Month: April 2015

“Prove it to me, God!”

Often I demand of God, in sneaky ways, “Prove it to me!”

Hear me out for a moment though. I’m not as concerned about God proving His power or His heart or His presence. I actually trust God in many of those ways; I’m awed by His power in nature, the mountains towering above, the winds whipping around, and the ocean seemingly endless in every direction, the stars beyond comprehension. I know He’s not just powerful and distant too, I know God is good. I know God is for me. I know that God is present with me. He’s proven Himself in all of those ways (not that He needed to).

What I question about God is His ability to effect me and to use me effectively. That’s where I have the least amount of faith. “Prove it to me God, that you can actually change me!” I know how stubborn I can be, because I know the hundreds of mixed motives and thoughts and emotions that swirl around in my brain. “Prove it to me God that you can use me for divine purposes!” I know how mundane my day to day really is. I know how lazy I long to be on Saturday afternoons. I know how frankly normal and imperfect just about everything I do really is.

It seems like a humble thing to trust God for everything and everybody else “out there” but then question his ability to work that same power and potential “in here.” It’s not humble, it’s actually a devastating distrust in the foundational character of God. Is He not omnipotent and omnipresent? Is He not at all times and in all ways working out the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose?

The fact is we are just closer to our own brain and own hearts; we know more about ourselves than we know about anyone else. Faith and trust in God, then, is most tested in our ability to have faith and trust that God can and will work in us and through us with all of His power and might.

Where are you trusting God to work in and through someone else’s life today, but are not able to give that same faith towards His work in your own life? With your parenting? Your outcomes at work? Your ability to be a great friend? Your project that you are working on? Your ability to overcome a sin in your life? To go after a goal? To experience a breakthrough?

Choose to put your faith in a God in whom all things are possible not only for others, but for yourself today.

Learning from North Charleston and Garissa, Kenya.

I can hardly scroll through the news feed on my phone or glance at the television images on repeat. The graphic violence, the body of a man with holes in his back, the strewn carnage in room after room of a university is sickening. Most of us are just the social media audience to these stories in our diseased world. But mothers and daughters and fathers and sons are waking up to these tragedies to find that they are not spectators, they have lost a loved one.

We will pray for those families and for their future. We will make appeals to policy makers to bring change to the madness. We will have a brief moment of sorrow, and we will move on.

But wait, for one moment, please.

We can blame terrorism and mental illness, extremism and broken upbringings, false religion and broken morals, all are at fault and so much more.

But the only way to pull a trigger and end a life is to already have done so in your heart. A killer sees no value in a person, and acts on that belief. Jesus gave a sermon on this once:

Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[Aramaic for contempt in the heart] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

The seed of contempt is in every one of us. It sprouts into accusing judgments of character (‘You Fool!) when we let it grow. It develops into a sapling of dismissal and then a tree of hatred and it ultimately bears the fruit of the enemy; division and ultimately death.

Proverbs 18:21 says that the tongue (our words) holds the power of death and life. Every time a disparaging word forms in our mind or heart we are handed a loaded gun and urged by the enemy to pull the trigger.

To peel back to the very baseline of what is broken in these news stories and to stop the violence, ultimately, this world must return to seeing holy, God-given value in every human being.   That starts with us. We must be on our guard, the same disease that is in the world, rests in you and me.

One way to fight back today is to speak words that build up. Always. Only. Ever, even to the people that bother us.  And let’s not fool ourselves; not all words come out of our mouths. The more dangerous, insidious ones stay hidden in the recesses of our hearts; festering, brewing, building, until the trigger is ready.

Let’s commit today to build others up, to see their worth through the eyes of the loving God who made them. What words in our heart or on the tip of our tongues can we confess so that we are bringers of life and never ones who tear hearts apart?

Are all things still really possible with God?

imageHe murdered a man. He ran. He hid. He walked away from his family. He grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth when the rest of his people grew up with leather whips splitting the skin on their backs. 40 years had gone by, Moses had drifted from the fine wines of Egypt to tending animals on frigid nights and sweltering days, never forgetting his irredeemable past.

That precious window of time in his young adult years, where he could have been useful for some divine purpose, had possibly closed. Now, he had kids, a job, memories of mistakes, talents that have long tarnished and gone dormant. He was past his prime. His fate of mediocrity was sealed.

I’ve been there. Thinking my mistakes, my missed opportunities from long ago, my lower metabolism, and heavy day-to-day responsibilities translate to a, “this is all there is for me” mentality. I’ll just have to live with the fact that my body is more broken, my dreams are more faded, and my potential is more limited than ever before. And that’s that. Have you been there too?

Until of course the Lord shows up with a call; a burning bush moment, the holy discontent* that turns into heavenly marching orders for Moses’ life.

Don’t miss Moses’ response to God in the burning bush the moment after God speaks. Exodus 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Have you heard these words from your heart too? “But God… who am I that I should go? Shouldn’t you be picking someone who hasn’t messed it all up before? Shouldn’t you be tapping someone on the shoulder younger, or more experienced or at least someone who didn’t run away already? Shouldn’t you pick someone who is better at faith than me? Someone with more achievements than me? Someone more gifted than me?”

The Lord’s response: Exodus 3:12 And God said “I will be with you…”

 God didn’t even give notice to the personal pity party! Instead, He only affirms the immoveable fact of His presence. There isn’t a mistake you or I or Moses has ever made that will invalidate us from God’s ability to use us, because He is with us! There isn’t any number of years that have passed which would cause you to be a bench sitter for God. There isn’t a memory of lost potential or fear of lack of possibility that could get in the way of God accomplishing what He wants through you and through me and through Moses.

The only roadblock to a burning bush life of Godly purpose is to think, “who am I?” and stop there. Change your thinking to “God is with me,” and get ready for the adventure. Yes, all is lost if all we think about is how lost we are, but with God, all things are possible, right?

Scripture References from the NIV

* The phrase “holy discontent” is borrowed from Bill Hybels

DON’T Start With Why. 2 backwards ideas that will save your fresh start attempts.

sprout

We’ve all been there; challenged to live out a new beginning. Maybe it was an inspiring biographical movie that left you thinking, “I need to get more out of my life.” Maybe it was a holiday church service that left you wanting less regret, more spiritual direction, and a deeper sense of purpose. Or maybe it was a mistake that blew up in your face, again. Enduring the consequences just isn’t worth it anymore; you know you can’t stay the same.

Whatever it is, the seeds of a new beginning are sprouting in your imagination. I’ve been there hundreds of times. I’ve watched some of those fresh starts turn into fruitful and fulfilling parts of my life. Not surprisingly, I’ve also watched many of those seeds whither away on the cracked soil of my discouraging failed attempts.

The problem is not that our aspirations are too low and our intentions aren’t genuine. The problem is not a lack of motivation or inherent personal weakness. Our new beginning attempts take a critical blow and can be destined to fail before we even begin because of one thing; idealism. Here’s what I mean:

Don’t Start With Why.  I know I know, “starting with why” is phenomenal advice. How else will we stay motivated when times get tough? We need the why, the reason, the hidden source of emotional fuel in our tanks? How else will we have unswerving clarity about what we do and how to do it?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to purify or even clarify my motives to the point of perfection; I’m a mixed bag. The only way I’ve learned to effectively start anything is to start with just enough why. Just enough reason and clear motivation for the first few steps. If you wait for the perfect why, you’ll be waiting again tomorrow.

DON’T Expect Great Things.  Again, I know, I know! We are supposed to aim for the stars and believe we can accomplish beyond our wildest imagination if we can just muster up the will. I’m not trying to discourage optimism here. However, every time I’ve taken a first step on the path to a fresh start, there have been no immediate lighting strikes, earthquakes, and Midas touch results.

Every seed I’ve ever planted in a garden was still covered in soil the next day; no green sprouts, no visible hope of dramatic change and unending potential. To get a new start that sticks, expect tiny results, which require difficult work with little initial payback. You don’t need great results and you don’t need to swing for the fences. You only need to swing.

The new beginning you are aiming for is absolutely worth it! Don’t wait for more crystal clarity, more purity of heart, or more promise of results. Just start in some small, very imperfect way today and return to the soil of imperfection again tomorrow.

Is This All There Is? [A Good Friday Reflection]

Dusk

I sat down in the driver’s seat letting out a deep exhale after that walk. It was just a short 60 meters from the Post Office window to the trunk of my car. I had transported a box, heavier than I expected, but not unmanageable, with a scuffed stamp that read “Cremation Remains.” I was bringing my dad home. Or at least what was left of him; and putting him into the trunk of my car until the memorial service.

I couldn’t get the worn image of his face, kind and tired, out of my mind as I put one foot in front of the other. I wanted to talk to him. Relieved his suffering was over, but still furious at the disease that stole the last decade of his life. The reality of carrying his remains was too much for me to handle, even with my leathery emotions. I dry heaved. I hyperventilated. He’s gone. Is this all there is?

The Gospel writers don’t provide you and me with much description about the Good Friday walk Joseph of Arimathea took while carrying the limp body of Jesus to his donated, stone tomb. Joseph, a man of stature and influence, had become a disciple of the rugged Rabbi Jesus. He had seen and heard enough to know that Jesus was worth following.

And yet, in those final moments, Joseph stood watching Jesus struggle for air on the brutal cross. He heard the strained final statement of Christ, “it is finished.” He gasped at the sight of Pilate’s soldier lancing the body of the One he followed; blood and water flowed into the earth.

Imagine what may have raced through Joseph’s mind on that journey with the corpse of Christ? “He’s gone. Is it really over? Can I never talk with Him again? See His warm face again? Is the hope He spoke of finished? Is this all there is?”

Those walks with corpses and remains are unforgettable. We literally hold the reality of death and despair in our hands. The light seemed to fade to dusk on the horizon of hope for Joseph. We often find ourselves in the same place.

Where in your life are you carrying a corpse right now: a dead hope, a love disintegrated, a dream faded beyond recognition, a faith long forgotten, or a sin that consumes?

Remember this on Good Friday: despair is a choice, your choice. Dusk and despair do not need to go hand in hand. Even in the midst of death, dawn will come. My dad, after a lifetime of wandering, trusted in Christ in his final year. Joseph loyally tended the body of Christ with just enough hope. Dawn came for him.

Will you today, give up despair in the dead areas of your life? Carry hope into the dusk you are facing. Dawn will always come.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again…” Jeremiah 31:3-4a