Sometimes You Just Have to Declare

I asked a co-worker today if there was anything I could pray for him about this coming week.

He looked at me for a moment, then dropped his eyes to his phone, shook his head almost imperceptibly, and mumbled words no doubt borne from decades of unremitting disappointment: “There’s nothing anyone can do.”

Lord knows those words have tried to gnaw their way into my soul. Too often, I’ve let them.

But something about hearing them from outside my head, from another’s lips, lit a fire in me. That can be a huge blessing.

I do not know why some people are asked to walk this earth without basic love, without functioning bodies, without full bellies.

But I know my God is the God of mid-life crises – and all-life crises. Jesus healed ailments of twelve (Luke 8), eighteen (Luke 13), and thirty-eight years (John 5). He healed people blind and lame from birth. Imagine waiting for your answer that long. Most of us would go about our business in that time, give up, cut our losses, buy the wheelchair and accessible house and call it final. Or maybe walk away from God entirely.

Not us. I pray it is not us.

Sometimes we need to get angry at our disappointment. We need to stand straight, face the letdown, gird ourselves, and slap back. We need to claim and declare that the Lord is faithful.

Not claim and declare the outcome we want – claim and declare the character of the one we’re beseeching. They’re different things. The first leaves room for, “I am dependent on this answer for my well-being and might shelve God in weariness if it doesn’t come.” The second says, “I love God.”

At some point, the answer is irrelevant. What matters is what we believe.

Sure, we struggle to be satisfied with that, especially when the tragedy actively burns your soul on a daily basis. I will admit this: which statement gives the better chance of eliciting the miracle from God? I’d say the latter. It loves the giver rather than the gift. But it’s a bad question to ask, really. It invites a mercenary, transactional attitude.

At some point, like William Wallace rallying the Scots, we have to admit that the stand matters more than the result. If you run, throw in the towel, or shelve your faith, how will you look back on that decision for the rest of your life?

I’ve watched enough Seahawks games to know that leaving before the fourth quarter is a good way to miss out on the finest triumphs. I want to stand. I want to shout into the howling dark that God is coming for it, treat it like the glass-chinned bully it is. I want him to have my best love, one that’s given even when hope is deferred. It’s the purest type, the most sincere type, the most Christlike type.

So I will snarl at the lies this week. May God give me breath. And I will pray for my co-worker, that God might surprise him.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

What If Jesus Announced That He Would Return On…

Brandon J. Adams

The following scenario will not happen. “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

I don’t anticipate the Lord going back on such long-laid plans. After all, the prior verse says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (v. 35).

But humor me for a moment, and consider this hypothetical exchange:

Church: “Lord, we faint. We long for your presence. Please, please tell us when you’re coming back.”

Jesus: “Oh, very well. The Father has relented and authorized me to tell you. I will be returning on…”

Global bated breath. People in every village, city, region, and nation await the next words. One of the most significant, weighty questions ever pondered on earth is about to be answered.

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Let Your Inner Rhoda Talk

storm-4582219_960_720For this I’m grateful: my denominational tastes have put me in position to drink a lot of sound Biblical truth.

My social media feeds are culled inlets of soulful Scriptural truth. I get a foundation of obedience and surrender. Names like Tozer, Chambers, Piper, ten Boom, and Elliott roll through my feed, highlighting for me the narrowness and ache of Jesus’ path. I get it. It’s not about me. Life is not a flowery bed of ease, a get-rich scheme, or a catapult to political power. Though this isn’t pleasant news, it’s true, it’s far more realistic-sounding, and I would rather know up front and be braced than blindsided later down the path.

But on occasion, it can be such a drag. (Yeesh. Is that okay to say?)

There’s plenty in this vein on how to handle a “no” from God. We know he is not a vending machine. We learn that sometimes perseverance in prayer is needed. We understand that God has his sovereign reasons for saying no, that he’s up to things far above our pay grade. We accept the immense value of patience and suffering in shaping and refining our souls, in teaching us to rely on the giver rather than the gifts. It worked for Jesus (Hebrews 2:10).

To be in both worlds full

Is more than God was, who was hungry here

– George Herbert

And if we read Scripture with ice-cold objectivity for long enough, we eventually pick up the idea that, quite frankly, disappointment in our lives is sometimes the only thing that will keep our wandering hearts bound to God.

See, I’ve learned my lines.

Meanwhile, we broach the topic of miracles and answered prayers oh so gingerly, so reluctantly. Certainly not with boldness. Sometimes we even attack it.  We’re too uncomfortable for that; it feels vaguely immature. Risky. You know what I mean. Perish the thought of that health-and-wealth business. We’re determined not to get our theology wrong, and that’s excellent, because we value getting Jesus’ words right (not a fashionable practice in today’s church).

But sometimes I wonder…

Are we just having a hard time hoping?

Are we just making excuses for our unbelief?

Are we just trying to muffle a voice deep down that’s wearily confessing, “I just don’t expect much from God. He doesn’t work that way anymore. Let’s just obey now and we’ll get heaven later. I can’t go wrong thinking like that.”

It occurred to me one day that I almost feel better equipped to handle a no from God than a yes.

Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.

“You’re crazy!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel!” Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. (Acts 12:11-16)

It’s kind of hilarious. The fledgling church is assembled and praying, but when God answers, there’s no confident grinning, no “yep, I knew he’d come through.” They’re astounded that their prayer has been granted. Floored. God supernaturally keeps Rhoda from bringing the evidence inside so that the story will record them almost resisting good news, coming up with alternative explanations to the miracle. These downtrodden Roman citizens weren’t used to shining angels and chains falling off wrists.

I can relate. It’s not a “no” that would surprise me from God these days; it’s a “yes”. In pretty much any area. I default to low expectations.

How bad is that?

Miraculous events have taken place in my church in the last year and I hardly know what to do with it. God is moving powerfully through South Asia and I’m shaking my head like a dog getting out of the water. He really does this stuff?

But I know why. I’ve witnessed a lot more “no’s” than “yes’s”, needless to say, as have we all. Perhaps it’s that disappointment, that jadedness, that I’ve wrapped around myself like a cloak to protect my heart from further letdown. It’s a mechanism that walks a verrry fine line between guarded heart (Proverbs 4:23) and simple lack of faith. At some point, it steps over.

There are days when I need to read less about how to handle the lack of a miracle, and more about miracles.

Fortunately, Scripture’s up for that. Remarkable displays of power, signs and wonders – they’re in there for a reason. Scripture loses vast swaths of its educational value to us if they’ve stopped. They’re for God’s glory, of course, for pointing people to him. But they’re also out of his generous heart and his desire to come through. Why cannot I simply sit back like a little child and let him…?

Like water sloshing back and forth in a pipe seeking its level, I find myself sliding back towards God’s Word – its full balance, richness, and hope.

I won’t accept a fortune-cookie Christianity that outdoes itself every week in predicting exciting new bombshells for your life, never presages anything bad, and winds up at “thanks God, see ya next crisis”.

But neither am I going to truss up my heart in resignation and call it holiness.

How, Lord? How will my inner Rhoda convince the rest of my heart?

Through his Spirit. Only way.

So I will pray, study, and let God do the answering.

Who knows what will happen?

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

My Extraordinary Mission Trip

Wondering why (hoping?) that I’d fallen off the earth entirely?

Not this time. But I did travel to the other side of it.

For ten days this month, God called me to the unspeakable privilege of carrying his gospel to an unreached people group in South Asia. There are security concerns due to the region’s hostility towards Christianity, so I won’t reveal the exact location. I spent six days there, two days traveling each way, and six days afterwards lolling about jet-lagged out of my mind. That accounts for my absence.

It was…extraordinary.

I got to wade through ankle-high trash carrying rice bowls…and the Good News…to impoverished but smiling people living under urban bridges.

I got to pray with them as they eagerly set aside their own deities (or at least began the process) and accepted the one true God.

I got to travel to tiny tarp villages in the absolute middle of nowhere to teach and encourage brand new believers in sweltering brick huts.

I got to encourage new brethren from a fisherman’s village.

I got to lay hands on all these brothers and sisters asking God for jobs, healings, the end of family abuse, and protection against forced idol worship.

I got to share my faith, along with my team, with a confident but attentive Muslim waitress at a Hard Rock Cafe.

I got to watch out of the window at the poverty and chaos generated by false religion.

I got to speak at a Sunday morning service about, as George Whitefield said, repenting of both our sin and our righteousness (as in, repenting of our attempts to gain status before God and letting the cross be 100% of our justification).

I got to meet the beleaguered but determined brothers and sisters who are doing the gruntwork on their home soil, pleading with their countrymen to come to Christ.

It was…amazing.

And not easy. I remember being pretty freaked out as we drove to our first bridge site, asked to step out of a rental van and simply start sharing the Gospel with complete strangers. It required everything I’d ever learned (or taught myself back home). Did I trust God to back me up? Was my confidence in my identity in him? Did I know the Gospel? Could I answer their questions (I remember one young man curious to know how and why Jesus was killed)?

God was faithful. My teammates were marvelous. The prayer and financial support from my church was palpable.

And people are in the kingdom of God now, who weren’t before.

I’ll be back to my normal blogging schedule and headspace here soon, but I’ll warn you now: if talk of foreign missions makes you uncomfortable, this blog might not be the place for you anymore. We are called; we are not given the option. Thousands plunge daily, millions annually, into hell. I hope you’ll stick around and let yourself be challenged as I was.

To My Future Daughter

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Sweetheart,

I was laid off from my primary job last month.

It happens. No hard feelings. It was a great gig while it lasted, good people and all.

No doubt this bores your yet-nonexistent mind to tears, so I’ll skip to where this affects you: though I’ve finally managed to save up a bit, I want you to know that it wasn’t an option to stay content with my second job (pizza delivery) after the lay-off. It wasn’t an option to just tread water financially. I found myself compelled to turn around and find new primary employment, go right back to sixty hours a week, even though I’ve been plugging away at that pace for eight years.

Because of you.

You’re the reason why I keep knocking myself out year in and year out, why it never bugs me to take a longer shift, why it didn’t bother me to skip the big-screen TV and streaming subscriptions, why I keep hitting the gym to secure some semblance of energy in middle age, and why I’m planning to buy and remodel a house next year without a while lot of experience.

Because of you, sweetheart. You’re worth it.

I want it to be the best version of me that finally, God willing, gets to hold you someday. A red carpet rolled out for your life, colored by Jesus’ blood.

This is all syrupily, comically premature, of course, because I’m so far back in the process that I don’t even know who your mother will be yet (I still hope you look like her – it’s gotta be an improvement). But still, somehow, I think about you all the time. Having church friends who are cranking out babies right and left probably has something to do with it – que sera sera.

I’ve got so many plans, God willing. We’ll talk about Jesus in the same breath as Daniel Tiger. We’ll be opening Bibles as often as candy wrappers. We’ll hit our knees in our igloo and gape at God’s handiwork from our treehouse. Your first guitar (or kazoo?) songs will be worship songs. Jesus is my hero, and I want him to be yours. He needs me to train you, and that’s why I train myself now.

If that happens, you’ll stand out. And that’s both awesome and terrifying.

Gosh, what an insane world you’ll be born into. The Joker would be proud. If it’s not a physical war, it’s a war of ideas on the worldly plane and of kingdoms on the spiritual one. The clash is fiercer than ever, and we’ve both been drafted.

If I do my job, if you know Jesus and the woman he’s calling you to be, if God answers my prayers, you’ll bear a spark nobody can miss. You’ll be functional. You’ll be kind. And, sad commentary as it is, that will probably make you stick out like a sore thumb in the 2030s. Your peers will look up to you. Employers will trust you. The church will see fit to send you to the nations, to those born less privileged. Colleges will court you. So will guys (I’ve already bought a shotgun) until they get bored and wander off because you’re waiting until God hits the horn and produces a guy who is just as enthralled with Him.

If I do my job. God have mercy.

But it’ll also make you a target. The Scriptural life isn’t popular anymore, and people also attack what they admire. Will we have to live off the grid to stand on the Word? I can’t say. But it does no good to mince words, sweetheart: you will be hated, just as I will be. Just as He is.

It almost makes me hope that you don’t stand out. That I can just hide you in a bunker, staple Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak to your shoulders, or expose everyone who meets you to memory-blocking pheromones. But we both know these aren’t options. Follow Jesus and the world will see.

So I have to train you for that, too. I have to teach you to do what’s right even when nobody’s watching (or when everyone’s watching). I must model deriving identity and strength from Christ, not the world. I’ve got to serve, date, and prioritize your mom so you know what a real family looks like. I can’t spare the rod, even if it hurts me more. Because if I don’t yank you back, life and Satan will. And they won’t be gentle.

Maybe you’ll be all dresses and dollhouses; maybe you’ll be a true country girl with an ATV and a 17-point shed by high school. Fine by me, even if one hits my checkbook harder. Your essence will be seen and loved.

But no matter what, I know God’s got you. And that wonderful knowledge crucifies my fear.

If I don’t make it all the way to hand you off on your wedding day (definitely won’t happen if the Seahawks keep getting up my blood pressure like this), may this letter find you, dear daughter. May you know how much I adore you, even now, before you were a glint in anyone’s eye. Because you were in Jesus’ eye from the beginning, and he’s given up far more for you than I ever could.

With all my eagerly waiting heart,

Dad

P.S. Grandma wants you to hurry up and get here.

When My Parents Taught Me NOT to Pray the Lord’s Prayer

fireOne of the home runs my parents hit in my spiritual upbringing was teaching my younger brother and I to pray well.

No excuses, no cop-outs. Every night, we’d hit our knees by our bedside, no matter how tired we were, no matter how late it was or where we’d just driven in from. We’d pray, and like many things my parents taught us to do, we’d pray with intentionality, with conscientious effort.

That’s why they often wouldn’t allow us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, no matter how often we asked to.

That might sound a little weird. But back then, we weren’t begging them to allow us the Lord’s Prayer because we understood the power, simplicity, and holiness of it. We were begging for it because we’d memorized it, and thus it was shorter and easier. And, of course, we were always looking for the path of least effort as kids. It’s one of the back-door counters Satan brings to use of Scripture: rote memorization can be a counterfeit to true engagement with God.

Instead, Mom and Dad had us pray consciously, using our own ideas, perhaps utilizing a list (good strategy), only occasionally reciting the Lord’s Prayer and calling it a night.

OUR Lord Jesus declared that “men ought always to pray and not to faint,” and the parable in which his words occur, was taught with the intention of saving men from faintheartedness and weakness in prayer. Our Lord was seeking to teach that laxity must be guarded against, and persistence fostered and encouraged. … Cold prayers have no claim on heaven, and no hearing in the courts above. Fire is the life of prayer, and heaven is reached by flaming importunity rising in an ascending scale. – E.M. Bounds

There’s a lot of mystery in prayer, but I’ve oft wondered how many points we Christians leave on the field through prayer that is glancing, distracted, half-formed. I’ll tell you right now, if I want to find fascinating things to daydream about, or suddenly gain great clarity on a totally irrelevant matter, or remember all the things I need to do tomorrow, all I need to do is start praying; Satan instantly partners with my own mind to distract me with all this other stuff.

I know we have the encouragement that the Spirit “also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groaning” (Romans 8:26), but that verse is not describing laziness in prayer. That’s something we need to deal with. God has extended us a bridge; the need is great. Why do we dither about?

Today, if I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I do so because I understand it and have been trained in its meaning. May we all be lit on fire this week to pray as if we mean it.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Trusting God with Your Worst-Case Scenario — Christy Fitzwater

This post contains a Dallas Willard quote that has wrecked my life this year in the best possible way – a lesson straight out of Daniel. All I can do today is set this post before you.

They started talking about how crowded our school was back in May, and my brilliant mind told a story of how I would have to go back to my tiny classroom–no wait–maybe I wouldn’t even have a classroom and would have to travel to borrowed rooms, since I was a part-time teacher. 165 more words

via Trusting God with Your Worst-Case Scenario — Christy Fitzwater