letting God be huge, wise, and in control

I had a friend recently write me about some really honest questions he was wrestling with – such as, “In my heart things are stirring…but is it me or is it God… wondering sometimes if I have missed it completely…makes me wonder what my life is about right now, and if the hunger I feel is true or what…”
I was encouraged by the raw honesty of this.  I too have had been doing some soul searching over the last 18 months.  It’s being a time of re-evaluating:  what I believe God is speaking to me about the direction and investment of my time, energy and resources.  Re-evaluating my skills (and lack thereof) in the work place – albeit, this came in the midst of probably the most challenging season of my adult working years in terms of the requirements placed on my time and the need to “step into bigger shoes.”  I’ve been confronted with a more honest assessment of the limits of my love for others vs. myself.  And during this same time period I’ve been very quiet on this blog.  There’s been less time for it, and I got out of a writing pattern.  But it’s more than that.  I think I’m slowly getting a new grip on what my life is really about, like my friend wrote.   I wrote back to him:
Dear Friend,
I commend you for the courage to ask the hard questions, and to look at things squarely.
The Lord once gave me a thought about this, when living in southern cal, and thinking about how we naturally bop around in the surf on the beach to avoid the impact of waves so they wouldn’t knock you down.  We jump up, dive, turning our bodies to the side and lean into the waves – of course!  We want to stay upright, on our feet.  He was showing me how I was approaching life, and he wanted to show me a different way.  He wanted me to turn over the full responsibility for whether the waves of life knocked me down or not, and not use any of my own cleverness to avoid things that are important, or my own strength to sustain them.  So the image he gave me, and he takes me back to it periodically over the years, was to simply stand there in the surf of life, facing forward and not sideways, letting come what may come, being willing to get knocked down by the waves, leaving all that in my loving Shepherd’s tender care.  Oh, that I would stay there.
Ps. 51:6 – and I like NASB here – “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.”

I believe that ruthless honesty you speak to is so important, so that what remains is only what comes from him, and is sustained only by him.

I too find myself wondering what my life is about these days.  I sense I’m in some kind of in-between place.  I guess I used to have answers but don’t anymore, but either way, I wasn’t even asking the questions I now have.  And the questions I have now are more simple and fundamental.  Like, “okay, what now?”  And somehow, this seems good and right – thank you, Lord.  I take comfort in feeling small in this season, letting him be huge, wise, and in control.
Your friend,
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a call to war

I laid awake in the middle of a night recently, right after a gathering of our home church gang, stirred up by some challenging spiritual things several of us sensed were in our midst that night.

It brought me back to being mindful that we are in a war. There is an enemy and he is crafty. I’m aware that God, amazingly, has made us warriors of this battle, the ground on which this battle is fought, and the prize for which it is fought. Of course, we know Jesus has won the war, but that doesn’t keep many battles along the way from being yet undecided. And at any moment, there are some that look like we’re on the winning side, and others where it’s not looking so good.

Battles for the kingdom of God to move through us. Battles for our own personal victories as the saints walking in the authority of Christ, rising up in all that he has called each one of us to. Battles for our children to chose wisely how they will live their lives. Battles won as, by his grace, we press in to the presence of the Lord in our daily lives.

Pressing in by making ourselves available to his loving overtures. Pressing in to knowing ALL the truth as he so willingly discloses it to us by his word and Spirit. Pressing in to all of his heavenly blessings, which are our inheritance. Pressing in to his presence as worship warriors. Pressing in to our authority in prayer. Fighting this war on our knees.

I’m feeling a call to go to battle for the kingdom of God in and through us. To pray over all that God is doing in each of our families and marriages. To pray for what God is doing in this area, our domain of work/friends/neighbors/others in which we mostly live our lves. And to pray over what he’s doing in the world at large. And to break through barriers in our relationships, so that we are reaching the places that God is wanting to take us. I’m not wanting to fabricate anything that isn’t what God is doing, but only do what he’s doing. But wanting to see strongholds of the enemy broken that keep us from living stronger lives of worship, prayer, the gifts of the Spirit, seeing his Kingdom moving in the lives of others – getting free from lies that hold us back from living in his freedom, grace, love, mercy. Seeing this same reality of God spread to those around us, our families, etc. as he prompts us to give it away.

I layed awake for hours that night a few weeks ago, feeling stirred up, and called to war. I’m sure many of you have already been sensing this, and many have already been dwelling on various aspects of the battle and are in prayer about this. Bless you! I’m stirred up to pray, and ready to pray over these things in every setting we may find ourselves together.

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when God doesn't agree with our hearts

Hanging out with some brothers this week, we came across this portion of scripture in 1 John:

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

It’s in the middle of a discussion about loving each other in real, tangible ways, such as helping one another in times of need. Pretty relevant today, eh?

But there is definitely an intent here of protecting our sense of freedom and rest in God’s presence. I love the way John validates the reality that there are times in this life when our hearts condemn us. And he is telling us that in those times we need to tell our hearts the truth; tell our hearts to be at ease, at rest, if we know we are his.

And then there’s this line, “For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

What an awesome thought. And how meaningful that John would be saying to us, “Hey, there are times when our hearts are going to lie to us, and try to get us under a pile of condemnation. In those times, dial up to your awareness how God is moving on you to actively live out your love for others, and that this shows you are his. And remember, God is bigger than that part of you that is making you feel condemned right now.”

Other parts of the bible come to mind, like, “speak the truth in love” – and how we need to speak it to ourselves sometimes. And “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” – so if you’re sensing condemnation, and you’re one of his, then you know the source of that condemnation isn’t him.

I keep coming back to “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” That’s really an amazing truth. There’s so many things we can struggle with on the inside, and our hearts can really sound convincing sometimes! How freeing it is to know that he’s just so much bigger than all that. He’s above all those things that we feel condemned over; isn’t phased in the least. Didn’t even give them a glance. That stuff isn’t coming from him, and he doesn’t agree with it. And he’s always right.

Nice to know.

just say no to a christian subculture

In an email to a friend, I recently wrote: “Let’s quit doing the Christian subculture – things that pull us out of the world that Jesus so naturally lived in. We lose, and those who are trying to be saved lose. He wants our lights to shine on top of the hill, not hiding under the sofa.”

About 10 years ago I read a book by John Fischer called, What On Earth Are We Doing that was formative in my early years of breaking away from the Christian subculture. It’s a quick read (189 pages), which are the only ones I seem to get all the way through, and I still recommend it on this topic. From the introduction, John writes:

“Now, enterprising Christians create and market thousands of products and services to a Christian market eager to pay for a safer version of contemporary culture – a sort of decaffeinated world where Christians can have their Christianity and their culture, too. This book is concerned about the emergence of a Christian subculture that encourges us to see ourselves as separate from the world not by beliefs and attitudes but by definable practices, identifiable markings, and cultural artifacts . . . I believe Christ established the church (his body of believers on earth) not to develop its own separate customs, civilization, and achievements, but to infuse the customs, civilization, and achievements of every age and society with people who love and fear God. In opting to abandon the world for our own safer version of it, we are failing to deliver on this vital aspect of our presence in the world.”

And that was published in 1996!

We need more like John.

Paul the older brother, from Colossians

If we consider Paul of the new testament an older brother in the faith, and our coach or mentor, how would he guide us on our quest to carry out our calling as the church that follows Jesus today? I have a goal of looking over Paul’s writings with this question in mind and see what falls out as recurring themes. Below are my notes from reading his letter to the Colossians, with summary comments at the end.

Many of those who would read this letter of Paul’s were people he didn’t personally know that well – he hadn’t even met some – so he takes the time to give some orientation on what he’s all about, and what he feels is fundamentally important in the gospel message.

What Paul said are his purposes:

  • being a servant of Jesus’ gospel message, charged with presenting this message to others
  • proclaiming Christ – using all wisdom to admonish and teach everyone
  • The goal is that everyone would be “perfect in Christ”
  • he wants people’s hearts to be encouraged and united in love
  • he wants people to be have the full riches of complete understanding
  • he wants people to know God’s mystery – that is, Jesus Christ, who contains all treasures of wisdom and knowledge

What Paul desired for his readers:

  • be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through spiritual wisdom and understanding
  • live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing him:
    • bearing fruit in good works
    • grow in knowledge of God
    • be strengthened in all power
    • have great endurance and patience
    • joyfully give thanks
  • be orderly and firm in faith in Christ
  • be rooted and built up in Jesus
  • be strengthened in the faith
  • be overflowing with thankfulness
  • Keep your heart and minds focused on Jesus, remembering that He is our very life now.
  • Be immersed in
    • compassion
    • kindness
    • humility
    • gentleness
    • patience
    • forgiving others
    • peace in your hearts
    • thankfulness
    • the word of Christ: teaching/admonishing one another with wisdom, singing, spiritual songs and gratitude in your hearts to God
    • and above all, love.
  • Wives, husbands, children, slaves, masters: be submissive, loving, obedient, fair, etc. – as if doing it unto the Lord himself
  • Work at things with all your heart, as if working for Jesus, and he’s got an inheritance waiting for you as a reward
  • Be ruthless about getting rid of behaviors that come from a sinful nature.
  • Be devoted to being watchful and thankful in prayer, praying for others – to the point of “wrestling in prayer” for others to stand firm in all the will of God, being mature and fully assured.
  • Let your actions and conversations with outsiders be wise and gracious, so you’ll always know how to respond to them in any situation.

What Paul wanted his readers to avoid:

  • don’t be deceived by “fine sounding arguments”
  • don’t be captivated by deceptive, but hollow, philosophy that depends on human traditions and basic principles of this world rather than on Christ
  • don’t allow yourself to be trapped/condemned/judged by earthly principles and human teachings regarding rules about eating, drinking, religious events, special days, etc. They can be tricky and sound “wise”, but have no power for right living. People who get caught up in these have lost connection with Jesus, the Head.

What Paul indicates are the essentials of the Gospel message regarding Jesus Christ:

  • We are rescued from darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son, redeemed and forgiven from our sins
  • said another way, we were dead in sin, but God made us alive to Christ due to our faith in God’s power, that raised Jesus from the dead
  • Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities that were against us (making a public spectacle of them in plain view for all) by his death on the cross and then resurrection
  • Faith and love spring from the hope we have in heaven
  • It’s a message of God’s grace
  • Jesus is supreme over all other powers, rulers, authorities, and is the head over all the church
  • Through his death, Jesus made us holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation —
  • this requires us to continue in our faith, staying established & firm, not departing from the hope
  • that’s in the gospel
  • It’s a message cloaked in mystery, which is that Christ lives in us, and is our “hope of glory”
  • All the fullness of God is in Christ, and we have get all the fullness in Christ

Summary of primary themes for our purposes:

    1. Paul’s overall goal is to admonish and teach everyone in all of God’s wisdom so that they grow to be “perfect in Christ.”

The meaning of this clearly hinges on people having the character qualities of:

  • be strengthened to stand firm in faith and in God’s will (in the face of opposition)
  • being mature, that is fully assured and confident
  • being rooted and built up in full wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of God

and living worthy lives, demonstrating love, compassion, gentleness, patience, thankfulness (mentioned many times), wrestling in prayer for others, and several other qualities listed.

which all comes from investing ourselves purposefully, intently in Jesus – that gospel mystery where Christ is in us. It’s all about being very, very vested in knowing Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, the Supreme being over all of earth and all of heaven, and what he’s all about by making us his people on earth. Paul didn’t point people to any man that they should learn from. In fact, he said be wary of how people can philosophize about junk and lead others astray.

  1. I’m struck by Paul emphasis on the gospel message being a mystery-yet-now-revealed-by-Jesus, and his intent on proclaiming it clearly as such: Jesus will come and live inside people, and open to them treasures of all wisdom and knowledge, and he becomes our hope for glory in our personal existence. What an awesome and appealing message!

Putting the above points together, he’s all about getting people connected with Jesus, the Supreme Head, so they embrace the gospel mystery (get saved), which joins people into this band of Jesus-followers called the church, and together we all continue living our whole lives from that connectedness to Jesus to fulfill his intentions (get perfected). There’s no escaping these high-level directives, which
must happen so that the Head, Jesus, fulfills his purposes in and through us.

So much of today’s church is patterned after modern business, which is all about having specific objectives, strategies for accomplishing them, which translate to specific objectives and actions at each level, which all roll up to the stated corporate objectives. At each level you have people acting as “heads” over their piece of the bigger picture, knowing what the need to accomplish, how it fits into the bigger picture, and planning/strategizing how to accomplish it. But my understanding from Paul here is that the Kingdom of Heaven is different in that there is only one Head, and the rest of us comprise the body. I see Paul trying to get everyone to fulfill their role in the body in “perfection in Christ”, and having the perspective that “we’re in this together as a single overall body”, but I don’t see him trying to help people be good “heads”, nor does he attempt this either. Jesus, the Head, has the master strategy for accomplishing his objectives, and we don’t need to go about trying to make up any new ones, or even require ourselves to know what his are, beyond what he’s clearly given us for fulfilling our parts. And our strategy for fulfilling our part in perfection is to live out of that connectedness to the Head. The way on is the same as the way in – come to Jesus and follow after him. This needs to be central to all we do.