Archive for category Encouragement

I have tarnished the “Golden Rule”

It’s something most of us learned as a child.  In fact, many people don’t even know it’s from the Bible.  It’s the “Golden Rule.”

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. ~ Matthew 7:12

I have to confess, for most of my life I’ve thought of those words very selfishly.  “If you want others to treat you a certain way, then make sure you treat them likewise.”  I’ve thought of it with me at the end.  The issue that really matters to me is how I’m treated.  But what happens if I treat others the way I want to be treated, and they don’t reciprocate?  What if I’m nice and others are mean?  What if I’m kind and others are cruel? Because my comfort is the ultimate goal, that’s a recipe for anger and resentment.

I’d like to pose that Jesus meant His words with the other person in mind.  I think He understood that we all want to be treated properly, and His instruction to us is to treat others in that same way.  And notice that Jesus really doesn’t allow me an “out” if the other person does not return the favor.  His concern is how I act, not how others act to me.

To follow Jesus is to act from the inside out, not the outside in.  Jesus loved those who hated Him, forgave those who executed Him, healed those who could give Him nothing in return.  It’s at the core of why Jesus came, God loving those who had rejected Him, calling them to Himself.  Jesus said it’s the ultimate point of the whole Bible, the law and the prophets.

Here’s the challenge: can I follow?  Can I treat others the way I want to be treated, even if it doesn’t come back to me?  Can I let go of all the ways others have wronged me, and just love as He loved? Can I love those who are repulsive to me, simply because they deserve to be loved?

Too often in the church that doesn’t happen.  But that’s what it takes to be like the Jesus we claim to serve.

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I have it all figured out

I’ve been reading Job lately, and I’m convinced the sin of Job’s friends, the ones who came to “comfort” him, is something of which we have all been guilty.

The sin?  Thinking they had God all figured out, that they had the Almighty in a box.

Job’s suffering had nothing to do with anything he had or hadn’t done.  His suffering was a test from God, a test instigated by Satan, and meant to try Job’s commitment to his Creator on its deepest level.  Yet his friends thought they had it all figured out.  “You must have sinned,” they proclaimed, “Otherwise God wouldn’t be punishing you.  We know how God works and He doesn’t treat the righteous like this, so you must be guilty.”

They thought they had God in a neat, predictable box.  And so do we sometimes.  We are convinced we know how He operates.  We are so sure we have Him figured out that we cannot handle it when A plus B does not equal C.  We are confused and often become disillusioned when the ways we thought God should operate appear not to work anymore.

What if, like Job, we don’t get an answer right away?  What if the sickness doesn’t go away?  What if our problems don’t magically disappear like we want them to?

In Genesis 15, after God has made great promises to Abraham, He also warns that Abraham’s descendants will go into slavery.  Why?  Verse 16, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” God is telling Abraham that his people will be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years, not because they have done anything wrong, but because God is giving the Amorites enough rope to hang themselves.  When Israel later comes into the Promised Land and is instructed to “destroy all that breathe”, the Amorites will have no excuse.

Sometimes God has plans in play that are not clear to us.  Sometimes God is working in ways that don’t immediately make sense.  Sometimes God does things that do not fit neatly into the box I have created for Him.

Yes, it may be that my suffering is a consequence of some sin or act on my part.  But sometimes, like Job, I just have to say,

He does great things past finding out, yes, wonders without number.  If He goes by me, I do not see Him; if He moves past, I do not perceive Him; if He takes away, who can hinder Him?  Who can say to Him, “What are You doing?”   Job 9:10-12


Is today really the day?

This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.   Psalm 118:24

To me, this verse from Psalms is one of the most misquoted verses in the entire Bible.  We are told to be happy, because God made today and we should rejoice and be glad in it. We even sing a catchy praise chorus about it.

But what if today sucks?  What if my wife left me, or I found out I have cancer?  What if I don’t feel much like rejoicing in today?  What if everything in my life screams against me being happy?  I believe there is a meaning to this verse that goes much deeper than the “be happy” theology we have been force fed.

Let’s expand the context of the verse a little, adding in the two previous verses as well:

The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

There is a much better day to rejoice and be glad in:  the day the stone which the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone.  The day Jesus died and rose again.  That’s the day to rejoice in, because that day changed everything.  When we think about that day, and its implications in our lives for all of eternity, there is no more need for “forced happiness”.

We can rejoice in that day because it changed our outlook forever.  It doesn’t matter how terrible my life is right now, I can rejoice that Jesus redeemed me to God.  It doesn’t matter if my life is falling apart, I can be glad in the fact that one day my suffering will be over and I will be with Him for eternity.  Now that’s cause for rejoicing.

So if today you are not feeling very happy, that’s okay.  Look to the day that Jesus changed everything.  Look at the Savior who gave His very life for you, and rejoice that He is with you in the middle of your suffering, and will one day take you home.

The depth of that truth is something a catchy praise chorus could never replace.


Being disillusioned is a good thing

Usually we think of the word “disillusioned” in a negative context.  Someone who is disillusioned is a malcontent, a wild-eyed radical, a complainer.

I’d like to reframe that word, to put it in a different light.  Think about the word literally: it means to be freed from illusion.  Those who are disillusioned are those who have seen the truth.  And once the bright light of truth has shone in one’s heart, the illusion is no longer good enough.  The truth ruins you to the lie.

And is there a greater lie facing Christians today than the myth of “performance Christianity”?  The notion that Christians have a set of rules they live by, rules that make us good enough to be part of the club.  I’m not talking about our call to live a holy life.  I’m talking about the outward pressure of performance that leads us to exclude the screwed up, messy, broken people who can’t seem to get it together.

Here’s the truth:  It’s time for me to let down the façade and stop pretending that I’m something other than what I am: a failure.  It’s time, in fact, for all of us to admit that we don’t have it as “together” as we’ve led others to believe.  It’s this inability to open up and let others see who we really are that is at the root of much of the ineffectiveness and irrelevance going on in what is known as “Christianity” today.

Let go of the illusion…become disillusioned.  Refuse to let the false front of performance Christianity to rule your life with guilt any longer.  Lift the curtain and let others see what’s really there. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” He gave His life to bring that freedom.

Do you have the courage to live in that glorious, disillusioned freedom?

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What’s that smell?

“You cannot be sure of a good harvest whatever you do to a field.  But you can be sure that if you pull up one weed that one weed will no longer be there.” – C.S. Lewis

Part of our nature as humans is to look for the sure thing.  Sure things are easy.  They  don’t require faith, uncertainty, long nights of work and prayer.  Sure things just happen, right?

Maybe our love for the sure thing is the reason we want to put God in a box.  We want to have Him figured out, it’s easier that way.  If we have all the answers in a neat little outline, then the hard work of prayer and trust aren’t necessary.  It’s why we’ve turned to religion.  It’s easier for us to have a system that reduces our lives to a quid pro quo.  I do “this” for God, and He does “that” for me.

Too bad God didn’t get the memo.  You can look at scripture and see a God who seems to delight in doing things differently than the way we expect.  We see a God who sent the Messiah as a baby in a stable.  We see a God who anointed David as king, then let him hide in the wilderness for a few years, running for his life.

And you may not have to look at scripture to see this reality, maybe you can look at your own life.  The physical problems you didn’t expect or the divorce you didn’t plan on.  The death, the loss, the broken heart.  None fit into that box you thought contained your God.

Sometimes it’s all you can do to pull that one weed Lewis talks about. Sometimes it’s a major victory to just put one foot in front of another.  Sometimes just another breath is all you can muster.

It’s interesting to read about the composition of the ingredients God told Moses to use for the incense of the tabernacle: stacte, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense.  All are sweet, aromatic spices, with the exception of galbanum.  Galbanum, I’m told, has a pungent, bitter aroma.  It is used to intensify the fragrance of the other ingredients.

The sweetness is intensified by the bitterness.  The fragrance expanded by the pungent.

How about, instead of looking for the sure thing, we just breathe that one more breath, put that foot in front of the other, pull that one weed, pray that one more prayer?  How about, instead of resenting the challenges and bitterness in our lives, we allow them to blossom in a fragrance of trust and hope in a loving Father?

Remember this:  prayer does not necessarily fix all of our problems.  But the act of prayer itself is a victory.  It says to God, “Your will, not mine.”  By daring to humble ourselves we place ourselves in the hands of a certain God who often acts in unexpected ways.

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I’m going to build something monumental!

Have you ever had a friend who just can’t receive a gift?  You try to pay for dinner and they just won’t hear of it.  If you give them a gift, they just can’t say “thank you”,there has to be an argument.  Sometimes I think it’s a control issue. They are uncomfortable on the receiving end of a gift, they have to be on the giving end.

I think that’s how we are with God sometimes.  We feel much more comfortable on the giving end of doing something for Him than on the receiving end of what He wants to do for us.

In 1 Chronicles 17, David had a desire to do something grand for God, to build Him a magnificent temple.  But God questioned David, “when did I ask you to build me a house? Since the time I brought your people out of Egypt, have I ever said ‘build me a house’? In fact,” God said, “Instead of you building a house for me, I’m going to build one for you.”

There was nothing inherently wrong with David’s desire to build a house for God.  God complimented him and said, “you did well that it was in your heart.”  But David was guilty of assuming God would be honored by his desire without even asking if it was something He wanted.  Even Nathan the prophet assumed God would be pleased by this gesture.  But it wasn’t God’s plan.  There was a lot of ground to be covered, kings to be conquered, and battles to be won before the time was right for Solomon to build the temple.

Sometimes we are quick to rush in to “doing for God.”  We want to start something, build something, be something for Him and we never take into account that He might want to build something in us first.  We can’t conceive that He wouldn’t be thrilled by the building we’ve built or the ministry we’ve started.  But remember, what He does in us is always more important than what we do for Him.

It’s so much easier to work than it is to wait, isn’t it?  Building a monument is much more satisfying than the hard and lonely work of humbling ourselves and allowing God to break us and mold us into His image.

Is that to say God does not call us to work for Him?  Of course not.  But our primary mission should always be knowing Him, allowing Him to do His work in us.  There may be a lot of kings to be conquered and battles to be won in our heart before the time is right to fulfill our calling.  Besides, it is only through that breaking and rebuilding that we can get our own desires out of the way so we are free to hear God’s heart for us.

I know our ambition to run out and do something usually comes from an honorable place of love, but instead of rushing out to build a monument to show our gratitude to God, sometimes it’s better – like David -to allow Him to build something in us first.

That’s the best way to say “thank you.”

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It’s just not fair!

“This day is a day of trouble and rebuke and blasphemy; for the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth.”    Isaiah 37:3

King Hezekiah had wholeheartedly served the Lord like no king had before him.  He had destroyed the pagan altars and rid the land of idols.  He had repaired the temple and instituted true worship.  If anyone had a right to expect good things from God, it was Hezekiah.

Yet here he was.  Thugs sent by the king of Assyria were outside the gates casting insults his way.  His people were feeling the pain of the siege and beginning to lose heart, and Hezekiah was questioning why this was happening.  “I’ve done all this good for you.  I’ve been obedient to every word you have said, and look what’s happening!”  You can hear the desperation in the king’s pleading cry to God.

Sound familiar?

You’ve faithfully served, yet here you are staring death and defeat in the face.  The enemy’s taunts and accusations are flying, and you are beginning to lose heart. Yet God’s reply to Hezekiah in verses 21-22 is the same for you today:

“Because you have prayed to Me…this is the word which the LORD has spoken…”

The words that followed were a promise of victory, the promise of a God who defeated Hezekiah’s enemies without a single sword being lifted.  It’s the promise of a God who rushes to help those who trust in Him.

I can’t promise what that victory will look like.  Most likely it will come in a way you didn’t expect.  I can’t promise you’ll be instantly healed or set free.  But I can promise this:  The God who won the victory for Hezekiah isn’t shaken by the mocking voices of your enemies, He’s not intimidated by their threats, and He’s not lost His power to save those who trust in Him.

Thus says the Lord, “Hang on!”

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The walls are crooked

I live in an old house.

It was built sometime in the early 1900’s.  It’s drafty and creaky and the pipes make funny noises, but it’s home.  The other day I was sitting in my living room, and I noticed how crooked the wall was.  Not just a little crooked.  Whoever built that wall was either blindfolded or drunk…or both.

There’s a famous scripture in Isaiah 28:16,

“ Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation,
A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation;
Whoever believes will not act hastily.”

I may be oversimplifying this due to my total lack of any engineering or architectural training, but the key to getting a straight wall is to pick a point, run a line from that point (called a plumb line) and follow that line.  The key to building a structure that is square is to start with a perfectly straight cornerstone, run your plumb line from it, and follow the line.

We know the cornerstone to which Isaiah referred is Jesus.  He is the perfectly straight foundation upon which the rest of the building must be based.  Following a line based upon Him is the only way to ensure we are headed in the right direction.  And how do we know if we are in line with the cornerstone?  Look at verse 17,

“Also I will make justice the measuring line,
And righteousness the plummet”

Justice is the measuring line and righteousness is the plumb line.

We start with Jesus and follow out from there in justice and righteousness.  That’s what James was talking about when he told us pure and undefiled religion means to care for the widows and orphans, and to keep ourselves unspotted by the world.  Justice and righteousness.  It’s what Amos meant when he said “hate evil, do good; establish justice at the gate.”  Righteousness and justice.

Maybe that’s why today’s church has meandered off the path.  Maybe that’s why our walls and corners are crooked and the structure is unstable.  Maybe that’s why we are powerless to stop the onslaught of the world on our generation.

If you are not committed to justice, you are not following Jesus.  If you are not committed to seeing the weak strengthened, the vulnerable protected, and the poor defended, then you are not in line with Jesus.  This one litmus test provides the clearest and most accurate picture of where our hearts reside.  It is not whether we have a perfect Sunday School attendance record or whether we don’t watch R rated movies. It is how we view and treat the poor, the weak, and the marginalized.  That’s where they found Jesus, and that’s where they must find us.

If righteousness is not your plumb line, then you are not following the line laid out by Jesus.  But that righteousness must be based, not on our works, but on His grace.  We are not righteous because we do good works.  We do good works because we are righteous.  We have veered from the plumb line of His grace.  We have constructed a modern version of Christianity that is largely focused on the works that men do.  We blame disasters, like the Haiti earthquake, on the sinfulness of those who suffer.  We force Christians to walk around with a load of guilt and shame over their inability to be “good enough.”  We have caused sinners to turn from seeking Christ because they feel they will never measure up.

We have used many measuring devices.

We have judged ourselves by many standards.  We have judged ourselves based on others.  We have measured ourselves against the world.  What we have not done nearly enough is to bring ourselves in line with the only straight and true reference point: Jesus.  And he made it clear, the measuring lines of justice and righteousness can be summed up in one word:  Love.  Without love for others there is no justice.  Without love for God there is no righteousness.  Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Justice and righteousness.  Without those, we will never be in line with Jesus.

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The war is over

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,”  Ephesians 2:14-15

This scripture is part of a larger passage where Paul is talking about how the Ephesians were Gentiles and outside the covenant God made with the Jews.  They were hopelessly lost, without even a chance of redemption-until Jesus came.   He brought both together, the Jew and the Gentile, and rendered the law useless and powerless to condemn any longer.  Jesus made peace through His death.

In a figurative sense, He has done the same for us.  There are two people inside each of us:  The one who keeps the law and the one who breaks the law.  But Christ’s death abolished the law, and brought those two warring parts together, making them one under His blood.  This means the war is over, with neither our righteous NOR our sinful side declaring victory.  Instead, Christ has won over both.

Just as Paul lamented in Romans 7 about his inability to “get it right” and keep the law, so these “2 men” war in each of us.  But Paul realized the real victory does not lie in “getting it right” or keeping the law better, but in walking in the freedom of liberty in Christ.

When we walk in that law, we are no longer under the law of sin and death, which is always focused on deeds, failures, and death.  Instead, Jesus has done away with that law, making us free to follow Him instead of some misguided urge to be “good enough.”  That’s why 1 John says

“Perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment”

Imagine how good it would feel to get off that treadmill of always having to measure up!  Imagine how free you’d be if you’d just realize the truth:  That Jesus’ death brought together those two parts of your nature – the good and the bad – into one person who is totally redeemed and forgiven.  You no longer have to fear punishment.

Take a deep breath…that’s freedom!

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A little context please

I’m no historian, but I believe, in order for us to truly understand what our faith in Christ is supposed to be, we have to understand it in the context of where it began: Israel in the first century AD.

Jesus came to a Jewish people, those who had lived their whole lives in the context of a Jewish faith dictated by the law of Moses. He came to a people who had been taught their whole lives that the only way to God was to totally and explicitly keep every letter of the law. He came to a people who were beaten down by a harsh religious system that had long ago become devoid of any heart and passion, and had instead been reduced to a series of a few “dos” and many, many “don’ts.”

He called them “sheep without a shepherd.” Why? Because those who were supposed to be shepherds were more interested in their own self-preservation and the propagation of their own status than they were about the poor, hungry, weary, burned out masses.

Sound familiar?

That same Jesus has a message of hope for this poor, hungry, weary generation as well. Are you tired of not feeling good enough? Are you weary with the effort of trying to keep up with a religious system Jesus never intended? Are you burned out on a system that forces you to keep a set of rules (many of which are man-made) or be judged, excluded, or excommunicated?

The same Jesus who brought hope to those sheep without a shepherd is moved with compassion over you as well. Forget them! Come to Jesus. Come now, come quickly! There is rest, there is hope, there is forgiveness, there is mercy, there is grace for you.

I know I’m beating this drum a lot lately, but it’s an important one. Please listen to the call of the Savior. His is the only voice that matters.