Archives for the month of: May, 2014

in the way

When we get in God’s way
One of my favorite stories is of a husband who calls his wife at work about 2:00. He tells her that he’s sorry and he couldn’t help it. Somehow he invited his boss and a few coworkers over for dinner that night. Can she please help him pull this off?? She immediately goes into planning mode. She tells him to go home and start cleaning; she will go to the grocery store and get what they need. She does, and all the way home she is planning: what needs to be vacuumed, scrubbed, dusted, polished, or marinated for at least 2 hours. What needs to be put away and what can just be hidden in the laundry room. He has at least an hour head start on her, so she’s hoping to be able scratch through a couple of the things on this mental list as soon as she walks in the door. But what she finds is that, in his sincere desire to help, he has accomplished nothing on her list. He has removed the blinds from all the windows in the house and put them in bath tub to soak. He was trying to help, but he didn’t have the big picture…he focused on a minor detail that made matters worse. She adds hanging blinds and scrubbing the bathtub to her list.

The Bible shows us people trying to obey and who impose their own plan and complicate the problem, rather than contribute to the solution. Sarah was frustrated with God’s timing on the heir for Abraham, so she arranged to get Hagar pregnant. Moses felt the call to protect the Hebrews and killed an Egyptian. In Gethsemane Jesus separates himself from the disciples to protect them from the soldiers who came to arrest him, and Peter runs forward and cuts of the ear of the servant of the High Priest. We, too, get frustrated with God’s timing and impose plans to “help”. We speak what we believe they need to hear, not what God’s tells us to say. We can’t see his plan, so we create our own. We’d rather do something than wait on God, so we forge ahead without him.

One of the amazing things about God is that he is not stymied by our fumbled attempts to “help”. Isaac was still the heir who receive God’s blessing. Moses spent time learning about the desert, shepherding difficult animals before he had to shepherd difficult people in that same desert. Jesus’ last miracle before he died was to restore the ear of a servant who was sent to unjustly arrest him.

The only thing we are capable of doing that will prevent God’s will is to refuse to come to him ourselves. Nothing you can do will prevent his will in the world, but your choice to ignore him or to intentionally disobey will separate you from him. He can go behind you and clean up your mess; he can use your mess to continue to prepare you for what is to come, and he can use your mess as a testimony to those who are watching you. He won’t stop loving you, but he will honor the distance you insist on putting between you and him.
He wants your attention and your presence. He will give you the words to speak, the timing on moving forward, and the discernment to understand enough to obey in that moment.

The Bible rarely mentions times when God interrupts the life of one he calls and seems to give them no choice (Paul is the only one I can think of?). Most of the time he patiently leads his own forward, through or around their mistakes and sins, in spite of their weakness or “stiff necks”. His will for others is not dependent on us, but our relationship with him is often determined by our desire for him.

Seek the God who utterly loves you, who is bigger than your sin, more powerful than your weakness, and who is not inhibited by your short-sighted expectations and plans. He doesn’t need you to “figure things out” for him; he wants you to be a part of his activity in this world. Intentionally put yourself in his “way”, in his presence and word, so that he spends less time cleaning up behind you and more time leading you forward.

worship
When did worship become more about “church” than it is about God? When we relegate “worship” to what happens in our church sanctuary on Sunday mornings at 11, it is easy to lose worship in going through the motions of ritual. The kind of songs we sing, whether or not people clap or raise their hands, which version of the scripture is used begin to get more focus than God himself. And our worship deteriorates into what the world sees as “church”.

We can get so good at “church” we don’t notice when we start just going through the motions. Sometimes our worship is planned so well that we can just be spectators while other people actually do it. Worship is not the same as showing up at church. Worship is what should happen at church when hearts that seek and respond to the presence of the Living God are overwhelmed with a glimpse of his glory.

When is the last time your personal prayer was so passionate and so deep that the minister finished before you did? That the words of the hymn or praise song became the prayer on your lips? That you heart was humbled or delighted because you recognized that the words of the scripture or the sermon was God speaking directly to your heart?

Whether your worship springs from a thankful heart or a broken one, it should be grounded in the realization that he is God and you are not. Whether your worship is done on bended knee or dancing feet, whether it is reverent or joyful, it is not about you. It is about God. In his book Heaven Randy Alcorn says “If you’ve ever had a true taste of worship, you will crave more of it, not less.”

Church was created by Christ to help us worship. There is something precious and unique about corporate worship, and spiritual growth occurs much more readily in fellowship with other Christians. Sharing your worship with others in your church give you a foretaste of the holy fellowship we will know in heaven.

May you never settle for “church”. May your time in “church” lead you into the presence of Almighty God himself. And may you know the deep peace and delight of time intentionally spent with your God.

Psalm 96:9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.

changing the subject

Over and over in the Bible people try to talk to God, and God changes the subject. Jacob refuses to stop wrestling with God until he receives a blessing. God answers “What is your name?” Nicodemus says “We know you are from God”. Jesus responds, “You can’t see the kingdom of God unless you are born again.” The woman at the well says, “Give me some of this Living Water” and Jesus responds, “Go get your husband.” Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus as he walks by, and Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for lunch. The disciples wake Jesus to save them from the storm; he fusses at them for a lack of faith.

God wasn’t ignoring them. He heard what they said, but he responded to what they needed. The blessing Jacob needed was a new perspective of himself; God changed his name. Nicodemus stated what he believed about Jesus; Jesus challenged him to let what he believed change his behavior. The woman at the well focused on her immediate thirst; Jesus heard the cry of her heart. Zacchaeus wanted to observe; Jesus helped him have fellowship. The disciples wanted to be rescued; Jesus chose to increase their faith.

God still works the same way. When we allow him to change the subject, we are then subject to change in ways that we cannot even imagine. I have asked him for specific answers that he did not immediately give, but he taught me to trust his will and timing. I have asked for deliverance from what I fear, and he has chosen to display his authority and power over my fears. I have offered him my sin and my brokenness and my honesty, and he has honored me by claiming me as his own. He longs to do the same for you.

God doesn’t answer to us, and he is not limited by our perspective. Amazingly enough, he loves us so much he meets us where we are – up a tree, by a well, in a storm – and refocuses our attention on how to move from where we are to where he is. Sometimes that move is physical, sometimes psychological, always spiritual. He doesn’t promise to do what we want, and he rarely offers us the easy way out. One of the things I love most about God is that his understanding is always greater than mine; his answers are always bigger than my expectations.

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

He hears every word you pray. He knows the desires of your heart and the details of your future. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you. Allow him to change your focus and trust him to lead you forward into whatever this day holds in store for you.

Without Warning

We live in a culture that puts a warning label on nearly everything. We are warned against smoking, diving into the shallow end of the pool, or using the hair dryer in the bathtub. Labels insist that we “shake well before using” or “take with food”. Signs warn us that trespassers will be prosecuted and unattended cars will be towed. Children should not stand in grocery carts, and no one should stand on the top rung of a ladder. We may fire a “warning shot” or hear a “warning bell”. Our society tries desperately to predict all outcomes and avoid everything that is dangerous or unpleasant. Too often, our need to feel like we are in control subordinates common sense and adventure to a flimsy façade of safety.

Sometimes God sends warnings. He warned Noah about the flood and Joseph about the impending famine. He warned Elijah about the coming drought and the coming rainstorm. He warned Joseph to get Mary and Jesus out of Bethlehem before Herod’s troops arrived. He warned Peter that Satan was going to “sift” him and that he would betray Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. But when God sent warnings, they required action.

Sometimes there is no warning. Medical emergencies and accidents are never scheduled for our convenience. We have our day all planned and suddenly the phone rings, the toilet overflows, the car gets a flat tire. If we knew when the stock market crash would occur, we would get our money out in time to save it. If we knew the policeman was running radar, we’d have slowed before we rounded the curve. Even Publisher’s Clearing House surprises the winners.

We go through each day of our lives expecting them to be predictable, but, every once in a while we face a moment that changes our future without warning. We meet our soul mate or the one who will inspire us to become more than we are. There is a surprise diagnosis on a routine medical exam or a sudden crisis that totally refocuses our priorities. An opportunity appears or a natural disaster wipes out our security in a moment. We face life changing moments with no warning, and how we handle them indicates what we believe about God, our character, and our priorities.

The Bible is full of stories of people who wake up one morning, just like every other morning, with no warning that their lives were about to change. Joseph went to check on his brothers and ended up in a pit before being sold into slavery. Moses was tending sheep when he saw the burning bush. David was delivering provisions to his brothers in the army when he heard the taunts of Goliath. Who knows what Mary was doing when Gabriel appeared. Peter, James, and John went on a hike up the mountain with Jesus and ran into Elijah and Moses. The disciples were having a prayer meeting when wind raced through the room and tongues of fire landed on their head. Paul was headed to Damascus to arrest some Christians when a bright light interrupted him. The Samaritan Woman went to get water from the well, and met the love of her life. Their priorities changed in an instant, and their lives changed forever.

God does not promise to warn us, but he does promise us his presence and power, no matter what the circumstance is. How we respond to the warnings, how we respond to events that don’t come with a warning, are probably the best indicators of what we believe about God. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, but we are promised forever if we choose to love him and obey him. He has warned us that he’s coming back for us and that we will be judged. We don’t have the timeline, but we do know his expectations. Embrace God’s interruptions in your life. Choose to live each day expectantly. See all that happens as an opportunity to know his presence and have a front row seat to his activity in your world. Sometimes you will be surprised by delight; sometimes it may be fear or tragedy; always God is with you.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Acts8:28)

God’s Math

I majored in history and English on purpose. I wanted to take as few math courses as possible. I firmly believe that much of our success in life is intertwined between understanding our strengths and weakness. Math is my weakness. My high school math teachers taught me to follow the rules and formulas through each step of the equation to find the correct answer. The more I learn about God, the more I understand that he not bound by simple math.

Mark Batterson has written a wonderful book called “The Circle Maker”. It is transforming my prayer life and my view of God. In it, he points out that most of us require our expectations to “add up” to our capabilities before we will trust God with the outcome. If we can’t identify and quantify the variables in our life, we hesitate to commit to the God who controls them. We are afraid to pray the risky prayers; we are afraid to name our fears and dreams because that somehow makes them more real. If we just generically pray for God’s will, we have nothing on the line. We also have no means to measure the answer God gives. We don’t want to put boundaries on our prayers because we don’t expect God to work miracles.

When the people of the Bible trusted God to be God, they found that he didn’t just make what they had be enough; he multiplied it into far more than was conceivable. When the Hebrews in the desert needed food, God didn’t provide just enough to keep them from starving; they got so more than they could eat. When Jesus asked about food inventory during his day of preaching, Andrew brought him a boy with five loaves and two fish – not even a drop in the bucket for feeding 5,000, but Jesus thanked God for the miracle that was about to happen…and they had 12 baskets of leftovers. The Parable of the Sower shows that the seeds planted didn’t just “come up”; they produced between 30 and 100 times the crop of the seed that had been sown.

Arithmetic is about balance. Our lives and our culture are based on simple arithmetic. We cannot spend more than we have or we will go bankrupt. Many spend their lives “making ends meet”. We have to balance our checking accounts to make sure the money going in does not exceed the money going out. We have to qualify for a loan before a bank will take a chance on us. Accountants everywhere are employed because they make sure all the numbers “add up”. It is their job to make the totals work out to the exact amounts of profits and expenditures. There can be no “leftovers”, no acceptance of “it just doesn’t add up”. Our time and our tasks have to match or something will not get accomplished. It all has to balance to zero. We find comfort in seeing all the parts neatly fit together with no loose ends.

God is not, and has never been, about balance. He has never parceled out a minimal blessing and said, “There, now we’re even.” He doesn’t insist that his people “qualify” before he will bless them. He loves us before we love him. He keeps his covenant even when his people don’t. He sent his son, not just to just protect us from death, but to give us “abundant” life. He doesn’t offer us a “matching donation” for our faith. Most of the time, he only requires that we show up and trust him for the results that we often can’t even imagine when we begin to obey. God’s people show up for battles that God fights for them, and then God gives them the blessing of victory. He told Abraham to “Go to the place I will show you”, and then he made him the father of many nations. God didn’t just hear the cries of his people in captivity and lead them out of the border of their slavery; he led them home to their Promised Land. When Solomon asked for wisdom to rule God’s people well, God added wealth. He told the disciples to wait for him in Jerusalem, but he didn’t just meet them there; he filled them with his Holy Spirit.

God is not trying to just make things add up for you; he multiplies your faith and obedience times his power and love into final equations that we can’t explain. Offer him your gifts, your fears and your dreams, then watch him lovingly multiply them into more than you can ask or imagine. Show up, and expect the simple math of your hope to exponentially, abundantly bless you.

Eph 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

There is no code

Our society likes code. Our consumer industry is now built on bar codes that are scanned to provide immediate inventory information. Even our medical information is coded and scanned by medical facilities. Security systems are created to allow only to those with the correct code to enter. We have passwords and PIN numbers to protect our identity and credit. We encrypt our computers so only authorized people can read them. We put de-coder rings for children in cereal boxes so that they can play at what will become part of their adulthood. During Prohibition, speakeasies had a secret knock or code word required for entrance. Adults can be classified by the government by their security clearance; the higher the clearance, the more secretive information is available. Spies and security specialists use secret code to communicate with each other, and keep their enemies from knowing what they’re saying.

Having the right code gives us power and makes us feel special and included. Knowing the “secret knock” when I was a child gave me access to the “club” my brother wasn’t allowed to enter. My PIN numbers and passwords give me access to information you can’t have without my permission. Code keeps out the people we don’t like, and includes the people we do. Breaking enemies’ codes has won battles and cost lives. Breaking code, now with the new title of “hacking”, has become a major goal of national security and a common tool of those who want to steal identity and information.

God’s word is not secret code. The Bible is not intended just for Jews or Christians. It is the best-selling book of all time and contains the history and details of the incredible love story between God and his people. It tells us about his character and gives us his laws that were designed to keep us safe. It has stories that provide good and bad examples, and tells us what we need to do to live in relationship with him. No password or PIN required.

Our culture knows less and less about God, not because he’s only made himself exclusively available to a certain few, but because we haven’t made knowing him a priority. Many of us have multiple copies of Bibles in our homes. Hotels make them available to any who enter. We can download links to the Bible on our computers or on our phones.

God wants us to know him. He gave us his written word so that we could. I challenge you to seek him in its pages. If you’re new to the Bible, start with a gospel. If you want to know his expectations for you, go to Proverbs or James. If you want stories of God’s incredible love for his people throughout history, go to Exodus the epistles of John. If you like poetry, go to Psalms. In each you will find that God makes himself known.

My understanding of the concept that God wants to be known ended up as a book, He Wants You to Know, that examines 13 metaphors God gave us to help us understand his character and desire for relationship with us.

“He introduced himself to Moses with the name “I AM”, and then began an awesome journey through the desert and through history. Day by day, story by story, he is still revealing himself to his children. His goal is that as we learn to see him as he is, we will become who he created us to be.” (He Wants You to Know, p. 5) There is no code. Seek solitude and go to the pages where he makes himself known. You will find your security in worship.