyone.  There is hope for us.

The Lord, my God, is an alarmingly merciful God. Yes, a God of justice and judgment, but of mercy and grace. Thank you, Father, for your abundant and sufficient loving-kindness. Your mercy endures forever!

Grace Really Is Amazing

I had a conversation the other day with a very dear friend of mine who has recently begun a steep, uphill battle with cancer.  Though the prognosis is not great, his outlook is.  I was amazed as I listened to him describe the ordeal that lies in front of him and to hear him tell me of the grace of God that was instantly manifested in his life.

It’s one thing to read about it, study about and to even claim to have faith in the grace of God.  It’s apparently a whole “nother” thing to experience it.  As we spoke, I admitted to him that, in spite of the strength he was exhibiting, I was struggling a bit with it, fearing the worst while hoping and praying for the best.  His response to me was that he was so strong during this because, walking through the shadow,  he needed the grace…and it was there for him.  I guess it seems odd for me to even say this because I preach about it so often, but what Scripture says is really true. How many times do we actually stop and consider the pragmatic nature of faith in the real world?  In 1 Corinthian 10:13, Paul said the following:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

As I look at my friend’s battle, I see the temptation to doubt, to fear, to rage…yet he doesn’t.  Sure, he has his moments of weakness, but not beyond what he is able to bear.  Why is he so strong?  Because he needs to be and God has made it so.

He expressed to me how his pastor preached last week on Romans 5 and glorying in our suffering.  Do we ever think about that?  Glorying and rejoicing in suffering?  Yet because of the grace of God, my friend is rejoicing in the fact that, in his words, God hand-picked him to endure a disease that affects, literally, only 1 in a million people.  He rejoices in knowing that God is going to be glorified through his suffering because God has given Him the grace to trust and to rely on Him.  My friend doesn’t really know that he will survive beyond two years, yet He is praising God for His faithfulness and thanking Him for drawing him closer to Himself, now more than ever before!

I think that is true discipleship:  getting to the point that not only do we not blame God for bad things that happen, but we actually thank Him when they do, knowing that He is working through it for our good and His glory.  True discipleship is when we stop looking at people who have extreme faith during adversity and saying, “Man, I could never respond that well,” and trust that if God allows or causes such adversity to come our way, we would respond just as well because in that same hour, the grace would show up, too.

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