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.

 

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk

Unfortunately, many in the Christian community have alienated an important part of our population. We need to understand the gospel more fully and see how it calls us to robust relational integrity with God, but it also teaches us how to better reflect this great God we know and love. Even in areas, and with people, one may feel uncomfortable with.

“Do Ask, Do Tell” offers practical encouragement to become better conduits of God’s love toward the gay community. It is important for believers to know how to engage, love, and affirm those who struggle with same-sex attraction. This book equips you to be a better friend and neighbor to those who struggle with this area, inside and outside the church.

To find out more follow this link. “Do Ask, Do Tell”

Intangible Displays of God

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

IMG_0117As I made my way to the beginning of the trail where I would run my usual three miles I pondered the beauty of creation around me. Left behind me was the noise of work, phone calls, and unpredictable circumstances. What I witnessed before me was such a stark contrast to the constant hum of humanity and the stresses of life that we humans often seem to feel. I was grateful for this time and looked forward to releasing some endorphins as I ran by the river on a trail I knew so well.

I crossed the covered bridge and, as usual, looked longingly into the river. I am a fly fisherman and simply cannot walk past a river without seeking trout! It’s instinctual for me. I think God placed the outdoors and the draw of its wildness in me as a natural part of my DNA. But today, the beauty was more mesmerizing than usual and, after my short search in the gentle ripples and eddys of the New River for hungry trout, I continued across the bridge for my exercise.

When I came out of the covered bridge I began to stretch in preparation for a three mile run. Most people who know me know that I am pretty laid back and rarely in a hurry. I was enjoying this lazy day in the outdoors, so I took my time. As I began to stretch I noticed a piece of paper stapled to a nearby tree and walked over to take a look. I’m also a very curious person. The words on the paper were pretty typical of what you might see on countless other advertisements and self posted notes. This one caught my eye because it wasn’t in the coffee shop I go to or in a Subway restaurant where you see such signs. I read it’s words a couple of times.

“Lost: gold necklace with a locket attached. Family picture inside. Sentimental value. Offering $75 for it’s return. Please call if found.”

The sign concluded with the person’s phone number. As I read the note I thought about times I had lost something and I felt a pang of sympathy for the person. But once I started my run my thoughts ran elsewhere. What an impossible task it would be for that person to ever find something like a neckless. I mean, posting a sign like that is a good idea, but it was hope against hope at ever retrieving her lost heirloom. And so, on I ran.

As I made my way down the trail an interesting thing happened which, to be honest, took me by surprise. I actually began looking for this poor girl’s neckless. I don’t want sound heartless, but I didn’t know this person and frankly was more interested in getting my run in and having a moment where I thought about me. But, I couldn’t stop looking. In fact, I became so consumed with the task that it was ruining my gait and slowing my pace. A couple of times I almost tripped as I noted shiny objects in the grass along the trail, but it always proved to be a piece of metal or shard of broken glass. I reasoned in my mind that I wouldn’t accept the reward money if I found it. But, it would really be cool to call her and deliver the news that her precious heirloom was discovered and recovered. That thought kept me looking and eventually I gave up on my run and began walking my route instead.

I was disappointed that I never found the neckless, but when I got back to the car I began to think about what I had just done. I asked myself, “why did I waste my run?” I went the entire three miles, but it felt like eternity to finish. My time was precious and I had just lost out on an important routine that I usually guarded. Further I asked myself, “why did I care about that neckless?” and “why did I care about the person who lost her neckless?” Odd questions, I know, but I really did care about that person and her plight. But why?

As I thought more deeply about it, it dawned on me why it was important to me. Because, I reasoned, it was important to God. This caught my attention because it wasn’t so much about the necklace. What caused me to think about this person’s loss was compassion. God ,I recalled, is very compassionate and loves this girl as much as he loves me. These thoughts ignited a realization that drew my attention to the Lord. Scripture tells us that we  are made, by God, in his image, and here I was living that truth out. It is part of what differentiates us from animals. We, of course, are not gods and certainly not God himself, but he displays his greatness by creating a people who reflect him and his character. Of course, sin entering the world has marred that image, but it has not erased it. And thus began the journey into pondering a multitude of other ways we see intangible proofs of God.

As the Psalmist writes,  “The heavens declare the glory of God,and the sky above proclaims his ESAosirisEarth2048x1280handiwork.” As I mentioned last week, in this world, even this marred world, we can see God. There is evidence all around us of his remarkable nature, and, as his children, it is very encouraging to note those intangible evidences. This journey has driven me into a greater intimacy and trust with the Lord. He has used it to teach me what worship is all about and why it is important. He has helped me when I have wandered down dark moments in my life but often reminding me of his presence. The Lord doesn’t promised to remove our problems, but he promises to be with us in the midst of them. Sometimes he has used these intangible proofs to provide gentle and loving reminders that he is with me. And there are many such reminders. In your journey don’t forget to notice all the subtle reminders of this great God we serve. Though muted from what they once were, they are indicators of what is to come. Our help, the Psalmist reminds us, comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121)!

Seeing God

IMG_0010I have to tell you about an experience I had as I was running on a trail. It was a great run and the first one in a long time that felt effortless. As I made my turnaround and headed back to my truck I was praying and thanking God for who He is and what He is doing in our lives and family.  I recall saying to Him, “I would love to be able to just see You.”  And clearly, but not in audible words, I heard Him say, “You can see me.”  As I heard these words I looked at the trees and then up to the sky admiring the beauty of the clouds and sun and the sounds of the forest.  I replied, “yea, I can see You!  I can!”  That amazing thrill lasted about tw0 seconds before I said to him, “No! I mean face to face. I wish I could see You right here in front of me.”  

Almost instantly I sensed His gentle reply. “You couldn’t handle it.” I was a little shocked until I reflected a bit. Moses could only see the back of God as He passed him (showing just His back was an act of mercy on God’s part). And even that limited view lit Moses up so much that he had to wear a veil so he wouldn’t frighten the Israelites.  Then it dawned on me that God is so holy that He doesn’t show Himself to us in ways we think he would (or should).  In fact, this is an expression which shows us kindness. If we were to see Him face to face now it would likely stop our hearts instantly, or leave us in the fetal position experiencing the biggest anxiety attack in history.  That’s true of us, as His friends.  Imagine what it would be like if we were His enemies. The scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” might be helpful to give us a glimpse. There, if you recall, the Spirit of God moves through the nazis before melting their faces and completely eradicating their very physical presence.  

But enough imagery. My point is that it is awesome that we can see God, though in a veiled way. Even more awesome is that the book of Revelation is clear that when we arrive in glory we will be complete, and although I have no idea what it will be like to approach him then, I do know that we will live and reign with Him. The very glory that would likely kill us now because of God’s sheer beauty and holiness will then be the light by which we live. In the meantime, the book of Hebrews encourages God’s friends to approach His throne boldly in our time of need. Although I feel like I am always in need, I find this encouragement amazing. Absolutely amazing. He, this perfectly frightening and holy God, invites me, a perfectly frightful and sinful child, into His lap.  

Although we struggle to make sense of what He is doing, we can make sense of His kindness and mercy to us. Even though I don’t understand everything I read about in His word or what is happening in the world, I do know God is righteous, good, and merciful.  And as His child I don’t have to be afraid of His justice. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath which means His children can experience rest only as we are “in him.”  We can personally know “shalom.”  That is, rest on all borders.  

I don’t often hear from the Lord like I did yesterday, but I’ve noticed that as I draw near to him, He seems to draw near to me in tender and intimate ways. I love that and am praying that you experience that as well.  

Paul Tripp Blog

Just wanted to recommend a blog post that you might resonate with. Paul offers some thoughts on suffering that might prove helpful for you. As he notes, we all suffer at some time because we live in a fallen world. Our response, however, is key. Read the helpful way Paul breaks it down and offers encouragement.

I hope to write soon on the area of suffering in the world, so stay tuned.

Paul Tripp’s Wednesday’s Word

 

Some Thoughts from My Journal

My most recent entry was entitled “The Mercy of Clarity” where I wrote how God brings crisp understanding as to our guilt before him. Nebulous belongs to paganism, but clarity is clear by nature and shows us our status. Thankfully God not only says we are guilty, he also says we must be perfect. But then he says he will fulfill the law for us. Remarkable. But allow me to share more thoughts, specifically on things I learned from Dale Ralph Davis.

Davis comments on the horrible scene in II Samuel 21 where seven of Saul’s descendants are impaled because of Israel’s breaking of the covenant through Saul. Davis makes an excellent point: atonement, he writes, is gory and horrible. The reader of this passage is aghast at the scene….and he should be. We often underestimate our offensiveness and our own covenant breaking nature. Covering for that nature is a gory business. It is easy to forget the perfect and glorious God who loves us. Something radical had to be done to make atonement. The payment (redemption) is so horrible that we can scarce understand what is happening (especially in our western minds). But it requires blood to cleanse us. Think Calvary. Grace is amazing because sin is so horrible.

As believers our breath is (or should be) taken away because of the ugliness of this gore. But when we trust Christ, not only is our breath taken away, so is our guilt. And we are “declared righteous.” In Christ, we are in good standing with the God of the universe. That also takes our breath away. 

The Mercy of Clarity

I have always appreciated perspective and its remarkable value. Perspective provides clarity. A lack of ambiguity removes confusion. I recall taking algebra in high school. I have never been one to fully understand the value of algebra and my mind is skeptical about what it provides, so I start with a certain skepticism about anything that I struggle to make sense of. That was especially true of me as a high school student in an algebra class. But Mrs. Kirby was a masterful and convincing teacher.

You could tell that she loved two things. First of all, she had a genuine love for the practicality of mathematics. She spoke with conviction and passion for math and she seemed to want to pass this love on to her students. The other thing she loved was teaching. She had such a joyful, friendly way about her and she had the teaching thing down to an art. Her classes loved her. I loved her as a teacher because she would stop midstream to provide perspective if she saw a single confused face (a regular occurrence among us football players). Mrs. Kirby knew the importance of perspective and it’s value in creating clarity. A simple, “This is why we do this” was always helpful for me. Then, and only then, it made sense to me. Once I had perspective I was able to move on and grow in my understanding.

That’s what God has provided for us, too.

In II Samuel we see some pretty disturbing things. It’s easy to get lost in all of the violence and the insane choices that people make. Some of the craziness bothers our Western sensibilities and unless you look under the surface you might be in danger of losing perspective. It’s important to have a sense of your surroundings and hang on to all the facts. Context is vital. Some things will not make sense because we’re not used to that culture or the issues that were and are true of that particular time. Learning those particulars is helpful to gain perspective.

It has been said by some critics of the Scriptures that the Old Testament is all about judgement and has a harsh and unrealistically deafening message about a despotic God. I humbly beg to differ. I think the New Testament is more about judgement (that is why Jesus had to die). The Old Testament is actually a display of amazing grace and mercy. How many crazy people does it take to test God’s patience with their covenant breaking ways over and over and over? It would seem that everyone in the Old Testament was a bit on the disobedient side (and those were some crazy people). But, mercy is extended time and time again. God shows remarkable patience in the life of Israel. So, one would be inaccurate to accuse God of being cruel, ambiguous or cryptic. He is crystal clear and, at first pass, it may seem difficult to understand that kind of wisdom. But it is really quite loving.

You see, in paganism one must appeal to whatever god he can because he has no sure way of knowing which god he has offended. Dale Ralph Davis writes in his commentary on 2 Samuel 21, “This miserable agnosticism plagues mankind as a whole – no one knows if he is committing sin or doing good as he lives out his life. That is paganism – nebulous, hopeless, cruel. But Yahweh is kind: he declares our guilt to us. That is the mercy of clarity.” He never beats around the bush. We are guilty of rebellion and self-centered thinking. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that our hearts are desperately evil. But God continues his clarity by providing a way toward him. 

Indeed, God says to us that we must be perfect as he is. Then he covers us with this holiness through Jesus. He doesn’t stop with clarity on our rebellion. He then provides mercy. Clearly, that is perspective giving mercy. That is amazing grace. He is remarkable.

FN: Dale Ralph Davis. “2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity.” p. 26.

Joy in a Dangerous World

As we approach Christmas day there is much to rejoice in. This has been an interesting and challenging year for the world. There has been a lot of heartache and suffering and the human experience continues to be a challenge for everyone. We should, however, recognize that rebellion and suffering have been a significant part of humanity since the fatal day that man chose to doubt God. What a sad moment it was. We can each confess culpability. Amazingly God had Jesus in mind from the start (Genesis 3:15) and the mysterious but remarkable story of redemption began in what we call time. Isaiah records this amazing event like this.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

nativity-christmas-wallpaper-tcrccsxyp

By observing the chaos we see each day it is easy to become discouraged by what we “see” instead of what we know. Adam and Eve foolishly questioned God’s character and care for them. When we do that we begin to feel alone and our brokenness leads us to trust in our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) instead of the flawless and consistent nature of our God and Creator. One of the things I most appreciate about God is his fatherliness. Not all of us had trustworthy fathers (and none of us had perfect fathers), but in the Heavenly Father we have a perfect Father who cares for us and protects us in ways which we are not aware (Matthew 6). This is true even when we get cancer, suffer from abuse and violence, are sinned against, become afraid, or any number of confusing things that happen in the valley of the shadow of death. Our finitude does not allow us to see the whole panorama of God’s plan and quite honestly sometimes that is extremely difficult. But depending upon our own ability and judging God by our particular circumstances will lead to deeper confusion. This is when we must rest in his character and his stellar reputation. We can trust God not because we understand Him, but because He is consistent, peerless, and has shown us consistently his love and pursuit of us. How do we know?

First of all, Scripture tells us not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). Why? Because it is flawed. When we depend upon our thinking perspective usually worsens. It leads toward unhealthy introspection and solutions that are best described as shortsighted and self-interested. Note that it doesn’t say to not use your understanding. It says don’t lean on it. That means I have been made in God’s image and am a problem solver by nature. That’s not the dangerous part. Leaning on my problem solving leads to frustration. Instead we are encouraged to trust the Lord with all that we do, say and think. Only God has displayed a protective interest in us. The enemy and the world display destructive and selfish interest in us. They cannot be trusted.

A second way we know that God is a good Father is what he has done as a father. He made provision for our brokenness. He says to the world that because he is holy and perfect we must be holy and perfect. Then he says we cannot do it, but he will do it for us. And he sent his Son. This is what we read in Scripture. This amazing Father loved his Son and then loved us through his Son.

We have much to rejoice in this season because Jesus was born. There is much to anticipate in the future. Paul said that the suffering of this time cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us! Merry Christmas.