Category Archives: The Invitation

Grief Experienced

I had never experienced grief like that before.  Sure, I’ve been sad, but this was different.  This was a heart-wrenching grief that shook my core.  It was a wail in the spirit at a great loss.  It came in waves unexpected.  You see, last December my father passed away, and while it was not totally unexpected – he was 91 – it was still a shock.  I wept.  And now, so many months later, the grief now turned to sadness still overtakes me when I am least expecting it.

The day of the memorial service was a cloudy day with a light sprinkling rain.  As we left the church service and were heading to the graveside, some of the clouds parted slightly and the sun shone through for a few moments.  Perhaps a heavenly salute, perhaps just a coincidence, but in either case I thought about the grief our Heavenly Father experienced when He saw His Son dead.  It darkened the sky.  It shook the earth.  It convulsed the universe.  I can understand a little of that now.  And yes, even though He knew that Jesus would rise again, it doesn’t take away from the grief of the moment.  I knew that even as I wept for my father, Dad was experiencing joy unspeakable.  It didn’t help me at that moment.  The grief is still real and very present.

Wouldn’t it be interesting on this Good Friday to pause for a moment and simply acknowledge the Father’s experience on this day, His grief?  Perhaps we can just sit with Him and say, “I understand… a little,” and grieve together even while we look forward to resurrection.  He did that for me.

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The Living God

My wife and I visited Nashville, Tennessee this summer.  At the end of our week there we visited one of the local attractions.  In Nashville there is a full size replica of the Parthenon – the classical Greek temple of Athena in Athens.  Apparently this replica was built to celebrate a Tennessee centennial celebration in the late 1890’s.  This replica Parthenon was truly imposing and impressive.  It was beautiful.  Inside the Parthenon was a forty foot statue of the goddess Athena arrayed in her armor with sword and shield beside her and the goddess Nike ready to crown her with victory.  Athena’s bright blue eyes stared out into her temple.  As I walked around this temple and gazed at Athena, I asked her some questions.  I asked her if she saw me.  I asked her if she had anything to say to me.  She didn’t say anything.  She didn’t look at me.  She just kept staring outward.  There was no life in her eyes.  She was, after all, just a statue.

This experience in the replica Parthenon was even more striking because of what we had experienced during the prior week.  You see, we were in Nashville for a conference hosted by Global Awakening.  It was a week of inspiring worship, challenging teachings and encouraging prayer times.  But more than that, throughout the week I heard God speak to me.  He spoke intimately, personally and deeply.  He touched wounded places and brought healing.  He affirmed who I was.  He knew me by name and He saw me.  I experienced the LIVING God!

And that is the difference between a beautiful, plaster-cast goddess and The Lord Almighty.  So maybe folks today aren’t worshiping Athena, but many, many people turn to the idols of this world – the shiny things, the causes, the power or fame, the possessions – for comfort, meaning or comfort.  “Does anyone SEE ME?” they cry out.  “Does anyone know ME?”  That is what we want, to count.  And yet just like that lifeless statue of Athena in Nashville, these idols are just as dead, lifeless and impotent.

The living God knows us.  He said to Israel and He says to us today, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isa 43:1).  He also says,” Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you (Jer 1:5).

So instead of pursuing the Athena’s of this world – the unmoving, unresponsive, unseeing idols – remember that there is a real, living God poised to respond to your deepest cry.  One who can speak into the secret places of your life to bring comfort and wholeness.  One who knows you by name.

So as beautiful the replica Parthenon is, I would much rather spend time in the temple of the Living God and have a conversation with Him.

On Being the Lost Sheep

For some reason the Pharisees liked to hang out with Jesus and criticize everything He did. You would think after a while they would just learn to ignore Him. But they didn’t and Jesus took every opportunity to try to set them straight. This is the situation we read about in Luke 15:1-7. The Pharisees are complaining that Jesus hangs out with folks they considered “sinners.” Certainly these were people no self-respecting rabbi would associate with. So Jesus tells a parable that demonstrates His heart toward those very sinners – the lost sheep. But understand that the “lost” in this parable are still Jews. They are still covenant people. Jesus is not talking about Gentiles or unbelievers. He is talking to us – his people – and He is revealing His heart towards us when we get lost too.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

 First of all, notice that the entire flock has 100 sheep and the lost one belongs to that flock. It is not an outsider. It is one of the hundred! And even though this sheep may stray, it is not kicked out of the flock. It is not rejected. When He calls us to salvation and we respond in faith, we are counted among His flock. This means that we always belong to Christ. To me this is greatly encouraging – I know that I will always be His. It gives me great peace and comfort that once I am His, He will never kick me out of “His flock.” It establishes a relationship with Him that is stable not fearful.

But see also that it is possible, even within that stable relationship, even being part of the 100, to stray, to sin, to lose our way in being the kind of sheep He wants us to be. Being lost, sinning, in whatever form this may take – big or small, once or many times – does not automatically mean we are no longer His sheep. We may feel unworthy or condemned or ashamed, but that is us projecting those feeling unto God. That is not His heart toward us. I know that He does not reject me simply by looking at the shepherd’s response to the lost sheep – He goes looking for it! Jesus initiates the search. The individual was important. He didn’t content himself with just keeping the 99 and forgetting the one. No, Jesus perseveres in the search for the lost sheep. And He doesn’t give up until He finds it. Understand that Jesus will never give up on you! No matter how far you think you’ve strayed. How much you think you’ve disappointed Him. How ashamed or guilt-ridden you are.  He does not give up until He finds you wherever you are.

Not only does He search for us, when He finds us He then carries us back to the flock – back home to be with Him again. The sheep is lost and does not know how to come back. It would be lost forever if not for the shepherd’s action. Jesus carries the sheep back. The sheep is helpless to come back to the fold by its own power. We kid ourselves if we think we have the power within ourselves to “get our act together” or to “clean ourselves up.” We think we can do it ourselves and find our own way back to the fold. The only thing we can do by ourselves is get ourselves lost. We need Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit to show us the way back and carry us there. Again, this is terribly encouraging to me! Not only does He search and find me but He also restores me. It is His work from beginning to end.

But the story gets even better. When Jesus searches for us and finds us and restores us, He is not upset, peeved or annoyed. No, He rejoices. It gives Him great joy to have us with Him again. Why? Because a sinner has repented and been restored. Yes, the sheep needs to repent, but repentance is simply asking Jesus, our shepherd, to carry us back. It is not feeling sorry. It is not vowing never to stray again. It is not pulling ourselves out of whatever situation we’ve gotten ourselves into. Repentance is admitting that we are lost and we are not strong enough to find our way back. And when we do, not only is He happy but heaven breaks out into a party – noise makers and all!

This story, this parable, is simply a way for Jesus to let you know how precious and important you are to Him. You are His and will always be His. And even when you are not perfect – especially when you are not perfect – you can know that He has not and will not reject you.  Ask Him to carry you back. There is a party in heaven waiting to happen.

Hide and Seek

First, I just want to give credit to my son for this little gem that I about to pass on to you. He shared it at church a couple of weeks ago and I found it so encouraging I just had to write it down.

You remember as a small child playing Hide and Seek? You would hide in some easy-to-find place so that you COULD be found.   The joy was in being found, letting out a delighted squeal and giggle when you were found. The object of the game was not to hide and remain hidden, but to hide so that you could be found. And that somehow deepened the relationship between the “hider” and the “seeker.”

Our Father likes to play Hide and Seek with us. Only He is the hider and we are the seekers.   He hides so that we will be motivated to seek Him, all the time anticipating the moment, the joy-filled moment, of our finding Him again and again. He hides in plain sight and then invites us to seek with the promise that He will be found.

You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, (Jeremiah 29:13)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

Yes, He sometimes hides from us, not to punish us, not in anger or disappointment, but to draw us in. He wants us to be looking for Him constantly around every corner, in every conversation, in every circumstance, in every moment. He is there and He is just waiting to be found. Seek!

Dance Like You Mean It

My wife and I went on a short vacation to the western Pennsylvania area. We spent one night in a small, quaint town in the Ligonier Valley. What we didn’t realize is that the town was hosting a vintage car show and 50’s band and dance competition. The crowd gathered around the gazebo in the middle of the town square to listen to the band and where old and young couples danced swing (or whatever dance style they danced in the fifties). It was fun to watch and the young couples won first, second and third place. But the really good part started after the dance competition ended and this is what inspired me to right this post.

You see the music continued until well past nightfall and most of the young couples except for one had left. I supposed that since they had already won, there was no point in showing off the moves any longer. They had made their statement and went off to celebrate. Most of the remaining audience was an “older” crowd. Then something remarkable happened. The band began to play a slow, hold-your-girl-close song. The one young couple danced well at a respectable distance from each other. But the old folks… Ah, the aged married couples got up to dance too. And they DANCED! I mean they weren’t dancing to show off or to be seen, they danced because they were in love. They wanted to hold their darling close and look into their eyes and smile great big smiles. You could see it as they moved and twirled around the town square. They were in their own world and they didn’t care who else was there. It was just them expressing their love for each other. I have to tell you, it was a wonderful moment to experience and I thought about how this reflects our affection for the Lord.

There was one other woman there who even by that evening’s standard appeared really old. She shuffled along with her cane barely able to pick up her feet, but when the music started…watch out! Take a look at this short video my wife took (ignore the couple dancing in the foreground, focus on the woman in the back).

This woman was in the zone! She was feeling the music, celebrating the music and moving whatever parts of her body still moved. She danced with joy and abandon! We read in 2 Samuel the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. He was so happy, no, so JOYFUL to have the Lord’s presence among His people that he couldn’t help but dance. And David danced before the Lord with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14). He danced with abandon and joy! So much so that his wife Michal was embarrassed for him. It was “undignified.” David didn’t care he was more concerned about honoring his God than what people thought.

So as I reflected on these things, I thought to myself, “I have much more to celebrate than good 50’s music. Do I live my life with joy and abandon? Do I, like the woman in the video or even David himself, give my all before My Lord?” This was not a guilt trip but an inspiration, an encouragement. And like the older couples dancing close and lovingly, I also want to behold my Lover, my Lord, get lost in His presence and dance with all my might.

Lost Faith or Lost God?

A few weeks ago I was driving down a highway on a long ride to visit family when I saw a billboard that read, “Have you lost faith in God? Call…” then it gave the phone number of a local church. So over the next several hours I pondered that question. I was puzzled. I was disturbed by the underlying assumptions it makes about the character of God. If we do, indeed, lose faith in God, it must mean that God let us down. It assumes that God did not live up to our expectations, that he did not answer our prayers to our liking, and that he is untrustworthy. Losing faith in God implies that he or his actions are somehow deficient and do not meet our needs or requirements. At that point, there is no use calling the church phone number because I would think there is little they could say to convince me otherwise.

So as I drove through endless hours of arid landscape, I thought that the question that really needs to be asked is, “Have I lost God in my faith?” Odd you may think but let me explain. The original question, it seems to me, is focused on the wrong person. The question assumes that I am the center of attention and that God should act in a way consistent with my desires. The question makes me the focus. And if I am that standard against which God’s actions are judged, then he will always come up short. We will be disappointed and faith will be lost.

But what if our understanding of God is faulty? What if I have over the years created a caricature of God in my image? What if the “faith” that I exercised was based on a wrong understanding of who God really his or a misunderstanding of his motives? What if I have bought into the lie that I am the one that should be served instead of the one who should be serving? What if I have judged his Book, his Church and his people as inadequate and therefore he is inadequate as well? It is easy to lose God in the midst of all this flawed faith.

In order for “faith” to be valid it must be based on the True God – the one who reveals himself in Scripture – not the God of our own construct. I find that it is typically not God who has let me down but it is me that has misinterpreted his actions. He is consistent in his character. He always has been and will be Good, so he will always act consistently with his goodness. He has always been Slow To Anger and he always will. He has always been Faithful, Loving, Compassionate. And if, for some reason, it does not seem that way in my life, the failure is not His, but my inability to apprehend his character in my circumstances.

When facing disappointment or confusion, the question is not, “Lord, why did you let me down?” the question is “Lord, don’t let I miss what you ARE doing?” My biggest fear is not that I would lose faith in God, but that I would lose God in the smallness of my faith.

The Power of the Resurrection

Even though the Easter celebration is over it is still important to reflect on the great implications of that singular event. We read in the Luke’s account of the events of that first resurrection Sunday, the following story.

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:36-43 ESV)

 In this story Jesus goes to great lengths to present himself as a real, flesh and blood person. He proves his existence. It important that the disciples know he is truly and physically alive. It is also important for us to recognize that Jesus is truly and physically alive. Jesus is not a myth or legend, a good idea or concept, a philosophy of living or worldview or lifestyle. He is a person, once dead and is now alive!

The Church has been great about preaching the death of Christ, but misses the point that without the resurrection, his death doesn’t accomplish anything.   Consider the following Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:13-19 – But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. …17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

 It’s because he was raised that his death became effective in forgiving our sin. So Paul is saying that without the resurrection, we would not be saved.

 Acts 13:29-33 – [Paul preaching in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia] …And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus…

 It because Jesus was raised from the dead that all the promises the Father made could be fulfilled. The promises were not fulfilled by his death.

 Romans 10:9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

 This is a favorite verse used in evangelism, but note that our salvation is not based on believing that Jesus died but in believing that he was raised from the dead.

 I think it’s important, vital even, that every Christian understand and appreciate the power of the resurrection. Because my Redeemer lives I can pray for healing; I can overcome the attacks of the enemy; I can face the difficulties of this live; I can say to the mountains of depression, of fear, of broken relationships, of poverty, of sickness – MOVE and they move! Because my Redeemer lives I am empowered by the Holy Spirit and I become a witness to all he has said and done in my life. But it all depends on knowing Him – the risen Jesus. Because he lives, I live!

 AGAIN, it is important to understand and know that Jesus is a real, live person. It is as we know him and interact with him as a real person that we experience the life changing power of the resurrection with all the promises and possibilities that come with it.