Aliens in a Strange Land

In Galatians 1:3-4, Paul writes that Jesus “gave himself to rescue us from this present evil age.” It seems like every day we’re confronted in new and more blatant terms just how evil this present age is.  On the one hand, it can be heart-breaking to see a culture in constant decline and that reality should push us towards it with the desire to communicate hope in Christ.

On the other, it serves to remind us that disciples of Jesus are not of this world (1 Peter 2:11) and this place isn’t home.  The deteriorating condition of the world should push us closer to Jesus, longing for another land with a Father-King who rules with strength and grace, protecting His children and welcoming them into His presence, face-to-face.

…but does it?

Are you homesick?

I know too often I’m not.  That’s what is frightening.  It’s when I don’t long for home.  That’s when I know I’ve gotten too comfortable in a world I wasn’t ultimately designed for.  It’s when I have to pull back a bit and remember I’m not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).  That comes through the Word–spending time absorbing the Truth, meditating on the reality of another Kingdom that I’ve been born into and fitted for, and praying for a fresh perspective on why I’m still here.  Only then will I be ready to engage the world in a way that brings glory to God and healing to the hurting.  Only then will I experience what it means to be rescued from this present evil age.

Some Quick Thoughts on Fear

Fear is one of the most crippling things in life. It causes us to fall back in the face of opposition or danger.  It prevents us from taking advantage of great opportunities that could alter our lives for the good.  It leads us to play it safe when anything worth having involves some level of risk.

Too much of life is dominated by fear.  Fear to move. Fear to try. Fear to love. Fear to hope. Fear to risk.  Sure there is room for a healthy dose of “fear” that, hopefully, causes us to pause and assess the risk-reward ratio before we do something completely foolish, but what I’m talking about is that level of fear that prevents us from even such an assessment.

2 Timothy 1:7 teaches that God hasn’t given a spirit of fear, but love, power and a sound mind.  Each of these things take something very important: boldness.  It takes great boldness to love, to exercise power and to think straight, putting behind us stifling thoughts and irrationality that prevents us from truly living; from fulfilling all that God has for us.  In this verse, Paul tells us that those things are provisions from God.  They are gifts given to us through the Holy Spirit of God to those who are His.

In whatever form fear may try to creep into your life, remember this verse of promise from God that has become very special to me as I engage in battle with my own fears:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will hold on to you with my righteous hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

If this is true and we determine to take God at His Word, how could fear ever have any power over God’s Children?  Today is the day to conquer fear in your own life, once and for all, through the power of the Holy Spirit of God who has already defeated it!

Transcript of 3 Gifts of the Savior Series: Hope

[Video available on my Sermon Video page here.]

The Gathering, Chattanooga

December 6, 2015

~The doctor slowly walked in and sat down with the look on his face that said it all.  Before he could say a word, tears began to stream down her face as she leaned onto her husband’s shoulder.  He tightly wrapped his arms around her and quietly wept, determined to take care of her for as long as he could.  

~It’s been 2 years since he actually held a steady job.  Never a day goes by that he doesn’t think of his ex-wife and two beautiful young girls, wondering what they’re doing today.  Every passing day on the street is one step further from any chance for a normal life again.

~Hearing the verdict was like a swift punch in her gut.  The color drained from her face as the reality that every tomorrow for the rest of her life would look exactly the same…and it was almost too much to deal with, wishing she could go back in time and change what rage-filled moment in time.


What happens when all options are eliminated and any belief that things can get better begins to fade; when the last bit of good news doesn’t come and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it?  

What happens when hope runs out?  

Everybody has reason to hope so long as there is some possibility that things actually can turn around.  That’s the very way the dictionary defines hope:  the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.  Sometimes, though, things don’t turn out for the best and there is no rational basis to think they will.  What do you do?

The answer to that depends on your starting point.

Many people start from a position that believes that all you get is what you see.  The philosophical term is “Naturalism.”  Someone who holds to Naturalism believes that the material, physical world is all there is; that everything that exists is nothing more than the product of chance.  There is nothing beyond what we can see and there is nothing beyond this life.  There is no God; no higher power, no after-life…and no real hope. 

Some people seem to have no problem with this.  They simply make the most of this life, realizing that this is all there is and they will someday simply cease to exist.

I think there is a problem with this, though.  As long as everything is going well, I can see how people can pretty easily hold to that position, but when we’re faced with no hope that things will get better, it might be different story. When you’re faced with the reality that the cancer IS going to kill you, that the world is falling apart, the harshness of reality can be overwhelming.  

Further, I think the vast major of humans want to exist.  The idea of nonexistence doesn’t set well with most people, especially the closer they get to the point of that non-existence and they can’t live within the worldview they claim to believe.  After all, we pay a lot of money to stay alive.  We seem to want to continue existing and I think the thought of non-existence is a repelling thought.

There is an alternative to having to think this way (at least in the short term).  To avoid the consequences of meaninglessness, many people embrace what is known as Existentialism.  They have no basis for believing there is any meaning in life—with naturalism, there can be no real meaning in life—but they can’t live that way.  They can’t practically live according to the system of belief they’ve embraced.  There is no basis nor reason for things like love,  rational thought, truth or hope. So, they invent meaning and purpose for their lives.   They pursue careers that can give meaning.  They have families so they can build a legacy after they cease to exist.  See, Existentialism separates the harsh reality that there really is no meaning in the world from the desire for meaning; the desire to have meaningful thought, to truly love and to have significance, even when it is known that there is no reason for them; no basis for believing in them.

So they create meaning for themselves; they make themselves who they are.

The problem for existentialists is that they are always faced with the reality of the objective world.  Death is always present; always threatening to destroy their meaning and purpose; always demonstrating the objective truth that what we have created is nothing more than an illusion.  Nothing we have can last, so the happiness and satisfaction we live is a fantasy we have dreamed up to keep us from the truth. They may act as though there is hope, but it’s just a sham.

For that person who is honest with himself and follows his worldview to its logical conclusion (which rarely actually happens), a new reality becomes evident.  They understand that the meaning in their lives is something of their own invention, but in reality, there is no meaning.  All of life is an absurdity and of no value.  We see this most clearly in those who kill for no purpose at all, simply because life has no value, no purpose, with no ultimate meaning.  To live or die is equally worthless.  Those who cannot find meaning and can no longer create meaning find themselves living according to another thought-system:  Nihilism.  

Nihilism is the reality for an honest naturalist.  It is the denial of everything that is real.  It is the end of the line; the natural conclusion for anyone who lives honestly as a naturalist.  It realizes that nothing matters.  Nothing is ultimately right or wrong, good or bad.  There is no such thing as love and commitment because it all ends in the same place—nothingness.  Nothing is worth investing in because it cannot last and means nothing. 

There is only one place for a true Nihilist to go:  Despair.

Few can actually survive living a life in which there is no trace of hope and, as a result, and end up either committing suicide or madness.  They lose it…sometimes taking out as many people as they can in the process.

If this is the case, there is really only one other possibility…one other hope.  That lies in Theism (and I would get more specific to Christian Theism):  The belief that there really is a God who has created everything that exists and moves freely within His creation.  

If there is a God who created it, who is Lord over it, then He must be the Highest of all beings and He must be able to communicate with His creation if He chooses to and in any manner of His choosing. This is where we get into the Bible, a book that tells us there is a God who has created a people in His own image, which means that there is reason for things like love and rational thought and purpose.  

We’re talking about a God who tells us that everything that happens to us can work towards making us better people that will not be lost at the time of that great objective reality, death.  Instead, we can live beyond the grave because He is beyond the grave. He is outside of time and space and makes it possible for us to be, as well.

If true, this is the only basis for real hope and it is one of the greatest gifts we could ever imagine. 

Assuming, then, that what is written in Scripture is true, we have another problem:  Just because there is an almighty, sovereign and holy God, doesn’t automatically result in everyone rejoicing that we don’t have to live in total despair due to meaninglessness.

 To the contrary, because He is almighty, sovereign and holy leads us to a problem:  The Bible tells us that his holiness; his perfection can only allow perfection into His presence.  

Because of the Fall of Man, the perfect relationship God established at the beginning of creation was marred, making mankind unfit for a relationship with God and, even worse, left us liable for our sin, punishable not by annihilation, but eternally paying for the offense against an infinitely holy God in hell.  As a result, God gave Laws to demonstrate what it would take for man to be made right with God and escape the payment for sin:  the Law had to be followed perfectly.  So, now we’re back to despair because no one can do that.

What we come to find out, though, is that God had another purpose for the Law and a purpose for our despair which was to make understand that in our own power, we are hopeless.  We cannot save ourselves.  In the Old Testament, God had made a covenant with man through Abraham that said so long as you obey me, I will be your God and you will be my people.  After centuries of trying and failing, the Bible paints a picture of a people in despair, crying out to God for a savior.  

Then came hope!  God spoke through his prophet in the midst of the despair of the Israelites and gave them reason to believe that things could and would get better!

Jeremiah 31:31-34

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

God promised that He would do what man could not do…He Himself would satisfy the requirement of holiness.  God would make a way for eternal life, providing hope where there was only despair.  This fulfillment would be through His Son, Jesus, the Christ (the Deliverer) and over 700 years before Christ was born, God said gave his people hope by telling them what was to come:

He would enter Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9).

He would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9).

The betrayal would be for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12).

The money would be used to purchase the potter’s field (Zechariah 11:13).

The Messiah would die a sacrificial death for us (Daniel 9:26; Isaiah 53:8).

He would die with criminals but His burial would be with the wealthy (Isaiah 53:9).

He would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:8–11; Isaiah 53:10).

He would speak specific words on the Cross, he would be mocked, and people would gamble for His clothes (Psalm 22:1, 8, 18).

Remember, the definition of hope, according to the dictionary, is “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.”  God gave the world a reason to hope and he gave the word a new meaning.  

In Scripture, hope is no longer about something that we want to come about or even that we think it might turn out for the best.  Biblical hope is a confidence that was is said will happen because God has said it.  So, when we say that we have hope for the future, we believe that there is a certainty of what God WILL bring about based on what he has said he will bring about. 

OK, so it’s one thing to say that God has spoken and that He has brought about promises, but how do we know that God’s Word and promises are true that lead to our certain hope?  

Put simply, we believe.  Now, I’m not talking about a simple act of the will as in choosing to believe against all evidence.  When we think about what we believe, there are, as I can see it, three possibilities:

1.  You can choose to believe something you know isn’t true (such as, I believe I can fly.  I believe that unicorns exist)— that’s called delusion. 

2. You can choose to believe something to be true but is actually false—that is error. (as in, I believe that the Vols will win the National Championship next year…though that might better be categorized as “delusion”).

3. You can believe something because you’re overwhelmingly convinced by evidence of it’s truth and reality.  In this sense, You know in your heart that the external facts give evidence to what is true.  

In the case of belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, the evidence is solid, but evidence alone is not enough.  Salvation takes faith, and God’s word says that He gives us faith as a gift…an internal certainty that His promises are true.  The Spirit of God convinces us to know what is true even though we can’t see it all with our eyes.

Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.”

John 3:16 is clear that the one who believes will not perish but have eternal life.  It is this faith that leads to justification before God and eternal life through Christ.  It also is the basis for our hope that things actually will get better; that even through bad circumstances, we can hope for the good.  Look at Romans 5:1-9:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

So, when we trust in Christ, we are reconciled to God.  We are made right with Him, being declared righteous because Christ has exchanged our sins for His righteousness.

2 Corinthians 5:21

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This righteousness makes possible for God to welcome us into his family, but also gives us hope in our lives here on earth.

Hope that even bad circumstances are investments into our growth and development:

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Hope that God will intervene when we struggle or when we are in need:

Romans 8:26

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Matthew 6:25-33

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Hope that God will guide us every step of this crazy journey called life.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Isaiah 30:21

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

This hope is only found in Christ, but it is found in Him.  It is real.  It is comprehensive.  It is eternal.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~Romans 15:13 

A Morning Meditation

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

brokenchainsThis is an amazing passage, especially in light of the fact that Paul has just concluded chapter 7 by talking of the war that wages within us; of the struggle, as Christ-followers, to do what we want to do, all the while finding ourselves doing what we don’t want to do as it relates to sin.  His conclusion is that of wretchedness as he declares his imperfection before a holy God…but then immediately follows with an answer to the question of who will deliver him from this body of death with spontaneous praise to God through Christ!  Why?  Because he knows it is not based upon his own righteousness, which does not exist (Isaiah 64:6), but upon that of Christ.  Paul admits the continual struggle between serving Christ in his mind and with his will, desiring to always be faithful, but wrestling with the law of the flesh (sin) that is always close at hand.

That is a struggle with which I am familiar.  That is something that I can identify with.  I desire to follow Christ closely; desire to obey with my whole heart, but I find that I am often found horribly lacking.  I have wrestled with fear and doubt and depression over the condition of my life…why can’t I be a better dad or husband or pastor…a better follower of Jesus?  The enemy is always close at hand, seeking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), to destroy me (John 10:10), to accuse me before the Father (Revelation 12:10).

What do I do?  I keep reading!  Because of what Christ has done in me, redeeming me from the penalty of the Law of sin and death, there is no condemnation!  NONE!  The Father does not look at me as the failure that I am, but the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), the child of the King that Christ has made me (Romans 8:15-17).  The Father looks at me and sees the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to me (2 Corinthians 5:21); credited to my account to such an extent that I shine righteously in the Father’s presence, the only way He can look upon me with pleasure…and He does!

I still struggle with sin and I am to always be at war with my sin nature, but I am not defeated by it.  I can never be defeated because the law of sin and death was destroyed by the means of a Roman cross (Colossians 2:13-15), never to have victory over me because in Christ, I stand redeemed!

Morning Encouragement

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.

~Lamentations 3:19-29 (ESV)

A Liberated Mess

mountainLast week, I took a couple of days for a personal retreat.  I had a lot of things unresolved in my own mind and heart and they were starting to take a toll on me (physically, spiritually and emotionally).  Karen suggested I take some time to get away, alone with God, and try and work it out.  So, off to the mountains I went, Bible and journal in hand, ready to explore the depths and climb the heights of whatever God needed to show me.

I spent time sitting by creeks and climbing mountains, biking through valleys, praying and reading, begging God to reveal to me the truth of my situation and to work out the internal struggles I was dealing with.  I had no idea just how much I had to be shown.

As the time went on, more and more began to unfold before me: past issues that had shaped me (both good and bad), recent events that had hurt me, and Truths of Scripture that were now delivering me.  The pieces of the puzzle began to come together for me in ways they never had before.  I began to experience healing in ways that were very new to me.  I want to share a couple of the revelations God gave me that should be obvious, but are often overlooked, “hidden in plain sight,” if you will.

The first truth that became clearer to me than ever is that we are all screwed up.  Really, I mean it sincerely.  Not a single one of us has it together, probably nowhere near as much as we even think we do.  I’m talking nut-jobs.  It’s easy to see it in others, but really, how good are we at calling it out in ourselves?  We’ve basically got it together, right?  No, we don’t…none of us.  Why is this truth important?  Because when we realize we most decidedly do NOT have it all together, we can stop pretending that we do.  See, if I had it all together, I wouldn’t really need a Savior.  Instead, I am desperately in need of Him every single day, not just for my eternal security, but my daily sanity.  Much of the problem in churches is that they are full of people who say they need a savior but act as though they don’t.  In truth, we are blind to our own weakness.  We are gullible, believing just about anything Satan tells us about ourselves (and each other!) because the truth kills our pride and soils our spotless reputations.  I had to leave Fantasyland and sit down in the dreadful truth of my own ugliness.  That was a painful blessing!

Secondly, I kept being drawn to Colossians 3:1-5a:

IMG_4189If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death

therefore what is earthly in you…”

Here’s why that is so important:  if we are not constantly seeking things that are above and considering ourselves dead, it is so easy to let everything that happens to us shape us.  If we get praise, we become prideful.  If we get criticism, we become reactionary, defensive and angry.  If we are ignored, we get lonely.  In some way or another, we tend to get our value from the externals.  We can feel loved, hated, abandoned, praised, and on and on it goes based on what others think and the circumstances that come our way.  That’s wrong!

When I think about what Paul said in this passage, I picture an unborn child in the womb.  It is (generally) protected from all outside influences.  Everything that affects the child comes through the mother.  Spiritually, it should be the same way.  I am dead and my life is hidden with Christ in God.  Therefore, outer circumstances shouldn’t affect how I think about myself or how I react to outside forces, replaced by the nourishment and protection of the Father.  My defense mechanisms that create walls will come down as I realize the protective covering of the Father is so much stronger and infinitely less damaging.

External circumstances should not affect or determine how I react in the world.  What people think of me shouldn’t change how I think about myself nor should how they act change my attitude towards them…after all, they’re messed up, too, whether or not they realize or acknowledge it, themselves.  I am hidden in the womb of God’s love, righteous because He has declared me righteous.  Accepted because He has accepted me.  Successful because He defines success, etc.  This is nothing of ME, but all of Him, so there is no room for pride in the equation, but there is plenty of room for grace, for myself and those who affect my life.  If I set my mind on things above and get my worth, strength and value from Him, I’m now free to love others, deal with criticism, handle anxiety, overcome circumstances in a healthy way without needing to be or feel vindicated.  I can release bitterness.  I can forgive anyone who I felt hurt from regardless of their attitude or posture towards me.  I can live in freedom because Christ has set me free, *not submitting myself again to a yoke of slavery!

When you understand how messed up you really are, you understand what great news it is that a Savior loves you and has hidden you within His protective care.  You get a clear sense of Him working out all the details of your journey down this rugged road called life, up to the mountain tops and deep into the valley…because He’s Lord of that, too!

IMG_4219

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 video

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

According to John, Jesus has the authority to both give life to whomever He pleases and to judge the living and the dead.  What does it mean to truly live the life given by Christ?  Is it possible to have eternal life and yet live a life of unrepentant sin?  I fear many people have received a false sense of security by holding onto a moment in which they prayed a prayer asking Jesus into their hearts, but after which have lived a life where there is no indication of transformation.  What does the Scripture say about this?  Can you be a disciple of Jesus if you aren’t actually being discipled by Him?  Can you say that you are a follower of Jesus if you aren’t actually following Him?

This was a difficult message to preach and I’m certain a tough one to hear, but I think it was an important one.  I pray God’s Spirit will be your guide if you decide to watch.  Blessings!

dp.

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.

Gloriously Inadequate

I was reading this morning in Jeremiah. The first part is the calling of the prophet and how he, sort of like Moses, says he can’t speak. Unlike Moses, though, Jeremiah claims that he is too young…just a youth. I love God’s response:

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
8  Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

God’s like, “Boy, don’t talk back to me. If I call you, I’ll cover you.” What’s even cooler is God’s, uh, “pre-sponse”. Before Jeremiah had even made his argument about being young, God had already laid the foundation for discrediting that response. God started the call with this:

20131023-113734.jpg“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

So, right after that declaration from God, Jerry makes his claim about being too young. He missed that God had already said that Jeremiah was not a youth when he was called…he was a fetus! It’s like God was saying, “Son, you’re concerned that you are too young. You’re actually a whole lot older now than when I first called you. Don’t worry about age, I’ve got this.”

I’m at the age now where being too young isn’t so much the issue :-/ The problem is too often realizing inadequacies. I’m not ______________ enough. I’m too _______________. With every excuse, God has already dealt with it on the cross. That’s the glory of being inadequate…it leaves plenty of room for God to show off His infinite adequacy! That’s just the way He planned it. So run with it.

The reality is, there is NOTHING too bad that God’s mercy in Christ hasn’t already covered. His Spirit has already taken up the slack! Move with confidence. Speak with boldness. Love with abandon.

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!

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