If you’re gonna serve Him, are you going to all the way with it?

Periodically, I have to take a social break. I pull back from the public world and take refuge in the quietness of my home for a few days. It can feel like a big deal when I do it–reorienting my schedule and reminding me that I primarily serve God, and not my own desires or the people around me.

God uses this time, that I have every few months, to deliver me fresh insights and assignments that I wouldn’t be able to fully receive if my focus were not so concentrated on communing with God. These sabbaticals have recently been resulting in very practical examples of God directing my paths when I acknowledge Him. He honors my willingness to put myself before Him in a temporary adjustment of my life that I wouldn’t normally choose.

This is a matter of obedience. It is not always convenient, but it is truly something I need to do. I worry–with embarrassing regularity–that my friends will be hurt by my actions or at least severely disappointed in/by me. I have a strong inclination to “rescue” them from such a fate by doing my part to keep them satisfied in all things that in any way relate to our relationship.

But, as I write this, it is becoming clear to me that such penetrating concern is inordinate, even on the level of idolatry. If I am placing my relationship with my girlfriends above the nurturing of my relationship with God–exalting their response to my action of obedience over God’s response–than I am sinning. I am hoping that in some way, both God and my friends can be equal; that there may be no difficulty pleasing the two simultaneously.

The truth is, though, that I can’t have both. There may be times when I can enjoy harmony between the two, but this is not a long-lasting conjunction. God will inevitably shift me into a new position that will test whether my alliance is with Him solely or parceled out between Him and my other loved ones.

Indeed, this will certainly have a flustering affect on my friends and I–who suffer from an acute sensitivity to discomfort related to God-appointed adjustments–but that’s not so bad. Certainly, we need our naturally-occurring devotions to be questioned in order for us to perceive our lack of Christ-centered devotion. And there is no better place to grow stronger in understanding the agreement between us and God that needs to be formed than by taking time away from the rest of the world for a little while. Have you tried it?

 

Does loving God make us sissy?

Are you afraid of loving God because it might make you lose your reputation? Maybe you’re known for being pretty strong, resiliant; someone that no one else can take down. And you wonder what could be the result of letting your guard down to let God in. If He took over, wouldn’t you look like a half-competant individual? You might resemble a pilot who could never get away with flying his own plane so he had to hire on a more educated and confident co-pilot.

Okay, that’s the one problem you might be facing; the other is that Jesus just might not be so respected among the people you’re around. Let’s face it, it could get a little awkward if you were to pledge allegience to a person your public deems a dead prophet who didn’t have the sense to keep Himself from getting killed. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like an option that would be so ideal in the relations department at your work or school or even in your everyday life with family and friends. After evaluating this for a little bit, you get to the point where you begin to wonder, “Who DOES like Jesus?!”

Don’t be surprised, my friend, when you recognize there aren’t many on the list you might be trying to make. It can get even more disconcerting when you start concerning yourself with who really LOVES Jesus. There may be crickets going off on their third solo song inside your head before you realize that all it takes to silence them is to say your name.

You see, the important thing (in your case) is not whether other people like or love Jesus or whether they will stop liking or loving you if you do. The only question you will have to answer when all your conflict with the world “out there” is over is whether you loved the Lord your God with all your heart when you knew it was right. When you knew everything else, done in it’s place–to avoid giving God your heart–is wrong.

When the fullness of your heart-story is told, the most significant question it will answer is “What did she/he do with Jesus and His proposal?” Were you ultimately united with God or did you choose to cruise with the world, feigning indifference to your true purpose? I hope the oh so popular story of apethy toward God will not be yours. Instead, I pray that you would live every day inviting God to help you write His story in your heart. It will be worth all the sacrifice you could possibly give to God to have His name honored as the Author of all that you were and desired to be. Nothing else could make for a better story!

I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!

I think God must like living in conjunction with us. Why would He put so much effort into pursuing us if He didn’t? Yet, most of us never consider this as one of God’s genuine motivations. We think of many horrible motivations that might drive Him to come after us, but never this. After all, why would we ever assume that God was good and that His desire for us was perfect and lovely?

Very few of us get close enough to inspect that desire. We believe it is too dangerous to do so. We think we’ll be rewarded in some way for not checking God out. But, it’s time more of us did. We’ve lived for too long with irrelevant suppositions about divinity that break God’s heart. We need a new way of looking at Him–a truth-filled way. Then, let’s look at Truth (Christ) and find out what He was and is all about. I dare you!

Just in case you’re feeling the victim of a stupid day, I’m qualified to keep you company

I did something really stupid today. I paid too much attention to what other people might think of what I wanted to do. Because of this I curtailed my actions to what I supposed was expected of me and I changed plans. Truly, my plan–my wish–never had a chance. It was sabotaged from the beginning due to my inbred inclination to serve others perception of me. What a mistake! I could have enjoyed myself so much if I hadn’t allowed my idol of human opinion to derail my desire.

The thing that you have to know is that what I wanted to do was good. In fact, in regard to general morality, it was neutral. I wasn’t afraid to do it because it was bad or because it would prove to be beneficial to me in only a weak degree, but because I lacked the courage to back up my decision if someone should call it into question. But even worse, to me, was the prospect of silent evaluations being made of me which I could not contest because they would never be openly voiced.

Now, to some of you, these fears I’m sharing with you may sound outlandish, or at the very least, strongly self-centered. While others of you will know exactly the grounds on which I base these bits of thought-clutter. But, regardless of what you might think, I tell you these things because I want help and I know that help doesn’t meander in the dark where I’ve been hiding. I know that my thoughts are wrong and I want to confess that this is so. I want the chance to relearn other thoughts that will take their place. And, if you find yourself in a similar place, I want you, also, to leave the haunts of broken thinking in pursuit of a pure mind.

Can a pure mind fix itself on what it cannot be sure is true? I never thought of this as a point of application for Philippians 4:8, but maybe I just never looked at the words closely enough; that is, I never saw my heart and mind set as the backdrop to them.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure…think about these things.”

Choosing to make the thoughts of others–what they think of me–the forefront of my thinking earlier was disastrous for many reasons. Most of them can be summed up with the fact that they made it impossible for me to be obedient to this verse. In fact, that preoccupation forced me to cast far from me the counsel God gives me through it.

Consider this with me:

  • If I am anticipating others’ judgments of me, I am judging others; not on their behavior–which displays some level of truth about them–but based on what I am willing to be believe them capable of in terms of sin against me. By so doing, I am living outside the limits of the truth. I am, essentially, choosing to believe a lie (an unproven truth) about others even while I am afraid that they will believe lies about me. I am not constraining my thoughts to whatever is true.
  • If I am focusing my thoughts on the worst possible things that another person or a group of people could do to me (in the form of thoughts or actions) I surely cannot call my thoughts honorable. I try to maintain my honor by stripping others of theirs. I do it in advance so as to eliminate as much risk of humiliation as possible. This thinking actually dishonors me as it reveals an anxiety-ridden mind that does not honor God with trust. I cannot fix my mind on whatever is honorable while at the same time ruminating over all that is potentially dishonorable. There is only so much room in my brain. God designed it to hold nothing more than whatever is honorable.
  • If I am wrapped up in imagining whatever impure thoughts people could possibly have of me, I will find it impossible to cultivate a pure thought-life. For one thing, I am not thinking pure thoughts of others. For another, I am not removing from my mind the garbage of doubt, distrust and ambiguity. I am letting confusion fester in my brain and lead me to places I don’t want to go. As I work to appear pure, my prideful motives work against real purity being cultivated within me. I chose a counterfeit purity that does not obey God’s instruction to feast my mind on whatever is pure.

Come, friend, let’s get up and begin to exercise the kind of thinking that is true, honorable and pure. And, if we look stupid while we’re doing it, at least it won’t be because we made ourselves victims of god-less thinking!

 

Studying Scripture–what a bore, right?

I don’t know about you, but more than thinking studying the Word of God is boring, I have thought it was impossible. I mean, reading I can do…sometimes. But, getting deep into the meaning of the passage and dissecting the intention behind what is written–how can I be expected to plunge into such religiously intense depths?

It’s not just because I don’t see myself as that kind of person, I also feel that I lack the knack to succeed at it. Of course, I want to know God and understand Him as well as I can, but I just don’t study and I are compatible to that end. Other things do it for me, like prayer, reading Christian living books, listening to sermons, talking to friends who are walking with God. These are all great ways of engaging truth about God, but I sense His Spirit calling me to go deeper. I just wonder, How?

Maybe you find yourself in the same place. You don’t know what to do with yourself when you’re in the place of digging deeper into the Word of God. Maybe you have been in contexts where studying Scripture was one of the assigned activities you had to engage in. Perhaps you sat there with your Bible open, willing to study, if only someone would show you just how you should do that.

Don’t be discouraged if this is you. God knows where you’re starting out when He calls you to investigate the truth of His Word. He knows your obstacles and your insecurities–and He knows just how to help you!

Now, granted, being a great Bible-studying person will not come over night. There is trial and error with this. Lots of it. But, there is the quiet moving of the Holy Spirit behind all of this too. Here is there to strengthen our desire and subsidize our ability. He is eager to lift the deep and unsearchable things of Christ off the page. The only thing He really wants to work on in you is that you would want to receive these things, that you would be willing to work persistently after having them.

He does not want you to feel that the burden is all on you to discover who He is and what He wants to say. Instead, He asks that you acknowledge that He is the only One Who is qualified to teach you all that pertains to His grace and His truth. You discipline yourself, therefore, to put yourself in a place fitting one who waits for God and is ready to receive what He gives. Why don’t you try this the next time you pick up His Word. Disregard your own ability to understand the text and welcome Him to come share the truths with you, to make them relevant to your life and applicable to your heart. Ask Him to give you a heart that receives and obeys His Word and then watch Him give you everything you need to handle His Word the way He wants you too!

What about when I need a break from God?

For some of you, your first thought upon reading the title above is utter shock: “That’s unbiblical!” you cry out. You’re so afraid of ending up guilty of such an infraction that you deny that such a phenomenon could even exist among the race of humans–except, possibly, with the exception of the fiercely pagan (which you make it your business not to know).

For others of you, you read the title of this post with relieved expectation: “Finally, someone is acknowledging that mankind at times finds themselves in such a state.” If you’re in this place, you may want to get out of it, but you also may not. If you are honest, you probably want to get to the heart of what’s going on inside of you before you would ever want to move on. You may have many people around you who are coaxing you to pull yourself out of this “slump”–whether they attempt this by anxious persuasion or caustic maneuvering.

But what are your reasons for needing a break from God? And, may I ask you, what are the characteristics of the God you must escape? How do you see Him? How do you see Him seeing you? These are things that must be considered if the relief your heart needs is ever to be found.

I’m not telling you your feelings and needs are wrong, and I don’t believe God is either. I’m challenging you to let these feelings and needs lead you to a deeper level of revelation than you’ve ever plumbed. Find out what you’re running from and what you’re trying to run to. What is the source of your chains and what holds the power of your release? These are powerful questions that hold out to you the potential of freedom.

These questions will serve your heart well. They do not deny the condition of your heart; rather, they seek to diagnosis your heart in the deepest way possible so that it may be aligned with its most ideal treatment. The ultimate treatment is not something you can do for yourself, but you can certainly do some work to get yourself in a place of contracting with God for this work to be accomplished in you.

Not everyone understands the heart well–even people who claim to know God like they invented Him. But if you want to truly understand your heart, go to God and invite Him to reveal what He sees inside you. Expect His tenderness to train you in paths you haven’t gone. Understand that though He does not protect you from recognizing obscene realities of sin within you, He will cause you to rejoice in seeing that your shame He has fully taken upon Himself. He assumed the weight and penalty of your shame so that you might go free. But He didn’t do this so that you could then walk away from Him.

He did this so that you would have every reason to walk toward Him. And not just walk, but run into His arms–knowing and being convinced of how much you’re wanted there. This realization is the only thing that will be able to call off your break from God. More than that, it is the only thing that can resolve the arguments that anchored you in your retreat.

To demonstrate how much He cares about resolution when it comes to what’s going on in your heart, God has already done three things for you:

The first thing He did was that He took care of your ultimate problem. He set at ease the enmity between you and Him and opened Himself up to you. He saw your fault in the problems that exist between you and He and assumed the debt you racked up. Where you were wrong and had to make things right (but couldn’t), He made things right.

The second thing He did was call you to come look at what He did and understand why He did it. A lot of problems we have with God would be cleared up if we would just look at the cross and take the time to ask Him “Why?” He died so that love could be the answer.

The third thing He did was invite you to embrace the implications of that answer. If God loves you, why aren’t you taking advantage of it? No, don’t use this as an opportunity to scorn Him and get the upper hand when it really counts. Doing this will only make the gift you were meant to enjoy non receivable, even a curse. Instead, delve into this love-gift. Discover in it’s depths (no, I’m sorry but you won’t find this from a distance or by hovering on the surface of it) the most steadfast and true love you will ever find. Come rest in the one place where your performance is no longer counted against you–for good or bad. Hide yourself–find your covering–in the place where One performance forever seals you in the arms of your Father and Heart-Lifter.

For all your arguments and struggles, God entreats you to  argue with Him. He does not want your heart to be burdened and beat up any longer. The cross shows us that He is serious. Christ’s whole heart became blistered and bruised by your very pain. Everything that is wrong with your life and you He came to know intimately. He insists, now, that you come near and not retreat from Him because He wants to sort things out with you. He does not want you to isolate yourself with your problems; He came to Calvary so that fellowship could be restored between you–even to the extent that your problems would become His.

God removed every reason that sin and shame had to keep you apart from Him and invites you to hash out what remains–showing you that all these things together are not as strong as His love for you. He will provide the means for conquering them if you will ask Him to. God does not call you to dismiss parts of yourself to be able to fellowship with Him. Instead, He insists that you bring everything that composes who you are to Him. He promises you that seeing yourself in the pure light of who He is will remove all the blemishes of your heart; all the misconceptions, anger and frustration.

This does not mean, for now, that you will never experience these things again, but that they will no longer rule you. They will never keep you from fellowship with Him. Rather, the weaknesses in you will cause you to find greater comfort in His strength. And you will learn to let go with joy because what He holds out to you is far more important than anything that would keep you from receiving His gifts. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” ( Isaiah 1:17-19).

The relationship between your shame and His sacrifice is the only thing with the power to not just draw you “back”–to the less rebellious place you were before–but call you Home (to God) for the first time. This is grace: What you’ve been looking for so long to find. This is fearlessness in facing the truth because the Truth already faced down the reasons for your fear.

He arrested the development of your eternity-defining struggle against Him so He could call you home to mercy and not what you deserved; to life and not the death that awaited you from a wrath-appointing God; to peace and not the enmity you’ve always known to be the chief characteristic of your relationship with God. So, ask God to give you a break from your troubles–if that’s the request that burdens you the most. Ask Him to give you a break from all the things that make you hate Him or misunderstand what He’s doing (or done) in your life. But, above all, ask Him to teach you the blessed opposite of taking a break from Him. He will teach you–oh, most eagerly!

Without a way to measure Him, God’s just too big for my comfort!

It’s easy to diminish God when you’re trying to determine His measurements. Usually we end up doing this because we put too much emphasis on trying to make Him more understandable to us. We look about for some way that we can put Him in terms that we can comprehend more easily, terms that can offer us comfort.

But, when we attempt to make God comfortable to our human senses, we invariably set out to make Him proportional to us. We scale down His size and put limits on His definition. We occupy His sphere with rules and regulations that not only confine our perception of Him, they confine Him! He is presented with a hundred million obstacles to touching our heart.

The relationship between us becomes defined wholly by our expectations of Him. We hold ourselves aloof from Him because we’re afraid to encounter a part of Him that doesn’t fit with what we’ve decided He should be. We insist His interactions with us be scheduled and orderly things, governed by a release form that’s properly notarized.

Why do we imprison our relationship with God like this? Why do we make ourselves content with being safe on our terms? Why won’t we let God form the lines of our boundaries?

It could be because we are cold toward God; we have not yet fully surrendered our lives to Him. We want the ease of expressing Christian thoughts without the consequences of acting them out. We want a predictable life–one that suits our wishes and doesn’t get too dangerously close to His wishes. We want control. And we think we can have it by putting God in a cage. How sad.

Whatever happened to enjoying the pizazz of God? What about believing and trusting in God because He is bigger than us, not smaller? If your spiritual yardstick and chalk line are getting you frustrated, then for goodness sake, lose them! There is no way they are helping you with your relationship with God. Your only options are parting with your ways or rejecting His ways. Unless you choose the first option, for the entirety of your life you will be only just beginning with God; always missing the best part of Him; always ruled by the fears that we won’t let Him master. Truly, the essence of our delight in Him is that in all things He is so much bigger and better than us!

 

So, love looks like what…?

I used to freak out all the time. I had a gazillion worries and concerns. But there was no doubt about the one that topped the list. Love was the biggest thing I worried about. I worried about whether I was loved and whether I was really loving others. I worried that if I didn’t love others sincerely enough, they wouldn’t love me. I worried that if I sought love more than I tried to give it that God would be displeased with me and be unloving toward me.

Love was something I had to master, not something I let master me. Needless to say, I didn’t know much about what love was, I just knew I wanted it. I thought it could be earned, so I decided I would be the most winsome creature and obtain it. I thought all of this would work because I little believed that God was truly disposed to love. I thought He used our need for love as leverage for Him to make us keep the law.

I didn’t realize that the law was built on love. If you took away love from it, it had no point. I didn’t realize that love was the only way to fulfill the law. I never fancied that God wanted to so fill us with His love that the law would be revealed in the orientation of our heart–that I would want to serve God in all things.

I started with the law and tried to squeeze love out of it, rather than starting with love and letting the law flow out of it. What I’m saying might not be making a lot of sense. But, don’t get discouraged, it didn’t make sense to me for the longest time. What I’m saying are things that don’t fully make sense to us until they are deeply rooted in our hearts and only the Holy Spirit can make that happen.

So, if you want to understand; if you want to experience the transformation that comes by abiding in His love, ask Him. The Holy Spirit is given to everyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God who cleanses from all sin those who come to Him for salvation. The Holy Spirit will make clear to you all things that Jesus came to declare to us about love and the law and everything else that concerns our new life in Christ. So, please don’t hesitate to seek the Spirit that you might know what you must about love!

Checking up on God keeps me busy!

Do you ever feel like that: Like God is making you run around and worry because you can’t find out what He’s doing? Yeah, been there, done that. Or, should I say–if I want to be honest–I am there, doing that.

I know, it’s horrible. I wish I could say that was in the past. But it’s not quite as simple as that. I’m not that done with this. I’m still wanting to play this out. I still think it will work for me…somehow. (I don’t have an example ready for you, yet I’m still gonna stick with it.)

I know that’s so convincing. Which makes me wonder why I do stick with it. What do I think I have to gain from this? Or is it that I’m afraid I don’t know how to do anything else? I think the fear one ranks highest today. I’m afraid I don’t have any other way to respond to life but to fear. (That sounds down-right scary, doesn’t it?)

So what do you do when fear has a hold on you like this? You live like fear is a messenger, telling you where peace is not abiding in your heart. You investigate that place and ask God why He can’t commune with you there. Is it because your beliefs about Him keep Him on the outside? Is it because your beliefs about yourself are so rooted in independence that you make Him unnecessary? If so, then this is your real problem; fear is only a symptom. Therefore, treat it accordingly. Put it before God and say, “I’m feeling fear because _______.” And if you don’t know how to fill in the blank, let Him fill it in–He knows better than you about this anyway.

There, stop trying to keep up with God and instead, let Him check-up on you from time to time. Let it be a regular thing. Remind yourself that if you let Him check you out you’ll have enough on your hands that you won’t have to worry if He’s doing a good job; you’ll know He’s doing a bigger job than you could do!

The One Great Admission We’re Missing

For most of my life I never really owned up to the fact that there was anything essentially wrong with me–and I still have trouble with this now. Instead, I would have told you that I was a “good” person with “high” moral standards and enviable character traits. Considering yourself in these categories, you would probably agree with me and we would be confirmed as two more people with the standard self-evaluation.

Isn’t it crazy though, that we all look within (and not too deeply, I might add) to get this verdict? I guess we believe we are the only true expert on ourselves, but what if we’re not? Now, I know, I wouldn’t ask my next door neighbor to tell me what he thought of me because it would be just that: him telling me what he thought of me, and in the instance of the purposes we are discussing his offered opinion would have little weight.

So what about family–after all, they know us the best of anyone, right? I don’t know about you, but if I wouldn’t ask my neighbor, I certainly wouldn’t ask my family. I just don’t typically invite judgment like that? You know what I mean: they see us on too many of our bad days. And besides, they are usually inclined to use this windfall opportunity to call upon their long and unforgiving memories to jab us and build themselves up by comparison.

Okay, we agree on that, so can we still take a chance with friends? After all, we are with them when we are our jolliest and most well-behaved. Couldn’t such an interview be helpful? Wait, I just thought of something…what if they wouldn’t really count because everyone knows that friends can be very biased. I mean, their loyalty can be really good for our self-esteem and it is a true comfort that they like us no matter what…but maybe that’s the problem here. No, if you will agree, I think we better find someone more objective. But who?

Who could we possibly find who would be both objective and authoritative on this matter? I don’t know why it always takes me so long to get to this point where everything suddenly becomes exceedingly obvious. Maybe it’s because getting here is exactly what I was trying to avoid. But anyway, the answer to our question, to our need, is God. He has been the answer all the time, but now perhaps we are more able to hear His evaluation. There is something about the truth that is always far better than a million lies, that is, once you’ve decided you will face it.

So here it is: So are we [who are “good”] better than others? No! We have already said that [“good” people] and those who are not [“good people”] are all guilty of sin.As the Scriptures say:
    “There is no one who always does what is right,
       not even one.
     There is no one who understands.
       There is no one who looks to God for help.
      All have turned away.
       Together, everyone has become useless.
    There is no one who does anything good;
       there is not even one.” — Psalm 14:1–3 (Romans 3:9-12)

Not the most flattering description of myself I’ve ever heard, how about you? Actually, it’s the worst description I’ve heard; their is no familiar sugar-coating; nothing has been left out and I cannot deny any of it if I am to be truthful and real. I am left exposed and certain to be rejected by the very Sovereign who executes such a judgment. What is my hope?

My hope, your hope, the hope of all mankind, is, surprisingly, not small, but hugely significant. Yet, it can be found in only one place. The place where we hold both the scars of my humanity and the balm of Christ’s divinity. In Him the two have been forever bound together. Hope exists in our acknowledging before the Savior our need for help and healing. I know of no other way by which we might be saved from our sin and our fearfully dangerous propensity to deny that such a reality is ours.

Christ stood in our place, wrapped in our flesh and shrouded by the shadows we brought upon ourselves. He faced our deepest darkness and accepted our final punishment so that we could be returned to the Father who has loved since the beginning–He whom we rejected with all our soul and strength until now.