Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Difficult days...

There's a very interesting verse in 2 Timothy 3.  It stands out because we too often miss the detail of Paul's comments.  These are the few verses that caught my attention this morning,

"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty."

Normally, when we read words like that we think of natural disaster, storms, draughts, flooding....all things out of our control, but the words that Paul writes next are interesting.

He continues,

"For people will be...."

It struck me that the difficult times will not be caused by God, but by man himself!  

What follows those first words is a long list of how people will treat one another.  In the last days the difficult days will be the result of people abusing other people!  It will be a time when God "steps back" and let's us do as we wish....and the commentary of scripture is that these will be "difficult days".  

When I read the list I can see why!  Here's the rest of the passage from THE MESSAGE,

"people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals."

Sounds a bit like the world around us, doesn't it?

I can see how those would be difficult days if that's the community we live in.  It sounds like a dystopia world, a "Mad Max" kind of community.  It sure wouldn't be where I would want to live!

The last days will be difficult not because of what God does, but because of what MAN does.  As a pastor I see this every day as it grows, but imagine a day when this kind of person is the norm, is your neighbor?

That's why it's so important that the disciple of Jesus Christ walks in love.  As we love the people around us the contrast between us and the "MAD MAX" world around us will become surprisingly clear.  That's why a simple verse like 1 Corinthians 16:14 is so important as I go through my days,

"Let all you do be done in love."

As we live lives that imitate Christ we will shine brighter and brighter and show the Christ we worship more clearly to a dying world around us. 

"let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." -Mat. 5

God's plans

In the last week our family has been praying for something very specific....

....it didn't happen.

Now comes the normal responses of all of us as we seek to know what God is doing...

I prayed, why didn't he answer?

This was really important to me, how could he not do it?

Is there really a God at all if he doesn't answer prayers like this?

How can I trust him when he knew how important this was?

Why pray at all if he doesn't answer anyway?

I'm sure you could add a dozen other questions to this list that you have asked as the plans and prayers you hoped for didn't come true, didn't materialize.

What is God doing? What's his plans for us?  How do we navigate this topic of prayer when often the things we ask for are very important to us?  Now what?  Can we trust him?  Should I even pray for things again since he didn't answer this prayer?  Doesn't he know how important this was to me?

The emotions of unanswered prayer are intense.  The hoped for expectations that are crushed by a prayer unanswered are confusing.  Now what? Where do we go from here?

There are often no words for the emotions that follow an unanswered prayer.  For me, after many years of knowing God, I realized that often my dreams and visions are not the best thing for me...and so I trust God for his plans, his directions....but it's hard, isn't it?  It's hard when we asked, we wanted, we hoped...and he replies with silence.  Is he there at all?  Is he, as many say, the God of the deist...making it all and then walking away?  Unanswered prayers make us ask those questions...especially when he has invited us to ask!

The bottom line for all of this is simply this-  God loves us. God is sovereign and his love, his plans, and his wisdom direct our lives for his glory and our good.  It doesn't mean we always get what we want...and that confuses us because we "know" that what we want is the very best thing....if only God would give us what we prayed for.

But often he doesn't.  Now what?

Solomon wrote these words,

"The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps."

When God says "no" I come back to this...

God loves me,

He has my best in mind,

He has a plan for my life,

and he's sovereign.

I can trust him to accomplish the best for me.....even when he says "no".  

In moments like this, when I don't understand his "no" I go back to the verses that direct me when I don't have answers...the verses that calm my confused and disheartened mind,

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart
  and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Knowing the way

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.  -Psalm 25

"Your ways, your paths."  God has carved out a way for his people to go that is different from the paths the world is on.  It takes a road map, or rather a path map.  His ways are not hidden, but they are not the normal paths everyone else walk.  

There are times when walking on his paths, in his way seems lonely, but there are multitudes who have walked these paths before us.  Multitudes more looking for the path now.  Along the way you will find a host of friends and encouragers who are also following his paths, looking for his ways.  We all know that most of the world around us will not find this path...honestly they don't want to, but for those who do God tells you this,

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. -Psalm 25

Not only will you discover a new destination on the path God has made, but you will have friends, people who care about you and love you as you travel his path.  How do you find it? How do you get off the main road and discover God's trail, his path?  The map for the way is his word, the Bible.  

Many around me tell me they are taking their own path, their own way and they will get to God as well, but God has made clear....much to the world's anger...that there is only one way, one map, one hope.  You need a map to find it or you will simply wander aimlessly never finding the God at the end of a narrow path he has built.  He's not trying to hide it, in fact he invites everyone to walk it, but many simply say, "I'll make my own path." and they never discover the God they are looking for.

How do you know the way? How do you find this narrow path? Read God's word. His map to the path is woven all through it.  Everywhere you read he's pointing the way as he helps you walk it.  He wants everyone on his path, he desires everyone to find him.  
Do you know the way? 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Doubting God

Have you ever doubted God?

Have you ever wondered, "Are you really there?"

Have your prayers gone unanswered in a time when an answer seems vital?

I have.

Doubting God is the real experience of every believer.  I wonder if anyone hasn't doubted at one time or another.  In a time of crisis, a time of need, a prayer unanswered, a pain unhealed, we have all experienced the real question, the honest question, "God, are you there? Are you really there?"

Many would tell you that doubts are sin, but I will tell you that doubts are the real experience of any man or woman of faith.  It's part of our experience, and with the doubts come an opportunity to grow in faith or walk away completely.

Some have let doubt derail their faith.  They had a prayer that was "life or death for them" and when God was silent that was the "final straw" and they walked away.  Some have been bitter about the apparent silence of heaven, but in the silence is an opportunity to ask, "God, what are you doing?  How can I use my doubts to grow in faith?  What do I do with the doubts that scream at me and make it seem you aren't there?"

Have you ever doubted God?  I have.  I've wondered if he was really there, if there was a God at all.  If you're honest you have too, but from my doubts I've discovered a deeper, stronger faith in a God who is quite comfortable with my doubts.  In fact, one of his own men, Thomas, doubted to the point of saying, "I will not believe unless, until...."  And out of his doubt came this testimony, "My Lord and my God!"

Have you ever doubted God?  Good. Will you, in the moments of doubt take a deep breath and be honest with God? Will you tell him your fears and doubts and ask him to use these doubts and fears to make himself more real to you?  

Or will you walk away?

Trials, tests, unanswered prayers are all opportunities to grow in faith or see your faith wither and die.  Don't let doubts derail you, celebrate your honest humanity and invite God to make himself even more real to you through your time of doubt.

He will.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Prayer of the day

This great prayer comes from a believer in Africa to another pastor I know.  It's a great prayer and blessing and worthy of inclusion in our blessings to others.

"May your children and their children love and serve your God more than you."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Slowing my pace

I live in a culture that moves much too quickly to have a healthy relationship with God or with others.  We move at speeds that makes intimacy with God or others unrealistic, time to think "wasteful" and time to pray impossible.

We are moving much too quickly to have a healthy relationship with God or the others around us.  We all run at full speed with noise all around so we never stop to think, "What am I doing?"  

God says, "Be still, stop, shut up, be quiet, rest for a bit and know that I am God."  In the absence of this stillness, this rest, a time of quiet, our nerves become raw, our fears grow, our faith wanes, and we exhaust ourselves in an attempt to be happy and "have it all"....and in our attempt to live as the world around us we lose God, lose sleep and lose peace.

This year, as another rat in the crazy maze we live in, I'm going to slow my pace, find times for quiet, turn off the noise, rest instead of rush and see what happens as I intentionally slow down.  In the frantic pace of the world around us we lose so much.  What if, what if all we want comes not in the frenzy of the world's pace, but in the silence of God's presence?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dealing with storms

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”  -Mark 4

The theme of storms is a frequent one as we deal with life.  One author said, "we are all either just leaving a storm or about to enter one." Storms are part of our lives, but none of us like them!  Storms are unexpected, unpredictable, unwanted, and always produce fear.  The fear comes because suddenly, unexpectedly, we are not in control and that scares all of us!

In Mark 4 is the story of one such storm in the lives of the disciples.  A storm that was planned by God to teach them, help them and illuminate them.  It's a fascinating story and there is so much in the story that captivates me.  As I read narratives like this I imagine I'm in the boat with them, wet, afraid, struggling, and then I look to Jesus and he's asleep!  How could he be asleep?  Doesn't he realize what trouble we are in? Doesn't he care?

And when storms come in our lives, just as Job asked in the midst of his storm, we all ask, "God, don't you care?"  What they missed (and honestly we miss it too) is that God was in the boat with them!  If they go down so does he!  Doesn't it strike you as strange that Jesus was asleep?  Don't you wonder at times in your own life, "is God asleep, has he forgotten about me, doesn't he care?"  You may have actually said it out loud, 

"God, WAKE UP!  I'm in trouble."  

But what we and the disciples miss is that God is with us.  Do you realize how big those words are?  God is with us.  It means he's in the boat too! It means he's invested in you, in your life, in your storm.  It means "he's got this!"  It means, if you are in the storm and he's with you, it's part of his plan.

Ok, so I ask as I write that, how can a storm be part of his plan?  Because in the storm our senses become alive, sharp, focused and we can see more clearly than we ever do in normal days.  In this storm the disciples feared the storm, but in just moments their fears were redirected to Jesus, "who is this?"  

Storms bring clarity.  They focus our passions, our desires, our lives on what's most important.  In a recent storm in our area the news crew interviewed a woman who had lost everything.  As she stood in front of her devastated home, nothing left of all she had, she said, "we are so blessed, no one was hurt."  And suddenly clarity comes to her life.  The stuff can be replaced and in that moment, in the midst of losing everything, we discover that we have actually lost nothing at all!

As you face your next storm realize two things, 1. God is with you.  This didn't happen without his presence or permission, and 2. He has a plan and purpose in the storm for your life.  In the midst of your next storm will you discover it?  Will you see that all of life is about knowing him and trusting him?  Will you discover that he has never left you, he's with you....even in the midst of your storm.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quote of the day

Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.

-Blaise Pascal

Friday, January 10, 2014

Quote of the day

“Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person's seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.”  ― Elisabeth Elliot

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Don't worry!

Phil. 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

It's confession time.  I'll start.  I'm a worrier.  I worry.  It's what I do better than anything else.  If there were a PHD in worry I would have earned it years ago.  I've mastered all the nuances of worry.  I am better at it than anyone I know and I hate it!

But I'm also a pastor and those two things, being a pastor and a worrier, do NOT go together.  I have to constantly make a decision- will I trust God or not???

For me this is my constant battle.  We all battle something, this is mine.  When I worry I'm basically saying, "There is no God! I'm on my own! What will I do? How will I survive? How will I work all of this out? If I don't do something no one will!!!"

When I worry I'm telling God he doesn't care and I can't trust Him.  That's a big thing to say to the creator of the universe!  But worry is subtle like that, it's not so blatant as to get in God's face and deny he's able to care for me, but that's really what I'm saying to him.

When Paul tells us "Do not worry" he's giving us a response to something we all struggle with...that sense that our lives are out of control and unless we worry all is lost!  But Paul rubs salt in our worry by saying it this way, "Don't worry about anything!"  He is telling us that worry....about ANYTHING....is sin. Then, as Paul does so well, he gives us an option..."don't do this, but do this instead."

The right response to worry is to take those worries to God and dump them at his feet, thank him for taking care of it and leave it all there.  Then, walk away and let his peace take care of me.  These are powerful verses because they address the fears of every heart and give us a solution.....but the solution is a God big enough to take care of my problems.

When I worry I'm really saying God isn't big enough, able enough, strong enough, caring enough, loving enough to take care of me, my worries and my problems.  Shame on me for thinking that way!

Worry is always a sign of a man or woman living with a small god.  How big is your God? 

Seeking God

This post is from last June.  It's something I'm thinking about again today as I seek God's face.  These words remind me of the wonderful quest we are on to seek and know the God who made us.  And one day, soon I think, we will see this amazing God face to face.

Seeking God

"Seek the Lord while you can find him. 
Call on him now while he is near." 
-Isaiah 55

This morning, just after sunrise, I went for a long walk in the woods. If you are ever in a place like this you have to walk out into the woods and be still, listen, pray and praise.  That was my goal this morning...and I hoped to see a bear...but back to my topic.  I walked about a mile back into the forest and just stood still...waiting...waiting for God.  I prayed, I sang (badly), I quieted my mind and listened....

....I listened for God, but at times he feels as elusive as that bear I never saw today.  At times I wait, I listen and I hear nothing.....I want to hear from him, I want to follow him, I want to be aware of his presence, but often.....silence.

I know many struggle when this happens.  I have.  Is this a game of "hide-and-seek"?  Why is this so hard?  But there is much more going on than you know when you sense God is not there.  He's teaching us to be still.  God said to David, "Be still (shut up) and know that I am God."  God is there and he is not silent, but often I'm deaf to his voice.  How do I fix that?  What do I do?

I have to be still....be quiet, quiet my mind, my heart, my voice and wait on him.  This morning I stood in the deep forest for more than 30 minutes.  I know, that's not very long, but as I stood there praying, listening, silent before God, I waited for his voice.  He knows I want to follow, he knows I desire his will, he knows me better than I know me....and yet he makes me wait.  He says nothing.

What is going on?  What's wrong?  Nothing at all....God is working on things I'm completely unaware of.  He's dealing with things in my life I have never dealt with.  For me the first task is stillness....God has the response...I will know that HE is God.  

I'm seeking God.  He's not like that old bear who avoided me this morning...he's always with me, working in my life...even when I don't see him, even when I don't hear him.  In these times I wait.  He always works in my life in ways that surprise me.  I look forward to his surprise today.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Excellency of the Power

Here is a short but wonderful article form my friend and mentor, Dr. Bill Burnside,

Excellency of the Power

We're in for a bitterly cold week-end almost nationwide with snow and ice pellets in the forecast. The snow is beautiful and the ice is cold! And the wind is blowing and making a winter wonderland. We can appreciate the beauty and fierceness of a blizzard when we're inside a warm home with plenty of food, water, heat, and light. So our best prayer for today is that no one loses power in this storm. Many of us would be without heat as well as light if the power should fail. Some even would have no water. Be thankful you have power and tell that to the Lord.
Power! how vital for our walk with the Lord. "Without Me you can do nothing!" Jesus told us. "Then the angel who talked with me . . . said, "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by [man's] power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts." Zech. 4:5-6
And the Apostle Paul wrote, ". . . My message [came] in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." 1 Cor. 2:4-5

One way to glorify God is to recognize and acknowledge our utter dependence on Him for life and breath and all our needs. Without the power He gives us we do not even have the physical strength we need to take care of ourselves and those given to us to care for. But His grace, strength, power is sufficient for us: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. . . ." 2 Peter 1:3 NIV Thank Him for it.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Cor. 4:7 And be thankful that His power never fails! "I can do all things [that God calls on me to do] through Christ who strengthens me [gives me power]." Phil. 4:13

Verses to struggle over

Often, as I read the Bible, I come to passages that cause me problems.  Statements made that challenge me, make me struggle.  Here is one that has haunted me for decades,

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  Phil. 1:21

As I read Paul's words it's clear he has a level of understanding, a relationship with God that I have yet to achieve.  Yes, like Paul, I want my life to be all about Christ, but it's not.  I get busy and forget about him.  Sorry, but I really do.  Here I am, doing "God's work" and so busy about it that I forget about him.  I'm not sure how in the world I can do that, but I must be honest....it happens often.

What does it look like to say and live out, "For me to live is Christ"?  This is what has bothered me, challenges me and caused struggles for me for decades.  I want to walk with him, and for a few minutes at a time I find I can, but then the world attacks and I forget, I get busy and off I go..."serving God".

For a long time I told people this was my life verse, but as I grew in faith it soon became clear I had no idea what it meant. For me to live is Christ....those words challenge me, convict me and leave me without words.

I hope, one day before I'm done with this life, I will understand just a bit of what Paul means when he says, "For me to live is Christ."  I long for that, want that, desire that to be true in me, but I know that I don't even understand what that means yet.

And never mind the rest of the verse....to die is gain!  That will be another visit.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity....

Every year, on the first day of a new year, I do something to start my year, to help me focus....I read Ecclesiastes.  It is a great reality check for a new year.  

Solomon wrote this book (many think) later in his life, after his sins of idolatry, and these final words are his closing words of wisdom for the world to follow.  Each year, as I read this book, it challenges me for the new year and helps me focus on the main things.

I love the portion of the book where he writes, "There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God."

Here's the main thing for Solomon as he finishes the book:  "The end of the matter, after all has been heard, is this: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."

Sobering words, aren't they?  In these final two verses Solomon summarizes the whole book with these truths: 1. There is a sovereign God, 2. You will answer to him one day so, 3. Fear God, keep his commandments and live well. 

Personally, I think I'm a pessimist, just as Solomon is in this book, but I also see the great wisdom he offers to put everything in perspective....don't think too much of yourself, you will die one day.  Don't take criticism personally, remember how you criticized others.

If you haven't taken the time to read this book in one sitting may I suggest you try it this year?  I think you will be surprised at what you see.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Time for a change

As I thought about this blog today I realized that I've been writing this for nearly nine years.  It has morphed over the years and I think it's time for another change.  I know there aren't many reading what I'm writing now, so I'm going to share more personal thoughts about God, my faith and my personal struggles.  I've done that a bit, but this year I'll try to be as brutally honest as I can be about faith and life as a Christian.  So, here we go.

Exclusive claims!

There's nothing our culture hates more than exclusive claims.  Anyone who makes them is vilified, criticized and scorned.  This afternoon, in my reading, I came to this exclusive claim made in Isaiah 43,

"I, yes I, am God.
    I’m the only Savior there is."

God is very clear about several things and declares them without any confusion, 1. He, the Yahweh of the Bible, is the ONLY God, 2. He is the ONLY savior, and 3. if you don't come to him on his terms you can't come at all.

Exclusive? Narrow-minded?  Yes!  And they aren't the claims of any man, they are the claims of the God of the Bible.  I'm so glad he's clear and doesn't leave me wondering about who he is and what he wants from me.  God himself has made exclusive claims and we have only two choices- respond to them or ignore them.  

A reminder as we begin a new year

Do you think we are different from those before us? Wiser maybe? More educated? More enlightened?  Here are a few words to contemplate as you begin your new year.  Life comes and goes, everything is the same all over again. It will only be the eternal things that will make a difference in the end....focus your new year on those things.

These words come from Solomon. Solomon was king of Israel.  The bible says he was the wisest man to ever live.  In his later years, after many failures and poor choices this wise man wrote these words,

Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
    There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.
What’s there to show for a lifetime of work,
    a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
    but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old
        planet earth.
The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
    then does it again, and again—the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
    Around and around and around it blows,
    blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
    but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place,
    and then start all over and do it again.
Everything’s boring, utterly boring—
    no one can find any meaning in it.
Boring to the eye,
    boring to the ear.
What was will be again,
    what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth.
    Year after year it’s the same old thing.
Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”?
    Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story.
Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
    And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody’ll remember them either.
    Don’t count on being remembered.  -Ecclesiastes 1

A new year

A new year begins.  A fresh start.  The chance to "start over" with some of the things we want to do.  A new beginning.

What will you do with this year?  How will you live so that your life will make a difference in the lives of others around you?

Will you love well?  Listen better?  Give more? Comfort those hurting? Will you care about others this year?  

What will be different for you because a new year has begun?

You only get to live once, you only have this day, this second once and then it's gone.  How will you invest it? What will you do with your life in this new year?