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!

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!

 

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!

4 Scriptural Promises that Speak the Language of Anxiety and Depression

Ray Of Light Forest Trees Sunlight Sun Sunbeam

The specter of mental health in this century is driving us all a little nuts.

I have a heart for those who deal with anxiety and depression. Having taught in public school systems for five years, I’ve seen it up close, including some particularly conducive environments. And, really, a look around at the world will reveal it readily. In these last days, these darknesses have closed in ever more tightly – though, as they say, the night is darkest just before the dawn.

God’s steadfast love manifests in some promises that speak the language of anxiety and depression.

1. “I do not condemn you for this.”

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Many Christians are under the impression that depression is a sin, a failure to adequately read (or believe) Scripture. They rebuke the anxious and depressed accordingly.

I don’t count myself in this camp. Anxiety and depression can stem from a place of spiritual ignorance (how depressing our future would be indeed without the hope of God!). But they can also be chemical, seasonal, hormonal, the product of spiritual warfare, or simply the soul’s response to tragedy. I know people whose depression clears up merely upon drinking caffeine, or changing one’s lifestyle or thought patterns.

More importantly, condemnation of the mentally beleaguered forgets the work of the cross. If actual sins like extramarital sex, drug addiction, and murder cannot block God’s forgiveness for the repentant, then anxiety and depression most certainly cannot. They are instead candidates for God’s compassion – as are we all.

2. “I’m happy to reassure you as often as you need.”

Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23)

One hallmark of anxiety and depression is seeking frequent reassurance of love – even from those who are closest and most loyal. Ever felt like you’re always vaguely “in trouble” somehow? Ever seen a friend act distant because of who knows what and assumed the problem is you, that you upset them with some little offhand word or action and they’re just too polite to tell you? Anxiety brings this stuff in spades.

I have friends with severe anxiety, and it’s amazing to watch their spouses. They know their mates’ needs, and they’ll “check in” emotionally with them on a regular basis. During a long church function, they won’t let a couple hours pass without giving them the attention they need to reassure them that everything is still okay. Though knowing they can’t be God to their spouses, they offer what they can. They don’t groan, roll their eyes, or tell their struggling spouses to buck up. They took “in sickness and in health” seriously. (Singles, are you preparing your hearts for this level of uncomplaining devotion?)

Well, it’s not like God will be outdone in compassion by a human. He, too, overflows. He is not stingy, doling out a little love here and there, expecting it to tide us over for weeks and then chiding us when we long for more. Nothing in Scripture suggests that sort of thing. He welcomes a daily dependence on him, promotes it, encourages it. If he gets frustrated over anything, it’s that we don’t depend on him, that we do try the weeks-long independence thing and wind up dry and desolate!

No, God loves to check in with us. His words of love are written down in black and white, available with the simple turning of a page; the sunshine, oxygen, and moisture in the atmosphere do not run out; and he tells us to be filled with his Spirit, a regular activity like eating or drinking. He is not embarrassed or annoyed that we seek him again and again; he is delighted. And responsive.

3. “My power and strength are available to you.”

I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

What more needs said? Life with anxiety and depression need not be a weary, half-conscious stumble. Instead, it can be a valiant fight. God has made so much available – not just through practical strategies but from the very armories of heaven. No matter our progress, the choice is clear. Fight – God is on your side.

4. “You will get a new mind one day.”

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

Imagine the moment we see God and receive our glorified bodies. New minds will come with them.

Imagine the incessant weight of sadness lifted, falling from our souls like useless scales, never to burden us again. Imagine constant lightness of heart, for no reason other than God always wanted it for us. No more chronic, racing overthinking, or endless suspicion, or that corner of your soul that perpetually waits for the other shoe to drop. Every corner of our soul now conquered and owned and healed fully by God.

Until then, it’s a war. No doubt about it. But the war will end. For the Christian, God has planned an entirely new body and mind, and nothing can avert his work. It will be yours. In the meantime, I’m praying for you, and rooting for you.

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!

No Single Christian Left Behind

I have the privilege of doing youth workership with a couple of guys I graduated high school with. They’re married with kids (though they didn’t get there at the same time).

I saw an old (now married) girlfriend in the store the other day. She looked…I’m bad at this…six or seven months pregnant? I was certainly happy for her.

joggers

Several of the students I’ve mentored in my twelve years in youth ministry have gotten hitched. One’s even had a couple daughters.

It’s certainly enough to make a bachelor feel left behind.

In years gone by, I would often reassure myself with something like Don’t worry, they’re a lot older than you. You’ve got time. Then one day I woke up and was their age. So much for that arrow in the quiver. In fact, they’re younger than me. The pastor at one of our offshoot churches has a salt-and-pepper beard, a seminary degree, and a small tribe running around his wife’s ankles. My jaw dropped when I found out he’s two years younger than me.

Ever felt left behind?

Don’t. You’re not.

Though we could turn to comforts such as there are still plenty of people who marry late and only a minority of my old students are hitched and you’ve accomplished plenty that they haven’t, and each would be true, the best response to times of loneliness is knowing that the Father’s love knows no boundaries.

Nobody at my church has ever openly made me feel outmoded or outside God’s will for being single – my spiritual family is too Scripturally literate for that. They know that although the Old Testament certainly seemed to hand all the stature and security to those within families, Jesus changed things. He stresses singles’ place in his family. Both through his words (Matthew 19) and those inspired into Paul (1 Corinthians 7), Jesus pointed out that singles actually have an easier time navigating the evangelistic demands of his kingdom. Sometimes married people fall behind the singles!

But more importantly, Scripture breaks down barriers to his love. Rich or poor, slave or free, sick or healthy, Jew or Gentile, popular or otherwise, educated or a lowly fisherman casting about on Galilee’s shores, Christ takes pains to embrace people on every part of every spectrum as candidates for his grace. The pain of the cross opened the way; they need only follow him.

Singles are no exception. If marriage doesn’t even exist as a state in heaven (Matthew 22), why would singles be an exception?

No. Every single Christian is a pool into which Christ’s waterfall of love tumbles perennially. He did not come to earth, suffer the cross, empty the tomb, and ascend to heaven so that his love would be thwarted by the lack of a ring.

It hurts that there are churches who do not share this view. Singles across the world are too often ignored, sidelined, or flat-out rebuked for not marrying, as if they’re only “playing at life” until they do. But then again, not every church is Scripturally literate, as ridiculous as that sounds. We can only pray and continue to teach them.

The emotional burden is real, and God will hear our honesty in the meantime. It’s not fun to have less and less in common with your friends as they grow deeper into their marriage, having to work harder and harder to keep up your friendships. That’s not what Hebrews meant by “running the race”.

But no single Christian has been left behind with God, for no Christian gets left behind. Single, you are secure in his love. Your present potential and value to God are undimmable; it need only be prayed for and sought. And God’s eternal future for you is sealed; Jesus will one day give each of us a new name (Rev. 2:17), whether we ever changed it here on earth or not.

Therefore, I can celebrate where I am today. For on the spectrum that matters most – God’s love – I am on equal standing with all who are his.

 

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!

Delight Amidst Mordor: the Hard Part of Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37:4)

Hoo, boy. Few Bible verses carry as much potential to turn us into mercenaries.

“Love God and he’ll give you things” – yeah, that’s just begging to go down the wrong alleys. How do we handle such a verse? How do we treasure God and his opinions on things in light of such an offer? It’s Scripture. It can’t be wrong. So there must be a solution to this conundrum.

Don’t obey God to get things, obey God to get God. – Tim Keller

For me, it is the sheer intensity of “delight”.

1378807888_1c49b58b1b_z“Delight” doesn’t just mean a vague affection, certainly not a conditional one. It means delight. An intense love that crowds out other considerations. I don’t just like my mom – I delight in her, such that I’d make her a priority over a great many things. Same with my friends. (That’s why they’re friends.)

Delight can’t be faked. God sees right through it, and we’d never trust our own motives without it. When we delight in God, the first half of Psalm 37:4 outshines the second half, which sidles up to us out of nowhere while we’re absorbed with God.

I know – tall order.

How do we delight in God so freely when we have so many beefs with all he has allowed? It’s the question instantly begged upon the word “delight”.Some of our lives resemble Mordor – ashes and geysers everywhere you look.

That was the fork at which I stood.

All I can say is, I chose delight. It wasn’t some saintly nobility – I just knew the way back was cut off.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68)

And I found that things really do operate the way God describes.

The Christian who desires more money must release it, trusting so fully in God’s creative provision that charity becomes the greater joy.

The Christian who desires upward mobility must instead wash feet.

The Christian who desires more friendship must offer it, gushing like a spring upon those around him (as Christ did) rather than incessantly drawing inwards.

The Christian who desires a spouse must be filled with Christ now, so that they will not grasp like an empty one.

The Christian who desires justice must not seek it by his own hand, but depend on God’s watchfulness and convicting power. (You might be interested to know that justice is actually the strict context of Psalm 37).

At each point, our desire is tested to determine its worth. Some would survive the fire, others would not (Psalm 37:4’s applicability to Lamborghini’s is doubtful), but all must be sublimated to Christ.

And no matter what the cherished object, we must delight in his timing.

God has a funny way of keeping dreams alive. It’s one of the great paradoxes. He brings our dreams around. But they happen in his way, according to his calculations and machinations, and often with a more eternal reach (like the artist whose future work might raise souls instead of curtains).

It is difficult to delight amidst the Mordor of this world. But if we choose it anyway, we will be rescued, pulled out of the cataclysm and awakened in a new home.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

The Joshua Harris Fallout: The War Everyone’s Forgetting (Or Never Saw)

Few days of history compare to the last day of the World Wars. Millions danced in streets across the globe.

But those scenes seem far removed from today.

“Why continue torturing myself? Why not just forget God and get on with life, like most of the rest of the world? Instantly I felt a sense of relief and freedom, like I had just passed a final exam … I picked up my Bible and a couple other Christian books and walked downstairs and out the back door. I shut the door softly behind me, so as not to wake anyone. In the backyard was a brick barbecue grill, and I piled the books on it, sprayed them with lighter fluid, and struck a match. … at last I had peace. A great weight had lifted. I had been honest with myself. Any pretense was gone, and I no longer felt the pressure to believe what I could never be sure of.”

Sunrise Sky Battlefield

These aren’t the words of Joshua Harris, nor those of Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson, who this week declared his own critical struggle with his faith.

The words are from Richard, a young man whose conversations with author Philip Yancey served as the backbone of Yancey’s book Disappointment with God.

They’re becoming familiar. Within the battle reports offered by these leaders, there’s a pattern:

“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.” – Sampson

Though Sampson goes on to cite intellectual conundrums, I sense an undercurrent of feeling in his words. It was similar with Harris – in his case, internal conflict over a doctrine that’s particularly costly for certain Christ followers. He couldn’t reconcile, so he took the path of least emotional resistance and found himself outside.

And I get it.

I know the weight they’re talking about, the Gordian knot deep in the chest year in and year out. It’s the “oh, come on” knot, that just won’t accept paradox and longings deferred and the constant tension of cultivating a relationship with the unseen. People hit their forties and start realizing that “that thing” won’t just evaporate by itself, isn’t responding to simple prayer or maturity, and might never resolve in this life. A final straw.

That’s why I’ll decline the usual “let Scripture matter more than your feelings” line that John Cooper offered.

Not that he’s wrong. Our generation has forgotten to trust Scripture. Or never really heard it.

But remember that we are refugees in war-torn lands. Not all of us found trouble as adults; some were born into it. Into families that didn’t get us, that fell apart while we were still in high chairs, that carry unspeakable secrets. Right from the opening credits, we were beleaguered. Those feelings do not simply go away. They matter.

So the part of Scripture we might most need is the part where faith is a war.

Many Christians seem to have assumed that proper belief is one long, unbroken catharsis and inner resolution (and anything else is failure). There is partial relief to be had. I’ve found much.

But Scripture tells us that complete relief is not our present (Romans 8:23), and misdiagnosing reality is always dangerous. John Eldredge said, “It’s the equivalent of arriving on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, with a lawn chair and a book to read. It is a drastic misunderstanding of your situation.”

Read the Biblical accounts of the faithful. Does any of it look easy? Yes, Jesus is a God of victory, but victory implies war. Paul often uses military analogies. Ephesians 6 outlines spiritual weapons. Your life is a war.

It would explain some things, wouldn’t it? Look around you. See it as a war, with sides and weapons and tolls, and it makes an ugly sort of sense.

So the dragon was furious with the woman and left to wage war against the rest of her offspring–those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus (Revelation 12:17).

It also explains the weird way life suddenly gets better when faith is jettisoned. Of course things got better – you abandoned your post. You stepped off the front lines and experienced the flooding relief of not being shot at. Of course you’re surrounded by “positive and affirming” thoughts now. Of course you have a fiancee now. Of course you no longer have theological quandaries to wrestle. You aren’t in the line of fire anymore. Already Satan has retasked his resources towards the next guy on the line. Why would he bother with you now? You’re right where he wants you.

My friends, there is relief to be found in this life. I fully believe it. Though weapons must be shuffled through and strategies shifted (and God allows the process), I believe it can be found.

But I suggest the theory that if you find yourself struggling to love Jesus through your disappointment today, it means you haven’t surrendered. The Christian life is unnatural to the fallen soul. Always was. And the war that results is brutal.

Satan is furious that Jesus has a death grip on you that cannot be dislodged. This Jesus never will let go, as long as you don’t. And remember the mighty thrust of his truthful words: that reward is not found fully in this life, but the next.

Morning is coming. Hold on!

 

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!