Archive for category Encouragement

Futile Lords

In 2 Chronicles 25 Amaziah, the king of Judah, went to battle against the people of Edom.  God gave him a decisive victory over his enemy, and he returned home in triumph.  But Amaziah did something strange and unexplainable.  He took the idol gods of the people of Edom back to Jerusalem, set up altars to them and bowed down to worship them.

The scripture tells us that God’s anger was aroused against Amaziah.  He sent a prophet to the king to rebuke him.  “Why have you sought the gods of the people, which could not rescue their own people from your hand?” asked the prophet.

Seems kind of silly doesn’t it?  Amaziah won a great victory over the people of Edom through the power of the one true God.  Yet in his arrogant foolishness, he immediately turned away to other gods.  Gods that could not even save their own people.  Gods that were exposed as powerless frauds.  Yet here was King Amaziah bowing before them.

Actually, it’s not that silly at all.

We do the same, don’t we?  The modern idols of money, fame, sex, power, and entertainment have been proven powerless to bring lasting happiness.  Those who seek after these fraudulent gods find themselves living meaningless, empty lives.  Yet we keep following after them, hoping somehow they will finally come through for us.

We, as followers of Christ, should know better.  We serve a God who have proven over and over again that He is the one true God.  We follow after a Savior who gave His own life for us.  We trust in a Father who gave His own Son for us, promising to freely give us all things.

Yet we bow to the idols of this world.  We drown in materialism while the poor suffer.  We turn to marketing and scheming because we lack the power of the Holy Spirit.  We watch a 3 hour football game, but couldn’t imagine spending 3 hours in prayer.  We waste our time with meaningless entertainment when He has called us to so much more.  We have settled for the futile lords of this world, while the God of the Universe patiently waits for our wayward hearts.

Hosea 2 is a message from a jealous Husband to His unfaithful wife.  In spite of our wanderings, God speaks words of mercy to us,

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
      Will bring her into the wilderness,
      And speak comfort to her.
      I will give her her vineyards from there,
      And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;
      She shall sing there,
      As in the days of her youth,
      As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.

God is calling to us.

He is calling us to get off our knees and to stop bowing to the gods of this world, gods that cannot satisfy, gods that cannot save.  These worldly gods have never kept their promise to anyone who has followed after them, and they have let us down as well.  But our jealous Husband is calling.  He is alluring each of us to that wilderness place where He will speak words of comfort and words of hope.

I’m not much for quotes, but I think C.S. Lewis said it best in my favorite quote from his sermon “The Weight of Glory”:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

This is not some guilt trip.  This is not a call to do more or be more for God out of religious obligation.  That’s just more of the same.  This is a call to lay down our idols and fall in love with the one who paid for our hearts with His life.  This is a call to stop settling for too little.  This is a call from a jealous Husband to His bride to come away and know the joy of His presence.

Will we answer His call?

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I Was Afraid You’d Say That!

He knew all the rules. 

The young man who approached Jesus on the road had kept all the commandments since he was young.  He had done all that was required of him by his religion.  Yet he knew there was something missing.  He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he knew that simply keeping the law would not alone bring eternal life.  Otherwise, why would he have approached Jesus and asked him “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

As their brief encounter concluded, Mark 10:21 tells us, “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.'”  

Jesus looked at him.

He did more than give the young man a pat answer or a generic response.  Jesus looked at him.  He saw through the law-abiding citizen to the heart of the man.  Everyone else saw a good boy who kept all the rules and did what he was supposed to do.  But Jesus saw what held that young man’s heart.  His gaze pierced the veil of outward righteousness and exposed the inward idolatry.

All of us have something that we are unwilling to give up.  Perhaps, like the young rich man, it is money or wealth.  Or maybe it’s the approval of others or a relationship.  It could be security, standing in the community, or friends.  In spite of all the good we have done, Jesus looks at our heart and sees what possesses us and prevents us from treasure in heaven.

Jesus loved him.

Jesus didn’t ask that young man to give away all his possessions because He wanted him to be miserable.  It was with a heart of love that Jesus asked him to divest himself of what ultimately could not satisfy.

It is in our own best interest to lose everything, that we may win Christ.  Paul knew this when, in Philippians 3 he said, “I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul knew that, ultimately, giving up everything for Christ is the only thing that satisfies, and that it is the only way to inherit what that young man so desperately desired: eternal life.  And it was with a heart of love that Jesus asked him to give up everything.  In the words of the late missionary Jim Elliott, Jesus called him to give up what he could not keep, that he might gain what he could not lose.

And said to him…

Jesus doesn’t leave us to wonder.  In His loving yet firm voice, He tells us exactly what we need to do.  There is no mystery.  There is no uncertainty.  We have all heard the voice of His Spirit, leading us in the way we should go.  We all know what is keeping us from following Him like we should.  I think we all, deep inside, know what holds our hearts.

Will we, like that young man who approached Jesus on the road, walk away with sadness?  Will we refuse to give up that to which we cling so dearly?  Will we allow our lovers to sway us from the One who loves us most?

Or will we sell our possessions, stop allowing them to possess us, and find what we so desperately seek?

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What happened to God?

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings.  And while I love the story of how God proved His might and power over the false gods of Israel, calling fire down from heaven, I think I like what happened next even more.

After that great victory, I’m sure Elijah was riding a surge of adrenaline, feeling pretty good about how things had gone.  The fire came down from heaven, right there in front of him, just as he had prayed.  You talk about a spiritual high!

But Elijah came down from the mountain.

Queen Jezebel had gotten word of what had happened, how Elijah had executed the prophets of Baal.  This enraged the wicked queen, and she swore to see Elijah executed by that time tomorrow.

Suddenly there is Elijah, fresh off his incredible victory, running for his life.  He headed a day’s journey into the wilderness, perplexed and distressed.  The Bible says he sat down under a juniper tree and prayed to die, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”  You can hear the depression and anxiety in his prayer and feel the hopelessness.  Here is a guy who just called fire down from heaven, sitting under a tree, feeling abandoned by God and praying to die.

God led Elijah even deeper into the wilderness.  Forty days he traveled to the mountain of God, Mount Sinai.  God asked him, as he stood on the mountain, what was wrong.  Elijah replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”  

At the pinnacle of his career, at the height of his victory, we see this man of God baring the hopelessness of his fears before God.  He had accomplished the greatest work of his life, and was left thinking “now what?” So God told him to go stand on the mountain.  As Elijah stood there, he encountered a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire.  But the Bible tells us that God was not in any of those experiences. Then Elijah heard a still small voice, or translated better, “a delicate whispering voice.”  And Elijah covered his face, for he knew God was there.

How often do we look for God in the big things?

We seem to think the mighty victories is where we find God.  We expect God to show Himself in the fire from heaven, or the earthquake, wind or fire.  Yet, it is often during those experiences, or right after, that we find ourselves let down and hopeless.  We have looked for God in the monumental, and missed Him in the mundane.

All too often, we think we must start the international ministry or do some other magnificent act.  And while God calls us to do great things for Him, we must never forget that He is far more concerned with the state of our hearts than He is with what we do.  God is far more concerned about what He does in you than what you do for Him.  God is found, not always in the wind, the earthquake or the fire.  He is found in that delicate whispering voice, speaking to us in the midst of our fear and despair, assuring us that He is there.

Am I anti-accomplishment?

No, I’m not telling you God doesn’t want you to win great battles for Him.  I’m not implying that none of us are called to confront the prophets of Baal in our own world and culture.  What I am saying is this:  Do not put your trust in those great things. Do not put your hope in the works, but the God who does them.  Do not put your trust in the victory, but in the God who wins it.  Do not base your life on what you do for God, but what He does in you.

The wind, the earthquake, the fire, and the victory might forsake you. You might find yourself, in the wake of great victory, running for your life.  But that delicate whispering voice of God, assuring you of His presence, is always there.

That’s something worth trusting.

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Too Many Masters

Numbers 33:4 “…also on their gods the Lord had executed judgment.”

God did more than just send random plagues on Egypt.  He was accomplishing more than just trying to make the Egyptians miserable enough to release the Israelites from slavery.  He could have accomplished that in one plague instead of ten.

God was executing judgment on the gods and on the pride of Egypt.  He was proving their gods to be false, to be subject to His will, and to be powerless to save them.  God was exposing the gods of Egypt for the false gods they were.  Egypt considered the Nile River to be a god, so it turned to blood.  They considered the calf to be a god, so the cattle died.  He attacked the pride of their civilization and culture by sending flies, lice and frogs.  He judged their fertility gods by destroying the crops with locust and fiery hail.

In Exodus 18, when they met up in the wilderness after the Red Sea crossing, Moses father-in-law said to him, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.”  God proved to Egypt the utter futility of trusting in any god besides Himself.

This changes our view of trials.

Perhaps, when God allows plagues or hardship to come into our lives, it is not just to make us miserable.  He is not just punishing us for being bad.  Perhaps, like the Egyptians, God is destroying and rendering powerless those gods in which we have placed our trust.

Isaiah 26:13 says, “…masters besides You have had dominion over us…”  It is these masters that God wants to destroy.  Not because He is mad at us, but because He knows it is for our benefit that we have no other masters.  Look at the prior verse in Isaiah 26, “Lord, You will establish peace for us…”  This is His plan.  This is His purpose.  He wants to show us the utter powerlessness of those other gods in whom we have placed our trust.

Like Israel, God wants to deliver us from bondage.

Like Israel, God knows He must judge the gods of this world before they will release us.  So instead of complaining about the plagues, let us instead turn our eyes to the God who is bringing us deliverance for that bondage.  Instead of running from hardship, let us instead see the masters other than God who have had dominion over us.

And let us rejoice in the judgment of these masters, that we might live in the freedom of belonging only to our loving Father.

It’s the only way we get to the Promised Land.

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How much is enough?

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul gave Timothy a warning about the church,

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers”

You don’t have to look very far to see that happening these days.  Everywhere you look there is another book, another sermon, another song or message or article.  We have become a people who are addicted to encouragement.  In our fast paced society of the immediate, we become quickly bored with the familiar and are in constant search for something new and different.  It’s like we are constantly hitting “check mail” on our spiritual inbox, hoping for the next big thing to hit and excite us.

A recent study by the World Health Organization revealed that those from the richer countries were more likely to suffer depression.  Maybe our wealth and comfort have made us depressed, so we go searching for the next bit of good news, hoping it will lift our spirits.

The promise of “more” – more stuff, more money and more comfort – has left us with less.

We have less time, less connection, less happiness than ever.  One of the things that hits me hardest when I visit developing nations is their joy.  In spite of extreme poverty, they overflow with joy and love and generosity.  I believe this is because they know what is important.

In our pursuit of more we have forsaken our time with God.  We don’t pray that much and don’t study His word that much.  We have lost communication with Him and with one another.  And instead of getting our priorities straight  and reordering our lives, we have simply let others do the work.  We let the pastor study God’s word and bring the message on Sunday.  “Just give me my 3 points to a better life.”  We are just like the Israelites who saw the mountain burning and felt the earth tremble at the voice of Yahweh.  “Moses, you go hear from God and come back and tell us what He says,” was their response.

Look, I’m not bashing anyone.  I know life is hard and we all need help.  And I’m not saying we don’t need pastors and encouragement.  But the answers are not just around the corner in some new teaching.  The answers to life’s problems are where they have always been found.  They are in a deeper connection with Jesus and with each other.

You want 3 points?  Here they are:

1.  Spend whatever time with God you must.  Reorder your life.  Give some things up.  Your idols have promised you happiness and left you empty.  Only He can satisfy.  So take the time to drink deeply of His water and let it quench your thirst.  Other things will grow strangely dissatisfying when you taste of His goodness.  Like the late missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

2.  Live in community with others.  Our modern church culture has made it possible for us to show up on Sunday morning, do our duty, and never have to make ourselves vulnerable to others.  Find a small community of believers and live life together.  Depression can be the only alternative when we are cut off from others and left to fend for ourselves.  You must be joined with others who know you, love you, challenge you, and accept you unconditionally.  It’s out there. Don’t give up until you find it.

3.  Stop searching for more.  I think this is a big reason Christians in poverty seem to have so much joy in spite of their situation.  They don’t expect more all the time.  They have learned to be content, even in extreme poverty.  They are thankful for what they have instead of always reaching for the “elusive next.”  Be content.  Be thankful.  Rejoice in what God has already done in your life, and submit the rest to Him.  He knows what is best, and your steps are ordered by Him.

These are just 3 points.  They are not the only 3 points.  They do not replace hearing directly from God about your life and your direction.  I’m not bringing the stone tablets down from the mountain here.  That’s your job.  That’s the whole point.  God wants to deal directly with you.  You don’t have to go through a preacher, an author or any other middleman.

Are you willing to listen?

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What is true humility?

Most of what I have always considered to be humility is really pride, masquerading as self-hatred.

I look at my life, see my sin and my failure, and I hate myself for it. I stand before God and run myself down, telling Him how worthless I truly am, thinking I am being humble before God. True humility, however, is not self-hatred. Humility is not a self-deprecating criticism of ourselves. That is really pride, the opposite of humility.

We must look to Jesus if we are to see true humility, since He is our ultimate example.

He was God, yet He became man. He was authorita- tive, yet a servant. He was powerful, yet gentle and kind. He was glorious, yet He made Himself unassuming. His example, then, shows us that true humility is in laying aside what our position or stature deserves.

To be humble means to follow the example of Christ, laid out for us in Philippians 2, to take ourselves off the throne and serve rather than be served. Humility is laying down our rights and what is coming to us. Humility is not hating who we are; it is knowing who we are. It is choosing to serve: to serve God’s ways rather than ours, and to serve man rather than our own selfishness. To be humble means we use our authority as a means to serve. To be humble means we use our power to protect and defend. To be humble means we use our resources to provide for others instead of gratifying ourselves. In humility we see our lives as existing to serve God and others instead of ourselves.

Surely I look at my own failures and sin, and I am sorrowful over my rebellion. However it must be the Godly sorrow that leads to life instead of the earthly sorrow that leads to death.  The prophet Micah worded it beautifully, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God?…Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Godly sorrow will not lead me to hate myself, for that only leads to depression and death.

That self-hatred only keeps me on the throne and at the center of my consciousness. Self-hatred and pride are twins, for they both keep “me” in the front and center. Micah continues with the answer to his question,

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

This is humility in its purest form: not some great penance to absolve me of my mountainous iniquity, not living in self-hatred, not flogging myself either physically or spiritually. True humility takes “me” off the throne and out of the equation altogether. I no longer focus on my sin, my failure or weakness, for I am no longer the issue. I live to serve, not to be served. I live to forgive, not to be forgiven. I live to show mercy, not to be shown mercy. I live to love, not to be loved. I live to comfort, not to be comforted. I live to give, not to be given to.

Then and only then do I cease from the selfishness of self-hatred and begin to live in the Christ- like way of true humility. Ultimately, humility results in my death, in laying down my life for others just like Jesus did for me.

This post is an excerpt from my book “The Church Must Die”, available on Amazon.com.

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I am a failure at Christianity

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago called “What if you feel like quitting?”  I wrote it after I saw someone arrive at my blog after typing these words into a search engine: “what to do when you feel like turning away from Christianity?”

Well, the other night I noticed another search that resulted in a visit to this blog.  This time the search was this: “I am a failure at Christianity.” 

The emotion and hopelessness of those words have haunted me for three days now.  Someone, somewhere sat down at their computer in a moment of despair and typed those words, hoping to find some solace or comfort.  I have tried to imagine what prompted their resignation.  What failure or sin caused this sad admission?  I have prayed for that person in the days following, and I feel like I must respond.

There are two emotions that hit me as I think about that sentence, “I am a failure at Christianity.”

The first is compassion on the precious person who wrote it.  I pray you will find hope and forgiveness.  I hope you will find a way through Christ to get back up and keep going.

The second emotion I feel is anger.  I am angry at a church culture that has made it possible for someone to feel like a failure at Christianity.  I am angry that we have reduced the incredible grace of God, his undeserved favor, into a set of rules to keep and sins to avoid.  I am angry that we have created an atmosphere where those who have trouble keeping our rules feel less than worthy of Christ and less than deserving of His grace.

You see, it’s actually impossible to fail at Christianity.  If it were possible to fail, that would mean we have something to do with our own redemption.  If it were possible to fail, that would mean there is something more than the cross that is necessary for salvation.  If it were possible to fail, that would mean my salvation has more to do with me than it does with God.

None of those things are true.  We are saved by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ.  We most definitely do not deserve it.  God has acted completely out of His own love for us.  He has offered us forgiveness completely apart from anything we can do to earn or deserve it.  The Bible tells us in Romans 5 that Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners.”  That’s the good news, plain and simple.  And the love and grace that saved you once is the same love and grace that continues to save you every minute of every day.

The only way we could ever fail at Christianity would be to not accept it. It’s a free gift, and the only way to fail with a gift is if we will not take it.

So to the person who wrote those words, I encourage you to believe.  You are actually at the very place God wants you to be.  We are all failures, and it’s only when we are finally able to admit that fact that we are able to receive His mercy.  When you confess your failure and cry out to God, that’s when forgiveness starts to flow.

And to the rest of us, I encourage us to evaluate what we believe.  Do we really believe in grace?  Do we really believe salvation is a free gift from God, and that there is nothing we can do to earn it?  I think many of us in the church see the sin and degradation around us and feel like we need to take a stand against it.  But look at how Jesus treated sinners.  It was always with love, mercy and compassion.

Unfortunately those things seem to be in short supply to far too many “sinners” today.

For further reading, check out this post as well:  Being disillusioned is a good thing

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