Tag Archives: God

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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Out-Of-The-Box Praying

I started reading through the book of Acts again.  I wanted to get a glimpse again of dynamic faith in action.  It seems the disciples, apostles, deacons and all the believers had such a simple faith that God would just show up in mighty ways – and He DID!  But even with all the miracles they saw, sometimes they just could not see beyond what was “reasonable” to them.  Their prayers were limited by their expectations of what God could do.  Here is a great example from chapter 12.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.  Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands…  When he realized this [that the angel had freed him from prison], he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer.  Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. (Acts 12:1-7,12-16)

So Peter is in prison waiting to be executed and the church is praying fervently for his release.  Then God answers their prayers – but not in the way they expected.  You see, I don’t think any one of those Christians was asking that God would send an angel to open the prison doors.  That wasn’t really reasonable.  Much more likely is that they were praying that God would “move on Herod’s heart to release Peter.” Now that would be a much more likely and expected way for God to answer their prayers.  So out-of-box was the angel scenario that when Peter did show up at the prayer meeting they dismissed the news as simply “Peter’s angel.”  These folks could more easily believe in an apparition than in an angelic visitation!  Sure they prayed and they prayed earnestly, but it seems they were praying within their experience of what God could or would do.

So I started thinking, are my prayers limited by my expectations of what God would do?  When I pray, am I also telling God HOW to answer my prayers?  Sure, He’s all powerful, but He also needs to be practical and sensible, doesn’t He?  I am very much afraid that my prayer life is “In-The-Box” praying.  I want to change that.  I want to start praying that God would do wonderful, unexpected, outside-the-box things.  I want think big and prayer bigger and see Him do bigger still.  If nothing is impossible with God, then I want to pray for the impossible.  How about you?  Will you join me in Out-Of-The-Box praying and then we’ll be able tell our own versions of the angel scenario story?

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.

A Husband’s Prayer Life

We men would like to think that our prayers are heard by God and that He will answer them. We would like to think that our prayers are effective and unhindered. But would it surprise you to learn that Scripture specifically tells men – husbands in particular – that the effectiveness of our prayer life is directly tied to the way in which we treat our wives? It’s true. Read this:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)

So if God made this important enough to include in the Scriptures, we should probably take some time to understand it. Let me go through it phrase by phrase.

“Live with your wives in an understanding way”

It is not enough to co-habitat the same space. It is not enough to simply take up space in our houses. We need to be physically and emotionally present. Not smothering or underfoot, but available and engaged. Our wives need to know that we are in this life together with her, and in an “understanding way”. “Understanding” means we take the time to know what makes our wives tick. We take the time and make the effort to know the core of who this woman is. What is she passionate about? What is her biggest fear? What is her favorite movie or restaurant? All the big and little things that make her…”her.” And while it may sound daunting, it isn’t. It simply takes the time to be engaged in her life. I will guarantee the effort is worth it and what you learn may surprise you.

“Showing honor to the woman”

Here is where things really get serious, so let me bring in a parallel passage from Ephesians.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)

 Here is the greatest challenge to us husbands – Love as Christ loved! How did He love? By sacrificing Himself for her. By doing whatever He had to in order to ensure that she (The Church) might become what she was intendant to become. That is what Paul is calling husbands to do, seek for and work for the splendor of your wife.

Paul continues,

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself (Eph 5:28-33)

 So it goes even deeper. The word “wife” in this passage is actually “the feminine.” It harkens back to the Garden when Adam called Eve “wo-man.” Adam was actually honoring Eve as part of himself. When we honor our wives as a part of us, we are honoring God’s creative purpose in creating woman from us and then giving her back to us to complete us.

“as the weaker vessel”

I don’t think this means our wives are dumber, inferior, less important or subordinate. To me it means that we must look to see how we can protect her physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is not condescending but a way in which we show her respect, honor. It doesn’t mean she IS weaker, only that we must honor her as weaker.

“since they are heirs with you of the grace of life”

We honor our wives because God honored her with salvation, with His blood. She has the same access to the Father in prayer and righteousness. She has the same calling to proclaim Christ and His saving work. She has the same in-filling of the Holy Spirit to operate in Kingdom power. As a joint-heir of salvation, I value and seek out my wife’s contribution to our joint life in Christ. If she is worthy of so great a sacrifice as Christ’s death, then surely I can honor her and sacrifice a little of my life for her also. This is what Christ did for the Church.

“so that your prayers may not be hindered “

Understand that God is making the effectiveness of our prayer life – and our relationship with Him – contingent on how we treat our wives! That is how important God thinks this is! Why? It doesn’t seem hardly fair! Here is why I think God has linked the two.  Our wives are mirrors of our soul. They have a way of revealing who we are – if we are wise enough to look and listen. If we are arrogant, selfish, prideful, angry men, it will come out in the way we treat our wives. Our hearts are laid bare. How can that kind of man hope to offer pure and righteous prayers to our God? – NOT going to happen.

So men consider it God’s grace and goodness to us to give us a woman who can thus make us better men, wiser men and more godly men as we learn to love as Christ loved and make our prayer life a powerhouse in Kingdom effectiveness.

Living by Bread Alone

Humans are hungry creatures. There is, of course, the most basic and necessary hunger for food. After all we need to survive, yet there are so many other things we hunger for – companionship, recognition, love, fame, wealth, significance, acceptance.   You can probably name any human endeavor and I am sure someone hungers for it. Some of these, to be sure, are natural and good to hunger for, but sometimes those natural desires turn ugly and we become captive to that hunger leading to brokenness and destruction. Hunger is a powerful motivator, but when satisfying that hunger becomes the focus of our lives we begin to lose perspective on the things in life that are truly important.

Believe it or not Jesus dealt with this very thing – needing to keep the proper perspective on life when a very basic hunger threatened to side track Him.  We read about it in the Gospel of Matthew.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “ (Matthew 4:1-4)

So Jesus had already spent 40 days fasting then became hungry. (I probably would have been hungry at the end of day one). And the devil made his pitch, “turn these stones to bread, you know YOU can!” The devil was trying to get Jesus to focus on satisfying His immediate need. He was trying to get Jesus to focus on His own resources to satisfy His need. He was trying to get Jesus to redefine what is important in life – the here and now. But is that what life is really about? Is it only about feeding our hungers?

Jesus answers with a resounding, NO! Jesus says that there is more to life than bread. There is more to life than the physical needs of our bodies or even the hunger in our broken souls. Jesus says that life is bigger than that. There is a greater hunger – a spiritual hunger – that humans need filled; a hunger that can only be satisfied by God. Listen again to what He says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word…of God.” Putting it differently Jesus says Man shall live by every word of God.  If you want to live fully, to be wholly alive as you were meant to be, then you need a connection to the Father.

The devil makes the same pitch to us today. He tries to define for us what is important. Why not spend our resources to fulfil our wants? Why not spend our days on satisfying self? Why not focus on ME, right now? Nothing else is more important, right? And he tries to blind us to our need for God because he knows that that is where we truly find our satisfaction, where real life starts.

“…every word that comes from the mouth of God” doesn’t just mean reading the Bible, but it means maintaining a dynamic, present-moment relationship with our Father. A relationship in which His words become life-giving, nurturing and heartening; a relationship in which we hear His words of affirmation, wisdom, acceptance and love; a relationship in which we hear and stand on the promises He has made. Every word! Every moment! That is how life was meant to be lived. That is what He wants for us and has possible for us through Christ – a life that is more than bread alone.

Mustard Seed Faith

I am not a great man of faith nor am I a man of great faith. I am simply a man of mustard-seed faith. And that apparently, according to Jesus, is enough. Read what He says to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew.

For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17:20)

This is a truly remarkable statement! Jesus is saying that all those seemingly insurmountable situations in our lives – the health problems, difficult relationships, emotional turmoil, spiritual unrest – can be easily removed by the exercise of just a little bit of faith. It seems too good to be true doesn’t it? It can’t be that easy. It seems to me that we Christians have this belief that we have to somehow ratchet up our “faith” when we really, really, really want God to answer a prayer or intervene in our life. We think we need to show Him just how much we believe in Him before He acts on our behalf. I don’t think that’s true. In this passage, Jesus is telling us that it is not how “big” our faith is; instead we need to understand the authority that has been granted to us.

Again, in this passage He is talking to the disciples – to us. “YOU will say…”, “nothing will be impossible for YOU.” He isn’t saying “pray real hard.” He says to us, “Take action. Speak authoritatively.”

And yet there is still the mustard seed faith that we must have. What does that look like? For me, this is where the depth of our relationship with Christ comes in. Faith isn’t just a vague notion of wanting something to be true, but faith is focused on Him and our understanding, appreciation and experience of Him. Faith rests on a Person. That is why mustard seed- sized faith is enough, because He is so big.

As we grow deeper and closer in our relationship to Him, we get to know what He wants. We start to see how He acts. We start thinking like he thinks. We start seeing our lives and circumstances as He does. Then we can act as He would and speak to the “mountain” just as He would. Nothing will be impossible for us, because nothing is impossible for Him!

I think for too long the Church has been spiritually impoverished because we haven’t taken Jesus’ words here seriously. We’ve made faith a function of our effort, instead of a focus on His Work. So my encouragement to you is simply…STOP. Stop obsessing whether you have enough faith to face your obstacles. Stop focusing on yourself and whether you are worthy enough, holy enough, righteous enough to garner God’s attention. Instead focus your mustard seed faith on Him and speak to the mountains. They will move! They must move! And He will receive the praise.