Archive for category Encouragement

Evil Schemes and Generous Plans

This post was published a couple of weeks ago on the Compassion International Blog, but I thought I’d run it here as well for those who missed it.
 

“…the schemes of the schemer are evil; He devises wicked plans To destroy the poor with lying words, Even when the needy speaks justice.” (Isaiah 32:7 NKJV)

I can’t think of a more accurate description of poverty.

The evil one, the wicked schemer, devises wicked plans against the poor, and he has been highly successful. Over half the world’s population is a slave of his plan. This wicked scheme called poverty has stolen hope, killed dreams and destroyed lives.

He has spoken lying words to those caught in his scheme. He has told them they don’t matter. He has made them believe they are all alone in their suffering. He has deceived them into thinking their situation will never change. They no longer dream or aspire to anything better, because they have believed his lies.

Imagine, billions of souls caught in the greatest destructive plot in history! Who will help them? Who will save them?

Look at the next verse,

But a generous man devises generous things, And by generosity he shall stand. (Isaiah 32:8 NKJV)

The answer is us.

Me, and you, and all who call themselves by the name of the Lord. The answer is generous people, devising generous plans. Those generous plans are the antidote to the schemes of the enemy.

I’m thinking about generous people who plan and pray and devise ways to help the poor. The family that fasts a meal a week so they can sponsor a child. The student who bypasses a few lattes so she can feed the hungry. The church groups who pool their resources so they can make a difference.

Those are generous plans. They exist to speak the truth into the lives of those who are enslaved by the enemy and his lies.  They exist to bring light to their darkness, and hope to the hopelessness of his wicked scheme.

It’s not an easy fight, and it takes sacrifice and humility and persistence. But just think what might happen if enough generous people decided to use their intelligence, skills and resources to devise enough generous plans! Maybe we could defeat the wicked scheme called poverty once and for all.

So what is your generous plan?

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Building My Own Tower

A Little History

The historian Flavius Josephus, in his work “The Antiquities of the Jews” sheds some interesting light on what we call the Tower of Babel.  If this starts out a little “history heavy” it’s for a reason.  Stay with it and get the point.

The great flood was sent by God to destroy all the inhabitants of the earth, except of course for Noah and his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  After the flood had subsided, God gave the command that man should go and inhabit all of the earth, be fruitful and multiply.  According to Josephus, God’s purpose for this command was that they might enjoy the fruit and prosperity of their own lands, scattered far enough from each other that they might not fall under tyranny.  But Noah’s descendants were hesitant to leave the mountains, fearing that God might send another flood.

As they finally did begin to descend into the plains of Shinar, instead of scattering and inhabiting the whole earth, they clumped together, disobeying the command of God.  It was Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, who incited the rebellion and established himself as earth’s first dictator.  This is mentioned in Genesis 10:8, where it is said of Nimrod, “he began to be a mighty one upon the earth.”  By disobeying, man got exactly what God wanted to prevent: tyranny.

At the leading of Nimrod, the people rebelled against God and began to build a tower.  This is the interesting part to me.  According to Josephus, the purpose of this tower was to build a structure tall enough that, should God ever decide to once again send a flood upon the earth, the people would be able to escape God’s wrath.  They built it of baked bricks and mortared it with tar, so it would be waterproof.

Did you get that?

The Tower of Babel was built as man’s attempt to insulate himself from God’s punishment.  “We’ll show you, God!  We’ll build a tower so tall you can’t kill us again with a flood.”  Instead of just being obedient to God, man chose instead to build a structure that would give him another option besides obedience to God.

This is the beginning, the spirit, the essence of Babylon.

To create another option besides God.  To hedge our bets.  To look for answers outside simple obedience to the Father who only wants what’s best for us anyway.

We’re still doing it today.  At least I know I am.  God makes promises and I’m not really sure they’ll come true.  God gives commands and I’m not really sure I want to obey.  So I begin to hedge my bets, to create a system of my own security, just in case God doesn’t come through.

I’m betting you’re thinking of areas in your life where you’ve done the same.  Maybe it’s that job you keep because you’re afraid God won’t provide.  Maybe it’s that relationship you know you should break off, but you’re afraid of being alone.  Maybe it’s forgiving or letting go of some past hurt that is holding you back.  Maybe God has given you a dream, vision or command and you’re just too afraid to follow through for fear that it will fail.

Or maybe, like the descendants of Noah, we just don’t want to obey.  We want to do things our own way, and we’ve built up what we think is a pretty clever system to prevent God from having His way.

And maybe, like those early founders of Babylon, God has sent confusion and chaos into our lives.  Not because He wants us to suffer, but because He wants us to obey.   Not because He’s mad at you, but because He wants to bless you.  Like this passage in Isaiah 48,

    “ I am the LORD your God,
      Who teaches you to profit,
      Who leads you by the way you should go.
       Oh, that you had heeded My commandments!
      Then your peace would have been like a river,
      And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.
      Your descendants also would have been like the sand,
      And the offspring of your body like the grains of sand;
      His name would not have been cut off
      Nor destroyed from before Me.”

So what’s your Tower?  What’s your “other option”?  What system have you build in order to avoid what you know is right, what you know God wants you to do?

Where is the confusion and chaos that God wants to use to push you into doing what He has said?  That tower is taking a lot of emotional and physical effort to build and maintain, isn’t it?  Are you tired of the struggle?  I know I am.  It’s not too late.  His grace extends to our rebellion and disobedience today just like it did the day we accepted Christ.

I’m thinking obedience is a whole lot easier than building a tower.

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I’m Not Thankful

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S. the big question that will be asked around most dinner tables is “what are you thankful for?” We might go around in a circle and each person list one thing for which they are thankful.  We might elaborate on special blessings, joyous occasions, or unexpected miracles that have happened during the last year.

But I’m willing to bet there won’t be one table in America that asks the question, “What are you NOT thankful for?”

You see, we tend to view life and it’s happenings in one of two categories, good and bad.  There are good things that happen, like getting a job or recovering from an illness.  And there are bad things that happen like losing a job or getting sick.  We tend to be thankful for the things we consider to be in the “good” category.  But those in the “bad” column?  Not so much.

Truth be told, despite the lip service we give it on days like Thanksgiving, we’re not really thankful for everything.  Just the good stuff.

My son Colin told me about an illustration he saw on the internet the other day, and I think it’s useful in making a point.  Take a look at the glass on the left.  Is it half-empty or is it half-full?  Stay with me, this isn’t some lame optimist/pessimist exercise.  Is it half-empty or half-full?

Actually, it’s a trick question because the glass is full.  It’s always full.  In this case, it’s half-full of water and half-full of air.  Even a glass that we consider to be empty is still full of air.  (Science geeks can take their discussion of vacuums elsewhere.)

Here’s the point:  Ephesians 1 tells us that all things in heaven and earth are made one in Jesus Christ, and that He fills all in all.  Hear that?  All things, good and bad, up or down, are brought together in Christ and He fills them all.

The glass is always full in Christ.

So even the things on my “bad” list are good because they are in Christ.  Even the things that bring us pain, the suffering, the lost job, the sickness, are filled by Christ.  And we are never closer to Him, we are never more filled with Him than when we suffer.  It’s the path of the true pilgrim, the lot of the sincere seeker.

Like the paradox that is the essence of the Christ experience, our “bad” list actually is our “good” list.  He has brought them both together and made them one in Him.  That’s why He so confidently tells us to “give thanks in everything.”

So this year, around the Thanksgiving table in our house, I’m going to be thanking God for the health problems I’ve been experiencing, because they’ve made me more dependent on Christ which is something I wrote about last week.  I’ll be encouraging our family to think about things they wouldn’t necessarily associate with Thanksgiving.  I’m going to make us think about the things we’d normally ignore, the things we wish would change, the things on our “bad” list.

Maybe, just maybe, instead of offering up the same tired answer to the same tired question, God will get glory as we begin to open up about the things that make us question God, the things that make us suffer, the things that make us say “Why?”  And maybe He’ll get glory when we admit the things we haven’t really been so thankful for, and we let Him change us more into His image as we lay down our selfish notion that everything should always go well and we get thankful for the things that draw us closer and make us more dependent on Him.

This Thanksgiving I dare you, ask the question, “What are you NOT thankful for?”

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Back to the Garden

I haven’t written a post on this blog for almost a month.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but some health problems have made it difficult for me to focus and write.  It’s been a trial.  Frankly, it’s been depressing at times.  I have so many cool things I want to share.  But I’m realizing something valuable through this process.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul experienced a “thorn in the flesh.”  We don’t know exactly what it was, but it’s clear that God allowed him to suffer this thorn because he had received great truth and wisdom from God.  The Father, in His mercy, used this thorn to keep Paul humble.

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul didn’t like suffering, just like I don’t like suffering.  And while I don’t claim to have a level of revelation from God anywhere near the level Paul did, I still struggle with thinking somehow God’s work through me has something to do with me.  This weakness I feel, this health problem I face, has reduced me to a level where I’m totally dependent on God’s grace.

And like Paul, I’m realizing that suffering isn’t a curse, it’s a blessing.  If it get’s me out of the way, then suffering is the best thing that could possibly happen to me.  But it goes far beyond just being thankful for suffering.

In the Garden of Eden, God’s intention for man was to walk in communion with Him, totally dependent upon Him.  My friend Jeremiah Beck shared something with me the other night that I think is profound.  He reminded me that part of the punishment for man’s sin was independence.  God said  “From now on, you’re on your own.  You work for what you get.  It’s by the sweat of your brow that you’ll survive.”

Did you hear that?

Independence and self-reliance is punishment.  I know that sounds like heresy in a culture that idolizes the self-made man and lauds those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

When Christ uttered the words “It is finished” on the cross, he made it possible for me to return to the garden.  The separation from God was finished.  My estrangement from the Father was finished.  My need to strive and work and sweat to survive was finished.  Yet, in spite of this work of total redemption, of Christ returning me to the communion of the Garden, I am often tempted to think it still all depends on me.  It’s a habit that I find exceptionally hard to break.

The Apostle Paul struggled with it, you struggle with it, and I certainly struggle with it.  That lure of myself, of thinking I’m still on my own.  The temptation to think I have something to do with God’s work in me.

And if it takes sickness or hardship or loss to pull me kicking and screaming back to that place of total dependence upon God, then I should be grateful for it.

Every pain, every moment of frustration is getting me a step closer to the Garden.

And in the end, that’s where I really want to be.

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Two Trees

Ask most non-Christians whether they will go to heaven when they die, and they usually will reply with something like, “I think so, I’m a pretty good guy.”  Those of us who follow Jesus know that the only way to heaven is by trusting Him for our salvation, and that being a “good guy” won’t cut it.

Or do we?

If we really understand that truth, then why do so many in the church seem so caught up in works?  We feel guilty because we don’t do what we should.  We feel guilty because we keep doing what we shouldn’t.  Sound familiar?  It sounds to me like the conflict Paul found himself fighting in Romans 7.  While we accept the grace of God in theory, it seems in practice it’s another story.  We judge ourselves and others by such strict standards.

It all started in the garden.

If you recall, there were two trees in the Garden of Eden.  There was the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Mankind was meant to eat only of the tree of life, living in perfect communion with God forever.  But we made a choice to instead eat of the other tree, and when we did, our eyes were opened.  And notice it was not just evil, but GOOD and EVIL.  They are two sides of the same coin.  It was a knowledge we were never supposed to have.  A knowledge of good, a knowledge of evil, and a knowledge of our own nakedness before God.

Mankind has lived in the bondage of that decision ever since.  For most, life is a constant battle between their own capacity for both good and evil.  And when the good outweighs the evil, we feel pretty good about ourselves, like somehow our nakedness before God is covered up.  But that is a battle we are not capable of winning.

The truth is, if we are still living lives of pursuing good and avoiding bad actions, we are still living a life of bondage to that decision so long ago to eat of the wrong tree.  Paul calls it “the law of sin and death” in Romans 8.  And as long as we are obsessed with what we are doing and not doing, we are living under the law of sin and death, and sin still rules over us.

Jesus came to give us life, not just forgiveness.  He came to restore us to the garden, where we may freely eat of the tree of life and live in communion once again with our Father.  He came to restore us back to the place we lived before the knowledge of good and evil corrupted our hearts.  No longer must we live as slaves to our actions.  No longer must we constantly worry about what we have done or what we have left undone.  No longer must we hide our nakedness from God, afraid of what He’ll do to us if He sees us as we really are.

It’s a free gift.

No action required on our part other than to repent and accept the gift.  But when we repent before God, we are not really repenting of our sins.  We are repenting of our thought that we could ever do anything but sin.  We are repenting of thinking we could cover our nakedness by our own goodness.  We are repenting of choosing to live under the law of sin and death, trying desperately to win a battle He has already won.

So we have a choice:  We can continue to live in bondage to the law of sin and death, constantly afraid of what we have done, hiding in our shame before God. We can continue thinking life is about doing good and avoiding evil, burdened by guilt over our failures.

Or we can accept the sacrifice of Jesus, living in the “law of liberty in Christ”, freely eating of the tree of life.  That’s it, it’s over.  Sin can no longer rule over us because we are free from it’s power.  The power of sin is wrapped up in it’s consequences.  Take away the punishment and you take away it’s power.  And that’s what Jesus did.  We no longer have to fear, strive, work, or hide.

Breathe deep and feel the release.  Your salvation no longer depends on you living up to a standard.  Let it go and live in the freedom you were meant to have all along.

Maybe that’s why it’s called the “good news.”

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Outdated and Irrelevant

Some think we are living in terrible times. I tend to think we are living in incredibly exciting times.

There can be no argument that things are changing around us. There is a societal shift happening that rivals some of the greatest cultural revolutions in history, as big as the invention of the printing press or the industrial revolution.

In America, we are in the midst of a transition to a post-industrial society. We no longer live in an assembly line world where the powerful few are in charge, while the masses show up, shut up, and do as they are told. Today’s world is an outsourced, work from home, iPod, unlimited choice, internet-driven culture where the individual is more in charge of their own destiny than ever before.

It’s a scary and exciting time.

Christianity was never meant to be anything else. Think about it: Jesus showed up on the scene challenging the authority and criticizing the top-down leadership of His day. He condemned the powerful few who swayed the masses through control and domination.

Through His death, Jesus released us from the need for the spiritual middle-man. He gave us direct access to God Himself. In an instant Jesus created a spiritual climate very similar to what we see going on culturally right now.

Yet the entirety of church history has been one long story of men trying to re-establish that control in the name of God. Popes and pulpits, denominations and doctrines all designed to tell God’s people what to do and how to do it, what to think and how to think it.

Jesus fought against it. The reformers fought against it. Brave warriors like William Tyndale and others gave their lives for it. For twenty centuries the battle has raged for the control of God’s people.

And for most of history we have played along. We have allowed others to tell us what to believe and what to think. We’ve been content to show up and shut up because it’s more comfortable that way. It’s easier to get spoon fed than it is to do the work of seeking God for ourselves.

But no more!

The world has changed, and as the church has failed to change with it we have become increasingly outdated and irrelevant. We are operating an old model in a new age. Factories are closing all around us, yet we are still operating church like it’s an assembly line. People are working from home or from Starbucks, yet we still want them to show up at a building at 9:00 on Sunday morning. We think they’re not interested in church, but the fact is they’re just tired of us trying to jam square pegs in round holes.

It’s time to let go of the control. It’s time to stop thinking of church as a top down institution, but rather a bottom up community. That’s the model taught by Jesus. Groups of believers coming together organically, directing their time and resources to doing the work of the kingdom instead of feeding the organizational beast. Yeah, not as many pastors earn salaries in the new model of church. When we all become the church, there might not be a need for a full time guy running the show.

Now is the time to win the battle once and for all. Christ’s coming was meant to be a radical shift in human consciousness. It’s a shift away from the control of the intermediaries between God and man. The curtain was torn. We are all face to face with the Father Himself.

If you have felt that something is not right, it’s for good reason. Things are not right. They are not even close to what God intended. I’m not suggesting that we change church to follow culture. I’m simply proposing that we get back to what it was intended to be all along.

It’s a shame it took 2,000 years and a cultural revolution to get us here.

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The Path to Freedom

Think about it.

Each of us, like the Jewish people of old, can point to idolatry in our lives.  We have made idols of our bodies.  We have made idols of money and possessions.  We have made idols of family, friends, time and entertainment.  We have even turned our own religion into an idol.  All of us have those things to which we turn for fulfillment or validation that exist outside of God and His will for us.

And because of our idolatry, like Israel, we are surrounded by Babylon.  The Babylonian king was a tool used by God to punish His people and break them from their idolatry.  And, like Nebuchadnezzar, the pressures of this life are used by God to bring an end to our idolatry.

Maybe we have idolized a lifestyle we cannot afford, and God is using financial crisis to turn our heart back to Him.  Perhaps we’ve made an idol of food or substances , and God is using health problems to call us away from our dependence and back to a place of health.  A failed relationship, a lost job, or any number of things could be that Nebuchadnezzar besieging our lives, putting pressure on us to give that area over to God.

I understand this is not always the case.  I’m not saying all sickness or financial trouble is a result of sin in our lives.  Jesus made that clear in Luke 13. Sometimes things happen for reasons we do not understand, and we cannot walk in a constant state of guilt, like we have brought all our own problems on ourselves.

But what if it is?

What if it is our fault?  What if God is using our own private Nebuchadnezzar to bring us back to where we need to be?  Isn’t it worth exploring?  If so, we would be wise to listen to Jeremiah’s advice to the people of Judah,

Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him.  For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the LORD. “It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”

God has laid out that same choice to you and I as well.  If you stay entrenched in your idolatry and worldliness, you will die.  Failed marriages, broken lives, lost opportunities, and addictions are but a few examples of the death that comes from refusing to let go of our idols. Our churches and families are littered with the destruction that comes from Christian people refusing to lay down their idols.

But if you humble yourself and accept the destruction of your false gods, you will live.  Accept His correction and repent of our idolatry, and watch as His healing power begins to transform our lives.  I’m not saying we are guaranteed all our problems will disappear when we submit to God (in fact, they most likely will not.)  But I am saying the path to spiritual and emotional healing begins with giving in to God’s call to forsake ourselves and follow Him completely.

Like Israel, it might take 70 years of captivity.

It might be humiliating and uncomfortable to confess our idolatry.  It will be scary to let go of the gods to which we have clung so tightly in false security. To lay down our arms and stop fighting God will take incredible faith and trust in a loving Father who ultimately is using crisis to prove His love for us.  Think about that for a minute.  God ultimately allowed Israel to be destroyed because He loved His people enough to not allow them to continue in their wayward state.  Are we willing to trust that same love in our lives as well?

In the end, do we have a choice?

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