Series: Restoring Vitality – How we hide from God

TOY STORY 3This is the third in a series of exploring our own spiritual growth and health.  I’m calling it “Restoring Vitality” because there are many of us who feel like life is missing from our own spiritual journey.  We may feel stuck or oppressed. Overall, it just doesn’t seem like I should be where I am.  The question is, how do we experience the life God designed for us?

The first blog described the problem of being stuck in spiritual infancy.  There is a problem of not moving forward in our faith toward greater intimacy with Christ. The second blog identified some of the important questions we can ask which will help us honestly assess where we are.  In this blog, I’d like to explore our own strategies for producing a sense of movement when in fact they may be doing the opposite.

If you remember, the first question I thought we should ask was the same question God asked Adam in the garden.  “Where are you?”  It’s a question I don’t particularly like.  It is easier for me to move on with my plans, march through the days and years of my life, hoping and wishing and hiding.  Let’s consider some ways we hide from the intimacy God desires for us.  These are in no particular order.

We trade Jesus for moral rules.  Moral rules make us feel good.  When we obey them, we compare ourselves with those who don’t and then we can feel a little better about hiding in the bushes.  Rules soothe our consciences.  I once knew of two fundamentalist churches who wanted to have a combined church picnic.  But they got stuck on whether the women would be allowed to wear pants! One church felt good about their stricter rules because more rules equals more holiness. The other church felt good about their freedom!  Needless to say, no picnic happened.  I imagine Jesus sitting at the park with unbelievers wishing his kids were there with him.

We trade Jesus for conquests.  Maybe you’re not a rule person.  But what drives you is getting things done for God. Just like rules, we can hide from God in mission statements and in the efforts to accomplish great things for God. Planting a new church, growing a ministry, mission trips, fighting for justice can all make us feel better about being distant from God.  Even if God doesn’t seem especially close, I speculate he will surely like what I do for him.  That is a wrong thought.  Do you remember the condemnation of Matthew 7:22-23? Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many might works in your name?  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”  God needs nothing we can do for him. Doing something for God without God must be abhorrent to the One who wants to be known.

We trade Jesus for our theology.  I love theology and theological discussions.  From the earliest days of the church, leaders and learners have been trying to summarize, contextualize and categorize what the Scriptures say about God.  It has a real benefit to the church.  But it can become like researching and writing a historical biography.  It’s great to know about Abraham Lincoln.  But I have no way of knowing him.  We rehearse traits, movements and mission of God, while missing the living God.  We easily speak of him out there, or back there, but we hide from him right here. Instead of humbly seeking him, we find significance in our own knowledge and understanding of the truth.  We become more sure while God remains distant.

We trade Jesus for religious practices.  All our religious activities can easily become a Jesus substitute.  I have been in church services where Christ was never mentioned.  And I’ve been to some that didn’t even include a real prayerful conversation with him – as if He wasn’t there.  Church becomes about church.  We judge our activity by how we felt about it, rather than if we actually interacted with the God who was in the room.  We fast at Lent, give our tithes and offerings, hold prayer meetings, teach the Word, all without Jesus being involved.  These things can lull us into a false sense of spiritual vitality all while missing the One who gives life.

Let me stop here and reassure you, there is nothing wrong with these things in principle.  Just like there was nothing wrong with the bushes in the garden.  Adam and Eve misused them to keep God at a comfortable distance.  And that’s what we can do. Morality, mission, theology and even religion can add depth, guidance, comfort and strength to our relationship with God in Christ.  Our temptation is that we forget they are means to an end.  Even our own spiritual maturity is a means to an end.  And that end is intimacy with the God who created us for oneness with him. He created us and redeemed us to live face to face with him.  Any replacement of that hope keeps us hiding from the One who faithfully pursues us.

I hope the Spirit of Christ is nudging you to think that there might be more for you.  There is. It is LIFE in and with HIM.  Hiding from him robs us of the life he gives.  Consider what stepping out from behind your bush might look like.

In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the kind of relationship God actually wants for us and with us.

As always, comments, likes and shares are welcome and appreciated.  Also, if you will subscribe to the blog, you’ll be sure to get the next installments.

What 5 things does God want you to have every day?


WHAT ARE 5 THINGS GOD WANTS FOR YOU EVERY DAY?  Happiness? Health? Success? Prosperity? Achievement? Maybe.  But there are 5 things we can be sure of…

The 5 things God wants for you every day are found in one of the most well-known passages of Scripture.  Almost all Christians memorize it.  Almost all church traditions recite it, at least from time to time.  But most of us don’t reflect on the power of it!

[Jesus said] “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9–13, ESV)

A question came to mind as I read this again and reflected on it a few weeks back.  Why would Jesus tell us to ask for these things?  I wouldn’t tell my kids to ask me for something, unless that’ what I wanted them to have!  So, let’s look at these requests of this famous prayer and get a clear picture of the life God wants us to have.

  1. A Life with God at the center.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

This request reminds us that nothing will work they way it should, until God is at the center.  When we remember that He is on the throne, we will desire that He be honored.  Remember, there is no Kingdom of God, without God being the King.  To want Him at the center is to want all of our lives to revolve around His goodness, His power and His beauty.

  1. A Life lived in God’s will.

Your kingdom come, your will be done.

This request reminds us that neither prayer, nor life is essentially about getting God to act on our concerns.  But prayer is about us wanting what God wants.  And life is experienced when God’s desires are fulfilled.  What does God want?  All that God wants is offered and demonstrated in Jesus Christ.  He wants all to know the light and life of His reconciling love.

  1. A Life of daily abundance.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Does daily bread sound like abundance?  This is not the abundance that seeks to feed our greed.  It isn’t the abundance of stuffed barns, packed basements and fat bank accounts.  It is the abundance of a loving, generous father who lays before us a full plate each evening at dinner.  It is an abundance enjoyed in trustful dependence.

  1. A Life filled with mercy.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

God paid the price of justice and offered us mercy.  And he wants us to experience it.  We can’t experience it if we don’t offer it.  Mercy is enjoyed as we offer it.  Mercy that never extends to others decays and becomes self-righteous entitlement.  This generous mercy is always aware that no one has offended us as much as we’ve offended God.

  1. A Life of daily salvation.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

To be delivered is to be “saved.”  The cry for daily deliverance comes from an awareness of the power of the enemy and the power of our own flesh to pry our attention and affections from the very One who holds life in His hands.  Our life is delivered from sin every time God gives us the power to walk toward Him in loving obedience.

God at the center;  An obsessive desire for God’s will; daily abundance; receiving and giving mercy; daily salvation… this is the life God wants for you and me.  It is the life He has told us to pray for simply because it is what He wants to give to us.  And asking is essential.  None of these can be obtained by our talent, our strength, our cleverness, or our man-made desires.  These are gifts of grace.  And gifts cannot be obtained, or earned. They must be given.

What is Jesus Full Of?

This is the last in a series on John 1:1-18.  To start from the beginning, click HERE.

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And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:14–18, ESV)

A word that grabs my attention appears twice in these verses: “full,” and “fullness.”  These words, are from the same Greek word, “pleireis.”  It speaks of the contents and the completeness of what fills a container.  So a pitcher of milk, filled to the brim. Or, a reservoir that has raised to the tops of its banks.  Why is this so important in these verses?  Because the John uses the word to point us to what can be expected from Christ, and who might expect it.

First, let’s think about the contents of the container.  The Word came and dwelt among us… In simpler terms, Jesus, the Son of God and agent of creation, came to live as a human being.  But he did so, being filled with something.  What is the content of his fullness?  It is “grace and truth.”  Jesus was filled with grace and truth.  These two inseparable elements draw us into the very nature of God himself.  Grace and truth.  Like mercy and justice, compassion and holiness, forgiveness and righteousness, they seem like opposites, but when taken together they form a life-affirming tapestry of beauty and strength.

Now let’s look at the capacity of the container.  If a lake is our source of water and it is filled to the brim with clean, clear water, that is good.  But if it is a lake that is 20 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep, it won’t provide water to many.  So, what is Jesus’ capacity to give this grace and truth?  His capacity is determined by who he is.  His “glory is as of the Son from the Father.”  He comes after John, but “ranks before me, because he was before me.”  “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side…”  Jesus is the Eternal One.  He was with the Father in eternity past.  His capacity for grace and truth is immeasurable.  The stars in the sky, the sand of the sea, and the myriad intentions of the human heart are all held in the palm of his hand.

What does this mean?  In the words of John, from the contents and the capacity of Christ, we all have received “grace upon grace.”  His coming has heaped on us gift upon gift.  He comes, he loves, he serves, he sacrifices, he lives again, he invites, he leads.  He offers truth, grace, mercy, kindness, hope, joy, immortality… the very fullness of life.  And because of his capacity, he gives this to all who receive.  He has enough for everyone to get a full measure!

These opening words of the gospel of John reveal to us that the world begins, continues and ends with the Word.  The Word is He who brings us life.  By coming, living, dying and living again, he offers the grace of God to each and every one.  This is his message.  This is our hope!  Rejoice!  He has come.  He still comes to us today.  He will come again.

My prayer in this series of posts is that Christ is magnified!  My hope is that we get a clear picture that life and light have forever been in Him.  And our only hope for all the goodness God offers us is in the One who came and joined our lives with His life.

Thanks again for the likes, shares and comments!

How does the Light spread?

This is post #3 in a series.  If you want to see what came before, LOOK HERE.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:6–9, ESV)

light_dispersion_conceptual_waves350pxLike the Sun bears witness that there is such a thing as light, so God sent a man.  His name was John.  He was Jesus’ first cousin.  We know him from the Gospels as John the Baptist, or more accurately, John the bapitzer.  He did a lot of things and yet only one thing.  He preached.  He ate locusts and honey.  He dressed like a prophet of old.  He confronted people about what God thought about right and wrong.  And he offered the path of repentance as preparation for the coming kingdom of God.  And the kingdom would be in a person.  That person is The Word, we’ve been hearing about in John 1:1-5.

John had a reputation.  He made an enormous impact in this world before his head was place on a silver platter.  Here was the Apostle affirming John’s ministry, but also reminding people that John was only a servant of higher purpose, a higher person.

John’s one job was to bear witness about the light.  The light of God was breaking into the world.  It was going to change everything.  And John was the advance team.  He was prying open eyes, so they might see that glimpse of light and life.  In these short verses, I see a couple of vital things that we must remember if we are going to bear witness to the Light.
  1. A witness has a something to say.  A witness understands the implications of what she/he has experienced.  And a witness tells.  We tell the story of the Light of Life.  We tell the story of the in-breaking of God’s Son and His Kingdom.  We tell the story of His grace and love.  We have a story worth telling.
  2. A witness is not the person, event, or story that is important.  Clearly, it is said of John the bapitzer, “He was not the light…”  No matter how influential he was, he was not HIM.  Witnesses don’t make the story about them.  They tell the story of the Light.  We all know witnesses who would rather witness about themselves than the One who came.  Let’s keep it about Jesus.
  3. A witness is more than a gossip.  We don’t just spread news.  We share so others may believe.  We have a purpose.  It isn’t to entertain, or get attention.  It is to show a way, the way of life in the Kingdom, through the Word.  Let’s tell so others can believe.
  4. A witness is indiscriminate in who he/she tells.  If the Light is life for everyone, then the announcement is for them.  So, whether we find ourselves along the banks of the Jordan River, or the 67th floor of the Willis Tower, or with a group of preschoolers in Sunday School, we say what we can say about the One who came and still comes into the lives of women and men.  Look at all those around you as those who need to know.

As always, thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing as you see fit!  But most of all, thank you for sharing the Light we all need.

You can see the next post here!

When Life & Light Broke In

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“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:4-5

In John 1:1-3, John points his readers back to creation.  You can read about that HERE.

In verses 4 & 5, John continued the thought about who the Word (the Son, Jesus) really was.  If we thought His person and work began as a child in the manger, or even as one who was conceived of the virgin Mary, we’d be wrong.  He is the One who created.

John moves us from the idea of creating all things (rainbows, trees, puppies and people) to even more basic elements of life and light.  In mentioning life and light, John reminds us of two things that were necessary for creation.  Remember Genesis 1:2?  In this verse it says, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the earth.”  The Son was not just one who formed creation.  Life and light were needed to form and fill the creation.  Without them, the universe would be a dead, dark ball of rock hurtling through space.  And life and light were IN HIM.

We think of life purely as a biological function.  If we think that light is created by the Sun, we couldn’t be more wrong.  In the order of creation light existed before the Sun (day 1 and 4 respectively).  And in the New Heaven and New Earth there will be no sun.  Why?  “For the Lord God will be their light… (Revelation 22:5).” Life and light are not accidents of nature, nor the result of an impersonal bang.  Life and light have always been and will always be in Him!

John wrote that this life is our light.  The life which emanates from God directs us back to Him and delivers us from darkness.

John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  The light that flows from the life of God broke into the dark space of the universe.  It began the movement that was creation.  Everywhere it went it made darkness run.

Darkness has never conquered light.  Light always dispels darkness.  It pushes the darkness into the shadows where it may wait, but it can never advance against the light.  Later in the gospel, we will see what happens when the life and light of God breaks into creation again.  It will rock the world and set it on a course toward the new, redeemed and restored creation.

What does all this mean?

  1. John informs us the Word (The Son, The Christ) is the source of elements that are necessary for us.  The material world doesn’t provide what we depend on, or long for.
  2. John prepares us for appreciating the in-breaking of life and light in the coming of The Word.
  3. John also helps us anticipate the victory of the light and life of God.  The darkness that seems to be marching victoriously through our world is no match for the life and light of the Word.  It couldn’t stand in creation and it can’t stand now.

Prayer:  O God, my God!  You are life.  You are light.  Let me know by experience that all I need and all I long for is in You.  Your Word, the Christ, is the One who began all things and the One who continues His work of bringing us toward a victorious future.  Forgive me for the times when I’ve believed Your Son (by action and word) as less than He is.  Forgive me for the times when I give up on your light.  Forgive me for the times when I let go of your life.  Renew and restore me by pushing darkness out of my life and filling me with the light and life of Your Spirit.

Amen.

As always, Comments, shares and subscriptions are encouraged and appreciated!

since the beginning

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4).

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Anger, frustration, disappointment, despair, anxiety… all maladies of the human condition. We are arguing, fighting, shouting, coercing, and manipulating one another into submission. We want a new future, or a return to the old. Whatever we want, we want it badly and we want it now. In all this, we discover we are in a world we can’t control and that frustrates us even more. Take a breath. Stop and see what has been done. Stop and see who has come.

Someone was there, long before it all began. He sat face to face with God. He shared God’s very essence. He is the agent of creation. When God said, “Let there be light!” He produced the light by his might. He didn’t make everything the way a craftsman makes a wooden boat. No, he made the tree. It was different because in him was life. He gave his breath and the creation breathed. It ran, it jumped, it loved and it reproduced that life again and again and again. The life filled the lakes, the skies, the mountainside and the desert terrain. The life was blue and green and yellow and pink. The life clicked and chirped and whistled and roared. The life communed, laughed, listened and loved.

That life, which is life, is the light for all people. The opposite of darkness, light fills the human condition with good. Like light, the life gives awareness, it gives understanding, it gives direction, it gives protection.

But what about the darkness? Since Genesis 3, we’ve been enveloped by it. We’ve wandered around in it. We’ve destroyed each other in it. We’ve doomed ourselves by it. The light shines in that darkness. The very purpose of light is to shine in the darkness. It brightly testifies, “there is another way.” It shouts, “there is hope.” It whispers, “look, see, discover, understand.” That light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.

Wherever we see darkness winning, we can know the battle is not over. Light always wins over darkness. When light shows up, the darkness tucks its tail and runs for the corners, the cracks, the crevices, hoping to grab one who wanders away from the light.

Where is the light? Where is the life we long for? It is in the Word. It has been since the beginning. When the Word comes, there is no room for darkness. The Word is life and light. The Word makes us know the beauty and wonder of life. The Word breaks the power of our darkness. Do you know this Word? Do you long for this Word? Listen for Him. Watch for Him. Attune your heart to His light.

Father, I thank you for the Word. The Word, Jesus, is with you and is one with you. He has made me and He gives me His life and light. Let me see your light today. Let me grasp, understand, perceive your movement in the darkness of my life and this world. Let me be filled with the confident hope that your light always overpowers the darkness. In Christ I come and trust and in His name I pray. Amen.

What Kind of Balance Are You Looking For?

Many of us look at our hectic lives and we seek some illusory ideal called balance. By balance we have a picture of a life where everything has its place and time. Work never intrudes on rest. Projects never squeeze out family. Family never barges in on personal time. It is like the scales of justice, but with 4 or 5 arms, all perfectly weighted. We figure, when we get to this point, each area of life will be productive and we will have peace.

At 51 years of age, almost 30 years in ministry, an awesome wife, 4 grown sons and an awesome daughter-in-law, owning a home and 5 vehicles, with health challenges, I know that this kind of balance is an unachievable goal. But more than that, I think it is undesirable.

This vision of balance keeps us from going all-out, or all-in, in any area of life.

This vision of balance will keep us from achieving anything substantive. Here’s an example, as a parent: There were times when my sons needed me more than others. Times when they’ve needed to make big decisions, or have faced unique challenges. It wouldn’t have helped them if after my 45 minutes of allotted family time, I would have said… “sorry Dude! Father-time is up and now it’s Pastor-time, or Husband-time, or Play-time.” The same can be said in my ministry. There are times it has taken focused energy and inordinate amounts of time to get big things done.

This “balance-scale” image of balance will keep us frustrated. Life happens. We are not in control. And in seeking this kind of balance we are trying to control life. That just leads to frustration.

A new vision of balance is needed. I would propose the vision of a rodeo cowboy in the Bull Riding event. Now that is balance! As he sits in the chute, he wraps the rope around his hand and pounds his fingers down around it. He plants his heels into the shoulders of the 2,000 pound monster that is about to bolt out of the gate.

As soon as that bull moves out, he anticipates the way the animal is going to move. He moves one way, then another. He leans back, forward, left, right. He adjusts his feet with every kick of the bull, first the shoulders, then the haunches, back and forth and back and forth. He swings his free arm left, right, forward, backward. It is 8 seconds of terror! If he is successful, he leaps off the bull at the end of the run, takes off his hat and bows to the crowd. That is how balance in life really works.

Life is an unpredictable bull. We never know what’s coming. There are times we have to all in, with our kids (move to the left). We have times to give 12 hr days to work (to the right). We are compelled to serve in our church (leaning forward). And there are times when our spouses need our full and undivided attention (leaning back). Success comes when we read the opportunities and the needs around us and shift our time, energies, talents and care in the direction that keeps us on the back of the bull.

The danger of imbalance comes, not when things are differently weighted, but when we’re not aware of the movements around us and we don’t shift the way we need to. Then life quickly falls apart and we fall off the bull. How can we do this? It’s nice to have help.

Early in my marriage, I had to learn this. And with my wife’s help, I have stayed up – not always very artfully – but I’m still here. We were married just a couple of years and we had our first son. I was a solo pastor in a small-town church. I was learning the arts of husbandry, parenting and pastoring. But pastoring seemed to demand more and more of my attention. I was leaning into it with all I had. And it was too easy for me not to be aware of what was happening in other parts of my life. Kris, my wife, knew of this tendency and so did I. So she agreed to help me. She would lovingly let me know when she or my son needed me. She would occasionally call my secretary and put a date on my calendar. Or, she would say, “your boy needs his Dad this week.”

The bull shifted and so did my priorities. I would make the adjustments I needed to. These adjustments helped me take advantage of the opportunities that were around me.

My encouragements for achieving balance are:
1. Get a better understanding of balance, you’ll accomplish more.
2. Be aware that there are times when you’re needed more in one area of life than another. If you miss the shift, you’ll miss the opportunity.
3. Surround yourself with a few trusted confidants that you will listen to, who can alert you to the need to shift your posture.
4. Listen most to the Spirit of God, who knows what’s really coming. And if you need to shift, permanently or temporarily, do it! His desire is to see you have a successful ride.

"Now This is Balance!"
“Now This is Balance!”