Light a Candle

“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” -Martin Luther

I just heard about the Dallas incident where five police officers were shot to death. Our culture is rapidly changing and, unfortunately, not for the better. There is so much happening in our nation and around the world that can cause us to despair and surrender to fear. I confess I am by nature somewhat pessimistic but I am hearing similar comments from many people and I know it’s not just me that feels the palatable angst that is in the air.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Another African American man has been killed recently and it’s hard to understand why. It seems racism, though it exists under the surface in all people, continues to be the scourge of our society. Majority cultures don’t seem able (or willing) to empathize with minority cultures. Minority cultures suffer in ways that majority cultures fail to understand. Black fathers are compelled by necessity to have “the conversation” with their kids. That conversation is about how to behave when pulled over by a white police officer. The purpose of this conversation is to protect their children from suffering mistreatment or even death. It saddens me that a father would need to have such a conversation just because he is black. Don’t misunderstand me. I know the majority of cops are good cops and not all majority culture people are calloused and insensitive. Though the subject of racism is very important, this is not a blog post about that specific issues as much as it is about the injustice and danger of living on this side of heaven. The problems are prolific. Injustice is in our fabric because of universal brokenness and rebellion against God.

Terrorism has visited our shores and is unlikely to leave them. Our nation is penetrable with or without a wall. Things have unsurprisingly changed in our nation. It is no longer an asset to say you are a Christian. Sometimes it draws ire and sarcasm, if not outright hatred. Culture today is eerily reminiscent of Romans 1:32 where Paul writes, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Our culture has attempted to erase God from our lives and we seem to be experiencing the ramifications of this deadly cultural shift. We have failed to embrace God’s decree, but we have also ignored His kindness. His decrees carry two positive principles behind them: to protect us and to provide for us.

Both of our political parties seem incapable of rescuing the nation. Both have corruption. Both have acquiesced to careless standards. Our hope cannot be in eradicating terrorism, racism, or finding the perfect leader. Those standards are not irrelevant and can be noble in and of themselves, but they are not what we need. It’s easy for us to faint with fear or anger at the direction our world is going. It is indeed very ugly and very serious. Al Mohler writes, “The very notion of right and wrong is now discarded by large sectors of American society. Where it is not discarded, it is often debased. Taking a page out of Alice in Wonderland, modern secularists simply declare wrong, right, and right, wrong.” And, of course, he is right in his assessment. Without being simplistic, I want to echo Luther’s words that as followers of Christ we must be intentional by lighting a candle rather than merely cursing the darkness.

Jesus is the light of tcandle_winter_christmashe world. He deserves our devotion and unconditional surrender. Only He can rescue us from what is the most serious issue of all human history: will you spend eternity with or without God. Only Jesus can provide, and indeed freely offers, peace. His peace exists in the midst of chaos. Remember the storm where He fell asleep in the boat? Only He can change our hearts and its from our hearts that our behavior flows. But Jesus offers so much more. He tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness. This is where we need to lead our nation and our world. This is how we can light a candle. Our goal is not world peace for the sake of world peace. That simply will never happen until Christ returns. Our goal is to rest in our Father’s presence. He is a strong tower. Our goal is to worship Him. Only He is worthy of all praise. Our goal is to find our satisfaction in Him. His living water will satisfy us.

Lighting a candle in the darkness anticipates that we run to the Father. It means that we share with the world where peace can be found. It means that we pray together for our world and our leaders. It means we surrender our lives to Christ regardless of our circumstances. It means we look up ahead where there will be eternal relief from our brokenness. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Our hope for the nation and for the world lies in Jesus, not in a perfect world. Make no mistake, He will restore all things. In the meantime He will provide you with the peace you need for today. Cast your anxiety on Him for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

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The Divine Pattern

Neale Davis, M.A., D.Min.

Deep within the human heart and mind there is a natural process of story that remains consistent throughout all of mankind. It is harmonious, even in chaos. It is a process, although sometimes complicated, and it is most robust when brought to a satisfying solution.

I am talking about how mankind communicates story. It begins with a setting where all the pertinent elements of the story are introduced and the characters are met and developed. Boundaries are created; color is applied, and a reader, or listener, is captured and drawn into the story.

ESAosirisEarth2048x1280Some stories are intriguing. Some are complicated. Many are tragic, but some are funny and light-hearted. Because of each character and setting it seems that no two stories are exactly alike, but the pattern is identical.

After a setting is established and we meet the characters, we step deeper into the storyline. Details are brought into focus, and we are introduced to the problem. It is the problem that subtly speaks about struggle on many levels. Every story has a problem that must be sorted out. It can contain tragedy like “Romeo and Juliet,” where the young lovers end their own lives. Perhaps it’s comical and the problem speaks to a laughable commonly experienced situation, either one that has been lived by the reader or dreamt of in a “what if” scenario. Perhaps the problem is romantic and a lover has been found, rejected, or misunderstood. In either case, there is a problem that must be confronted and sorted through.

The problem eventually reaches a crescendo. At this point, one begins to look and long for a solution. Sure enough, as the pattern concludes the solution comes. Some solutions are very satisfying, while others are not. Regardless of the outcome, though, the audience walks away with resolution. Sometimes the solution ends in tragedy, but there is still resolution. The pattern ends here only to be repeated in the next chapter or a new story. The story has gone full circle.

This pattern was created by God. It, to some degree, reflects His nature. It shows His personality, and it is a pattern that His creation naturally reflects, like a child reflects what he learns from his parents. This pattern is God’s idea and is intended for his finite creation. It is what we see in the Scriptures.

Our story is an epic. It covers eternity past and eternity future. It involves a most remarkable Creator who is the source of all life. He expresses Himself in so many remarkable ways, but we see His love expressed in the part of the story where we enter the stage. God loves and pours His love out in ways that we simply cannot understand, but we are the recipients of His artistry, compassion, creativity, purity, and remarkable kindness. He expresses His Fatherly love to His Son Who then loves us in like kind in the power of the Holy Spirit. This amazing God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, tells a story in the most beautiful but mysterious way. The love story shows His passionate pursuit of His creatures.

The story contains love, comedy, tragedy, and every genre of story one can imagine. This story that He invites one into displays glories beyond belief, but make no mistake. He invites the players to Himself as the source of all life. He makes a way through His peerless Son for us to enter the story as His friends. This artistry displays a pattern that awes the mind and the heart. This pattern is divine. It begins with Him. It is about Him, and in His remarkable way, He invites people into the pattern. It is harmonious, even in chaos; it is a process, although sometimes complicated, and it is most robust when brought to a satisfying solution. If you respond you will never have to fear being cast from the stage. Believe or not, He extends an invitation to you to participate. The response is for you to decide. (See John 3:16).

Do It Again!

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

-G.K. Chesterton

A friend of mine recently shared this quote with me and I found it very moving and encouraging. Upon writing this article I thought, “Why does it resonate with me”? After all one could dismiss Chesterton as being too simplistic and perhaps speaking of God on too elementary of terms. Yet, I think not. In fact, I think perhaps we (me) are too full of ourselves and that perhaps his quote is not simple enough. The problem, I think, is our lack of amazement at the God who created all that we know.

This quote creates an image in my mind of a very endearing God. Not that we should try to sanitize or contain God, for that would be useless and futile. Young Lucy asked of Mrs. Beaver in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” if Aslan was safe, and the rebuke came back,

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

No, that’s not what I am speaking of and I’m not talking about an old and gentle grandfather character. I carry great and profound respect for our marvelous God. This is the God who spoke 400 billion stars into existence, just in the Milky Way! But I also note that He calls me friend and it’s that portion of His character that makes Him so endearing. Paul Tripp made a good point when he wrote, “Awe of God will produce willing submission to his will, and a lack of awe of God will lead me to step over his boundaries.” I found it settling to know that because of His grandness I am drawn into His loving arms. I want to move toward Him, to trust Him, and to love Him….regardless of my life’s circumstances.

Indeed, the marvelous God, the only living God, is not some despotic and deistic entity who is fragile and temperamental. He is certainly just and can be angered, but He is safe for His children. He can be trusted by those who believe Him and have surrendered themselves to Him. He is merciful and has done what no other god has done. You see, in all of religion, including, atheism, it becomes all about hoping one has done enough to reach whatever goal that life may promise the individual. With this true and living God, however, He has chosen to reach down to us. He has condescended and made Himself approachable through Jesus. Yes, I am endeared to Him on a grand scale, but I am also endeared to Him by His tenderness, His complexity, and His eternal appetite of infancy.

Today, I will choose to believe like a child and stand in awe as I watch this God say to the sun, the moon, and the daisy, “Do it again!”

The Insanity of Surrender

“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of Heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them” Psalm 146:5-6

I was nineteen as we drove toward North Georgia. Our small rag tag group included myself, a rock climbing instructor friend, and two other students. We were making our way to Mount Yonah which is outside of Helen, Georgia. I remember feeling nervously excited about the idea of rock climbing. I love the outdoors: the openness, the smells, the sounds, and the dangers of being in the wild. Mike, the instructor, lived in my dorm and was a proficient rock climber and instructor. He invited me to drive to Helen for my first rock climbing adventure. I eagerly accepted.

repelling-downAs we had driven up we could see this monstrosity from the road. It looked glorious and promised to provide incredible views from the top. It took a little bit of time to hike to the base of this broad but exposed mountain. When we got to the base, Mike set up all the ropes by first climbing himself to anchor the rope 90 feet up so that we students could climb safely to the top and then repel down. When he finished, he gave us basic instructions on the safety of the ropes and the all important terms used in this buddy system. It was pretty impressive, too. Rock climbers are religious about announcing their climb, requesting permission to climb, and then waiting for permission by the “belayer” to climb (the person who held your rope while sitting and wrapping it around her waist). After his instruction he looked at me and said,“Ready?” Driven by pride and adrenalin, I said, “Let’s do it!”

With coaching along the way I made it to the anchor Mike had secured earlier and it felt good. I was able to look to my left and to my right to enjoy the view, but then Mike said, “Okay, come on down! Now I want you to lean back!” I yelled back incredulously, “What?!” He calmly repeated himself, as if he’d heard that question before in his instructional days. “Lean back!” he said. I thought about it for a millisecond and yelled down, “You lean back!” I thought I was supposed to climb back down backing myself toward the ground! All I heard at that point was, “Trust me. You’ll be okay.” I swallowed so loudly that I was sure the group below could hear me, but then I very counterintuitively leaned back. I had never been more afraid than at that moment. I was ninety feet up a sheer cliff and every fiber of my being said to cling to the rope and cry for momma. I resisted the urge to call for her and reluctantly leaned back. It was awesome! The anchor, the rock, and the person belaying me below held securely and I was able to enjoy a freedom I had never felt before. The perspective was amazing and the feeling was one of exhilaration. When I got to the bottom everyone congratulated me and we celebrated my climb together.

Surrender can be like that. Most always it feels counter intuitive and can even feel foolish. The key, however, to your surrender is to whom or to what are you surrendering? In many instances surrender is foolish. Surrendering to an untrustworthy person, or a secret passion that leads you to shame is a foolish thing to do. But without question it is a very good thing to surrender yourself and all of your circumstances to God. The reason is because He is reliable and is incapable of failing us. As I look back on my life I cannot think of a single instance where God dropped the ball. True enough, I admit there were times when I thought He had failed. But, I was wrong. Time and perspective proved that. God is known as the Rock. He is immovable, and Jesus described himself by saying he was the same yesterday, today, and forever. That’s reassuring to say the least. Rocks are consistently secure and never really change.

Surrender remembers that God is Father. It frees one from the pressure of being perfect. It points to a great God who is capable of caring for you and growing you. It is easier to experience the freedom that God has given us.

There are two characteristics of God that I often rely upon and ponder deeply. First of all, He is provident over my life. Nothing surprises Him and nothing happens without His knowledge. As Psalm 139 points out, He knows us intimately and entirely.

Secondly, He is good. Yes, He is good, and because of that I can rest and experience peace in the midst of my chaotic and challenging life. I may not understand Him or even agree with what He has ordained or allowed in my life, but if He is good then I can rest in that knowledge. And He is good. 

It’s easier (not gonna say easy!) to surrender and “lean back” because God IS our rock. He’s greater than Mount Yonah. I can lean back and trust that He will remain my God and my Friend. So, what are you experiencing that causes you to hesitate to lean back? Trust Him. Lean on!

Forgetting the Past

I read a good blog this morning by Ed Welch. Sometimes we can get bogged down by what has happened to us or by us in our past. Sometimes it immobilizes us and sometimes it slows us down enough to turn us inward into a downward spiral of overthinking. As Welch discusses these past events can be failures or bad decisions but, like Paul, can also be our past successes. I love how Scripture points us forward instead of into the past. From the very beginning we are led forward to keep our eyes on the prize. Jesus said he was going ahead to prepare a place for us. Paul encourages us to forget what lies behind but consider what remarkable grace has been bestowed upon us.

Take a look at this blog and consider how you might more forward instead of held in the past.

Neale

http://www.ccef.org/resources/blog/forgetting-past

I Am Not He

I’m reading a good book called “Zeal Without Burnout” by Christopher Ash and in a chapter on rest he shares a comment by a friend who offers perspective on ministry.

He says, “God has already appointed his Messiah, and he did not appoint you.”

Great reminder to those who labor without rest. Be mindful of this if your habit is to do ministry seven days a week. God does not need you, so get over it and do what he says. Rest one day a week. For those in ministry, particularly pastors I recommend this fine book. You don’t have to lose your first love to become exhausted and disillusioned.

“Zeal Without Burnout” -Christopher Ash, published by Thegoodbook Company.

Job: A Series on Suffering

In all the years I’ve been a follower of Christ I have, to some degree, struggled with the book of Job. It was kind of like an awkward uncle that you admitted was part of your family, but one you didn’t often talk about. And yet, with this book, there is remarkable understanding into the sovereignty of God. The problem of pain can be profoundly confusing. I often think about what it might be like to understand pain when one has no belief in God. For me, it would be extraordinarily overwhelming. There is no reason or no context for pain without God. It simply would not make sense. Why in our expanding universe is there such a thing as pain. If we are truly evolving into something “better” how could I stomach the idea that we seem no better, or worse off, in our world of suffering. That thought is confusing, not comforting.

With God, pain is still a bit disappointing, if I can be perfectly forthright. I still don’t like pain, and my first response is almost always to anesthetize it. Nevertheless, I find comfort in the fact that a loving Father is behind and in control of it. I understand that sounds a bit counterintuitive: a loving Father behind our pain. But it isn’t. There is purpose in pain. Even deep pain. And for those who call God Father it is redemptive and temporary. God is so remarkable and life giving that, if He is nothing else, He is sovereign and He is good. All of us had broken examples of earthly fathers (or are broken examples) but on the surface we would likely agree that the role of a father is to love us and discipline us into healthy adulthood. They do the things they do to prepare us, and the motivation is a profound love for us. God is the supreme and faultless example of this.

This can be seen in the book of Job. Don’t treat Job like an awkward uncle and politely avoid him. I encourage you to dive into the abundance of Job. To do that I want to highly recommend John Piper’s five part series on the book. You can find that series by clicking the link below. And stay with it. I know you won’t be disappointed in what you learn from this encouraging series. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Regardless of your circumstances.

Enjoy this series on Job by John Piper.