Do you believe God is good? But, what about when… ?

Its an interesting point to note that when Jesus was addressed as “Good Teacher,” he said, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone (Lk. 18:19).”  Jesus was reminding his hearers that “goodness” is an essential characteristic of God.

When things are tough, one of the great questions we have is, “how can a good God allow all this?”  It’s a fair question.  But it presupposes that what we think is good, is actually good.  We have a perspective that is admittedly limited.  Many of us think cheeseburgers are good.  But they are not, if you want to actually nourish your body with your food.  Our definition of good has a lot to do with our value system and our over-arching purpose.

If our value system is wrapped up in the here and now, then suffering and struggling is a horrible violation of how we want to experience life now.  But if we value the eternal, growth, maturity, transformation, etc., our ideas of what is good, will be drastically changed.  Because it is in the hard times that we are formed into something new, especially when we grow through it under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

Author and theologian, Peter Kreeft, wrote in his book, “Making Sense Out of Suffering”, these words, “If we love God, we will understand that everything is grace, that Job’s sores were grace, that Job’s abandonment was grace, that even Jesus’ abandonment (‘My god, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’) was grace.  Even the delay of grace is grace.  Suffering is grace.  The cross is grace.  The grave is grace.  Even hell is made of God’s love and grace, experienced as pain by those who hate it.  There is nothing but God’s love. ‘Everything is grace.’”

When you read the word grace in the paragraph above, replace it with the words “a good gift.”  This can be a tough exercise because it confronts our idea of what is good.  But doing this teaches us that all things God gives to us are good gifts, given to accomplish His good purposes.  He can only give what is good because He is good.

Rather than judging the goodness of God by our circumstances, let’s define our circumstances by the goodness of God.  No matter what we are going through, God is good and He is bringing about His good work in our lives.  To believe this is the beginning of experiencing the goodness of God in every area and every experience of our lives.

 

Thank you for reading, for your comments, your shares and your likes.

Three Warnings and Encouragements for Lent

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I was raised a Baptist.  For almost 29 years, I’ve pastored Baptist churches.  And until recent years, I’ve never made mention of Ash Wednesday or the season of Lent.  I won’t try to explain it all except that I’m learning from my pastoral colleagues, from other tradtions that it’s a rich time of spiritual reflection.  It is a season wherein Christians around the world enter into a great awareness of our need for repentance, faith and seriousness in following Jesus.

But as I’ve observed what really happens at Lent for many Christians is anything but serious. People celebrate “Fat Tuesday,” they get their “ashes” on Wednesday and give something up for Lent.  And those sacrifices include TV, Facebook, cussing, or removing some unhealthy treat from their diet.

As I’ve said, I don’t come from a background that holds to Lenten traditions.  But I have to believe it was meant to be more than this.  As I reflect on Lent and on how our “Christianized” culture treats it, I think we’re in danger of doing real spiritual damage.  So, here are 3 things we need to watch for and 3 things that will help us have a more meaningful Lenten season.

3 Warnings For this Lenten season.

1.  Our sacrifices won’t absolve us.
Giving something up is no substitute for being honest about our sin.  You see, our positive actions can never undo our negative actions.  We need forgiveness.  Forgiveness comes through repentance and confession.

Trying to perform our way out of sin is like a friend who, after being harsh or criticial, just trying to change without ever saying their sorry for their actions.  The offense doesn’t go away without us addressing it.

In God’s economy, only Christ’s sacrifice can remove sin.  He alone could do what was good enough.  So, giving up Facebook, or Pornography, or even reading your Bible more doesn’t absolve us of our sin.  Don’t trust in your good actions to outweigh your sin.

2.  Our sacrifices won’t get us any closer to God.
We think that we can earn God’s favor.  We tend to think that if we do something for God, he will do something for us.  God doesn’t want what we have to offer.  He wants us.  I’m reminded of this in the story of King Saul.  King Saul was commanded to follow God’s direction and he disobeyed.  But in order to restore God’s favor, he offered this huge sacrifice.  And then he said, “Look, what I did for God!”

Then God, through the prophet Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22).”

God wants us to respond to him as God.  He wants a relationship with us.  He wants us to hear and listen.  No sacrifice can earn God’s favor or blessing.

3.  Our temporary self-discipline is a set up for failure.
This season can be a lot like a physical diet.  We fear permanent change, so we go on a 40 day spiritual diet.  We don’t want a new lifestyle, we just want to get into shape, so we don’t feel so bad about splurging.  The problem is we get done with our temporary commitments and then we go back with a vengeance.

In the gospels, there is a warning about spirits.  Matthew 12:43-45 reads, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and swell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.  So also, it will be with this evil generation.”

A temporary spiritual fix is not a fix.  In fact, it is a set up for greater failure down the road.  We need, not just to rid our lives of the things that clutter our lives, we need to fill our lives with the Spirit of God who frees us and keeps us free.

Is Lent a waste then?  I don’t think so.  Playing at Lent, like playing around at a relationship with Christ can be a waste.  But the real thing can have lasting benefit.

3 encouragements for experiencing the benefits of Lent.

1. Our attitude is important.
Lent isn’t observed to make us feel better about ourselves.  The “Hey, look what I gave up!” misses the point.  This season is a time to exalt Christ, not ourselves.  We are identifying with his sacrifice.  Humility is key!  This act of self-denial is the admission that we’re not “all that.”  We need God’s grace in every way.  There is no room for pride in that.

Remember the warning of Jesus, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1).” This is not a time to seek attention. But it is a time to humbly live before the God who has loved us and called us.

2. Self-discipline is ongoing.
Self-discipline is the attempt to bring our physical lives under the direction of the Spirit of God.  This is a life-long attempt to bring the flesh under the control of the Spirit.  It is an admission that all that is in this world is temporary.  And we are living for eternity.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline by body and keep it under control, let after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

3. We need a greater goal.
There may be times when we are led by God to give something up temporarily, but the temporary sacrifice shouldn’t be our goal.  We should do it for an ongoing, ever-deepening intimacy with Christ.  We should do it for the glory of God.  This sounds a lot like the Westminster Catechism which says, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Now that’s a greater goal.

Three and a half years ago, I went into the hospital for heart surgery.  Since then I have changed my whole approach to health.  It was a short term action that led to new life-long patterns.  Lent can be the same thing.  It is a short stay in spiritual rehab.  But it’s real impact comes with what happens afterward.

I pray you have a powerful Lenten season.  But more than that, I pray it is just a step in a life of a deepening daily walk with Christ.
What have you experienced through Lent?
What do you hope to experience this year?
I’d especially love to hear from Christians from other traditions!!!!

If this post encouraged or challenged you, please do me the honor of hitting the share button.

4 Things That Help Us Make a Positive Impact

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This picture is my little trick for drinking coffee quicker. After trying to suck my latte out of the cup one morning, I realized that the little “breather” hole was blocked by a little bit of plastic residue. So, I took the pen that was in my pocket and jammed it in the hole. The next sip was easy as the hot latte poured into my waiting gullet. You see, before the fluid can flow out, air has to flow in!

This made me think about my own spiritual life. Sometimes, trying to get something good out of my life into someone else’s is a chore. How can this become more natural, easier, and more efficient? Well, I have to open my life to let more of God in. When more of God flows into my life, more love, grace, truth, sacrifice and impact flows out!

What can we do to let more of God into our lives?
1. Converse with God. We need to have conversations with God. I know, it’s called prayer. But prayer sounds difficult. Conversations are easy. Let Him hear your voice, and let His voice into your thoughts.

2. Read, or Listen to the Word. God primarily speaks to us through His Word. When you read, think, ask, discuss and wrestle with what it means to the plan of God in your life and in the world. This sounds complicated, it’s really not. All kinds of tools and resources make it doable.

3. Spend time in community with others who have a lot of God in their life. Notice, I didn’t say “Christians.” Not every Christian will help you connect with more of God. How can you find them? You can find them because you will find love, grace, truth, sacrifice and impact flowing from them.

4. Ask God for opportunities to pour out what He has poured into you. Simply ask Him, “what next?” If you are humble, willing and listening, He will show you where your impact will be best.

Like all of life, this is a process. But it can begin today. I hope you take some time today to let God in. When you do, more of what He gives will flow out to the world around you. And that’s comforting, refreshing and empowering.

How do you let more of God in your life?

What is Faith?

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“The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17
“Abraham believed and it was counted to Him as righteousness.” Romans 4:3
“And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Hebrews 1:6
“For by grace are you saved through faith…” Ephesians 2:8

If faith is so critical to our relationship with God, we have to ask, “what is it?” Is faith a process? Is it something we are given, or something we do? What is it’s relationship to works? And, can we miss the mark thinking we have faith when we may not?

As I have contemplated the idea of faith, I think faith includes at least these 3 components: understanding, assent and response.

1. Faith begins with understanding. Different levels of understanding are needed for different people, but understanding is vital. Abraham didn’t understand Christ, but he did understand God’s call on his life. As the gospel was presented in the New Testament, understanding the gospel itself was vital. To respond in faith, a person needs to understand something of Jesus and His work on the cross and the nature of His resurrection. The gospel message has many metaphors for the reality it creates. So the meaning of the gospel may be explained in many different ways. But the elements of the gospel: holiness, sin, the cross, the resurrection and new life have to be communicated and understood.

2. Faith demands assent. At some point an individual needs to agree with the understanding they’ve received. I might call this the beginning of “belief.” This agreement is necessary if one is going to have faith. In this I agree that the claims of Christ are true. I agree with the testimony of Scripture that the work of Christ is effective. I agree with the testimony of the church, that the call of Christ on my life is reasonable.

3. Faith also requires response. This is reflected in the call of Christ to “follow Me.” This is not a legalistic response of earning God’s favor. The response is an act of the will. It is the act of surrender, not performance. Repentance and obedience are both part of a faith-response.

If we are talking to someone about faith and they object. We may want to delve into why they haven’t moved to faith.

1. Some people have understanding issues. They just don’t know what the message and hope of Christ is. They don’t know the biblical story of sin and redemption. They need to be exposed to and informed of the truth.

2. Some people have assent issues. They know the story, but they haven’t yet affirmed it’s veracity. They may not be sure it’s true. Or, they may not yet be convinced that the gospel matters. In this case, if they are open, we can work at connecting them with others who have wrestled with the same issues.

3. Some people simply have response issues. They know the facts. And they believe them, but they haven’t yielded for one reason or another. For some, it is because of fear. “I’m afraid of what God will want from me.” is something that has been expressed to me several times. For some, it is the desire to hold onto control of their own lives.

We can also use these categories to assess the growth of our own faith. Growing faith means growing in our understanding, in our assent and in our response. If you consider the next step of faith you should have, what is your issue? Is there something you don’t understand? Is there something you haven’t yet agreed with? Is there something you haven’t yielded?

A Look in the Rearview Mirror-25 years

In the Beginning...

Last Sunday marked 25 years in pastoral ministry. In those years I’ve seen ups and downs. I’ve preached, counseled, led, advised and cared. In looking back it is good to note some things I’ve learned, and even some things I need to remember. In Joshua 4:21-24, the Israelites set up stones to remember what God had done. “…What do these stones mean?… Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” It is good to remember. Here is part of my list.

1) People are people. We all come with strengths and weaknesses. People get hurt and hurt others. We try and fail. And sometimes we don’t try. The truth is the journey toward Christlikeness is tough. No matter who we are we want someone to see us and hear us. And sometimes we do some unhelpful stuff to make sure that happens.  Sometimes I just need to love, especially because “I am people too.”

2) God is not static. He moves. His grace and love are forever, but they are applied to our lives and situations in different ways and at different times. This keeps God from being a boring, detached part of our lives. He leads and he also responds. There are seasons where seeds are planted, the crops are watered, the heat of the sun grows them and then there is the harvest. But there is no calendar or timetable on God’s growth chart.

3) There is always a time tension. Growth, understanding, and wisdom take time to develop! God works through the decades and the ages. So patience and the long-view are required. But God also shows us urgency. Now is the day of salvation. The door of invitation will shut, either at the point of death or the point of Christ’s return. So while we take the long-view, we have no license to neglect an opportunity.

4) I’m not indispensable. And thank God for that. His work will march on without me. Ahhh, but there is one area where no one can take my place – that is with my family. There are many pastors, but there is only one husband for Kris and one dad for Andrew, Michael, Philip and Jonathan. That must be my primary calling and responsibility.

5) Pleasing people isn’t necessary, but having their support is. It isn’t helpful to “play to the applause.” That just turns our lives and stomachs in knots. But when we rest in the approval of God and serve faithfully, we need people to support us. We all need the friendly arm on the shoulder. We all need to know that when the chips are down, there is someone in our corner. In other words, we can’t serve long alone. We need friends who will tell us the truth. And we need friends who stand with us while doing that.

6) What God has to say is more important than what I have to say. Without His Word or words are meaningless, powerless and fruitless.

7) Credit, Shmedit. It isn’t worth seeking because God deserves it anyway. And who wouldn’t rather live in the glory of God than the glory of man?

In case you’re wondering, most of these lessons have been learned through failure. There are so many times… and they continue, when I forget what it’s all about and who is really in charge. That is why it is good to have times to look in the rearview mirror and remember what God has done.

I thank God for Village Green for the great celebration last Sunday. They love and supported me and my ministry. What a joy! And I thank God that there has always been one person in my corner – – Kris. Even when I failed she saw me as a success. I’ve never had to doubt her love or friendship. And I’ve never had to wonder about her commitment to the calling God has placed on our lives.

What have you learned, how have you grown as you look in the rearview mirror?  Please comment and share your thoughts with me.

What is the Rock in Your Shoe?

On my morning walk last Thursday I was about 1/3 of the way through and I came to realize that I had a little rock in my shoe. You see, I start my walk on Hwy. 53, and walk the shoulder of the road, which is fine gravel and sand. It’s not a bad walk before the traffic starts, if you watch out for dead raccoons. Well, as I was walking, I must have kicked up a rock and it worked its way into my shoe.

Step after step, I felt it creep downward and finally, it was under the center of my foot. I didn’t want to stop because I clipping along at a good rate, it was irritating but didn’t really hurt, and I was sure I could make it home without a problem. But still, every step, I was aware of it. It became the focus of my walk.

Finally, after about 2/3 of my walk, I thought, “this is ridicules, stop and take it out.” So, I did. I stopped, pulled off my shoe in front of someone’s house, shook out the rock, put it back on and started my walk again. It didn’t bother me anymore. All of a sudden I heard something… my iPod… there was a “praise song on it.” It was a song that lifted praise and glory to God for all He has done for us. And then it hit me. That song had been playing and others like it, for the last 15 minutes. I hadn’t heard a word. I hadn’t thought about God, I was focused on a stupid little rock.

Some things in our lives are like that rock. They keep us preoccupied as we battle to keep them from hurting us. We focus on them and it keeps us from moving forward in our spirits. You’ve heard the saying, “in all things moderation.” “Poppycock,” I say. Some things just need elimination! Because for us, keeping them in moderation just takes too much work! It becomes a roadblock to spiritual growth, worship and praising God.

I wonder, how many things in my life distract me from a life of praising God? How many things have I been trying to keep in their place when I should just be letting go of them? Attitudes, habits, expectations, private desires, when we try to keep harmful things under control, we end up preoccupying our mind. Freedom often comes from elimination!

It is true, some things we can’t eliminate. We don’t eliminate relationships, because God’s desire is redemption and reconciliation. We don’t eliminate certain weaknesses, because many of these we don’t control and God uses them to give us greater grace. But there is a lot we can eliminate – – because it distracts us from living in the awareness of the presence of God.

James 1:19-21 says, My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (NIV)

There are things we just need to get rid of because they keep us from living by the Word of God and adopting the values of God. They keep us preoccupied on the things of this world versus the life of the Kingdom of God. Take a moment or two to pray and ask the Spirit of God to reveal the rock you’ve been living with, trying to keep under control, so you can be freed to enjoy all He’s done for you.

How do we get rid of things that hinder us?  Prayer to discern what it is.  Physically remove the temptation.  Fill the space with a God-honoring activity or desire.  And finding someone to be accountable to.

Life, Part 2

Life Part 2

Just 2 weeks ago I experienced one of those life-changing experiences.  It was an unexpected double-bypass surgery.  when I rehearse with family and friends, I see the hand of God’s protection involved all the way along.  On that Friday morning, I went from chest pain to surgery in about 5 hours.  

After a couple of weeks, I’m trying to process what happened and what are some things I’m learning.  Here are a few that go beyond health issues to any time God may be trying to lead us to another place.

1.  Listen to circumstances going on and don’t believe you’re bigger than they are.  I had some discomfort for a couple of weeks.  But I was trying to will it away.  Sometimes God gives us clues, but we’re not listening.  Or we think we will just overcome it somehow.  Be aware of what is going on around you or in you. We often set our agendas with blinders on.  We decide, I’m doing this or that, and we ignore the big important stuff happening around us.

2.  Trust others and let them  lead you.  I had to accept the leadership of others I didn’t know.  There were doctors that Friday who knew what my only options were.  It wasn’t a time to argue or debate.  There have been nurses and caregivers who have coached me in the process of healing.  In whatever circumstances we face, there are people who have been there.  There are often resources of wisdom and direction, if we will learn to follow.

3.  Accept love and support from those in your community.  Whenever we are going through testing or travails, our tendency is often to go it alone.  We isolate ourselves until we have it all together.  Crisis is a time to share and let others help carry our burdens.  We can’t be embarrassed abut our need.  That is why God has given us a community of faith called the church.  And mine has been the best.  Village Green has come alongside and walked with our family through this tough time.

I’m grateful that God has given me a part 2 to my life.  And I’m excited to learn and grow to become more of the man he intends me to be.  And I am grateful to everyone who is part of the journey.