Category Archives: Persevere

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.”

This World is not my home

Life is hard–even when things are pretty good. The little things are what throw me, especially when they come in waves. Like the last few weeks…

I’ve been driving a 93 Lincoln Town Car for the last year, a wonderful providential gift from the Lord. There’s a really cool story that goes with that. Suffice it to say here that I told my wife Susan one day, “I just need to get a different car and the next one is going to be white!” (The Florida sun burns off every other color if the car sits out.) Two days later, an acquaintance from Texas texts us and tells us they have a car we can have if we want it. “But,” they say, “you may not want it because it’s white.” Listen, a Town Car was choice number 178 in a list of my most wanted cars, but if that’s what God had to give me, I was going to take it. It’s actually been a great car.

Having driven the Lincoln for a year, I had been looking at used vehicles. I had been saving for five years! I finally made a private party purchase to replace the Town Car. It drove like a dream the 35 miles home. Susan and I were thanking God for allowing us to find a great deal on a pretty nice car — a 2012 GMC. The next morning, as I was driving to register the car and transfer the title, the engine started on fire! That was five weeks ago and it’s still isn’t running. It may be a total loss.

And there are so many other things, like the prominent hotel chain that can’t figure how to cancel a $620 charge on my card–after a week of trying. Or the repair shop that charged me $1500 dollars for…nothing! and won’t communicate with me at all. Or the ongoing thyroid struggles Susan is dealing with that affects about 37 other systems and symptoms in her body. Or the sizable reimbursement check from a family member that got lost in the mail. Really, it is lost!

Then I remember Jesus’ words, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world,” John 16:33. The Devil loves to toy with us, the world wants to assault us, the hosts of evil look to discourage us. But when I think of the tantamount victory of Jesus on Easter, my issues don’t seem so big.

I’m reminded of an old gospel quartet chorus:

“This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’ open door and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

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)

The Power of One

One person can make a tremendous impact on the world. This can be really good, or it can be exceptionally bad.

Nigeria School Girls abductionI was reminded yesterday of how one evil person can affect millions of lives. The Boko Haram of Africa (their name literally means, “western education is a sin”) is one of the most brutal, twisted, evil terrorist groups on earth right now. Their most visible actions of late have been in Nigeria where they have killed hundreds in group bombings the last few weeks (1500 so far this year) and have kidnapped 276 young school girls that they intend to sell as sex slaves. “They should be home and getting married not learning in a school,” their leader, Abubakar Muhammad Shekau declared. “I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams.”

All of Nigeria and surrounding nations are deeply affected by this madman and his followers. The US military is now stepping in to lend assistance in dealing with the situation. And ministers of the gospel from all over the world are in danger because of this fanatical group. Most of my day yesterday was taken up dealing with the fallout on our global partners in this region of the world.

It’s a frightening demonstration of the power of one.

It also demonstrates how much one could positively influence the world. Our best example, of course, is Jesus. One man, global impact, eternal consequences for all of history. We are potentiated to do “even greater things.” We have been given the mind of Christ, the power of the Spirit, and the wisdom from above. Of course, we don’t decide that we’re going to be a global force of one, but simply live in faithfulness today. Our diligence in the small things increasingly lead us into opportunities in bigger things. But there is tremendous potential in each one of us for significant influence, whether locally, regionally, nationally, or globally. The point is to be faithful today, tomorrow, and the next day. And just keep doing that.

A few who left their marks on the world are the apostle Paul, Martin Luther, William Carey, and Billy Graham. Don’t be discouraged by this list. We’re not called to be any one of them, but we are called to have the greatest influence possible in our corner of the world.

It reminds us of the power of one. It can be for evil and destruction. It can also be for good and God’s glory. Let’s be powerful today.

 

Physical and Spiritual Progressions

I’ve noticed that my spiritual progression often reflects my age progression. Here’s what I mean — as I grow older as an adult…

  • I tend to be more lethargic. As a young man, when evenings came, I was energized to do something fun or adventuresome. Today, I tend to be very happy to find a comfortable chair and chill.
  • I am more easily pleased. As a child, I would often look for the next adventure on a hillside, in a grove, or in an old barn hay-loft. Today, my first inclination is to say, “nah.”
  • I have become more rational. As a college student, I was the prankmeister any chance I got, simply because it was a chance to make a memory and have some fun. Today…it just doesn’t make sense to do those things any more.
  • I tend to be more sophisticated. Years ago, I didn’t care what others thought of what I did. Today, I lean towards protecting my “reputation” and making sure I don’t look too foolish in what I do.

As these realities pursue me physically and psychologically, they also influence on my spiritual condition.

  • I tend to be more lethargic by not being quite as hungry and thirsty for righteousness as I was when I was younger.
  • I am more easily pleased as I rest on where I’m at rather than where God wants to bring me.
  • I have become more rational as bold risk-taking adventures are more easily dismissed than they were in my more formative years.
  • I tend to be more sophisticated in my faith rather than living out a raw cutting edge lifestyle of pursuing Jesus no matter what I look like or what others think.

ivansusancruise2013But Jesus said, “Unless you become like children, you can not enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all.”

Childlike faith, enthusiasm, sense of adventure, and wholesome recklessness are still highly valued characteristics that God longs to see in us.

I want to  stay hungry and thirsty for God in ways that drive me to true righteousness rather than settling for an acceptable respectability.

I want be energized for God-honoring adventures, to live out risk-taking faith, exuberant to see God-things happen because I stepped out of my predictable routine.

No matter how old I become, I want my spiritual progress to be unhindered by the plights of lethargy, comfort, rationalization, and sophistication.

 

 

For Those Who Will Never Read of Him

Many people will never read the Bible. They must listen to the stories of the Bible.

Did you know that two thirds of the world’s population either prefer or must hear the gospel through oral means? So many of the unreached people groups are illiterate. Currently, over two thousand languages have no translated Scripture.

Even in our American culture, there is a new need and opportunity associated with storytelling of the gospel. LaNette W. Thompson writes, “These young people reared on television and movies, are influenced by stories, especially stories of personal experience. They don’t have time to read, but they will listen to a person’s stories if that person is considered worthy to share.” (Discovering the Mission of God, p.403)

In Converge Worldwide, we prioritize unreached peoples. God expresses His longing that every nation (ethne’ or people group)be engaged in exuberant worship of Him (Psalm 67). We see the picture of people from “every nation, tribe, people and language” standing before the throne in worship of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9). God has determined that all peoples–illiterates included–will be a part of the great throng of worshippers in glory.

If this is God’s passion, then it must be our purpose to tell the truth of Jesus to those who will never read of Him.

 

I Want that to Be Me…

The apostle Paul was a crazy man! In fact, he once told his readers that “if it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God,” 2 Corinthians 5:13. He was a man on a mission, driven to do one thing — bring the gospel to lost people. One passage in Scripture reveals Paul’s deep feelings about the urgency of this. Consider Philippians 1:12-18:

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15  Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. ESV

In the above verses, Paul is actually celebrating his imprisonment. Think of it. He has totally lost his freedom because of his obedience to Jesus. He can no-longer visit friends, check up on family, run to the Antioch Starbucks on a whim, or go play a game of horseshoes. He is imprisoned and eager to see what God will do with it. No resentment, regrets, or self-pity. Pretty cool.

This suffering and bondage he is living is bringing forth several God-honoring results, according to Paul:

  1. The gospel is advanced (v.12)
  2. The truth is reaching influential places it has never gone before (v.13)
  3. Those believers who are not imprisoned are infused with courage to be even more bold in the proclamation of the gospel (v.14)

But the final verses of this passage truly intrigue me. I’m fascinated by them because they reveal something of the passion within Paul. While confined in his scope of ministry, he gazes on at what’s happening in the world he cannot reach. In fact, it sounds a little like the church of today — the “preachers” are out there, but they’re not all so holy. It’s actually quite ugly with envy (wanting another person’s success) and rivalry (unhealthy competition) making the top of the dirty list.  In fact, many of those that are “preaching ugly” are trying to out-do Paul. They may be defaming him, talking him down, lifting themselves over him, and trying to get a bigger name than him. And there are some who are spreading the gospel for all the right reasons.

If I were Paul, I think I would be pretty ticked. I would be saying things like, “Christ is dishonored by impure motives.” “What a shame that the gospel is polluted by sinful attitudes.” “The gospel will never succeed in the disastrous mess.” Now these may all be true statements — I don’t really know — but I would sure feel better after expressing my disgust for all of those lowlifes. But Paul does nothing of the sort. He humbly reveals his unrelenting passion that the gospel be delivered to lost people.

“Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

The gospel is being delivered and that’s what matter most.

In this statement, I see Paul’s dependence upon the sovereignty of God — let Him sort it out. Let Him build His church. Let Him deal with the envious rivals. Paul simply rejoices that this truth about Jesus is being heard and the Holy Spirit can then do as He pleases with it.

As I consider this passage, I am humbled by Paul’s single-minded pursuit to see the gospel delivered to those who have not heard.

It drives him.

It makes his hardships valuable.

It propels him to press on for the glory of God.

I want that to be me…

In the Shadows of Failure

Numbers 15 begins innocently enough: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you….'” Recognizing the context here is the key to understanding the impact of this statement. The first generation of Israelites has just been commanded by God to go into the wilderness for 40 years until the whole generation dies off. Because a number of them refused to accept God’s instruction, they now decided to do the “right” thing and enter Canaan anyway — they were all slaughtered inside the Promised Land and chased 60 miles to Hormah until every defecting Israelite was dead. The very next words that God speaks through Moses are these: “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you….'”

How were the people to understand these words? Here are a few suggestions:

  • God still intended to give the people of Israel this Promised Land. Nothing changed this way. It would, however, now be the second generation.
  • God was giving them purpose and direction even though they had just failed horribly.
  • God was giving them an opportunity to still live in obedience to Him. It would look differently now, but God’s call to holiness was still there.

Have you ever wondered how the second generation of Israelites had the faith to do what their fathers and mothers were unwilling to do? How could they, after living in a wilderness limbo for 40 years, have the spiritual strength to trust God to enter Canaan? After seeing their fathers and mothers live lives of futility and waste away, how could they become God-followers of rare proportion?

It all begins here. In the shadows of failure, God gave them all a new beginning.

  • For generation number one, their calling has changed. They are now responsible to prepare the next generation for God’s best plan for their lives.
  • For generation number two, their calling has begun. They now need to start living for God as if they are already in the Promised Land. They are not to wait 40 years to begin practicing God’s way of living. It begins now. It is the very thing that will prepare them to trust God in wilderness for 40 years AND as they take bold God-dependent risks upon entering Canaan years in the future.

Are you in the shadows of failure? Reeling from mistakes that are reeking havoc in your life? Do things seem hopeless and bleak? God ALWAYS has a plan for your future and your holiness. Find it and live it.

A Blur

Life has been a blur the last while.

Have you ever traveled on a train? As you sit there moving at high speeds, things whisk by at alarming quickness. It all seems a blur and so little of what passes you can actually be taken in. That’s the way I’ve felt in leading our Converge missions the last while. It’s been good, but it’s also been a blur.

Preaching 2013
Preaching lakeside at our 2013 Missionary Retreat in Minnesota.

It has also been very good. Time with missionaries, connections with churches and pastors, growing and developing our team, and shaping pathways into the future have filled my days (and sometimes my nights) with good things. I embrace the great privilege it is to serve in this unique and influential role.

I am also humbled. I would always like to think that I’ve truly learned to trust in the Lord after 41 years of being his child, as well as 30 years in full-time ministry. I’ve been reminded of how far I still have to go in laying my burdens down. With a recent season of eye problems — trouble seeing, pain and hypersensitivity — I’ve been told that I have recurring blisters on my eyes due to unhealthy stress. Evidently, my physical vision is affected because my spiritual vision is blurred as well. I’m on a journey of still learning to cast the heavy burdens of ministry and life at the foot of the cross.

I get the feeling that God has me right where He wants me — in a ministry role that is bigger than I can handle. It REQUIRES me to fully depend on the Lord’s sustaining grace and Holy Spirit power to do exactly what He’s called me to do. I’m in that unique place where I cannot get by without Him. It’s do or die (so to speak). I am committed to becoming more like that apostle Paul who, in his weakness, stated, “Your grace is sufficient for me. Your power is perfected in weakness.”

Life has been a blur the last while — for more reasons than one. I’m looking to God for clarity, peace, health, and success. To God be the glory!

Faithlessness

FAITHLESSNESS is something I never want to be known for. The first generation of  freed Israelites are characterized as being faithless. Numbers 14:33 states, “…they (your children) will pay for your faithlessness, until the last of you lies dead in the wilderness.”

What did faithlessness look like for the generation of Israelites who chose to turn away from the Promised Land?

  • They did not believe that God was good — especially after their Egyptian slavery of 400 years.
  • They overlooked the promises God had made to them years before, such as those to Abraham and his descendants, “I will make you a great nation” and “I will give you this land.”
  • They were suspect of the miracles God had performed on their behalf (the 10 plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, water in the wilderness, etc.).
  • They chose to continue life as the victims they were rather than the victors God intended to make them.
  • They chose a familiar bondage over an unfamiliar freedom.
  • They wouldn’t believe that they could have a life as good as what God told them they would have.
  • They lived by human intuition rather than by divine guidance.

As I was jotting down this non-exaustive list, I was humbled by the fact that these “bullet points” are a part of my life way too often. How I long to live every day in the arena of faith rather than faithlessness. After all, “without faith, it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God.”