Monday, April 29, 2013

Remembering to start

When the Israelites were fleeing from their former Egyptian masters, they were doing pretty well until they came up to the Red Sea. Perplexed by what to do next, God performs one of the most famous miracles of the Old Testament and ultimately of the entire Bible. He works through the obedience of Moses and the power of the wind to blow the Red Sea vertical into two walls and the Israelites crossed through the sea on dry land. Its a great story, and is used over and over again in our lives when we face seemingly impossible situations. People encourage us using this story as an example of allowing God to show us the way to pass through our struggle, and to have faith that stepping onto that path and trusting that God will sustain the waters, we will safely come through the other side. It is also frequently used by people seeking God's will in a certain situation, that we just need to wait on God to show us the path.

Both of those situations are great examples of one way that God worked with this people group and used the faith and obedience to bring them close to Him and allow them to walk alongside Him within His will...

But the rub is this: people often get stuck in thinking that this is the only way that God works. The He will always clearly define the path before us, then call us to move, and give us a nice, easy, clean pursuit down the road of His will. We get so busy being stuck at the shore of our given Red Sea that we forget another story that occurs that involves another water crossing...

The Israelites are finally heading to the promised land, they are marching under the leadership of Joshua, and they come upon the Jordan River. They must cross it in order to reach the Promised Land. They knew the goal they were marching towards, and they knew they had to get through the river. But the Jordan River was at its traditional flood stage, it was ripping through the countryside, violently rushing as a barrier of this part of their journey. Yet this time, instead of having His people wait while He cleared an easy, direct path through the obstacle, God tells them to send the priests carrying the Arc to stand in the middle of the river. And, while they are standing there, He calls a group of leaders to follow into the river. At this point, the river halts its flow, and the rest of the Israelites are able to pass through the river and continue their march to the Promised Land.

What should this tell us? It shows that sometimes, God doesn't define a path through our struggles or clearly delineate His plan or will... sometimes He calls us to action in faith. Sometimes we have to step right into the raging river ahead of us first. Not only that, but also, God called them to carry the Arc out there with them! Their most precious, significant possession they had. God was asking them to send all they had that they held at high importance to go stand in the middle of the obstacle. And it was only after they faithfully obeyed and began to press towards their goal did God halt the water and show them their next step.

We see here that there are times that God does give His people clear, easy, clean, directions that show how to get from the here to the there... how to accomplish a goal, how to get through something difficult, etc... but we also see that sometimes, He only gives us an end goal in mind, and requires a radical act of faith, a sacrificial obedience and a determination to achieve the goal, and then, He will show us the next step...

I don't know the best way to tell the difference from one to the other, but I do know this... if you are standing on the shore, and you don't see a direct path in front of you, start stepping into the water... if you want to achieve something, be willing to sacrifice, trusting that God will be faithful, and start...

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Claiming victory

I get confused sometimes... especially when it comes to the things of God. I suppose that to some point, that level of confusion is encouraging in realizing that my mind cannot begin to comprehend or even try to wrap itself around certain aspects of God. The mystery of God is necessary in order to keep ourselves in proper perspective as the creation, made in the image of a Creator... not the other way around.
One aspect that often confuses me is the idea of claiming victory in Jesus. We are told that because God uses all things in our life, good and bad, to direct those of us who have submitted to the Lordship of Christ in the direction of the will of God, that we can get through tough times by simply claiming our victory in Jesus.
I don't know about you, but I have no idea what that is supposed to look like, I can't envision it well, and it doesn't seem like one of those huge God things that are supposed to be mysterious. This is a practical resolution to a problem, and an idea that I think God wants His children to understand... He wants me to understand what it tangibly looks and feels like to claim victory in Jesus, and here is what I'm getting right now:

In the Old Testament, we see many times that the Israelites were facing a battle. Many times they were ferociously overmatched, whether by strength, size, or even both. But we also see a resolve because they knew they were to claim the victory already won for them by God, they just had to be humbly obedient. That part is easy to understand. I get that if I am humbly obedient and following the will of God that I will be victorious. But the catch is this: victorious doesn't always mean what we think it will. Victorious can quickly become a selfish pursuit of greatness, holiness, righteousness, so on and so forth... we see this because God was always with His chosen people, watching out for them, helping them through their battles, but there were times that they thought they were to be "victorious" from a prideful and selfish heart, and yet, they were defeated, enslaved, etc... they were still "claiming victory in God". Yet they were not "victorious".
We have to be willing to accept that the victory we claim in Christ is not always going to be what we expect. But by claiming the victory, we are submitting to the Lordship of Christ to say that His victory is good, right, and unwavering. We don't always get to define a victory, we are called to humbly, obediently take part in the battle, follow the command of our Lord, and celebrate the outcome with glorious praise and worship...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

the husband jackpot

Now, don't tell my wife this, I don't want her bragging to everyone... but, I am pretty sure that she won the husband lottery. I mean, c'mon, I am an amazing cook, I work hard at a job I love to provide for our family, I clean the bathrooms, I do the dishes, I even do my own laundry... I'm thoughtful, insightful, I have a strong, growing relationship with my Lord and Savior, I teach discipleship classes, I serve with an awesome group of men, I'm funny, I'm smart, I'm compassionate, I'm ferociously in love with her, I am passionate about the things I care about most, and on top of it all... I'm pretty good looking.

You know what I think is the most ridiculous thing about that previous paragraph? There are times I fail to remember why any of that is true. Many of the statements above are exaggerated, and others are accurate, but one thing remains constant through them all, I am only who I am because of the love and support of those closest to me, and because of the grace of a God that loves me unconditionally.

I cook well because my mom invested time in teaching me how much fun it is, and how to enjoy feeding others. The foods I cook are only on the plate because of the time my wife spends tracking down recipes, because she researches the ads to get the best prices, because she wrangles two kids through the grocery store to bring home the ingredients, and because she entertains them while I am in the kitchen.

I work hard at a job I love because 7 years ago, she didn't laugh when I told her I wanted to be a nurse. She encouraged me, and supported me through those years. She helped me stay focused on accomplishing my goals, even through my mom's illness. Without her support, I wouldn't be supporting this amazing family.

I clean bathrooms and do dishes because they are small ways I can help out around the house to express my appreciation. She does so much, the least I can do is do the gross jobs. That includes my laundry, because lets face it, boy laundry is smelly... nurse laundry is smelly... boy-nurse laundry is darn near toxic.

I am thoughtful, insightful, and growing in my faith because she invested time in me 13 years ago to reintroduce me to the one true God. Since then, she has willfully listened to the ebb and flow of my growth. She encourages me to seek God in new and different ways. She encouraged me to take on the task of leading in discipleship, and prays for me, she introduced me to these men along whom I serve.

My wife is an amazing woman, her constant support and love has pushed me to become the man I am today. Her investment in me drives me to want to be the best man I can be. God uses her, in direct and powerful ways, as He continues to pursue me, to change me, to grow me. Everything I am now, everything that is good in me, is only there because of the work that God has done in my life... and He has accomplished most of the work through her. I am only a good catch because my wife caught me. I hope to do a good job of living up to the husband she deserves, and I am immensely saddened by the times that I have failed miserably.

I thank God every morning when I wake up, and she is laying beside me for another day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

pursuing an adulterous woman

We recently had a message at our church concerning the woman caught in adultery from John 8. The classic, over-quoted, awesome story of grace and stone-casting. As I continued to think about the story, and discussing it in our men's group, I was reminded of something that God has really been working on deepening my understanding about how He works... I am being constantly reminded and assured of God's pursuit of us.

Think about this woman, clearly she is not living right. We don't know how deeply involved with adulterous affairs she is, or what else she might be involved with, but we know that she was caught in the act of adultery and paraded out for all to see. She was likely ashamed and deeply embarrassed by her life. She likely felt, like so many of us often do, that she was worthless, and unable to be forgiven. But here's the thing, God is jealous for His children, and He will do whatever it takes to bring them back into a right relationship with Him. It is His desire for each of us to join in to this relationship with Him, and He calls us to come to Him, just as we are, with all of our filth and failures and cast our burdens on Him. But we are resistant to this call because we feel we are unworthy of this relationship, we have to clean up first, we have to make ourselves able to stand before God. We want the forgiveness, but we don't want to display our dirt. So, we run away from God, trying to find a way to make ourselves clean.
When we do this, at some point, in His own timing, God will choose to pursue us. He will begin to call us back to Him, and as we resist, His call will get louder... and when God decides it is time for you to come back to Him, He will use whatever means He has to get to you. In this particular case, God desired this woman to return to Him, but due to the depth of her sin and shame, I don't believe there is any way she would have approached God to seek forgiveness. She was "too dirty". So, God went on the pursuit... He used the zeal, pride, arrogance, and outright sin of the scribes and Pharisees to go get this woman, in the very act of her sin, and bring her before God. It was not the intent of the scribes and Pharisees to be used by God in this way. They were unaware of their part as pawns in this great act, they were hatching their own scheme to trick and discredit Jesus. They were busy focusing on their own self-interest to notice the hand of God. So, using the unaware pawns, approaching the woman at the depth of her sin, God brought the woman to Himself. He knew the deepest secrets and pain that present in her life, her sins were not secret to Him. He listened as the charges of the self-righteous were leveled against her, and He responded. He judged her, righteously, as a sinner, and never downplayed that fact, but He also righteously judged the crowd around her. He had called her to this place to let her know that He knew who she was, and what she had done, but to respond with love. He called onto the carpet the sin of those around her, and they fled. The woman recognized Jesus as Lord, and called Him accordingly. She received a forgiveness that she desired, yet believed was not possible. Not because she was good enough, but because God is. He pursued her, used the path that was available to Him, brought her before Him, and extended grace to her. She left the encounter changed.

This is the God I serve, one who will pursue those He loves, through whatever means possible, into and through a literal Hell. A God who knows the depth of my sin and chooses to love me anyway. A God who places the crowd back where they should be. A God who extends grace to all who declare Him as Lord. A God who looks at me and says, "Neither do I condemn you, now go and sin no more."

What God do you serve?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

bottom of the pit

I don't really have anything specific to write about today... sometimes I would let that keep me from writing or posting anything. Of course that is pretty obvious by the many, many days that I don't post anything original to this blog. I wish I were one of those people who had new and inspirational thoughts every day, someone who people would check each day to see what I had to say, because they knew it would be beneficial. But I'm not that guy, nor do I believe I ever will be. Its not how I was gifted. My gift is more like a  shotgun, there are days when I will get 5-7 ideas for blog posts, fully formed, well articulated ideas... but most days are like today, I don't really feel like I have much to share.

I have often thought it would be interesting to write in a truly, free-flowing, flow of consciousness style. To just spill my thoughts onto paper as they come to me... unedited, unplanned. The plain and simple truth is that it terrifies me to think of where my mind would likely go in such a situation. My mind is not clean, easy, or generally public appropriate at many points throughout the day. I have to allow careful control over my thoughts on a moment to moment basis to ensure that I am not traveling down the paths of egotistical, arrogant, self-righteous, manipulative, proud, and disdain. Those who feel they know me well would likely not describe me in the ways listed there, but those who do truly know me have watched me struggle through those times. My wife knows all too well that this side of my nature still lives and breathes within me, she has suffered through many days where it controls my thoughts, actions, and words. Luckily, it is not that nature which controls me, that nature only comes out when I feel that I can control it, rather than allow Christ to do so. When I submit my mind and body over to the Lordship of Jesus, as He commands me to do so daily, and when I choose to shoulder my own cross and nail my life to it, as He did His... when I surrender who I am, and allow Him to redefine me, I am controlled and compelled by His love. His power over sin is universal, but also personal. He died for ALL sin, but He died for mine. He paid the wage of death for ALL mankind, but He paid it for me. And when I try to take back control, when I start to answer to that old self, the one that will one day be defeated, I find myself back in the pit of my total depravity, surrounded by the pains of my past, and the darkness of who I am apart from the Christ who saved me... when I reach that bottom... Jesus is there. He whispers to me, still, silent, calm, empowering... and He asks me, "Why are you back here? I have already died for this, I have already paid the painful price for this so that you don't have to. I love you." He knows when I head down that path, He warns me as I do, He offers a way off that path, a way that leads back to Him before I reach that pit... but He also knows that many times, I'll ignore Him on the way, and so  He waits for me there...

I don't care how deep your pit is, I don't care who or what is laying in it for you... I don't care what you have done, or how far you have run... I don't care who you believe you are... Jesus already paid your price, He is already risen, defeated every sin, every doubt, He has conquered death for us. All we have to do is accept His payment, turn from our own pit, and walk back out along the path, lighted by His love, back into the life He has intended for each of us. He said it Himself, so many times and so many ways... Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life... the only way back to God... He is the word become flesh... and the Word is a light upon our path, guiding us in the way of righteousness

I'm glad I didn't have anything to write today... that felt good, and right
If you read this, thank you for doing so... if you liked it, please share it with others, or take a look at some of the other things I have written... if you didn't like it, then don't