Regret

Since this morning’s sermon at The Church at Avenue South from Aaron Bryant, I’ve been thinking about the story of Joseph in the Old Testament a lot today. More specifically, my thoughts have been centered on Joseph’s brothers.

I’ve always wondered why it was that when his brothers came to Egypt to buy food during the famine that Joseph recognized them but none of them knew who he was.

I realize that he was probably dressed in Egyptian garb and would  have had his hair and beard styled in the Egyptian fashions of that time.

I wonder if one of the reasons he was able to spot them was that they were still stuck in that moment when they made the horrible decision to sell him into slavery over 13 years ago.

Some of you reading this are still stuck in the past. You’re frozen in time in the moment when a relative hurt you or a friend betrayed you or a spouse deserted you. You haven’t been able to move past that moment in time.

Joseph had moved on, both literally and figuratively. By the time his brothers showed up, he had been though slavery, false accusations, imprisonment, and later exaltation. He had seen how God was with him through it all.

He was able to see at the end how God used what his brothers had meant for evil and turned it into something good. In fact, God used what was done to Joseph to set up the salvation of an entire nation in the making.

You come to the place where you release the hurt and pain done to you when you realize how God has redeemed it. When you’re able to forgive those who wounded you, you open the door to the prison and find out that it’s you that you’re setting free.

God still works all things together for good– even the bad and hard things– and that includes your story. That doesn’t excuse what people have done to you and it doesn’t lessen the pain, but it does mean that your wounds and scars are not the end of the story. God has a way of redeeming and restoring what was taken from you and giving you something so much better in return.

 

 

What I Love on a Friday Night

The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten” (John 1:9-13).

I love how through following Jesus and dying to self you find your true self.

I love how the best expression of who we are and what we were made for is to be a “child-of-God” self.

I love how it all starts and ends with God, not me.

I love that because God started and will end it, I can rest assured that the end is already as good as done and I don’t have to fret that I will somehow screw it up.

I love how no one who ever truly wants to find God and know Jesus will ever be disappointed for all find what they truly seek.

There are lots of things I love about this passage, but those are a few.

Most of all, I love how God’s got me right where He wants me even when I have no idea of where I am or where I’m going and I can ultimately trust Him more than what I can see or feel.

 

God Can Do Anything 

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Repeat after me: God can do anything.

Repeat it again: God can do anything.

Once more with feeling: God can do anything.

Got that?

Nothing is impossible for God. Nothing. And your circumstances are not the exception to the rule. You are not the odd man out, the freak that God looks at and says, “I can’t do anything with this one.”

No matter what you’re facing, God is stronger. No matter how dark it gets, God can still see you. No matter how long it seems to take, God has not stopped working.

I remind you yet again of what a pastor said: “What seems impossible to us is not even remotely difficult for God.”

If God can create the universe in seven days, then He can create order out of your chaos.

If God brought Jesus back from the dead, then He can resurrect the ashes of your dreams into something far more glorious and beautiful than you ever dreamed possible.

If God loved you enough to save you at your worst, what makes you think He will stop loving you now?

Don’t trust your feelings. They lie. Anything and everything affects them, from eating too much spicy food to way too much caffeine late at night.

Make this your mantra: God works all things together for those whom He loves.

Even when your feelings, your senses, your intuition tells you other wise, this is still true. It will always be true.

 

Happy 5th of July!

Due to thunderstorms that prevailed over Middle Tennessee yesterday, I got to see fireworks on the 5th of July. They were great.

They actually were. From where I was seated, I felt like I was right underneath all the colorful explosions, like a canopy of color.

I realize that the 5th of July isn’t an actual holiday, but it should be. We as Americans shouldn’t choose to celebrate freedom only one day a year and then take it for granted the other 364 days (365 on those oddball leap years).

Freedom is precious. It may be free to you and me, but it wasn’t free. Somebody paid for it.

Men and women paid for it with their sacrifice of time and service, blood and (sometimes) their very lives. They died so we could have the freedoms we take for granted.

Ultimately, all freedom comes from the Ultimate Sacrifice, Jesus who paid the supreme cost so that you and I wouldn’t have to be slaves to sin but could find true freedom and abundant life.

That’s a freedom that no one should ever take for granted. I hope I never do.

On a side note, I remember how scared I was of fireworks as a kid. Actually, I was scared of loud noises. Now that I realize how there was nothing really to be scared of, I can enjoy fireworks so much more.

Do you think maybe that could extend to fears other than those of fireworks and loud noises? I think so.

 

 

Long Journey Home

“We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God- which is another way of saying that all our seeking will fall short unless God starts and finishes the search. The decisive part of our seeking is not our human ascent to God, but His descent to us. Without God’s descent there is no human ascent. The secret of the quest lies not in our brilliance but in His grace” (Os Guinness, Long Journey Home).

That’s it.

It’s not that I found Jesus. As one pastor I know always puts it, it’s not Jesus who was lost. I was. Jesus found me.

It may sound like semantics to you, but I think it’s important to know the difference.

Salvation is all God. It’s not like I was smart enough to figure it out or brave enough to seek it out. If God hadn’t sought me out first, I never would have sought Him in the first place.

That’s humbling. I can take no credit whatsoever for my being saved. It is all of grace.

That’s also good news. It means that if it’s not up to human efforts or human goodness, then anyone can find it (or better yet, anyone can be found). There’s no such thing as too lost, too far gone, too out of reach for God.

That helps when you’re praying for a son or a daughter, a brother or sister, a mother or father who seems hopelessly unreachable. It helps when you have a friend who seems bent on self-destructing and won’t let you help.

There are countless stories of those whom the world had basically given up on that God saved. The best example is the Apostle Paul. Maybe the next one will be someone you love. Maybe the next one will be you.

 

Four Gardens

I heard something new today, so I can’t take credit for any of what follows. It all involves four gardens.

The first garden was the Garden of Eden where it all went horribly wrong for all of us. Adam and Eve both ate of that dratted fruit. It doesn’t matter what kind of fruit it was or who ate first. The simple fact that out of every tree in that garden (and there must have been plenty), they chose the one tree God asked them not to eat from.

We’ve been like that ever since. Ever see a “Don’t step on the grass” sign? What’s the first impulse you have when you see that? I rest my case.

The second garden was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus chose the cross. I know it was His destiny from the beginning and He knew all along that Calvary was His destination, but here is where the temptation to bail was strongest and here is where Jesus prevailed against such a temptation.

The third garden was the Garden of the Tomb. When Mary first saw Jesus, she thought He was the gardener. So it follows there was a garden. Here is where everything wrong was made right. Here is where Jesus’ victory was confirmed and forever validated.

The final garden is in Revelation 22. There you find a very familiar tree, the tree of life, planted by a river and located in the City of God. Here instead of a forbidding commandment is an invitation to come and partake.

Oh, and there’s the whole fruit of the Spirit thing, too.

I love how God doesn’t miss any details. Everything that was lost in the first garden gets found in the last one. Nothing that is good and pure and true is ever truly lost, but God finds a way to redeem it back.

Just Ask

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” (Luke 11:13 MSG).

I wonder how many times I’ve used prayer as a last resort.

How many times have I obsessively worried about something and tried to figure out ways of handling it myself and it never even dawned on me to pray about it?

You’d think for as long as I’ve been a believer that I’d be quicker to prayer than I am.

I’m guessing you feel the same way.

I think it points to a lack of faith. It says that I really don’t believe that God can handle my problem. Oh sure, He can deal with everyone else’s issues but for some reason in my own mind, my circumstances are different.

I look at it this way. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, He can handle pretty much anything I’m ever going to throw at Him. He’s not going to be shocked or surprised at the needs I lay before Him.

I keep up with Ann Voskamp, a fantastic writer who also happens to put some of the best posts out there on social media. She usually ends them with the hashtag #preachingthegospeltomyself. For those who are unskilled in reading hashtag-ese, that means “preaching the gospel to myself.”

A lot of what I write is me reminding myself of what I already know. Scratch that. Nearly all of what I write is me preaching to myself and stirring memories of times before when God was faithful.

All it takes is the tiniest yielding, the most hesitant agreements, and God can show up and do what He does best– amaze.

 

Peter, Peter, Peter

 “As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. ‘A ghost!’ they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. ‘Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.’

Peter, suddenly bold, said, ‘Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.’

He said, ‘Come ahead.’

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, ‘Master, save me!’

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, ‘Faint-heart, what got into you?’

The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, ‘This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!'” (Matthew 14:22-33, The Message).

I’ve been thinking about Peter, the disciple with the chronic case of foot-in-mouth disease. He got into trouble by saying things and acting out without really thinking it through. Not that any of us can relate, right?

He often gets a bad rap for the whole sinking bit. After Jesus calls him to walk on water, he gets so far out and sees the waves and panics and . . . . down he goes. Only a fast-acting Jesus keeps Peter from sleeping with the fishes. Literally.

But for a moment or two, Peter walked on water. Other than Jesus Himself, Peter is the only other in history who can make that claim.

While it’s easy to chide Peter for taking his eyes off Jesus, you have to give him kudos for getting out of the boat in the first place. After all, there were eleven other disciples who stayed put.

Peter left everything he knew, everything that was comfortable, and everything that made sense in that moment to come to where Jesus was. To me, failure would have been Peter staying in the boat and saying, “No thanks, Jesus. I’m fine. Really.”

I can relate to the other disciples. It’s easy to stay in the boat and criticize the ones who try to get out and do something. It’s easy to sit where you have something tangible to hold onto in the middle of raging waves.

But that kind of faith never gets you anywhere. It’s the faith that takes risks, that takes that step of faith out into the scary unknown, that leads us to where Jesus is. That’s the faith that takes us to places where we see the impossible becoming reality.

Lord, I want that kind of faith that Peter had in that moment. I want to step out of the boat, get my feet wet, and make fool of myself if it will help get me a little closer to You.

Amen.

 

Absolutely Positively Definitely Maybe

Definitely-Maybe-2008-movie-quote

“That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens” (Romans 8:18-21, The Message).

Such a great moment in the movie. I’ve actually owned Definitely, Maybe for a while and just now got around to watching it (one of the few perks of being without a job).

I love that line because it reminds me so much of God and the Story He is writing. And I do so love stories, especially when they’re well-told and have happy endings.

I know that ultimately God’s Story is about God, as it should be, but one of the very happy side effects is you and me finding redemption and freedom and abundant life. Because of God’s Story, you and I have a Story that we get to share. Because of God’s Story, we know that our Story will always have a happy ending because God has written it already. I read the last page of the book and I know that it’s good.

It’s hard to remember that when the Story seems headed for tragedy or when the current chapter seems like it will never end and circumstances will never change or get better. It’s hard to see that happy ending when you’re wondering how you’ll pay the bills or make your struggling marriage work or find that job that makes you come alive.

As I’ve learned in reading books, you don’t put down the book when the characters run into hard times. You keep going with the hope that those struggles will lead to something better. As Corrie Ten Boom says, you don’t jump off the train when it goes through a dark tunnel. You trust the Engineer to get you through.

I don’t want to be that guy who says things like, “Hold on, it will get better” or “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” When you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or discouragement, bumper sticker quotes don’t really do the trick.

You need to know that God is still faithful to His promises. You need to know that the same Jesus who conquered death and the grave can conquer your circumstances. You need to know that He will finish what He started in you because He said He would.

That’s a happy ending.