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For as long as I have been a Christian I have sought to have a heart after God. I have questioned God about many things in my life including many traumatic events, but I have never questioned my belief in God. But last week a fellow believer posed a question to me that I have wrestled with since then: “Do you believe God is who he says he is; do you believe his promises?” She was encouraging me to let go of all my efforts, my own ideas of serving God, and to rest in him. She described it as a funnel where I keep running around the outside trying to do things on my own. Then she asked me, “What happens if you stop running?” I looked at her and said, “I fall into the dark hole at the bottom of the funnel, the unknown.” She nodded, “Exactly.”
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She pinpointed my greatest fear — the fear of the unknown. What I viewed as efforts to serve God were more driven by not wanting to fall into the unknown; of not wanting to fall completely into the hands of God. “Do you trust God to take care of the things you are trying to fix on your own?” I hesitated to answer. The revelation that I did not completely trust God brought tears to my eyes. I thought I was totally devoted to God, to following Christ Jesus, but her words revealed I was still clinging to the sides of the funnel with my own selfish motives and my works.
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She went on to explain that falling into the unknown, falling into the hands of God, releases us to let his Spirit work fully within us. Our efforts become a response to God’s call, a nudging of the Spirit. A heart after God is the first step, but God calls us to a deeper relationship with him. He asks us to trust him and his ways even when they don’t make sense. “Just be still,” she advised me. “He is calling you to still waters, a place of rest.” It is a place where you can hear God’s call.
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Running around the funnel on my own is tiring. Resting by still waters sounded attractive, but was it enough for me to stop running around the funnel? My fear of falling into the unknown still caused me to cling to the edge of the funnel. Even though I know God is there at the bottom with open hands to catch me, I can’t seem to let go. I feel God’s tug on my life, yet I still keep running around the funnel, too scared to fall into his hands.
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This seems like a crisis of faith I am in. Will I let go of my own efforts and fall into a deeper relationship with the God of the universe who is patiently waiting for me; am I willing to die to self so I can fully live for Christ? It is not so much a question of belief, but a question of if I will give all I am to follow God even if I don’t know where he is leading me? Can I really let go of my efforts to control my life and let the hand of God guide me?
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The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. – Gen. 12:1 (NIV)
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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. – Matt. 16:24 (NIV)
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Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. – Matt. 4:19-20 (NIV)

I sat at the stoplight watching cars pass through the busy intersection. That’s when I noticed the vacant church sitting at the corner with a large “For Sale” sign in front of it. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to this congregation? What would cause people to vacate a church and leave it empty for another purpose? I wondered if their faith was real,  not only inside the church but inside the people.

It struck me how this empty church could easily be a symbol of our lives in Christ. Are we just going through the motions with a works-based faith or are we a sincere follower of Christ? As Matthew 6:22 says in The Message: “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” Like that church, do we let the light of Christ light up our interior or are we more prone to board up the windows and not let Jesus Christ into our life?

If we are not careful, we will be so focused on leading a clean life and doing good that we miss the power of the Spirit to transform our life for Christ. In essence, our works create a vacant church that looks good on the outside, but is empty on the inside. Christ warned us about this condition in Matt 12:43-45: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation (NIV).”

Like the vacant church on the corner, an empty life has a For Sale sign on it. If every square foot is not filled with the Spirit of Christ, it becomes available for anyone or anything to fill it. The advice of Proverbs 4:23 is worth noting: “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust (The Message).”

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published Jan. 14, 2011.

I have journeyed through the deep, dark valley

Felt the pain, sorrow and trauma

Struggled to take each step forward

As I traveled that beaten down, rutted path

Occasionally I glanced up from far below

And noted a slim slit of light high above the canyon walls

Wandering in this deep pit of despair

I encountered many others trudging with heads down

Focused on the darkness and the worn path below

I tried to direct them to look up at the light

But they refused to listen, called me names

Attacked me with hateful words and foul language

Discouraged, I soon found myself with my head down

Feeling beaten, weak and tired I slumped on the path

I cried out to God for help, cried for what seemed like days

Then I heard someone walking by me

I couldn’t even lift my head to see who passed

I could hear their feet stop and step next to me

I felt a hand upon my slumped and weary shoulder

I tried to look up but could not muster the energy

“I will walk with you, help hold you up,” the person said

I felt two strong arms pull me to my feet

I looked forward at the deep, dark valley ahead

Too weak to take a step, this person nudged me forward

We journeyed for months along a winding path

Often barely able to see the light above

Eventually we emerged out of that deep, dark valley

Surrounded by daylight, we sat a moment on the edge

I could feel the light warm my chilled body

I peered over the edge and looked down at the valley

So dark and deep I could not see anyone in it

Then I looked up at my partner through this journey

I saw not one, but many faithful followers of Christ

Those obedient to His call, to answer my cries for help

Still weakened from my journey, I asked them, “Why?”

One of the faithful answered, “I once walked that valley;

I know the pain you felt, I know you needed help.”

I nodded and looked back down at the valley

I too now know the pain of that lonely journey

Perhaps with renewed strength I will return to the valley

To help others emerge from the realm of darkness

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” — Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV)

Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.” — Psalm 31:21-22 (NIV)

A year after my father’s death, my family went through the remaining things that were part of his life on earth. Many of the items brought back memories of my father. I could look at an article of clothing and instantly remember him wearing it. I could pick up a tool and almost feel my father’s rugged hand in the worn grooves of the wood handle. To anyone else it was just stuff, but for me many of these things carried a strong identity to my father.

It made me wonder about what creates my identity in this world. What do people see when they look at me? Do they see in me what Paul describes in Ephesians 4:20 as “a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you (NIV).” Do they see the rugged grip of God the Father on my life, the evidence of His work, or do they look at me and see my identity associated with the stuff of this world?

If we are not careful, the world can steal our identity. It’s a constant struggle not to create an identity based on where you live, what you drive, where you work, what you wear or the position you hold. Jesus warned us in Matt. 6:19-20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

In the end, everything we accumulate in this life will be left behind for others. What will people remember about your life? Will they see a strong identity with God the Father and eternal treasures or will they only see a bunch of stuff that built an earthly identity? “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life ( John 12:25).”

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published August 25, 2010

In her children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst tells a story about little Alexander and his bad day. From the moment he wakes up, nothing goes his way. “I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” he says on the first page. Sure enough, from there on, a series of bad things happen to him from not getting a window seat in the car to the Dentist finding a cavity. Alexander’s solution is to move to Australia, but his mother reminds him at the end of the book that some days are like that – even in Australia.

Like Alexander, sometimes we wake up with the attitude that it’s going to be a bad day. Why? Because we decide things that don’t go our way are bad. We get frustrated at the obstacles we face and angry about unfulfilled expectations or lost dreams. Left unchecked, this attitude can taint our view of life and put us into a downward spiral.  We become like the woman in Paul Simon’s hit song “Slip Slidin’ Away” who talks about good days with no pain and what might have been.

Yet how often do we lie in bed and think of what might be if we focused on God’s purpose instead of our own expectations. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And now we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (NIV).” If you “trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5),” then your expectations will center on God’s purpose for your life. You will be better equipped to understand that God has a purpose for everything, even the terrible, horrible, no good very bad things that happen to us.

In 2 Cor. 11:24-26, Paul describes the many bad days he experienced in his ministry. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.” Even though Paul experienced many horribly bad days, he continued to trust that God had a purpose for everything. He remained focused on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus told us that those who follow him will have bad days. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me (John 15: 20-21).” How well do you know Christ? How much faith do you have in Romans 8:28 that “God causes all things to work together for His purpose,” not ours. Do you trust that God is in everything, even the horrible stuff? The way we view each day can say a lot about how we view God in our lives.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 16, 2010

The following was sent to me by my friend. With his permission, I am sharing it with you.

A few days ago my daughter and my granddaughter were here for a brief visit. Just before bedtime I got out my green laser light to show my granddaughter. She loved it, precotiously exclaiming “This is really ‘mazing!'”

After she went to bed I went outside to check on my herd of frogs and toads. Yes, you read that right. You see, the light on the north side of the garage attracts a lot of bugs. Every warm night three to six tree frogs perch around the light for a meal, and two to three large toads sit on the ground below waiting to pounce on any careless flyby.

The herd was in full force! Six tree frogs and three large toads; a new world record! The thought then occurred to me, “I wonder how they would react to my green laser light?” I tried the tree frogs first. They did nothing. Then I shined the light on the ground about 6 inches in front of a large toad. He immediately pounced! For the next 5 minutes I was leading toads all over the driveway as they aggressively hopped in pursuit of the shiny green meal.

Those toads reminded me of our pursuit of shiny green nothings. The toads were obviously hungry. But the truth was there was nothing in what they were so aggressively pursuing that could give them nourishment or satisfaction. It was a worthless waste of time and energy on their part, but it was immensely entertaining on my part!

When we spend our time and energy pursuing shiny green nothings, I wonder if the enemy is like me with those toads. He is fooling us, and is immensely entertained by our foolishness. The toads remind me of God’s leading with His people in Isaiah 55:2-3a, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live…”

Let’s learn the lesson from these toads and pursue the satisfying soul food of a deeper relationship with Christ and His people!

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 27, 2010.

When someone close to us is sick or injured, we tend to pray for healing. When we struggle with emotional or difficult situations, we desire release from the pain. When tragedy strikes, we yearn for the time before life was ripped apart. We cry out to God for healing; to take away the pain; to relieve the suffering. But when there is no response we wonder why he has abandoned us. The real question, however, is whether we have abandoned God.

In the midst of suffering in this world it is difficult to remain focused on God. In Psalm 22 David expresses this emotion when he writes “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (NIV) In the midst of his torment, as his enemies pursue him, David shows his humanity by wondering why God does not save him. He reminds God in verses 4-5 how he saved Israel before, how “In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”( NIV)

It’s the same rationale we sometimes use when we are burdened with adversity. We look at past times when God has come to our aid. We see others experience healing, the injured become whole again and others who seem to avoid tragedy all together. We remind God how he helped the faithful before and wonder why he does not help us now. In these times it is difficult to see life beyond our own struggles, to understand God’s bigger purpose. Our feelings of abandonment are a very real part of our life on earth.

Jesus experienced this emotion of feeling abandoned by God. While dying on the cross he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”— which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46 NIV). In the wake of his crucifixion, most of his followers fled for their lives. While Jesus could have sought to save himself from the immense pain of the cross, he remained focused on God’s plan for us. After his cry to God from the cross, “Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.” (Matt. 27:50 NLT) This set the stage for his resurrection and our salvation.

While our pain is very real, we must be careful that it does not cause us to abandon God and his purpose. It is a part of surrendering our life to Jesus so that we may become his instrument. In the midst of his distress, David maintained his reverence for God. “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!” (Psalm 22:23 NIV). Continuing our reverence toward God in adversity points us toward the time when we will be fully restored with God, a time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev. 21:4 NIV)

I was reading Psalm 67 and verses 1-2 convicted me: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us — so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations (NIV).” Too often I desire God’s grace, his blessing, for myself. I seek to have his face shine on me so that I can feel his presence surround me and strengthen me. Yet in this Psalm, verse two tells us the purpose is so that God’s ways can be known on earth, that salvation would be “among all nations.”

I am reminded of Moses in Exodus 34:29-30. After he came down from Mount Sinai with the “covenant law” his face was “radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” This caused Aaron and the Israelites to fear Moses. It was apparent to them that he had been with God. It demonstrated what Israel was to be to other nations. The blessings that God bestowed on Israel were not for their own enjoyment, rather it was so that other nations would know God and his salvation. As the last verse of the Psalm 67 states, “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.”

It makes me wonder if people look at me and see God’s radiance on my face, “the joy of the Lord” (Nehemiah 8:10). Do they sense God is at work in my life and feel a proper reverence, a fear of God. The blessings in my life, the abundant grace he gives me should flow into the lives of those around me so that “the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you (Psalm 67:5).”

I sat with her as she lay dying. The machine behind me pulsated, providing oxygen to sustain her in these final moments. She could no longer swallow and her voice was barely audible, yet occasionally she was able to say a few words. I held her hand and told her, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” Even though she was very weak, she managed to lightly squeeze my hand. The cancer had ravaged her body, taken away all her strength, and now it was taking her life. She was no longer able to sit up and had been bed-ridden for more than a week. But now I sensed the end was near.

I gently pulled the hair away from her face and slowly caressed her head, trying to sooth her. “Water,” she managed to utter. She was no longer able to drink with a straw. I picked up the small sponge on a stick, dabbed it in the cup of water by her bed, and moistened her mouth with it. She sucked on it and I could see the relief on her face as the water refreshed her parched mouth. I set the sponge down and held her hand. “Thank you,” she managed to say with a raspy voice. “It’s okay,” I repeated to her with my mouth close to her ear. “God loves you,” I added.

As difficult as it was to sit with her, I had a sense of peace. I couldn’t help but think of this as an image of God and how he tends to us with a loving touch. In the midst of our difficulties in life, when we feel weak and helpless, he is there holding our hand saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” He dabs our parched soul with living water to refresh us. He is there by our side each step of the way, gently caressing our head, soothing our weary soul. We only need to take his hand and say, “Thank you.”

After a few hours of sitting with her, a family member arrived and took over the vigil. A few hours later she died. I thought of what a privilege it is to serve God; how he calls on each of us to serve him in a special way. No one act of service is any greater than any other in the Kingdom of God. We all have our own calling to convey God’s love to others in need of a loving touch; people who need their parched soul moistened with living water. As followers of Jesus Christ it is a privilege to be his hands and feet in a world full of need.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28 (NIV)

“…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:20 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published June 4, 2010.

Living a life for Christ means building the character of God inside of you, letter by letter, word by word, page by page. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. (Eph 4:22-24 MSG). As you grow in Christ, your life changes from a collection of misspelled words that don’t make sense to characters that spell out a holy life in Christ. When you break down the word Holy into its individual letters H-O-L-Y, it shows the characters you need to bring glory to God instead of yourself:

H: Honor

The tendency of the world is to bring honor to self instead of Jesus. When we follow Christ, we seek to bring honor to God. John writes in 12:26 “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, My Father will honor.” (NKJV) It is by God’s will that you were created and it is He that deserves honor by living your life for Christ. Remind yourself each day that God is worthy of honor and praise with Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things and by Your will they exist and were created.”

O: Offer

Do you offer what you do each day to God, or is it all about you? When we act on our faith and offer our time and resources to Christ, we are working to build his kingdom instead of riches in this temporal world. “You also, as living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).” It is a life that replaces self with service to others for Christ. “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all (Phil. 2:17).”

L: Love

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).” When the love of Christ permeates your entire life, he becomes the focal point, not your selfish desires. Love for Him gives you the ability to do things you could not do on your own. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt. 5:43).” The love of God is shown through you and your love of Christ. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).”

Y: Yearning

With Christ as the love of your life, you yearn for others to know Him; you yearn for fellowship with God. Before Jesus was crucified, he said to his disciples, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15).” Paul repeatedly expressed a yearning to spread the gospel. “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us (1 Thess. 2:8).” In Romans 10:1 he says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”

By bringing honor to God, offering your life to Him, loving God and yearning for fellowship with Him, you will have the character to live a holy life.

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