Category Archives: Ancient Truths

Time

Time is something that we only have a limited amount of, and at the end of our lives wonder where it all went. Time is worth a lot more than dollars per hour; it is a measure of what we value and what kind of legacy we hope to leave.

How we spend our time shows our priorities and what we think is truly valuable. Tell me what you think is important all you want, show me your calendar, and then I will know what you prioritize.

When we die, time is something we will have an infinite amount of if you believe the Scriptures, and what we do in this current life echoes into the next one — especially our relationship with God and dedication to His mission.

Time is a lot like water. We waste a lot of it because, we are lazy and tend to follow the path of least resistance. But properly channeled and used, our time can achieve great things, such as creating a major canyon in the middle of a desert. Wisdom and character can help us know how to use time. But as a Christian, I believe the best guide is the Holy Spirit. He should direct our days. Sadly, I know I call the shots way too often.

What we post about on our Facebook page and Twitter account shows a lot about how we spend our time and what preoccupies our thoughts. I agree that 50 million babies killed in the name of convenience is more than just a tragedy. It is the shame of our generation and a stain on our “progressive” culture.

Ultimately, God is the only one who stands outside of time. That is why He alone has the best vantage point on how we should spend the limited time we have in this life.

Beyond Mere Words — Prayer

Prayer

By George Herbert
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
         God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
         The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
         Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
         The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

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This poem captures well the difficulties in explaining or defining prayer. Prayer is so much more than just giving God our wish list or telling Him what He already knows. Prayer goes beyond recognizing God as God, praising Him for His mighty deeds,  or calling Him to move in the struggles and trials of life. Prayer cannot be broken down to just a simple formula because Scripture is full of many different types of prayers. And each life situation seems to call for something different.

I particularly like the line, “The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,” because I think of prayer more as a journey than anything else. It helps us put to words what is going on inside of us, and more importantly start to imagine what is God’s response. Prayer positions us to explore our true self and identify the areas that most need the power of  the cross. Prayer is not as much about self discovery as it is surrender to Christ and recognition of His higher truth.

We never really “arrive at a final destination” when it comes to mastering prayer. We simply delve deeper and deeper into a treasure that is boundless and difficult to explain. The goal is not knowledge alone but relationship.

Sometimes we may feel that we are doing it wrong — a failure in prayer. But God is not grading our progress as much as He is calling us closer to His point of view. Honestly, we may doubt and feel that we are truly alone. We may wonder if God is really there and start to think that we are merely talking to the wind, but even in this honest admission, we discover God’s grace. The Lord allows the silence because His constant expression might be too much for us to bear. Or He simply may not desire to speak for some reason. He may just want to listen to what His children have to say.

Prayer is based on the reality that we are loved and have access to God. In faith, we must rest assured in the truth that even if He never says another word to us, God has loudly declared His love for us by His sacrifice on the cross and the revelation of His Holy Word. Amen!

I Know God’s Will for Your Life … Do You?

The following is a speech I made at a high school graduation for one of the students  from my youth group. He graduated from a small home school co-op.

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Graduates, you are about to enter the biggest roller coaster ride of your life. It will be full of transition for both you and your parents. Over the next 5-10 years, you will meet new people, go to new places, and face new challenges. You will make decisions that could have ripple effects throughout your entire life. And you will likely be making these decisions with a lot less oversight and a lot more freedom than you have been accustomed to in the past. You are growing up, and it is time to wrestle with the joys and the challenges of freedom.

The good news is that even when you make a mistake or even outright commit sin, God can forgive you and turn around things for good. But you don’t want to make too many bad decisions and dig yourself into a big hole — right?

So, when I was in your shoes and faced the challenge of making decisions for myself with minimal parental involvement, I struggled with the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” As I have wrestled with that question through the years, I have learned a few things.

First, we tend to focus on the who, what, when and where of any situation. We want to know which career to pursue, what girl to date and eventually marry, or which place we should live. While those are all good questions, they alone won’t answer God’s will for our lives. God is more concerned with the how of our decisions. He focuses on primarily how we go down whatever path we choose. And more importantly, God cares about the kind of person we are becoming. God’s will is about more than just what we do — the focus should be on who we are — our identity in Christ.

A good question to ask ourselves is, “Do we have the heart and the mind of God about whatever we do?

Let me make a radical statement. You might find this hard to believe. I know what the will of God is for everyone in this room! You might think, “How could this guy know that? He hasn’t even met me. Is he a mind reader? How could he possibly know God’s will for all of these people?”

Those are good questions. But the reason I am so confident in my statement is that I can read. And while Scripture shows many instances of God’s will being done and revealed, only a few times does it make broad statements about God’s will. And the more I studied this issue I discovered how critical is this one thing to accomplishing God’s will for my life.

So, are you ready for the secret? It can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” While this statement was written to a specific group of people at a specific time. I believe it has relevance to every believer. Because no matter what we face in life, if we develop a thankful heart, we will be able to overcome any obstacle and move on toward God’s goal for us.

Being thankful can be hard because most people face some challenges in life. How can we be thankful in all circumstances? What about the boring, life-draining droll of adulthood? What about the time you spend waiting in line at the grocery store when the checker is moving beyond slow, and a child is screaming behind you? To make this worse, all you can think about is how your wife is waiting at home with a long honey-do list after your tiring day at work, and you just want is to be left alone.

Or, what about when your hard-to-please boss yells at you for not doing what he said should seem like common sense, but you had no idea he wanted it done that way? How can you rejoice when a difficult family situations arises, such as a rebellious child or an aging parent?

Or what about when God “doesn’t come through” as you expected? You thought God had promised something, but He delayed in fulfilling your expectation. Or, just like Job in the Bible, maybe God never answers the question you want answered most? Or how about when you are sick and don’t feel like moving? There are many tough situations that are difficult to rejoice about.

Do we need to deny how we feel or dismiss the pain that we encounter in this life? I believe the answer to that question is a big fat NO. That attitude would not be real nor would it lead to a truly thankful heart. It would merely be putting on a fake mask before God and acting religious. That might work if all God cared about was the outward appearance at any one moment. But God’s heart is not just that we would do the right things; He is more focused on us becoming the right kind of people. Jesus want us to have His heart and mind about our lives, the world and others. We must become who we are already in Christ.

So how do we develop a thankful heart?

Well, for starters, a thankful heart is born long before the moment of challenge. Most of the time I simply react out of the storehouse of experience, personality and perspective that I have obtained over my life. I don’t usually stop and carefully thing through every incident that arises. Honestly, neither do you. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. If you develop a thankful heart — realizing how much God has already done for you even if He never answers another prayer, then you are more likely to default to a more godly response. If you realize that God is sovereign and ultimately does care about you, that can bring hope in even the darkest hour.

A thankful heart is not overcome by hardship even though it is free to mourn loss. Just as Jesus cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are free to express our true emotions to God. But we can’t let those feelings be all there is to our internal process. We have to realize that truth is bigger than our perspective or even our challenges in life.

A thankful heart has a godly perspective and sees beyond the moment. But this is hard — even impossible to accomplish on our own. This faith response is rooted in God’ work. We just have to believe it and submit to it.

I believe the answer to how we develop a thankful heart comes from a very familiar passage. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect.”

The Apostle Paul called early Christians to think differently from the world. Instead of being conformed to the world’s perspective, we are to have the mind of Christ. We are to be less like water that conforms to the shape of whatever cup it is in, and we are to be more like ice that is molded under cold temperatures into a solid block and will retain its shape in different types of containers. While it will melt over time, the ice takes its shape from the mold it is formed in, and for Christians, that mold is our new lives in Christ.

Also, this passage doesn’t just say our actions are transformed. The Lord wants to renew our minds and our hearts. Remember, this transformation is not just about what we do. Our actions should flow from who we are, and our identity in Christ. We are a thankful people because we are aware of how much God loves and has done for us. We are thankful because we realize the truth that he who has been forgiven much loves much.

So how do we have the mind of Christ? We take on the mind of God by reading Scripture and letting it challenge us. Through prayer, including listening prayer, we give our heart to God and position ourselves to hear directly from the Holy Spirit. By allowing God’s truth to change how we look at our situation, we find that He fashions our heart anew to rejoice despite whatever we face.

We praise God in the midst of the storm because He is worthy regardless of what is going on around us. This requires faith as well as reliance on God’s ability to transform and change the things we can’t do anything about.

So, God’s will for your life is to give thanks and rejoice in who He is. The Lord wants all of us to find our hope in Him and not in our situation. If you allow God to build this heart attitude in you, you will be able to realize the fullness of God’s plan. Until then, you may get frustrated, disillusioned or confused when things don’t work out like you had hoped or expected.

There are too many so-called Christians who have found that their faith wavers when God’s will turns out to be something far different than what they expected. There are many situations and decisions where the Lord may give you lots of freedom to make whatever choice you want. There may not just be one perfect person for you to marry. Nor is there one ideal place to live. Your career and work may change a lot through your life. But I can guarantee you that if you allow the Lord to create a thankful heart in you — you always will be able to navigate whatever comes up, and at least in one way you will be living out with certainty God’s will for your life.

What’s Your Story?

Asking the above question is a good way to find out what makes other people tick. It can also be the start to a very long and frequently interesting discussion. I thought a lot about story today after watching a video on sharing the Christian Gospel with other people. The video was by Caesar Kalinowski of the GCM Collective, a group focused on developing communities based on the Gospel. You can view the video at http://www.gcmcollective.org/article/story-training-videos/

Anyway, I love what Caesar said about the power of story when it comes to sharing the Gospel. Too many times we treat the Gospel as a bunch of facts or religious creeds that need to be memorized and then spouted off on cue. Sure, the Gospel contains information and doctrine. But it is much more than that. Caesar made the point that if you present a bunch of facts about the plight of orphans around the world it is not as easy to remember as telling a story about a particular orphan and then wrapping some general statistics up in the narrative of the story. The point is that we better remember key principles through stories and pictures than we do through lots of mere facts or creeds.

When you get right down to it, the Gospel is a story. While it contains truth and is the path to life, it is also a story. It is not a fictional story. And it does pertain to our lives today even though it began long ago. The Gospel is a story that has been going on for thousands of years and continues to be written today. It is the story of God and His relationship with mankind. And we are part of that story.

Too often people think of the life of Jesus as something separate from their everyday existence. But Scripture is clear that Jesus lives through His followers today. The story of Jesus was propelled into significance for us when He died and rose again. Yet, it didn’t stop there. It continues today as we carry on the work, life and Spirit that He gave us. 

And that my friends is a game changer. When you realize that you are part of a cosmic story that has echoed through ages passed to our world… right now. That is amazing. Telling a story is not hard, especially when it is our story. We just have to find the courage to open our hearts and speak what we know is true. Others may reject it. But that’s not the point. The most important thing is to be true to what we believe and have experienced. And I believe the story of Jesus is the most liberating, awe inspiring thing I have ever heard. And the Good News is that I get to share it.

What is the Gospel?

I wonder if I have at times become “so familiar” with the Bible and especially the Christian Gospel that I lose sight of its epic, boundless quality. Can you have heard so many sermons that you begin to think there isn’t much new to be learned about God? Or does this reveal a faulty mindset that has lost its way? If God is beyond description, why do we look at His Word as something less than supernatural, epic, and majestic? The Bible (God’s book) is beyond whatever else we might read on a daily basis. I was thinking about this tonight after Pastor Tim Matthews spoke on the parable of the sower and the seed from Matthew 13. He challenged the youth group to dare to study the Scriptures, soak in it and live it. Beyond looking for good principles to apply, Pastor Tim encouraged us to seek to be transformed. He challenged us to be good ground that would produce fruit in God’s Kingdom.

The Bible is not a self-help book. I admit that on many occasions I have taken the “I already knew that” attitude toward something found in Scripture. But the strange thing is I may not have been living by the light of that knowledge. Many times I needed to hear something again that I already supposedly knew.

So I feel led to revisit the basic Christian message, commonly known as the Gospel. What is it really? Is the Gospel just ten basic beliefs about God and His relationship with mankind? Is the Gospel merely about statements of faith? Or is it something more — an ethic, a call to become like Christ? Is the Gospel something that ever changes? Or is it something that only changes us? Is the Gospel fully realized now or a forward looking hope for a better world? Is the Gospel even really about mankind? Or is its core preoccupation mainly God and His glory revealed to humanity?

These questions have led me to develop what I am calling the Gospel Challenge. I am encouraging anybody who has a relationship with God through Jesus to take 30 days to wrestle with what the Gospel is based on Scripture and your own reflection as you pray and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May you look to see how the Gospel is lived out in your world. Specifically, I am encouraging other Christians who know me to take up this challenge.

It starts with reading the Bible daily while looking to see what your reading reveals about the basic Christian message. You should ask questions like, “What does this story show us about God? or How does this passage depict God’s Kingdom?

Second, you develop a list of key beliefs explaining what the Gospel is and how it should function in our daily lives. What really is this Good News that we are called to share with the world? I am starting with a simple computer document that says, “The Christian Gospel is….”

Third, refine your list and share some insights with others to see what they think. I intend to ask other believers, “If you had to explain the Christian message in 3-5 minutes, what would you say?”

Fourth, wrestle some more with the concepts that arise as you study, pray about the Christian message and discuss the Gospel with others. The last part of the challenge is to come up with a basic Gospel statement or creed and attempt to live according to these beliefs on daily basis.

So who is with me? What does the Gospel really mean to you? I welcome others to post on my blog their thoughts on what the Christian Gospel is and how it functions in the world.

The Perfect Lie

Disillusioned is how many people would describe their present reality. From crooked politics to the down economy and high unemployment to church scandals to a high divorce rate in our families, it’s easy to see why so many feel as if the real thing is not as good as the product advertised on the commercial.

We buy “it” for the packaging and expect the contents to match our expectations. Frequently, we envision an idealized future that will never be realized. We think that the new job will be nirvana, and it isn’t. Sometimes it is just work. We think we found the perfect spouse only to discover that they have flaws too. We  expect our new home to be something out of a dream, and then the pipes break flooding the lower floor. We have three kids, and they mimic our bad behavior and make us want to pull out what hair we have left. We trust in God only to discover that churches are filled with imperfect, broken people.

You get my drift. We (especially me) tend to get idealized pictures that make it difficult for anything to live up to our dreams. A co-worker used to have the following saying pinned on the wall in her office, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” I believe there is a lot of truth in this statement. While we can’t really eliminate expectations nor should we, we can resign ourselves to reject disillusionment for godly contentment.

I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).

The Apostle Paul knew the secret was not to let our situation or reality decide our attitude or emotional state. He took a long-term view of things to see past the disappointment in the moment. His trust was in a faithful God who can turn any situation around, even death and despair.

The perfect lie is to trust in the perfection of anything other than God. While there are many good things, there is only one perfect One.

Beyond the Margins

Have you ever had one of those nights when you don’t even know where to begin? Your head is swimming with thoughts inspired by the wisdom of someone you feel fortunate to have encountered. That’s how I feel right now after a 2-hour concert/walk through the Bible with Michael Card.

Where do I begin? Michael Card stated his secret purpose was to entice, manipulate…  do what it takes to inspire his audience to read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. He weaved songs together to provide a musical narrative of Scripture. By the end, I was in tears as the reality hit me. God’s greatest desire is to be with His people. I know this. But some how tonight, I got a deeper glimpse of God’s heart. And I am undone.

While I don’t know that I would pay to hear most Christian musicians preach, I could sit and listen to Card for hours. He plumps the depth of Scripture like few Christian artists could. Here are some of the things that stood out to me.

  • Card is working on a book about slavery and freedom called A Better Freedom. Card said, “The only way you will ever be free is to become a slave of Christ.”
  • Leviticus is full of details about things like warts and mold. But those details point to spiritual realities. We see Jesus in the models and stories of the Old Testament. Card said, “God is in the details.”
  • The story of Hosea and Gomer shows us our wayward hearts. Card sang a song as Gomer talking about the faithfulness of her husband despite her unfaithfulness.
  • God gave Israel a great gift called the Year of Jubilee – a time when all debts would be canceled. It was to be a year-long party every 50 years where families and individuals were restored. But there is no record of Israel every observing the Year of Jubilee. This utopia idea has its completion in Jesus.
  • In Psalm 51 after David has committed a horrible sin, all he had to give to God was his brokenness. And that was what God really wanted in the first place. David said that what God wants is broken and contrite heart.
  • Card said, “The things that have hurt you in life, aren’t wasted. They are redeemed –  God uses them  to save the world.” He pointed to the cross as a perfect example of how God turns tragedy into victory.
  • Throughout the concert, Card kept on referring to friends and mentors who influenced each song. It was clear that his music comes out of community.
  • Card said about the book of Revelation, “In the end, God gets what He wants. Do you know what God really wants? He wants to be with you – His people.” Card said that the reward of  following the Law in Leviticus 16:12 is that God will walk with His people. From the tabernacle to the Temple, the dwelling place of God was to be with His people. Jesus is called Emmanuel, which means God with us. Jesus’ last words to His disciples were, “Behold, I am with you always.” He then promised the Holy Spirit, which lives in the heart of God’s people. Card said, “What God wants the most is what we need the most.” The story ends in Revelation with complete restoration as sin, death and separation from God are forever dealt with. God is fully with His people.