Category Archives: Loving God

Becoming Nothing

Jesus consistently demonstrated his care and compassion for “the least of these.” In the following Scripture passage, we see another beautiful example of both Jesus’ love for broken people and his ability to reveal the condition of a person’s heart in a matter of seconds.

Mark 7:24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

This woman was most likely overlooked by her community because she had a demon possessed daughter. They were cursed, unclean, scary, and devalued. Yet, this woman has a conviction that if she could only get Jesus’ attention, her daughter could be freed from the unclean spirit. This mom is on a mission, determined, and willing to go to all lengths to find a future for her little girl. Scripture states, “She begged.” There is a sense of determined desperation here.

Jesus’ response is, quite frankly, startling.

And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (v.27) In this statement, Jesus is clearly communicating that this “food”, the truth of God, is for the Israelites, not the Gentiles (dogs). By the way, a dog was not a positive term in these days. They were dirty diseased scavengers.

Seems harsh? Listen to the woman’s response…

“Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (v.28)

And here is revealed a profound spiritual truth. This woman demonstrates absolute authentic humility. She doesn’t dispute the fact that she’s nothing. She doesn’t try to convince him of some entitlement. She doesn’t even get upset that she is reduced in value to a scavenging dog. She simply states another fact of life–even dogs get to eat a few scraps from the table–and in saying that, she is asking only for that.

Jesus confirms that her humble response is the key to unleashing his favor and power: For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” (v.29)

Especially as Americans, we struggle with this kind of authentic humility. We are hard-wired to be capable, self-confident, oozing with self-worth and independence. But it all flies in the face of the gospel. Jesus is looking for people who actually recognize they are broken and have no right to receive anything from God–that they are, quite literally, beggars in the presence of a holy capable God.

The Syrophoenician Gentile modeled well what need to fully embrace: Absolute authentic humility.

Broken

I’m broken. It’s not easy to admit and it’s easier to write it than it is even to say. Who likes to flaunt their weaknesses or failures. Not me! But if I’m honest with myself, I see that sin is at work in me ALL THE TIME. I can relate to the apostle Paul all too well when he said, The very thing I want to do I do not do and the very thing I don’t want to do, that is what I do. Oh wretched man that I am!”

I’ve just come off a three-month season of deep reflection, plumbing the dark places of my soul and have been humbled significantly. For a season, I had become quite numb to the realities of life, who I am, how I’m faring, the deadness of my relationship with God, etc. These are hard things to find–and not so fun to admit.

There’s good news, too. I’ve recently studied a section of Scripture in Mark. In chapter 7:24-8:13, we see four short stories about Jesus. Three reveal how we get in on God’s grace, experience his power and find transformation happening in our lives. The last story draws a sobering contrast–how we are certain to repel the grace of God. For today, let me keep it simple:

In each of these three stories, we see needy, unimportant, overlooked, even despised people capturing the attention of Jesus. They are all broken, but Jesus is compelled to action BECAUSE of their brokenness. Here’s the key, however. In each story, the people knew and embraced their brokenness. They didn’t hide it. They didn’t reason it away. They didn’t attempt to put on masks, or sound pious, or present themselves in sophisticated or respectable ways. They were broken and honest about it. In fact, their brokenness drew them to Jesus because they embrace it so well. We’ll consider those spiritual truths in the days ahead.

Are you broken? Do you know it? Are you honest with yourself? With God? With others? Is it driving you to look to Jesus or inserting a wedge between you?

Yet You are Holy

It’s easy, even exhilarating to proclaim God’s holiness when we gather for worship or are giddy about God or feel immersed in his blessings. It doesn’t come natural, however, to celebrate God’s holiness when our world is crumbling or when the soul is parched or when we feel abandoned by God.

Psalm 22 begins with David’s lament.

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.” verses 1-2

The Psalmist David suffered torturous experiences in his lifetime–for years being unjustly hunted by King Saul, having his troops forsake him, and experiencing the depths of family depravity and betrayal. These were not momentary afflictions, but episodes of life that rocks your world and assaults easy faith in God. David couldn’t figure out, at times, how God could be in these things.

After the above cry of honesty, he also declares his unmoving conviction–“Yet you are holy, verse 3.

David recognizes that God is one of a kind, set apart, in a completely other category than any other person or being. He’s holy! He cannot fit into our best logic, most sophisticated theology, deepest thoughts or most creative solutions. He’s so much bigger than we can understand, especially in the deepest agonies and struggles of life. God is there. He knows. He cares. He’s working out His plan–for His kingdom and your good. He’s holy.

The God who turned the most hopeless Friday into Sunday’s most mind-blowing victory is the one who takes our worst seasons and manufactures his best scenarios.

No matter what you’re facing, “Yet He is holy.”

Doing Things the Right Way

“They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinidab’s house. Uzzah and Ahio were guiding the cart,” 1 Chronicles 13:7

David was the new King of Israel. Meaning well, David decided to bring the powerful and mysterious Ark of the Covenant from a remote location back to Jerusalem. In the midst of singing, dancing, many instruments playing and raucous jubilation, “the oxen stumbled and Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the Ark of God. Then God’s anger was roused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God,” 2 Samuel 6:6b-7.

You can only imagine how quickly the climate shifted from the heights of celebration to the depths of shock and despair. The party ended. Scripture also tells us that David “was now afraid of God” and decided to stop transporting the Ark. It stayed right there for the next three months in the private home of Obed-edom.

I have often wrestled with this story. It seems harsh, unfair, and quite frankly, reactionary by God. But when you understand the full picture, it changes the story. A lot.

Check out 1 Chronicles 15:13. After three months of wrestling with this event, King David discovered why it happened the way it did. He decides to move the Ark of God again, but listen to what he states to the Levite tribe as they prepare: “Because you Levites did not carry the Ark the first time, the anger of the Lord our God burst out against us. We failed to ask God how to move it properly.”

God had given previous instructions as to who and how the Ark of God was always to be transported. In David’s eagerness to do what was right, he overlooked the right way to do it. The Ark was never to be put on an oxcart and it was not to be “handled” by anyone other than a Levite–those designated by God to care for the temple and religious activities.

What a great reminder that God has declared standards. There are ways His work should be done. In our age of efficiency and pursuit of measurable results, we can easily overlook the godly way things should be done. Human wisdom is no match for God’s declared ways, though we often revert to that instead of God’s best plan. It still matters how we get God’s work done–not only that we do.

By the way, on this second try, all went well.

“So all Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant with shouts of joy, the blowing of rams’ horns and trumpets, the crashing of cymbals, and loud playing on harps and lyres,” 1 Chronicles 15:28

Now that’ my kind of party!

Ragamuffin

Brennan Manning describes a ragamuffin as one who is dirty, bedraggled, and beat-up. None of us like to think of ourselves this way, but for many of us, it’s a mighty accurate description. Though I may look good on the outside, I’m fighting like crazy on the inside. Even as I produce notable accomplishments for Christ’s kingdom, I find myself struggling for spiritual survival much of the time. Yes–dirty, bedraggled and beat up is a pretty good description, not only of a ragamuffin, but of me.

Of course, this shouldn’t be any surprise. We’re in a war!

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” Ephesians 6:12.

This is not a theoretical war–it’s real! It’s not something far off like Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen–it’s in our mind, heart, homes and closest relationships! It affects us every day. To pretend the war doesn’t exist is to sentence your life to ruin or insignificance. To fight the battles in human strength is futile. We must use the weapons and equipment Christ has provided as described in Ephesians 6.

We Christians are quite proficient at presenting ourselves as victors. We aren’t too fond of revealing our real selves, the ongoing struggles, the temptations we fight nor the battles we lose. But remember, even in the losing, in the fray of battle, in the wrong moves, missed opportunities, stupid choices, areas of weakness and remorseful decisions, God loves us and is waiting to make something beautiful in the midst of the mess.

Want to see a GREAT movie that shows it well? Watch Ragamuffin (it’s on Prime)–the true story of Rich Mullins. It’s unsettling, sobering, inspiring, and real.

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3-4)

Thinking Little of Yourself

I have often thought little of myself. That is, I’m not of any great significance so what difference can I make or of what value are my thoughts, words, or input? After-all, I grew up on a farm in tiny Woodstock, Minnesota. Can anything good come out of Woodstock? My town was 213 people–we had twice as many cattle on our farm than people in our town! I grew up carrying corn cobs into the house for the kitchen stove, used a two-hole outhouse, took baths in the barn, and the first phone I used was a wooden box on the wall with the ear-piece on a wire you held to your ear. I milked cows every day and wore hand-me-downs from my older brothers until I left for college. We talked simple, ate farm food, were unrefined and lived by biblical wisdom and old-fashioned values.

None of us thought much of ourselves. We actually didn’t think about ourselves hardly ever! Life was about hard work, standing up for family and enjoying the little things–like fresh boiled corn on the cob and a good night of fast-pitch softball at the local diamond.

That’s why this little statement in 1 Samuel 15:17 grabbed my attention. The prophet Samuel said to King Saul, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel?”

Saul was shocked when he was anointed to be Israel’s first king, mostly because he thought so little of himself. His tribe of Benjamin had a not-so-distant shameful history and his family was small and of no significance. Saul probably never thought much about being a person of influence. And then one day, while on a stray donkey hunt, God arranges a divine appointment to inform him of Heaven’s plans.

Years later, when Samuel makes the above statement, Saul has strayed from his devotion to God. He’s “playing by ear” and doing his thing the way he wants to do it. It’s fascinating that Samuel would refer back to Saul’s view of himself in a moment of undeniable waywardness.

This got me to thinking…. How dangerous is it for me to “think little of myself?” Yes–I know, pride goes before a fall, God gives grace to the humble, etc. I’m certainly not diminishing any of that. But how often to do I downplay the significance of my role because of how I feel about myself. After all, if God has called, anointed and equipped me, who am I to diminish what God has planned for me to do?

Saul thought little of himself and failed desperately. I want my simple beginnings to be a strength that God can use, not a weakness upon which I will stumble.

How about you?

Saul’s Fall

I’m intrigued by the life of Saul, first king of Israel. Though not God’s best plan, since Israel demanded a king in their rejection of God, he chose Saul and anointed him to be the ruler of Israel. He was filled with the Spirit and promised a great future IF he would obey all that the Lord told him to do. His first act as King was a raving success as he freed the city of Jabesh-gilead from the ruthless Ammonites. Scripture says, “The Spirit of God came powerfully upon Saul” (1Samuel 11:6) enabling him to succeed in his first act as king.

Things took a turn quite soon, however. Saul began to rest on human wisdom rather than God’s declarations, to reason away sin by deceiving himself, to fear people more than God, and to “fudge” on practicing complete obedience to God’s demands.

1Samuel 15:22-23 record the prophet Samuel’s words clarifying Saul’s sin:

“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he has rejected you as King.”

What a sobering reminder of what God expects of his servants:
1. Obedience–so much more than religious activity that can often give us a false sense of spirituality.
2. Compliance–the opposite of rebellion and stubbornness, powerfully destructive fruits of the flesh.
3. Loyalty–the antidote to rejection.

I never want to live a life of regrets like Saul.

Lord, by your grace, help me to obey, comply and practice God-honoring loyalty to you.

The Degree that God Intends

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” Acts 1:8.

Jesus smiling #6Jesus smiling #6Thailand leadersAmong evangelical believers, the Holy Spirit has received little press. We tend to be strong on sin, justice, the Word, and the Great Commission, but our daily dependence upon the Spirit’s power has  been woefully overlooked.

The passage above reminds us that the Spirit’s presence and power in our lives is indispensable.

  • We cannot be who God intends for us without the Holy Spirit unleashed in our lives.
  • We cannot accomplish what God intends for us without Holy Spirit power surging through us.

It is, in actuality, impossible.

And what is the focal point of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives? As first eight states clearly, to be His witnesses.

  • Would it be an overstatement to say that if we fail to be his witness, we lack the Spirit’s empowerment?
  • If this is the ultimate issue for which the Spirit was given (and it is in this passage), could we assume that failing to engage in this central mission as a disciple of Jesus reveals a distracted powerless believer?

It is so natural for me to choose disengagement from my neighbors and acquaintances in the spiritual realm of things. I have manufactured lots of good reasons for this (and I’m guessing you may have, too). But I’m quite certain that truth is this: My lack of witnessing about Jesus is an accurate reflection that the Holy Spirit is not upon me to the degree that God intends.

 

 

Priority

Priorities slip. The things that we should always highly value have a way of getting lost in the fray.

ivansusancruise2013I recently looked at my wife’s calendar and was humbly reminded of how easily this happens. There in her calendar, on every Tuesday night, was a notation, “Date with Ivan.” Oh wow! This was a commitment I had made some time ago because my relationship with Susan needed time and commitment. Somewhere in the busy schedules and demanding responsibilities, I lost sight of that priority. It’s time for a recommitment.

When Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority, but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses…”, He was giving us a clear priority.

  • Holy Spirit power trumps end times information.
  • Doing is more important than knowing.
  • Our curiosity must be held in check by Jesus command.
  • God does His part and we need to do ours.

In essence, Jesus was telling His disciples that nothing matters more than being His witnesses. Our active involvement in His plan of redemption for all mankind is to be an ultimate priority in our daily lives. Our love for Jesus is not best expressed by determining the time of His return, but by engaging in the command He has delivered.

Hold on–you may not be an eschatological wiz. You’re not enamored by end times puzzles. But, you may have let something else creep in and crop out God’s directive. It’s all the same. If we’re not doing what He desires, it doesn’t really matter why. The fact is, we’re missing in action. That’s what matters.

So here’s a important priority to embrace. Take Jesus’ words to heart. Are you involved in spreading the word about what Jesus has done for you? The priority is simply this–be His witness. Tell what you have seen heard and experienced. Again and again and again…

repost from April 2010 — FOCUS

Susan has been all about one thing this week — putting on a gardening seminar this morning. She and her friend Pam have been talking, meeting and preparing to hit a “home run” at the Chocolate Oasis workshop at our church this morning. In fact, last night she apologized for being absent this week — meaning she wasn’t giving me much of herself since the workshop was getting it all. I assured her, “It’s OK, Babe. You need to do your best.” By the way, that’s all she knows how to do — her best. I like that about her.

While observing her this week, I was reminded of the power of focus. I saw it all week with Susan. And trust me — her passionate focus will pay off in an amazing seminar. I told her that I wish I could be in her workshop! Her attention to detail, the energy expended in covering all of the details, the thoughtfulness invested in making sure it is pleasing, artsy, and enjoyable will pay wonderful dividends to her attendees. Focus lends itself to excellence.

Jesus told us to have one primary focus — Love God. If you want to love God excellently, focus is essential. All other things, even workshops, somehow need to fit within that one driving passion of our lives. When zero in our focus on the ONE who loves us with an infinite love, we find something extraordinary happen in our lives — excitement, energy, and passion grow in our souls. This never happens when God is a mere slice of the pie, an afterthought, or an entity we fit in the cracks and crevices of our lives.

Another thing happens with focus: We see more than we ever thought was there! I’m guessing that Susan learned more about gardening this week than she ever anticipated. That’s because gardening was her primary focus for days! And when God becomes the ultimate focus for us, we begin to realize the absolute beauty of His character and qualities. It will blow our minds.

So make loving God your number one focus in life, just as scripture commands. Amazing things will happen in the pit of your soul.

Know what’s cool? My little wife did this workshop today in order to love God. This is her offering to Him! She believes that when people get their fingers dirty in God’s amazing creation, they’ll get to know the creator even better.

Good call, my Love!