His Glory Revealed

I don’t cry very often, thanks to some well-dosed antidepressants, but every now and then I still have my moments. What landed me in that place the other night might surprise you. I had been waiting for some medical test results, and I received them earlier in the day. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” is what the nurse said. This might be a relief to many patients, but to me it represented one more failed attempt at an answer—and with no answers looming on the horizon that I could see.

Chronic pain and illness—some treatable, some not; some diagnosable, some not—has been my plight for years, and it’s one I try to endure with some semblance of grace. But sometimes one more symptom to add to the bray just feels like more than I can handle. You know?

Well, I’ve allowed the Spirit to comfort me in the past through verses like these.

James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10:

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Romans 8:18:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

But the other night, the passage that came and kept coming to my mind was John 9:1-3:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

I guess the reason I’ve never connected this story with my own is that Jesus chose to heal this blind man. And if we look at God’s glory as healing, strictly speaking, then I guess it might never apply to me. But even when our paths and journeys differ, God’s glory can still be seen, can it not? Regardless of what we face, God can use our circumstances to reveal His heart.

  • It may look like renewed compassion and empathy for others who suffer.
  • It may look like the encouragement you share with and receive from others.
  • It may look like a strengthened faith in God’s sufficient grace.
  • It may look like God walking alongside you—carrying you when the road becomes too long.
  • It may look like you walking alongside a fellow sojourner—helping them to bear a burden that is too heavy for them to carry on their own.
  • It may look like peace that passes understanding, in spite of swirling turmoil.

I could go on, I’m sure, but I hope you get my point. Chronic pain and illness are my cross to bear (and that of many others), but your struggles (or your friend’s, or your neighbor’s, or your colleague’s, or your sister’s) may be very different. They may include losses, addictions, hurts, sins, you name it. But they are no less usable by God, for the display of His glory—if we will allow Him to use them.

Look for God in your circumstances—chances are, you’ll find Him.

Lenten Blossoms
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Through the Glass

During our Spring Break Orlando trip, we spent a day at Animal Kingdom. I had never been, but had heard great things. But at the end of the day, it was just a zoo. True, one where you could see a Komodo dragon, which I don’t think I’ve seen before, but still. At this zoo, some of the animal habitats were pretty elaborate. Some were designed to look authentic and some were designed to look intentionally inauthentic. I mean, really, how many Bengal tigers really live on the palace grounds, lounging by a decorative fountain? But I noticed that even the “authentic” habitats fell short. Often, we were looking through glass that kept catching the reflection of the people and lights on the outside. When we weren’t looking through glass, our view seemed to always be marred by a water bowl, or a mesh fence, or some other manmade contraption.

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You know what I kept thinking of? 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)—

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

My understanding is that Paul was speaking here of a reflection in a mirror. But the verse loses something in our day, because a reflection in a mirror is pretty true to life. But it wasn’t so in Bible times. They hadn’t perfected the art of glass or reflection, so things were pretty cloudy—like seeing your reflection in a pair of sunglasses. It’s just not the same, is it?

To me, this verse foreshadows the greatness of heaven. We might notice here that it’s a beautiful day, but compared to heaven, it’s downright dingy. We can’t imagine it, because we don’t know any better. But we need faith and hope to believe that there’s something more, something amazing, waiting for us beyond this life. And then, we won’t have to hope or believe anymore. We’ll see and we’ll know—and not dimly, through the glass.

Feet and Ashes

John 13:5-9
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

I didn’t grow up observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, or any of the traditional liturgical calendar really. But our church home of the past six years does observe these “holidays.” And each year, I’ve attended the self-guided contemplative service that is offered on Ash Wednesday. But I have always bypassed the actual ashes. On the surface, that is because it feels to me like one of those rote rituals that loses its meaning in repetition.

But as I’ve reflected on it more this past week or so, I’ve realized there is more to my abstention than that. First, there’s a bit of my own rebellious spirit. I tend to buck the system, oppose authority, and dig my heels in at every chance. I like to think of myself as a rebel for God’s cause, but sometimes it’s just me being contentious. And Proverbs 13:10 warns that contention is born of pride, and as we all know, pride goes before destruction.

Pride also opposes humility, and I’ve come to realize that this too is lacking in me as I decline to receive the ashes. At a safe distance, I can hide my flaws. Someone may not notice if my bangs are full of cowlicks, or if my forehead is greasy, or if my breath smells. But up close, that’s another story. Every part of me that’s out of place or imperfect is magnified and on display. But to hold back and keep my distance on account of these imperfections exposes a pride deep down, doesn’t it?

I can think of someone else who was likewise prideful: Peter. Now, don’t get me wrong—feet are definitely gross. And you wouldn’t catch me giving or receiving a pedicure…yuck. But as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He was setting an example of humility and servanthood, and one the disciples needed to see if they were to humbly serve others. But for Peter, it wasn’t enough to learn to serve others. He first needed to humble himself to receive his Lord’s service.

Even after Peter gave in and allowed Jesus to wash his feet, I expect he was uncomfortable. Humility doesn’t come easily. And I can tell you that tonight, as I approach the altar to receive the ashes, I will be uncomfortable. My heart will be pounding, my palms will be sweaty, I may even start hyperventilating. But I will choose to receive, as a discipline of humility.

Maybe you’ve thought about attending an Ash Wednesday service this year, but have resisted. Maybe you’re hesitating because you feel too unworthy, or too worthy, or too busy, or too hurt. Whatever your reasons for holding back, would you consider letting those go, humbling yourself before the Lord, and joining me in approaching the altar on this Ash Wednesday?

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31

Psalm 95:2 (GNT)
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs of praise.”

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You might guess this is a birthday post, but I am NOT 31. That ship set sail a while ago. It’s also not my waist size—that’s another ship that has long since sailed. What it is is the number of pairs of pants that Laredo has in her closet. It’s absurd, really. The only reason I know the number is because one day Laredo said to me (that is, screamed in the middle of a meltdown), “I don’t have ANY pants to wear!” So I counted them. And it dawned on me that she has a problem with discontentment, and a distorted discontentment, at that. It sets in early, doesn’t it?

And it seems to follow us throughout our lives if we’re not careful. Someone will always have more clothes than us, or better clothes, or a bigger house, or a fancier car… And. On. And. On. But what fund is that? What good does it do to constantly compare our lives with someone else’s? None, right?

So what’s the solution? Well, I know it sounds simple and cliché, but I believe the answer is GRATITUDE. When we focus on the good things in our lives, on our blessings, large and small, it really helps to brighten our perspectives. I know because I’ve tried it—and it works! The more you practice gratitude, the more natural it becomes, and the more it becomes your first response. I’m grateful that I get to begin this year from a place of gratitude and contentment, looking forward to whatever God has in store!

 

Burning Coals

Romans 12:18-20:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

I have to be honest, I’ve never liked this passage. I’ve always thought to myself, first of all, that we as believers shouldn’t be wishing God’s wrath or vengeance upon anyone, no matter their offense. We should hope, pray, and work for repentance, redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. So revenge has never been my M.O. And I’ve never really seen it as God’s, either.

The second reason why I’ve always disliked this passage is the idea of doing good to your enemy in order to “heap burning coals on his head.” That has always struck me as incredibly spiteful. And God doesn’t call us to spite our enemies. No, He calls us to love and bless them. So in my cognitive dissonance, I’ve just glossed over the verses, vowing to ask God about it one day. Well, it turns out that now I don’t have to—thank you Jon Green!

You see, Jon taught from this passage in his Sunday sermon this week, and he shed SO much light on the context of this passage for me. Specifically, he pointed out that this refers to a common-ish practice of the day, and one undertaken when an enemy was attacking. From the top of the city’s wall, soldiers would heap burning coals on the heads of their attackers in order to keep them at bay. And Jon rightly described this as a defensive action, a response from a position of strength, but one respecting appropriate boundaries. So rather than going on the offensive, or being spiteful, this heaping of coals was simply a strategy for protection. And for me, that changes everything.

So then, what about God’s wrath and His vengeance? Well, when Jon suggested that we are to leave revenge to God, I got to thinking that one reason for this is that we do not know how to properly wield vengeance. But God does. And do you know how we know that? John 8. You remember, don’t you, when a woman was brought before Jesus after being caught in adultery? And the teachers of the law wanted to stone her, but Jesus quietly called each one out in his sin, and said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:9-11).

So when we turn our enemies over to God—who is righteous, just, AND merciful—we can trust that He will do the right thing. We can certainly have no such faith in ourselves. What a relief, then, to let go and give it to God—not asking Him to avenge us, but pleading with Him for mercy and forgiveness, on behalf of our enemy. Jesus Himself did no less as He hung on the cross to die for our sins. Let us live by His example, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

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God & Me…and My M.O.A.S.

Luke 10:25-28

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

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In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the expert in the law went on to ask Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” I would argue that the more relevant question to ask would be, “How can I love my neighbor?” The answer to this question might have been different than the one Jesus gave. And I think the essence of the answer is GRACE. We receive grace, and we extend it to others. But the latter can be difficult and even impossible without the former. And what does it mean to receive grace? I believe that to do so fully requires us to be aware of our sin and the depths of our depravity. In Romans 7:18 (ESV), Paul states, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” He further added in 1 Timothy 1:15, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” Of this, he argued, “The grace of our Lord overflowed to me.” Had it not done so—or had Paul not recognized the depth of his need—I question whether he would have been sufficiently equipped to offer God’s grace to other sinners.

You see, Paul knew his M.O.A.S.—his mother of all sins. He had persecuted and killed Christians in the name of God, and I think that qualifies. Like Paul before us, and so many others, each of us needs to identify our own M.O.A.S. This needs to be a sin for which you can honestly say, “Yes, Jesus needed to die for this. This sin is ‘worthy’ of His sacrifice.” We need to be able to say along with Paul that we are the worst of sinners, or at least that we are no better than the other sinners who comprise this broken human race.

In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer as saying, “Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother.” Foster goes on to assert that this “forever delivers us from conveying any attitude of superiority. We know the deceptiveness of the human heart, and we know the grace and mercy of God’s acceptance. Once we see the awfulness of sin we know that, regardless of what others have done, we ourselves are the chief of sinners” (p. 154).

As a caveat, you do NOT need to go out and commit a M.O.A.S. in order to have one. You can most likely identify one, if you dig deeply enough into yourself, and examine all of the dimensions that comprise you. According to Dallas Willard, those dimensions include: the will, the mind, the body, the soul, and the social context. I’m excited that our church is going to be digging deeper into each of these dimensions in the coming weeks, because I think it will help us all to gain a greater level of self-awareness, in order that we may be deconstructed by and reconstructed in Christ. Oh that we would all become more like Him!

If you’d like to join in this process, or learn more about it, here’s a link to our most recent sermon:

http://www.harriscreek.org/resources/sermons/item/1830-2-2-who-am-i

 

Missing

Philippians 1:3
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…”

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I remember the first time I saw this picture, hanging in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. Only she wasn’t my mother-in-law yet. We weren’t even engaged. So how she ended up with a picture of my dog and our two future children is a mystery to me. And when I say “my dog,” I mean that. You see, Bernese Mountain Dogs typically have a double coat that makes both coats lay straight. But Spicket was raised in warmer climates and never developed that second undercoat, resulting in a slightly curly coat, just like the dog in this picture. His other features likewise resembled this dog.

Of course, the picture features Spicket watching Tijge and Laredo as they look now. And sadly, he only lived until Tijge’s first birthday (technically the day after…who wants to have to put their dog down on their kid’s birthday?). He never even got to meet Laredo. So there’s something about the scene in the picture that brings a strange mix of emotions. There’s a sweetness and comfort to the idea that Spicket is still with us in our hearts. But there’s also a sense of sadness that he isn’t here to see them now. But mostly, it makes me miss him. Some might suspect that I don’t like the picture, because it brings up too many emotions. It’s actually quite the opposite, though. Looking at the picture reminds me of a loved one I’d never want to forget. And missing him is just further evidence of that love.

I believe the same is true for our less canine loved ones (and please hear me say that I am NOT equating the two!). When we lose people, we grieve and then we heal, and we continue to live our lives in the absence of their physical presence. But I don’t think we ever stop missing them, and that’s okay. Missing them brings back fond memories, and those memories bring a smile to our face, and for a moment we can sense their presence again. And even better, if we can be assured of seeing them in Heaven one day, the missing them and the fondness that grows stronger with their absence will only make our reunion that much sweeter.

So if the new year finds you missing a dearly departed loved one, don’t fight it. Grieve if you need to, let your heart heal, but don’t forget. Instead, welcome opportunities to remember, even if they bring with them a tinge of sadness. And as you carry on, let God fill the hole that loss has left in your heart. And may God bless you as you go.

 

Good Things, God Things, and GO Things

You’ve probably heard that there is a difference between “good things” and “God things.” That is, we may find ourselves very busy with sports, clubs, volunteer activities, civic duties, Bible studies, church services, and so on and so forth. But not all of these activities turn out to be God-honoring or God-glorifying, at least not for all of us. On the other hand, there are activities and commitments that do honor and glorify God, when situated within the context of our lives and our responsibilities.

But it seems to me that there is another distinction that bears mentioning—namely, there are some things that I would call GO things. For each of us, there are likely some hopes, dreams, and inclinations that we have considered. There may be some that we are deeply drawn to and feel called toward. That list looks different for each of us, and may include everything from becoming a mentor to becoming a missionary. My list has changed a bit over time, but has included things like adoption, foster to adopt, and living kidney donation.

I think that we tend to have one of two reactions to these leanings: 1) We put them on a bucket list and figure that maybe someday, we’ll have the opportunity to pursue them; or 2) We rush off to pursue them now, figuring that “if God didn’t want this for me, he wouldn’t have placed the desire in my heart.” But God may be telling us something different. You may be making someday plans when God wants you to act today. Maybe he’s trying to tell you that you’ve thought about it long enough, prayed about it long enough, put it off long enough. And he’s telling you to GO and to GO now. On the flipside, you may be anxious to get on with what you’ve determined to be God’s call on your life, and God is actually telling you something else. He may be saying, “Not now, not you, or not at all.” He may say that through Scripture, trusted sources of wise counsel, or the closed and open doors of opportunity that you come to.

Our job is to truly listen to what God is saying to us. When he says to go, GO. When he says to wait, WAIT. And when he says, “No,” accept that with all of the grace that God has given you through Christ Jesus. These responses are easier said than done, but we can find rest in the knowledge and promise that we can do and endure all things through Christ, in whom we find our strength (Philippians 4:13).

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Rebel

Colossians 3:18-22

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

Rebel Elizabeth—that is the name I had long planned to give my firstborn daughter. It had a special meaning to me, too. It meant “rebel consecrated to God.” What does that mean? Well, it means someone who doesn’t go along with the crowd or the status quo, someone who fights against injustice, who responds to hatred with love. In short, someone who lives like Jesus did when He took on flesh and dwelt among us. The name was to be a blessing spoken and prayed over this little girl.

The problem was that the name actually predated her dad, who had more delicate sensibilities regarding what the name might imply to some and how it might be misinterpreted. “But that’s not how I mean it,” I argued over and over. “My intentions and reasons are good and noble and righteous…godly even.” BUT in the end, I had to consider how the name might adversely impact some unknown percentage of people for whom “Rebel” carries a very loaded meaning. Striking it from consideration was one of the greatest acts of submission I’ve ever undertaken, and one that frankly had me kicking and screaming deep in my heart (and not really all that deep, as I was pretty vocal about it). That was in 2012, shortly before racial and ethnic tensions in our country really started to flare up. In the long run, the choice to submit was the right one…at least until something horrific happens in the town of Laredo to tarnish our daughter’s namesake.

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I think this story tells us a few things:

  1. God’s desires for us do not always match our own desires—no matter how well-intentioned ours may be. He knows things in His infinite wisdom that we couldn’t possibly foresee, and we need to trust His guidance. Sometimes that guidance comes in the form of an earthly authority figure that He has placed over us, one to whom we our called to submit.
  2. Our reasons and intentions matter far less than our decisions and actions, and their consequences. Our love for the least of these, our faith in God, and our intent to follow Jesus require ACTION on our part. And the truth is that sometimes we think (or convince ourselves) that we are acting in accordance with God’s will and direction and in the best interest of all concerned, but the outcome demonstrates that we were wrong. In those cases, God calls us to repent and to make right the wrongs we’ve caused, whether intentional or otherwise. That requires more humility than is comfortable for most of us. But it is what God requires nonetheless.
  3. God’s instructions are there for our protection and our good, and we can trust HIM. We are often hesitant to submit if we lack confidence in the authorities placed over us. But look at the list of relationships outlined in Colossians 3:18-22—wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. Surely earthly husbands, parents, and masters will fail us. But this passage does not permit us to forego submission when they let us down. Instead, we are to submit to God through our submission to others, placing our faith not in them but in HIM.

Submission is hard, but it is necessary. And even more, it is rewarding, if we allow it to be. Maybe you can think of an area in your own life wherein you’re being called to submit and surrender, perhaps one wherein you’ve been resistant to doing so. Pray over it. Ask God to help you. Ask other believers to help you. And then DO it.

Receipts

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the time was right, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law,
so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

Do you save receipts? I do, although not as religiously as I was raised to. But at some point, don’t we all purge those old receipts. Some we may keep longer than others, but none will last forever. Maybe some we’ll toss out once they’re past the store’s return policy date. Or maybe, if you have a warranty on something, you would save the receipt until the warranty runs out. Or, at the very least, when you do a deep cleaning of your house and you come across receipts that are so old there is literally no ink left on them. If that’s you, come on, it’s time to let go.

Do you know how long God keeps receipts? Try not at all. When God bought us, redeemed us, adopted us, that was it. No return policy, no 100% satisfaction guarantee, no extended warranty. He just paid for us outright, through Jesus’ blood on the cross. He ransomed us from the power of sin, death, hell, and the law, and purchased our freedom. And adopted us as his very own children.

Imagine the most expensive, the most costly, thing you’ve ever purchased. Maybe it was an entertainment system, or a car, or a house. Now imagine shredding the receipt on the spot. I think most of us would be mortified at the thought—at least I know I would. But essentially, that’s exactly what God did for you and for me. His sacrifice, his purchase, his redemption is OURS to accept, to trust, to rest in, to be transformed by, to be grateful for, and to share with others. We don’t have to deserve it or earn it, indeed we never could. But if we do accept this gift, we belong to God, and he stamps us: “ALL SALES FINAL.”