The Divine Incursion

I often ask the Lord to provoke me. I ask him to not let me get comfortable, but to trouble me with holy things, to spur me onward to greater holiness.

Don’t you want that? Continue reading

Prayer for All the Coming Saints

Psalm 119:175 says, “Let my soul live that it may praise You.” The idea in these words is something I often pray on the behalf of people who don’t know the Lord, a very broad category of people.

CC-SA, Petras Gagilas, Flickr

CC-SA, Petras Gagilas, Flickr

I think about all of those who are indifferent toward God and faith and don’t perceive their need for either. I reflect on the headstrong and the hurting who hate God. Others are running trying to get far away from him, although his hook is in them.

They are without Christ whatever their state. And more than the destruction that lies in their path is all the love, acceptance, freedom, and delight already offered to them by Jesus.

So I pray. I pray that God will not let sin and Satan destroy them. I pray that Jesus will confront them along their Damascus road and send them in a new direction. I pray because it crushes me when I learn of one who leaves this life and enters eternal perdition.

I long to see these folk caught up in worship in the Lord’s house. I want to hear their testimonies of how God mercifully rescued them from their folly at the last moment. I hope to see those testimonies nudge other sin-whipped souls toward the Cross to relieve their burdens.

And I get a little excited that perhaps one day in Heaven Jesus might find me and say, “Michael, you interceded and brought this one to me.”

Cries of the Heart

CC BY, sylvain.collet, Flickr

CC BY, sylvain.collet, Flickr

“In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’” (Psalm 31:22)

The psalmists confess what many of us won’t: that we don’t have it all together.

Have you ever read Psalms—I mean really read it? It has to be the most relatable book in the Bible. I am floored by the range of emotions we see from these God-fearers, their intimacy and sincerity, their indignation and rage.

And I love it. It makes me feel a little more normal when I’m stressed or tempted or miffed with God.

Peering Into Our Hearts

The tones of cheer and praise in Psalms are as obvious for the dark and gloomy ones that ensue. In Psalm 42, for instance, we detect signs of the speaker’s depression and frustrated search for God: “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’” (v. 9). I love the nuances and implications that often arise from a text because they add color and depth to a scene and teach us by training our eyes on the unapparent. One thing I learn from Psalms is to really understand myself, how I respond to circumstance, how to feel and manage my emotions, how to submit them to God.

It’s important because what we can fail to notice is how impacted our emotions are by events and circumstances, the stress of them, although they may not be critical at all. You see, it’s the emotional aspect of our lives that often waylays us. Situations can be handled—we pray to God for as much—but we, the caretakers of our souls, are slow to anticipate and prepare ourselves for the emotional toll that can follow.

We never thought our circumstance would cause us to make rash decisions or to become temperamental. We didn’t expect to be crept upon by a sneaky depression. We surprised ourselves with our excesses, blinded by pleasure and glee.

Our emotions will trip us and Satan…well he watches unguarded doors.

Healing Our Souls

We’ve witnessed too many times of late the tragic consequences of people living life bottled up. It is necessary to acknowledge our feelings and give them healthy expression; it is also important to share our feelings with others.

I reject the triumphalist spirituality that suggests I keep happy and overcoming, or that it’s a sin or faithlessness for me to feel pain or experience sorrow. I also reject those on the opposite end, the hill climbers, whose faith only identifies with plight. They seem to start every conversation with “Hey, bro, what are you struggling with?”

I haven’t quoted a bunch of scriptures here, or said Jesus twenty times, yet this might be the most freeing news for some people, Christians included. We don’t lose our faith because we agonize; we just must not let pain cause us to lose our contentment in God.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Ps. 42:11)

“Thanks” Series—Guest Post by Chris Hendrix

CC BY-NC, @DartmoorGiant, Flickr

CC BY-NC, @DartmoorGiant, Flickr

This post is the second in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Chris Hendrix, writer of Devotions By Chris, reflects on the following quote by early American theologian Albert Barnes.

“We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”

As things in my life went downhill ten years ago, my brother helped me to keep things in perspective. Over the course of a few months, an employee of mine, her husband, and child died in a crash; I got pulled into a legal fight for the remaining child; my wife had an affair while I was distracted by the legal battle; she then left me for the other man; and my business went under and I filed for bankruptcy.

While having a pity party one day, my brother looked me in the eye and said, “Believe it or not, someone else has it worse than you do. You can be thankful you’re not them.” No sooner than his words hit my ear, they pierced my heart. I had been feeling like my life was worse than what Job had experienced; the truth was my life wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

When my thoughts of pity changed, my perspective changed. I quit trying to find others to feel sorry for me and started finding reasons to be thankful. My situation hadn’t changed; in fact, it got worse. Instead, what changed when I decided to become thankful was how I saw myself in the storm I was in and the purpose of the storm.

Not a Victim

Instead of asking “Why me, God?” I began to ask “What am I to learn from this?” Being thankful changed me from being a victim to a student. Even in my darkest hour God had something to show me and was desperately trying to get my attention. I had been stubbornly ignoring his call and living how I wanted to live. I had ignored his gentle warnings and signals to change how I was living; now his attempts at getting my attention grew louder and louder. God wasn’t content to let me live my life my way; he wanted me to live it his way. I’m thankful now that he didn’t leave me in the life I was living.

The theologian Albert Barnes said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.” In my life I’ve always remembered that someone has it worse than anything I will ever face. I am thankful when I think about that. When times are tough and life isn’t going the way I think it should or I feel I’ve been dealt a bad hand, I no longer pretend I’m the victim. I know now that even when things appear bad or like they can’t get worse, God is there in the storm with me. He hasn’t left me or forsaken me. He’s enduring it with me and wants to use the experience for his glory.

An Attitude of Gratitude

If you’re in the middle of a storm and you feel like things can’t be worse, I challenge you to find something to be thankful for. Are you still breathing? Then you have something to be thankful for. Your life isn’t over. God can rebuild it from the ruins where you are now.

Lose the victim mentality and become a student of what God wants to show you. To change your perspective you have to change your mindset. A changed mindset begins with a thankful heart. Things may not get better right away, but being thankful will give you a purpose in hard times. That purpose, combined with a thankful heart, will pull you through.

Read more by Chris on his blog Devotions By Chris.

My Mind Stayed on You

CC BY-NC-ND, Martin Gommel, Foter

CC BY-NC-ND, Martin Gommel, Foter

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” (Lam. 3:21-22)

One of my favorite websites is YouTube. I love that I can have an array of clips and video, movies and documentaries, or my favorite TV commercials at my fingertips, not to mention all the other quackish, non-essential stuff that can be eye-opening.

Oh yeah, it’s free, too.

I’m still a young guy but not so young that I don’t remember TV in black-n-white with just a few channels and it being a rap when the national anthem played after the late evening news. So secondary viewing by computer is pretty neat to me.

Sometimes I wish I had the facility of displaying my dreams on a player format like YouTube. We shouldn’t think it too strange these days since science is already producing mind-controlled devices; how much more would it take to display our thoughts? I have the wildest and most fantastical dreams sometimes, the kind so exciting that I get peeved if I should wake too soon!

When I start thinking this way, I begin wondering if in Heaven God will give us the opportunity to view certain parts of salvation history; and more than having my dreams on display, I think it would be a most awesome thing if we could see God’s agency for us individually. I’m talking about the drama of angels and demons, God’s meticulous planning for us, how our prayers worked, miracles we never knew of…the whole shebang. Now that would be something worth every second beholding!

Calling It to Mind

Right now, however, we have to be satisfied with our human minds for recalling the Lord’s faithfulness, which makes deliberate recollection an act of our will. We must remind ourselves not simply that God is good, but also that he has already been good to us in countless direct ways.

The Bible, in so many places, especially the Old Testament, commands us to remember the Lord’s goodness: “Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth” (1 Chron. 16:12). Peter understood the importance of recall, electing to continue reminding his hearers about the truth of scripture, although he was assured that they already understood it (2 Peter 1:12-12). It’s worth noting how remembering God’s faithfulness benefits us.

  • It reminds us of God’s ability. It’s what is meant when we speak of God being magnified—let him be greater than anything concerning us. Our perspective will change when we understand that all Heaven is backing us.
  • It causes us to understand God’s affection for us. He is for us, never against us. Whenever there is a question in my mind on this point, I ask myself aloud, “Can God do it? (Yes.) Will God do it? (Probably.) Will he do it for you? (I believe so.)” God desires our maturity and success.
  • It builds our faith. Who can reflect on God’s past dealing in their life and not feel that their next battle is good-as-won? It was this that prompted David to write, “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (Ps. 18:29). It won’t make the waiting any easier, but it will retard depressive vices and place God above one’s feelings.

A Way of Life

Recollection is easily enjoined with many of the spiritual habits—solitude, meditation, journaling, fellowship, contemplation, centering. Also, if there is a certain atmosphere that bridges you to God, like a cathedral or beach, by all means go there. Nature lifts my soul to God, so prayer at my favorite park works well for me. Some people may discover this habit easier done in the fellowship of Christian friends; others might find the quiet of the early morning best while lying in bed.

The Lord has done marvelous things for you. It may not look that way in areas of your life right now. But instead of escaping in your mind to bygone days when things were good, retreat to those times when you knew beyond all doubt that the Lord acted on your behalf. Consider those victories that astonished you and all who knew your story. Your heart will quickly brighten again. 

Read More: God’s Proven Track Record

Crazy Faith

CC BY-NC-ND, Calcutta Rescue, Flickr 90-year old man with leprosy in Calcutta who regularly visits the clinic to have his wounds dressed. Many leprous look much worse.

CC BY-NC-ND, Calcutta Rescue, Flickr

Faith is never common sense. This is where we sometimes get mixed-up. We can think we’re demonstrating faith for things that, with time and brainpower, we can figure out. You know: God, I trust you for money for…when we know a check is coming and auntie told us to simply call if we ever needed help.

If we can figure it out, it’s probably not faith.

Now before you stand me down, I’m fully aware that faith is necessary to sustain every part of our lives, including our general well-being. Faith is not a “crisis-only” apparatus, although some people view it that way. Our very awareness of God comes through faith and by it we are born anew.

Yet Jesus spends a great deal of time drilling faith lessons into the disciples. I’m talking about faith to trust when situations are beyond all hope. And usually when the teacher keeps talking about a certain thing, it means the subject is important and will be seen again.

A Simple Command

Hebrews 11:1 is the Bible’s hallmark denotation on faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). God thought it really important that we were clear about this. An incident with Jesus in Luke 17 richly explains faith and this great verse.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem from the Galilee region and encountered a band of lepers. This is indeed the story of the ten that were healed with one returning to say thanks, but I only care to deal with the first half of the story. These lepers would have been calling aloud to all passersby; it was required by law due to their contagious disease, which had separated them from society.

But when they knew that Jesus was present, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” There is no indication that Jesus drew near to these folk or talked in-depth with them, although we cannot know; instead, he gives them a simple command: “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

They would need to present themselves before the priest, as detailed in Leviticus 14, whenever they could prove that their leprosy was cured and to be restored back into society. We are told nothing more of the initial encounter.

The Ease of Faith

Common sense folk have tantrums at moments like this one. They’re like Thomas for whom seeing was believing. What do you mean, “Go show yourselves to the priests?” You’ve gotta do something and make this better! It’s why we want your help. But they miss the point of what they’ve implied.

Admittedly, Jesus’s command is a glaring lesson on faith, and reading it makes things go off inside me—just like this passage: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water. And He said, ‘Come!’” (*mind explodes*) You see, faith is an invitation into the supernatural that truly matters when situations are dire: God, I trust you for money because I lost my job—and now it’s the local food pantry and possible foreclosure.

Shockingly, what God requires at these times is our full confidence in him and for us to rest and accept the reality of our petitions granted—and what a chore that presents to us and all our striving. But that is the only posture of faith.

And this makes all the difference between two people on the same pew because one is trusting God for mere results while the other is just trusting God. Those who rely on God must “believe that He is”—or acknowledge more than his existence but the deeper aspect of it, that he is good and merciful such that it compels them to draw near to him.

John expresses this clearly: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).

Faith is about more than getting God’s stuff; it’s about getting to know God.

What the Lepers Teach

Jesus gives them a command that doesn’t make any common sense, but options don’t matter when you’re desperate (unless you have leprosy and your name is Naaman, remember him?) They probably knew Jesus was a twinge eccentric, and a 60-plus mile hike down to Jerusalem would be putting full trust in him.

But something happened and, from the sense of the text, it wasn’t long after they met Jesus: “And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back…” These ten trusted Jesus so much that his words alone were enough evidence of their cure. It is the same quality of faith the centurion demonstrates (Matt. 8) at which Jesus himself marvels.

We cannot know if any of the lepers bore lingering doubts or if the miracle occurred for them individually as they each decided to truly believe. Certainly they had already tried various unhelpful remedies, so it couldn’t have hurt to do what Jesus commanded, which reminds me of another set of lepers, the four in 2 Kings 7, who also got it right: “Why sit we here until we die?”

And when our situations have walled us in and circumstances are blackest bleak, we too will cry out to Jesus and he’ll offer us a similar challenge. The only question we must then assess will be how well we trust him.

Also on this topic: Our ConfessionGetting Faith Right, and When the Bottom Falls Out

The Way of Our Father

CC BY-SA, mariachily, Foter

CC BY-SA, mariachily, Foter

God is not as reticent as we think he is.

I’m learning to pray, Lord, help me not to miss crucial little things about my present life and circumstances that will explain lessons later. I’ve come to realize that God is not insensitive to us when we hurt and beg for answers, yet he answers on his own terms. Moreover, he responds in love and with the wisdom of his precise timing.

Think of a book you once read and didn’t comprehend: perhaps you finished it and more than likely you didn’t. A few years later you decided to read it again, especially since everyone except you seemed to love it. This time, however, you read it and couldn’t get enough of it. You were amazed that you never noticed all that was happening the first time.

God is that way with us. Sometimes we feel he’s not explaining himself too well, but it is his will to share with us about the matters we face.  “Call to me,” he says, “and I will answer you; I will tell you wonderful and marvelous things that you know nothing about” (Jer. 33:3, GNT). Still, some lessons are deeply formative ones to our faith—why something happened, why he didn’t act—and God, perhaps nestled above on the rock, tarries until we’ve climbed to where he’s waiting to speak with us.

Walk with God long enough and you’ll discover that for many lessons he patiently awaits our growth into them. It’s not always that we’re immature or lacking in some way, but rather certain experiences—the ‘crucial little things’—enjoined with our matured faith and his guiding voice cause us to BEHOLD what we never could have understood about his purpose at the time we demanded an explanation of him.

He’s too wise for our own good.

Let’s praise him for taking his time to speak to us about our cares. Let’s endure circumstance and not waste valuable experience. Let’s care to know only what the Father wishes to share because that’s all we’ll need to trust him later. Let’s never forget that what we learn becomes our ministry.

Another post on this topic: Hail the Morning Light

God for Our Gadgets: A Short

CC BY-NC, buffdawgus, Flickr

CC BY-NC, buffdawgus, Flickr

Annoyed by the ringing phone, Grant paused his video game and snatched up the receiver before the answering machine came on. He expected someone needing his mom or dad, but it was Josh, the head youth leader at his church. Caught off-guard, Grant grabbed the remote and lowered the sound so he could hear. A baseball game played on another TV.

It was an awkward moment for Grant, who hadn’t attended his teen group, Lighthouse, in more than a month. It wasn’t because he didn’t care for it, but one thing had led to another…the spin he gave Josh: getting over a bad case of flu, tennis tryouts, his band sessions and gigs, and good ole R&R, which usually amounted to hours in video game world.

Grant texted while talking with Josh and even muted the call once to quickly answer his cell and promise a callback. The conversation had grown longer than Grant expected or wanted. Josh invited Grant to play at the church’s upcoming barn party, slated to be a big event. Grant was interested and tentatively accepted, now on his tablet looking over his schedule and then checking email and Facebook messages.

The conversation turned to spirituality. “How’s your devotional life?” Josh asked. Grant rolled his eyes, brushing his hair back and making sure not to sound peeved.

“It’s okay, I guess,” Grant replied, texting again. Josh wasn’t buying it.

“You guess? That doesn’t sound convincing,” Josh replied. Grant booted up his laptop.

“Well, honestly, I really need to get back to Bible reading. I pray fairly regularly though,” Grant said.

“Okay, but you need to be around your peers. That’s where you get accountability and how you stay strong in your faith.” There was silence. Josh continued, “Grant, you’ve been an example to many of the kids, and they’ve been asking about you. I don’t want you to lose your fire and godly example. We all have as much of God as we desire. I just need to be sure Christ remains your priority and that you’re making time for him.”

There wasn’t much Grant could say to that, tossing his cell phone on the bed. He sat down in the Banker’s Chair at his desk and sighed, a little dispirited now. When Josh started wrapping up the call, Grant interjected.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a moment?”

Seeing Clearly

CC BY-NC, control.cancel, Flickr

I encountered a person who, after discovering my religious training and work in the church, found an opportunity to ask some long-standing questions of his. The main question dealt with Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden: What was the nature of Eve’s temptation? Was it intellectual or was it sexual with the serpent or Satan himself? Surely there was more reason to Eve’s “hanging out” at the tree for other than mere conversation. Eve was “giving something away.”

If you’re reeling right now from the flagrant implications, then just imagine me staring blankly into the face of my interlocutor trying not to spill over with amazement. This gentleman went on to explain some of his background. He was an avid reader of the scriptures as a young man and, at twenty-one, he formulated his idea that Eve’s temptation could only have been sexual, considering human relations and the “nature of a woman.”

Thirty-four years later while watching what he supposed to be the History Channel, this topic was featured and lent credence to his supposition, thus stamping it as truth in his mind. I was not previously familiar with this particular theory, but I did a small research on it to know what he was talking about. Evidently he didn’t listen long enough because the legend is that Satan actually impregnated Eve, but it is all irrelevant to the case at hand.

I don’t care to go into the drawn out conversations, arguments, and rebuttals we went through over our time together because it got so silly. At best I found it incredibly foolish to base one’s conviction on something trivial as an unfounded supposition and a TV episode confirmation. Then, as was part of my point to him, I couldn’t imagine being so staunchly sure about the remotest ancient history without some deference to the overwhelming mystery that clouds the very time and text. I’ve always admitted that the best theology begins with some measure of mystery. After all the theory and analysis and reasoning, sometimes we just don’t know.

My friend also didn’t seem to understand that there are interpretational rules to the scriptures. To be funny and supposing his foregone conclusion about Eve was true, I asked him why couldn’t it be any less true that Jesus hung around street people because he was attracted to their way of life and not the opposite. “Well they wanted to be like Jesus,” he replied sincerely. Can we be so sure if we are allowed to self-approve our interpretations of the Bible?

There was a second gentleman present who himself had questions about the opposite end of the Bible, namely, Revelation and the apocalyptic writings. He was more logical than the first and actually sided with me against him. Laughably, I was lucky enough to get one questioner who knew everything that happened at the dawn of human history and another who eagerly wanted to know what was at the end of it!

I explained to the first man over breakfast that, although I may have a degree and have done some teaching in the church, I am ever only a student of the scriptures, learning and relearning and working within the rules of interpretation, offering my faith where mystery obscures what more there is to learn. In fact, any good preaching will steer any true seeker to study and put down the imbalance and sensationalism that attends the Aha! I gotcha! type of reasoning.

I see the condition of these men’s hearts even better now when I look back on it. Both were conservative men with very strong Christian upbringings and sentiments. The first man told me that his mother expected him to be a preacher; the second man confessed that he was a backslider and didn’t go to church because of hypocrites but needed to make a change. Between the questions of the two men, I took away a significant point. Christian spirituality is not about the technicalities of the Bible and not about how this all started or will end. Instead, it’s about the living to be done in the middle, for it is possible that when the questions are all answered as best they can be, we will have still not lived for God. We will have still not loved and enjoyed him and fulfilled our call in creation to simply be his joy and he our pleasure. Devout spirituality is nothing short of wholeheartedly pursuing the disciplines that bring us to union with our Creator and make us the best persons we were made to be.

I will still address the issue of these questions. One day we will all have the chance to speak to God face-to-face, but it will not be a fact-finding opportunity then. Yet we now have the privilege to learn of him through the scriptures and within the context of a glorious journey and life of faith. (Yes, God is the point of our lives.) I refer to Augustine’s words often—“Faith is to believe in what you do not yet see; the reward for faith is to see what you have believed.” Perhaps one day we will have all the answers and know as God does and acquaint those that actually lived the stories we read. We often use the expression “seeing is believing,” but with God it is the opposite: believing is seeing.