Strength and Weakness

2 Corinthians 12

Sometimes I wonder what my life would look like if God gave me everything I asked for.  Would I turn out like Bruce Nolan in Bruce Almighty, or maybe like the character of Kevin Lomax in The Devil’s Advocate?  I fear that we have all developed our theology from those movies.  Today, thankfully, we get to put Hollywood behind us and look to the Bible.  Through the life of Paul, we see what real character and integrity look like in the face of adversity.

Unlike Paul, we continually misdiagnose our failures and shortcomings.  These often result in empty and hollow feelings, despite our best efforts.  When they persist, we turn to God.  We pray for success.  Sometimes, we demand success.  We want more money. Better relationships, influence prestige, and power; “God’s blessing.” These, however, are the trappings of worldly success.  They are not what God wants for, or from us.  I like the way that Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel illustrate this in their book Beloved Dust.  They explain that “we want to believe we can fix our own lives and we want to believe that learning the right technique will save us.  At the heart of idolatries such as these is the desire to have a different god from the God who has given himself to us in Christ Jesus.  It is taking the deep and evil desires of our heart to make ourselves the center of existence, and generating an idea of a god we can serve – a god who will be impressed with us, a god who is on our side, and, maybe most importantly, a god we can control.”

Paul takes the opposite of my position.  His is worship.  Incredibly, this is Paul’s only response to his circumstances.  In fact, he boasts about it.  Now, I might boast about my weakness in order to gain sympathy or even help from someone else.  Not Paul.  He boasts not for any gain of his own, but only so that the name of God can be known to exclaim God’s revelation that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is time for me to get on with the business of worship for all things in my life.  This life of worship begins with the understanding that my weaknesses, my failures, my shortcomings, adversities, and brokenness that God is looking for.  In fact, all of these have been overcome through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Because of His strength, I can do all things. (Philippians 4:3)

We’ve Got Spirit!

Ring – Ring

“Hello, this is BJ.”  “I’m looking for a spirit filled agent to assist me.  Are you him?”  said the voice on the phone.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t know how to respond.  To buy some time, I said, “it depends upon what you mean by spirit.”  My brain was racing across so many definitions of spirit.  Did he want an agent with spirit?  Like a cheerleader?  “We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you?”  Ok, yea. I’ve got spirit.  No, that can’t be it.  Maybe he was looking for a Christian?   If so, I question his method.  That is an odd way to put it.  Why not just ask me if I am a believer?  Because this man was looking for a specific kind of Christian.  He didn’t want someone that was religious, or simply knew the right things to say.  He was looking for someone whose life was shaped by the Holy Spirit.  His follow up to my query was “are you continually full of the Holy Ghost, able to speak in tongues.”  Hmmm…..now I have a problem. I have never spoken in tongues.

Since I have never spoken in tongues, I must reconcile what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Today, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit fills the disciples.  The result?  You got it.  They spoke in tongues.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Does my failure to speak in tounges mean that I do not have the Holy Spirit?  No.  It simply means that the Spirit has not needed to fill me in that way.  He has, however, filled me in other ways.  Galatians 5 provides additional evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.  Galatians 5:22-23

As I reflected on the conversation, I began to think about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Here are a few examples of how Jesus reflected the Spirit’s presence.

Love – Matthew 20:28  “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Joy – Luke 10:21 (ESV) In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Peace –Mark 4:39 (ESV) And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm

Patience – Jesus is incredibly patient with Thomas’ unbelief John 20:27 (ESV) Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Kindness – Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV) Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls

 GoodnessThis is a great tribute to the goodness of Jesus https://youtu.be/ESmuG_5MOiw

 Gentleness – Matthew 19:13-14 (ESV) Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Self-Control – Jesus is tempted by the Devil Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Clearly, the Holy Spirit has powerful effects on our lives.  I can see why the man on the phone wanted an agent that was filled with the Spirit.  Thankfully, because Jesus went before us, these gifts are freely given to those that ask.  What shall we do?

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:38-39 (ESV)

Tested, Proven, Perfected

I am fully enthralled with the story of Peter’s denial.  Today, in Mark 14, we see both the warning that Jesus gives him and Peter’s vehement denial.  These two statements are extreme opposites.  In verse 31, Peter  “said emphatically, If I must die with you, I will not deny you.’”  Contrast that statement with verse 71 where Peter  “invokes a curse on himself and swears, I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  How could Peter so fully believe that he would follow Jesus, at all cost, and, at the same time invoke a curse on himself trying to denounce him?  Clearly, Peter did not understand what he was capable of.  Are we all so fallible?  If so, how do I know what I really believe?
The answer, unfortunately, is that we don’t know.  Seriously, until our beliefs are put to the test, we do not know how we will respond.  My fear, of course, is that I will fail as Peter did.  But why?  Why do I fear failing when, failure is the very thing that leads to success.? That was certainly true for Peter.  After failing the test, Peter broke down and cried.  In that moment, Peter knew himself better than he ever had.  More importantly, he came face to face with the gulf between who he was and who God created him to be.  He fully understood that if he was to be whole again, he would need God to make him so.  I can only imagine how difficult the next few days were for Peter.  Jesus was dead, and he failed.  What hope was there?

God leads into the dark night those whom He desires to purify from all these imperfections so that He may bring them farther onward. ~Saint John of the Cross

I am sure that through this test,  God planned to help Peter become who he was created to be.  Throughout the test, Peter was 100% responsible for his response.  He got to choose what was next.  In the end, Peter could not deny the changes that Jesus had made in his heart.  He was a different man.  While his heart may have reflected sorrow and shame, he was not far from worship.  It shows in his excitement to be reunited with Jesus in John 21:8.  It was this contrition of heart that led him to a full victory in John 21:15-20.

As I learn about Peter in this passage,  I find myself reflecting on how God has and is testing my faith.  I can see times of failure and, like Peter, experienced a dark night of the soul.  Maybe you are experiencing a test of faith right now. I am comforted to know that victory is ours if we choose it.  We choose it by acknowledging that Jesus is our savior and our Lord.  When we do, He promises that we will become “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).  That is who God created us to be.

Diamonds, Hawk Nelson

Saint John of the Cross. The Dark Night of the Soul (annotated) (Kindle Location 151). Kindle Edition.

Reunited

Luke 15

If you have been around the church for any period of time, it’s likely that you have heard the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and, of course, the lost son.  These are powerful stories that allow us to experience God.  That’s right, Jesus reveals God’s character, generosity and love through them.

First, we see that God is relentless in his quest for relationship with us.  Consider for a moment that you are that lost sheep, or coin or wandering son.  God will stop at nothing to regain our trust, attention and love.  While we may attempt to pause our relationship with God, or even hide from him, rest assured that it is not possible.  The parable of the lost coin explains it clearly.  The old woman will not stop until she finds it.  Neither, will God stop seeking you.

Second, God is not seeking us for vengeance.  He wants to give us love.  Note the word “rejoice” in the parables.  If God is going to rejoice with us, he must be giving us first a full measure of grace.  As I recount my own failings, I find myself questioning how forgiveness is even possible.  Why would a sovereign, all-powerful God want to rejoice and celebrate with me?  The simple answer is revealed again in these stories.  It is his love for each of us.

There is no greater evidence of God’s love than his own son.  It is his death on a cross that assures our salvation.  No, that is not a story or a parable.  It is real life.  He died, was buried and rose again so that we can live, reunited with Him.  Now is the time to rejoice with him and with each other.

According To Your Faith

Mark 2

Today’s reading has me thinking about paralysis.  Miriam Webster defines it as being powerless or ineffective.  Today’s story illustrates Jesus miraculous healing of a man that is physically paralyzed.  I picture him lying in a bed, or on a stretcher immobilized, unable to move at all.  I imagine him thinking about things that he would like to do with his life and wonderful things that he wants to experience.  I’m sure the doctors told him its impossible to change.  Those words led only to disappointment and depression.  Yet, something inside of him was still alive.  I think the same is true for us.  No, most of us don’t deal with physical paralysis, but we do struggle with mental paralysis.  think back to the definition.  Where in your life are you powerless and ineffective?

When we are honest, there are many things that we feel powerless over.  I’ll bet that careers, finances and families are among the top answers for that.  We know that our powerlessness is not right.  Intuitively, we know that something is wrong.  That’s why we continually reach for solutions.  Hopefully, we seek out something positive like a book, a friend or a support group.  Unfortunately, we often seek out less beneficial options like a bottle, a pill or isolation.  I wonder how long the paralytic in today’s story sought options like that?  My guess is that he did so continually, until he heard of this man named Jesus.  At that moment, he knew that nothing else would satisfy.

Little did he know the obstacles he would encounter when seeking out Jesus.  In fact, he was completely blocked.  The crowd was so thick and Jesus’ room was so full that not one more body could fit nearby.  And, so it is with us.  The instant we listen to that still, small voice telling us that a better life awaits, obstacles appear.  Maybe it’s an old habit, or perhaps the people we are surrounded with.  Truth is, there are so many things that will block our path of Jesus.  But, like the paralytic, we must find a way.  If we really believe that still, small voice, we will do whatever it takes.  The paralytic found himself on top of the house, being lowered next to Jesus through the roof!  Yes, that sounds extreme.  I believe with all my heart that if we really want to discover the life Jesus has waiting for us, we too must take a seemingly impossible risk.  Ironically, the risk isn’t what we think it is.  The risk is not about blindly taking a leap and hoping things work out.  The risk is about evidence.  Evidence of our faith.

Verse 5 shows us exactly how it worked.  It says, “when Jesus saw their faith.”  Do you know what that means?  It means the actions they took were the evidence of their belief that Jesus was who he said he was.  This happens over and over in the Bible.  Check out Matthew 9:27-31, for example.  Jesus miraculously heals two blind men and cites their faith (v29) for the victory.  My friends, this is not different for us.  The only thing left to evaluate is ourselves.  What actions are we taking that suggest Jesus is our answer to everything?  That is the evidence of our faith.

Father give us a clear picture of who you created us to be.  allow us a glimpse of what our life would look like if given over fully to you and provide us with the courage we need to act accordingly.  Your will be done.

 

 

On The Line

What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done?  When I asked myself that question, I had a hard time answering.  Truth is, riding my bike with no hands is probably it.  In modern-day America, we simply don’t face danger.  Occasionally, we may face danger that will put our reputation or popularity on the line, but never our lives.  That reality makes it a little harder for me to appreciate the risk that Queen Esther takes today in Esther 4.  In short, she is informed that the only way to save the Jewish people from certain death was to go and risk her own life before the king.

Not long before this challenge was given her, Esther was the chosen one.  Everything was going right for her.  Her beauty and loyalty earned her high place with the king.  That is until her cousin, Mordecai came to her with this special challenge.  She must go before the king and ask him to save the Jewish people.  This task, she knew, could easily result in death.  This is the part that has me wondering.  What would I really put on the line for God?

The reason we may never know the answer to that question is that we have an amazing ability to dodge the question.  Seriously, when something challenging comes up, we look for simpler ways through it.  Maybe there is an option that will satisfy everyone without going to such an extreme.  If not another solution, we simply avoid the question all together.  Life goes on.  Or does it?

Among the most captivating verses in this passage is verse 14.  Mordecai explained that there is a cost for silence.  In fact, the cost is extremely personal.  He explains that God’s plan to save the Jews will succeed.  He will prevail, with or without her.  Additionally, if she chooses “without her,” she will die anyway.  So will all of her family.  Ouch!

I’ll be honest.   When I compare my commitment and faithfulness to Esther’s, I feel like a wimp.  Like Esther,  I cannot justify my silence when I know God is calling me to more.  Thankfully, unlike queen Esther, our lives are not on the line.  Or, are they?

 

 

Dangerous Calling

Ezekiel 2-3

I don’t have much understanding of prophets.  They are far too mystical for me to understand.  Most of the time, I think of crystal balls, tarot cards and Ouija boards.  In our culture, these things are shrouded in secrecy and darkness.  There are at least two reasons I do not go near them or the people that interpret them. The first is skepticism.  What makes them so important that they can see the future?  If I could get over my skepticism, I would be confronted with fear.  You see, when our future is predicted, our sense of control disappears.  We must endure the future without choices.  I have to consider the pain and suffering that will come along with it.  It’s hopeless.  I want nothing to do with it!

My definition of prophets helps me.  Wait a minute. Maybe that’s not the right way to say it.  My perspective of prophets might be preventing me from fully realizing my calling as a Christ-follower.  How does that work?  Read through God’s calling in Ezekiel 2:3.  It reads, “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.”  God wants Ezekiel to rebuke them.  Now, imagine that God said that to you.  I’m guessing that your response is similar to mine.  “No, way!”  Why not?  Because my reputation, my friendships and my very life are at stake.  What will people think of me when they hear me talking like that?  Guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  God continues with Ezekiel saying, “whether they hear or refuse to hear” Ezekiel 3:11 (ESV).  These words are important to us because I believe that God may be calling us to be prophets.

No, God may not endow us with powers like Elijah or the ability to determine future events.  We need to think about prophets differently.  I would like to share something I learned from A.W. Tozer.  He helps me fix my picture of prophets and how we fit in.  In his book Tozer on Christian Leadership,  he describes today’s prophet as someone who interprets the present.  This calling requires discernment to understand current events and the ability to translate God’s position on them.  Unfortunately, I think most Christians cut ourselves short.  God may be wanting to bestow this gift of prophecy on us, but our refusal to surrender to Him inhibits the spirit from working.  What would it look like if we fully sought him and surrendered?   Maybe, you are like me, worried that He might call you to be something more.

It’s time to retire my old definition of prophet and replace it with God’s truth. Jesus Christ does not remove control from me.  He restores control to me.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, my future is secure. Abundance, peace and love are mine.  Forever and always.  If you believe that, it is worth considering what a prophet looks like.  I’m sure that we have been given the command, just as Ezekiel was given the command.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

 

Never Let Them See You Sweat

Never let them see you sweat.  That line was made popular by the Gillette company.  They promoted a line of antiperspirants that would ensure you wouldn’t get caught sweating.  If you are a leader, you’ve probably thought about this too.  It’s important to project strength and confidence.  After-all, nobody wants to follow a weak or timid leader. Even worse, we definitely don’t want a a leader that fakes confidence.  Today in 2 Chronicles 32, we get a good look at courageous leadership.

There is nothing in this chapter that reveals leadership weakness in Hezekiah.  He consults trusted advisors, they set up a plan, organize a huge work crew and take action.  Hezekiah reminds the that God is on their side encouraging them to be strong and courageous. It’s amazing to me.  How can Hezekiah be so unflappable?  Was he just faking it?  Did he have sleepless nights worried that he was doing the right thing?  The answer is no.  He did not.  His confidence was real.

The secret to Hezekiah’s courage is probably obvious to you.  It’s God.  In fact, Hezekiah was quick to remind the people that their strength comes from God and God alone (v8).  The result?  Hezekiah gained the trust and confidence of the people.  They remained steadfast even throughout the verbal onslaught and lies spewing from King Sennacherib.  They remained faithful. Hezekiah, was not done.  He had one last act of courageous leadership.  He prayed.  I don’t think that this prayer was birthed from desperation or worry.  No, it was from disgust and insult.  Sennacherib had gone too far, making a mockery of God.  Hezekiah’s prayer, therefore was a call to action.  He was seeking God’s wisdom and guidance to fight; an act of courage, not fear.

As I read through this account of Hezekiah, he exemplifies the kind of leader I want to be.  He lets God lead every step of the way.  He puts his faith and confidence first in God.  In return, God provides him a platform of peace and wisdom from which to lead.  That is why Hezekiah doesn’t sweat.  And, God is why Hezekiah prevails.

 

Then and Now

There is conversation among Christians that says the Old Testament is irrelevant.  They say that because Jesus came along and changed everything.  Therefore, the old is no longer needed, the New Testament rules over all.  While there may seem true, it is not true.  We serve the same God.  In fact, today, as we read 2 Kings 5, I think you will see what I see.  It comes through the story of Naaman.

Naaman, as you have read, had leprosy.  He wanted to be well.  To live a normal life, to be productive and to do the things he was born to do.  At the advice of young Israelite girl, Naaman set off for the land of Israel.  It was in Israel, according to she, that there was a prophet who could heal him.  Naaman departed for Israel with a pack of riches on his back.  It included silver, gold and clothing.  He hoped to trade these things for his healing.  Yes, the price was great, but having his life back would be worth it.  His health, after-all, would return to him his purpose.  He would have a life worth living.

Naaman did, in fact, meet the prophet.  His name was Elisha.  But, the healing didn’t go the way that Naaman expected.  Naaman felt disrespected and dishonored.  He protested that there was an easier and better way.  Thankfully, Naaman surrounded himself with wise men.  They were instrumental in convincing him that his pride was going to ruin everything.  Naaman, surrendered to Elijah’s instruction and washed in the Jordan river.  Naaman was healed.

Upon his restoration, Naaman returned to Elijah.  He wanted to thank him.  He also wanted to pay him.  Neither of these were out of obligation or responsibility, but from gratitude.  Elijah refused.  He would not accept payment for Naaman’s new life.  Instead, he simply wished him well.  “Go in peace,” he says.  Effectively, Elijah was saying go and lead a whole life, be who you were created to be.  From now on, praise and worship the almighty God.  Your gratitude is for Him.  That’s exactly what Naaman set out to do.

As I read through this story, I am humbled that there was no cost for Naaman’s healing. Well, there was no monetary cost.  The cost was only in his character.  The cost was only in what he would give up of himself.  Namely, pride.  It was in his surrender.  From it, he gained the life he longed for.

My friends, if you don’t see Jesus Christ in this story, you don’t know Jesus.  We are promised the same things.  Through Jesus, we have Healing, new life, restoration and fullness.  And, just like Naaman, there is no cost. Well, the cost is exactly what we will give up of ourselves.  Once we do that, there is no cost, only gain.  Redemption has already been paid by Jesus.  With our new lives, there is only one thing left to do.  Praise and worship.  Just like Naaman.

Magic Words

2 Samuel 12

I was reflecting on the life of David, finding myself amazed at how quickly he changed.  He went from pursuing God’s will, to fulfilling his own desires in an instant.  He changed from doing good and conquering giants to adultery.  Nothing would stop him from satisfying his desire.  Not even murder.  This story is shocking, and it has me asking how a man can go from holding God up high to utter disregard of him?  The truth is, we are all capable of and susceptible to such action.  Thankfully, God is a protector and he is on our side, no matter what. 

Have you ever found yourself on the wrong side of God?  David did.  As Holly-Rae wisely pointed out to us on Saturday, David’s actions “broke God’s heart.”  I love that she described it that way.  Most of the time, I think in terms of black and white.  I think good and love, or sin and punishment.  I put similar polarizing actions on God.  I assume that he loves me or hates me.  In fact, too often, I assume that my actions determine the way he feels about me.  They result in either promotion or punishment.  That’s not true.  God loves me, and you, through all of it.  His continued love, and our continued disobedience causes him grief.

This is an important distinction.  Since God is only love, he cannot hate.  Our failures, no matter how bad, are redeemable.  We see it in David.  What happens after he engaged in the worst of the worst sins?  God reached out.  That’s right.  He needed David to know of his hurt.  He sought to relieve his grief.

God could haven convicted David of his sin through quiet time, or personal study.   Who knows, maybe he tried that first.  In this case, God spoke through David’s best friend, Nathan.  Whatever method God chooses to get our attention, a response is required. In this case, David responded with confession.

“I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

I breathe a huge sigh of relief as soon as i read it. With that simple confession, God restores peace to David. Why? Because God is no longer grieving. I imagine God rejoicing in that moment and that joy translates to David directly.

I am thankful, today, for the same opportunity. I am grateful that God loves me, no matter what. I am humbled that he will take me back, no matter what.