Untangled

The last thing any of us like to see is pile of jewelry all tangled up together into one big glob with all the pieces practically indistinguishable from each other. We look at all the knots and twists and turns, and we’re ready to give up before we’ve ever started. What was beautiful has somehow morphed into an absolute disaster, one nerve away from a trip to the garbage can.  HEEEEEELLLP!! Usually, someone with a lot of patience and some time can salvage the jewelry fiasco. But what about our lives?

I remember a time when I looked at my life, and I seriously doubted that it could ever be “untangled.” I had made such a mess of things. Potential and promise had been destroyed. The years of pain and addiction had wound around me, extended into the lives of my family and friends, and insinuated its chains into every facet of my world. One giant knot of hurt. I hated the sound of my own voice and doubted that God could or even would  help. Hopelessness.

I began to cry out to the Lord, desperate pleas to a God I thought I knew:

 God please, just get me right and then kill me before I can screw it up again! I don’t care what it takes; put me in prison, give me cancer, please just somehow get through to me! Jesus, I want to know you, not what they told me you were like, but YOU!!

He heard my cry. And with great love and patience and care and mercy he began the process of untangling all the knots- healing, restoration, and reconciliation. He saved me, and he’s still saving me today. Salvation! God, taking our death and giving us his life, untangling it all in Jesus. HOPE.

You have not gone too far.

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When The Sun & Moon Speak

Yesterday, as we all watched the Eclipse together from different places across the country, as we all stared with wonder at the moment of Totality, something really wonderful happened. Magically (or so it may have seemed), all hostilities ceased, protests abruptly came to a halt, and we didn’t care about the color of the person’s skin who stood or sat next to us. As one were simply amazed. Watching some of the news coverage after the event, people said that they had cried not really knowing why and that they had felt a peace and oneness with everyone and everything. All eyes were fixed on the heavens, and somehow we knew there was MORE and that we  wanted to be a part of it.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.
 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.

[God] has planted eternity in the human heart…      

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature…

You and I were created in the image of God. No matter the color of your skin or if you are male or female, you were made in his likeness; you were made for Him. And though sin has brought death and separation, perverting our understanding of God and ourselves; we KNOW. We may not understand how we know or entirely what it even is that we know, but the truth is that when we behold the glory of God in his creation our hearts know that we were created for something more. And what we experienced yesterday as we watched the eclipse together was creation itself, the sun and the moon crying out, “God is here, and he wants you!”

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

[God] has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…

Know it or not, yesterday, we all watched the same “podcast.” In our hearts, we all heard the same message: “Come to Me, let me love you and show you who you really are.”

 

The Path Towards Totality

Today’s solar eclipse is but the beginning of a series of upcoming celestial events that have some saying it’s the end of the world, the beginning of the tribulation, or an indication that the “rapture” is about to happen. Could be, I don’t know. But what I do know is that we are most definitely on the path towards totality-Jesus is going to totally dominate.

Regardless of how men claim total and absolute power, the day is drawing near when Christ shall appear and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Although the rulers of this world set themselves and take counsel together saying, “We will not submit to God nor allow him to rule over us.” The Father has promised the Son, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession.” And he shall rule them in totality!

We live our lives like there is no tomorrow, thinking only of how we can please ourselves. We have become so deluded that we deny even the simplest of truths. But the time is drawning near when the totality of God’s revelation of Jesus Christ shall be made known from one end of creation to the other. And on that day, when the total and absolute glory of God is revealed there will be truth and justice. Not the redefined powerless notions that we have made them to be, but the righteousness of God in totality.

While today is still called today, may we give to Jesus all that we are even as he has given us himself. Humbled, torn apart, and poured out upon the cross on a day in which the sun was also darkened, and God assumed the brokenness of his creation in totality.

Rejects

Have you ever been rejected? Chances are, if you’ve lived long enough to enter grade school; you’ve felt the hurt of rejection in one form or another. We are promised love from so may who come into our lives, promises of unfailing love with the, “I’ll never leave you or hurt you.” thrown in. You know by now that so often this doesn’t work out, and for one reason or another we reject or are rejected. The irony of it all is that each of us continues to search for that forever. I’ve got great news.

There is One who promises that he will never reject you. Check this out: “…those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.”(John 6:37) I really like it when Jesus talks like that! I have to be honest, there have been times in my life when I was not that loveable and can honestly understand why some of the rejection occurred. I mean really, some folks didn’t reject and leave me; they simply escaped! (I would’ve left me too, but I kept showing up everywhere I went!) The love of man is finite, and even with the best of intentions can sometimes reach a limit. What’s so cool is that when Jesus says he won’t reject us, we’re not only dealing with the Son of Man; we’re talking about the Son of God. And his love is eternal.

One more thing, our security in Christ is not based so much on us as it is his own faithfulness. “For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:38-40) Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying that we can sin with impunity. The scriptures plainly teach that those who truly believe most definitely do not habitually practice sin as a lifestyle. What I am saying is that despite our propensity to wander and screw up, as we are enabled by God to continually turn from sin and towards God; Jesus is faithful to maintain a firm grip on us because he his doing what the Father wants him to do- save us! It is God who is at work in you and Jesus promised, “If you come to me; I won’t lose you.”

In this world, the love of many waxes cold and rejection is common place. We can be so cruel. We love as long as the objects of our love are making us feel good about ourselves and doing what we want them to do. Then, when they let us down or step out of line; we throw them away and get a new one. Jesus isn’t like that. I don’t care what you’ve done or how many times you’ve stumbled; come to him and he will not disappoint you. He is in it with you for the long haul. He promised he would never reject you; so tell me, how can you reject a love like that?

 

Cut & Paste

Have you ever heard of the term epistemology? Well, in case you haven’t; epistemology is the means by which we come to know truth. In our postmodern society or post post modern society if you will, the “new” thing is to question our epistemology. How do you know the truth? Can you know the truth? Are you sure you know the truth? There are no absolute truths. Actually, this is nothing new. It’s been going on since the beginning.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He instructed man as to how he was to understand the world in which he found himself. The Creator was clear (“crystal”) as he provided man with the truth as to his position in creation. It wasn’t long though before man was questioned about his epistemology. Remember? ““Did God say? Did God really say? You surely will not die!” (Genesis 3:3, 4) Man began to wonder if God was being straight with him. “Perhaps God is holding out on us because He doesn’t want us to be like Him. Do I really need God to provide me with my world view? I don’t need you God; I can be you!” Then it happened, the first “cut & paste” in history. The serpent provided man with a world view we aspired to; so voila, cut & paste and we called it our own.

Our new cut & paste reality insisted that the eating of the fruit would result in enlightenment. We began to think that maybe God didn’t provide us with all we need to function at our optimum level. Our new world view ensured us the means by which we could see and know more. Today, we still opt for “the apple”: religion, spirituality philosophy, drugs, and the list goes on. The world view we have adopted plays upon man’s innate longing to know the spiritual. Man was created to glorify God and enjoy the presence of his creator; but, our adopted world view perverted the way we seek to comprehend spiritual matters. Our “truth” places man in the position of God, with his eyes opened and knowing good from evil where there is no supernatural answer to be sought. Man is the solution; therefore, there is no reason to covet relationship with God.

Here’s the skinny: If you want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; come to Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life.” Eternal life, enlightenment, optimum functionality, and a proper world view are to be found in Jesus. There’s no need to “cut & paste” because in Christ, you can actually “interface” with God as His Spirit takes residence within you. Jesus is the Original “thought.” He is the eternal Word (Logos) of God. You were created to know God, to glorify him, and thoroughly enjoy His presence forever. Don’t settle for a cut & paste world view. Come to Jesus and know reality.

To Tell The Truth

For those of you who have pursued in depth Bible study, the term exegesis is one that you are familiar with. When applied to interpreting biblical text, exegesis is the means by which we “draw out of the text” what is contained within it, or, the way we are led through a text into an accurate understanding of its meaning. Exegetical interpretation involves seeking to understand the original intentions of the author and the meaning he attached to those things he has written. In short, exegesis is intended to get us to the truth.  Okay, now before I lose you and you “click” out of here; let me tell you something cool about this exegesis thing: Jesus is the only one who can give us an accurate exegesis of God. John tells us, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18) Interestingly enough, the “has made him known” part is the Greek word ἐξηγήσατο or exēgēsato  Do you see it?

In a culture that is all inclusive and proclaims that all religions are the same, leading to the same God, and so forth; John’s assertion that Jesus is the only means by which we can gain the correct “interpretation” of who God is stands in complete contrast. Now we may not agree with what John states in the prologue of his gospel, but there is no doubt as to his meaning: Jesus alone reveals who God is. Like a Bible student “exegeting” a biblical text, Jesus is the one who explains God and leads us to the proper understanding of who God is.

The common euphemisms of, “Well, if that’s the way you see it, it’s true for you.” and “There are all kinds of truth, great that you have found yours.” are the battle cries of both subjectivism and contemporary existentialism. According to these mindsets, one does not  have to remain fixed upon any reality or even his own personal reality. “One must be willing to declare himself against his previous opinions”, as Nietzsche has stated. Or, as Kierkegaard said, “The thing is to understand myself… to find a truth that works for me… the highest truth attainable for an Existing individual [is simply] an objective uncertainty held fast in the most passionate personal experience.” Well, this may sound attractive and truly liberating, but how do these mindsets stand up against John’s claim that only Jesus reveals God?

It is also popular today, in our postmodern society, to claim that we do not even have the capacity to comprehend truth, reality or much less God himself. Before a person can be made to accept  John’s claim that Jesus is the only one who reveals God, he must first be convinced that the truth about God and reality (including morality and religion) can be known and that reality itself is not subject to one’s own personal perception. C.S. Lewis said, “The consequences of subjectivism and relativism of truth are destructive… to intellectual honesty and to life. For if truth is objective, if we live in a world we did not create and cannot change by merely thinking, if the world is not really a dream of our own, then the most destructive belief we could possibly believe would be the denial of this primary fact.”

Beginning in grade school, facts and figures are communicated through teachers that are, for the most part, accepted without question as truth. In their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist, Norm Geisler and Fran Turek insist, “We also expect to be told the truth when we pick up a reference book, read an article, or watch a news story; we want the truth from advertisers and politicians; we assume road signs, medicine bottles, and food labels reveal the truth.” It seems that in every area of life, truth and reality are looked for and expected. We accept as truth that one plus one equals two, Columbus discovered America, and so on; however, when it comes to God, truth is defined as relative or even unknowable. Why this contradiction?    If a consistent paradigm is to be maintained one would have to acknowledge that just as the reality of mathematical equations and historical facts are knowable, the broader scope of reality, religion, morals, and even God can also be truly comprehended. Perhaps Augustine was right when he said that we love the truth when it enlightens us, but we hate it when it convicts us.

The gospel of John claims that Jesus is the only way to truly know who God is and come into relationship with him. As I previously said, we may not agree with John’s assertions, but it is indeed what he says. John’s statements are either true or false. There is no middle ground. So, what do we do about it? Come to Jesus, receive him, believe on his name, and you will know the truth about who God is. I like how the Apostle Paul put it, “See to it that no one takes you captive by means of philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells in bodily form…”

“Divine Therapy”

“As God prepares remedies for the body from therapeutic herbs wisely mixed together, so he also prepared for the soul medicines with the words he infused, scattering them in the divine Scriptures…. God gave yet another medical aid of which the Lord is the Archetype who says of himself:  It is not the healthy who have need of a physician but the sick‘. He is the excellent physician able to heal every weakness, and illness.’” (Origen, Homilies on the Psalms.)

 The holidays are that time of year that affords many the opportunity to interact with family members and friends they don’t often get to see the rest of the year. And with that opportunity comes the realization that, “Man, I think Uncle _ needs some therapy!” Chances are that it’s not just Uncle _ who needs some help, but we ourselves could use a little “couch time” as well. Praise God, Jesus offers complete, holistic salvation. Take it from a guy that use to be Uncle _ (and still is at times), God is able to go deep inside of you and minister to those broken places that hurt you so.

Our lives are made up of things we have done to ourselves as well as things others have done to us. I think back to being sexually abused by my grandfather (and others), memories of things I saw and heard as a child, sexual issues, drug addiction, the way I hurt and used others, and the overall brokenness that sin brought into my life, and now; it causes me to fall on my knees and worship the One who saved and healed me. Because of my “Divine Therapist,” I am no longer held captive by shame and guilt. Because of the grace, mercy, and forgiveness Jesus extends to me; I can now be used as an instrument of reconciliation in the lives of others. But it was not always like this.

There was a time when I found it hard to talk about the past, about the sin, and addiction I had endured. I felt dirty and ashamed. I remember even feeling that somehow, my grandfather’s abuse was my fault. I was defensive and disingenuous. But where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. Looking back, I can see how that all of my life, God was there, wooing, healing, and drawing me to himself. Then, that night came when I was truly born again by his Spirit! Now, because of his love, salvation has come. And as a result of the deliverance he gave (and continues to give) to me, I can be open and honest with others, letting them “in” so they can see the salvation of the Lord. There are people that need to hear about how Jesus has saved and healed you. They feel like they are all alone, different, and that no one understands. But if you will come to Jesus for the “divine therapy” that only he can give, and allow him to save and heal you; you will experience the freedom that allows you to open your mouth and tell them of the beauty of the Lord.

So this year, as you gather with your family for the holidays, and good ole crazy Uncle _ is in rare form; why not share with him some of what you have learned from your “Divine Therapist.” Let the healing Jesus has given you be that which affords you the freedom to extend His love to your family and friends.

Down and Out in Israeli Hills

I usually chuckle to myself when I ask a fellow Christian how they’re doing and they reply with, “Oh, I’m blessed and highly favored! I am the head and not the tail, above and not beneath! I am more than a conqueror.” You probably know people like this, believers who always seem to be on top of the world, and insist that you should be as well. I understand (for the most part) where these guys are coming from; however, the reality I find in the Bible is a little different from all of that. Sometimes, even if you know the Lord; things can get you down. Christians are not immune to depression.

In Psalm 42/43 (most likely these were originally one Psalm), we see the Psalmist in a state of depression. He remembers how things use to be (42:4), and as he considers where he is at the present time; it seems like God has abandoned him. He asks, “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? O God my rock, I cry, Why have you forgotten me? Why have you tossed me aside? Why must I wander around in grief” (42: 5, 9; 43:2) Have you ever felt like that? Has it ever seemed like all hope is gone, and just when you need him most; the Lord has left the building? You are not alone; so did the author of Psalm 42/43.

I read recently that in a given year, between 13-14million people will experience a depressive disorder. Approximately 7 million women in the United States are clinically depressed. Up to 2.5 percent of American children suffer from depression (http://www.ucg.org/christian-living/depression-there-cure-0/). Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years in the U.S., with approximately 25,000 suicides. Currently, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the  U.S (http://www.christianliferesources.com/article/suicide-facts-and-statistics-114). These are indeed sobering statistics, and Christians are right there in the mix. Let’s look back into Psalm 42/43.

In this Psalm, the ups and downs of depression are vividly described for us. While we do indeed find our Psalmist in a state of depression, he appears to transition out of it, not because his circumstances change, but rather; he himself changes as he places his hope in the Lord. We see that the depression has produced a deep, spiritual thirst in the author, and he longs to be with God. He compares himself to a deer that is in the slow agony of water deprivation. (42:1, 2) Then, in the midst of the struggle; he tells himself to hope in God, for he will praise him again. Once more in 42:6, he reflects back into the past and again becomes discouraged. He reminds himself that “…each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me…” Down into the pits he goes again in 42: 9, 10:

“O God my rock,” I cry,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
oppressed by my enemies?”
Their taunts break my bones.
They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

42:11 finds him questioning himself as to why he feels this way. Once again, he says, “I will hope in God.” In 43:2, he asks God why he has been forgotten. Can’t we see ourselves in this Psalm? Up one moment and down the next, our emotions are all messed up. It seems like we’ll never recover, but then; we remember that our hope is in God. And, that’s the game changer!

“Send out your light and your truth;
let them guide me.
Let them lead me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God,
to God—the source of all my joy.
I will praise you with my harp,
O God, my God!” (43: 3, 4)

Our Psalmist understands that it is only in God’s presence that he can “get his mind right.” He asks for God’s light and truth so that he can find his way back to where his heart longs to be, in the presence of God. The answer is not in the past, in what use to be, but rather in communing with the Lord right there in the midst of his trouble. He understands that it is God who is the source of his joy, and this realization prompts him to break out into a song of praise!

It may seem like all hope is gone. You may even feel forgotten and abandoned by God. You are not alone! As we have seen, depression was even a part of the lives of those whom God’s Spirit used to pen the Bible. Run to Jesus; pour out your heart to him. He cares about your trouble and wants to heal you of your depression. He himself is the peace you seek. What’s so cool is, even though your circumstances may not immediately change; you will! He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” In the presence of the Lord, there is fullness of joy, and depression cannot stand before him.

Confident Uncertainty

“…the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

There used to be a popular poster back “in the day” on which there was this picture of a cat hanging from a rope by one of his front paws, and the caption read, “ Hang in there baby!” The New Testament talks a lot about perseverance, endurance, and patience, but if you’ll study those words; you’ll find that they are not implying that we simply just “hang in there.” No, as followers of Jesus, we can endure the trials that come our way with an attitude of what I call Confident Uncertainty.

Sometimes we go through periods in our lives when we find ourselves faced with situations in which we just simply don’t know where to go, what to do, or how things will turn out. We encounter times of spiritual dryness, of trial, of sickness, or even life and death situations. During these times, all of our “Where do you see yourself in five years?” planning is completely blown out of the water. In extreme times of trial and adversity, you may not even see how you’ll make it five more years; much less tell someone where you think you’ll be! However, it is in such times of uncertainty that we can be confident because we trust in the Lord.

As we walk with God, as we get to know him, the intimacy we share with him produces trust. We began to learn that he is truly faithful. We begin to understand that his promise to never leave us or forsake us is true, even when we feel all alone in an ocean of uncertainty. We learn that he is the potter and that we are the clay, and that we can trust the potter’s hands. It is intimacy with Jesus which produces the trust that allows us to be confident in uncertain times. Our confidence is not in ourselves, our spirituality, or our ability to “shift the atmosphere,” rather, we are confident in our Lord because we know that in all things he is working for his glory and our ultimate good. When uncertainty threatens, when doubts and fear attack, we run to Jesus. As we sit at his feet, consumed by the beauty of his holiness, our strength is renewed, and we find stability in the fact that no matter what; we belong to him.

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced an extreme trial, and the outcome was uncertain. There they stood, right at the edge of the fiery furnace. I’m sure they could feel the heat. They didn’t know how the situation was going to turn out. Yet, they were able to face their circumstances with confident uncertainty because they trusted in the Lord. What a joy it will be to get to the place in life where we can say along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “I’m not real sure how all of this is going to turn out, but no matter what the outcome; I belong to the Lord.”

Worship: A Life Laid Down (conclusion)

In the last few posts, we’ve explored this idea about worship being a life laid down, the place where sacrifice and obedience come together through our trust in the Lord. We looked at King Saul as an example of one who never truly laid down his life before the Lord. We saw from scripture that he never really was intimate with God, and that he never really trusted nor obeyed him. We learned that King Saul offered his sacrifices in an attempt to manipulate events and people. Then, we looked at the life of Abraham, and discovered that although his was not the perfect life, it was one laid down before God in intimate trust and exhibited true worship in the ultimate act of sacrifice and obedience. Actually, what really got me thinking about worship being a life laid down is the story of Jesus and the woman at the well.

One of my favorite passages in all of scripture is John 4, the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I talk about it frequently and have written about it as well. It’s really no surprise that it was this passage that got me thinking about worship in a way I’ve not previously considered. Usually, when people talk about John 4 and the topic of worship, it’s always the part about worshiping in spirit and truth. And rightly so; Jesus did say the Father is seeking those who will worship him in this way. For me though, I began to see that worshiping in spirit and in truth is synonymous with worship being a life laid down. Walk with me.

If you recall, when Jesus and the woman began their conversation Jesus had asked her for a drink of water, and then commented that if she knew who he was, she’d ask him to give her a drink of the “living-water.” He went on to tell her that this living- water (Holy Spirit) would be to her a spring of water “welling up to eternal life.” As their conversation went on, Jesus told her to go and get her husband. Jesus was revealing to her the truth about the “well” she had been drawing from all of her life- men. She had tried repeatedly to quench the thirst of her heart through various relationships with men. Now, here with Jesus, this was the moment when she had to admit the truth. Then the woman brought up religion and the different way in which the Jews and the Samaritans worshipped. She reminded Jesus that the Samaritans claimed that you were supposed to worship God at one place while the Jews maintained that the temple in Jerusalem was the only place to worship God. Jesus pointed out to her the fact the time had come in which the true worshipers of God would be those who worshiped God in spirit and in truth, with no respect to locale. At this point, the woman said, “I know that Messiah is coming, and he will explain everything to us.” Jesus told her plainly, “You’re talking to him.”

See, here’s the deal. God is spirit and you have to have the Holy Spirit in order to be a true worshiper of God. And, the only way to receive the Holy Spirit is by laying your life down to Jesus. He is the Messiah who has come to “explain everything to us,” to reveal to us the truth about the Father, and the truth about us as well. He is the one who gives us the Spirit. It’s like he told the woman at the well, “If you want the living-water, you ask me.”  The only worship acceptable to the Father is the  true  spiritual worship that proceeds from the hearts of those who, through their trust in Jesus, have been made to drink of God’s Holy Spirit. Worship is more than just keeping a bunch of rules, or offering sacrifices at a specified temple.  The time has come that sacrifice and obedience must come together in a life laid down through trust in Jesus, the one who makes possible true spiritual worship through the giving of the Holy Spirit.