Tag Archives: gratitude

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.

Dealing with Despair

Humans are generally terrible at dealing with difficulties, adversity, sorrow, trials or illness. We tend to whine, mope and feel sorry for ourselves when things don’t seem to be going our way. But God understands and He has placed in Scripture a fail-safe way for us to transcend difficult circumstances, rise above the adversity and refocus on what is truly important. He doesn’t ask us to grit our teeth and go on. He doesn’t ask us to pull ourselves up. He doesn’t even ask us to put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t hurt. In Psalm 13: 1-6, He gives us a template for dealing with difficult times.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?    How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Like David, we are an impatient people! We could endure almost anything if we knew how long it would last, but not knowing the future leads us into despair and our entire perspective on life goes dark.

We accuse God of forgetting us. He doesn’t, of course, but it feels to us like he does. We accuse God of turning His back to us. “He has abandoned me (and we add the melodramatic) – FOREVER!” “Where are You?” we cry. So we “take counsel” in our souls. In other words, we get inside our own heads, park there and go around and round and round which only leads to more depression and anxiety. We are convinced that we have been left on our own and we start to try to figure out our own solutions.

But David knows better, even though he feels alone and abandoned he reaches out to the God he knows is there and the turnaround begins.  David starts to realize that He needs God’s wisdom and perspective. He understands that “taking counsel with himself”, staying inside his own head, will never get him out of his doldrums. He understands that without God’s insight, without God showing up, he will likely just give up either emotionally, physically or spiritually.

Here is where David shows us how to win the victory over despair. “But” is a powerful word. It is a declaration that we will not be held captive by our situation; a declaration that we are choosing a different reality, that we will not be defined by our circumstances. David makes the declaration that he will ground his life, not on his own feelings or self-counsel, but on the foundational, unmovable truths of God’s character. “But I have trusted in your steadfast love.”

This is God’s basic character – Love. I can trust that God will always be true to Himself in His dealings with me. I can expect that God will continue to act according to His Love towards me expressed in Christ Jesus. Trust is a choice, a deposit of faith into the treasury of God’s love. The present circumstances do not change who God is nor do they block the eternal flow of His love, mercy, goodness, compassion, patience toward me. I can bank on that.

And while trust is a function of the mind, rejoicing is an act of the heart. Rejoicing isn’t about being happy. It isn’t putting a good face on and going around saying “Praise the Lord.” Rejoicing is grounding our heart, our deep down core, firmly on God’s present and future deliverance. Not only can we be sure and rejoice in our eventual heavenly home, but we can know that God will not abandon us to the present troubles – He rescues us here and now.

When our focus is on God’s eternal Love and his saving work, we can’t help but express that outwardly through our mouths or body. Our whole being rises up and overflows in worship to Him. Some of might even sing out loud. We remember how He has dealt with us. We look at our lives and see His hand guiding our moments. We recognize that what we thought were seemingly insignificant moments or random happenings were actually His acting to bring us closer to Him.

And we are breathless, humbled and joyful.

This Psalm reflects the arc that our life takes as we live our lives through any troubles. We move from complaining and despair, to crying to God in prayer for help, to a reaffirmation of our relationship with the Father; a relationship not based on trusting our own strength or wisdom, not based on our own goodness or righteousness but a relationship wholly grounded on His love and grace. As we move through the difficulties of life, if we will remember to Trust, Rejoice and Sing, we will be able to say with absolute confidence: It is well with my soul.

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.

What’s Your Name?

It has always been fascinating to me how we humans name everything around us! We name our children (then give them nicknames too), our pets, our cars, our houses, our streets, our buildings, our parks… We also name animals, rocks, trees, grasses, food, on and on. We name everything we lay our eyes on or build with our hands. And it’s no wonder, right after God told Adam to subdue the earth, He gave him the task of naming animals. I think our need to give everything in our lives names springs from our God-given mandate to subdue and have “dominion” over creation. In other words, naming things is our way of exercising control and owning the things named. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just how we were created to be. But we took it too far.

When Moses first encounters God at the burning bush, he hears God tell him that he will deliver his people from slavery, but Moses’ first question is, “What is your name? Who should I tell the people who sent me?” You see growing up in Pharaoh’s palace, Moses knew gods with god-names like Osiris, Thoth, Horus or Ra. The gods had names that the Egyptians had given them and by naming their gods, humans were able to exercise some control over them. By naming our gods, we could define who they were, what they were like and what their limitations were. We made our gods to our standards and so could have dominion over them. But God’s answer to Moses in that encounter was not to give Moses a name, but simply to declare His existence. When God said, “I AM WHO I AM,” He wasn’t naming Himself, he was stating His presence. And throughout Scripture, He always reveals Himself in terms of His presence in our lives or relationship to us, never as just a name. (We kid ourselves if we think that Jehovah is His real name).

I think He has done this for a very simple and specific reason. He bypasses our naming convention because He will not let Himself be controlled or defined by us. He will never be under our dominion, so there is a never a “name” WE can give Him. We will always have to rely on His self-revelation to us. Even Jesus, when he appeared in the flesh, was not named by His human parents, but by the revelation of God the Father. He was given a name that revealed His purpose in His presence on Earth – to save His people.

What all this means is that we will never be able to put Him in our box of what a “proper” god should do and be. He will always be separate, sovereign and self-sufficient. We will only begin to understand Him as we understand His relationship to us. He can never be too familiar or casual because we will never truly know His name. We will only know that is still “I AM.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It Is What It Is… or Is It?

No doubt you’ve heard the expression. It pops up everywhere. “It is what it is.” It sounds profound as if the person uttering the phrase is wise and thoughtful, speaking, as it were, of an ultimate reality. But as you think about this just a bit deeper, it seems to me that “it is what it is” has a dark side to it. “IT” can be any situation or circumstance we are currently facing; some difficulty that seems to have gotten the better of us. “IT” seems inescapable, inevitable and unavoidable. “IT” will win in the face of our puny efforts to get around it. So we just shake our heads and with a shrug of our shoulders and defeat in our voice make the pronouncement, “Oh well, it is what it is. I may as well accept my fate.”

My friends, I don’t believe that this fatalistic, defeatist attitude is compatible with our Christian confession. Imagine if you will the retelling of the story of Jesus approaching the city of Nain found in Luke chapter 7. As Jesus approaches the city he encounters a funeral procession carrying the body of a young man out to be buried, his widowed mother weeping behind the casket. Jesus looks upon this scene and his heart breaks. Then he suddenly shakes his head and says, “It is what it is” and walks on by into the city. The young man is still dead and the widow destitute. After all, what could he do about “IT.”

Satan whispers into our ears that it is futile to resist “IT.” Our own flesh screams to let “IT” take its course. Yet we must remember that we have a God who is not bound by “IT.” We have a God who does not see how things appear, but how He wants them to be. We have a God who created out of nothing and calls into beings things that are not. We have a God who has overcome the World, defeated Satan, set us free from the power of Sin and declared with ultimate authority, “That is how IT is!” And we have a God who invited us into His process of transforming and re-forming our world.

That young man lying in the casket in Nain was raised from the dead. The widowed mother received her son back. Life was now different! Jesus didn’t see death and defeat, he saw life and victory. This is what he speaks into all our lives – Life and Victory. So I urge you to throw off the fatalistic pessimism of “It is what it is” and take up the possibilites of the resurrection power of Christ. Things are not as they seem and we know the One who can change them (and us) as we run to Him.

The Evidence in the Cloud

The stories of Elijah the prophet are some of my favorite Old Testament stories. There is one in particular that has had a significant impact on me lately. While I won’t copy the entire section here (it spans several chapters), you can read it in 1 Kings 17-18. Here is the basic story line. God tells Elijah that there will be a drought in Israel and Elijah relays the message to the evil king Ahab. Three years later, God tells Elijah that the drought will soon be over and that he should tell King Ahab. Here is the key passage:

After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth…” And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.  And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. (1 Kings 18:1, 41-46)

To me the story gets exciting because of what Elijah did after declaring the end of the drought. Elijah didn’t just passively sit back and accept God’s word. No! He actively went looking for God’s fulfillment of His word. You see, even though Elijah already knew what God was doing he still took action – He looked for it. He humbled himself, bowed down, prayed, worshiped and looked for God’s to act. Elijah was both patient and tenacious. As far as Elijah was concerned God said it, it must be true, therefore he will wait in expectation. That is key! It wasn’t wishful thinking or “claiming” the rain. It was simply a matter of taking God at His word.

Elijah knew that God acts at the perfect time and Elijah (or his servant) had to go look for the answer seven times before he got his answer. He didn’t go look once or pray once and then said, “Oh well, maybe I was wrong.’ He continued to look.   In Scripture, the number seven represents perfection or completion. The fact that Elijah had to wait seven times simply shows us that God acts, not on our schedule or timeline but at the RIGHT time.

So after seven times, Elijah’s his servant sees a small cloud on the horizon 10-15 mile away and he reports that to the prophet. That is all the evidence Elijah needs. God is faithful to His promises – the rain is coming – it’s time to RUN! Elijah did need a full blown storm, the evidence in the cloud was enough for him to know that God is trustworthy. His faith was in God’s character, not on what he sees with his eyes. Elijah only sees a cloud but he acts consistently with the evidence he sees of God moving to fulfill His promise. I wonder how many of us would have seen the small cloud and thought (or said) to ourselves, “That’s it, Lord! That’s all I get.” And walk away disappointed. Instead Elijah sees the cloud and rejoices.

Here’s what impressed me in this story. God reveals His heart and will to us. He declares His promises and His intent. We already know what He wants to do and is going to do. It’s all over the Scriptures. Yet we still need to act. We need to be looking and actively waiting, patient and tenacious, knowing that God will indeed fulfill His promises, knowing that He will act at the perfect time and that He is not letting us down when He doesn’t act according to our schedule.

I want to recognize the evidence of His movement; the “cloud the size of a man’s hand.” It may not look like a big thunderstorm. It may not be or start out as the next “great thing.” But whatever it looks like, you can be sure that God is behind it and it will grow to accomplish his will. So let’s be looking for the evidence in the cloud and when we see it rejoice and embrace it fully.

Customized Christianity

As we chatted around the table at a restaurant the server came to take our order. One of my dinner companions began to order from the menu but then started making substitutions. “Can I have this instead of that? And can you leave this off but add that?” You get the picture; she wanted her meal customized to her particular taste. The server took the order without flinching and the food came out just as we had ordered. We had a very nice evening.

That’s how it should be, isn’t it? We can customize our food, get our tailor made clothes, order a car with our options, custom build our house. We customize our phones and create our very own music playlists. We watch the TV shows we want on our schedule. And why not? We should be able to get what we want the way we want it, and for the most part, that isn’t a problem. The problem is when we apply that same mind-set to our spiritual life. We want a customized Christianity that is designed around us.

Thomas Jefferson very famously took a Bible, cut out all the verses he liked and glued them into another book. That way he could read the Bible he liked and agreed with but didn’t have to deal with the parts he didn’t like. Now most of us would not be so bold as to take scissors to our Bibles, but we still do the same thing. We like the part that says we share in the “power of the resurrection” but we skip over the “fellowship of his suffering” (Philippians 3:10). We like that Jesus invites us to come to Him to rest (Matthew 11:28) , but we don’t like that He calls us to “take up our cross” (Matthew 16:24).  We like that “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16), but we don’t like that “the wrath of God is poured out against all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).  Some of the things God says are uncomfortable, a bit difficult to swallow and simply don’t fit with how we want to live our Christianity. Unfortunately, we don’t have the option to pick and choose what we want to hear and ignore what we don’t. God gave us His Word as a united whole from beginning to end.

But let’s step back a moment and look at why we want to customize our Christianity, our relationship with God. I think that all those Scriptures that we don’t like and would rather ignore are precisely those Scriptures that challenge our own autonomy and self-determination. They grate against our still sinful self wanting to maintain some measure of independence. It is precisely because we DON’T want to be challenged that we say, “I don’t think God really meant THAT. He must have meant THIS instead.” And we go merrily on our way comforted by our re-interpretation of His words.

And yet we miss so much when we do this. We miss so much of His character. We miss so much of His multi-faceted greatness and wisdom. We miss so much of His boundless love when we constrict Him to be or act in a certain way. “God, you can only reveal Yourself in THIS way!” we say to Him, and yet there is so much more to explore. We have customized Him into a boring, two-dimensional caricature of who He really is.   You see, if I start with the premise that He is good and loving and faithful, then I can look at those seemingly hard words and look for the good and love in them. I can let myself and my assumptions be challenged because I know I will get a greater and deeper revelation of who He is. And that only leads me further into love with Him and deepens my worship.

I don’t want a customized Christianity – one of my own design.   I would gladly have my neat, comfortable world be disrupted if it means knowing Him better.