Quick Thoughts: The God of Possibilities

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord , my rock and my redeemer.
Psalms 19:14 (ESV)

To pray that my words and the meditation of my heart “be acceptable” means that there are words and meditations that are NOT acceptable. You don’t ask God for things you don’t need. You only ask Him for what you do need.

So what is the Psalmist asking for? He is asking that his mouth and his heart be pleasing to God. Why? Because he knows that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. And even if his words could somehow pass inspection, he knows that his heart meditates on wrong things, i.e. unacceptable things. In other words, the Psalmist is confessing that he, like all.of us, does not just have bad thoughts. He has unacceptable MEDITATIONS. He has things, evil things, that he continuously rolls across the tongue of his heart like a sweet peppermint candy. They feel good to him. They seem right. In fact, these thoughts are so familiar to him they form the core of his desires. But in the end they only bring him death. What were these meditations? I don’t know what his were. But that’s not the important thing. The important question is what are yours?

What beliefs, ideas, opinions, and desires continually roll around in your mind? What do you seek to know? Where does your heart feel most empty and how do you try to fill it? The answer to all these questions shape the contours of your heart.

But more than that, the answer to these questions also shape what your mind accepts as possible and impossible. The possible you inhabit. The impossible you reject. And the longer you live within these boundaries the more convinced of them you become. Thus, the one who meditates on a vast territory of possibilities has a boundless, unmapped terrain of hope to pioneer, while the one who yields to a plethora of impossibilities lives out his life in a prison of despair.

Our meditations define these mental and emotional realities and our words confirm them. Therefore, let our words and our meditations be acceptable in God’s sight. May our thoughts dwell on the God of possibilities and know Him intimately. May we remember His character and His power and trust Him to transform our hearts in spite of our circumstances. For in the end, it is not the alleviation of pain that we need, but the holiness and goodness of God. In this way, we can, like Job, see possibilities at the outset of pain (“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10) as well as at the conclusion  (“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2)

Go today and meditate on the God of possibilities and may the comforts of God not be too small for you (Job 15:11).

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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

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.

Reflections on Psalm 145

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The one who extols and blesses and praises God’s name continuously is the one who maintains a high view of the holy standard God exemplifies in both His words and His actions. This helps a person remember that there is a standard above himself, an unflinching and unbreakable law that calls one to a higher code of conduct than anything we could imagine. Keeping God’s holiness constantly in view helps us remember that we are not the first cause to our morality, nor are we the end of the argument (i.e., the last person to whom we are accountable) for our choices. There is someone superior to us who holds us to a higher standard than we have ever held ourselves. Praise reinforces this knowledge and provides the kernel of submission we require to live a life rooted in the stability of this truth. To be a person full of integrity, whose actions and words align.

The continuous practice of praise allows us to conform our lives to God’s will and provides security even in the darkest times of life, for the truth of God does not change. His words and deeds are continuously consistent (He does not change like shifting shadows). Therefore, in verse 18 this is why it says, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” God is not nearby, like a player waiting to be called off the bench to enter the game.

God is near.

He is personal.

His words are hidden in our heart so that we might not sin against him. Those words define us. They construct our habits and thoughts. They provide a path of righteousness to walk in for His name’s sake. And when our actions and deeds match the holy standard of His actions and deeds it gives our prayers gravitas because this alignment is what it means to “call on Him in truth.” It is speaking out of an integrity and a righteousness that He has designed in us, based out of His perfect character, not out of an identity that our broken pathologies have defined. When we see God as superior and continually exalt and extol His name above all other names (especially our own), we then understand our position in relation to Him. We can respect and revere and love Him as we ought. And as a result, God fulfills the desire of those who fear Him and preserves those who love Him (v. 19-20). Not so that we may benefit materially, but so that our lives may proclaim the goodness of His name and be an eternal echo of that old hymn that says:

Oh, come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,

And give Him the glory; great things He hath done.

Quick Thoughts: The Problem with -ed

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It happens to the best of us. At some point, we recognize the need for self-improvement. We make a plan, buy the clothes or equipment needed, and gin up as much passion and enthusiasm as we can muster.

At first, everything is fine. And the results, though small, are churning out baby endorphins for our brain’s enjoyment. But then one day when the alarm goes off, we take a deep breath, stretch, and sigh heavily.

“How much longer do I have to do this,” we wonder. Continue reading

The Day After Christmas

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20 NIV)

 

Ok. So here we are. The tree is bare. The used wrapping paper has been thrown away. And the holiday sugar crash has come and gone. Now, we are just trying to figure out how soon we want to step back on the treadmill. Some of us had a day off from work since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, but we are already beginning to look at our compressed schedules for the week and wondering, “Can I get everything done?” And the kids, who were so excited at 7 a.m. yesterday morning, are beginning to say, “I’m bored.” (Except for the one who got a Samsung Gear VR. He’s happily spinning in a chair, detached from his family, entertaining himself in another world)

Some of us had a day off from work since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, but we are already beginning to look at our compressed schedules for the week and wondering, “Can I get everything done?” And the kids, who were so excited at 7 a.m. yesterday morning, are beginning to say, “I’m bored.” (Except for the one who got a Samsung Gear VR. He’s happily spinning in a chair, detached from his family, entertaining himself in another world)

We’ve looked at the decorations once, but we don’t want to deal with that now. And the leftovers. Who’s going to eat all of that food? Our mind’s eye pictures the treadmill again. Maybe if I set it at just a slightly higher incline…

But it’s no use. We feel exhausted just thinking about summoning the energy needed for everything that lies ahead.

Is this what God intended for Christmas to be like?

Sometimes I wonder.

Our tradition of gift giving comes from the “three” (there could have been more) wise men. But they did not arrive to give their gifts until Jesus was around 2 years old. On the night of His birth, however, there was only one gift given to the Christ child.

No. Not “the gift of life.” That’s too obvious. And for a God who was preexistent, unnecessary.

No, what Christ received the night of His birth was both simple and profound. Summoned by a great company of angels, a throng of smelly shepherds searched every place in Jerusalem that had a manger until they discovered the sight of the nativity. There, surrounded by a small contingent of animals, a man and a woman bent over the small wooden trough and marveled at their newborn son. It must have been awkward for the parents to have this band of men peek their heads in and ask to view the baby. But they allowed it. And when the shepherds saw the angels’ message was true, it was then and only then that they gave their gift to the Christ.

What was the shepherds’ gift?

They gave the gift of praise.

Appropriate. Don’t you think?

In the true spirit of Christmas, “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.” Yes, the one Christmas gift that Christ received on his birthday is the same gift we seem to fail to give him every year.

We are so focused on giving to each other (and, let’s be honest, on receiving as well) that we forget to give the one gift that persists and remains relevant even 2000 years later.

Praise.

So, let’s take a moment. If this day after Christmas is leaving you feeling blah-hungover, maybe it’s time to put the focus back on the person it is intended to celebrate. Maybe today can be the beginning of exhilarated rejoicing of a promise fulfilled to all humanity. Maybe today we can begin to see Christmas for what it really is. God. In the flesh. As a baby. Given to mankind to take away the sins of the world.

If that’s not something to celebrate, you may have your priorities wrong.

 

(Quote from Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”)