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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.