Month: April 2017

You talking to me?

Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (Luke 12:1b-3)

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It’s easy for me to read today’s verses and say “Ha! Jesus is talking about the Pharisees. I am no Pharisee! But, I can sure think of some other people that do need to hear this!”

However, a good rule of Bible interpretation is that rarely, if ever, does scripture give us the luxury of relaxing with a self-satisfied smirk as we bask in the feeling of security that our own moral superiority gives us!

So, I need to back off and ask the question that Travis Bickle did in Taxi Driver “You talking to me?” And to that question I might add: “You mean my secret stuff?”

Yes, there is no thought, action or attitude I have that God does not hear or know about.

Now, that truth used to seem rather ominous to me: that one day I would be confronted with a videotape of all I thought I could get away with! But there’s been a change in how I look at it. I no longer want to push the edge of what I can get away with before it gets recorded on the tape.  This is partly due to fear and awe of God, but even more from sensing something wonderful about how God’s love works.

Psalm 139 sums this up beautifully:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.     (verses23-24)

This Psalm shows that God is highly benevolent and loving, not a gotcha judge. Indeed, he loves us too much to let us stay where we are at, so he wants to lovingly correct when we have thoughts, feelings and actions that don’t match his will.

So, while it can be painful, I am learning to welcome it when God disciplines and corrects me.

When darkness comes and you don’t know why

All this came upon us,
   though we had not forgotten you;
   we had not been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
   our feet had not strayed from your path. (Psalm 44:17-18)

I often go on a morning run. Sometimes I can’t do this until later in the morning. But I am not able to have coffee until my run is complete. So, as my day begins caffeine free, I can feel a little sluggish or unmotivated or even have shockingly negative feelings and attitudes..… Then I need to pray and be reminded that God is still a caring God even if I don’t strongly feel God’s care.

Today, in Psalm 44, the Psalmist has an important message for us. It’s to reflect on all that we know is good about God, that we know is true outside of what we are  feeling.

On a bad day, it’s human nature to want to dwell on our struggle first. “I feel so bad. Why me?”  But that is not at all what the Psalmist does. No, he begins with proclaiming many good things about who God is. What God has done. And how praiseworthy God is.

In the first 8 verses, he talks about how it’s God who gave and gives the victory over enemies —it was God’s power doing it because he loved them. This section reaches a great climax in verse 8:

In God we make our boast all day long,
 and we will praise your name forever.

Unlike what I often do, it is then and only then, after a full acknowledgement of God’s power and past help, that you hear the Psalmist’s lament.  Only now does he pour out the sadness in his heart.

But now you have rejected and humbled us;
    you no longer go out with our armies. (verse 9) 

He is finally saying, “Hey, what did we do wrong? We are walking strong in loving obedience to you, Lord.  We’re not being rebellious! What happened?”

 All this came upon us,
 though we had not forgotten you;
 we had not been false to your covenant. (verse 17)

The low point of the Psalm is reached in verse 19:

 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
    you covered us over with deep darkness.

Isn’t this the hardest time to trust the Lord? We’re feeling so far from him. It may be due to trying circumstances in our life, or opposition we are facing. Or we feel far from him for no apparent reason.

Sometimes this darkness even happens when we know we are spending lots of time and energy working especially hard for the Lord; we may be seized by a feeling of futility, wondering whether God is using our lives to cause any good results in other people’s lives.

Whatever the cause, we’ve entered an emotional state where we feel far away from God …. we long and plead for his closeness to be restored.

So, the Psalmist arrives at a beautiful conclusion: no matter how dark things appear, this darkness is only a temporary state of affairs.    

 Rise up and help us;
 rescue us because of your unfailing love. (verse 26)

I conclude today with three prayers for us to bring before the Lord:

  • Show us more of your unfailing love.
  • Let your unfailing love give us hope even in times of oppression and depression.
  • Show us that your promise of rescue is true, even when we don’t feel that it’s true.

From Fog to Sunshine

For  God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

On a recent morning, my home in the valley was enveloped in thick fog. I planned to go for a run in Mountain Lakes. Its elevation is several hundred feet higher than where I live. To get there, I first drove  uphill through the town of Boonton. As I climbed in altitude, suddenly I left the fog and burst into bright sunshine. All the scenery that was hidden from my view suddenly became bright and clear and filled with color!

My climbing out of the fog illustrates two different things about how we relate to Christ. First, before we knew Christ in the first place, we were walking around with scales in our eyes.  God unblinded us and had the scales fall from our eyes to invite us in to believe in Christ. Before the apostle Paul got baptized, when he was still called Saul, he was temporarily blinded after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus—and then:

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. (Acts 9:18)

Second, once we have decided for Christ, we still have remaining sin and deception in our lives. Often, this kind of deceptive sin is something we are not even aware of. (Even if it is obvious to everyone else!)  I am praying for someone who has an attitude that subtly puts people down.  No one even dares to mention it any longer, knowing how defensive this person is: “What gives you the right to say that and judge me!” But at the right time, God will bring them out of their fog and they will say, “Yes, Lord, you are right.” Then, they will have the beautiful experience of seeing how God’s sunlight replaces the fog as the scales fall from their eyes.

Just as it was for Paul, scales in our eyes are only temporary. It is wonderful when God causes them to fall! I know I have plenty of them left and most likely you have some too. Let’s pray that we both get freed from them.  Then, like when I climbed the hill into Boonton, something that was hidden from our view suddenly becomes bright and clear and filled with the light of the knowledge of God’s glory.

Little Faith ?

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”                                                                               He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. (Matthew 8:23-26)

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A certain family wanted a good guard dog and they came upon a picture of a Siberian Husky. “What a fierce looking dog!” they said. “And full grown he can give us up to 60 pounds of ferocity. We have faith that our new pup will grow up to be a good guard dog for us; we’ll name him Myka.”

But as their pup grew, they were shocked to see how, instead of being suspicious and aggressive towards strangers, Myka was good natured and welcomed strangers. He wanted to play with them. Some guard dog!

We can’t say that the family did not have “enough” faith in Myka.  Rather, this family’s faith was based on a flawed understanding of what a Siberian Husky is really like.

Similarly, we can’t say that the disciples did not have “enough” faith in Jesus, but, just as the Husky owners had a flawed understanding of who Myka was, the disciples had a flawed understanding of who Jesus really was.

The disciples may have believed Jesus was a great guy and a good teacher who would say challenging, provocative and enigmatic things. But they did not understand that he was actually the Lord of creation who had authority over creation. Instead of being terrified by the storm, they needed to see that Jesus was Lord over the storm. They had the opposite problem of Myka’s owners : Myka’s owners did not understand how little Myka could protect them from danger; and Jesus’ disciples did not understand how much Jesus could protect them from danger.

Thankfully, Jesus was, and is, patient and compassionate when people have flawed faith. Think how compassionate Jesus was with the father who found it hard to believe that Jesus could heal his son. The passage begins with the father’s request:

But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”                                                                                                        “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”                                        Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24).

Jesus will help you overcome your unbelief too, if you ask.Do you believe that Jesus is the Lord who saves us from sin and death? If you don’t, ask him for the faith to believe.

Do you have an area of life where it’s difficult to believe Jesus? In this difficult zone, ask him to help your unbelief.  Sometimes he will resolve the difficult situation exactly the way you want, but that is not guaranteed. It is guaranteed, however, that Jesus will alleviate the worry and doubt you may have in the situation. Do ask him!

“I’m F.I.N.E.”

 “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (Psalm 32:3)

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How easy it is to glibly say “I’m fine” when someone asks, “How are you doing?”

In today’s blog, you and I are prohibited from saying “I’m fine” unless it means we are Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic and Exhausted. 1

Years ago, I learned a lesson from a good brother in Christ when I did not glibly say “I’m fine” when he asked me “Why are you in despair?”  That opened a chance to deal with the issues and frustrations I faced back then as a single man. There were no quick answers, but it was one step forward in a growing process that takes a lot of time—years later, it’s not done yet  and won’t be completed this side of glory! But if I had only smiled on the outside and said, “I’m fine” the chance to grow would have been choked off in a stranglehold.

Even now, it is still a temptation to slip back into quickly saying “I’m fine” again. Writing this post is a reminder for me and an encourager for you. As the Psalmist said, there’s no need to keep silent and groan. We do need someone we can trust enough to be open with when we are Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic and Exhausted!  Someone who does not say “Oh, come now! You’re a Christian! You shouldn’t be feeling and reacting that way!” Then we can have a culture of vulnerability, and ask people, and have them ask us, “How are you really doing?”

What a refreshing change—from projecting an image of what you think a godly Christian should  be like—to showing your real self and being able to grow into what a godly Christian is really  like.