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Friday, August 16, 2013

Defending My "Rights"

Mat 1:19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (NIV)

One Wednesday evening while teaching in an adult Bible study, it happened. I had studied. I had prepared. I was excited about the subject matter I was teaching. I love what God has called me to do. This one night, however, I realized that not everyone else was loving what I was doing as much as I was. In the course of my teaching, someone spoke out and aggressively challenged what I had just said. I was taken aback by the sudden outburst. I was slightly embarrassed and more than slightly feeling disrespected. Knowing how I should have responded, I chose to speak first and think second. I had a right to defend myself. So, I did. I defensively responded that his challenge was irrelevant because he hadn't heard all that I said because he had come in late. Was I "right" in what I said. If the question is "did I have my facts straight?" then the answer is "yes." Did I have a "right" to defend myself? In the eyes of my culture, "you bet." Did I win anything of sustainable honor in the eyes of God by doing so? "Not a chance." I had chosen to allow my emotions to lead my words, rather than let my heart lead my emotions.

Joseph had every right to dismiss Mary from his own fellowship and from his commitment to marry her. She was pregnant. It wasn't "his" and they were not yet married. As normal as it has become to contemporary pop-culture, it was seen as both a disgrace and an executable offense of that day. Joseph had ever "right" to have made a public spectacle of her. In his eyes and in the eyes of the public she had invited insurmountable shame and irrefutable disgrace upon the goodness of his name and reputation. Rather than to humiliate her, Joseph chose to dissolve their relationship in a manner that would honor God and honor Mary. His love for her and his love for God would not be undone by his own emotions nor his embarrassment and bruised ego. He forfeited the "rights of his culture" for right-standing before God. This heart and attitude facilitated Joseph's being able to receive the revelation of the Holy Spirit by which he discovered that this was God's divine intervention.

Imagine if Joseph would have responded to the "red flashes" of anger at finding out that his public reputation had just been thrown "under the bus." Ponder for a moment how his place in history would have been jeopardized, or at the least, limited, if he would have gone the way of "common sense." To fight for his redemption in the eyes of public opinion at the cost of another was his right, and in most cases, his mandate. He chose a higher calling.

Just because you have the RIGHT to do something doesn't resolve you to carrying out that "right" in a manner that adjudicates or appeases your feelings. In all that you do, you are to do it through the eyes of the LOVE OF JESUS. You are to love others by loving Him. Your love of others is a reflection of your love for Him. Never forget, no matter how difficult it may seem in the moment, you can love others, because it was HE WHO FIRST LOVED YOU. You may be frustrated with certain people for specific and valid reasons. Inevitably, this will be your reality. There will be those who speak before they think. There will be seasons when you feel as though your "rights" have been attacked, trampled on, and utterly dismissed. It will be in THAT moment you prove the strength and integrity of God's love in your life. How you respond to the infractions to your "rights" will reflect the level of the integrity of your heart and your trust in Him.

Joseph's humility opened his heart to receiving the true revelation of what God desired to accomplish. Joseph was a part of what God wanted to do. Humility and "giving up his rights" opened the door to something much greater. My Wednesday night Bible study experience gave me a similar lesson and opportunity. Though I had failed by trying to defend my "rights," I soon responded to the quick prodding of the Holy Spirit to publicly apologize, rather than defend. Later that evening, I made a personal appeal to the individual. As we talked, there had been a misunderstanding in communication that had caused him to interpret something I said in a way that I hadn't intended. There were no rights that needed proven or defended; only hearts that needed humbled and reconciled. Trust God. He is your defender.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Unbroken Promises

Matthew 1:17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. (NIV)

They say rings symobolize an unbroken promise that knows no end. The ring that rests on the second to last finger on my left hand serves to remind me of that truth on many levels. Not only does it represent the "until death do us part" vow that I declared to my wife, it communicates the faithful truth of God's ability to stand firm on His promises. The ring that I wear as my wedding ring was my father's. My dad wasn't there during the formative years of my childhood, the chaos of adolescence, nor for the emerging years of young adulthood. During those years, however, I stood firm on the promise I believed God had spoken to me that "one day," there would be restoration for my broken heart and in this seemingly shattered relationship. Years later, into my mid-twenties, I would see the promise of God fullfilled during the last six years of my dad's young life. He would succumb to illness, yet we would both live to see the power of a faithful God. As I look at this ring that has "seen it all," I am challenged and encouraged in knowing that through the years and the ages, God never changes. He is true to His Word and to His promise. The responsibility for me was to answer the question, "will I trust Him?" I said, "yes."

Matthew 1 reveals  what sometimes feels like an endless and purposeless list of  ancestral geneology. At further look, however, there is a priceless treasuer in the truth of that revelation. There were 42 generations between Abraham and Jesus. There was a promise made to Abraham and to David that the Messiah would come. Imagine all of the life that was lived during those generations. There was celebration. There was disappointment. There were comittments made, vows broken, and consequences encountered. Through it all, the promise of God to Abraham would never return void. The book of Numbers expresses the reality that "God is not a man that He would lie." He is faithful and true. Jesus would be identified as the Way, the TRUTH, and the life. His promises are as certain as the "yes" and the "amen." In spite of Israel's sinfulness and exhile, God's covenant to save and to deliver would still stand. The Word of God is faithful and God is faithful to fulfill.

Hold fast to the Word of God in your life and you will see ALL of His promises fulfilled. Stay connected to His Word and you will be comforted by His promises during the long seasons when it feels as though nothing positive is taking place. God is faithful in the storms and in the silence. Trust Him. Choose to hold on to His faithfulness as you commit to partner you faithfulness  in obedience to His word. God's promises will always hold true. As long as you choose obedience to His word, His will, His way, and depend upon Him, you will not have to accept the 42 generation gap. You can receive the promise, trust His faithfulness for the promise, and see the fulfillment of His promise.

What obstacle are you facing right now that would appear to be a contradiction to what you are believing and desperately hoping in God to do? Have you fully laid that desire down at the feet of Jesus? Have you surrendered your purpose unto Him? Have you yielded your disappointments to Him? Have committed to trust Him through the entire journey regardless of the inevitable twists and turns that come your way? Open His Word. Take a look at the Bible. His Word is Truth. It never loses its relevance, nor its power. Every promise that God has spoken, He still speaks. It's personal. He loves you. He's waiting on your trust and your obedience. He will not fail you.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I AM Protecting...

"See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared" (Exodus 23:20). 

When you feel alone, be reminded that I am there. When you feel unprepared, be resolute that I am there. When you feel attacked on all sides and hopeless that you will make through the trial that seeks to overwhelm, let there be no doubt that I am there. I have always been there. There is not on e thing you have faced that I have not intervened on your behalf. Though it may not always be obvious through the limitation of your finite understanding, I have stepped in between you and your opposition more than your natural eyes have permitted you to see.

Don't allow your fears, your worries, you inability to see and manipulate the future of what you face to overtake you. You do not have to be defensive, take revenge, or be overwhelmed with how you are going to navigate through the hostile waters you are sailing. You are My child. I will protect my children. I come to your defense because I love you. Protecting you doesn't mean allowing you to become immune to the heartaches and pains of this world. My power to protect you is a determination that they will not destroy you.

My truth declares that in this world you will face troubles, obstacles, disappointments, and yes, you will face tragedies that were not a part of the design I had destined for you. But because my love runs deeper than your understanding will permit you to fathom or comprehend, I have stepped in between what you face and the intention of your enemy to use what you face to destroy you. I have paid a high price for you. I am not giving you up without a fight...and I do not lose. I have overcome the world. The battle is mine and the battle is won. Trust in Me. Trust Me. Trust. The "I AM" is protecting you. -Your Guardian

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I AM Providing...

"See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared" (Exodus 23:20).

"'See, I am sending an angel ahead of you...' I know what you need. I know the fears you have. I know what keeps you awake at night, wondering how all that needs to be worked out will somehow fall miraculously in place. I know what you lack. I am fully aware of your deficiencies and your insufficiency. 

I am still the God that is more than able to provide for your every need. I am the One who crafted every facet of creation with the words formed on my lips. I spoke out and it came to be. I took my people out of Egypt and provided them with manna, with quail, and with water from a rock. Twice. Most importantly I provided them with my presence. Like a cloud by day and a fire by night, I guided my people and provided for their every need.

I am providing for you. You are my child. You were known within the depth of my mind's eye and fashioned by the steady strength of my own hand. I know where you are. I know where I've destined you to be. I know what is holding back. Rest assured, because I know how to get you there.

My provision is perfect. My timing is uncompromisingly exact. My love for you has never waned. Each trial you face that magnifies the emptiness that exists in your life is yet another opportunity for you to see my grace that is highlighted as more than enough. Each moment you face in weakness is another iron in the fire of seeing My strength being made perfect in spite of your weakness.

Whatever you need is found in Me. You are My child. I am your Father. My love is everlasting. My grace is more than enough. My mercy is far reaching. And most of all, I am walking this road with you. I AM your very present help in time of your every need."  - The Great I AM.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Navigating the Journey

"Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long" (Psalm 25:11).

Everything had to work out just perfectly if I was going to pull of what seemed impossible to some and irrational to others. There was a limited amount of time for me to drive four and half hours one way, pick someone up, turn around and return to the very place where my morning would begin. I had had an already-scheduled appointment that morning that dictated the time I would begin and an appointment that was important to keep that determined my needing to be back by a certain time. Somewhat familiar with the general area I was heading, I was unsure and uncertain exactly where I needed to arrive, only what time I needed to arrive there by and again return to the highway in the opposite direction. 

On the highway, radio blaring, coffee in hand, and making decent time, I had a moment of insightful awakening. Rather than a vision from God, it was the sudden awareness that I had no exact direction for how I was going to achieve my exact destination so that the seemingly irrational schedule of the day would not unravel before my road-focused eyes. The answer seemed  as clear as newly cleaned glass. I knew there was a Radio Shack in the complex of the rest stop I had already planned on visiting. Upon grabbing my fresh hot cup of java, I ran over to the store and purchased an incredibly marked-down, on-sale, ready to go GPS. Getting in the car, I tore open the box, plugged it in, turned it on, and programmed the destination. In an instant it showed me how to get there, what time it was at that moment, and what time I would arrive. If I ran into difficulty on the way with traffic, accidents, or detours, it would recalculate an alternate route to assure my arrival. The GPS was essential in getting down and back without a hitch. There was a cost, but it was worth it.

The Truth that is discovered between the treasured pages of the best selling book to ever be found in print, the Holy Bible, serves much the same purpose as even the most expensive GPS device. God has a destination for each of our lives that involves a purpose, a blessing, a hope, and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). He is never taken by surprise or caught off guard by the accidents, traffic jams, and detours that are readily found on life's intertwining system of highways. His Word is truth, powerful, insightful, and fully prepared to navigate us through all that we will encounter. 

When you face fear, the Bible reminds you that His perfect love casts out all fear. When weakness attempts to detour your journey, His truth declares with great certainty and confidence that His strength is made perfect in your weakness. When you find yourself having taken a wrong turn and are lost in the desolate wilderness of confusion and despair, His Truth promises that He is the God who causes fresh springs of oasis to well up in the desert places. He gives wisdom, guides you in truth, corrects you when you are wrong, reminds you of His mercy, and recalculates and redirects you on the right path. If you will allow Him, His determination is set on navigating you from where you and assuring that you will be at the destination He has designed for you in just right time.

Take time to discover the truth of God's greatest handheld navigational device. The Bible may be antiquated to some, but is found timeless and invaluable by all who seek God's guidance, depend upon His wisdom, and follow the direction that is found in His Word. Resist the temptation to allow the busyness and ever-morphing craziness of daily to-do lists, emails, and calendars to decide whether or not you have time to find the direction His Word offers. Start somewhere. Start small. Start now. Read it. Think on it. Ask God how it relates to your life. The Holy Spirit will guide you in that truth. And then...act on, do it, apply it, and watch God take you to exactly where He wants you to be. He will guide you in His truth, teach you the way you should go. He will remind you that He is God, YOUR Savior and that His hope will sustain you throughout the duration of your journey.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Embracing the Silence

"For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation" (Psalm 62:1).

"I need quiet!" "I can't even hear myself think!" These words of great infamy rank right up there with declarations such as "Give me  liberty or give me death," Remember the Alamo," and "Who shot JR?" These words have been uttered by parents, employees, bosses, kids, and most anyone that's worked with kids! There have been undeniable moments in our lives when the noise on the inside of heads rivaled the commotion on the outside.

Life can get loud. There are expectations that scream for attention. There are pressing engagements that demand immediate response. There are the nagging worries of the day that seem harder to shake than a fat man on a diet trying to settle for a salad at an all-you-can eat buffet! The decibels in our mind are cranked up to such a level that alarms of our sanity begin to sound in warning of imminent danger. Where do you go to escape the cycle of unending chaos? Where is the sheltering refuge when it feels like we're seeking safety from a nuclear explosion by hiding in storm cellar?

David, masterfully and lyrically penning his thoughts in Psalm 62 expresses his own heart in his search for the shelter in the storm. He find his silence (his rest, his peace, his safe place), not just in God, alone, but in the waiting for God alone. It was in this place of silent waiting did he find peace in his hope in the Lord. It was in this place he knew He was held. It was in the safety of being found in the hollow of the hands of One who shaped the mountains and formed the handiwork of all life.

David knew firsthand the noise of family dysfunction, on the job conflicts, and the inner turmoil he found fighting for life in the secret and dark spaces of mind. Yet, he knew that his soul, his mind, his will, and his emotions would find there solace in the space of waiting. It was in the waiting that he was able to hear the voice of God in the stillness and the silence of the dark. When hope seemed lost in the chaos of his unraveling kingdom, his peace was found in the silence of waiting on God, alone. That is where David found salvation, deliverance, and the promise for a renewed hope and a steadfast courage.

Is it loud? Are the voices in your head competing with the voices on the outside? Do you ever feel as though you are treading water with no raft in sight, your strength failing, and the sound of your screams fading off in the distance? He has not forgotten you. He is not ignoring you. He hears you when you call. Sometimes it takes Him allowing us to get to the place of silence before we are able to really hear Him speak. It has been said that only in silence may our prayers truly be answered. It is in that place of silent waiting that we once again realize that He is the author of our salvation. He is the One who will be the source of our deliverance. 

Find a quiet place today. Be open and honest with the God of creation with all that you are facing. Ask Him to give you the strength and the courage to shut out the raging noises of confusion, doubt, and angst. Be still and allow Him to speak. Do not give into the urge of control that would deceive you into meaningless and empty action. Don't confuse God's silence with His absence. It is in the silence that we are able to really hear. Don't resist the waiting. Embrace the silence. There you will find rest, be reminded of the closeness of His presence, and know that He is still God.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spit Happens

"Then He spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man's eyes" (John 9:6).

It was a Saturday in November and our home was already in a state of "planned" chaos. We were closing in a porch and converting into the kitchen of my wife's dreams. Contractors were there, loud noises unmistakeable, and order seemed to be a long ways off in the distant future. With a large planned event for that night at our church and with grocery shopping being the necessity before hand, that Saturday was more loaded than a baked potato at a greasy spoon steak house. 

During the rush of the morning, I went down stairs into our finished basement. Immediately I heard the sound of water splashing. The warmth of that water had quickly saturated the socks I was wearing and quickly found its way in between and over my toes. I looked over to the closet that housed our hot water tank and beheld our very own fountain pool that brought back memories of Niagara Falls! On top of the construction project, the ordeal of having to price out water heaters, securing the plumber on an emergency basis on a Saturday, and the bill that would soon follow, that day went from loaded to overloaded. 

The very next week, on a Saturday, no less, my sons came rushing up from the basement bathroom describing something that reminded me of the "Swamp Thing." I should have been thankful that at least we had hot water, but this situation was going from bad to worse. I tried plunging. I attempted snaking. I even took off the toilet and reached down in with my hands! All to NO AVAIL. It was now Thanksgiving weekend and I again called the plumber. After doing all he knew to do, he gave me the not-so-great news that it was more than we anticipated. Of course I knew this meant the cost would be more than we anticipated, too. The next thing I know, there was a backhoe in my yard digging down four to five feet to discover what used to be a pipe, now crushed. The inconvenience. The cost. The stress. Where was God?

During that season, when it seemed like everything was going bad to worse, as though God had somehow abandoned His post at hearing and answering prayers, He reminded me of something. He never left. He was and is always there. There was a purpose behind His allowance of all I was facing.

What must the disciples have thought upon seeing Jesus spit on the dirt, form the mud into a useable element, and spread it over the eyes of a blind man! The man was already living a life of darkness, forced to beg, knowing that everyone else was on their journey. He had reconciled to living a life content upon the leftovers of others, and now Jesus was here. Rather than waving his fingers and reciting some fanciful and lofty prayer, He spreads mud in the eyes of a blind man. Bad to worse seemed to be only the beginning. 

The word for "spread" used in the Greek in which it was originally written is the same word that is used for the word "anoint." To anoint is to "call out" or to appoint. It's the word that was used for those that were anointed to be king or priest. It is the same meaning in which Jesus said He was anointed to preach the good news. God will use the spit and mud situations in your life in order to anoint you further for the calling He has for you. He will use ANYTHING to bring about the purpose He has for your life. Don't get mad when it feels like God is spitting in your eyes. He's using the dirt of the situation you find yourself in, though it appears to be going from bad to worse, and is working a miracle in you and through you. He is opening your blind eyes to see His face, His purpose, and a vision for "what's next" that you would never otherwise believe! Trust Him...and you'll SEE!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Blinding Blame



His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2).

He was 17, and struggling to maintain control as he attempted to navigate a barrage of emotions that would take him high, yet bring him crashing down. It hadn't taken him all of his few years to see that life really wasn't fair. His parents were divorced. His home life was broken. He felt, at times, as though he was in a room that was ever-decreasing in size. And he was mad. Anger was the one emotion that he could count on. It greeted him as old friend, yet tormented him like the enemy that it was. 

The nagging thought that served as fuel for the anger of inferno was a question he could not stop from continually asking. "Who's fault was this?" Why was his life so consistently inconsistent? Why were there moments when hope seemed so deserving for everyone else but him? What had he done for this to be his life? Who's fault was it? This blame served only to perpetuate the endless and assuming theories of conspiracy that had overtaken reality in his mind. He was mad at his father for never being there. He was mad at his mother for his father not being there. He was mad at God for allowing it all to happen. His anger was focused inward, accepting a responsibility for all that was going awry. Someone had to be blamed.

Have you ever felt that way. It seems to be the natural inclination for most every human that faces an obstacle that can't be easily explained, accepted, or understood. The disciples were no exception. While walking with Jesus they came across a sad sight, one that had inevitably been seen at some earlier point of their journey. They chose to ask a question. "Who's sin is to blame for this? His own, or his parents." Their way of thinking was so biased to blame that there was no other explanation but blame that held any amount of credibility. It was someone's fault, but whose? Someone was to blame for the senseless tragedy of blindness. This couldn't possibly be allowed by a God that "so loved the world" that Jesus came to die as a curse on a cross. That did not fit within the framework of their logic or reasoning. Blame had to be assigned.

It's easy blame. It's easy to judge. It's easy to assume. When life takes an unexpected turn, you feel as though you have to be able to explain. When you can't put rational words to that which appears so irrational, blame is the only "logical" recourse. Blame will never satisfy the hurt and the pain of life's ups and downs. Additionally, it will only serve as a greater distraction and an increasing gap in your ability to trust in God's greater plan. Blame and faith do not walk hand in hand. One must give way to the other. Withhold imposing responsibility for the negative elements in your life on others. Rather, stretch out your faith in a God who uses all things. He can take it, brake, and remake it until it is customized for the God-ordained purpose that He has already destined for you.

No, it's not fair. God never promised you fairness, but He did promise you faithfulness. He never assured you comfort, but He did insure that His comfort would always be available to you. Lean on Him. Rely on Him. Trust that there is a reason He has allowed you to walk in the "valley of the shadow of death." While you're there, look beside you. He's right there with you. Allow Him to show you why He felt as though the season you are in was the season He felt was best for you at this time in your life. Don't overwhelm yourself with trying to figure it all out. Be still. Be quiet. Listen. But don't blame. Trust Him. Blame will blind you. Faith will open your eyes, and you will begin to see.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

You've Been Named

"As she breathed her last - for she was dying - she named her son Ben Oni. But his father named him Benjamin" (Genesis 35:18).

Once while perusing the traffic jam of the information super highway, I ramped off an exit that led me to a collection of odd names. Curiously, I explored the site that boasted many names that reminded me of how thankful I am to my parents for being rather simple and choosing not to make a statement to the world with my name. The one name that struck me in such a way, reminding me of how cruel I could be in my younger days, was a name of a woman born in 1899 in Balby, South Yorks. First name Iva. Last name...Longbottom.

When my wife and I discovered we were pregnant with each of our children, we started to pray. One of our prayers was that we would come up with just the right name. As a matter of principle for us, we named each child upon finding out the gender. What is wildly intriguing, is that we had only one name, gender-specific, for each child before it was revealed that they were boy or girl. Upon finding out, the name was immediately given and used countless times before we first beheld the awesomeness of God in the beauty of His creation of our precious child. Though we had never seen them, it was as though we had known them forever. They had identity. They had a name.

When Rachel was in the process of giving birth, she soon realized that each breath she took was a final countdown to her very last. Hers was a life filled with great dreams of loving her husband and blessing him with an army of sons. Her sister gave him several as did her servants. She was able only to give him one, Joseph. As she prepared to give birth one final time, she gave her son a name that emulated the pain and sorrow that defined her in her final moments. She gave him the name Ben Oni, which meant "son of my sorrows." His name was her last cry for what was and what never would be. It would be the name that identified his very being. 

His father redeemed his name. He would not be identified by the sorrows of what would never be. His father would give him a name that would be more in line with the destiny he had been given by God. He was to be called Benjamin. He was not the "son my sorrows." Rather, he was "son of my right hand." The "right hand" is a distinction of honor, strength, and favor. He would be seen as one who obtained a high value, seen to be vulnerable, and to be protected at all costs. He would be a man to be trusted, valued, and a man of great strength. He would be prized and protected by his father and his brothers. 

In a great quote by the theatrical work of genius, Tyler Perry, in the character of Madea, "You will be called many things in your life. It doesn't matter what folks call you. It only matters what you answer to." Your past and your mistakes will work around the clock in an effort to altar the name and purpose that has been given to you by God. Don't acknowledge it. Refuse it. Deny it and defy it. Don't answer to the discouragement. Don't answer to the past. Don't answer to the fear, the anxiety, or the depression. That's not your name. Your name is Chosen. Your name is Forgiven. Your name is Loved. Your name is Purposed by God. He is your Father, and He knows your name. He has redeemed you with a name that fits the destiny you have been given. You have been created in His image and named for His purpose.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

No More Shame

"Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don't be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood" (Isaiah 54:4).

Shame. It's a crippling and debilitating emotion that seeks to overwhelm and redefine who you are. Have you ever observed a dog that has just been yelled at for making a mess, for being complicit in an act of destruction, or for relieving himself again on the inside of the house? The dog will either run away, cower down with a whimper, or place its paws over its nose and give the saddest look imaginable. The dog doesn't feel remorse, isn't able to understand responsibility, nor is capable of showing repentance. He responds to shame. No matter how good the dog has been, how many times he has been praised and rewarded, shame has away of overshadowing and redefining, in that moment, who that dog is. That dog is a failure. That dog is shameful. That dog knows it.

God speaks through the prophet of Isaiah to the people of Israel. They had done it again. They had given into the lusts of their own desires and had turned their backs and their lives away from trusting in God. It cost them greatly. They had lost their sovereignty as a nation. Once the kingdom to be feared and revered, they were now mocked, ridiculed, and had become outcasts in their own land. At that moment, the best days of life were more like snapshot photographs that were beginning to fade into distant memories. Shame had overtaken them. They no longer remembered the promises and covenant of God. The only thoughts that remained were of how they had failed, what they had lost, and how they were now viewed.

God reminded them that better days were still within reach. As they would turn back to Him, He would reach out and begin to restore the brokenness they had brought on themselves. They didn't have to fear. Shame was not their destiny. The sins of their past could really be their past. All they needed to do was to repent of their disobedience and lack of trust, and receive His love, His forgiveness, and His desire to rebuild. One day, it was promised, they would no longer be the laughing stock to the world because of their shame. More importantly, their shame would no longer occupy and overwhelm their hearts and minds. They had been forgiven. Their sins had been forgotten. Their relationship with God had been restored.

What mistake, failure, or missed opportunity is still trying to thrive in the open market of your mind? Shame seeks to take every thing you've done wrong and put on continuous play in your mind, replaying the same thing over and over and over again. Shame is founded in both fear and in guilt. Neither of these is a gift from God, but rather a tool designed to hold you back from the belief that there is hope and forgiveness. Hope reminds you that there are better days ahead. Shame's lie is that you've had your chance, you've blown it, now this is your life. Resist the lies of the enemy and hold on to the truth of God. "Don't be afraid." "You no longer have to live a life shackled by shame and disgrace." Acknowledge the sins and struggles that have put distance between you and God. Identify the areas that you have not trusted Him, have tried to assume control, and have lived in disobedience. Choose to lay it down, turn around, and walk away in the direction that God is leading. Allow Him to heal your heart, restore your hope, and show you the way. 

Shame attempts to redefine your identity. God simply reminds you of your identity. Never look at yourself any lower than your God does. No more shame. His love is greater.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sustained

"I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side" (Psalm 3:5-6).

I'm sure I cannot prove it, but I am almost certain that I was born on the second pew on the left side in the church that seemed to be my second home. When the doors were opened, we were there. At the time, it seemed less of a priority and more of some blind obsession. There were many times I fabricated some excuse that would hopefully exempt me from what I saw as a senseless torture of enduring another endless church service.

Many years now removed from that season of life, and "ironically" as a pastor of a church where I am undoubtedly imposing a similar torture on countless members of the "next generation, I am changed. I am reminded of truths that I have picked up over the miles of the journey, though at the time I was just trying to "get through." There were stories told from the Bible that have become alive to me with truth, hope, and inspiration during times where darkness has tried to overwhelm. What encourages me most, at times, are the moments when memories of years gone by reach in and change the tuner of my inner radio and a song long forgotten begins to play.

Recently a song from my days of Sunday School and children's church came subtly back into my remembrance. It was the song that reminds me that "He's got the whole world in His hands, the whole wide world in His hands." As I close my eyes and search my mind and hear my friends singing and laughing as we moved in motion with hands and arms swaying to the words of the song, singing every verse.

David knew the life-changing power of this truth when he uttered these awe-inspiring words. The thoughts and imaginations of this life's intimidating struggles and the darkness that looms threaten the peace that God intended for both are days and our nights. He knew that no matter how many were surrounding him on every side, God had not lifted His hand of protection or provision from his calling or his life. God would sustain him. God would hold him. God would protect him from the inside out. David would continue on as Israel's greatest king before their captivity because of his reliance on the steadiness of God's strong hands.

The world is an amazing place and a miraculous object of unfathomable wonder. It weighs more than you can comprehend, spins at a speed that would make the fastest merry-go-round seem like it's standing still, is tilted at just the right angle, and is positioned from the sun with unmistakeably purposed precision. Any closer to the sun and all life would be consumed by the radiant heat. Any further away and all life would freeze. If the same God who created all life and the planet on which it lives is able to hold it altogether, then what is so impossible about your life that God cannot hold?

He still has the whole world in His hands. If He's got a whole world in His hands, then rest assured with the peace that passes all understanding that He's got a whole YOU in His hands, too. He's holding you. He is sustaining you. You can have peace and strength in the midst of what you can't comprehend. His love and attention to the details of your life have never waned, and He's not giving up. Are you tired? Weary? Overwhelmed? Go ahead and lie down to sleep to night in His perfect peace. No matter what awaits you in the morning, His grace, peace, strength, and love will be there. He will sustain you...if you let Him.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Feeling Trapped

"Take away the stone," He said. "But Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man," by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" (John 11:39-40)

It's a feeling most of us have experienced at one time or another through the ins and outs and up and downs of life's inconsistencies. We dream, pray, and plan on things being a certain way. Taking a old proverb from growing up in days gone by, "we hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and take what comes." Only, when the "worst" does come, we feel disappointed and discouraged. At times, even, we feel betrayed by God, as though He had purposed to dangle a promise in front of our faces and then yank it out of reach at just the time we needed it most. We feel trapped, unsure of what to do, doubtful and uncertain that any good could ascend from the ashes wherein we find ourselves covered.

"Take away the stone." This was the response of Jesus to two broken-hearted sisters who had desperately inquired of Jesus to come and to heal their brother who had fallen gravely ill. Not only did Jesus not get there in time, He had intently waited several days after receiving news of His friend's condition before even taking a step in the direction from where these pleas of desperation were coming. Simply stated, "It's not time."

The sister was dumb-founded and possibly angered and insulted by such an abrupt command with no explanation. "What do you mean, 'take away the stone?'" "Come on, Jesus! He's been in there four days dead and now there is a smell that will only serve to remind us that YOU didn't come through for us when we needed you the most!" "Was it not bad enough that you ignored one dying that you called a friend and even claimed to love, and now you aim to embarrass us all by removing the stone that is protecting his dead body?"

Jesus responds again. "Martha. Didn't I tell you that if you believed that would see the glory of God?" "Didn't I tell you that if you if would only have faith in the faithfulness of the One who has never turned His back on you that you would see more than your mind would be able to comprehend?" "Martha, can you point to even one time that I have ever lied to you?"

The stone was never a formidable opposition to stopping what Jesus had always intended. It was, however, a necessary element in the plan that He pursued. It was never the purpose of His heart to lead them into a trap. Nevertheless, He knew that if they got to the point of total desperation, unable to claim personal credit for any result, their dependence upon Him would be greater than their reliance on any other source. That's when Jesus was able to deliver them from the death of their hopes and their dreams. When all of their efforts were so dead that the putrid stink of decay was evident, that's when their escape from feeling trapped would come.

Are you feeling trapped? Are you beginning to let go of the grip you've had on a hope that things are going to get better? Are feeling betrayed by the God you have prayed to, believed, but are incapable of understanding how He could let things go so far? Don't give up and don't give into to the feeling that you are in a room that is slowly closing in and overtaking you. Trust Him. Did He not say that He would never leave you or forsake you? Did He not say that He would make a way for you? Did He not say that He would walk with you even through the darkest valley? He did. Remember. Trust. Never underestimate a God who has experience in resurrection! If you will trust in Him completely, He will release you from the shackles that entrap you. Stay close to Him. Have faith in Him. Rather than question, celebrate when He orders the stone removed.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fingerprints of God

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

The smudges of doubt and discouragement were easy to see. His young life had been one filled to the brim with hopes and hurts, dreams and defeats, and longings and leavings. A heart starved for love, acceptance, and purpose, he was a young man that hungered to know that someone noticed, and that someone really cared. In and out of trouble, he was no stranger to conflict. With his home life in shambles and self-esteem on the rocks, the only thing he could wonder is "why me?" Why did my mom have to die? Why does everything seem to happen to me? Why do I always mess up? Why am I such a failure? Why doesn't it feel as though I matter? What do I really have to offer?

As time passed by and "not-great" morphed into really bad, he found himself abandoned, without a home, and struggling to believe that his life held value. The one positive element in his life at the time was a friend who believed. It was a friend who saw past the facade. It was a friend who knew what it was like to be lost in the vice-grips of despair and find unfathomable redemption in the midst of it all. It was a friend who had seen himself as he was and had found a hope and faith in God who saw it all, and yet loved him still. This was a friend who shared that hope, the reason for that hope, and that Jesus IS that hope. It was a friend who was part of this broken young man's path to discovering the love and hope that is found in Christ.

Looking back is sometimes a fascinating adventure. You begin to see that when things appeared at their worst, that was the precise moment that God stepped in and worked a miracle. You begin to realize that though God is not the author of all of the hardships and heartaches you face, He is the One who authorizes them. He knows what it will take to get your attention so that you will begin to see His fingerprints on every facet of your life. God doesn't waste a bad situation, a broken relationship, hurts and pains, or mistakes and failures. He uses each one. The very reason Jesus went to the cross was to redeem that which was broken and lost. 

This is how you can know in "all things" that God "works together." To "work together" is a Greek word that means to "partner" or to "work with." God takes all that you are, all that you've done, and all that you've been through. He then partners that with His perfect plan and will for your life. In the process, you begin to see the hurts healed, the loss of hope and purpose restored, failures forgiven, and His love received. Where smudges once marked you with defeat, His fingerprints now mark you as His own.

Go ahead. Look in the mirror. Look through the eyes of Jesus. You will start to see all of the fingerprints of His love, His grace, and His second chances all over your life. No, you may not yet be perfect, but if you will allow Him to have every part of who you are, you will see that His hands have been all over you. God is not through in you. Don't give up. He hasn't.

Held in Perfect Peace


"You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you" 
(Isaiah 26:3).

It was a Sunday night, a group of parents with kids had just left our home, and my youngest son was high on an overdose of pancake syrup and adrenaline. He was leaning back in his chair, having ignored the uncounted warnings of what could possibly transpire when all four legs of a kitchen chair are not firmly planted on the surface of a ceramic tiled kitchen floor. He leaned back, the chair lost balance, and the softness of his almost five year old head it the brand new floor with a thud that was accompanied by all of the strength and volume his little lungs could muster. He screamed. He cried. He bled. I squirmed.

After cleaning him off and assessing the wound, we knew it would be necessary to get it looked at. After getting processed at a local urgent care facility, it was determined that my little boy would need staples. Upon hearing that declaration, he looked into my eyes and asked in a bit of a whimper, "Daddy, is it going to hurt?" With honesty and gentleness, I responded that it would, but that I promised that I would be with him the whole time and that he could do it.

The doctor and her nurse came into the room and my son began to softly cry. He was laying on his stomach, in position for them to attend to the one inch gash in the back of his head. As they expected him to flinch and flail around, they motioned for me to loosely lay over his little body, so that any moves he might make would not adversely affect the procedure. I grabbed his little hand, leaned over, and began to speak gently in his ear as the clicking sound of staples entering flesh began to be heard. He cried. He cried more. The pain could be heard in the sounds of my little boy. Through it all, I continued to speak words of assurance into his ears. "You're doing great." "I'm right here with you." "You're almost through this, son." "Daddy's right here." My son never moved. He never flinched. He laid there and endured what was necessary. He trusted his dad's words and was comforted by my presence.

What a lesson I learned that night from my son. There are moments of adversity that each of us encounter. Sometimes it is a result or consequence of some choice we've made. Other times it is just a reality of the circumstances around us in ways that we have no power to change. Isaiah 26:3 says that He hold us in perfect peace. His peace is whole and complete. There are no holes or inefficiencies in the peace in which He guards us and keeps watch over us. This peace is promised, yet provisional. It is based on the condition of our trust. Will I keep my mind on Him, or will I turn my focus to that which I cannot control? Is my peace in Him who can do all things? Am I meditating on the truth of who He is or the lie of what emotions want me to believe?

Don't lose heart when you are facing something that seems unbearable. Don't give into the emotions of fear, insecurity, and uncertainty. God, your Heavenly Daddy, is holding you. He is with you. He knows what you are facing. He knows His plan for you. He knows that what you are going through now is not the end, but is a means to arriving at what He has purposed for you. You don't have to fear, flinch, or flail. As you trust Him who loves you most, you will find and know peace. You will still face trials, obstacles, and adversity. It will still hurt, and at times, you will still cry. But, you will know that your Father is right with you, comforting your pain, calming your fears, and calling your name. He is holding you.