Tag Archives: Peace With God

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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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.

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.

I Don’t Want a Plastic Jesus – reprise

This a re-post from 2012 but I think it is still relevent

Its Christmas time again and you know what that means? It means it’s time to climb into our attics or rummage in the garage for our plastic Jesus to put in the nativity scene. I especially like the ones that you can put a light inside and make him glow. Now before you call me a Scrooge, let me just say that I can appreciate the spirit of the season and the meaning of the manger scenes, but there is a subtle danger in these plastic displays. Let me explain.

Think about what we are doing here. We have a plastic casting of a baby which we deem to represent Jesus. But this plastic Jesus is totally dependent on us to show up. He can only come out of his box when we want him to. We hose him off, plant him in a plastic crib and light him up. Then at the end of the season, we wrap him up in bubble wrap and put him away for another year. And my guess is that most people don’t think about him again for that year. This plastic Jesus makes no demands on our lives. He doesn’t challenge us. He doesn’t convict us. He doesn’t speak to those areas of our lives that need to change. At the same time, this plastic Jesus doesn’t forgive sin. He doesn’t offer rest. He doesn’t heal. He doesn’t bring joy, comfort or peace. Plastic Jesus just lays there surrounded by plastic people making no impact in our lives. He is tame… and quite frankly, useless.

I don’t want a plastic Jesus. The Jesus I know is independent of me. He acts as He wills, whenever He wants. He shows up in my life in the most unexpected places and times. And while that may be inconvenient at times, it is terribly rewarding when I pay attention. I do not control this Jesus. Hopefully, He has total control of my life. At least that is what I am striving for. Plastic Jesus just lays there.

The Jesus I know speaks into my life. He doesn’t leave me alone or to my own devices because He cares enough about me to want better for me. This Jesus does demand, convict and forgive. The Jesus I know is someone I can go to when the world has beaten me up and I am weary. The Jesus I know is someone I can talk to, cry to and worship. He is someone I can depend on when others have let me down. He is someone who can give me hope, joy, comfort, peace, rest, direction, wisdom, support. This Jesus is someone I can worship. I mean really look to beyond anything the world can offer. Plastic Jesus just lays there.

So, I’m not saying not to put up our Christmas lawn ornaments – or maybe I am, but either way please look beyond the hollow plastic baby and recognize the true and living Lord. This Christmas bow down in reverence.

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.

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.

Is God my BFF?

I’ve had a few good friends over the years. Well, let me clarify, I’ve had many friends – people I can hang out with, talk over dinner, that kind of friend. But I have only had a few really deep friendships. These were godly men who I could open up to; share my struggles and fears without feeling condemned; men with whom I could be totally myself and be accepted. It was much more than conversation over dinner, it was sharing lives and becoming a better person, more encouraged, more inspired or more grateful. I’ve only had a few of those kinds of friends. So as I was reading Psalms I was deeply moved by this verse.

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. (Psalm 25:14 ESV)

The “friendship of the Lord!” It is so exciting to think that I can have that kind of relationship with God Himself, a relationship that leaves me a better person, more encouraged, more inspired and more grateful every time I spend time with Him. That phrase – friendship of the Lord – evokes affection, closeness, familiarity and acceptance. It is a relationship that is not only possible, but real – today.

But also note one very important phrase in that verse. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him. We cannot approach God as just another one of our casual friends. He’s not our Facebook friend. We must approach Him with the reverence and respect that is rightfully His. Our friendship with Him is not based on impulse or whim but on His character. He will not be toyed with. He will not be disregarded or marginalized. We can’t treat Him as our BFF-du-jour. There’s a difference between being afraid of Him and fear of Him. Being afraid implies a capricious, demanding, condemning deity, ready to strike us down if we step out of line. That is not who He is. But the “fear of the Lord” is having a healthy respect that He is the sovereign creator, near to us, but also high and lifted up. We can sit on His lap, but also fall down in worship.

I think that it possible to have a deep and rewarding friendship with the Lord, a relationship our souls longs for and one He wants to have with us. It’s possible as long as we remember who He is and treat Him accordingly. You see, as we cultivate this friendship with the Lord He will tell us marvelous things. And as we speak to Him about our struggles and fears we will hear His words of fondness towards us.  He will talk to us about the promises and commitments He is making to us – “his covenant.” This is a friendship that starts today and lasts forever. This is a Best Friend Forever in the truest meaning of that phrase.