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Archive for March, 2011

Four Words

“I can’t be that.”

Enervating words, from self to self.

“I’ve got you covered.”

Energizing words, from Father to son.

Every Sunday, there will be people in the pews whose minds replay those 4 words of discouragement, over and over, like an mp3 player stuck on repeat. Every great and inspiring example from the Bible and from real life is another whip with which to self-torment. Every stellar saint is a ghost, haunting the conscience; a glorious cause for fresh doubts. Good, godly, sensitive souls who have an over-developed sense of self-loathing.

These inward-looking saints – I count myself among them – cannot seem to hear good news without rummaging through the trash cans to find yesterday’s expired and moldy cold cuts.

Yes, some, in foolish pride, think when they hear the Word of God, “I can do that!” God will, in His wise and gentle power, reprove that presumption. But others are in a guilt cycle, unable to hear about holiness without fixating on inner uncleanness. After years of “I can’t…I don’t…I never…I’m worthless,” soon despair settles into the soul.

This is where we come in and say, “You have value.” This is where we say to our brethren, “I believe in you, and Jesus is looking upon you with favor.” This is where we give the ultimate good news, for both sinner and saint: “God has it covered. He gives a robe of pure righteousness to those who simply trust in Him. Your wretchedness, traded in for His righteousness.”

“I’ve got you covered,” says your Savior. Maybe you aren’t the apostle Paul, maybe you’re not George Whitfield, maybe you’ll never be Martin Luther or Charles Spurgeon or one of the many famously gifted, out-front saints of old.

Let those ghosts go. They aren’t your standard. You’re covered. And you have a unique role to play, one which will bring delight to your God and your own soul.

No, you can’t be that. But you’re not a nobody. Be His.

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No Nobodys

This morning I was reading the daily e-mail from my friend Jon Swanson (the “Social Media Chaplain) who writes over at 300 Words a Day.

This pregnant phrase jumped out at me: Jesus loves you more than you hate yourself. Our self-loathing gets in the way of conversations at times. We assume that people won’t want to talk to us. But Jesus seems pretty willing to talk with people who didn’t have things together.

Wow. I immediately thought of the Samaritan woman at the well (Gospel of John, chapter 4) who experienced this first-hand – she was a nobody, from a despised nation, and a notorious sinner to boot. Yet Jesus went out of His way to talk with her, gently leading her into spiritual truth.

Apparently, in Jesus’ eyes, she was NOT a nobody. She was worthy of His individual attention.

So are you. And so am I. That makes this day a whole lot better, come what may…

(Image credit)

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Delighting in 3-D

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalm 37:4

It is a very common misconception that God’s purpose in the universe is to withhold anything fun and dampen our enjoyment of whatever is good.

Nothing could be further than the truth.

One long gaze at the earth about us reveals a world full of delights – beautiful flowers, sweet morning air, the songs of birds, the glory of a sunrise, food simmering on the stove, the laugh of a child…the earth is full of God’s generous kindness, even to the delight of our senses.

More than that, there are spiritual delights for those who trust in the Lord – the wonder of forgiveness, peace through believing prayer, fellowship with the saints, sudden insight in the Word, victory over previously-prevailing sins…God gives to His saints, not only the common forest of delights, but a special garden of choice fruits to enjoy.

But if we settle for these things, we still miss the point. Our highest, our chief delight, is God Himself. We are to delight in HIM – His love, His mercies, His power, His purity, His Fatherly care, His daily shepherding, His justice, His wise purposes – because that is what man is uniquely created for. To know and delight in the Creator Himself, above and beyond all His works.

Whether you are a lay person, or a pastor, or a missionary, the call of God to delight in Him is the same.

Call it delighting in three dimensions. The Lord Jesus welcomes His people to joyfully delight in earthly blessings, spiritual blessings, and the deepest fountain of all blessings – Himself. Let us not settle for less than 3-D delighting!

(Image credit)

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Heart-sickness

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” -Proverbs 13:12

Every one of us will have dreams unfulfilled, hopes delayed, desires thwarted. Is that true of Christians, also? Certainly.

Part of God’s redemptive process is “Desire Reformation” – He is transforming us from the I want what I want – NOW! mentality, to the faith-infused I want what God wants – when He deems it best. The purifying of our desires means a lot of hope deferred – a lot of heart-sickness. If you’re not heart-sick, you’re probably heart-stopped!

Jesus implants whole new desires in the heart of a renewed believer – read I John 3:1-3. These longings have their final fulfillment only in heaven. Therefore, we will always live in a dynamic tension of hope deferred and desire fulfilled.

There are dozens of no-holds-barred descriptions in the Bible of hope deferred and desire fulfilled. Abraham is a prime example, with the amazing promises of a great nation to come from him – an old man with a barren wife. But we can also look to Jacob, Joseph, the nation of Israel (400 years in Egyptian slavery – talk about hope deferred!), Moses, Zacharias and Elizabeth, Jesus, lepers and blind men, and on and on. God, the good shepherd, guides us through barren places, and into lush pastures, according to His purposes, weaning us all along the way from ourselves, to fuller dependence on Him.

The Lord’s people often experience prolonged periods of perplexing heart-sickness. Does this mean that He doesn’t know us? That He doesn’t see, or doesn’t care? Not at all. Our great comfort is found in a passage like Psalm 139, which assures us that God knows every thing about us, down to the words on our tongue before we speak them.

God is in it for the long haul. We see only a little part; He sees the whole, including the far greater purposes which are obscured to us. He will cleanse our desires, strengthen those which are good, and, in time, fulfill every one to overflowing. We will cry no tears, feel no poverty, know no depression, and experience no pain in heaven.

So let us follow our Lord and Savior, and endure the heart-sickness of this life, knowing what is ahead of us (Hebrews 12:1-7, 11).

“Search me O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139: 23, 24)

(sermon audio link)

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Be a Sower

Everyone wants to reap.

Who wouldn’t want to walk, sickle in hand, into a flourishing field (planted and watered and tended by others) and just harvest the bounty?

Who wouldn’t take a job offer for a million dollar annual salary, plus bonus, for a product that sells itself?

Who wouldn’t want fame and glory while skipping over all the sweat and labor and practice to get to the top of the podium?

I don’t want that. And, in your heart of hearts, neither do you (really). We know it’s a cheat to reap when we haven’t sown. And the satisfaction level would be utterly diminished, because underneath it all, we know we didn’t make the investment that produced the return.

If you’re a parent, you know there’s no shortcut. A lot of tireless sowing, before your young child becomes a ready-to-fly young man or lady. There is a joyful harvest all along the way, of course, but no one understands delayed gratification like a parent!

While we’re constantly encouraged to grab the brass ring (billionaire before the age of 30 – woo-hoo!), for most of us, there’s a process of steady, faithful sowing before the harvest. That’s how it’s meant to be. Sometimes the process is relatively short, sometimes long, but when you’ve tilled the field, you’ve planted the seed, you’ve watered and weeded, and you’ve turned a fallow field into something productive – well, that’s a thousand times more gratifying than having it all handed to you on a silver platter.

I love the “Psalms of Ascents” in the Bible. One of them, Psalm 126, ends with this promise: “He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

Amen to that. Be a sower. That’s the best way to become, not a grim, but a joyful, reaper.

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