Month: September 2015

Privileges, Rights, & Rejection

It occurs to me lately that many of us have been taking certain privileges for granted, among them the freedoms of speech, expression, religion, and due process. I can hear you cursing at me through your computer screen: “Those are not privileges, they are God-given RIGHTS!” Says who? Says a bunch of guys who have since fallen into relative disrepute on the grounds of their past sins and grievances. Their humanity and frailty have been revealed to us over time, and yet we still cling to their assertion that we have certain inalienable rights, as humans.

But if this were true, people wouldn’t be slaughtered every day for their nationalities, they wouldn’t be executed for their faiths, they wouldn’t be imprisoned for their beliefs. Throughout our country’s history, we—at least some of us—have enjoyed privileges that have not been and are still not enjoyed by our fellow human beings. And still, we feel that we inherently deserve them, that we have somehow earned them. However, if you think back, you can probably identify times when you have felt deprived of those privileges. Maybe you were reprimanded at work because of something you said. Maybe you were ridiculed by your friends because of something you believed. Maybe you were cast out by your family for your stance on a controversial issue. Maybe you felt that the only acceptable response for those around you is silence. Maybe you felt there was not a soul on earth with whom you could be truly honest. These may have been one-time events, or they may plague you to this day. But in those instances, I think most of us feel persecuted or rejected, deprived of our ‘rights’.

But listen to what Jesus says in Luke 6: 22 and 26:

22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man….

26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Our pastor recently described blessing as a nearness to God; it’s based on spiritual proximity rather than tangible or material gifts. I’ve found that, when I feel betrayed by a confidante, or as though I need to censor my words, thoughts, or actions, I have the great privilege of boldly approaching the throne of grace. And God will welcome me there, He will listen to my pleas, He will justly decide my case. It reminds me of the other night, when our son Tijge came home with an open sore on his hand—one full of dirt and germs and badly needing to be cleaned. After I cleaned it, he hit me several times. I very intentionally allowed him to do so, without scolding or punishing him. Instead, I held him close to me and tried my best to comfort him. Why? Because that’s the way God treats us. The consummate potter, He knows that to mold us into the people He intends for us to be, He must draw us close to Himself and not push us away. We need to know that, in His arms, we will find a safe place to air our grievances, disappointments, fears, and failures. And that is exactly what He offers. May you find that peace and comfort in His arms, today and every day, and may God richly bless you.

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Not for Naught

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If you know me very well, you know that I blame a lot of things on “the fall,” as in the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. That’s because, quite frankly, the fall has had a LOT of consequences for our lives, our society, and our world. And sometimes we face things that just plain don’t have any other explanation. Pain and suffering often seem to fall into that category. I’m not sure that it’s pain and suffering themselves that we dread so much. Instead, I think that one of our biggest fears is that our pain will somehow be wasted. The apostle Paul knew that better than anyone. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote:

“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

Like Paul, I think that we long to identify a reason for the suffering we experience. We want to see it produce a testimony in our lives that others can see. We want it to display God’s glory. Some painful experiences seem to lend themselves better to these ends than others. But among those that don’t are chronic pain and illness. Incidentally, I learned just yesterday that September is Chronic Pain Awareness month. I’ll bet you didn’t know that either. It isn’t something that gets a lot of press. Why? Maybe it’s because many people who suffer from chronic pain and illness do so in relative silence and obscurity. Maybe it’s because these conditions often aren’t visible to the naked eye, and as such are in many ways forgettable.

Over the years, this has prompted me to wonder how God could possibly be glorified in this, how it could produce a testimony. Then I naturally conclude that my pain is pointless. But during a recent bout of self-pity, God interrupted me. Over several days, he brought to mind a number of friends and family members who are afflicted by chronic pain and illness. And I realized that, because of my own pain, I am in a unique (if unenviable) position to NOT forget those who might otherwise feel forgotten. Perhaps not the most exciting testimony, but likely a quite fulfilling ministry. After all, some 100,000 Americans experience chronic pain at any given time. It’s a fact of life in a fallen world. I’ve personally found that there is a good deal of peace in knowing that some good could come from my suffering, that it won’t be for naught. I hope that you will also find peace in that today. Whatever you may be going through, God has no intention of wasting your pain any more than he does mine.

So Much Fight

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Laredo HATES bedtime. She will say or do just about anything to avoid going to bed. Sure, she’s sucking her thumb, clinging to her lovie, and laying prostrate on the floor. No matter. She’s not tired, she says. So the other night, we left her sitting on the floor outside our room, where she sat wanting to cry, but too exhausted to remove her thumb from her mouth. Twenty minutes later, we looked over to find her fast asleep on the floor.

“So much fight,” is all her daddy could say, as he gathered her up in his arms and carried her off to bed. His comment made me wonder what must lie ahead for her. After all, what if this fighting spirit—placed inside of her as God knit her together, contemplated long before she came to be—was His way of preparing her for some future and very significant fight? I can’t help but believe the answer is yes. I don’t know what that fight will look like. Will it be spiritual, physical, emotional, financial, political? I don’t know. But I know the verses I will share with her when that day comes:

Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

1 Chronicles 28:20: “Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.”

Psalm 27:1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?”

Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”

Psalm 28:7: “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”

Psalm 46:1b: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Psalm 56:3-4: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?”

Psalm 112:7: “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.”

Psalm 118:14: “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.”

Isaiah 41:10: “‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “…we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…”

Ephesians 3:16: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…”

Ephesians 6:10: “…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”

Philippians 4:13: “I have strength for all things in the One strengthening me.”

2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

These words of encouragement are not just for one little girl. They are not only for some future fight. I’ve recorded them here for YOU as well, for the fight that you are facing even today. I don’t know if you were born strong, if you’ve since achieved strength, or if you’ve simply had strength thrust upon you. Regardless, God desires to strengthen and sustain you. And He who goes before you will fight for you—if you’ll let Him. And that is my prayer for you today. After all, perhaps God has placed you right where you are, and for just such a time as this.

Hunger

Luke 6:21a

“Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.”

We are currently in the season of the beatitudes. It seems that pastors, speakers, writers, and church leaders of all kinds and denominations have received the divine memo that states, “Thou shalt teach from the Sermon on the Mount.” In faithfulness to this command, our church is in the midst of a sermon series called, “#Blessed.” And this past week, our pastor spoke on the hunger that Luke describes in Chapter 6 as a blessing.

He talked about just how much our current culture differs from that of the people to whom Jesus was speaking on that day. Specifically, the crowd was full of marginalized, poor, hungry, and sick people. In fact, up to 90% of that population would face the threat of starvation on a regular basis. In contrast, most of us do not allow ourselves to feel hunger even momentarily. We fill our stomachs the moment a craving or twinge of hunger hits us—if not before. Am I right? And why do we do this? I would argue that it’s largely because we can. Most of the time, we have the ability to instantly satisfy our basic material desires, and then some. And as we learned on Sunday, physical gratification can actually lead to a lack of satisfaction and a “need” or “craving” for even more physical gratification.

It is through this vicious cycle that our own bodies can become the instrument, source, and vessel for many sins. Well, no one wants that, so of course I took seriously the closing challenge that we sit with our cravings and let them pass. But whenever I did refuse to give in to a craving, I found myself waiting anxiously for God to swoop in and satisfy that craving Himself—and feeling a sense of righteous indignation when He did not. But do you know what I realized? Those people on the mount, they didn’t leave that day with their stomachs full. And they continued to face abject poverty and material hunger, probably for the remainder of their days on earth. So why, then, would I expect God to satisfy my every desire of the flesh?

Oh, He does satisfy, don’t get me wrong. But perhaps He does so by showing us that the things we are craving aren’t the things that we’re meant to be craving. Perhaps He shows us that life will not come to a screaming halt just because we sense the emptiness of an unmet need or desire. Perhaps we realize that He ultimately is enough. Perhaps at those times when we fail, and give in to those cravings, we realize that they don’t bring satisfaction after all. Perhaps we realize that our true hunger is one that this world can’t satisfy.

And when I reflect on any one of these truths, I truly do feel #blessed. How about you?

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