I was in my lane. I was clearly in my lane and it was a turning lane so do you know what I did? I turned. I know…that’s crazy behavior to do exactly what I was supposed to do according to all of the traffic signals. But this guy behind me who had been riding me for quite some time, began to honk at me for at least 10 seconds as he turned left in a right-turn-only lane. My son was in the car which was a good thing because the aggressive driving and honking at me as if I had done something wrong did not bring out of the Bible-believing, Jesus-following, church-going preacher in me. I am not sure what was trying to come out of me in that moment, but I can tell you this-it was no good.
There was a voice in my head with words that I won’t write here because I want this to be a family-friendly place. It was not that I wanted to shout profanity at him, but I wanted to shout at him, “You’re the one that’s wrong!!” And if I had indulged, the voice in my head would have probably prompted a few more words like “Idiot!” “What’s wrong with you?” “You were supposed to turn right. Are you blind?” “Have you ever driven before?” “Do you understand English-right turn only!!” Whoa. Sorry, I got lost in the moment. For a minute I was back there again. Let’s just say that voice in my head really wanted loose out of my brain. But there was another voice in my head as well.
How can I talk about things at church from the pulpit that I ignore just because an aggressive driver riles me up? The voice continued, “That man didn’t really hurt you. Nothing has been hurt. Let it go.” The other voice in a much more animated way is screaming in my head, “Honk back at him!! That will show him. The force by which you press on your horn will make sure he never does that to anyone ever again.”
I can say that, at least in this moment, I listened to the second voice. But even as my car is gathering more and more distance from that man’s car, the first voice actually said to me, “Do a U-turn and go get him.” Can you believe that? Can you believe a preacher thinks that way? Hmmm…I guess that is the difficult part is that I know that that first voice was me. The second voice was not me at all. How do I know? I know because all of my emotions lined up with the first voice. Everything within me wanted to exact some kind of vengeance even if it was just to honk my horn back. (That really would not have had that much of an effect. I have kind of a ‘girly’ horn. Thank Nissan?) I was craving revenge. It was burning in my blood. Yep, that first voice was me alright. The second voice was the Holy Spirit.
To be honest, there are many times when it seems there is only one voice in my head. I realize in those moments that my desires and thoughts are right in line with the Holy Spirit as He whispers to me. He is easy to follow when I am in agreement. There have even been times when something similar happens to me in traffic and my first response was aligned with the Holy Spirit. I like those moments. I am not conflicted. I remain in harmony. There is no battle within. As wonderful as this moment was, I did not grow spiritually then. The alignment of my own thoughts and the Holy Spirit did reveal some sort of spiritual maturity in the moment, but I didn’t grow.
When Jesus was crucified, He was placed as the Passover Lamb. It was a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, the people were commanded to never come before the Lord without a sacrifice. In Galatians we learn that we are to crucify our sinful passions and desires in order to walk in the Spirit. This requires spiritual growth and spiritual growth requires sacrifice. When my thoughts are in line with the Holy Spirit, there is nothing within me to sacrifice. But when the voice of my sinful nature clashes with the voice of the Holy Spirit, as conflicting as it is, I now have something to sacrifice-my will. The Bible says that Christ was perfected through suffering, but I would suggest it wasn’t the suffering that revealed His perfection. No, it was His choice to sacrifice His will in the midst of suffering that revealed His glory and perfected His life.
I really don’t like when these voices in my head are at odds. I wish I were always thinking what the voice of the Holy Spirit was saying. To be honest, sometimes, when these voices are fighting against one another, I feel as if I am not where I should be. I feel as if I have no spiritual maturity. I feel as if I have gone backward or something. But let’s be honest, God is perfecting me too. And perfection requires sacrifice. It is in these moments when our thoughts fight for something the Holy Spirit wants nothing to do with, if we will pause, we will see that our hands are not empty, but we have something to sacrifice. We have something to crucify. It is our sinful passions and desires.
I know. By now, I might could say that I shouldn’t have even struggled the day the man WHO WENT THE WRONG WAY!! honked at me (maybe I am still struggling a bit). But I can tell you that in times past, I would have only heard one voice and it would have had me honking back loudly and long. The fact is that God has matured me and perfected me a bit and I realize it was through my decision to sacrifice my will when it opposed God’s. It was Christ who said, “Not my will, but thine be done.” This is our goal every time. In each conflicting moment, we have a choice. We can choose to offer the Lord our sacrifice, crucifying our will. Or we can withhold our sacrifice before the Lord and this is not good. These voices in my head don’t seem good until I realize I have something to give, something to sacrifice. When I offer it up to Him, He keeps working on me.
Who are you? Ok, I know you have a name and a social security number. You are known by name and by number, but who are you? What drives you? What moves you? What crushes and destroys you? Are you joyful, melancholy, or indifferent? Do you snort when you laugh (that’s my wife ?)? Do you hate musicals? Do you love reality shows? Do you snore? Are you the life of the party or the wallflower? Confident or insecure? Fulfilled or empty? Got it all together or broken deep within?
Would it surprise you if I said that who you are today is not who you have always been? The Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah something magnificent. He said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” This reveals to us that we were created by God. He knew us. We were alive. He knew our heart, our mind, our personality. He knew us as uniquely different from any other of the billions of humans that have been crafted in His hands and filled with His spirit of life. Then He gave us form in the womb. We were no longer spirit, but we had a form. The word ‘form’ here means ‘to mold as a potter would with clay.’ We were in His hands even in the womb of our mother. But something strange occurred in the womb.
Our form, our little body as it developed needed blood. The Scripture says that the ‘life of a thing is in its blood’ (Leviticus 17:11). Our form began as a fertilized egg from our father and mother. Our little bodies began to develop and the blood of our mother gave nourishment as our eyes and hands slowly began to develop. Here, the Lord was with us, forming us and crafting us. He was like a master artist putting the final touches on a masterpiece. This is who we were. But then, we were born and all Hell broke loose. In our new form, we were acutely aware of our surroundings. Our new flesh craved touch and our physical bellies needed milk. This new form birthed changed everywhere. Our environment changed from eternal to temporal. We rested in the hands of a nurse, a mother, a father, or neither. Before, our entire presence was enveloped by perfect love and perfect peace. We had no thought but what was good and right and perfect. It was all we knew. But with our new form, our awareness changed from God to man and as we grew, we knew evil. No one taught it to us. We were already familiar because of the change through birth.
I remember telling my mother and father that I didn’t feel well as a five or six year old kid. But later that afternoon, I heard all of my friends outside playing and I also went outside to play. My mother caught me pretty quick trying to sneak out. No one had put that idea into my mind and I didn’t need anyone to teach me that it was wrong. Those thoughts were my thoughts. Before Adam and Eve were introduced to wicked thoughts by that old serpent, nothing like that had ever occurred to them, but now, those thoughts come as we grow up in this world.
Not only do we, as children have impure thoughts and do wrong things, once we are born into this world, we are exposed to the wickedness of this world. We encounter a highly imperfect love compared to the most perfect love we had known before birth. What is worse is that our bodily form overshadows our spirit and we have no recollection of being in the presence of God. This is all the product of sin. Without a choice, we experience love with flaws at best and at it’s worst, no love whatsoever. How are we affected after birth when we suddenly know wickedness and suddenly become exposed to the wickedness of this life?
The person that we are today is the culmination of the sin born into us, the degree of sin or love we have been exposed to, and our reaction to the same. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Lord gives us a picture of perfect love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
To the degree that those closest to us were patient or not, we were transformed. There is such great power in love, but there is also great power in the absence of love. We were transformed by the degree to which those closest to us were kind or harsh, put us first or themselves, treated us as valuable or like trash, loved us or only themselves, spoke tenderly or screamed at the top of their lungs, forgave or heaped guilt, hugged or beat, cherished or hated…I think you get the idea.
Our transformation continued as we learned to respond to what we experienced. Some of us had good examples and chose to follow them. Others had the same, but chose to rebel and go after what they knew was wrong. Still others had horrible examples all around them and followed suit. And there are those miracle people who so despised being anything like their dad or their mom, that they drove themselves to succeed and they made sure their children felt loved and wanted because they never did.
The point is that no matter who you are, you have been greatly affected by sin. I know there are parts of me that I hate. I hate my temper. I hate my insecurity. I hate my eating habits. I hate all of these. Maybe today, there are parts of you that you hate with a passion. You wish you didn’t do certain things or that you didn’t feel certain things. You may feel less than, or racked with guilt over parts of you that disgust you. Well, here is what I want to say to you and I hope you are listening. No matter who you are, sin had made you less than what you were before you were formed in the womb of your mother’s belly. You never had an impure thought. You never considered anything less than beautiful. You loved perfectly. You were never selfish, never sad, never arrogant. You were without sin.
This is why Paul writes this incredible statement to the church in Rome:
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
Paul understood that the person he had become living in sin and in a sinful world was not his true identity. What a revelation? The parts of me that I hate are not me. Like a scar on a child who fell into the coffee table, sin and the effects of others’ sin is on me, but it is not who I am. And if I am not those parts of me that I hate, but these are sin and the effects thereof, how wonderful is the good news of Jesus Christ who has come to remove in me everything that was not part of me when I still existed only in the presence of the Holy One.
Stop hating yourself. Stop looking down on who you think you are. That’s not you. You have been fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made. Your sin is not you. Your pain is not you. Your regret is not you. Your bitterness and hatred is not you. Your abortion is not you. Your broken marriages do not reflect who you really are.
And praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ who has come to wash away everything in us that is not us. Praise be to the God who has come to bring us back to who we once were. He has come to heal the wounds and straighten the crooked. Each day as you grow and mature in Him, He is restoring you more and more to the real you. Then one day, when our time comes, we will be perfectly restored. We will never again do those things we hate. We will never again have a negative thought. OMG (Oh my goodness!)! Can you imagine never again doing anything stupid, mean, or rebellious? Can you imagine never again have a heavy thought, an insecure thought, a confused thought? Celebrate today my brothers and sisters for the Lord is cleansing us and restoring us to the people we were created to be. Hey, there’s hope for us yet
Recently, I came across a list of the most deadly. The deadliest soldier was a Soviet Union sniper. The deadliest disease was smallpox. The deadliest animal was the mosquito and the deadliest natural disaster was the 1931 flood of China. But here is what really caught my attention: The Deadliest Idea. Can you guess what was listed as the deadliest idea or concept? The answer: Religion.
History reveals that it is not just one religion. Hindu, Islam, Christianity, Judaism…all of the major religions are responsible for a great deal of deaths. In the Old Testament, the deaths caused by Judaism might not be considered because the causes of the war were either protection or for land, the promised land. This is different simply because the deaths caused by other religions were not for land or protection but to destroy unbelievers. The purpose was to kill those who did not believe in that religion. This was not the issue in the Old Testament wars, but it was certainly the issue in the Inquisition, the Ottoman wars, and the Crusades. Yet, most of the world’s religions point toward peace. How can something intended for such good be used for absolute evil?
We might think this question applies primarily to religion, but isn’t this a universal question? Was music first invented to promote the violence, debauchery, and immorality as it does so pervasively in our culture today? Of course not. Music, schools, the internet, television, facebook, and yes religion have all been hijacked to some degree by unexpected evil. We shouldn’t really be surprised considering God’s purpose for the creation of man was to love man and be loved by Him. This purpose was corrupted with the very first man and woman in the Garden of Eden. Let’s face it. The Devil is in the business of taking what God intended for good and working evil within.
And the institution of the Christian church is not exempt from the ancient serpent. He continues to slither into God’s garden corrupting and deceiving.
Though shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain-3rd in the list of God’s Ten Commandments. This might be the most broken commandment within Christianity. It is not a command against profanity. It is a command against taking the name of Christ while acting like the devil. It is to call ourselves Christians while acting in ways that do not reflect the glory of Christ and the teachings of Christ. Perhaps we are not killing people physically as in the Crusades or the Inquisition, but we are doing harm still. This is the result of impure religion. Pure religion holds fast to the teaching of that religion. Impure religion takes on the name of the religion and discards the teaching.
The purpose of the Christian religion, the beliefs and the rituals, is to draw us nearer to Christ that we might become more like Christ. The end goal of Christianity is not salvation. It is true that when we put our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that our name is written in Heaven’s book. It is true that salvation makes eternal life in Heaven ours to have when this life ends. But this is not the goal of Christianity. Oh, I know…I just messed some people up! The purpose of Christianity is to be saved that we have the Spirit of God; to be healed that we have the heart of Christ; to be transformed that we do what Jesus did. He resisted temptation. He taught the truth. He loved His neighbor. I got you there, didn’t I? You know there is something to that idea of loving our neighbor. When Jesus taught us how to be a good neighbor, it was someone who saw someone in trouble and helped them. It didn’t matter that the race of the person who needed help was violently prejudice against the good neighbor. The good neighbor saw someone in need and did not cross to the other side of the road. He stopped and he helped. Jesus compared the good neighbor to the religious leaders of the time who knew the Scripture forward and backward and never missed church, but when seeing someone in need, they crossed over to the other side. Going through the motions of religion means nothing if we don’t do what Jesus did.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
If my religion is pure, then my prayer time, devotion reading time, studying Scripture time, going to church-time will prepare me more to do the works of Christ. If you are wondering if you are supposed to go down to the local cemetery and start raising people from the dead, please don’t leave until you have finished reading :) All that Christ did from His miracles to His death to His resurrection was to reconcile people back to Himself. We are supposed to do those things that help people see God, believe in Him, and follow Him. When He came across someone who needed help, He helped them in the name and to the glory of God. Our religious activity should prepare us and inspire us to do the same. Not everyone has the same gifts. We can’t all do the works of Christ in the same way. Some preach. Some encourage. Some pray. Some are exceedingly generous. Some comfort. Some lead. We are not gifted the same so we don’t all do the works of Jesus in the same way, but we all called to do the works of Christ in the unique ways He has equipped us by the Holy Spirit. Every believer will help others in ways that lead them back to Jesus.
The prophet Amos teaches us that God despises religious activity like going to church and singing worship songs if these are not also accompanied by the works leading people back to Jesus.
I say let’s purify our religion. Let’s be more faithful to church. Let’s worship with all of our heart. Let’s pray with diligence, but let’s also help those who need help. Let’s not cross over to the other side. When we see those beaten and left for dead, whether spiritually or physically, let us do the acts of Christ that He might be glorified and people be reconciled to Him.
I am not a napper. I rarely lay down except to go down for the night. I am usually up doing something whether I am working on a project at home or for work, playing with the kids, something. I just don’t nap. But last Sunday, Lord have mercy, I was ready to go down for the count in the middle of the afternoon. That’s what people do on Sunday afternoons, right? Turn the television to a riveting golf tournament and slip off to La-La Land. Amen Brother!! I’ll tell you though, last Sunday, I didn’t turn the television on. I didn’t care who the Cowboys were losing to that day. And I did not waste my time on the couch. It was straight to the bed for me. My brain was arguing with my body to get up the stairs quicker to get into bed quicker. I am a heavy man, but last Sunday, it felt like my body weighed three times the normal weight. When I finally woke up late in the evening, I felt like I had been drugged or something. It was like my body wasn’t sure it wanted to wake up. I was just so tired.
But what do you do when your fatigue is not physical? Money problems, issues with the kids, marriage, pressure at work, this kind of fatigue cannot be helped by a good nap. In fact, these kinds of issues will keep you awake at night so you don’t even go to sleep. We feel the pressure of making things happen. We feel the pressure of making sure everything and everyone is good and happy. We want our kids to be happy. We want our marriage to be filled with romance. We want to quickly scale up the ladder of success. Well…let’s face, we want it all. Somewhere in our mind, we realize we can’t have it all, but we want it all for ourselves and for the people we love. And we spend so much time trying to make everything right. If we are not working to make everything right, we are stressing and worrying on how we can fix everything. Inevitably, the load becomes too heavy and we are exhausted mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
It was this kind of exhaustion that Jesus was referring to when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Perhaps, there have been no more beautiful words spoken than these. They seem to penetrate my spirit and from the depths of who I am, I cry out, “Yes, I want that!”
Jesus is teaching me the source of rest is not an enchanted, perfect life. This is how most of us attempt to find emotional and mental rest, but Jesus even warned us that in this life we will have many trials and troubles. To think that our life will ever be perfect is not only wrong, but anti-Biblical. This kind of rest, inner-peace, does not come from solved problems and picture-perfect families. It comes from intimacy with Christ. When we come to Him, He gives rest, plain and simple. And this is a wonderful promise, but let’s reverse it a bit. If this is true, and it is because Jesus is GOD!!!!!, then I can measure my intimacy with the Lord by the amount of peace within during these trials and troubles. The more my soul rests, because Christ is the source of this rest, the more intimate I must be with Him. And on the contrary, the more I lose my peace, I become aware of the distance between Christ and I in that moment.
Our instructions to find this peace are to take His yoke upon us. Just in case you don’t remember what a yoke is, it is that piece of wood that goes across the necks of oxen when they are put together to pull something. We must be connected to Christ and move as He moves. He goes on to say that His burden is light. He is our Father and we are His children. He is responsible for us. We are His burden and all of our issues combined are light to the Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t even have to break a sweat to deal with all our issues. They are so easy for Him. I can’t draw near to the Lord unless I accept that He is responsible for me.
When our children are hungry, they don’t get on Craig’s list and start trying to find a job. They simply come to us and ask when are we going to eat dinner. They fully live in the peace that we are responsible for them. They are not responsible for themselves. We must learn that God has accepted that responsibility, but unless we surrender to this truth, we will try to fix everything ourselves and become overwhelmed. Or don’t you remember this Biblical truth:
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
The Lord is filthy rich in everything you need. You need peace, He has it abundantly to give. You need companionship, He is a billionaire in love and companionship. You need forgiveness, there is not enough ink and pen in the world to keep track of His reserves of forgiveness. You need money, He owns all the gold, silver, oil, natural gas, in fact He owns all wealth on this Earth and beyond and He will supply your needs accordingly. What is He saying to you? He is saying that you are His. You are His child and He will take care of you. Stop trying to fix everything by yourself.
C’mon now…I am not saying anything you didn’t already know. We know this. It is a simple truth. We are the children of God. He is our Father, our good, good Father. Though we know this principle, we have not allowed it to saturate our soul and our spirit that we might have this rest. We say on one side of our mouth that He is our Father and on the other side of our mouth, we verbalize stress, worry, and fear as if we were orphans left out on the street to fend for ourselves.
Why? Why can’t we let this truth sink in? Why can we rest in this truth? In Psalm 46:10, we are commanded to “Be still and know that I am God.” Again, we are not talking about a physical stillness. This is a emotional and mental. This rest that comes from Christ alone comes in to us as we obey this command to Be Still. But what does it mean to be still and how do we do it?
The word for ‘still’ in this passage comes from an original word that means ‘to slacken.’ The imagery is a rope tied around our issues and we have pulled the rope taut. I am holding on to my issues, giving them ample space in my thoughts trying to keep them under control. Fear of these issues going wild keeps me pulling the rope taut trying to make sure everything is just right, just perfect. We want to be able to control everything and everyone to make them do what they are supposed to do.
“Oh, you little bald man, are you trying to say that I am a control freak? Is that what you are saying?” First, I am not little. I am bald, but I am not little. Secondly, I am saying that our desire to control issues in our life is revealed by our lack of peace when those issues do not go as planned. As long as the rope is pulled taut, when the issues in our life go wild, they pull us here and there. Our mind loses its peace and emotional instability kicks in. The rope is pulled too tight! The Lord says that if we want to truly know him and have our soul soaked in His truth, we need to slacken the rope. In other words, we need to stop being so uptight trying to force everything to be as we believe it should. This includes people too. We have ropes around the people in our life and expectations of how they should behave and we pull the rope taut to keep them where we believe they should be. Of course, when they don’t meet our expectations, we lose it emotionally in anger, disappointment, or sadness.
Remember, this is a command from the Lord. We are commanded to “Be Still.” We are commanded to slacken the rope. The Lord cannot do this for us and our friends can’t do it for us. Only we can do this. We must slowly slide the rope through our hands back toward our issues. When we do this, our issues can go haywire, but we are not moved. We remain. We are stilled. We are trying to tame all the issues in our life as if this will bring peace. The Lord has designed our experience on Earth in such a way that we will never tame all the issues in life and peace comes from accepting this, realizing it, and allowing the Lord to keep us still even as our world flies through the air in total chaos.
I love how much the Lord understands our struggles. He knows how difficult it is to let slack in the rope. We are fearful of what will happen if we don’t. To help us, in the same Psalm 46, He reminds us that He is the God of Jacob. Jacob? Wasn’t Jacob’s name changed to Israel? Didn’t he become the father of twelve sons who become the twelve nations of Israel? Yes, yes, and yes. In fact, when Jacob learned to hold on to the Lord tightly, and slacken the rope on his issues, the Lord changed His name from Jacob to Israel. Yet the Lord does not encourage us by reminding us that He is the god of Israel. No, He says that He is the God of Jacob.
I know I am going on and on, but you know how preachers are. Don’t stop reading now. I think this next part might really help you. Jacob was a liar, a thief, and a manipulator. Even when God came to Him promising to take care of Him, He did not accept the Lord’s kindness and begin to worship Him. No, instead he bargained with God saying, “If you take care of me, then I will worship you.” Unbelievable! But this is who He was. In fact, the only good thing going for Jacob was the fact that He desired the covenant blessing of God that would have come down from Abraham to his father, Isaac, and then to Isaac’s firstborn. The conniving we see in Jacob was to steal from his brother, the firstborn, the covenant blessings of God. Everything he did for so long was wrong, but He knew He wanted what God had promised.
Wow! I suddenly feel like Jacob. I want the things of God: peace, love, joy, success, and prosperity. I have always wanted these things, but for most of my life, my efforts to obtain these were all messed up, just like Jacob. But also, like Jacob, the Lord used my mistakes, lack of faith, and sin to help me to see that I needed Him in my life. Even as I was living in rebellion, He was using my experiences to draw me back to Himself. There came a day for Jacob and for me where it all came to a head. I slackened the rope on all the issues in life and stopped trying to obtain the promises of God on my own and I took hold of His hand and declared, “I will not let go of you.”
Do you see what the Lord is saying to us? He is the God of Jacob. He is the God who used all the drama, mistakes, sin, rebellion, deceit in Jacob’s life to bring him back. The Lord did this because Jacob was trying to move into God’s presence. His brother Esau despised his birthright and in so doing, despised the blessings of God.
If our greatest desire is the blessing of God, no matter how messed up our life is, the Lord will bring us back to Himself. We may suffer and pain may be a constant part of our life. Our life may be out of control. Our heart may be broken and bitter. Our dreams might be dashed against the rocks. But in everything, just as with Jacob, the Lord will never leave us and He will never stop using all of this to bring us back to Him that we might take hold of Him and slacken our ropes everywhere else. And if God is able to do this even in the mess we have made out of our life, we don’t have to control everything. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to have the picture-perfect family. We don’t need to be problem-free. God is going to work all things for the good. So…slacken the rope. When you do, you will see the Lord maintain your peace and sustain your soul. Stop stressing. Stop running those fearful scenarios through your mind. God has you. Let go of your anxiety and take hold of Jesus. You are His. He has accepted responsibility for you and He will give you rest for your soul.
When Lord, when will it finally happen? When will the pain in my heart and the longing of my spirit stop? The desires of my heart You have promised me, but the sky is gray and hope is gone. When will you rescue me?
Let’s be honest. The deep ache of unfulfilled hopes makes it hard to wait upon the Lord. I know that is what I am supposed to do, but how hard is it when we don’t see movement. We don’t see God’s hand in the midst of our issue. Everything is just bleak. There is so much that we can’t control, out of our hands that seem to be working against us. Yet, we hold these promises of God that He will appear and make things right again. The Bible says the righteous shall live by faith and that is great, but to me it simply reveals to me how often I am not righteous. I struggle in my faith and my question to the Lord is, “When?”
“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
I love this passage. “As surely as the sun rises, he will appear.” I have never woke early in the morning while it was still dark and feared the sun not rising. We don’t ever ask ourself, “Is the sun going to rise today?” Yet, we are taught here that our faith that God will appear should be the same as our faith and assurance that the sun will rise in the morning. Easier said the done, that’s all I’m saying. But I think the secret to this kind of faith is found in the context.
The people are far from the Lord. “Let us return to the Lord.” The battle against our flesh is to keep us out of the presence of God. Temptations, stress, fear, anger all work to keep us out of the presence of God because everything good emanates out of the very being of our God. When we are in His presence, He is able to give and we are able to receive. Outside of His presence, He can’t give to us what He desires and we are void of the good things He wants to give.
“After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us…that we may live in his presence.” That is great Lord, but why not show up on the first day of my suffering. In fact, why must I suffer at all. What is the purpose of the first two days? We have to understand that our flesh does not want God. God works to cut away our flesh. The flesh is every desire, craving, and temptation to seek after those things that God gives from sources other than God. When I seek joy and happiness by spending all kinds of time with my spouse, but never spending time with God, I am seeking what only God can give from someone other than God. I am not saying that our spouse cannot make us happy, but only temporarily. God is constant. If you want more stable joy, this can only come from God. Every other source is too fickle. When we seek the things of God from this world, it’s like living on a roller coaster of emotions. Our relationships go up and down, round and round, sometimes good-sometimes bad, until we are sick to our stomachs. But when we seek these things from the Lord, He never changes. The rollercoaster slowly becomes just a train ride across the field. Sure, there are occasional bumps, but no loopty-loops if you know what I mean. The Lord allows us to suffer, but for one purpose which is to make it clear in our mind how much better life is in His presence than out. This is true from everything in life. If you seek peace through the temporary serenity of a buzz from drinking, it will not last. But if you seek peace from the Prince of Peace, He never changes. If you seek wisdom from education, but without the Holy Spirit, you will be educated, but not so wise. Every….I said every good and perfect gift comes from God.
Every moment we are not in His presence; every moment we are separated from Him He suffers as a parent watching their child in pain. And we suffer from the lack of good things that only He can give. The Lord waits that we might not take His presence for granted. If He gave us everything we desired when we desired it, we would only go to Him when we needed something. The sooner we understand that everything good comes from being in His presence, the less time we spend suffering.
He does not simply leave us with a chastisement or command to return to Him or to remain in Him. He also gives us a promise. “As surely as the sun rises, he will appear.” We never know how long the night will last, but we can be sure that it won’t last forever and we can know that God will appear. The promise soothes the ache in our soul; helps us wait upon the Lord.
Living in West Texas where land is flat and sky is big, I remember watching the sun rise. The darkness would cover everything, then there would be a glow at a distance until finally, the sun would break through. It would suddenly break through and darkness would run and hide.
We ask when? When will the Lord appear? When will He rescue us? We simply don’t know, but we do know it could be any minute. At any moment, He will appear on the horizon and the darkness around me will run and hide. Like the rising of the sun, the Lord changes everything in a moment. With one phone call, one email, one incident and everything is different and it could happen at any moment.
Let’s work to endure the darkness of life with the assurance that God will appear at any moment just as the sun rises in the morning. We know that night will come again, but how glorious is the night when we are certain that God will appear. Nights will be filled with hope, peace, and praise. That is when we are breaking the power of the darkness. This is when we are free. This is when we render the enemy helpless. Even in the dark, I will praise Him because I am certain that He will soon appear. We will experience spiritual resurrection when we stop asking, “When Lord will you appear?” and take courage that He will appear soon. -Pastor Lee
“Forget the former things” (Isaiah 43:18). There are so many things in my life that I want to forget. There are things that sadden my heart to think that I did what I did or said what I said. There are far too many unpleasant things that I would love to forget and I hope that everyone who knows me will forget. Do you have any of these things in your life?
Strangely enough though, when the Lord calls Israel to forget the former things, He is not talking about those things that embarrass us reminding us of our baseness and the darkness that exists alongside the Holy Spirit in us. You might think He would call us to forget our sin. You might think He would want us to release from our memories the most vile things we have done. But this is not the context of his command to forget the former things.
If fact, we are called to remember our sin. Paul commands, “Remember Lot’s wife.” You remember Lot’s wife, don’t you? When the Lord was about to destroy a city filled with rebellion, violence, and homosexuality, He gave her express to not even look back as she fled from the city. But what did she do? She turned back. Immediately the Lord turned her into a pillar of salt. And Paul says in the book of Luke, “Don’t forget that!”
We should not ever remember our sin with guilt. We remember our sin that the Lord might be praised in our heart.. There should be no guilt in us because the sin has been transferred out of our account as if we never did it. The debt has been paid and the punishment has been executed on the old rugged cross. We should remember our sin that we might never forget how much the Lord has forgiven and how far He has brought us. We are to remember how weak and foolish we used to be. We remember the habits we used to have. We remember the thoughts that used to run through our mind, but no more by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our memory of our sin establishes personal value on the crucifixion. When we forget our sin, the cross loses honor. When we remember our sin in this light, we shout His praise! We are grateful that these most lewd and evil acts things in our life have not and will not be held against us on the Day of Judgment. We shout for joy, celebrating the grace and mercy of our God. We remember His unfailing love and rejoice at His undying love for His children. No, when the Lord said to forget the former things, He was not talking about sin.
The Lord calls the Israelites to forget the former things as He reminds them of great miracles. He reminds them that He is the One who brought them out of Egypt, parting the rushing waters. He reminds them that He drew out Pharaoh and all of his men with their chariots and horses to be covered up by the waters. He says to them, “I am the God who delivered you from Egypt; from slavery; from the harsh treatment of the slave-masters. I did it miraculously dividing the waters with my breath, allowing you time to get across and then, as they chased you down the same dry path, I closed up the waters. I destroyed your captors and they will never rise again.”
Wooo! Hoooo! I love that miracle. It might be one of my most favorite things the Lord did in the Old Testament. I love to think of the power of God driving back the waters and I would have loved to have seen Pharaoh’s face when those walls of water came tumbling down. WOW! And yet as wonderful as this was, this is what the Lord was telling them to forget. It is one of the greatest acts of God on behalf of their people in all of history. And the Lord says, “Forget it.”
Then He goes on to say, “See, I am doing a new thing.” Streams in the wasteland, bringing life out of death, this is what I am about to do. He goes on to say, “I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring.” Whoa! The miracle of parting the sea was amazing, but the pouring out of the Spirit of God onto the people of Israel would far outweigh this miracle from the past. One is the work of God’s hand. The other is the manifestation of His presence. One has a beginning and an end. The other endures forever. In fact, we are beneficiaries of this miracle today. One released them from physical bondage. The other released them from mental, emotional, and spiritual bondage. One is a very, very bright light. The other, though, is a thousand suns. There is no comparison. He is saying to the Hebrews and to you and I today, “You think what I have done in the past is great. Wait til you see what I have planned for you future.”
The most wonderful miracles of the past will be overshadowed by the new things He is going to do. That is, if we live according to His direction in our life. His plan is not a specific job or occupation. His plan is not to marry a specific person or to have a certain number of children. These may all be included in His plan, but by it’s very nature, God’s plan for us is increase. With all that may happen in our life, His plan produces an ever-increasing fruitfulness. He is the God of ‘new things.’ Never tiring, never fatigued, never without creativity, He wants to create in us more peace, more strength, more assurance, more love, more mercy, more patience, more miracles, more. His plan is not for us to simply have peace, but ever-increasing peace. His plan is not for our marriage to be good, but always getting better and better. His plan is not one miracle that overwhelms us, but a lifetime of increase that cannot be explained. To turn our eyes to this good, pleasing, and perfect will for our life, He calls us to “Forget the former things. Do not dwell on past miracles. As wonderful as these might have been, don’t live in the past. I am doing a new thing that will surely overshadow the wonders of the past.” Seek Him with all your heart and let His plan for increase come alive in you today!
Jesus loved perfectly, nevertheless, He was hated, despised, rejected, mocked, beaten, and crucified. God used this suffering to put Jesus in a place of choice. He could choose to endure the pain or He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy those who hated Him. He chose to endure and God used this suffering. The Scripture teaches us that Jesus was perfected through suffering. That passage can seem a little strange because we think to ourselves that Jesus was the Son of God and He was already perfect. We have to remember that Jesus came to this Earth as a man in the flesh. He was tempted in every way the Scripture says but He never fell into the temptations. For Jesus to be able to die for our sins, He had to be a perfect man, not a perfect God. Only a man could take the punishment for mankind. Jesus was tempted because He chose to live as a man and we are tempted. He was perfected through suffering because the suffering afforded Jesus the opportunities to face temptations and resist.
The beatings and crucifixion were extremely cruel and excruciatingly painful. But I would draw your attention to the emotional suffering. His best friends could not even stay awake to pray with Him though He was overwhelmed to the point of death. Judas who He invested three years into got up from the table where Jesus had just washed his feet, showing the full extent of his love, to betray the man who had loved him to the end. Peter, even Peter, would soon deny that he even knew Jesus. They would all fall away. The nails hurt, but imagine how his heart was pierced when these men fell away. Imagine the heartbreak when He stood with Barabbas and the crowd chose Barabbas. Imagine the heartbreak He experienced to hear those who had shouted “Hosanna” now shouting “Crucify Him.” Yet, God was using all of this to move Christ, living as a man, into absolute perfection.
What if there are some things that God wants to do in your heart that can only come about in heartbreak? What if there is a faith that can only happen when your husband walks out on you? What if there is a healing that can only work when all the people you lean on abandon you? What if there is a strength that can only come to us when the people we love turn on us, hate us, reject us, mock us, beat us, and leave us dying within with a crushed spirit?
Yeah, I don’t like the way this is going either. If I could tell myself to ‘shutup,’ I would do it now. Yet, this is how we are perfected. The people we depend on for love, acceptance, and approval might keep us from depending upon the Lord as the source of these things. Heartbreak, a crushed spirit, these are the things that push us to the edge. We have a choice. We can learn to turn to the Lord and overcome. We can turn inward and embrace depression or vengeance. We can lash out against those who do not like us, love us, approve of us. Only one of these though can move us to a place where we are no longer slaves to the unrealistic expectations of people who don’t like us. Yes, you know the answer. You don’t have to raise your hand—just blurt it out—JESUS!!
Look at this passage:
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken (NIV)
The Lord saves the righteous when they are crushed in spirit. He saves us when people hate us, criticize us, ignore us, mistreat us, all of the things people do to crush our spirit. Hold up! Hold up! Wait just a minute! If the Lord saves the righteous, why then do we all experience a crushed spirit throughout seasons of our life? How is He saving us if we are already crushed in spirit? I don’t know of anyone who has lived their life exempt from heartbreak. So, obviously, this doesn’t mean that He will protect us from being crushed in spirit. I can say that confidently because I have been crushed. I know you have been crushed. Some of you are reading this with a crushed spirit right now.
The word ‘save’ in this passage comes from a root word that means ‘made to feel safe.’ He promises is not to keep us from heartbreak, but to make us feel safe even as people are hurling their insults and shouting their critiques, breaking our heart. How can I feel safe when it becomes very clear that there are people in my life who just don’t really care for me at all?
The key to all of this is found in that word ‘righteous.’ The righteous will be saved and made to feel safe when people say all kinds of things about us and accuse us of wickedness. I have been speaking a lot lately about the Armor of God in the series I have titled: Fighting the Good Fight. One piece of the Armor of God is the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate protected the heart. And the Lord intends for righteousness to protect our heart. It makes us feel safe even when we are under attack from others. There are two types of righteousness. One is the righteousness we receive by faith when we make Christ our Lord. But then, after this, the Lord calls us to live a righteous life. And this righteous life lived out is what protects us from heartbreak when people don’t like us and make sure we know it.
To be righteous is not simply an obedience though it includes obedience. Righteousness and obedience are two different things. I can obey with a bad attitude. Bad-attitude-obedience is unrighteous. Righteousness not only obeys, but honors. When we are righteous, we are living our life in a way that honors the Lord as He should be. We concern ourselves more with pleasing God than we do pleasing man. We spend so much of our time trying to get people to like us and approve of us. We put forth so much effort trying to earn the affection of others. The problem with this is that if we seek their approval more than we seek the approval of God, we are not living a righteous life. And if their disapproval steals our joy, our peace, our purpose, we have elevated them above our Lord and this is not righteous.
To put on the breastplate of righteousness, it requires a change in our mindset. We force ourselves to be only concerned with pleasing the Lord above everything else. So that when you are looking at the person who is raking you over the coals for no reason, you are not nearly as concerned about their disapproval as you are about God’s approval. Because of this new mindset, rather than lashing out or turning inward, you try to respond in a way that pleases the Lord. You take captive that thought telling you to smack them across the face as hard as you can (in the name of Jesus J) and your force that thought to turn and please God and you begin to think something like….I don’t know…maybe…kind of like…well, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Instead of hating them, you keep loving them.
Hey! There is no need to yell at me! I know this would be very hard. I know this is asking a lot. But let me remind you that this is what will protect your heart from heartbreak. How you ask?? I am so glad you asked me that. In order to live to please God, I must lay down my desire for people to like me. My heart can only be broken if I need the approval of people. I can only be enslaved to something I feel that I must have. When I realize that the approval of God is all that matters, little by little, I will no longer need for you or anyone else to like me anymore. I will release this need and unchain my heart from your approval of me.
This may sound crazy right now, but remember, this is a God thing. It is a mystery how He works in our heart to move us and perfect us. This almost sounds too holy for anyone to be able to do. But we must remember that Jesus told the disciples that when the Holy Spirit would come to us, we would do even greater things… The Lord helps us to make this change. He transforms our heart so that even under attack, we are so confident of His love and approval that we have a sense that He is with us even as people are against us. In His presence then, we feel safe. He saves those who are crushed in spirit.
I have two people come into my office today, both going through an immensely painful period in their life. They are overwhelmed with sadness and confusion. The don’t understand why things have happened to them and why God has allowed these things to happen to them. They are filled with doubt and they feel guilty about it.
Have you ever gone through something and feel that you should be over it? Have you ever doubted God and feel guilty that you did? After all, if God is God and i have faith in Him, then all things are possible…whatever I ask in His name will be given…He is working all things for my good….right? What do you do when your head knows all of the promises, but your heart still hurts, still doubts, and is still broken?
Today, I want to remind you that God is the One who sustains. He doesn’t always heal. He doesn’t always fix. He doesn’t always repair. But He does sustain. He doesn’t let us fall off the deep end even though I will confess there have been times in my life when it felt as if I had fallen off the deep end. He sustains. He holds us without letting us fall.
As I was speaking to these two people in my office today, I was reminded of Elijah in Scripture. Elijah was so certain that after waiting years that God was finally going to overthrow the evil king of Israel, Ahab. You remember him, don’t you? He was married to that horrible woman Jezebel. Elijah was called by God to stand up to Ahab and give him a chance to change his ways. But Ahab with the nudging of Jezebel only did more evil in the eyes of God. The day had finally come for God to do His thing. It was a showdown at the altar. The priests of the false god asked for fire and got nothing. Elijah prayed and the fire fell. This was it. God was about to move on Ahab and Jezebel. But then…He didn’t. They remained in power.
Elijah went out into the desert and asked God to let him die. He doubted. He was angry. He was confused. God didn’t fix everything. He didn’t overthrow Ahab and He did not pull Elijah out of his depression and frustration. Instead, God sent an angel to feed him, to sustain him. Elijah slept and God sent another hot meal delivered by an angelic messenger. Still nothing had changed in Elijah. Ahab and Jezebel were still on the throne. Everything was the same and God sustained Elijah. This second meal, the angel said to Elijah, was to give him energy to travel to the Mountain of God. Here, the Lord said to Elijah that He was going to pass by. The Lord was not in the fire, nor the wind, nor the earthquake. He was in the small whisper. He was revealing Himself to Elijah in a new way. He was revealing to Elijah that He was still at work, but differently than Elijah had expected, different from how Elijah wanted. Has the Lord ever dealt with a situation in a way that you did not understand or agree with?
God sustains us in the pain of doubt and frustration to keep us focused on Him. We may not praise Him. We may yell and scream at Him. Nevertheless, the pain keeps us before His throne. We wrestle with doubt and faith. He doesn’t become angry, nor does He punish us. Rather, He sustains us in this moment until we accept that His ways are higher than ours.
When God sustains us in pain, there is a purpose. He is moving upon our soul and taking us to a new faith that will bring greater blessing. If you can’t just get over your pain…if you can’t just put a smile on your face and go back to work…if the pain is debilitating…know this – God is holding you here for a season, a purpose. He will not let you fall. He will feed you with small miracles of love from places and people we never would have expected. Little by little, day by day, you will make it to the Mountain of God and your faith will exceed your doubt and your blessing will exceed your pain.