Can God Be for Me While His Hand Works Against Me?

Can God be for me while his hand works against me?

Photo by: The Archibald ProjectThis is the question I found myself wrestling with during the latter half of last year. I started from what I know to be true: God is for me. This much I knew for sure. But on the other hand, there was something else that I knew with certainty: God had called me to adopt this little girl from Africa. We had been pursuing this adoption for over a year and half and it seemed and we had run into nothing but roadblocks and frustrations. At first I blamed each setback on The Enemy. “Satan hates adoption.” I told myself. “He’s trying to distract me with sideways energy.”

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Fasting

Recently I had a conversation with someone at church that went like this…

 

Friend: Dude, what’s up? You’re not eating?
Me: No.
Friend: Are you fasting?
Me: Yeah
Friend: Didn’t you fast this time last year… and the year before that?
Me: Um, actually… yeah. I did.
Friend: Dude! That’s awesome!
Me: No, not really. It actually kind of sucks. I freakin’ hate fasting.
Friend: Then why do you do it?
Me: Because I need it.

 

I’ve struggled with posting this blog for sometime now, because I don’t ever want to be guilty of being the guy that Jesus spoke of: Continue reading

Am I Radical Enough?

I am studying through 1 John right now. This morning I was reading through chapter 3 and I got hung up on a few verses. In fact, I got so hung up that it took me some time before I could even read past them. 

Lately, God has been doing something in my heart, and I don't know exactly what it is. What I do know is that continually find myself asking these questions: "Am I radical enough?" "Have I missed the point of all of this?" "Is God pleased with the life that I am living in his name?"

Here are the verses that God used to grip my heart this morning: 1 John 3:17-19

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him. (ESV)

Just read those verses as they stand. Set aside your presuppositions and your preconceived ideas about what what God requires of us and JUST READ. 

Being honest, I know that I predominately love in word and talk and rarely (if ever) in deed and truth when it comes to those in need. But John says that the way I can know that I am of the truth and reassure my heart before God is if I love in deed and truth.

I want to be done with trying to explain away the hard teachings of Scripture. When we find ourselves saying things like "what it REALLY means is…" maybe it's not Scripture that needs explaining. Maybe it's our lives that need explaining before a Holy God.

EIKON

This week at camp, our theme is EIKON, which is the New Testament Greek for image or likeness.

Romans 8:29 says: For those God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

When reading this verse, most people get caught up on the words "foreknew" and "predestined" and become sidetracked with the issues of God's sovereignty and man's free will. But to do so is to do a injustice to this verse. The point of this verse is not to explain how God's absolute sovereignty works with man's apparent free will. Rather, Paul is trying to convey the sense of honor and privilege that comes with being a child of God. In essence he is saying, "you were hand-picked for a purpose."

Wow. God has hand-picked me, and he has hand-picked me for a specific purpose. What is that purpose? To be conformed to the image of his Son. This begins to make more sense when you consider Genesis 1:26-27 which says: Then God said,"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

In the beginning God created man and woman in his image. But we rebelled and the image of God was shattered. If being made in the image of God means that we reflect him in some way as a mirror reflects an image, then The Fall has shattered that mirror. 

It's in this context that Romans 8:29 begins to make sense. God created us in his image, but we rebelled and shattered that image. Now in Christ, God has begun rebuilding that image. He has hand-picked us to be conformed to the image of his Son. If you are a follower of Jesus, God is working in you to restore what was lost in The Fall. He is rebuilding his image in you. That's what the Christian life is all about.

Your Mouth Sucks

I was reading the other day through the book of James when a verse that I've read many times before suddenly shot straight to my heart like an arrow. I was reading and studying early one morning in my living room and when I read this verse, I literally said out loud: "Ah crap!"

James 1:26 says "If anyone thinks himself to be religious and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless."

Wow. Worthless. That word hung with me for the rest of the day. Anyone who knows me knows that I sometimes have trouble bridling my tongue. The question, "Is my religion worthless" plagued me throughout that day. 

I became a little more intrigued the next day as I read through chapter 3 of James. In that chapter, James once again deals with the tongue, this time in a little more detail and depth. 

James 3:8 says, "But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison."

"Well," I asked myself, "if it can't be tamed then what hope is there? Is my religion doomed to remain worthless." In chapter 1, James tells me that if I don't bridle my tongue my religion is worthless. In chapter 3, he tells me that it is actually impossible to tame the tongue. WHAT THE HECK??? It was meditating upon these passages and this predicament that I remembered what Jesus said about what comes out of our mouths. In Matthew 12:34, he said that it is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. 

This is why you can't tame your tongue! It's not possible! In verse 4 of chapter 3, James compares the tongue to a ship:

"Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires."

The rudder, of course, is the tongue. The point of the verse is that although the tongue is small it boasts great things. But here's something I haven't noticed before. If you want to steer a huge ship (like an ocean liner) you don't go down to the rudder and try to move it directly. That wouldn't work! You can control it from there you have to go the the source of it's direction: the helm. The helm easily controls the rudder. 

It's the same with the tongue and the heart. The heart is the helm of the tongue. You can't tame the tongue. It's like trying to manually turn the rudder of a huge ocean liner. You have to go to the helm: the heart. If you have a filthy mouth, you don't have a tongue problem, you have a heart problem. If you gossip a lot, you have a heart problem. If you insult and put people down all the time, you have a heart problem. If you brag a lot, you have a heart problem. You have to fix the heart issue. If you try to tame the tongue, it will never work. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

Forgiving vs. Excusing

I think there is a grave problem rampant among Christians today, and I don't think that most of us even realize it. I know for a fact that I have been guilty of this problem, and it has only recently come to my attention.

To what am I referring? I am referring to the fact we are often looking for God to excuse our sin rather than forgive it. Think back to your recent times of confession. You might have said the "right words" but what was the motive of your heart? When you confessed your sins to God, did you also mention several reasons as to why it happened? 

"God, I'm sorry I lusted after that woman jogging, but I just couldn't help it. She ran right in front of me!"
or
 
 "God, I'm sorry that I blew up at my co-worker. He just made me so mad. I can't take his crap anymore!" 

Are you beginning to see what I mean? Listen to what C.S. Lewis has to say about this.

I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself quite carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says 'Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology, I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.' But excusing says 'I see that you couldn't help it or didn't mean it, you weren't really to blame.' If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive…

If you had a perfect excuse you would not need forgiveness: if the whole of your action needs forgiveness then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call 'asking God's forgiveness' very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some 'extenuating circumstances'. We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don't cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. 

The next time you go to God in confession, I pray that you will be mindful of what you are doing. Are you seeking forgiveness or are you merely seeking to satisfy yourself with your own excuses?

Divine Transcendence

Several weeks ago, I wrote a series of blogs entitled "Naked and Hiding" about the fear of God. I almost hate to revisit that theme after doing a whole series on it, but I'm going to anyway!

Recently I've been reading through (again) A.W. Tozer's "Knowledge of the Holy." His chapter on divine transcendence has provided some insight for me on why "christian" people no longer fear God as the once did. Perhaps it is because we misunderstand the transcendence of God. You see, all of us would admit that God is transcendent, but when we say that what we mean is that he is the highest being in a succession of beings. For instance, on our scale we would probably have single-cell organisms on the very bottom, then just above that would be middle school students. As you continue to move up the scale you would probably have insects, then mammals, etc. Near the top, in our minds, are humans, then maybe angels, then (of course) at the top is God. The problem with this thinking, however, is that it places God on the same scale as us. Of course, he's at the top, but he's placed on the same scale nonetheless. Listen to what Tozer has to say about this.

We must not think of God as highest in ascending order of beings, starting with single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the animal to man to angel to cherub to God. This would be to grant God eminence, even pre-eminence but that is not enough; we must grant Him transcendence in the fullest meaning of that word. Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other in the scale of created things, are nevertheless one in that they are alike created. They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not-God and are separated from God by infinitude itself.

In order for us to regain an awe-inspired fear of God, we must regain a proper understanding of the transcendence of God. Listen to what Tozer says about the fear of the Lord.

When men no longer fear God, they transgress His laws without hesitation. The fear of consequences is no deterrent when the fear of God is gone. In olden days men of faith were said to "walk in the fear of God" and to "serve the Lord with fear." However intimate their communion with God, however bold their prayers, at the base of their religious life was the conception of God as awesome and dreadful. This idea of God transcendent runs through the whole Bible and gives color and tone to the character of the saints. This fear of God was more than a natural apprehension of danger; it was a nonrational dread, an acute feeling of personal insufficiency in the presence of God the Almighty. 

This week as you spend time with God and when you pray, may you have an appropriate understanding of the gulf that separates you from God. May you have a renewed vision of the transcendence of God. And may you find a renewed awe-inspired fear him when you find yourself in the presence of God the Almighty. 

God Is… Overwhelming in His Presence

Today, God has overwhelmed with the very magnitude of his being. First, he allowed me to feel and experience his presence in such a powerful way that I became inexplicably emotional. Then only a few moments later as I was studying and reading, he added knowledge to experience to help me begin (and only begin) to understand how it is that I experience him.

Regarding the omnipresence of God, Hildebert of Lavardin wrote:

 "God is over all things, under all things; outside all; within but not enclosed; without but not excluded; above but not raised up; below but not depressed; wholly above presiding; wholly beneath, sustaining; wholly within, filling." 

A.W. Tozer explained that this doctrine of the God's omnipresence is central to all other doctrine. In order for man to relate to God, at some point he must experience that "God is present, near him, next to him, and this God sees him and knows him through and through. At this point faith begins, and while it may go on to include a thousand other wonderful truths, these all refer back to the truth that God is, and God is here."

Tozer goes on to tell recount a story by Canon W. G. H. Holms of India:

[He] told of seeing Hindu worshipers tapping on trees and stones and whispering "Are you there? Are you there?" to the god they hoped might reside within. In complete humility the instructed Christian brings the answer to that question. God is indeed there. He is there as He is here and everywhere, not confined to the tree or stone, but free in the universe, near to everything, next to everyone, and through Jesus Christ immediately accessible to every loving heart."

For reasons unknown to me, today has been a time when God allowed me to experience him above, below, beside, and within. For me this morning, the doctrine of the omnipresence of God was not simply some grand theological concept, but a very basic and practical truth. I know that God exists. I've known that for a very long time, and my life belongs to him. But this morning, I experienced that God is, and God is here.

Dr. Allen Fleece said, "The knowledge that God is present is blessed, but to feel His presence is nothing less than sheer happiness." 

When is the last time you really and truly experienced God? Maybe it's time to get alone with God and simply ask him to allow you to experience his presence. God is here, near to you, and through Jesus Christ, he is immediately accessible if you will only open up your heart.

You’re either on mission, or you are the mission.

Lately, I've noticed that I've gotten a lot of similar comments from different people. Some of these comments have been leveled at me, while others have been leveled at other staff members at Journey. These comments (by the way, "comment" is just a polite way to say complaint in this context), vary in a lot of ways, but the gist of all of them is this: either myself, or another staff member, or all the staff have distanced ourselves, act differently toward, keep at arms length, or are just generally less available to the person who is making the comment.

When these comments have been leveled at me, here is how I have responded. "What do you mean? Don't you have my cell phone number?" (yes) "Have I avoided your phone calls or failed to call you back?" (no) "When you have asked for some of my time, have I ever told you I didn't have time? (no) "Have I ever failed to make time for you?" (no) "Do I avoid you when I see you at church?" (no) "So, I don't get it. What's the problem?" The answers at this point vary widely, but no one ever really has a solid answer to that question. So I shrug it off and move on, until the same scenario happens all over again with someone else.

I haven't been able to figure out what this was all about until this past weekend. I met a guy who came to Journey for the first time. I introduced myself, let him know who I was and chatted with him a little before the service. After the service was over, I connected with him again, wanting to know how he enjoyed the service, etc. We talked for a bit, and then I gave him my cell phone number and told him to call me sometime and we would go get coffee and hang out. He seemed genuinely appreciative and maybe even a little impressed that I gave out my number so readily and offered to hang out some time. It was after that conversation, that it dawned on me why I have been receiving these strange comments.

All of you who have made these comments to me were at one time in the shoes of the guy that I met this weekend. You were new to Journey, and I (or another staff member) was pursuing you offering to meet with, get coffee and hear your story. You see, we did this (and continue to do this) because we care about you and genuinely want to connect you with Jesus. When you first come through those doors of The Warehouse, we don't know who you are. We don't know what your story is. We don't know where you stand with Jesus, and our hearts desire, our mission, is to help you follow Jesus. So we pursue you and seek to help in any way that we can. You were the mission.

But here's the deal: at Journey, we fully expect that you are going to join in on the mission with us. We will NEVER turn inward. It's not about us. As a church, we exist only to further the mission, to reach more people and help them follow Jesus. Once you've been coming to Journey for awhile and begin to call Journey home and we know that you are following Jesus, you are no longer the mission. Yes, we still care about you. Yes, we still have time for you. Yes, we still want to walk alongside of you and continue to help you follow Jesus. But no, we are not pursuing you anymore. I will challenge you to try this: if you pursue me, I will always find time for you. I'm not too busy for you. But you are not the mission. You should be ON MISSION with us. You should be pursuing people who are new, giving them your number, offering to hang out with them, finding out their story, and seeking to help connect them with Jesus! You are either on mission or you are the mission. If you are no longer the mission, but you don't want to be on mission, then quite frankly, you probably need to find another church.

Recently, I heard a statement that might be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Someone said, "I get you're all about the mission, but I feel like you're too much about the mission. I feel like you focus too much on reaching people for Jesus and not enough on those of us who are already here at Journey."

I honestly, didn't even know now to respond to that. All I could think was, "Did you seriously just say that out loud? I mean, even if I ever felt that way, I would be too ashamed to actually say that out loud." 

Listen, if you're not the mission, then be on mission. Let's keep doing what God has called us to do. Let's help people follow Jesus. Let's make Jesus famous in Raleigh.

Naked and Hiding – Part 3 of 3

The presence of God can be a terrifying thing. How much more terrifying when we realize that we stand before him completely exposed and laid bare. Naked. There is nothing that we can hide from his all-seeing eyes. He knows every thought, every intention, every motive. 

Standing completely naked in front of someone is one of the most fearful things you can do. Today, the world has cheapened nudity and sex, making them commodities to consume. Even so, for just about everyone, one of the most frightful and scary things you can do is to stand naked before someone, waiting for that one person to accept you for who you are.

I was  a virgin when I got married, and I still remember how I felt on my wedding night (besides horny). For the first time in my adult life, I was going to stand before someone completely naked not attempting to hide anything. I remember how self-conscious I was because I had recently been through a surgery in a sensitive area that left a scar and changed the way my body looked. But as terrified as I was, I also remember feeling safe. I knew that the woman I married accepted me unconditionally and that she would never turn away from me or leave me. Marriage made it safe. That's why I don't understand the current mentality where people basically sleep with whomever they want. Sex has become more a part of the dating ritual rather than something to be experienced in the safety of marriage. Unconditional love and acceptance aren't even in the picture. True intimacy (as opposed to just sex) requires unconditional love and acceptance. I can be truly intimate with my wife because I know that there is nothing I could do that would make her leave me. She's in this thing for the long haul. Therefore, I'm uninhibited in my intimacy with her and she with me. Even sometimes today, true intimacy can be scary, but it's safe because of our relationship.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Scripture likens the relationship between Christ and the Church to the marriage relationship. The church is the bride of Christ. In the beginning, Adam and Eve had this perfect, uninhibited relationship with the God of the Universe, but sin screwed everything up. Once sin entered the picture, standing before God in his presence became a frightful thing. That relationship was marred, and all of history ever since has been about repairing and restoring that relationship. That's why Jesus came. And that's why we don't have to hide anymore. 

It's no less of a terrifying thing to stand before him knowing that we are completely exposed, but in Christ it's safe. If you are a follower of Jesus you are the bride of Christ. Your sin has been dealt with, forgiven, and forgotten. You are accepted unconditionally and there is nothing you can do that will make him turn away from you or forsake you. You are loved. You are accepted. It's time to come out of hiding.