The End of Fear

1518804794035_image.jpg

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

Advertisements

The Final Race

runner-shoes

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

1497375602804_image

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!”

Starting Over

take-root-breaking-ground-750x418

So, it’s two weeks into 2018. And if you’re like me, the fresh promise of a new year has already soured within your mouth. You started out well. You even felt enthusiastic. But by now the budding resolutions for self-improvement have quickly frozen beneath the arctic blast of winter realities.

That may sound melodramatic, but I mean every word of that sentence. Literally. Continue reading

When Fools Pray

1507514460125_image.jpg

The other day we examined this verse from the view of apologetics. In that article, we learned how Christ provided a model for us to follow when unbelievers confront us about our faith. We learned how to not answer a fool according to his folly and how to answer a fool according to his folly without falling into the trap of becoming like the fool and validating the fool’s “wisdom. While I hope this article was helpful to many, this only examined the verse from an anthropocentric point of view (i.e., man-to-man).

But what can this verse teach us about prayer? How does this verse relate to the man-to-God interaction? At first, one might think that this verse has nothing to do with prayer. After all, it never overtly mentions prayer or praying, nor is there anything within the original language that would suggest it addresses prayer either. However, I believe that it can provide an insight into that central aspect of one’s relationship with God, especially when tragedy strikes.

Let’s be honest: When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, Stephen Paddock shot up a Las Vegas concert, or when personal tragedy unexpectedly slammed into your own life, how many of us either thought (or heard from others), “Where is God? And what is He doing?” How many people said things like, “Why would a good God allow such terrible things to occur?”

Such questions are not unusual to ask in the wake of disaster or tragedy, but such questions explain why the above verses are needed to understand prayer. For when we approach God in prayer, He is the wise person and we are the fools. (1 Cor. 1:25)

I know this sounds harsh but it’s the truth.

If you don’t believe me, look at Psalm 14:1-3, which begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who do good.” At first, one could read this, wipe the sweat from his brow, and say, “Whew! Glad that’s not me. I’m not an atheist.”

But then it goes on to compare this type of fool with mankind in general, saying: “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Ps. 14:2-3)

The conclusion of God is the same about all of us. Atheist or not, we are all fools, for none of us seek after God. None of us do good. Not even one.

Thus, when we approach God in prayer, there must be an expectation that our imperious, insincere, and individualistic nature will express more foolishness through our questions of and accusations against God than we could ever intend or imagine.

The question, for example, of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people” is fraught with foolishness. 1) It establishes a scenario that accuses God of bad, one might even say “indefensible,” behavior 2) It implies that God’s goodness is invalidated because He permitted something tragic to occur 3) It assumes that a good god would only permit good things to occur to his subjects and 4) It asserts that there is such a thing as “good people.”

But when we go to God in prayer with such questions, the answer that we receive will most likely come in two forms.

First, God expresses His goodness and His wisdom by not answering us according to our folly. If He were to engage our foolish question directly, He would be silently agreeing with all of the aforementioned premises and would be trapped within the boundaries that the question defines. But since the logical conclusion of the question comes to either “God is good but arbitrary and absent” or “God is not good,” He cannot answer us according to our folly.  Instead, He must challenge our foolishness by redefining our thinking. Therefore, God’s answer to such a prayer would most likely begin with a question of His own. This was a favorite tactic of Jesus’ and it often helped expose the foolish heart of His accusers as well as their feelings and motivations for asking the question in the first place.

Such is the nature of all of God’s questions. Even a simple one, such as “O you of little faith, Why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31) forces the hearer to examine himself and the hand that holds the hammer. In answering God’s questions we begin to see the chasm of holiness and wisdom that separates God and us. In this way, He maintains His character without being drawn into an argument whose boundaries and definitions have been set by a fool.

Second, once we begin to see where He’s going with this, God will answer us according to our folly, so that we do not look wise in our eyes. God’s desire is to bring us to repentance. To give us eternal life and salvation in Jesus Christ. It is not just to shame us or to make us look stupid. Therefore, He will take the argument we have set up and show us why the argument we have set up is false.

For example, in the above question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” there are several foolish things within the question itself that can help disprove it.

1) It assumes an objective moral law, which all people can agree upon, as the basis for its definition of good and bad, but if this is true there must be an objective moral lawgiver who made us humans capable of understanding this standard and applying it to our lives. Such a lawgiver (being objective and moral) would be incapable of being bad 2) Within the context of this objective moral law, the questioner’s belief that it is unjust if good people do not receive only good things and if bad people do not receive only bad things is exposed 3) But if the premise behind #2 is true, yet bad things happen to everyone, then wouldn’t the conclusion be that none of us are good? 4) Consequently, if none of us humans are good, then do we not deserve to have bad things happen to us? 5) And if #4 is true, then have we not asked the wrong question to begin with? Should not the question be “why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?” 6) Finally, if God is the One permitting good things to happen to bad people, then do not all the pleasures and joys and blessings one has enjoyed in life only validate God’s goodness? 7) And does not this expression of His goodness in these small things beg the question, “How far does God’s goodness extend to us bad people?”

In such an examination of the foolishness within the question we posited, we begin to discover that God’s goodness extends much farther and much further than any of us can imagine.

Indeed, it is for this reason, I believe, that the apostle Paul once wrote “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4, NKJV).

For God’s goodness goes beyond the supply of material blessings and it extends past the boundaries of providing us with relationships that satisfy our need for love and belonging. God’s goodness not only intervenes throughout our life history to prevent suffering, His goodness also steps into human history to become bad in our place so that we might become good and finally receive the rewards of a good person (namely, salvation and eternal life with Him, see 2 Cor. 5:21).

We must be humble, therefore, when we approach God in prayer. Otherwise we run the risk of asking unintelligible, angry, or unanswerable questions. In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis once spoke on this very thing when he said:

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.

This is why, I believe, Jesus taught us to pray in such a way that reduces foolishness and orients us wholly on God. Maybe you know it. It goes like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Matt. 6:9-13)

Follow this model and you will find a heart emptied of foolishness. One that is not accusing or offended at God, but one that is pursuing Him in wisdom and worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, both now and for all eternity. Amen.