Tag Archives: acceptance

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.

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The Other Eleven

Some stories in the Bible are so familiar that it is easy just to skim over them and not really think that there is much else to learn. For me, one of those stories is when Peter walks on water. It is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. (Matthew 14:22-32)

 So picture this scene in your mind. The disciples are in a boat struggling with a storm that came up suddenly. Then, out of the crashing waves and foamy sea, a figure appears, coming towards them. Any reasonable person would do what the disciples did – panic! Clearly this is some sort of supernatural entity, a ghost, in other words. What else could it be? Real people do not just walk on water. So they scream, call Jesus a ghost and cower in fear.

Most sermons that I’ve heard on this passage focus on Peter. Peter gets out of the boat!  Peter walks on water. Peter starts to sink. Jesus rescues Peter. Peter, Peter, Peter, blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that I am NOT Peter. I am still in the boat with the other eleven watching Peter’s adventure. I can imagine the thoughts and feelings running through their minds. “I’m not going out there! Maybe I should have? Is Jesus going to be mad at me, disappointed with me for not stepping out? I should have recognized Him? How could I not have recognized Him? What kind of idiot am I? What kind of disciple am I? I’m a failure. I missed a chance to show Jesus my faith in Him.” On and on it goes believing they’d “missed it.”

And yet we do the same thing. We are so quick to beat ourselves up when we think we don’t have enough faith, or we aren’t “doing enough” for Jesus. We so easily disqualify ourselves and we throw up our hands and give up. Well here’s the rest of the story. After Peter and Jesus get into the boat, those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33). The other eleven worshiped Him. They made Him the focus of their hearts and minds and did not wallow in self-pity. They recognized who He was and responded appropriately.

And let me remind you of one other thing. The other eleven in that boat were still sent out by Jesus to preach the Kingdom. The other eleven saw the resurrected Christ. The other eleven received the power of the Holy Spirit. The other eleven went out from Jerusalem and changed the world. They didn’t miss anything.

So, I want to encourage you today as you read this. If you are thinking that you’ve missed “God’s plan for your life.” (Play dramatic music here). If you think your faith isn’t strong enough or you’re too afraid or you can’t see how God could ever use you, remember that regardless of our weaknesses, our screw-ups, our lack of faith, Jesus is still the Son of God. That never changes. Just worship Him. He still loves you very much and hasn’t given up on you. You and the other eleven are in the same boat.

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!

Scripture Download

I downloaded a Scripture reading app to my smartphone. The goal was to get through the Letters of Paul in 60 days. I’m 58 days behind schedule – sigh! Nevertheless, on day 2, I read the second chapter of Acts – the story of Pentecost. You remember, the fire, the wind – BOOM – empowerment! Then Peter gets up to address the gathered crowd. Here is where I pick up the story.

“But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:” (Acts 2:14-16)

As many times as I have read this before, this time I saw something totally new. Something I found profoundly fascinating – OK, besides the fire, wind and BOOM – and challenging. As Peter stood to preach to the crowd, he recited a long passage from the book of Joel. Later in the same sermon, he quoted from the Psalms. He did this from memory! He didn’t have a bible with him. He didn’t pull out his Galaxy tablet to look up the passages. He knew them. He had spent a lifetime reading, studying, hearing and memorizing the Scriptures and these became a treasure chest which the Holy Spirit could pull from at the right time.

A few years ago when I was going through a particularly difficult time, the Lord brought back to me a verse I had memorized when I first became a Christian. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-24). During that dark time, I would read and say this verse daily. It became to me a source of hope and encouragement. I knew He still loved me and would take care of me. I even wrote that verse on a piece of paper and kept it in my pocket. Every time I reached into that pocket and felt that paper I was reminded of God’s goodness. My point is that by memorizing that verse so many years ago, the Spirit had a deposit from which to speak directly to my heart. Over the years, He has also used other passages to enable me to help, pray for and encourage others.

You see, I think we need to make every effort to build a reservoir of Scripture in our hearts, a treasure chest for the Holy Spirit’s use. It would be honoring to Him to spend time reading, studying and, yes, even memorizing portions of Scripture for Him to have at the ready. Not that we are going to go around spouting Bible verses at people or use them as a hammer to beat people, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Scripture “pop to mind” as we are talking to a friend and our own words fail? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a little boost in our life when we hit a low spot? It’s not likely that we will spontaneously have to address thousands of people like Peter did, but if it happened wouldn’t it be great to be ready.

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you or create another “must do” rule for your life. I’m simply suggesting that we give the Spirit as many tools as possible to mold us into the image of Christ and make us more effective in our Kingdom calling. And what better way to do that than by depositing in our hearts the very words He wrote.

Maintaining our Freedom

In a previous post, I wrote about the freedom that Christ has won for us through His life, death and resurrection (read “True Freedom” here). In the post, I said that in Christ we have been set free in some very significant way.

First, we have been set free from the power of Sin (Romans 6:6).   “Sin is no longer our master. In Christ we are no longer beholden to Sin; we are no longer compelled to carry out those desires and practices of our natural self that are so destructive and demoralizing. We have been unchained from Sin’s power to dictate our life course. This freedom allows us as Christians to choose to obey God, to live godly, righteous lives, to pursue purity.”

Second, Christ freed us from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:15). We are no longer required to earn or maintain our salvation through self-effort or man-made rules. This freedom allows us to freely pursue an open, joyous relationship with Him.   We are no longer trying to “prove” how good we are or how worthy we are to have been saved.

But Paul goes on in his letter to the Galatians and says something that is truly remarkable and should cause us to pause to consider.  He says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Did you notice that? “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” Paul is saying that even though Christ has blessed us with this freedom, it is possible for us to revert back into slavery – voluntarily! Why? Why – and how – would we do that? Paul answers that question. Because our flesh – the remnants of our old sinful nature – still tries to pull us back. And unfortunately it is too easy to simply go with the flow and go right back into our old habits, practices and attitudes. In other words, we put the yoke of slavery to Sin or Law on our own shoulders. But Paul says it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way to maintain our freedom.

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:16, 25)

 Walking in the Spirit sounds mysterious, weird or super-spiritual, but is simply another way of saying “hanging out” with Christ – abiding – staying connected. This is the stuff of our daily Christian life. We walk in freedom by maintaining a close, open relationship with the Spirit. It is a walk – together – side by side. He does His part – instructs, guides, teaches, convicts – and you do yours – respond. You see, the flesh causes us to try to hide from Him (like Adam), but walking in the Spirit means we deliberately approach Him even, especially, in the most dark moments.

I want to suggest to you three tools, three weapons in our battle against the flesh that will help us stay connected with the Spirit. These three tools, when appropriately deployed maintain our freedom in Christ. These three tools are: Renounce, Repent and Forgive.

The flesh is informed and empowered from the past – all the things we have done or said or all the things that have been done or said to us. This does not mean that everything in our past is bad, there may be much to be thankful for and bless, but we simply acknowledge those areas where damage was done or sin embraced and close the door. That is where “renouncing” comes in. Renouncing is closing the door, disowning, disavowing or rejecting the “deeds of the flesh” in our past and not allowing them to influence our lives today.

I have written about repentance before (Rebellion and Repentance – Part 1, Rebellion and Repentance – Part 2). Repentance keeps our account current with the Lord. It is focused solely on our actions today and doesn’t let things “stack up.” Repentance is not feeling sorry or sad. Instead, it is a decision of the will to make different decisions. Repentance is about changing one’s mind or attitude, not about “mucking about” in our soul looking for junk. It is being open to the Holy Spirit spotlighting areas that grieve Him and agreeing with Him.

Finally, we have the tool of forgiveness. Again I have written about it before (The Hardest Person To Forgive). It is such an important and powerful weapon against the flesh because it short-circuits the flesh’s desire to hate, judge, condemn and seek revenge.  Forgiveness “unhooks” yourself from the effects of the other person’s actions or words by not allowing the other person to control or influence you today. Forgiveness releases the person who hurt you to God’s justice and mercy. It doesn’t mean we excuse or approve the other’s action, it simply means we no longer hold on to the pain. And don’t forget that forgiving yourself is just as important as forgiving others.

So there you have it. Maintaining our freedom in Christ comes from staying close and connected to Him. And He has given us some magnificent tools to help us do just that – to clear the emotional and spiritual clutter – that could hinder our walk with Him. Continue your walk in freedom. He is keeping stride with you each step along the way.

I Am Not A Worm

My son introduced me to a new term last week – worm theology. I had never heard this term below, so I googled it. I guess it’s been around for a while and it generally means having a very low view of oneself, believing that if we take on this “worm” mentality God will be more compassionate or merciful towards us. According to worm theology, we are to view ourselves as unworthy, undeserving, unfit and justly contemptible. We are nothing and deserve nothing. Worm theology is thought to be the same as humility. And this is how many Christians live – “wormy” – shoulders slumped, head bowed, shuffling through life, just another sinner barely able to lift our wormy head towards our Great and Majestic God.

I don’t think Christians should subscribe to this worm theology concept, but there is a place for it. Let me explain. Before we come to Christ, before we are saved, when we are in our “natural” state, we are, in fact, dead in our sin, enemies of God, slaves of unrighteousness, unworthy, unable to save ourselves, without merit to earn God’s love or grace. It’s a pretty bleak picture. Yes, we are worm-ish. And yet God looked upon sinful Man and chose to send His Son to save us. Even as worms, the Just One died for the unjust, the Sinless One died for the sinner. It can properly be said that we were sinners saved by Grace. If there is a time to apply wormly thinking it would be then – at our pre-Christian state.

But once saved by grace, a miracle happens in the life of this newly-minted Christian. The formerly wormy sinner is re-created as a child of God. A new creature has come into existence, one that reflects the image of God, a residence for the Holy Spirit. This new creature is called a saint – holy and set apart – a partaker in the divine nature. This new creature is promised glory in the future and freedom in the present. This new creature is guided, instructed, corrected and called into a wonderful life of Kingdom work by the King. It seems to me that such a creature is not a worm! And to view ourselves as worms is an affront to the work Christ as wrought in us.

Now let me be clear. It is completely appropriate to look back to our pre-Christ days and stand, or kneel, in awe that God saved wretches like us. His grace is amazing and undeserved. But we shouldn’t stay there. Instead we should stand, or kneel, in awe of what God did with this wretch. Look at the transformation! I am no longer a worm. I am a son! If that isn’t enough to cause us to worship our Father, I don’t know what is. Humility isn’t about constantly beating ourselves down. Humility is simply continually acknowledging that God did it all.

So dear Christian brother and sister, cast off your worm theology. Reject the false humility of worm-ish thinking and put on the “new man” formed by the Holy Spirit and being transformed into the image of Christ. That is how the Father sees you. That is how you can see yourself.