Don’t lose it….

black hole“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” – James 1:2-4 HCSB.

Like a surgeon, Larry Crabb with stunning precision picks apart a heart in the midst of trial.   This passage is too good not to share.

Whatever the angel said to strengthen Jesus, the effect was surprising.  I would have expected Him to dry His eyes, smile bravely, and get on with His mission.  But instead Jesus cried harder, so hard that His sweat became like drops of blood.  That happened after He was strengthened.  Perhaps we’re meant to learn that the richest hope permits the deepest suffering, which releases the strongest power, which then produces the greatest joy.  Maybe there is no shortcut to joy.  Maybe God sometimes frustrates our desire to experience Him in order to deepen it.

And then, at some point, Jesus did stop crying.  The season of anguish yielded to calm resolve.  Like a man in charge, Jesus walked back to where He had left His disciples.  They were asleep.

And once more He said, “Pray so that you will not gie in to temptation.”

I titled this chapter “Jesus Speaks.”  Drawing from all that we hae now considered, I hear Him speaking words like these to us.  Listen.

“Some of your fondest dreams will shatter, and you will be tempted to lose hope.  I will seem to you callous or, worse, weak — unresponsive to your pain.  You will wonder if I cannot do anything or simply will not.

“As you struggle with dashed hopes, you will fail, just as my servant Peter did.  You will feel discouraged with yourself to the point of self-hatred.  And I will seem to withdraw from you and do nothing.

“When all of this comes to pass, My word to you is this: Do not lose hope.  A plan is unfolding that you cannot clearly see.  If you could see it as I do, you would still hurt, but you would not lose hope.  You would gladly remain faithful to me in the middle of the worst suffering.  I guarantee you the power to please me, not to hae a good time.  But pleasing me will bring you great joy.

“In the deepest part of your soul, you long more than anything else to be a part of My plan, to further my kingdom, to know Me and please Me and enjoy Me.  I will satisfy that longing.  You hae the power to represent Me well no matter what happens in your life.  That is the hope I gie you in this world.  Don’t lose it.”

Going to the Other Side

“On that day, when evening had come, He told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” ” (Mark 4:35, HCSB)

Wish the delivery was smoother and I didn’t make so many little word mistakes but maybe that’s why my only two C’s in seminary were in systematic theology and preaching.  And that was grace!  Nevertheless, this message and text may be the one that impacts me more than any other this side of eternity.  It really was a good preface to the three years that have followed.  It speaks and convicts me even more today than it did that Sunday morning.  I hope that it will move you closer to Christ.

Remember, you don’t give life to the root. The root gives life to you.

photo by BrittneyBush

“Some of the natural branches have been broken off. You are a wild olive branch. But you have been joined to the tree with the other branches. Now you enjoy the life-giving sap of the olive tree root. So don’t think you are better than the other branches. Remember, you don’t give life to the root. The root gives life to you. ” (Romans 11:17–18, NIrV)

I am often reminded of this verse when in the middle of the immigration debate – which is often (irrespective of SB1070).

The arrogance and assumptions made by both sides are disheartening.  Thorough analysis of a complicated situation that literally has lives and families hanging in the balance seems rare – replaced by angry mobs chanting the talking points of whichever political leaders/reformers have caught their ears.  It is a good reminder that no matter which branch you consider yourself, cultivated or wild, you are simply enjoying the benefit of the root which is supporting you – not the other way around.  Everything can change, and quite quickly.

“Then the Lord God sent a vine and made it grow up over Jonah. It gave him more shade for his head. It made him more comfortable. Jonah was very happy he had the vine. But before sunrise the next day, God sent a worm. It chewed the vine so much that it dried up. When the sun rose, God sent a burning east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head. It made him very weak. He wanted to die. So he said, “I’d rather die than live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you have any right to be angry about what happened to the vine?” “I do,” he said. “In fact, I’m angry enough to die.” But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine. But you did not take care of it. You did not make it grow. It grew up in one night and died the next. Nineveh has more than 120,000 people. They can’t tell right from wrong. Nineveh also has a lot of cattle. So shouldn’t I show concern for that great city?” ” (Jonah 4:6–11, NIrV)

Just a hint – the worm is not the unauthorized immigrants to our country.

You are a recipient of grace and mercy.  You have been bestowed a tremendous privilege of living in the United States, the most prosperous nation in the world.  Remember where that life really comes from.  You aren’t it.  Ultimately our faith must not be in gov’ts, economies, reform movements, border protection, etc.   It must be in the grace and mercy freely poured out from the Father through Jesus Christ and subsequent transformation that comes from individual hearts set free.

Ultimately, followers of Christ should be more concerned about getting people into the Kingdom than in getting them out of the country.  They should do more searching of the Scriptures for guidance than scanning the channels.  The most disheartening part of these debates is how little of the former and how much of the latter is the norm for the body of Christ today.  May God have mercy on us.

The biggest challenge to our nation is an internal one and it is not immigrants.  We must have both revival and an awakening or we will not stand.  No amount of law enforcement nor border protection will change that fact.

Repost: The cross bids me come and die…and find I may truly live

photo by Michael Wray

photo by Michael Wray

I would normally add commentary but with a photo this wonderful, this beautiful – only Scripture will do.  So I add these inspired words for your contemplation:

“It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:13-18, NIV)

4th Grade homework for Dad…complete with 4th Grade printing.

Yes! An omnipotent spotter that is never distracted and never fails!

Given my last post, I am especially encouraged when I woke up to this devotional.  A very nice reminder of the God with whom holds our every breath, knows our every thought, and loves us.

photo courtesy of Denis Collete (his photos are amazing!)

“I will help thee, saith the Lord.”
— Isaiah 41:14

This morning let us hear the Lord Jesus speak to each one of us: “I will help thee.” “It is but a small thing for me, thy God, to help thee. Consider what I have done already. What! not help thee? Why, I bought thee with my blood. What! not help thee? I have died for thee; and if I have done the greater, will I not do the less? Help thee! It is the least thing I will ever do for thee; I have done more, and will do more. Before the world began I chose thee. I made the covenant for thee. I laid aside my glory and became a man for thee; I gave up my life for thee; and if I did all this, I will surely help thee now. In helping thee, I am giving thee what I have bought for thee already. If thou hadst need of a thousand times as much help, I would give it thee; thou requirest little compared with what I am ready to give. ’Tis much for thee to need, but it is nothing for me to bestow. ‘Help thee?’ Fear not! If there were an ant at the door of thy granary asking for help, it would not ruin thee to give him a handful of thy wheat; and thou art nothing but a tiny insect at the door of my all-sufficiency. ‘I will help thee.’ ”

O my soul, is not this enough? Dost thou need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Dost thou want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring hither thine empty pitcher! Surely this well will fill it. Haste, gather up thy wants, and bring them here—thine emptiness, thy woes, thy needs. Behold, this river of God is full for thy supply; what canst thou desire beside? Go forth, my soul, in this thy might. The Eternal God is thine helper!

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismay’d!
I, I am thy God, and will still give thee aid.”

(Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening : Daily Readings, Complete and unabridged; New modern edition. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006).

I’d ask for a spot but…

photo courtesy of foggiegee

For You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places. Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God. ” (Psalm 43:2–5, NASB95)

At a men’s group yesterday I was struggling to find words to describe where I am struggling lately.   I can only say it is not where I would like to be and yet it is.  The blessed desert (Exodus 2:16-22; 33:12-16)?  Alone with God. How can I adequately explain the paradox that is raging within my heart.  As I thought more about it an analogy came to mind that encompasses a thorn I have wrestled with ‘unsuccessfully’ for the last few years.

I liken it to being in the gym on a final set with the weights halfway back up.  Not a pound less than you can move (and seemingly a little more).  The task requires every ounce of focus, strength, and determination to keep the weights at least stationary if not moving upwards slowly.  Usually, a ‘spotter’ is used to facilitate a safe and effective workout that pushes you to the limit.  The spotter’s purpose is to ensure you are lifting the maximum amount without letting the weights crush you when your muscles reach their limit.

Since graduating seminary, I have often wondered where have the ministerial ‘spotters’ gone.  The weight is there, but no help to be seen.  But here, there is no time to dwell on where the ‘spotter’s have gone.  No time to wonder if they really are just too busy with their own workouts to help or are purposefully looking away.  In the past the enemy has caused me to focus destructively on this conspicuous absence.  Tempting me to anger, resentment, and bitterness.  Joseph knew better than to focus on people or circumstances (Genesis 37-45), and so must I!  No, too much time wasted wondering in vain.  It is what it is.  Jesus owns the gym, has not turned away, and will not allow one ounce more (nor less) than I can handle in His grace.  Setting a new world weight record?  I doubt it.  But that was never the point.

Now all that I am must be focused on getting those weights back up and on the rack.   Just as in weightlifting – that last repetition of the last set where you expend yourself fully is where the gain is made.  All the previous sets have added strength to get to this point – but this final set is building more than all of them combined.

The analogy as all with any analogy, is still inadequate to fully describe the experience – as it is as much about love and intimacy than strength and weights.

photo courtesy of WolfSoul

A deepening of ‘reverent intimacy’.  A consuming love burning and growing in intensity from the inside.  A love from and for Christ that is beyond my ability to describe or contain.  I have known and loved Christ for 20 years and yet the present experience makes the time past seem nothing more than casual friendship.

That’s where I’m at.  Thankful, and yet trying really hard not to be crushed or maimed beyond recognition.  More than willing to ‘spontaneously combust’.  Also thankful, to share the witness of so many who have sojourned in the desert before me.

Christ truly is my treasure and if dwelling in the desert is the means of gaining deeper ‘reverent intimacy’ with Him – it is exactly where I want to be.

Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works. ” (Psalm 73:25–28, NASB95)

Eclipsed by Glory – thank you DBC!

photo by Denis Collette

“We love, because He first loved us.”

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

(1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 9:15, NASB95)

Thank you  David Crowder Band for putting music and lyrics to the imagery of my heart:

“He is jealous for me,

Loves like a hurricane

I am a tree bending,

beneath the weight of His wind and mercy

When all of a sudden,

I am unaware of all of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,

and I realize how beautiful you are

and how great are Your affections for me…

Oh, how He loves us, oh

Oh, how He loves us

How He loves us all.

Not by bread alone

photo courtesy of FreeBirD

““You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, NASB95)

The wilderness, a very unexpected path.  I have heard followers of Christ say that they are ready to sell all, lose all, forego all, to follow.  It seems so romantic, the passion and commitment of it all.  I have said the same.  Much the same those who sign up to die for their country.  How many expect that they will indeed be the one to die?  How many expect to give all and receive…the wilderness.

Of course, the expectation is not that the Lord would lead you right into the wilderness, into obscurity, into barrenness.  Surely, there must have been a wrong turn…somewhere.  This could not be it.  Surrounded by rocks, no milk, no honey.

“You have been forsaken and forgotten!”

“You were mistaken!”

“Why don’t you just do something?”

“Why don’t you just give up?”

“You wait in vain!”

- the summary of the voice echoing through so many, in both solitary silence and the roaring cruel wind of the crowd.

But it is not the voice that I heed.  There is another that my ears have attuned.

“This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.”

And it is enough to follow my Father home.  More than enough.

Counting it all joy!

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NASB95)

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NASB95)

I recently spoke with a friend over the phone and after it concluded I realized I had shared my present burden and stress (an all too often occurrence) and none of the great things God has been doing.  I sat down and wrote the following and then decided I would just post it instead.

I wanted to write better summary of what God has been doing in our lives.  I feel I have burdened you far too many times with the struggles and far too little allowed you to rejoice with me in what Jesus is so faithfully doing at the same time.

We are now living in an apartment which never would have been my choice, but our apartment happened to be right next to a missionary family on furlough for our first summer.  Their boys and ours bonded like Velcro and the friendship I gained with their dad was a blessing and further evidence of God’s sustaining grace.  We have also made new friendships with a family originally from Ghana, another family (and their extended family) from Sudan, and recently another family from India.  The opportunity to know and witness to families from around the world right here in this little college town is amazing.

I have taken up container gardening which has been educational, therapeutic, and an incredible bridge to meeting new people (a 4×8 garden all in containers and lush like a jungle gets a lot of attention)!

Having come back to Iowa has allowed me to reflect on different chapters of life and celebrate 20 years of walking with Christ (far more a story of His faithfulness than of mine).  Although I long for the family atmosphere we came to love at Royal Palms Baptist Church, the church we are attending has facilitated some of the deepest worship experiences I have had and for that I am thankful.  I also owe so much of my understanding of discipleship and ministry to our lead pastor who was providentially involved in several of my spiritual crossroads.

The significant adversity I faced at work over our first 9 months here, while extremely stressful, served to drive me deeper into God’s Word and ultimately I was able to rejoice when God did bring relief.  He has taught me much in how to more effectively deal with adversarial relationships.

Our plans to sell our house quickly, pay off all of our outstanding debts, and be untethered for an open door to ministry (whenever that might occur) were completed turned upside down.  We could not sell our house and while holding on to the idea it would eventually work out, our debt doubled and our retirement savings dwindled down to about 25% what they had been.  This too, while no small trial of faith, has served both to clarify to me both the prior division of my faith and the need for greater financial stewardship in the future (beyond my blind faith that it will all somehow work out).  I realized that God does not need me to devise my own ‘funding’ to get to a place of ministry (my plans) so much as He desires my complete faith in Him.

Learning to live daily and trust Him with tomorrow’s needs is a valuable lesson we needed to learn.  I believe that we are actually far ahead of the rest of our country.  At the end of the day, I am blessed to know so many far more righteous servants than I, who have never had what I too often worry about losing, and even now am tempted to mourn losing.

The frustration and disappointment accompanying attempts at finding a places of effective ministry have been experienced here the same as I felt in Arizona.  I have learned that I must accept this and trust in God’s sovereignty, even when leaders and denominations fall short of what I believe they could and should be.

At the same time as these trials, our family has been thoroughly blessed relationally and the kids have a sincere desire to read the Bible and learn more about God.  It has been amazing to see the positive answers to their prayers for others facing serious illness.  Truly amazing.  Both from devotional times with the kids and recreational times, I do not think I have ever experienced a better, more blessed summer.

All in all – my faith in and walk with Jesus has never been deeper and for that I can truly rejoice in all of these trials, counting them all joy, that I am gaining a deeper knowledge of my Lord and Savior.  I desire Him more than I desire the opportunity to do great things for Him (though the latter desire is still great enough to be an almost crushing burden at times).  I long for a day when He would open the door for pastoral ministry – but if the day never comes, I trust in Him and the path He is leading us along.  I am thankful for the opportunities of influence, great or small, that He is providing.

Lastly, I am thankful for your friendship and your faithfulness to Christ.

Take care my friend – I pray that you too are daily being pressed deeper into Christ and experiencing all of the joy that accompanies it!

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