More Than Just a Whisper

gushRead these verses and ask if they match your experience of the love of God.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15 )

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. (Psalm 36:5)

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. (Psalm 103:11)

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5b)

Notice the plentitude. Abounding. Overflowing. Fullness. Heavens. These are not words meant to convey scarcity, an occasional drip. Rooted. A tree does not grow unless it has ample soil to draw from. Fullness. How many of us can tell of feeling full of God?

Does this capture how you experience God’s love on a daily basis? A weekly basis?

My experience of God’s love used to be little more than an occasional whisper. Every few months or so, I’d get a glimpse. As if from a distant country, a well-phrased word from God came to me about how he sees my efforts, or how carefully he is handling my life. I rejoice. But it fades soon, replaced by the noise and dust of life. And the next one doesn’t come for a while.

We seem to have accepted this as normal. We expect only the infrequent dose of God’s near, full love. We call them “mountaintop experiences” and feel better because at least it sounds realistic and adult. After all, we see only through a mirror dimly.

But when I examine the Bible and its characters still inhabiting our side of the mirror, I see a much different expectation laid out for us. When the Bible speaks of God’s love, it portrays a much fuller, stronger, and steadier phenomenon than we typically experience.

Are we missing something? Have we settled for much less love than God is willing to give us? Why? And how?

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Respect for the Highest Veteran

200357Respect.

Oddly enough, that exact word isn’t plentiful in our modern English translations of the Bible, and when it does appear (Rom. 13:7, Eph. 5:33, 1 Pet. 2:17 and 3:15 as examples), it’s usually pointed towards others. “Respect for God”, oddly, is a phrase I’ve rarely heard.

You do hear a lot of the phobeisthe, meaning “fear, dread, and respect”, but not a lot of the timēsate, meaning “honor or value”. My first thought was that perhaps “respect” just isn’t a high enough word for God. We prefer phobeisthe, or perhaps “reverence”, for the attitude with which we should approach God.

But for me – and I chalk this up to quirks of language and personality rather than any insufficiency in the Bible (for such a thing is not possible)…

But for me, I’ve found that “respect” really gives me a foothold on sin.

I recently voted in Montana’s special election. I voted because it’s important and affects the future, but also because it’s colored the past. Many men over the centuries have died to secure my right to vote. We have Memorial Day to honor them. I respect their sacrifice by voting. I do wish that our political candidates themselves would respect those sacrifices by becoming better people with better ideas, but that’s another post.

(Quick aside to the booth official for my precinct: I appreciate your enthusiasm for the democratic process, but please, be careful where you jab me with that “I Voted” sticker.)

Anyway

It hit me the other day: it seems that I show more respect for American veterans than I do for Jesus.

Jesus chose to shed his glory and become a veteran of the human experience. Most American soldiers led more privileged lives back home than Jesus did; few have died as torturous a death as our Lord; even fewer (read: zero) deserved better; and certainly none died for a greater prize offered to more souls.

I respect the heroism of American veterans by participating in our democracy, paying taxes, and contributing to law and order in every way prescribed. I even had my own stint in the military (though, in all humility, both the time and the danger I experienced fell far short of what our WWII veterans saw).

But…do I respect Christ’s sacrifice by…I dunno, not sinning?

When a sin presents itself before me as a possibility, do I choose to respect all that Jesus went through on the cross to secure eternal life for me? Do I give it the proper due and appreciation?

Or do I give the nails another thwack with my hammer?

It’s not like I do nothing to honor Christ. I blog about him. I’m active in my church. I’ve gone on mission. But Christ commands purity in every area of our lives, and there are too many battlegrounds I’m tempted daily to concede without a fight.

Well, I found out that the earthy, grown-up tang of the phrase “respect for what Jesus has done” makes a nice tool for keeping myself clean of sin. I think of the cross, and it slows my roll towards sin. It’s not like “thinking of the cross” was never available to me until the word respect linked up. But for some reason, the word resonates. In the haze and hot tumult of the battle against sin, I’ll use whatever weapon works, and this works.

We gladly honor the dead. Let us honor the One who didn’t stay dead.

You Will Have to Fight for Your Contentment

Let’s talk about envy a little more.

It doesn’t play nice. You’re walking along enjoying life, and suddenly someone appears on the sidewalk or television with a bigger house, relishing a career they were born for, holding someone’s hand or pushing a stroller. Boom. Envy sweeps over you like a tidal wave. The tabloids and self-help mags shout from the supermarket rack about everything that you’re not. Pow. The life you have seems to darken and pale. You hear a story in church aboutsmoke how someone else has finally reached the end of a debilitating trial. Crunch. You sigh even as you celebrate, wondering why God hasn’t delivered you.

The rush of envy doesn’t yield. If it’s not a deluge, it’s a leak that gradually covers the floor and wreaks havoc with your soul’s drywall. Let your guard down and your day is shot.

Envy is a menace.

And how do we typically answer?

Well…we sigh, try to count our blessings and remind ourselves of the goodness of God. We try half-heartedly to distract ourselves.

That’s…about it.

And then we wonder where our joy went.

Perhaps the problem is that we’re resisting a gale with a small pink umbrella. Scripture actually commands us to do more. Much more.

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Renouncing the “Manipulative Mother” God

reachHave you ever been convinced that God is deliberately withholding something from you so that you’ll become more satisfied in him?

We want something. Said something delays and proves elusive. We consider the idea that God is behind the delays and start exploring the reasons why he might say no (a long research, as many of us know).

We discover a number of possibilities, each with a basis in Scripture. We learn that we might simply need to persist in prayer. Elijah did – and on something that he not only already knew was God’s will (making it rain) but held the sole responsibility in Israel for making happen, by God’s own decree.

We consider the possibility that our requests might not be as beneficial for us as we think (or that their timing might not be).

We learn that Satan has a role in our lives, and that God provides tools for resisting his ravages.

We examine our own hearts and lives to make sure our own sin is not setting us back.

But stick to your search for long enough and one theory will start cropping up and standing out more than any other: the idea that God is saying no purely to make you more satisfied in him.

If you’re reading the right pastors and authors, this one will find its way into your vocabulary. “Satisfied in him” is probably John Piper’s favorite three words. It was John Eldredge who introduced me to the idea: that God will allow difficulty or delay into our lives and prayers every once in a while, in order to purge us of our distractions and fruitless pursuits.

At first, it’s interesting from an academic point of view. You nod and acknowledge the fact that God alone is worthy of our praise, worthy of our highest value, worthy (and capable) of being the one vessel of satisfaction from which our hearts can draw.

But as time goes on, the idea gets…irritating.

You might already be irritated just having read it in my post.

At some point down the road, in a moment of deep frustration or heartbreak, you get honest: “God, why do you have to be this way?” It strikes us that God appears to be acting like that manipulative mother you see in bad teen movies, the type who sabotages her daughter’s relationships so that she’ll stay at home. “Why are you jealous of my happiness?” we bitterly pray. Perhaps the thought only flashes through our mind instead, and we guiltily stuff it down, but it still happened. It’s a vulnerable moment, as God seems distant and indifferent to our groaning prayers.

But God is not acting out of fear, loneliness, or pettiness, as the manipulative mother might. Such motives are impossible for him.

Instead, he is acting out of his delight for us.

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
   and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. – Hebrews 12:6-8

If unanswered prayers are a form of suffering (and they certainly can be, depending on the prayer), then they are also a form of discipline – and a sign of God’s ownership and acceptance of us. I’d rather that than getting everything I want but wondering whether I was really his.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. – C.S. Lewis

That statement is quite alien to our daily thinking. We think we can get it. We really do. Just answer this prayer, give us this thing, and we’ll be good. Many of us don’t know that we can experience peace from God, much less that it’s more real than anything else.

God is not playing spoilsport, holding good things spitefully out of reach until we give him some attention. He is sweeping ugly spikes and pits out of the way until we can receive his greatest gift: himself. The idea that he is the greatest gift requires a total rearrangement of our worldly thinking. But it is a journey worth taking.

3 Scriptures That Have Nothing to Do with Getting What You Want from God

You all know the telephone game. A bunch of people sit in a circle, whispering a sentence from one person to another, until the last person announces what he or she heard. The results are usually hilarious. This one needs to be shared.

This can happen to the Bible, with tragedy instead of hilarity. We run the risk of distorting Scripture if we are not cautious stewards.

Unlike players of the telephone game, we get to check with the original source. If we read with open eyes and honest hearts, there’s little risk of deception. But when we operate on memory, things get messy. Occasionally, those messes go viral and become embedded in our churches – churches that are quite happy to win your attendance by telling you that God will grant your requests. Our hearts are tricky. They want to listen to the “taglines” they’re hearing – common distortions of Scripture that seem to guarantee he’ll say yes.

God is good. Bring your requests to him.

But don’t quote these taglines at him if you don’t want spiritual egg on your face. This isn’t the way to go about things.

 

#1. God won’t give you more than you can handle.

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A Rebuke Worse than God’s?

wrathWhen I mess up at work, and my boss calls me on the carpet about it, I’ll feel awful for a week and redouble my efforts to improve my work processes.

When my mistakes affect a coworker or increase their burden, I’ll feel even worse and seek to do them favors.

When my pastor point out an error in ministry, or even just provide advice upon my own prompting on how I could refine a certain area, (by the way, people, do not start walking on eggshells around me because of this post – I need and value correction), I’ll be quite humbled for a while.

And when a friend or family member expresses disappoint in me for whatever reason, an entire fortnight goes in the tank.

But when I sin and only God sees?

Well, something’s different. And not in a way that should be.

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“Happiness is Up to You”

celebrate2I entreat you for a respite from our usual Christian talk about how joy and happiness are different things.

Joy is possible in any circumstance, generated by intimacy with God and hope of heaven, not our earthly trappings. I fully embrace that as a central and crucial tenet of our faith. I even embrace the idea, without flinching, that God will withhold happiness if it makes us holier. That is well and truly believed on this blog.

But since I also believe that God does not exactly hate our happiness, let me share a verse from a poem that I ran across yesterday…

I asked God to give me happiness,
And God said, “No”,
He said, “I give blessings,
Happiness is up to you.”

– author unknown

Wow.

Yes, I know…I took this from a larger poem containing a few other ideas that some might differ on. That’s why I only reproduced this paragraph, because…wow.

How many blessings have we received and not made the most of?

Now, I hate that the previous sentence (and others like it) tend to come across so watery, wispy, and commonplace. Sometimes a little jolt is needed to really make a thought come alive. So let me offer a question I once read, one that truly exploded my contentment and easily counts as one of the top five most mind-blowing things I’ve ever absorbed:

What if God were to announce tomorrow that he would remove from your life everything for which you failed to thank him today?

ACK.

duck

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