Changing the World (unabridged)

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, said in one of his most famous speeches, “If we are to be a really great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world. We cannot avoid meeting great issues. All that we can determine for ourselves is whether we shall meet them well or ill.” There is a healthy balance in TR’s words. Greatness is not hampered by difficult circumstances or tough issues. In fact, greatness would not be great unless there were monumental challenges to overcome. Victory would not be sweetly savored unless defeat had been stared in the eye.

Meeting challenges is inevitable. Jesus said so when He told the disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” But rather than launch into a discussion of how we are to deal with personal burdens, I want to spend the balance of this piece talking about our obligation to the greatest issue facing mankind.

Though TR wasn’t talking about Christianity in his Chicago speech, his words apply. “If we are to be a really great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world.” Our individual relationships with Christ are intensely personal on the one hand, but on the other, we are to be beacons of light to those around us. We are to be actively intervening on behalf of people against the enemy as he tries his best to ramrod them into the destitution of his agenda.

All around us there are people struggling with challenges spanning the gamut from individual, to national, to societal. The effects of mankind’s consistent decision to live independently of God are evident even though we posture and pose and erect façade’s to hide our poor state of affairs.

It makes no difference what the fleshly tactic of independence is. All flesh is sin and ultimately it renders its consequence.

What calling is more noble than to understand the magnitude of God’s work in Christ at the cross and share that with others?

As TR said, “We cannot avoid meeting great issues.” Indeed! This one affects us all and is the greatest issue in all of history. If we consistently intervene in the lives of those close to us with a lifestyle that exemplifies Christ’s victory, and if we look for opportunities to verbally reinforce this when given the opportunity, we address this great issue and affect the world greatly.

Does this call for us to boldly confront everyone with the reality of Christ’s work?

For some a bold testimony is reasonable. But for most of us, we seize the challenge before us with a lifestyle that consistently demonstrates Christ’s life, and every now and then, God calls upon us to speak a word on His behalf. More often than not Father asks us to lead by example and encourage by word.

In other words, the ability to articulate your victory in Christ as though you were going to make a presentation is not necessary. Your life, and our faith, are not a show. You must demonstrate Christ far more than you talk about Him.

TR said, “If we are to be a really great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world.” Peter said we are to be prepared to give an accounting of our hope. Paul told Timothy to be ready in all seasons. Jesus said we were to go into the hedges and highways and compel people to join us. In Acts, we are simply told, “Go!”

I can hear it now: The devil is asserting that these thoughts are legalistic because I am talking with you about matters of greatness, influence, and action.

Hogwash! Resist the devil and send him packing!

Our Heavenly Father has privileged us to join Him in changing the world. In the power of the Spirit we should dare great things! Together, we play a great part in the world.

Freedom (unabridged)

Do you hear that? The drumbeat? Between Easter and Independence Day my internal rhythm invariably turns toward the cost of freedom. The thumping drub in my heart comes from everywhere.

Do you remember the final scene from the movie, Braveheart? How about the final scene in Christ’s crucifixion? Do the similarities strike you?

Let me refresh your memory. Braveheart is the Hollywood rendition of William Wallace, the Scotsman who led the catalytic uprising for freedom against the tyrannical, Edward, King of England. In the final scene, the executioner is disemboweling Wallace but grants him a moment to collect his strength and utter a final statement. Wallace summons his comportment and screams, “Freeeeeedommm!” It cost him his life.

The final scenes of Jesus Christ’s life are equally gruesome. Like the liberator of Scotland, the liberator of mankind summoned his reserve of strength and composure to utter words of freedom: “It is finished!” It cost him his life as well.

Freedom is precious.

It must be treasured and hallowed lest it become hollow and the entitlement of those with vague recollection.

Freedom is not easily obtained.

I have peered out upon the sea from the gun tubs on Pointe du Hoc. Strode the beaches of Normandy. I have retraced the steps of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Stood in the squares that spawned the revolts against Communism. I have listened to the silent voices at Bull Run, Pea Ridge, and LookOutMountain. I have stared into the azure waters entombing the USS Arizona. I have climbed the tower of the NorthChurch.

Freedom is not easy!

Freedom is not cheap.

I have visited the American cemetery at Omaha Beach. Walked through the tombstones at Arlington. Touched the names at the Vietnam Memorial. Shaken a hand maimed by a grenade. Stood where King stood and dared to dream. Stared into an eye blinded by shrapnel. Witnessed the handing of a folded flag to a widow and heard the rifles fire their final salute. Prayed with women whose husbands and sons and daughters died fighting tyranny.

Freedom is costly!

Freedom is easily compromised.

Sacrifice, pain, loss, and wounds dim with time. They are even romanticized. Witness that we think little of wearing a cross around our neck, commemorative of our Savior to be sure, but symbolic of the most horrific torture and execution ever devised.

Freedom must be memorialized. But not just in our histories. Freedom must be enthroned in our heart! While our intellects and emotions play a part in properly valuing freedom, neither are capable of elevating it sufficiently beyond the ravages of time, entitlement, and diminished worth. Only the heart can care adequately for freedom—because invariably a heart was yielded so another heart could escape tyranny.

The Galatian Believers compromised their heart’s freedom with legalism. Angrily Paul wrote, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).

What does it matter if I tolerate a little legalism with grace? What difference does it make if I accommodate a bit of self-effort within my testimony? Is it essential that I comprehensively believe life is encapsulated in the declaration of, “Christ, and Christ alone?”

What would it matter if we did not celebrate Independence Day this year? What difference would it make if we concluded there were enough memorials in D.C. and that another honoring veterans of World War II was not necessary?

Why should it matter if we simply went to the lake on Memorial Day? Must we have school children memorize the Gettysburg Address and digest each of Lincoln’s words? Why should it matter if politicians use freedom’s fields for political purpose?

What would be the harm in our minds drifting during the quarterly taking of Communion on the church calendar? Why would it matter if Easter was diminished only to the symbol of a new set of clothes or Independence Day to hotdogs and beer?

Do these treasures of freedom matter? Of course they matter!

But. But, freedom is fragile.

Oppressors are constantly attempting to subject us to the yoke of bondage. If freedom is diminished, then those who died to procure it are at risk of having died in vain. If freedom is not treasured, then it is not worth fighting to recognize or elevate—either as a nation or as a Believer.

Freedom. It is won, but it is not impervious to diminishment.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free!”

Here’s to the sacrifice. May you always live true to your freedom! And, may I also follow suit.

Born and Borne (unabridged)

Do you hang on to God or does God hang on to you? I ran across Isaiah 46:3-4 the other day. Even though I had marked it in my Bible, it was as though I had never seen it before. “Listen to Me, [Pres]…/ You who have been borne by Me from birth, / And have been carried from the womb; / Even to your old age, I am and shall be the same, / And even to your graying years I shall bear you! / I have done it, I have made you, and I shall carry you; / And I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you.”

That’s a pretty extensive list of personal vows.

Note that the Lord has had his hands under us from the moment we showed up in the delivery room. Even though you are reading this letter like a civilized, mature adult with all of your dignity wrapped around you, picture your face on the naked body of a newborn baby screaming about his predicament in life. Instead of the doctor’s hands catching you and your Mom’s and Dad’s arms enfolding you, imagine the hands of God supporting your head and back, wrapping you up in your first blanket, swaddling you, proud to be the One holding you.

For all the tenderness, strength, and commitment portrayed in the above paragraph, the Lord vows to be the same to you and me right through to old age. No disenchantment, bad days, mood swings, whims, or pettiness. He simply says, “I am and shall be the same.”

Just to be sure we hear Him right, He rephrases His last statement and says, “Even to your graying years I shall bear you!” The word “bear” implies that the load of us is heavy. But note that does not stop the Lord from making the vow anyway.

Here is my favorite line: “I have made you.” This isn’t a reference to forming our bodies during pregnancy. God is talking about character, person, and personality. He has overseen the process of us becoming who we are. Psalm 78:72 points out that God did this “according to the integrity of His heart” and with “skillful hands.”

As I retrace my spiritual history, I see the hand of God throughout the process, like the time I stood in a phone booth on El Camino Real in San Clemente, California and understood for the first time that it was God and God alone, not God and my parents, or God and the church. He was intent on being my God and proving Himself to me.

I heard from Him in no uncertain terms the day I cheated on my Senior Life Saving exam. Woe!

While reading The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, I experienced God as the Hound of Heaven. He pursued me in spite of all obstacles.

I could take you to a culvert running under a dirt road in northern Illinois where I sat and talked to the Lord about His will regarding my college education. I accepted His counsel and look back to see that He did indeed guide me with integrity and skill.

And on, and on I could go, recollecting how Father has made me. If you think about it, you’ll find that you have a similar history.

“I shall carry you.” This is anything but a simple vow. The word “carry” means to lift, to forgive, to look at with desire, to honor, to marry, to long for, to respect, to shield, and take as His own. Get the message?

God ends where He began and with what He reminded us of midway through the passage: “I’ll bear you,” even when you are heavy.

Run your fingers through your hair. Hold you head a little higher. Set your jaw and fix your eye. You are being borne by your Father Who made you.

Good God (unabridged)

May I be brutally honest? Of course I can. I know the relationship we have, but I wanted to be sure before I penned the following paragraphs. You probably get tired of me telling you of the battle I wage against distrust of God. Nevertheless, I struggle to trust. I know it is irrational, circumstantial, and unbiblical. But, aren’t your struggles as well?

Two weeks ago, events lined up in a gauntlet of life that left me so stressed I was having chest pains. Yes, I know I should trust the Lord; I was trying! But therein lay much of the problem.

Suffice it to say I felt abandoned by God and hunted by the enemy. I was on the defensive with God and on the run from the devil, both of which, by the way, are losing propositions. I desperately wanted to hide out and hunker down, but not even a retreat to the garage eased the barrage. (When a man can’t hunker down in his garage, you know life is tough!)

Circumstances degenerated from bad to worse. Ten days later I was dazed and shell shocked. Finally, a break in the action occurred and I grabbed a couple of hours (you thought I was going to say, beers, didn’t you?) to sit down and process the previous day’s casualties, the most significant of which was God.

I had given up telling God what I thought of Him earlier in the week. It was clear my opinion was having little motivational effect getting Him to do what I felt was right. The conclusion appeared evident: God is supposed to be good, but from my vantage point His goodness is speculative and in jeopardy.

It is a therapeutic discipline for me to sit down and write since putting words to paper demands clear thinking and leaves little room for generalization and assumptions. As I began to form words into sentences and examine the presuppositions penned before me, I realized I had fallen into a familiar pit. Like Daniel, I was not devoured by the lions, but I sure had a lot of slobber on me.

For the umpteenth time I came face-to-face with my expectation that God should treat me differently because I am trying hard and doing a good job. Not only is He being unreasonable, it is not fair of Him to show such little regard for my yeoman effort to be good. If I am working so hard to be good, why should He not follow suit?

You may recall some earlier words of mine: “God is not fair, and we don’t want Him to be. If He is fair, then we will all wind up in hell.” Have you noticed that just because you write something down and believe it, doesn’t necessarily mean you will remember it when you need it the most?

I know God is not fair, neither is he predictable or safe. And I don’t want Him to be fair, predictable, and safe. But God is good, and I desperately need to know and believe this about Father God.

I had defined “good” using the term “fair,” and that was a critical mistake. Because I failed to define “good” correctly, and believed goodness to include fairness, I wound up with a perspective of God that rendered Him neither fair nor good. Oy vey!

God is not fair.

He is not safe.

He is not predictable.

But God is good.

I realized as I worked my way back over the battlefield, picking up the pieces of my composure and my theology, that I know a great deal about fairness, safety, and predictability. But, I don’t understand goodness nearly as I need to.

I dropped my perspective, ceased reconnoitering the battlefield, and voiced a new question: “Father, you have listened patiently to me berate and misjudge you and cast you in my own image. I apologize. Jesus said, ‘None is good except for God.’ I believe what He said. Father, would you help me understand your goodness?”

Understanding God (unabridged)

It is not a very nice thing to say, but just between you and me, does it seem that God is two-faced? A bundle of contradictions? When the subject of God’s identity comes up, conflicting traits are attributed to Him with straight faces, nods of consent, and few questions. But the issue remains: Is God merciful or is He just? Loving or wrathful? Forgiving or vengeful? Holy or understanding? Is He jealous or is He longsuffering?

Depending on whose opinion you consider, God exhibits somewhere between two and 300 characteristics. Regardless of the number, each is absolute and raises the question: Can God really be all of these without contradiction?

The answer is, yes! It has to be. God must be all that He claims without contradiction.

We tolerate inconsistencies in each other with little notice until some high ideal is compromised. But when it comes to God, we need and expect Him to be true to Himself. Exactly. True. To Himself!

But while we must hold a clear conviction that God is exactly who He says He is, and believe with all our hearts that He is true to each trait characterizing Him, this does not mean we fully understand Him. This is a critical point. Knowing God to be who He says He is and understanding Him are two different matters.

When it comes down to it, God’s ways are beyond our full understanding (Is. 55:8-9). In fact, were it not for the revelation of God in the Scriptures, and His dealings with those who came before us, we would find God totally incomprehensible. Perhaps the biggest mystery is why God wants us to know Him at all.

James describes God as the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (ref. Jm. 1:17). In other words, there is no inconsistency in God. He is exactly as He claims. And there is nothing occluding the light of His truthfulness such that a shadow is cast upon who He is.

As I wrote in my previous note to you, we must take the Scriptural message about God for what it says versus projecting onto it what we feel it should say. I confess that I am tempted to conclude based upon my experience that God is not everything He claims. There is much about Him and about my life in Him that makes no sense to me; much that I wish was different. For example, why do I suffer physical pain all the time? If He heals those folks on TV, why doesn’t He heal me?

If I go to the Scriptures from my perspective of pain, I must rationalize them and compromise God to gain an understanding that suits my experience. On the other hand, if I come from the Scriptures and let them speak to me concerning my pain and my Heavenly Father’s understanding, my perspective on pain changes.

The first approach changes the Scripture and God’s reputation. The second approach changes me. Sure, I’m left with questions about God as Healer, but I gain understanding of Him as Transcendent. But just because God’s ways don’t make sense to me doesn’t mean His ways are contradictory.

John said Jesus was the realization of grace and truth, the explanation of God Himself (1:17-18). Hebrews goes a step further and says that Jesus is the exact representation of God (1:3).

So, if you want to understand God, understand Jesus. If you want to understand all 300 of the characteristics of God, understand these two absolutes of Christ Jesus: grace and truth.

The father of a gravely ill boy said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” and that is my heart as well. Note: The dad’s prayer begins with belief in the Lord’s character. Then he asks Him to help his unbelief. We should follow suit. Otherwise, we are destined to be tossed like corks on the stormy seas of doubt.

Some say God is two-faced, a web of contradictions, and they turn away to seek meaning based upon circumstantial evidence. But I cannot help believing that the mysteries of God are not only an invitation to know Him but to understand Him. Not fully, mind you. Rather, to understand Him better now than we did a moment ago.

Into or Out of? (unabridged)

Do you recall Paul exhorting Timothy to handle the word of truth accurately (ref. 2 Tm. 2:15)? I’m talking about Paul, the Apostle in the Bible, and Timothy his mentee. I am troubled about the mishandling of Scripture and want to discuss my concern with you. Then, as this week of thoughts progresses, offer a few guidelines.

More and more questions are coming my way that have their origin in poor biblical practice. Mishandling Scripture ultimately leaves us vulnerable and the Scripture compromised.

We are finite and fallible folks with limited perspective and skewed perception. Additionally, we are engaged in a dangerous and stressful battle.

In other words, we are ill-equipped to accurately determine what is true and then find proof-texts of our belief in the Scripture for documentation. To do so is what theologians call, eisogesis, or bringing meaning into Scripture.

We are in desperate need of outside counsel from someone who understands our situation. Jesus—the living Word—is one well-equipped for this task (ref. Heb. 4:15-16). Our Heavenly Father has a broad view of history, so broad that nothing catches Him by surprise. He sees and knows it all. Scripture is His view, His value system, and by letting His “word of truth” speak to us we mine His perspective. Through the counsel of His Spirit we line our perspective up with His. This is called, exegesis, or bringing meaning out of Scripture.

Have you ever been the victim of a sound bite, a short phrase lifted out of a broader conversation? Sure you have, and when it happened you moaned in frustration, “That’s not what I said!”

How would you feel if you were God, had penned an incredible manuscript of thousands of words, and then someone grabbed a bite of it and ran off in their own direction claiming you authorized it?

We owe it to our Father, and to ourselves, to listen closely when someone speaks for God. If the context is lacking, God may be saying, “That’s not what I said!”

Isolated verses, obscure passages, hidden meanings, new revelations. These are flags you should not let fly in your heart until you have examined them against their context, the clear word of truth, the simple message of Scripture, and the age-old story of God’s redeeming love. The Bible is cohesive, start to finish, and carries the scarlet thread of redemption throughout. Anything short of this is heretical.

While the Bible is inspired and infallible, it is also ancient. It is not fair to impose modern requirements upon it and judge it against those standards. To expect the writers of the Scripture to adhere to modern scientific or historical standards and thought is narrow and presumptuous. Yet, this occurs all the time in media, classrooms, and critiques where the Bible is referenced.

A small fraction of what ancient history has to reveal has been discovered—perhaps 10%-15%. Of the artifacts uncovered archaeologically, only a small fraction of these has been fully evaluated.

Bluntly, there is a lot of ancient history awaiting discovery. Before you adopt a perspective that disparages Scripture based upon some piece of evidence, ask yourself if there might be additional information available yet.

Centuries of critics have sought to discount the record of Scripture. Centuries of critics, many brilliant, articulate, and highly educated, who professed themselves wise are dead. Scripture stands.

Another wave of aspiring skeptics are charging the Bible’s ramparts as you read these lines. Having witnessed the futility of their predecessor’s charges, like the charge of the Light Brigade, or like Pickett’s Charge, they trudge forward upon their fallen predecessors. They fail to consider that Scripture is proven to hold the high ground and have the advantage. Its statement of resolution has been challenged, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:8), but remains undaunted.

Be shrewd and discerning. The next time you hear an authoritative voice claim trumpery over divine writ, or claim an intellectual/scientific/archaeological/literary insight just realized that casts aspersion on Scripture, you might think twice before putting your money on the newcomer.

Pay close attention to who you pay close attention to. I am not the fountainhead of all truth, neither is your pastor, and neither is the person on the TV. Know the Book and know the person who is speaking to you about the Book. You are looking for consistency and reliability.

Neither Scripture nor the character of God contradict themselves or each other in the final analysis (ref. Jm. 1:17). Again, the best teacher is one who does not bring meaning into Scripture but gets meaning from the Scripture.

Finally, if the interpretation of the Scripture you are considering will not apply to all people throughout the world, you have missed the message. Jesus did not come to save America. He came to make an offer of salvation to those lost and in need, and that is every one of us regardless of our address on the planet.

Don’t forget that Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus while tempting Him. While Satan is a liar, he is also a deceiver. That means many of his lies are half-truths that contain an element of truth in them. Even when someone references the Bible, make certain the take-away points align with the balance of Scripture’s message.

The larger the tree felled by the critic’s axe, the more powerful the critic feels. I think sometimes the biblical critics fancy themselves gods because they disparage God’s Word.

When you encounter a biblical critic, ask yourself what is at stake. More often than not, it is the critic’s standing with those who are within reach of his voice. The critique isn’t about Scripture, per se, but about the critic’s perceived reputation. After all, God is not threatened. After centuries and decades of attack, He has yet to defend Himself, edit His Word, or adjust His message.

Those who are well-meaning, yet mishandle the Word of God, rarely do so deliberately. They simply make inadvertent errors, or ignorant judgments, like the ones we have been discussing. You don’t know what you don’t know. Thus Paul’s counsel to Timothy to study diligently (ref. 2 Tim. 2:15).

But whether deliberate misrepresentation or not, the consequences are the same, and I’m seeing the consequences of poor scholarship appear more frequently. This is why I am writing to you about this subject. Your view of Scripture, and Scripture’s veracity, hinges on “into” or “out of” when you consider God’s lines.

It should go without saying—but I won’t let it!—you must diligently call upon the Spirit of God to enlighten your examination of the Book. Many intellectuals have stumbled over the Scriptures while child-like faith is an invitation God cannot—will not—resist.

In a nutshell, all Scripture is inspired by God—who is without compromise—and it illuminates Jesus Christ who is unchanging (2 Tm. 3:16; Jm. 1:17; Heb. 13:8).

Before you conclude your reading of my blog, consider three words in the previous paragraph: “all,” “without compromise,” and “unchanging.” Remember that when you contemplate the biblical message, you are looking for consistency and reliability. There is a lot of these in “all,” “without compromise,” and “unchanging.”

How Much is Jesus Worth? (unabridged)

Have you ever tried to conceptualize how wealthy Jesus Christ is? When you think of the wealthiest person you know, or know of, that is only a miniscule representation of Jesus’ net worth. After all, everything is His.

All the wealth of the world is His to disperse as He sees fit. He is God, owns all there is, and privileges us to manage portions of His holdings.

I was flipping through a celebrity magazine while waiting to catch a flight home the other day. There were several pages with pictures of this famous person on a yacht, that couple with their new $238,000 sports car, and an aerial photo of one celeb’s new $20,000,000 house.

Not only did Jesus make it all, He owns it all.

Gates, Slim, Buffet, Walton. These are not the richest people in the world even though reported to be such. Though the $75 billion fortune of Bill and Melinda Gates is a larger stash than the money in the coffers of many countries, it is a small fraction of Christ’s net worth.

This said, how long has it been since you read 2 Corinthians 8:9? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Christ expended everything in His quest to win our hearts.

As He sat in His glory, power, and opulence, considering the cost to invade the enemy’s stronghold and make a play to gain our allegiance, He determined that no cost was too great. Whatever His net worth was—even though well beyond our comprehension—He gambled it all in His invasion of this world, and in so doing became poor on our behalf.

As I consider this expenditure and place myself in His shoes, I doubt seriously that I would have made the same decision. Nevertheless, He spent it all. Though rich, He became poor. The Scripture defines this as grace, and as the recipients and beneficiaries of His wealth, we are reminded that we, “know the grace of our Lord Jesus.”

When Jesus announced His intention to the angels surrounding His throne, surely someone must have said, “What are you thinking?! This is lunacy. Why are you going to risk everything in a worthless investment? The folks down there don’t give a rip. Why would you condemn yourself to the poor house?”

I think His reply must have been, “I have a dream, a dream that one day my investment will fulfill my heart’s desire. I have a dream that I can live with people in celebration of a desperate redemption that paid off in grand fashion. I have a dream that if I make myself low enough, those I love will look down in their fallen condition, see me, and look up to my Father. I have a dream that my riches can be transferred to them, and that by my becoming poor, they will become rich. I have a dream that the wealth of my relationship with them will be the light illuminating all the moments of our eternity together. Yes, I have a dream. This is my dream.”

William Butler Yeats wrote in 1899, “Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, / Enwrought with golden and silver light, / The blue and the dim and the dark cloths / Of night and light and the half-light, / I would spread the cloths under your feet: / But I, being poor, have only my dreams; / I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

You are Christ’s dream, the individual for whom He gambled everything. His broken heart healed your broken heart. His life laid down made your life possible. His poverty rendered you rich.

You are the embodiment of His dream.

The enemy of God, the devil, Lucifer the fallen archangel tempts you to discount the price paid on your behalf. Should you agree with his deception, live in bondage to your old ways, submit yourself to the flesh, and languish in the destitution of your former bankruptcy, you discount the dream of Christ.

Tread softly, my friend. As the redeemed heirs of God we tread upon the dreams of Jesus the Christ, God incarnate, who dared to dream, gave all in order that we might have all, and who made it possible for us to dream as well.

 

Engaging (unabridged)

When was the last time you looked outside the window of your life to the world beyond? Why do I ask? Each of my blogs/letters to you over the last year or so have focused on the difficulties you are facing, how to keep your spiritual wits about you, and each has offered encouragement about the prospects for tomorrow. It is obvious you are hurting, especially financially, but personally as well. The majority of us are.

Each day my snail mail, email, and online mail is filled with prayer requests for a variety of needs. Cancer, death, fragmenting families, abuse, loneliness, loss of a job, a spouse, a chance; dashed hopes, faded dreams, and lives on the rocks.

These are challenging days.

Even though the economic indicators are portending a recovery from our economic woes, it will be at least two—maybe three—years before you feel the surge. Meanwhile, the rest of life will not relent.

You will get older. The status quo will change more rapidly next year than it did this year. People around you will continue to make poor choices that will affect you adversely. And…. I could go on, but you know what I’m talking about.

The things I have written to you over these months are true. I have not retracted anything in any of my blogs or letters to you.

The Scriptures still stand. Father remains on His throne. You are still an alien in a foreign land awaiting your summons to return home. Christ’s role in your life is unchanged: He remains the one called to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, and to proclaim a release from darkness to the prisoners.

Where do you fit within His mission statement?

Are you poor? Brokenhearted? Captive? A prisoner? The answer is, “Yes.” You are all of the above, and that is precisely why I have written focused encouragement to you.

But what about the world beyond you? Or as I asked at the top of my letter: What is happening in the world outside of your life?

I encourage you to take a look. But, do yourself a favor and ensure you take a candid look. Unless you are a member of an extraordinary Sunday School class, you will not see reality there. Sunday School classes are too unsafe for most people to be honest. The halls of your church do not lend themselves to heartfelt revelations. Neither do professional settings. There is too much posturing and positioning for power for people to let down their guard.

Rather—over a meal, during a mid-morning cup of coffee, while the daily action is in a lull, or stopping to debrief before beginning your evening commute. Snippets at the water cooler, the copier, in the elevator, and walking through the parking garage; phone calls to check in at odd—versus routine—times, talking over the back fence, or beside the car after dropping the kids at school.

Pray.

Ask Father to bring clear opportunities across your path. Believe that He will do as you ask, and then pay attention. Look for Father’s lead. Trust that you are in His place—all the places above are His—and then, engage with confidence.

Be yourself.

You are a new person, accepted and loved. Skip the contrived image of “witnessing” that is in your head. Follow your heart. After all, it is bonded to His heart. His wishes are written there. He has washed it clean and finds it a fine place for His dwelling. You are secure in Him, so be secure.

And what do you say? Sometimes—oftentimes—you say nothing. You simply “be” with the person you are with.

But when called upon to offer perspective, ask yourself very simply, “What is Father saying to me?” Whatever the answer is, that is what you should speak about. Recall that Paul said he had determined to know nothing except Christ. More than likely, just like Paul, your Heavenly Father will have been speaking to you about Jesus. When asked, talk about what Father is thinking about with you.

Engage. Invest. Open your heart. Discuss what Christ is doing in your life. Be secure. Be real. No façade, mask, or pose. Determine to speak about that which is personal, from the heart, and is the honest truth of Christ’s intervention in your life—the poor, the brokenhearted, the captive, the prisoner...

...whose heart is rich, fulfilled, released, and free.

Engaged Faith (unabridged)

How long has it been since you were engaged? I’m not talking about to your spouse. How long has it been since you were engaged in an intense contest, a big game, an all out battle?

Do you recall Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God?” The author of this great chapter on faith and its all-stars lets us know up front that faith is essential in the Christian life, and is much more important than simply believing.

Faith is confidence in God and in His ability. Therefore, faith that is tested intensely becomes trust if the test is passed.

In other words, if faith is confidence in God and His ability, then trust is confidence in God and His ability when it appears as though He is untrustworthy and incapable. Under tough conditions, faith and trust are ripped from the realm of religious terminology and placed alongside courage, determination, and perseverance.

I don’t subscribe to the concept of “blind faith.” Faith is not blind. Faith may find itself in a maze, or being buffeted with ferocity, but I disagree with the picture of helpless, meaningless, doubting, blind faith. Faith doesn’t look at circumstances to acquire a heading.  Faith looks at its object, the Lord Jesus Christ, and moves forward.

That sounds nice, religious, and unrealistic, doesn’t it?

What does faith, forged into trust, focused on its object, look like in real life?

Notice in verse 11:8 of Hebrews that Abraham believed God, packed his U-Haul ox cart, and left home “…not knowing where he was going.” We know the end of the story: He makes it to the promised land. But Abraham didn’t know the end of the story. He left home clueless but committed.

Ready for another dose?

After detailing a formidable list of faith all-stars, chapter eleven draws to a close (v.39) with this verse: “And all these [people of faith], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.”

Bad ending to the story, huh?

All these great folks, listed over the space of thirty-eight verses and hundreds of years, died without receiving what God had promised them. It’s under these circumstances that superficial, self-serving faith withers and true faith is forged into trust.

These dear folks demonstrated obedient faith that was tempered through their personal histories into trust, trust that remained faithful. Each one reached the terminus of life, facing martyrdom, without realizing the fulfillment of God’s promise. As the enemy screamed indictments against God, while dying torturous deaths, deep in their hearts they must have heard the Lord saying, “TrustMe.”

And they did! Their names are in the chapter.

You and I have the benefit of looking backward over hundreds of years and seeing that God was faithful to them. The promises were fulfilled.

But their roles do not end with their testimonies. Chapter twelve informs us that these great men and women of faith are now gathered in the grandstands of heaven surrounding the playing field of earth. They are cheering for us! And, these folks are not armchair quarterbacks. They have been where we are.

We’re in a big game. The crowd is into it. The angels and others offer encouragement, but the all-stars offer timely exhortations. They have run the race, scaled the cliffs, forded the torrents, and faced the barriers that impede us, imposing and dominant.

Engage! Stand encouraged! Our older brothers’ and sisters’ lives are a megaphone calling out the next cheer for the visiting team, and that’s us. This place is not our home. We’re only visiting this planet. Soon, we too will be in heaven’s grandstands where a faith all-star has a seat reserved next to him.

The movie Braveheart, attributes to William Wallace the statement, “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.”

This is our chance! We are engaged in a great battle over an extraordinary cause, and you play an integral part in the outcome.

Are you fully engaged?

Is God Fair? (unabridged)

Have you noticed that life is not fair? Sure you have. But even more troubling than this, have you realized that God is not fair either?

Many turn to the Old Testament book of Job for inspiration when they are facing struggles and trials. No doubt, Job suffered mightily, and he made many grand declarations that are often quoted during tribulation.

But Job believed two things that are revisited chapter after chapter in his book. First, he believed that he was righteous because of all the noble activity he engaged in, and second, he believed God would reward him fairly based upon the right standards by which he lived his life. Up until the final chapter, this story is about Job coming to the end of these two false assumptions.

Do you remember the oft quoted, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15a)? Or do you recall the inspirational statement, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (23:10b)?

Notice the references for these two verses. They are partial quotes.

They actually read in full, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways to His face.” And the second quote concludes a passage where Job is lamenting that he has diligently searched for God, looking for the opportunity to “present his case” to God and challenge Him to a debate concerning his (i.e., Job’s) righteousness and the injustice of his suffering. Finally, Job declares self-righteously, “But He knows where to find me, and when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (ref. Job 23:1-12).

Bluntly stated, Job believed that because he lived a good life and did the right things he should be exempt from suffering, hardship, and heartbreak. In fact, he adhered so strongly to this philosophy of life that he was anxious to stand face-to-face with God and argue that he was a just person who was not being treated fairly. When God fails to adopt Job’s perspective, he has a crisis of faith that lasts forty-one chapters through bankruptcy, invasion, offense, the loss of children and friends, disillusionment, and lost confidence.

Job lived a godly life in order to convince himself and God that he was holy in order to gain God’s favor as a reasonable and fair judge of his sincere effort. While Job accomplishes many laudable achievements, there are two problems with his approach:  First, good standing with God is not determined by what a man does. Second, God is not fair in the way we judge fairness.

Job’s philosophy of life garnered great respect among his peers and earned him a lavish lifestyle. But when tested, his philosophy was found deficient for the demands of life in the dock.

How tempting it is to measure ourselves against others and draw conclusions about our value and standing with God upon that basis. It is equally enticing to quantify our worth by measuring our money and possessions. This is especially true when we are stressed and believe we deserve better.

When life is unraveling and we are not happy, it is tempting to declare, “This is not fair,” and directly or indirectly accuse God of not being honorable. Once this conclusion is drawn, we become vulnerable to disillusionment, dissatisfaction, and demoralization in the face of strenuous circumstances.

Friend, God’s opinion of you is neither enhanced nor devalued by what you do. Your right-standing with Him is based solely upon the finished work of your older brother, Jesus Christ, on the cross. Your task is to believe what He accomplished on your behalf and trust Him as your life whether in hard times or prosperity.

And in all candor, it is a good thing that God is not fair. If He were fair we would all be in hell. Neither is God safe and predictable, but He is just and good.

What is the lesson to be learned from Job’s testimony?

He concludes, “I have heard of You (i.e., God) with my ears, but now my eyes see You” (42:5 paraphrased). Maybe we should forget what we have heard about God and look full into the face of our Heavenly Father and ask that He reveal His heart to us as He truly is.

Circumstances (unabridged)

Can you determine whether or not God is pleased with you by evaluating the circumstances around you? If so, then God is pleased and blesses you when circumstances are suitable, and pleasant, and to your liking. On the other hand, if you are in the midst of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day—or week, or season—then God is not pleased with you. Apparently you are not trusting Him as you should, not walking by faith as He wills, or are not filled with the Holy Spirit as He commands.

If the kids are doing well, then God must be satisfied. If business is rebounding, then God must be blessing you. If your world is in relative peace, then apparently God’s hand is on you. If everything is going your way, then God’s care is evident.

But if the converse is your experience, then God is not happy and He desires for you to do more—more trust, more faith, more prayer, more contemplation of Scripture, more spiritual discipline, more consistency, etc.

Bluntly:  If life is as you want it to be, then God is pleased with you. If it is not, then God wants you to do differently.

True?

Here’s the rub:  We read in the Scriptures that people of profound faith trusted God and He delivered them from the lion’s den unscathed (Dan. 6:16, Heb. 11:33). We also know from history that other people of profound faith trusted God and the lions tore them to pieces and ate their parts. Both trusted God, both demonstrated faith. God delivered one and let the other die a torturous death.

Was He pleased with the one and displeased with the other?

For those of us who live in the west, we are privileged to dwell in the wealthiest, most advanced nation in the world. Are we more blessed than those who live elsewhere?

Don’t be deceived. Just because you know someone who lives in more affluence than you, you are still vastly more wealthy than the majority of the world, and far wealthier than most of the world’s Believers…even in these down times. Does this mean you are more blessed and they are less blessed?

What about those who teach that you must simply pray and God will enlarge your business, your influence, your contact list, your car, your account, your health, or your house? Of course, many of these folks offer the disclaimer that these things are for God’s glory. But if the truth be told, they are really to affirm our faith and God’s blessing of us.

But what about those folks who pray and trust and do not receive tangible evidences of God’s blessing? Is He less pleased with them? What of the folks who are eaten by the lions of economics, recession, downturns, disease, and poor decisions?

Read carefully. If you believe such trite theology you leave yourself circumstantially vulnerable to the devil’s attack. Your Heavenly Father’s love, blessing, and pleasure cannot be measured, determined, or observed by your circumstances. Your significance, importance, acceptance, worth, and standing with Him cannot—must not—be appraised circumstantially.

If you miss this point, not only will you subject yourself to disappointment and disillusionment if circumstances don’t tumble your way, but you will compromise your role in Father’s story. Life is not about you. It is about Him. The life you are living is not your story but the part you play in His story.

What is your calling in life? Jesus said it was to love God with everything you possess (Mt. 22:36 ff). Paul said his determined purpose was to know Christ (Phil. 3:10). Our forefathers declared, Sola Christos, “Christ alone.”

So the real question before us is, can you know Christ and love Him with everything you possess, resting confidently in your standing with Him, whether circumstances are to your liking or not?

Our Heavenly Father is determined to remind us with every passing breath that we are important to Him because of who we are, not because of what we possess or what we have done.

Do you believe Him?

Burdens (unabridged)

How are you feeling? I don’t mean in your stomach. I mean how is your soul feeling? There are people who forge ahead apparently unaffected even though everything around them is dismal and discouraging. To be honest, I’m not one of those folks.

Circumstance is anything but stable. When you look out the window of your soul, it’s not a pretty sight, is it? Investments down, costs up. Employment numbers vary by the media source. If what’s going on was evident, our experts would all say similar things. Instead, there is the cacophony.

It is not a sin to feel deeply about the situation around you. As a matter of fact, I would argue that the opposite is true. You should feel passionately about what is going on in your life, and if you don’t, either you are one of those seemingly unaffected folks, you are clueless, or you are in denial.

When I am engaged in hand-to-hand combat with disappointment, disillusionment, and the like it seems I often encounter a well-meaning person who tells me that if I will trust God I can live above my circumstances. And on that person’s heels comes another who exhorts me that God takes care of His own. And then there is someone who espouses that God has brought these difficulties into my life to teach me to trust Him.

Uh, huh. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying these perspectives.

Trusting God does not magically extract me from whatever wasteland I’m wandering through. And if circumstances are an accurate indicator of what God thinks of me, then in these tumultuous times I must conclude He doesn’t think too highly of me. Further, while God will do what is necessary to get my attention, I am not being hard hearted nor hammer headed. I’m paying attention!

No, the majority of the difficulties you and I encounter can be attributed to living in a fallen and imperfect world. Is God engaged in your world, and is He concerned about the state of your soul? Absolutely! And He never wastes any opportunity to point you toward His heart or to reveal the deep desires of your heart to you.

If you deny that you are experiencing a hard time, or make the mistake of discounting your soul’s struggle, you potentially rob yourself of seeing the depth and magnificence of Father’s grace and provision. Our forefathers in the faith struggled mightily, sensed God’s heart in the midst of their mess, and faithfully and honestly shared their stories with us. Why should we not emulate them?

Paul despaired. David was troubled. Peter cried bitterly. Job questioned. Moses argued with God. Mary wept. The disciples fished all night and caught nothing. Thomas doubted. The woman at the well was thirsty. Jesus pleaded.

I encourage you, do not discount the difficulty you are experiencing. Acknowledge that your soul is not feeling well. Then take your soul and whatever it is sensing—doubt, disappointment, discouragement, anger, frustration, hopelessness, etc.—and present your soul’s cry passionately to your Father.

It is hard dealing with worries. It is difficult to hold your head up when you are losing what you have worked hard to accomplish. It is a challenge to be confident when failure looms.

Your Heavenly Father knows these things. And, He sincerely intends for you to give your concerns and burdens to Him.

Don’t presuppose you know what is yours and what is Father’s. Chances are, if what you are hauling around feels heavy, then you are carrying things that don’t belong to you. Father stated that His load was light and his yoke easy. But to clarify, it is possible for your soul to feel bad while your heart sings like a bird!

I remind you of what Father said, “Come to Me, and you shall find rest for your soul” (Mt. 11:28-29).

It is our responsibility to come, to haul our stuff to where He is, to leave it with Him, to let Him sort through it, and then to guide us as to what of it is our responsibility and what of it is His responsibility.

In the meantime, don’t pick up anything other than what He says is yours to carry. Anything else is His and is far too heavy for you to haul around!

Prayers for Deliverance (unabridged)

Do you have any idea how many people are praying for you? While you might not have realized it, the body of Christ—your brothers and sisters in the faith—are praying for you, thinking about you, and caring about what concerns you. It is an interesting thing to be prayed for, isn’t it?

Sometimes our Father answers prayer outright, delivers us, and we share a glorious testimony to His provision and answered prayer. Other times, Father answers differently, prayer takes longer to be answered—if at all seemingly—and our requests are swallowed in a flood of challenges and doubts.

Even so, prayer is a discussion between a Believer and the Lord God, and while our prayers are not always answered as we might wish, God listens, considers, and always has our best in mind. In fact, God will even do things that appear incongruous with who He is in answering our prayers.

Do you remember the story of Peter in prison in Acts 12? He was in big trouble! Best guesses said he would not live through the night. Under heavy guard, in a maximum security prison, and about to be called before Herod, Acts 12:5 notes, “...but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church.”

In this instance, God delivered Peter. He was awakened by an angel, his shackles fell off, the prison doors swung open, and Peter walked out a free man. No doubt, many times God chooses to answer prayer and deliver. But sometimes He chooses to answer prayer and not deliver. Is that okay by you?

Two things got my attention as I reviewed this story. First, Peter was guarded by multiple soldiers and he escaped. Later that night, when Herod called for Peter to come before him and he was found missing, it is likely a follow-up command was issued to execute all those responsible for guarding Peter.

Consider that for a moment. Believers pray, God delivers Peter from prison, and multiple people are executed as a result. God is serious when it comes to answering prayer!

In all probability you will not be delivered miraculously from the anxious times that are troubling you. But make no mistake, if God is determined enough to answer prayer that He will kill folks in the process, then He will not be so slack as to not respond to prayer in the first place. Just because you cannot see His hand move against your captors does not mean He is callous in His heart to your request.

And that brings me to the second thing I want to offer for your consideration: Notice that Acts 12:7 says a light shown in the jail cell when the angel appeared. We are told that “God is light and in Him is no darkness.” Further, we are called to “walk in the light” (1 Jn. 1:5-7).

Do not miss this point: The light shown in the cell before Peter was delivered. While there is no guarantee you will escape the worst of the challenge you are facing, there is no reasonable question about whether or not you have light to walk in with your Heavenly Father, even in your difficulties. While Peter escaped prison, there is no possibility of Father escaping you. He is not trying!

Another thing is for certain: You will never have another opportunity to trust God like the opportunity you face affords to you right now. Don’t waste this experience! Walk in the light! Trust your Father. You may as well fight the good fight rather than simply get run over by circumstance.

Here is an image for you to consider: Peter was awaiting a probable death sentence. But when the angel appeared to him, he was asleep and undressed. In other words, Peter was at rest in the midst of big-time trouble, and you can be as well. It is all in who you know.

Here is my encouragement: Pray for deliverance, but do not look for deliverance. Look to Him instead. If Father delivers you out, great. If Father delivers you through, great. He will deliver.

Walk in the light that is your Father’s constant and abiding presence in you and through you. While you might not like the answer to prayer He comes up with, He is faithful and you will like Him.

Confidence (unabridged)

Is Revelation 4:2 stuck to your refrigerator door? Tattooed on your forehead? Emblazoned on our dash? Have you committed it to memory?

In this verse, John simply states that he looked into heaven and saw a throne, and God was sitting on His throne (Rev. 4:2).

Why is this important?

Because if God was anxious—or absent for that matter—He would not be sitting down on His throne. He would be up pacing in some divine frenzy. Or if He was absent, He would have bailed out to find calmer climes leaving us to fend for ourselves.

The fact that John writes and tells us that he saw the throne of God and that our Father occupied His throne is crucial information. We are not on our own. We have not been left by ourselves to sort through the difficulties assaulting us. We are not isolated in the storm or alone in the dark.

God is not in crisis! But some of us are, aren’t we?

I hear regularly, “Our business is failing.” “We are paying our employees out of our savings.” “The creditors are knocking on our door.” “Our vendors cannot pay us.” “Our retirement fund is all but gone.” “We lost everything.” “I got laid off.” “I’ve given up looking for work in my field.”

And this is in the United States. Times are worse elsewhere. Wars and rebellions and demonstrations are everywhere. Each day there are suicide bombings, school shootings, and genocide. The stock markets are convulsing. There are scandals. World events grow more confusing. Our leaders argue as our young men and women die. We are hated.

I don’t need to continue. You listen to the news and feel the same things I do. Dianne and I are cutting back. As I stand in the front yard and talk to our neighbors, their faces are etched in worry. They too are canceling their vacation and struggling to get over winter sickness woes.

And you are in the same boat, aren’t you?

That’s why Revelation 4:2 is an important verse that deserves a place of prominence in your consciousness. There is a throne in heaven, and someone—the One—is seated on the throne. He is magnificent, and His appearance is dazzling. He is surrounded by power and wisdom. Nothing escapes His notice, and the future is firmly in His grasp.

Have you ever considered what would happen if you really did lose everything? Or maybe you have. Maybe you have suffered bankruptcy, or divorce, or have been brushed by death’s sickle. God remains on His throne.

And the devil is probably suggesting about now that God is distant, disengaged, indifferent—that He remains on His throne because He doesn’t give a rip about you!

Not true!

He is seated on His throne because there is nothing significant enough to threaten His confidence. The tumult is not sufficient for Him to worry or suffer anxiety or debate since He is powerful enough to be our sufficiency.

However bleak it is—and it could get worse—it is not sufficient to cause God to stand up, pace, and wring His hands. He is confident. He is secure. He has not succumbed to panic. He is at peace, and He lives in you!

What lurks over your horizon? You will have to stand up to see, but He does not. He knows! And He remains confident. He is secure, and so are you! After all, you are in Him.

Challenging times should not surprise us. After all, Jesus promised we would encounter difficulties. But He also promised He would be victorious on our behalf in the midst of the tribulations we meet (Jn. 16:33).

I know. This encouragement does not put money in the account or cause those troubling you to straighten up and fly right. It doesn’t conclude the wars or cause the stock markets to rally. However, we must remind ourselves that our circumstances are not reflective of reality.

What is true?

That there is a throne in heaven and there is One sitting on it who does not pace, sleep, or slumber! Stay focused, and be encouraged.

 

 

Giving (unabridged)

How much of your stuff belongs to God? Some say 10%. Others say more, maybe as much as half, or whatever we don’t need to live. Hmm.

In actuality, poor Americans give about 3% of their income to charitable causes, wealthy Americans about 1.5%. *  Here, the statistics define “charity” as everything from God to the university.

The concept of tithing is an Old Testament teaching absent in the New Testament. Yet, we are all familiar with the expectation of the tithe—even though the principle of tithing teaches follower of Christ stewardship based upon Old Testament guidelines.

What is the distinction between Old Testament and New Testament theology regarding our holdings?

God asked a small portion off the top from the Old Testament folks. Today, as New Testament Believers and recipients of all of God’s fortune through Christ, God does not ask for a portion. As those bought with a price, He asks for all!

Everything belongs to God, including our lives (Col 3:4). It is through grace that He privileges us to participate in stewarding His goods, talents invested in us, and repositories of truth that benefit others. Simply stated, we are stewards of God’s stuff.

Until we understand that God owns everything and we own nothing we will consistently mismanage the possessions within our care. Especially in the western world, the temptation is to use the things money affords to attempt our own creation of heaven on earth. But this shortchanges the desires of our hearts and kills the passion that fuels us through life toward our eternity in heaven.

God has set eternity in our hearts. The notion that we could relate to Him with ten percent from all that He has blessed us with misses the eternal message God desires for us to grasp.

Perpetuating the Old Testament concept of giving ten percent in these New Testament times places us in the arrogant position of believing we fund God rather than vice versa. To communicate to Believers that we owe a percentage of our holdings to God is a misguided teaching.

God asked little of Old Testament saints because they possessed little of Him. However, New Testament Believers possess all of God indwelling them in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).

The great dangers for those blessed with abundance—and that is all of us compared to the rest of the world—is that we will mistake our abundance as God's means of security rather than looking to Him as the One who promised to meet all of our needs; that we will become intoxicated by our possessions and fail to drink deeply from Him, the fountain of living water; that we will live shallow existences rather than thrive through profound connection with Him; that our hearts will resonate to the iron string of self-sufficiency rather than dance to the music of eternity’s passion; that we will settle for giving 10%—or 2%—instead of giving from our heart.

If we are not careful, we who are blessed will fall into the trap of attempting to meet not only our needs but also our greeds by building unnecessary surpluses in hope of finding security. Security cannot be found in surplus! This undermines our ability to look to Him as the supply of everything we need both externally and internally. Our security can only be found in Him. To seek security from holdings that do not belong to us in the first place creates soul-level frustration, drowns passion, and wounds our spiritual being.

Let me step aside for a moment with this disclaimer: Part of stewardship is planning for the future, counting the costs, and investing. Look at your accounts. Measure them. Plan them strategically. Then, look again and inquire of your soul, Do these represent a plan or a statement of my security?

A plan is devised in consultation with everyone concerned, including your Heavenly Father, the giver of all that is good. A plan is shrewdly conceived and executed by people who charged with the management of practicality.

A security statement based upon material holdings is fundamentally selfish and is self-contained. Security is far too important to be measured by dollars and much too profound to be left to mankind. Our security is in Christ—it must be in Christ to be secure.

How can you know how much to give, and whom to give it to?

Here are two guidelines to consider. First, we are instructed to give to those who bless us (Gal. 6:6). Second, stewardship is related to the heart: Where do you desire to give?

Why such a short answer?

Because while profound, the concept is simple: God doesn’t need stuff to keep His kingdom afloat. His goal in giving us things to manage is to give us—Him and us—something to talk about and something to do together.

In summary, stewardship is recognizing that you own nothing. You, and everything around you, belong to God. Second, stewardship is recognizing it is God who takes care of your needs not you yourself. Finally, stewardship affords us as stewards the regular opportunity to visit with the owner about His investments.

Therefore, the question becomes, will you give what is tangible in order to seize in your heart that which is intangible?



*  As examples: Giving USA 2012; http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/why-the-rich-dont-give/309254/; http://www.nptrust.org/philanthropic-resources/charitable-giving-statistics

 

Darkness (unabridged)

When was your last sleepless night? For my neighbors it was last night. She is pregnant and the baby is not developing properly.

For me it was about a month ago. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time and caught pneumonia *. The result was violent coughing, choking, and a week of sleepless nights.

Several years ago I was confronted with a series of nights awake. At first I was inconvenienced, then I got worried, eventually I fought panic.

The loss of sleep was due to back pain and I feared it would not get better. The panic set in as I contemplated how I was going to make it without adequate sleep and endure the increasing discomfort over the long term. I wandered the house in the dark with the devil prowling after me seeking defeat and a kill.

But God was sufficient.

Have you ever noticed those two words—“but God”—in Scripture? They are two of the greatest words to ever form a phrase. “But God raised Him up.” “But God demonstrated His love.” “But God chose.” “But God comforted.” “But God had mercy.” “But God said.”

Years back, God was sufficient in my sleepless nights. The darkness did not swallow me and the pain and fatigue did not consume me. I don’t know how He did it, but I functioned quite normally for a period of several weeks averaging only two or three hours of rest per night.

When the pneumonia of last month and its symptoms finally demanded it, I retreated to my chair leaving Dianne and the dog to hold down the bed. Not only was I not sleeping, I was also very sick. If I drifted off for more than a few moments, I would awaken choking and fighting for a breath. This was followed by coughing, coughing so intense I broke several ribs before the pneumonia was expelled.

But God was sufficient.

I read—or finished reading—five books, three of which rendered wonderful, spiritual gains in my life.

I prayed. I walked the streets of my neighborhood at 3:00 AM with only the distant sounds of the city carried on the night air and listened to Father without interruption. We talked about things personal, things related to my profession, things related to my family, and things not related to much of anything. While I missed Dianne and suffered some loneliness from about 10:00 until midnight, once the deep night descended I relished the treasure of uninterrupted darkness to share with God and Him alone.

Again, I don’t know how He did it, but over the course of seven days, with only a pittance of sleep each night and day, I flourished deep in my soul. The dark depths became a treasure I actually anticipated. True, I bordered on a bit of nausea from sleep deprivation and my pneumonia certainly wasn’t getting any better, but in my heart I was triumphant.

While a profound battle raged around me—both physical and spiritual—I focused on Father. Every ten or fifteen minutes I was reduced to a coughing, choking heap on the floor with my head held low to keep from passing out. The fractured ribs stabbed me with each cough and desperate breath. But God not only comforted me, He also met me in my dark place.

Isaiah’s statement is one for dark and desperate occasions: “I will give you the treasures of darkness / And hidden wealth of secret places, / So that you may know that it is I, / The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name (45:3). David seconds Isaiah with this from Psalm 18:11: “He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, / Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.” Take special note that when sleep evades us it is God who calls our name and invites us to share His secret place.

On the evening of the seventh day with pneumonia I stood alone at the kitchen sink with a new battery of medications. I read their labels and considered what the doctor told me their effects would be. My sleepless nights were over.

I turned and stared through the dark dining room, into the darker living room, and even darker den and wept warm tears. I knew the medications would bring the sleep my body craved, but I also realized the treasure of the nights alone with Father was over for the time being. For the first night in six I would miss our rendezvous.

God often interdicts in order to invite us into His life. As He is prone to do, when He interrupts our timeliness with His timelessness, He returns benefits many times over by placing eternity in our souls to replace the routine of our days.

When was your last sleepless night? Was it filled with fear, doubt, dread, worry, panic; a temperamental and irritable morning after?

It may be Father desires to share the treasures of darkness with you in order to illuminate your heart and enlighten your soul. His sufficiency and the unquestionable sound of His voice in the night, calling your name, invite you to the light of His presence and the illumination of His life.

* The pneumonia is an archived story from 2002

Miscellaneous Prayer (unabridged)

Does your mind ever wander while you are trying to pray, especially when you are attempting to listen in prayer? Does it seem you have the attention span of a gnat? I answer, “Yes,” to both questions.

And what makes this even more frustrating is that this experience is random. Sometimes I focus like a laser, and at other times my mind is cluttered with life’s paraphernalia.

I stepped out for my evening walk several nights ago, which is also one of my opportunities to spend time praying. By the first corner, I sensed God had something to say to me this evening that would make it special. Braxie-the-dog and I turned south on Warner Road waiting to hear what was on the Lord’s mind.

Within a block and a half my frustration was building. Desperately trying to stay focused and listen to God, a variety of thoughts were zinging off the walls of my mind like a racquetball.

Fans of Star Trek: Next Generation will remember a wonderful episode where the android, Data, is attempting to fall in love with a lovely woman named, Sue. As he is holding her, she asks him what he is thinking about. His reply spans topics from nuclear propulsion, to a new cat food formula, to an in depth analyses of the collected works of Dickens, to reconfiguring the warp coil of the ship, and then he adds, “I was also thinking about you, Sue.”

That describes the way I felt in prayer as I walked. I noticed our neighbors—newlyweds—had put copper gutters on the house they are remodeling and wondered how they afforded that; I thought about an upcoming conference; I thought of Dianne’s push to get her classroom reorganized; wondered about the new “for sale” sign on Stanley; noticed it was cooler than forecast; wondered if my new plantings would make it through to summer; and oh yes, I was listening for Father’s still, small voice as well.

As my mental discipline wanes, so does my patience with Pres. Shaming, berating, disparaging, condemning, and humiliating are the flesh patterns I have developed over the years to battle my lack of focus. As the variety of thoughts expanded, so did the depth of my self-condemnation.

But after a couple of blocks, I heard—in my mind’s thoughts—Father say, Pres, why are you going so hard on yourself? Do you not think I can keep up with your mind—the one I gave you—as it multi-tasks on these various subjects in your world? 

I gave you the ability to think, and to process, and to question, and to be curious, and to be energized by a multiplicity of thoughts at once. Why do  you assume I want you to be a different person when you talk with Me than the fine person I crafted in you? 

I’m enjoying the far-ranging conversation we are having. Please continue.

The tension in my shoulders eased. My pace became less intense. The crease in my brow relaxed. I looked up at my neighborhood again and I let the mind Father gave me begin to work, trusting (in faith) that we were engaged in meaningful prayer. After all, that is the attitude and heart-desire I left the house with. Why should I not believe Father would show up for the discussion?

Over the years I have been troubled by the imperative of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing.” Lord, how do I do this? I have prayed numerous times.

And on this night, Father did say something profound to me. He follows my thoughts constantly whether they are focused, random, or fuzzy. And if He spun the world into place from chaos, His Spirit can bring truth to my heart in both the silent, meditative moments as well as the chaotic cacophony of life.

My job is to trust Him—to listen, to think, to verbalize, to ponder and meditate—and to believe by faith that He will not let me drift from the communication priority He has established for us.

So I encourage you: Relax. You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). You have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and as a loving Father, God will guide you carefully (Ps. 23). Pray without ceasing whether with focus or not, silence or not, words or not, a list or not, but always pray with a heart of anticipation.

Now that the pressure is off, prayer is no longer a requisite of Christian discipline but an anticipated joy. He is not put off by my wandering, wondering thoughts or ill-formed concepts. Au contraire.

He is delighted to have time with me. He is plenty capable of following my mind’s journeys, understanding the desires of my heart when I don’t, and capturing my attention when the paraphernalia of life plugs my ears.

Loving Less (unabridged)

When is failure bad enough to require God’s forgiveness? I have felt that small sins were less grievous than big sins and adhered to the belief that a simple failure had more nobility than humiliation.

Don't get me wrong. There are varying degrees of consequence to sin.

However, to place failure and humiliation side-by-side and attempt to place value on either is to miss the point of both. There is no value in failure and there is no honor in humiliation. To believe otherwise is to establish personal worth via performance. While others might be impressed, God is not!

On one of my recent walks, I left the house suffering humiliation from a larger than average sin and wondering how I could return myself to Father's good graces. Even though I know better theologically—a man can’t change God’s opinion of him through performance, either good or bad—I still felt an internal separation anxiety due to the humiliation of the sin I committed.

How great does our failure have to be before it becomes humiliation? I wondered.

Do you recall Luke’s story of Jesus eating with Simon the Pharisee, no doubt a wealthy, respected, and morally upright man (7:36 ff)?

During dinner, which was likely observed by an envious cadre of who’s who and religious leaders, a prostitute entered the room. The atmosphere was heavy anticipating what would happen next. Would Simon throw the woman out? What would Christ do?

Humiliated by her shame and many failures, this woman of the night anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume and her own tears. In a normally sensuous act, she let her hair down and used it as a towel to dry Christ’s feet. Her humiliation left her vulnerable.

In this dining room surrounded by the powerful and the religious, the abject humiliation of this woman’s immorality is contrasted against the noteworthy morality of Simon and the absolute morality of Christ. Simon reclines coolly waiting and thinking, If Jesus is really the Christ, he will recognize this woman is a whore and distance himself.

As the woman continues, Jesus says, “Simon, there were two debtors. One owed a vast sum and one a pittance, but neither was able to repay their lender. So the lender forgave both men of their debt. Which of the two men will love the lender more?”

With initial silence just for emphasis, Simon then declares, “The one who owed the most will love the most.” And with this answer Jesus’ spiritual trap is set.

“Simon, when I entered your home you failed to greet me properly. You did not kiss me, you did not anoint my head with oil, and you gave me no water to wash the dust from my feet. This woman has anointed my feet with perfume. She has washed them with her tears and has not stopped kissing them since she fell at them in humiliation.” And now Jesus closes the net. “Simon, the man who is forgiven a great deal, loves a great deal. The man who is forgiven only a little, loves only a little.”

Simon’s “small” failures, compared to the gross sins of the prostitute, blinded him to his own need. He believed his overall goodness, compared to the woman’s overall badness, gained him standing with God. Even his failures, such as they were, were of more value than this woman’s life of humiliating debauchery.

Who had the greatest need in the room that evening? The prostitute humiliated by sin or the Pharisee who believed even his failures were worth something to God compared to prostitution?

Simon had the greater problem!

While the woman received forgiveness, Simon discovered an intractable shortfall: He only loved God a little! In his determination to establish his own worth before God, he undermined his ability to love God greatly. Loving God a little, and looking for love in all the wrong places, are both significant failures.

Sin is falling short of Father’s ideal. While it has varying degrees of consequence, sin by failure and sin by humiliation both fall short of God’s standard.

No sin has value. There is no merit in the flesh.

There are sins—deeds of the flesh—that look bad and there are sins that look good. Both are sins and fall short of God’s standard. It is only by placing no value in the works of the flesh that our hearts are set free to love a great deal in response to the great deal of love demonstrated to us by our Father.

For the Believer it is not possible for there to be a failure greater than God's grace. If such a sin exists, then that sin is greater than God.

How tricky it is of Satan to tempt us to believe that something we do has the power to create a different perspective of us in God's mind. Our Father determined His view of us through Christ’s accomplishments on the cross!

Any standard other than this falls short of God’s grace and is by definition, sin. This is problematic, to be sure. But the greater sorrow is that this improper valuation of sin destines us to love Him less.