That’s What He Said

 

“How are we to think about Jesus’s presence today? No doubt volumes could be written on that question, and have been. But the simple fact is that Jesus Christ is present in this world, the only world we have, and in many ways. His teachings, even mangled and broken, have an incredible power to disrupt human systems, including the ones that claim to own him. He is the misfit and thus is available to all who would seek him. His crucifixion and resurrection announce the end of human systems and stand in judgment over them. He is the man on the cross calling us to join him there. He makes himself available to individuals who hear of him and seek him. In many forms both inside and outside the church, with its traditions, symbolisms, and literature, he is simply here among us. He is in his people, but he does not allow himself to be boxed in by them. He calls to us by just being here in our midst. There is nothing like him. The people in the churches also have the option of finding him and following him into his kingdom, though that may rarely be what they are doing.

For many today who think of themselves as educated, historical studies and ‘higher criticism’—perhaps something they call a ‘scientific’ outlook—have made the person and teachings of Jesus problematic. From where they start, he seems a questionable resource for actually living their lives. He may become for them a scholarly football to kick around or to ignore. But he does not go away. In spite of all, he himself is still available in this world, and beyond all historical issues and confusions there stands a strong if somewhat hazy impression of what he stood for. To come to know him and to clarify who he really is, people have only to stand for what he stood for, as best they can, and to do so by inviting him to take their life into his life and walk with them. If they do just this with humility and openness—which everyone knows to be his manner of life—they will know him more and more as they take his life to be their life. In this way they do not have to ‘know’ at the start. It is enough to venture in the kingdom of God and its King. ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2:21)” (Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge).

Wow. I do believe that says it all.

 

Known Only to Him

“You are still a promise, the heartbeat of God.
You may have forgotten, but He has not.
You are not your ashes, you are a flame.
Do not ask the shadows, the light of the world knows,
Knows your name” (Nicole Nordeman,  Name).

I find it fascinating that out of all the people in all the parables that Jesus told during His earthly ministry, He only gives one of them a name — Lazarus.

Lazarus is probably the one we’d be most likely to pass by while looking the other way. He was a beggar dressed in rags with open sores that the dogs would lick. He was longing for even the crumbs that fell off the table of the unnamed rich man.

The rich man is probably someone we’d hold up as the example to follow with his acute sense of business and wise investment portfolios. He’d be the hero in most of our stories. Obviously, our idea of blessed is quite different than Jesus’.

Lazarus dies, probably from his illness, and goes to paradise. I believe it was for a simple faith that persevered in the midst of great suffering and want. I like to think that Lazarus never wavered in his faith in the goodness of God and believed wholeheartedly that God would set all things right.

The rich man was the first century equivalent of Forbes’ 50 richest people, one whose name everybody probably recognized. Yet it takes him dying and going to Hades before he shows concern for anyone else but himself (see the NIV Study Bible notes on Luke 16:28). His neglect of Lazarus who sat right outside his gates is telling of what kind of man he was. But God remembered Lazarus.

If God knew the name of Lazarus, He surely knows your name. You are indeed not forgotten. You are still heir to the promise God made to you long ago, even if you have forgotten it.

The Light of the World still knows your name.

 

 

 

Grace for Today

“My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves
you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because
nobody is as they should be. It is the message of grace…A grace
that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages
as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five…A grace that
hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking
of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands,
or buts…This grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without
asking anything of us…Grace is sufficient even though we huff and
puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot
cover. Grace is enough…Jesus is enough” (Brennan Manning, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir)

I had a decent sort of day. Not fantastic. Not horrible. Just decent.

On days like these, I need the grace of God.

I’ve had days where everything goes wrong and I have two left feet and I can barely remember my own name.

On those days, I need the grace of God.

I’ve also had days where all the traffic lights were green and I got the coffee/creamer mix just right and I was in rare form at work.

On those days, I need the grace of God.

There’s not a day that will ever go by where I don’t need grace.

My advice for those of you reading this. You need grace every day, so give grace every day.

Social media these days is filled with vindictiveness and spiteful words, mostly along the lines of my side is right, therefore yours must be evil and wrong and stupid.

Buck the trend by showing and giving grace to everyone, even those on the other side of the political aisle who say things you don’t agree with.

Give grace because you may one day need it from someone else.

Give grace because you have already received it in abundance from the God of all Grace.

I love grace because it comes to me when I don’t deserve it and is always more than I expected and always leaves me better than when it found me.

That’s God’s way. That’s grace.

 

Dealing with Spiritual Warfare

I have some friends that are in the midst of some heavy spiritual warfare. I (and probably a lot of you) have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

I can’t say it was a pleasant experience. It was anything but. Looking back, I’ve found a few nuggets of wisdom that helped me to get through that dark night of the soul.

First of all, make Zephaniah 3:17 your mantra. Read it as often as you can in as many translations as you can. Write it down and post it in as many places as you’re liable to go  during the day. Memorize it. Let every word of that verse sink in deeply and meditate on the fact that God is speaking those words directly to you.

Next, I recommend praying out loud. I for one am normally not one to pray out loud when I’m alone. It feels strange and awkward. But there’s something about declaring with your voice the blood of Jesus and claiming the victory He’s won over the spiritual foes you’re facing.

I personally tend to shy away from prayers about how I’m going to take down the devil myself. I think of that verse where even in the book of Jude the archangel Michael didn’t confront the devil head-on, but instead said “The Lord rebuke you.” I know that by myself I am no match for Satan but under the protection of the blood and the name of Jesus, Satan has no power over me whatsoever.

Finally, I’d say to surround yourself with people who will encourage you, who will speak life into your darkness, who will pray unceasingly for you and be strong for you when you are weak. People who will gently correct you when you’re tempted to believe your overwhelming feelings above God’s promises.

I want to remind you that God is faithful even now when it seems like He’s a million miles away. God can take even this dark and dry season and turn it into something more than worth any struggle and pain.

God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good.

John 3:16

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT).

Anybody remember that guy with the rainbow colored afro who used to hold up the John 3:16 signs at sporting events? I do.

Some of you reading this may not be old enough to remember him, but you’re at least familiar with the verse. Perhaps too familiar. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve heard these words so many times that you’ve almost stopped listening to them.

I think I heard them in a fresh new way today at Room in the Inn when the guest speaker chose that as the theme of his message to the homeless men.

“For God . . .” Every great story begins with God. Every story of hope and redemption, every story where good overcomes evil, begins with God.

“For God loved . . .” If your God is known more for what He hates and what He is against rather than what He loves and what He is for, perhaps you’re serving a god instead of God. The defining verse about the God of the bible starts out with “For God so loved . . .”

“For God loved the world . . .” God doesn’t just love white Republicans. God doesn’t just love Americans. God doesn’t just love religious people. God doesn’t just love “successful” people with the perfect resumes and perfect lives.

“For God loved the world  so much that He gave . . .” True love always involves sacrifice. The epitome and the ultimate example of sacrificial love is God giving us Jesus both to live and to die for us.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone . . .” Salvation is for everyone. Not just a select few. Not just for some. Not for those who deserve it (because none of us do). It’s for anyone who asks for it. It’s for you and me.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes . . .” Sometimes, faith gets overcomplicated. Sometimes faith gets reduced to pithy bumper sticker slogans. Faith is simple yet profound. It costs nothing yet it is priceless. Faith means believing not just with your heart or your mind but with your whole life.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

That’s it. You don’t have to perish. You have the choice of eternal life. Not just a future pie in the sky by and by kind of life, but real and robust life to the full right here and now. God will always respect the decision you make, whether for Him or not.

The choice is yours. What will you do with it?

 

Severe Mercies

I survived a wreck today.

Actually, that makes it sound much worse that it really was.

I was in a three-car fender-bender where the car behind me got hit from behind and ended up bumping into me.

I ended up with a dinged-up bumper and some shaky nerves.

It could have been so much worse.

I often wonder why God allows His people to go through dark valleys of suffering.

I know that the world we live in is broken and all of creation is affected by the fall and original sin. Plus, there’s that little matter of free will.

I also know that sometimes it takes a little pain to get our attention and remind us that our lives are about more than just us and our pleasure.

I believe that there are some precious truths and lessons that can be learned no other way than going through the dark night of the soul.

We find true community when we come together to share each others burdens and be strong for the ones who can’t be strong for themselves.

I still believe that there is no situation any of us will ever go through that is so dire where we cannot discover small blessings and at least something to be thankful for.

The Psalmist said that even in the deepest and darkest valley he would ever walk through, the Shepherd was with him.

There is nothing that will ever come against the child of God that Jesus has not already faced and defeated once and for all on that Cross of Calvary. Nothing.

That means that any trial is temporary and any affliction is fleeing and momentary.

You can survive just about anything if you can see beyond it to something better. Even Jesus endured the cross, knowing the joy that awaited Him on the other side.

Ultimately, I still believe that every day I wake up is grace and everything beyond that is gravy and there are a multitude of blessings and gifts to be found along the way with those who see with eyes of faith.

 

 

Keeping Vigil

“There is a difference between waiting and keeping vigil. Anxious, fretful, impatient waiting is nothing more than waiting. Waiting with purpose, patience, hope, and love is vigilant waiting. Would that all of our waiting could be a vigil–a watch in the night or in the day hours. So by all means, find a way to make your vigils sacred. Learn the art of holy waiting. Whether you choose, on occasion, to get up in the middle of night, or whether you make an effort to turn your everyday moments of waiting in sacred vigils rather than impatient pacing, you will be blessed through this spiritual practice” (Macrina  Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day).

The difference between waiting and keeping vigil is expectation. Simply waiting is assuming the worst, while keeping vigil is holding out hope for God’s best. Waiting fixates on hoping the circumstance will change, while keeping vigil is knowing that you will be the one to change (and trusting that God will do the changing).

Keeping vigil is waiting intentionally. Instead of being idle or unfocused, we are using the time to pray about the matter and create spaces in which God can move and speak.

I’ve learned through time spent waiting that it’s better not to pin my hopes on a certain desired outcome (that job offer or that certain someone to like you or that package in the mail), but rather to put my confidence in God who sees a much bigger picture than I do and has a much more vast plan in mind than I can currently conceive.

“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is ‘timing’
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way” (Fulton J. Sheen).

 

 

Thinking About Joseph

My church, The Church at Avenue South, started a new series on the character Joseph from the book of Genesis (along with all the other campuses of Brentwood Baptist Church).

It’s a very familiar story that I’ve heard literally all my life, yet there are new lessons I can learn from the story about how God redeemed one man’s misfortune to bless and save an entire nation.

Joseph didn’t start out so well. He had dreams about being in power over his father and brothers. His decision to tell his father and brothers about these particular dreams was not a wise one. He choose rather poorly.

Can anyone else relate? I know I can. There have been seasons in my life where I’ve been poor decision-prone and where I kept sticking my foot in my mouth in conversations.

The good news is that God is for all the Josephs of the world, even during those seasons of poor decision making. There’s not a mistake or even a fiasco that God can’t redeem and turn into good in the grander scheme of His unfolding story.

Like I said before, God took every negative from Joseph’s life and used it toward His purpose of saving a family and a nation through which would later come a Savior who would save people from every ethnic group and nation.

Did that excuse Joseph’s initial arrogance? No. Will it excuse mine? No. Will it defeat God’s purposes for me and for the world around me in which I live, work, and play? No.

I am never given an excuse for disobedience, but at the same time, God can take my bad decisions and weave even those into His overall redemptive plan. While my sin will still have consequences, it doesn’t have to mean the end of my story or God’s plans for me.

God is stronger than my weaknesses and my fears. I don’t have to be perfect to be useable. I just have to be available and willing.

 

 

Still Waiting for My Inevitable Stardom to Take Effect

I’m closing in on the sixth anniversary of my first ever blog (ta-da!) and this is my 2,155th post since then. As I write it, I’m in bed with a very sleepy and very geriatric cat on the pillow next to me. I feel everyone should have at least one geriatric cat but maybe that’s just me.

It’s not even officially summer and I’m already sweating almost non-stop. I love living in the South with the one notable exception of all the humidity. For those of us with curly hair, the struggle is real. I understand that the wonderful mix of heat and humidity will probably be like the house guest who overstays his welcome (or until some time in mid-October).

I still entertain notions that one day my little blog will blow up and my views will skyrocket into the millions (or more realistically, the hundreds). Given my eccentricities and my tendency to blog about random things, I know not to hold my breath. Still, a guy can dream, right?

For those living with deferred dreams, don’t give up. God’s timetable is not yours and He never does anything until the moment is perfect and the person is ready. Remember that if you’re still waiting, it’s because what you’re waiting for is bigger than  you can handle at the present.

Remember above all that God alone is sufficient. Often, He makes us wait because He wants us to cherish the Giver as much as the gifts. He wants us to be completely satisfied with Him alone, with or without the gifts.

Stop defining yourself by your marital status or your job title or your paycheck. That’s not ultimately who you are. You are first and foremost what God your Maker says you are– and that definition is Beloved. You are still God’s Beloved.

 

My Prayer for You

 “It is for this reason that I bow my knees before the Father, after whom all families in heaven above and on earth below receive their names, and pray:

Father, out of Your honorable and glorious riches, strengthen Your people. Fill their souls with the power of Your Spirit so that through faith the Anointed One will reside in their hearts. May love be the rich soil where their lives take root. May it be the bedrock where their lives are founded so that together with all of Your people they will have the power to understand that the love of the Anointed is infinitely long, wide, high, and deep, surpassing everything anyone previously experienced. God, may Your fullness flood through their entire beings” (Ephesians 3:14-19, The Voice).

This is my prayer for all of you tonight, as originally prayed by the Apostle Paul.