Friday, October 23, 2015

Messed Up: How Could God Possibly Love Me?

Do you ever find yourself reading the Old Testament and thinking, “Wow, how dumb can the people of Israel get?” Now, come on. Be honest.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how the Israelites could be saved by God working through Moses and yet they grumble about not having food. I mean, they don’t even ask for it, for goodness’ sake! They just whine to Moses. Or how they could make a covenant with God, promising to do “all that He has commanded”, and then as soon as Moses’ back is turned break the first and second commandments to create a calf out of gold. It’s no wonder God tells them in Exodus chapter 33 verse 3 that He’s no longer going to be with them.

I guess, in a way I can understand them. For 400 years they lived as slaves, not making their own decisions, feeling like the God of their fathers has abandoned them, and being treated almost like cattle. Then along comes a man named Moses who was adopted into the kind of privilege they can only dream of with some “magical” powers that he claims are from this invisible God that’s been so long absent. I think that by the time the plagues are done with, they’re probably following the man more than the God he represents. So when they don’t have food, of course it’s his fault and he needs to fix it. And the calf thing? They’ve just come out of a land where everyone worships multiple gods and there are statues everywhere of what they look like. Surely God didn’t really mean that He was the only one? And if He is, then he needs a body, right? Some way for the people to truly love what they worship and something they can focus on. That they can see and touch. (Exodus 1-32)

So when we look at things in that light, I guess we can understand their momentary insanity. Maybe not overlook, but at least understand. And maybe if we can give them grace, we can give ourselves and those around us a little as well.

After all, we live in a time when God is “seemingly silent”. There are no audible words, no prophets, no amazing “magical” works of power. All we have that we can base our belief in God upon is personal experience and relationship. It’s all based on faith.

It’s no wonder unBelievers think we’re crazy. And it’s no wonder that sometimes we act like it.
I think it’s because we don’t have a god that we can see and touch that we go through spiritual ups and downs. One day we’ll totally believe that Jesus saved us and the next we do something that, if we thought about it, seems out of sync with that belief. But does that mean that we don’t believe? Does that mean that we should just give up, that we are unworthy of God’s Love and therefore are not truly His?


It just means you’re having a bad day. That you’re human, just like the rest of us. You’re no more, nor less loved than you were yesterday, the day before, or even the day you first believed. God does not look at you and say, “You know, I don’t think this relationship is going to work out.”

“But He did with the people of Israel!” you may argue.

Hm. Let’s look closely at that for a moment. Did God say He would stop being their God? No. Did He say He would not go with them? Yes. And it’s the same with us. Do you honestly think God is going to bless you if you are walking in sin? Is He going to guide and be with you if you are not acting like His child? Or is He going to wait until you wake up to just how much He loves you and submit yourself to Him again before going with you? God will not prosper those who use His name- and try to use His power- for personal gain and sin.

When the people of Israel were first told that God would not go with them, He commanded them to take off their ornaments, all of those fancy things they had received from the Egyptians as a “going away” present. For hundreds of years they had watched the Egyptians have everything while they had nothing. So I’m sure they were very proud of their plunder and probably wore lots of jewelry and fancy clothes all the time as a point of pride. But then God gives them a simple, yet difficult, command: “Take it off. Strip yourselves of everything that you think makes you worth something. Come spiritually bare before me.”(Exodus 33:5)

And they did! Why? Because they were truly repentant. So what was God’s response?

Not only did He “relent” and decide to go with them, but He presented Himself every day in a way that was visible: a pillar of cloud. And the people worshiped. Instead of giving up on them He gave them a second chance.

Just like God’s love for them was not based on their performance (and let’s face it, this is not the last time they receive a “God-check”), His love for us isn’t either. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we cannot earn that Love, that it’s a gift entirely based on faith (not performance) (Romans 3:21-28). It also tells us what true love is: a choice.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

It’s something God chooses to do for us every moment of every day in the past, present, and future.

So no matter how “messed up” you think you are, please, don’t ever think God doesn’t love you or has given up on you because He doesn’t work like that. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Accept His love and grace for what they are: constant and who He is. (1 John 4:8)

And then extend that love and grace to those around you.

Think about it.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”
(1 John 4:7-19)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

When Life Hands You Lemons... Grab a Pen

We've all had those days when it seems like life beats you down at every turn. Like nothing is going right and no matter what we try, we can't seem to come out on top. Like we're drowning, the air pressing in on us, our chests constricting under the weight of our problems.

Maybe for you it's been more than a day. It's been a month. A year. Ten years.

And you just can't see what good could possibly come of your suffering.

All you can think is: "God, what are you doing?!"

No, wait, don't go. It's okay. You can admit it. Remember the first words I wrote up there? We've all had those days. All. Every single one of us, whether we admit it or not. Whether we choose to remember or not.

See, that's part of the problem: remembering. We are such fickle, short-sighted people. During a trial, we can't see past our problems. Afterwards, we immediately forget what we went through. It's like... a mirror. When we stare our problems in the face, they're all we see- the pits and blemishes glaringly obvious. But after they pass, we leave the mirror and immediately forget what it was like. Or we have a distorted memory of it that is either better- or worse- than it actually was because the more we remember it the more it changes. It turns from a vivid memory to a garbled memory of a memory.

To me, that is a travesty of the worst kind. Forgetting (almost) anything we went through to the point that the details are no longer clear and we shove it into the back of the junk drawer of our minds. Because, my dear friends, those memories aren't junk!

In fact, those are the memories we should never forget! 

"How can you say that?" you ask. "My dad died, my dog ran away, and I found out I have cancer- all in one year! If anyone has a right to forget, it's me."

No! No, you don't!

Please don't think I'm being insensitive here. It's true that all those things were difficult, and my heart breaks for you. But just because they were hard, doesn't mean we have a right to deprive others of our experiences.

What would the Bible be like if no one had shared their experiences with the next generation? We'd probably have the first chapter of Genesis. And that would be it. What if David hadn't taken the time to record the lowest points in his life through song? We wouldn't have the powerful comfort of the Psalms. What if the disciples had decided watching their Savior being tortured and brutally killed had been "too hard to remember"? We'd never know about our greatest source of comfort: Jesus. And what if Luke had decided writing Acts was not "all that important"? We wouldn't have the inspiring examples of faith to encourage us during our darkest moments.

What if they all just decided to forget?

Where would your faith, your comfort be?

Where would passages like the following be?:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort." -2 Corinthians 1:3-7
 See that? No? Then let me ask you: why did Paul embrace his "afflictions" (problems, sufferings, persecutions)? For you! For me! For everybody who would ever read this letter he so painstakingly dictated. Then why shouldn't we take a page out of his book and do the same?

Maybe when you're in the midst of those difficult times and can't see what good will come of it, you don't feel like sharing. Write it down anyway. Write down every angry, faithless, confused, questioning thought. Plead with God for help. Write what Scripture passages encourage you in that dark time. Eventually, when the memory has grown distant and faded, you can pull it out and read it through, marveling at what God has done. Now write how God has used that suffering for His glory. Praise Him for His sovereignty and grace. Then find the courage to share it. Maybe you don't have a blog of a million followers to share with. Give it to your best friend who's having a hard time. Give it to a young person in your Bible class who is experiencing something similar. Give it to anyone the Lord stirs your heart toward. 

Give it in written form. Give it verbally. Give it in the mailbox. Give it over coffee. Give it to your descendants. Just give it away! 

Then watch to see what the Lord does with it. What He does with all that pain, all those tears, and all that confusion... what He does with you. Maybe you won't see it today. Maybe you won't see it tomorrow. Maybe you won't see it in this life. But I bet you'll see it in Heaven. You'll see it in the faces of everyone you've ever dared to touch with something that you just wanted to forget. You'll see how something that, at the time, was truly ugly has turned into something beautiful.

So when life hands you lemons... grab a pen.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Glory Magnified: Thoughts on Utopia Lost

Why did Adam and Eve have to eat that fruit? It's all their fault my life stinks!
Have you ever thought something similar? I sure have. Every time I read Genesis I find myself wondering what it would have been like to live in Utopia: The Garden of Eden. No death to steal our loved ones away from us, no disease to wrack our bodies, no arguments to seperate best friends, perfect weather without crazy heat waves or cold snaps, no pollution to dim the beauty of creation.... The list could go on and on. And it does. And it's all Adam and Eve's fault!
It's funny, isn't it, how much we blame them for our problems? Somehow it calms our conscience a bit knowing that we can blame even our sin on them. I mean, we wouldn't do the things we do if they hadn't messed things up! But wait- let's consider a moment what that means.
What would life be like today if Adam and Eve had kept their hands in their proverbial pockets? What if that fruit were still on that tree? In my imagination, I see a society that lives in peaceful coexistence, enjoying the work placed before them by God as they prune trees and grass, pick fruit, work together to build houses, and give tons of attention to the menagerie of ever increasing animals and children. There wouldn't be any major problems to solve, any need to protect weaker members because there wouldn't be any. It would be eternal life, living in the moment, and being blissfully happy. These would be the type of people who if they'd been told to get on the ark, they'd go en mass. If they'd been told to leave Egypt and follow Moses, they'd instantly start walking without fear or doubt or any need for plagues. If there'd been a Goliath mocking God, they'd all pick up stones. If Christ had come to earth, they'd all instantly believe and never raise a hand against Him.
Are you beginning to see what I'm getting at? Without sin, fear, and death, all those amazing stories- those histories- would have never happened. Those moments when God's use of His people produced fear and wonder in those who looked on from afar would be unnecessary.
Joseph? He's directing those out picking fruit. There was no need for him to practically rule a country, save anyone from a famine or humble us with his forgiveness of his brothers.
Moses? He's pruning that bush under your window. It never burned without actually burning. His face never glowed with God's residual glory. He never overcame his fear and stammering to speak to a king and free his people through powerful plagues.
Joshua? He's never knocked down a wall in his life, but he's great at building them. He never had to show great courage, faith, and spiritual strength in leading a grumbling, faithless people or ridding the land of enemies. The passage, "Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and and my house we will serve the Lord," would have never been written.
David? He's a full time musician whose lilting notes are easy to work and dance to. No need to slay a giant while still a boy or prove his integrity by not killing King Saul. He'd never be king and all those powerful, heart-wrenching Psalms would never be written. It would never be said of him, "He is a man after my (God's) own heart," as if it were something unique and amazing.
And those are only a few examples. Both Scripture (Old and New Testaments) and history are full of people who went up against great opposition, crawled through hardships, and overcame self doubt and ridicule to do great things that they otherwise wouldn't have even considered. Those people like Newton, Carver,  Washington, Pasteur, King, and even moderns like Doctor Carter shine like bright lights in the darkness of this life. If there was no darkness to shine in, they'd be lost in the daylight. And they wouldn't do what God is most interested in: highlighting His glory.
I'd like you to think about this: What brings God more glory- everyone living perfect lives or following Him even though we stumble? What makes Him more attractive: a life of perpetual happiness or a man imprisoned, possibly facing persecution and death, who has a fire and love for fellow believers around the world that leads him to write bracing letters of encouragement and admonition? (Yes, I mean Paul.)
But mostly what I think about is how a life of sinlessness and perfection would be a life that didn't need the greatest act of glory in history- the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He'd never have come without a man and woman who did the dumbest thing they could possibly do by disobeying God's only rule. And we'd never slog through this life with a "hope and a future" in Heaven with Him. We'd never have the testimonies we have today. We'd never look at each other in awe and wonder, whispering, "Look what God has done!" Maybe we'd never truly see His glory without our own inadequacies to compare Him to.
Maybe life would have less meaning.
So next time you find yourself fighting the temptation to sin or are in a tough situation wondering "Why God?", remind yourself of one thing: You are a pinpoint of light magnifying God's glory in the darkness. No Utopia required.
Think about it.

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." -1 Cor. 10:31
" In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." -Matt. 5:16
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” -Rev. 4:11
"Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!" -Psalm 115:1
"So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace inkindness toward us in Christ Jesus." -Eph. 2:7 

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act: A Prayer of Repentance

Recently I read an e-mail explaining the attack on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and calling for a month of prayer and fasting. The obvious response is: How could we as a “religiously free” country have come to this? It is something I think many Believers all over the US are asking themselves right now. We have been watching this anti-religion trend over the last few decades like a new form of cancer- growing and seemingly without a cure. It’s saddening.

My Bible study today seemed especially attuned to this problem. The passage was Psalm 39. Here are a few verses that stood out to me:

"And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool! (Psa 39:7-8) When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath! Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers. Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!" (Psa 39:11-13) 

The following prayer resulted from it.

Dear LORD-God,

Our country is experiencing a vicious downward turn of a self-created cycle. Over the years we have grown complacent because of “acceptable” sins and a desire to avoid confrontation. America wishes to be the land of prosperity whose arms are open to all so we no longer take a stand on so many important things. With our lips we may say certain things are important but when confronted with someone of opposing views we avoid or even deny those things- like religion or the sanctity of life. We (Christians) embody the saying “Live and let live”. But then come along those who cannot. They take a stand, even if it is a misguided one. But we Believers all too often do not. In an effort to not “push our beliefs” on others, we stand for… nothing. And then we wonder why those same people who have been dominating the soapboxes for so long won’t let our desires be heard. Now, if we take a stand, we are “intolerant” when it is truly the other person who is choosing to become intolerant toward us. Just because we have ascribed to “live and let live” doesn’t mean they have. So now we have the fallout from that raining down about our ears. The seemingly innocuous prosperity and love “gospels” have now brought about their inevitable results: the need for a Religious Freedom Act. We have not taken a stand before now and “loved” people to this end. (Was it truly loving to not honestly tell people that they are sinning? Was it love to blind people to their need for You?) Jesus at least told it like it was. Sure, people hated Him for it, but they also had their sins exposed so they were “without excuse”. He proved His love for them by showing a concern for their soul. Do we do so? Do we dare? Do we even love?

LORD, now we- I- am forced to come before You and the world to beg for our/my religious freedom. And I do so with a little bit of shame because we got ourselves into this mess. Forgive us, Father, for failing to love. Forgive us for esteeming our own comfort and church numbers more than our calling to make disciples, more than our calling to be like You. Help us now, Father, to lay aside complacency. Help us to regain our religious freedom. Help us not to waste it. Give us the courage we need to be both honest and loving, even in the face of being ridiculed and called intolerant. Help us to guard our tongues and our hearts for Your glory. Guide our country back to You. Teach us to speak and act in love. Let others see You shining through us. Give us joy in the midst of persecution. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Unhealthy Wishes: Defeating Desires That Destroy

Have you ever seen the classic Disney movie Aladdin? A quick recap, if you haven’t: A street kid finds a magic genie’s lamp and is granted three wishes. His first wish saves his life (pretty good wish, if you ask me). The third nobly frees the genie from his prison in the lamp. But the second proves to be a rather worthless wish: he wishes to be a prince so he can get the princess. Unbeknownst to him, she’s not impressed with his apparent wealth and power. In fact, she fell in love with him while he was still living on the streets. So what did his wish get him? A really angry rival and his princess (and her father) almost killed. What an unhealthy wish! Surely he could have come up with a much better one. But he wasn’t patient. All he knew was what he wanted, so he chose the quickest, easiest way to get it.

Sound familiar? It does to me.

To be honest, I’ve struggled with destructive desires my whole life. A few of my main ones are sugar, laziness, and possessions. Sugar… well, let’s just say chocolate, cookies, and milkshakes are almost irresistible. My lazy self doesn’t want to do the work to exercise and use my time wisely. And new technology and the latest action-packed video games are like an itch just under the skin that begs to be scratched (or bought, in this case). Substitute in your own Achilles heel(s), and I’m sure you can relate.

Every once in a while guilt rears its ugly head. Then I’m forced to confront these sins (yes, covetousness and a lack of self control are sins so let’s not sugar-coat it). For a while I persevere, but then a particularly delicious looking dark chocolate bon-bon will call out to me and I’m a goner. Or I’ll start a diet that is so restrictive it’s impossible to keep up for long. I’ll exercise faithfully for a few weeks and then suddenly find “no time” to do it. And then comes the temptation to jump on the latest “quick-fix” pill.

So why can’t we defeat these destructive desires? Why is it they always, always return to haunt us? Why can’t we just squash them flat and move on with our lives? My Bible study today gave me some pretty good ideas as to why that might be. Check this out:

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!
(Psa 119:34-40)

“Selfish gain”. “Worthless things”.  Huh! That sounds strangely like an unhealthy wish. So whoever wrote Pslam 119 must have understood what I’m going through. There was something in his life that he recognized as being displeasing to God. As I read through this morning’s passage (verses 33 through 48) I noticed two things. 1) The author knows he has a few destructive desires. 2) He wants to be able to speak uprightly and in truth to the audiences God places in his life, which apparently he knows he can’t do well with these things pulling him down. But then comes hope!

I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place (NKJV uses the word liberty), for I have sought your precepts.(Psa 119:44-45)

What was the solution to his problem? Seeking God’s “precepts”! Delighting in God’s “testimonies”! His “commandments”. His “rules”. His “ways”. In other words: having a passion for the Word of God can free us from any desire that holds us captive.

Don’t get me wrong: We will always struggle. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be defeated. Check out Jeremy Ham’s post Why Do Christians Still Struggle with theFlesh? for more on that subject.

So the next time I find myself struggling with an unhealthy wish, maybe I should grab my Bible. Maybe I should memorize Scriptures like Jeremiah 17:7-10. Maybe I should start examining where God’s Word stands on my list of priorities.

When was the last time you used God’s powerful Word to refute temptation? Are you really truly trying to overcome the sins that “so easily entangle”? Are you looking to Jesus, the Living Word? (Hebrews 12:1-3, John 1:1-5)

Think about it.

When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food. Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.
(Pro 23:1-5)

Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.
(Pro 23:19-21)

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."
(Jer 17:7-10)

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
(Rom 13:11-14)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
(Heb 12:1-3)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Jesus: What You Need Him To Be

Jesus: Savior, Brother, Redeemer, Friend…. Angry toward those who set themselves against God, yet gentle toward the broken. Steadfast as a Rock, loving as a Shepherd, powerful as a King, and humble as a Child. All of these, and more, embody the complexity and beauty of our Messiah.

Over and over in the Gospels Christ put who He is on display for His disciples to see. They started out seeing Him as their society did, wanting Him to be a Conquering King. He was someone who would give them what they wanted: freedom from the Romans and glory at His right hand during His reign. It wasn’t until later, when they felt abandoned by Him, that they began to understand.

He hadn't come to free them from the Romans. He came to free them from their sins. His kingdom wasn’t an earthly one where they would be showered with power and wealth, but a spiritual one whose rewards wouldn’t be seen in this life.

But did He openly contradict their misconceptions, beating them brutally with the truth? No. He quietly and lovingly taught them, knowing they wouldn’t understand until later. He knew they would act out of fear when He was dragged off and murdered, their dreams shattered. But until they did understand, they needed Him to be their Teacher, their Brother. They needed to see Him struggle and be Human.

Some needed Him to be Physician, some Rabbi. With some He was the harsh Headmaster, with others the thought-provoking Riddle Maker and Proverb Speaker. He was to each what they needed at the time. But He was always Himself. He was God Incarnate.

Jesus’ compassion was evident in the way He responded to those He came in contact with. Even as each person was different, so were the ways He interacted with them. One of the most obvious examples of this (in my opinion) is Mark 5.

We have three new human characters that arrive on the scene here: The man possessed with Legion, the woman with the 12 year flow of blood, and the man whose daughter “fell asleep”.

With the first we have a man who has been tortured physically, mentally, and spiritually by a “Legion” of demons. (A Roman legion had 6,826 men. If the name is supposed to be an exact number… that was one tormented man!)After Jesus cast them out, the man wanted to come with Him. I personally probably would have had pity on him and said, “Sure! Come along.” But it’s interesting that this is one person He wouldn’t let follow Him. Instead, He said, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” (Verse 19.) You see, this man spent the last who-knows-how-long being destroyed by these demons. His body was in tatters, his old life gone. There was nothing for him- no goals, no mission. He was empty. But Jesus looked Him in the eyes and filled him up. He gave him a life mission. If the man would have followed Jesus, how long would he have been able to cling to Jesus for support? There was only a short time left before His death. Jesus would not allow the man to become an occupational victim. And that was the truly loving thing to do.

On to the second character- the woman with the flow of blood. This poor woman had been bleeding for twelve years. She’d tried every doctor, every treatment, endured humiliations at their hands and much pain. By the time Jesus came along she was desperate. Assuming that she developed this condition fairly early in life, she could have been in her twenties or thirties and unmarried. Bleeding constantly would have excluded her from religious gatherings. Spending so long with this condition had probably made her eager to go unnoticed by most people. She probably could easily blend in with the crowd. So that’s what she did and somehow got close enough to just touch the edge of Jesus’ clothes. Instantly she was healed and instantly Jesus knew what had happened. Being God, I bet He knew exactly who had touched Him, but He decided to give her the choice to come forward. And she did, trembling, and admitted to everything. I can imagine Him smiling down at her as He said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Verse 34.) Notice that He didn’t command her to tell everyone what happened and glorify God publicly. He left that decision up to her. But what He had done went way beyond physical healing. He gave her back public worship services and fellowship. He gave her the possibility of marriage. He gave her a future. For the first time in twelve years she felt beautiful and loved.

And lastly we have Jairus. His daughter, his little angel, his pride and joy, was dying. Even though he knew that he could be missing her last moments on this earth, he sought out her last hope- Jesus. Unfortunately, she died while he was on his way back with Jesus, bringing an apparent end to his quest. But Jesus simply told him, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Verse 36.) Then He allowed only three of His disciples to go the rest of the way with them. It is at that moment that Jesus put a plan into action. When they arrived and heard the professional, paid wailers making a racket He dismissed their “grief” by telling them that she is only sleeping (which was vastly amusing apparently). Then he went in with only the three disciples and the child’s parents, took her hand, and told her to wake up. And she did! So was she really not dead after all? No, I don’t think so. I bet she was very much dead. But because this family didn’t need any more excitement around them than they already had (I’m guessing), and He definitely didn’t need it known yet that He could raise the dead, He had lovingly given them something they could tell others- that she was merely sleeping. And, technically, she was since even in other passages of Scripture death is known as “sleep”.

Three people, three different responses, all made out of love and compassion for the receivers of His Gifts. He was who they needed Him to be. And He can be for you, too.

Maybe you’re lonely and in need of companionship.

He’ll be your Companion.

Maybe you are plagued by sin.

He’ll be your Savior and Forgiver.

Maybe you are feeling broken by this world.

He’ll be your Healer.

So if you are experiencing difficulty in your life today, don’t assume that Jesus is so lofty that He can’t respond to you how and when you need Him to. Instead, seek Him out. Cast yourself at His feet and cry out for love, healing, and understanding. He’s already waiting for you.

Think about it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Study on Perfection: Seeing True Beauty

Lately I've been working hard trying to get into shape for summer. Swim suit weather will be upon us before we know it, guys! And as a result I am feeling myself slowly transform, but can’t see the results much yet. If you are a human being whose been on this planet for longer than thirteen years, you probably can sympathize with how frustrating that is.

It makes me wonder, though, why it is I’m not entirely happy with the way God made me. It’s not that getting in shape is wrong, but I think part of it is motivated by the feeling that God didn't quite make me perfect. Which is totally ridiculous, considering “perfect” is a fluid concept in today’s world and “beautiful” is almost unattainable without Photoshop and a paint brush. Then why do we, as human beings, fall into this trap? Why are we plagued by constant discontentment when it comes to how we look? Is there something wrong with us?

Well, yes, there is. It’s called sin. Sin festers inside, making us feel gross and unhappy, which oozes out of us into what we see. Even if we are Believers saved by grace, we've had that old self rotting inside of us so long we still see it when we look in the mirror. We still have to fight to transform our brains to the way that God thinks. And that’s like climbing a mountain backwards- it goes against our nature (the “natural” or sinful man), and gravity (the “World” or society) fights to pull us down.

Think about it. Everywhere we look “beautiful” women and men grace the covers of magazines, are used in advertisements, and act on television. It’s only been recently that “imperfection” has been touted as a desirable trait. And I think it’s because people are tired of trying to measure up. So instead of working our tails off to look like a runway model, why not use models that look like us? Why not idolize the actors that have imperfect teeth or a plus size body? If we force that to be our idea of beauty, then we’ll all be beautiful.

The only problem with that is we really aren't- at least not on the inside, in God’s eyes. If we lower our standard of beauty so that we, too, can be beautiful it makes it that much easier to squash the little voice that’s been telling us we aren't good enough. And we need that voice. We need it desperately. Without it, we don’t realize just how much we need Jesus.

But in the end, maybe seeing the imperfect as beautiful could be a good thing, too- as long as we transform our minds to see as God sees. Everyone knows the verse in Psalm 139 that says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” But I think the last half of verse 14 is often overlooked.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
(Psa 139:14)

“Wonderful”. The King James Version uses the world “marvelous”, as in “something to be marveled at”. Synonyms for that would be: an awesome sight, amazing thing, sensation, miracle, or phenomenon. Or, as I like to think, perfect. Perfect are your works.

Who are we to tell the Artist of the World that his work is less than amazing? Who are we to think that we can “improve” upon it? If I was born with a turned up nose, how can I say it isn't as beautiful as someone else’s? If I have a scar, how can I call it ugly when it’s what God chose to give me? How can I dishonor His marvelous creation like that?

That’s not to say we shouldn't exercise or remove a cancerous mole, but the reasons why we do these things are very important. Just like our motives for changing our inner selves need to be Godly and pure, the reasons for changing the outer need to be the same. The outside reflects the inside, after all.

So how do we change how we think about ourselves? How do we make sure our motives please God?

This next part just blows my mind. Read verses 17 and 18 of the same chapter:

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

Notice how this section comes immediately after the one that talks about how God created us and our lives. Now, I know I may be stretching a bit, but consider this: how often do you look at your garish freckles or too thick/thin body and think, “I wonder what God thinks about this”?

Often I've thought in terms of “what does Scripture say on this subject” but for some reason actually asking myself what God thinks about something isn't a habit for me. In fact, the mere thought of what God thinks is too much for my mortal brain to handle. It produces the same reaction that the Psalmist has in verse 6. It is too wonderful for me. It is too high, I cannot attain it.

What God thinks should be something we consider all the time. We should meditate on it, prize it. Instead of distancing ourselves from problems by thinking in terms of “Scripture says”, we should be up close and personal. We should ask, “What does God think?” (Which is found in the Scriptures so don’t abandon them!) A simple change of words can transform the way we see the world.

So what does He think? He thinks you and I are marvelous. Who are we to say otherwise?

What areas in your life do you need to reconsider from God’s point of view? Have you been distancing yourself from God by using the wrong terms? Would changing them make a difference in that situation?

Think about it.

P.S.- I just wanted to leave you with some verses to reflect on how marvelous His Works truly are. I hope they encourage you!                                                                                                                                                                                                      
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!
(Psa 92:4-5)

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
(Psa 104:24)

O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
(Isa 25:1)

"As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”
(Job 5:8-11)

He is wise in heart and mighty in strength --who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?-- he who removes mountains, and they know it not, when he overturns them in his anger, who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number.
(Job 9:4-10)

Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
(Psa 98:1-3)

The stone that the builders rejected (Jesus) has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
(Psa 118:22-23)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
(1Pe 2:9-10)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mastered: When Loneliness Threatens to Control Your Life

Have you ever been lonely? Maybe you’re single, like I am, and your heart yearns for someone to share your life with. Or maybe you are married and know in your head you should be happy, but feel disconnected from your spouse. No matter where we are in life, everyone feels the dreaded thorn called loneliness at one time or another.

For me, loneliness is my Achilles heel, my Paul-like thorn in the side. Even as a child I felt isolated and different, and then as a teenager I left behind all my friends when I moved to Europe. Now, as a young adult, the pangs of loneliness continue to remind me that the one thing I don’t have is a soul mate. The last five years have been a major struggle against depression. I’ve felt lost, alone, and unwanted even by those I would call friends. So believe me when I say I know a thing or two about loneliness. And I hate it.

The thing about loneliness is that it’s not something we can categorize simply. For some, it may be the idol of marriage in their lives that needs to be torn down. For others it may be justified because they literally have no one to turn to, including friends and family. But for others, like me, it may not be so black and white. There are so many reactions to this type of loneness. Those who have been through it, sympathize but don’t know how to comfort. Those who are happily married try to pair you up with someone. And those who have never felt it say, “You have God. You shouldn’t be lonely.” As a result, we struggle to not think about it and push it away, sometimes wondering if it’s a sin or if it’s alright to feel this way.

Honestly, I still don’t have the answer to that. But from my many years of study in God’s Word, I tend to lean toward the latter. As I state in my blog post Shades of Gray: On the Subject of Emotions, often times in Scripture people feel and express powerful emotions yet God doesn't condemn them for it. (If you read that post, this is basically an expansion on part of it.) One such person is someone we are probably all too familiar with- David. If anyone can identify with loneliness, he can. With a father-in-law that chased him around the country for years wanting him dead, I think he might just have a right to feel a few strong emotions.

Recently my devotions led me to Psalm 145, a Psalm I had never paid that much attention to. Listen to this:
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
(Psa 145:8-9)

The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.
(Psa 145:14-19)

Does this sound like a God who would condemn you for feeling lonely? Does it sound like he’s not going to listen to you because you are not “satisfied in Him” (as some people would say)? No! This sounds like a God knows who knows exactly what you are- a human being in need of human connection. But it also sounds like He has provided a way to sooth that desire in the mean time: “The LORD is near to all who call on him.”

So next time I am assaulted by my thorn of loneliness, I will lift my face to God and remind myself of four things.

  1.  The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. So He must have a plan for my current singleness (or, for those who are married, feeling of singleness).
  2. The LORD is near to all who call on Him. This means I am never truly alone.
  3. The LORD fulfills the desire of those who fear Him. My life is in submission to Him so He knows my desires and they are probably not wrong. If they are, He will show me because I fear Him.
  4. The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. He also hears their cry and saves them. I will not be abandoned to my loneliness because He is loving and faithful.

As I wrap this up, I’d like to leave you with two final verses that have been of great encouragement to me in the last few weeks. Please, take some time to go over them slowly, word for word. Say them out loud, memorize them, or write them down if you have to. Do whatever it takes to ingrain them on your heart and feel the weight of them. Let them work their way down deep into your soul. 
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
(Psa 27:13-14)

Don’t let loneliness control you. Let the Master of the Universe control your loneliness. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel it, but at least you won’t be enslaved to it. After all, God sent His Son so you would be free! Don’t let His sacrifice become meaningless. Instead, “be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Think about it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The War Between Good and Evil

Good vs. Bad- one of the most popular themes of all time in comics, books, movies, and television. Usually the hero and villain are a fairly equally matched pair, although there are stories where technically the villain is more powerful. But always, always, the villain is defeated in the end after much struggle, sacrifice, and pain on the part of the hero.

Why are these stories so popular? You’d think after hundreds of years of the same basic plot we’d get tired and move on, but no. We stay. We read. We watch. And if the ending isn't a resounding victory for the good guy, we moan.

Today’s culture is saturated more than ever with these kinds of stories. Marvel is making a killing off their superheroes- even the lame ones. If there are guys in spandex with a super power of some kind, we’re at the theater without fail. Even a badly thought through plot line makes a killing because, let’s face it, we want to see good win.

One of my favorite super rivalries is that of Superman and Lex Luthor. On the one hand we have a morally upright, all-powerful being, whose sole purpose is to protect the world from evil and uphold justice. On the other we have a comparatively frail human being whose purpose is to find a way to destroy the hero, become the most powerful person in the world, and stop at nothing to do so. He’s as corrupt as they come. Superman is strong enough that he could easily destroy Lex, yet his morality won’t let him. (Even though Lex has done more than enough to earn him that destruction.) We, the viewers, watch their rivalry play out, always frustrated that Superman won’t defeat the villain once and for all, yet admiring his moral fiber. We would agree with our lips that what Superman is doing is right, but secretly we wish he’d just man up and squash him.

We’d never say that aloud, though. That would make us seem bad. I believe that, in our heart of hearts, we are desperate to be seen as good. And why is that? The World tries to tell us that the “deities” of good and evil are equal, so why are they not equally admirable? Why do we not esteem the thief as much as the police officer?

There’s a very simple answer to that: We know that evil will not win. You could say that we are socially hardwired that way, but I honestly think it goes much deeper than that. I believe that we are born with the knowledge of good and evil. After Adam and Eve’s “eyes were opened” upon eating the fruit in the garden in Genesis 3, we were cursed. Sin invaded our lives, rooting itself in our very beings, turning something that was created good into something evil. We were infected. And like a virus, it spread. Everyone has this evil in them.

I think our souls know they should have been good. Why else would we try to do good things? Do we think they will outweigh the bad things? If I add enough water to my dirt, won’t it eventually become pure? Won’t I eventually be able to leave all of my “Lex-ness” behind and be Superman?

Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?

Yeah, God thinks so, too. Just take a look at what the prophet Isaiah says:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
(Isaiah 64:6)

“All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”. Everything good we do is worthless- like a rag so dirty it’s only fit for the garbage heap. Have you ever cleaned windows with a dirty rag? As much as you try, you can’t. The dirt just smudges all over them. When we do “good” things, they are tainted by the evil that’s invaded us.

“Great. Thanks for the bad news. But where’s the good?” you may ask. Well, chin up, because there actually is good news! And the good news is…

Evil is not just going to be defeated. It already has been!

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.(1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.(-Jesus, John 16:33)

Sin. The World. Evil. It has already been defeated by Jesus Christ.

If you are a Believer in Christ, I hope the following is an encouraging reminder. If you aren’t, then let this be a challenge to learn more about Him and let it bring you a little bit of hope:

God has already won. Satan just hasn’t stopped fighting yet.

If I could pass one thing on to my future children, it would be this: Live like good will win because it already has. Don’t give into fear. It’s just the last ditch efforts of an enemy that knows he’s already lost.

Think about it.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Monster That Is Facebook (And Other Social Media Sites)

After spending an unexpected three hours on Facebook, have you ever found yourself wondering, “What happened? Where’s the time gone?” Do you find yourself accepting the requests of people you barely know? Or maybe you have a better relationship with someone online than you do in real life. Any of this sound familiar?

Yeah, it does to me, too.

How did something as simple as a way to interact with our friends turn into such a Monster? Don’t get me wrong. Social media sites can be great for communicating with our friends and reconnecting with friends lost, but they are also dangerous.

Think about it:
  • Hours of our day disappear
  • We create a fa├žade, becoming whoever we want to be.
  • In the effort to “be real” with one another, we tell people every little detail about ourselves that, honestly, they don’t need to know.
  • We no longer have close friends. Everyone becomes our “best friend” and we spill our problems publicly.
  • With the excuse that we “socialize more” through them, we play games and constantly bombard each other with notifications while wasting our time.
  • We lose the ability to interact in person and would rather message one another.
  • We spend more time posting a picture of what we are doing than actually doing it.
  • We can no longer deal with boredom. It drives us crazy.
All of these things are major problems. We, as a society, are feeding our little Monsters. And the more we feed them, the hungrier they get and the bigger they grow.

I guess this may bother me more than most partially because, as a missionary kid, I have been a “public figure” for most of my life. Everyone knows everything about me and everything I’m doing. If I don’t post, people begin to wonder if I have fallen off the face of the earth. People I don’t even know keep up with me, watching me, expecting me to be a good role model even in the internet world. That’s a lot of pressure.

But on a more internal note, Facebook creates in me a need to know what everyone is doing. When you get right down to it, it’s basically an addiction to gossip. Think about it- instead of everyone talking about us behind our backs, we talk about ourselves and supply the information- both good and bad. It’s inverted gossip! Facebook also dampens my creativity because instead of alleviating boredom by creating something, I turn to Facebook. My “boredom span” is growing short and shorter.

Therefore I’m on Facebook more.

Therefore I don’t create.

So please forgive me, friends and distant relatives, if you find yourselves no longer on my “friends list” within the next few months. It’s not that I don’t want to be friends with you or want to be rude. It’s because I need to do what God is calling me to do- create. And I can’t do that if I’m keeping up with you. If you still want to keep up with me, please feel free to follow me on either of my pages, this blog, Goodreads, or Twitter. I’ll even post something “publicly” from time to time. And send me a message or e-mail! I’d be happy to respond and give you an update.

How is social media affecting your life? Is there anything that it prevents you from doing?

Think about it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Defective Resolution Robot

Resolutions. It seems like each new year a fresh round of them bombard our social media feeds. They are usually pretty typical: losing weight, getting fit, eating better, quitting smoking, traveling more, and the list goes on and on. But three months down the road if you happen to meet up with those people, where have their “resolutions” gone? Have they lost any weight? Are they still actively exercising? Did those dreams of traveling to Acapulco get side-swiped by the reality of their job or family obligations? It’s as if all of their cookie-cutter resolutions were spewed out by a defective resolution robot.

The term “resolution” is an interesting one, stemming from the root “resolute”, which according to means:
Firmly resolved or determined, set in purpose or opinion.

Does that sound like what we do every year? Or does it seem like what that should really say is “temporarily resolved”?

(Side note: If our forefathers had been as “resolute” as we are to free the colonies, I’m afraid we’d all still be under England. And we’d have lost the second World War. Everything would be different. But because a few people stood firmly “set in purpose and opinion”, we can enjoy the freedom that we have today. Our “resolutions” can’t even hold a candle to that. We’re not even in the same league.)

There are moments in the Bible where people were called upon to show resolve. A few examples would be Moses during the battle where he had to keep his hands raised in order for Israel to prevail and Daniel when he had the choice between obeying the law and obeying God. Most of us will not be asked to do anything as difficult as that. And why would we need to? So far no one has asked me to use my super muscular (okay, not so muscular) arms to bring about the outcome of a war. No one has threatened me with flesh-eating beasts either.

So what, as Believers, are we called to be “resolute” about?
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1Corinthians 15:58

“Stand firm”- i.e. be resolute. Resolve to stand in your faith no matter what happens this year. Resolve to stand against sin. Resolve to be more like Jesus even as you wait for His coming. Resolve to be used of the Lord and “labor in the Lord”, for His glory. Resolve to be the soldier He is asking you to be.

Making resolutions about your health or where you want to be by this time next year are all well and good, but they’re what everyone is proposing- and often failing- to do. My encouragement to you and to myself- step out of the mold this year. Put the robot back in the closet where it belongs. Instead, turn to Jesus to help you keep the ultimate resolution, one that’s worth fighting for.

Stand firm. Be resolute.