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.

Why We Shouldn’t Try to Write Our Own Life Story

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Today, we’re encouraged to write our own story!  We are told to set course for a destiny of our making.  We are urged to take control and make something of our lives that counts.  That’s a lot of pressure!

I think we should understand our lives a little differently.  We aren’t the author of our lives.  We are the main character of our lives.  God is the author.  He is writing our story.  Why?  Because if we wrote our own stories, we would miss out on so much.

Think with me for a moment about Job.  Job is that guy in the Old Testament that got a whole book written about his story.  And most of us might remember that it’s not a happy-go-lucky story.  It is a story about struggle, suffering and hardship.  Job and his story is the source of the phrase “patience of Job.”  And we all know that we don’t need patience unless things are going wrong.

So, if Job wrote his own story, how would his story have been different?
* His children wouldn’t have been crushed to death by a building that fell over in a storm.
* His flocks wouldn’t have been plundered by marauders.
* His body wouldn’t have collapsed into a scab-covered mass of oozing flesh on a pile of ash.
* His wife wouldn’t have told him to give up and die.
* His friends wouldn’t have spent all their time arguing with him about how bad he must be for God to do this to him.

I’m convinced that Job, like me would never choose these things for himself. But, if Job had written the story, there are a few things he would have missed out on.
* He wouldn’t have experienced a face-to-face intimacy with the Creator of the Universe.
* He wouldn’t have understood God’s greatness.
* He wouldn’t have come to understand that God’s blessings are gifts of grace, they’re not earned by human effort.
* He wouldn’t have known the joy of complete transformation and restoration.

And if God hadn’t written Job’s story for us?
* We wouldn’t know that He will comfort us in hardship.
* We wouldn’t know that God never leaves us when things go wrong.
* We wouldn’t know that God is up to something big when things are impossible for us.
* We wouldn’t know that sometimes things go bad for good people.
* We wouldn’t know that we can always have the hope of transformation and restoration.

I think after all was said and done, Job was just fine with God writing his story.  We should be too.  Are you letting God write your story?  Let’s just be a character who is faithful to the rich, life-giving script of a loving and gracious Author.

How is God writing your story? What events would you have omitted? Please comment to encourage others. And as always, please “share” this if it’s been an encouragement to you. Thanks!

Glory of God – No Small Thing!

Oh the Glory of God
This morning, I began my walk (a new habit I’m trying to form) by heading out West. As I was walking I looked up into the Western sky and it was a beautiful blue. You know that crisp color that hints of a Fall day. In the middle of the sky, I saw what looked like a full moon. It was big, round, almost proud of its display. Because daylight had begun to break, it was fading. But as I looked, I could see details of the moon. I could see shadows and shapes and it was a great vision to keep me entertained while I walked.

But then, at about the half-way mark in my walk, I began walking East toward home. And I looked up… staring at me, glaring at me was the Sun. It was huge, coming up over the horizon. It was a blazing orange, pushing through the haze of the morning sky. I could glance at it, but couldn’t really look at it. And then it hit me…

I could enjoy the comforting beauty of the moon. Because it’s light was a mere reflection. It was the Sun that was the true source of light. But the Sun was just too much to behold. I could enjoy it’s benefits, but couldn’t comprehend the fullness of its majesty.

When we look around at the world we live in, we see many good and wonderful things. But they are a mere reflection of the glory of God. God’s glory is so great, so powerful, so full that there is no way we could comprehend it. God gave us creation, relationships, purpose and power to enjoy, but they are only a reflection of His greatness. Remember the last time you experienced a genuine act of love? It is only a taste, a reflection of the great, glorious love of God. Remember the last thing you saw that took your breath away? It is only a reflection of God’s glorious majesty.

We use the phrase “tip of the iceberg.” But what we know and experience of God is only an ice crystal on the tip of an iceberg. His goodness, his love, his knowledge, his power, his holiness, his grace and mercy are greater than what we could ever comprehend.

Scripture hints of that, when God showed himself to Moses. In Exodus 33:20-23, God’s glory was shown to Moses. But Moses had to hide from it because no one could look at God and live. So Moses could only look at God’s “back”, not his “face.”

How often we think we are living for the reflections of God we can see, when there is so much more to live for. This reminds me today, that I’m living for something much bigger than I have ever experienced, seen or imagined. I am living for the glory of God. It is no small thing!

How do you imagine the glory of God?  How does it motivate you each day? Please comment… would love to interact with you.

4 Questions for Easter

1) When you have a Savior who has transformed death into life, what could possibly be outside his scope?
2) When you have a Savior who stands risen and righteous, what greater purpose could there be?
3) When you have a Savior who is alive after a crucifixion, who else would you follow?
4) When you have a Savior who rose and conquered his enemies – including Satan – what would we possibly be afraid of?

Then why are we so lethargic? Why are we so timid? Why are we so uncommitted to Christ? We forget the impact His resurrection makes. We turn Him into a Sunday School character and the empty tomb becomes a stage prop. We talk about nice things like hope.

But we don’t come face to face with a Savior who changes everything! He stood in front of scared, tired, depressed men and women and said, “Here I am!” “Join me.” “Let me deliver you to a new life.”

The answers to the questions above are evident, aren’t they?
1) Nothing – in Him every area of my life has hope.
2) None – He is worth my worship and devotion.
3) No one – He can tell me what to do, and I’ll do it to share in His work.
4) Absolutely nothing – There are those who can kill the body, but He gives life to body and soul.

If Jesus Christ is raised, what else would I live for? Who else would I live for?

3 Nagging Questions

I like watching animals. Some are so majestic and powerful. Others are weird and intriguing. The ones I like most are the ones that I can give human attributes to. Have you ever put “word bubbles” over your dog’s head? Some of you have gone beyond that to creating actual two-way conversations between you and your pet. You know, you even have a voice that sounds like what you imagine his voice would be like.

We like to think that animals can relate to us on a level beyond critter and master. But there is something different about us. Somewhere, I came up with a list of questions that nag us as humans. These are the questions we must each find answers for, if we’re going to live a life of security and confidence.

1. Where am I? This is a question about our place in the universe. Where am I, in relation to everything else? Am I at the top, or the bottom? Am I the same as my dog, or essentially different? Where am I in my family, in my community, in my world? How do I fit?

A second question is,
2. Why am I here? This is a question about purpose. What is this all for? Am I part of a cosmic accident? Am I part of a divine experiment? Am I part of a purposeful plan? And what part do I play?

The third question is,
3. What time is it? This is question is just as important. Where are we in the plan? Where am I on my roadmap? We know from experience that our trip here is finite. There will be an end – what time is it on our trip?

In Jesus, I have found answers that help me get up each day and make sense of the world around me. I am part of creation, but as a human, I am the pinnacle. With that I have a unique responsibility and opportunity. I have a purpose: to bring glory to God, my creator and redeemer. And I know the time: it is time to be ready for the consummation of the plan.

Seems to me, the monkeys I saw on Survivor last night weren’t asking these questions.  That makes us different!

How do you answer these questions? How does your understanding of God inform your answers? How do you respond to others who are living without answers?