The End of Fear

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Fear ends where redemption begins. Once you are no longer your own but belong to God, rest and security can finally belong to you. Fear is only reserved for those who are still in charge of themselves and their future. And why shouldn’t it be? No man can see the future nor control all the variables to accomplish his will 100% of the time. Uncertainty, doubt, and fear will certainly surround the shadowed sight of man, for, despite one’s cleverness, they will always, inevitably fail.

But once your life no longer belongs to you, once it has been redeemed by God, fear is no longer necessary. Continue reading

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The Final Race

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The smoke fired before the gun. I was in the third lane from the left when it sounded and had to remind myself to be patient. It was only two laps. A brief two minutes and twenty-five seconds. But I was here, running the half-mile event in the state track final for single-A schools.

As I rounded the first turn, I heard my father’s voice in my head: Continue reading

Letting You Hunger

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The idea of God letting His children hunger seems anathema to most people. How could a loving, good God allow those whom He loves to go without food? Such an act seems cruel, neglectful, and abusive. But this is not where the verse ends.

Lately, I have had several clients come to my Christian counseling practice with one over-arching question: “How could God have let ______ happen?” Honestly, it’s not an easy question to answer. But not because the client has begun to question several characteristics of God, including His goodness, His love, or His sovereignty. Such characteristics are immutable truths about God and as such, they do not change or cease to exist due to one’s lack of understanding. Rather, the question is difficult because the client seems to almost always be implying, “How could God have let this happen to me?” This takes the question out of the general will of God and into the specific will of for that person. And aside from having a direct word from the Lord regarding His will for that life, I have no answer that can suffice.

What I can say, however, is this:

  1. He allows us to hunger — When we think of hunger we often think of it in wrong ways. Our concept of hunger is often a mild rumbling of our stomach. A reminder that we need something to keep us alive, energetic, and healthy. But in this verse “hunger” actually means “famished” or “voracious.” It is the type of hunger that pushes us to our limits. The type that forces us to think of nothing else except satisfaction through food. This type of hunger is a desperate hunger, an “I’ll do anything to stay alive” type of hunger. It is the hunger that strains our will, focuses our mind, and engages our spirit to the degree that all we can think about is how to meet our need.  To some, it would seem unloving to impose such a hunger upon the one whom you love. But can we, who ground our children from privileges to discipline them regarding earthly things, truly cast aspersions upon God when He similarly disciplines us over spiritual things? We should not be perplexed that spiritual discipline is more visceral and more painful than earthly discipline. For experience shows us that whether we require discipline for a physical, social, moral, relational, or spiritual area in life, the removal of something valuable in our lives always produces a pain that is equal to, but never greater than, the area of life to be improved. For example, the pain associated with exercise is equal to the physical area of life, but it is not equal to or greater than the level of pain one experiences in the relational area of life when a girlfriend breaks up with you or a loved one passes away. Each pain produces its own type of challenges and its own type of “hunger” to transition a person from unhealthy to healthy functioning. Since spiritual transformation is the highest order of these areas of life, it often requires the highest level of focus (or pain) to produce change. Such growth may be self-imposed but when it is not or is refused to be, God intervenes and creates a hunger so singular in focus only He can satisfy it.
  2. He allows us to hunger in order to humble us — According to the Strong’s Concordance, the word translated as “humble” in this verse of my Bible can also be translated as “to depress (either figuratively or literally).” In other words, there are times when God presses us down into the mire of life on purpose. Sometimes, as we say in the South, we need that smile smacked off of our face. Not because God does not want us to be happy. But because He does not want our happiness to be in the wrong things. Therefore, He creates circumstances that strip away the things we have relied on for security and sustenance and replaces them with need and hunger. For God knows that when we experience these basic urges, our hearts will abandon temporary pleasures and will recalibrate with an eternal focus. In short, humility subordinates itself to God. It does not use personal wisdom to provide its need for love or belonging. Rather, it seeks sufficiency in God’s wisdom and yields itself to God’s guidance as well as His provision. Humility does not believe that life ought to be emptied of pain. Rather, it realizes that if Christ (who was perfect) suffered in taking on our sin, we (who are imperfect) will suffer in taking on His righteousness and being done with sin (1 Pet. 4:1). Finally, humility knows it still has more to learn and actively seeks to do so. Humility points its eyes downward so that its heart may always be pointed upward. Only through hunger that creates humility can one begin to see the insufficiency of temporary desires and the sovereign goodness of eternal ones.
  3. He allows us to hunger in order to feed us unknown food — When manna first fell from Heaven, the Israelites were so confused by what it was they could derive no name for it more clever than the question on everybody’s lips: Manna (which literally means, “What is it?”) God’s wisdom in this act of providence showed the Israelites that the sustenance of God extended beyond anything within the realm of normal human experience. He could have created oases in the desert with fruit trees bulging with produce. Or He could have spontaneously created a plethora of vegetables for them to gather each day. But such miracles could have been written off as “coincidence” or “good fortune” and would not have helped His people.  But when God created an edible, sustaining food out of the morning dew that could satisfy the needs of approximately 2.5 million people every day, He proved that His hand and His work are superior to anything that nature, luck, or man could provide. The lesson for us, therefore, is that when the man-made bread(s) of your life finally expires, and the desert looms before you, when death seems certain and doubt clouds your mind, God will provide for you an unknown food. As with the Israelites, it may take the form of something familiar but it will be unusual as well. It may look bread (a job), but taste like honey (a purpose). It may feel like flakes or wafers (uncertainty) but have enough consistency to be baked or boiled (predictable and trustworthy). In short, God will give you the one food you have forgotten since the day Man chose to eat the one food that was forbidden. He will give you … Himself. And the more you consume, the more you will know

    The Lord is the everlasting God,
        the Creator of the ends of the earth.
    He does not faint or grow weary;
        his understanding is unsearchable.
    29 He gives power to the faint,
        and to him who has no might he increases strength.
    30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
        and young men shall fall exhausted;
    31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
        they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
    they shall run and not be weary;
        they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

  4. He allows us to hunger in order to teach us how to live — The purpose of letting His children hunger, per this verse, is so that we may know “that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Dt. 8:3) One would assume that such an insight would seem self-evident. But consider the implications of this truth. If God created all that we see and all that we know through the power of His spoken word, then there is nothing that we rely on for life that did not originate within the mouth of God. Not our job. Not our bank account. Not our family. Not our joy nor our purpose nor our hope. He is the one who creates. He is the one who blesses. He is the one who takes away. And He is the one who redeems. To live outside of this knowledge or in denial of it is foolishness, for there is no other position that Man should possess other than one of dependence and worship. Yet, so many believe that they are responsible for their success. That it was their hard work or their ingenuity or their charm that won their success, their accolades, or their spouse. But when such things have been stripped away completely, when one experiences humility and has received the blessing of an unknown food, one begins to die to reliance on the sufficiency of self and to replace it with the life of dependence and joy that God intended him to live. Thus, we are admonished to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Pr. 3:5), to “cast your cares upon the Lord and He will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22), or to embrace the truth that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Php. 1:21). There is only one way to live and that is by relying on all that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

There is, therefore, a process that God takes ourselves through in order to refine us and to recalibrate our hearts to His original purposes:

Be hungry.

Be humble

Be fed.

Be dependent.

Slug or Sent?

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day…You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord…” (Leviticus 23:3, ESV)

There are several ways to relax: Netflix, movies, reading, watching sports, being on the internet, eating out, window shopping, playing an instrument, writing, singing, drawing, dancing, bike riding, gardening, walking the dog…the list goes on and on.

The problem is Continue reading

Daffy Duck and Doing Good

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Heb. 13:16, ESV

Doing good. Sharing. These are things we learned to do in kindergarten. They are what most people would consider “basic moral principles for living.” And they are encouraged across multiple cultures as well as religions. So why is something so universally accepted deemed a sacrifice? Wouldn’t a lifetime of practicing these characteristics make them not sacrificial but habitual? An act of desire, not duty?

Apparently not.

I think what the apostle Paul is getting at is that we human beings are by nature selfish. Like Daffy Duck in the above cartoon, we cling to our stuff, proclaiming, “MINE! MINE! MINE….I’m a happy miser” instead of sharing what we have and doing good. It takes self-discipline, empathy, and compassion to deny ourselves all that is ours and willingly give it to others. Whether that thing is something material or whether it is something immaterial (like a talent or ability), we struggle to selflessly release what we have and share it with others.

Why? Because on some level we always want a form of reimbursement. Some want money.  Others want fame and a life of ease. While still others desire recognition, a returned favor later in life, or even the little warm fuzzy feeling that comes with helping another person in need.

But this venal currency is useless in the kingdom of God.

Echoing Christ’s statement to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the author of Hebrews strikes at the heart of normal human behavior and calls us to exchange reimbursement for pleasing God.

Such end goals make our actions sacrificial.

For as long as we strive to balance what we have given with what we will receive, we remain in a continual state of self-centeredness with a morality that asks, “what’s in it for me?” But when pleasing God is our goal, God receives and transforms our self in His image. No longer do we pursue some form of self-glorification. Instead, we lay aside the self so that the beauty and perfections of Christ shine through our good works and ignite the people of this dark world to lay aside their selves to do the same. (Matt.5 :15-16)

This is the ultimate good: when we share what we have in Christ with another person. It is not only about obeying a certain list of do’s and don’ts or following a moral code of loving your fellow man. It is more than that. It is about proclaiming through our actions and our choices who Christ is and what He has done for us. It is about giving Him the glory at the expense of ourselves. It is about exchanging the “MINE! MINE! MINE!” for a life that proclaims “HIS! HIS! HIS!”

Quick Thoughts: The Discipline of God

​The discipline of both God and parents must include more than instruction. Teaching provides knowledge but knowledge by itself is nothing without application. As in school, it is insufficient for the chemistry teacher to only lecture. He must also include a lab so that the objective truth of what he taught can be subjectively observed and verified. It is the lab that tests and proves the student’s understanding of and ability to apply the truth he has learned. Without such personal interaction with the truth, the teacher’s words fail to transform the seed of knowledge into a thriving, fruit-bearing tree. 

Most students view knowledge as malleable, subject to change, and constantly evolving; therefore, the knowledge they hear is often dismissed as either irrelevant, incomplete, or inapplicable and effects little to no change in their life. But the student who has wrestled with the teacher’s words, tested them in the lab of life, and has seen them proven true knows that these lessons are not mere words. They are more than that. For now they have been internalized. No longer are they part of an ever-changing body of knowledge. Now, they resonate within the student as transforming, eternal truths.

Therefore, “Count it all joy, my brethren, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3) Mere words cannot produce such a response. Nor can “a good talking to.” The only discipline that produces the proper response is the one that provides a test. 

The Glory of Prepositions

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God abides in us to perfect His purposes through us. This is an interesting and a comforting thought. This God of love lives in us, stays with us, and flows through us to accomplish His desires. But we are not passive partners in this process. We have our own role to play. And this role is primarily practiced through the act of obedience.

But, if you’re like me, obedience can sometimes be a slippery thing. For years I used to flounder in frustration when reading verses like Proverbs 3:5 (Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding) or 1 Cor. 10:31 (Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God). These types of verses seemed to excel in telling me what to do but appeared to fail in explaining how. It felt as if God had wedged me between my desire to do the right thing and my ignorance of the process.

But God had done no such thing at all. In fact, when I looked at these types of verses more clearly, I realized that in every instance God had provided a hidden instruction so that my obedience could be carried out as He intended. The answer, though, came in those small connecting words we often overlook in scripture. Tiny words that race past our eyes and hide within the shadows of metaphors and expansive revelations. These are the words we imagine revolve around the center of a sentence’s solar system, while in reality, they are the stars whose gravity holds all of the other words together and maps the circuit of the ideas within.

What are they?

They are the prepositions. Words like “in” and “with” and “for.” And without them, no Christian can ever obey God.

Consider the following:

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Php. 4:13

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” – Eph. 2:10

or

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5

Obedience can never be done without the prepositions. In fact, it is the prepositions that empower the obedience. If we are honest, we know we cannot do what God commands us to do in our abilities alone. But when we embrace the belief that it is Christ working in and through us, we can boldly step out and proclaim, “With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.” (Ps. 108:13) This gives a whole new dimension to prayer and obedience. For once we have completed the process of following and have synced our heart and mind up to God’s so that we know His will, He command to go and do changes our requests from scavenger hunts to discover His will into requests to perform His will. We can step out in power and in confidence because it is He who is doing the work, not ourselves. Like an arrow shot from the archer’s bow, we do not set the aim or the trajectory or the target. Our objective is to only fly straight and true, piercing the bullseye according to His will.

Thus, obedience in Christ is not only praying in the name of Christ but it is also acting in the will and the power of Christ. The man who forfeits the opportunity to obey the calling of God because he is unable to accomplish the vision in his own strength is both missing and understanding the point all at the same time. He is so close to the adventure of God he teeters on the edge of understanding and faith, but he is so focused on himself that the distance between his usefulness and impotence in Christ has become immeasurable. If he would accept that God only wants him to be remembered as a useful tool and not a glorious building, then he would be able to yield himself to work in the strength and will of the Carpenter’s hand. But the one who does not empty himself of grandiose visions of glory or depressive visions of failure can only experience God’s desires for his life as an observer, not as a participant. His heart is focused too much on what he believes he can do in himself.

But God does not want us to obey within the the limitations of our abilities. He wants us to obey within the infinite realms that His prepositions provide “so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:2) For since we have been crucified with Christ, the only thing that should remain in the obedient servant is a willingness to be used and a hopeful expectation to see God do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:2).

Remember, when God calls us to obedience, He calls us to future action. Sometimes that action is milliseconds in the future (will you defend your faith or deny that you know me?) and sometimes it is months or years in the future (lead my people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land). Either way, our faith must rest in God’s future grace in order to propel our obedience. Too many times we want to focus on the now because that is the one aspect on life’s timeline we can control. But God is a god of tomorrow as much as He is a god of today. Our faith need not be in what we can control now but in what God is controlling next, whether it be seconds or eons to come. If we cannot trust that God is there (in the future) as well as here (in the present) we cannot believe the calling and vision He has placed on our lives will be fulfilled. Everything will be left up to random chance. But a God who lives in the future is a god who calls us forward.

He is a god who secures the outcome in the power of His might. He is a creating god, ensuring the chaos of today is ordered into the fulfilled promises of tomorrow. A god of the future is a trustworthy god. An unsurprised god. A victorious god. And an unchanging god. He has no need for variance because as a god of the future, He has no need to react.  He is always out in front of us, creating, planning, coordinating, and inviting exactly the right person(s) to accomplish His purposes, of which we are a part. As an elected member of this future god’s tribe, our job is not to worry about today (for He has planned this day and its events from long ago) nor is it to ask about the what-ifs of tomorrow (for He has already arranged those outcomes as well). Our job is to boldly follow this god into the future He has designed and to exchange our anxiety for security. When we work in Him and with Him and for Him we no longer need to question what will happen. We only need to seek the when.

In this way our obedience demonstrates that “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Heb. 10:39) For we know that whether our obedience leads to another event that fulfills God’s plans or a death that glorifies His name, we will always be stepping into the future with God.