Shut Up!

When I talk to people, I often ask the question “How’s life.” I hear a lot of different answers, but what I don’t often hear are answers like “slow,” “easy,” or “boring.” More than perhaps ever before, we are packing our lives full. Work, community activities, sporting events, performances, social gatherings, church events, volunteer work…the list of things we jam into our lives goes on and on.

With our schedules this packed, our priorities are almost impossible to order – so many of these activities are pressing, important, valuable, demanding, necessary, or just good things that we struggle determining which ones are the most important. So we spend our time rushing from activity to activity, barely taking time to breathe. We push ourselves for so long that our bodies shut down from the stress and exertion. We even drive ourselves through a schedule on our vacations!

The Psalmist that wrote Psalm 46 recognized the stress and pressures around him as well. Over the first 9 verses, he lists a series of anxiety-causing events surrounding him; troubles, the earth giving way, mountains moving, waters roaring and foaming, nations raging, desolation, and war and violence. In the list there are massive natural disasters and human-caused strife. As you read it, you can almost feel the tension building – earthquakes shaking, floods roaring, sounds of riots and war, all building in an overwhelming crescendo to verse 10, where there is a sudden stillness. From this dramatic silence, a calm voice speaks:

Be still, and know that I am God.

At the hearing of these words, we receive comfort and peace. We feel that sense of tension and pressure disappear, and we have a building confidence that everything is going to be ok.

But what is this simple statement actually telling us? I think there are three parts to this simple Bible verse that we need to keep in mind if we want to avoid having life overpower us.

“Be still…”

We need to take the time to stop everything, to shut down whatever we are working on, to silence our phones, computers, games, TV, and brains, and simply be still. Put away all the busyness and all the distractions and focus on something other than ourselves.

God loves you. There is no question about that. But we do not always feel that love. We sometimes feel like He has forgotten us. Especially when things are raging out of control, we think He is leaving us on our own to fend by ourselves. That just simply isn’t the case.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is in a bit of a pickle. He is in a battle by himself against a terribly wicked king and queen who have vowed to kill him. He feels the tremendous pressure of trying to serve God, but he also has the pressure of a death sentence and a profound loneliness because he has no one to share his burden. God has Ezekiel walk for 40 days, bringing him to a mountain. There God puts Ezekiel in a cave and tells him to wait.

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

-1 Kings19:11-13

Elijah heard the roar of the wind, felt the shudder of the earthquake, and saw the violence of a great fire. Being on a mountain and in a cave, these were violent, terrifying events! The cave could collapse, a landslide could have buried him, and the fire could have cooked him! But Elijah rightly recognized that God was not speaking to him in any of these loud, dramatic events. It wasn’t until Elijah heard the whisper, a quiet voice that he had to strain to hear, that he came out to meet with God. Ezekiel had walked for 40 days, but God waited until Ezekiel was still until He spoke to him. Ezekiel had done great things for God, but in his exhaustion, fear and loneliness he forgot that it wasn’t his desires that were important, it was God’s plan.

When we are pushing ourselves in our daily lives and sprinting from one appointment to another, we tend to forget that life isn’t about us, it’s about God. We forget that God has a plan for our lives, He has called us to serve Him, and He is in control. No matter how out-of-control life feels, it never is. God has everything covered. However, God often waits until we stop pushing and start listening until He speaks to us.

“…and know…”

Eventually, when we stop and listen to His voice, we can have a confidence and assurance that our lives otherwise lack. We can have faith that His plan is better than ours, that God is in control of everything, and that He will guide us and take care of us. Over and over in the New Testament we are told that to have faith means we have an assurance of our beliefs, that we do not doubt that God is good and is in control. That is often hard to do, but when we are drawing closer to God and listening to His voice, we can and will feel a peace and comfort that will lead to renewed confidence and faith in Him.

“…that I am God.”

This part is tricky, because it involves not only recognizing a truth about God, but also about ourselves. It is easy for most of us to say, “He is God.” He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and in control. We can say that without a lot of hesitation and thought most of the time. But the tough part is being willing to recognize the second part: “I am not God.” I am not all-powerful, all-knowing, or in control.

We may be willing to say that, but do we believe it? Are we living like we know that we aren’t God? When we try to take control, to run our lives and fill our schedules without going to God for guidance, we are taking that control from God. When we do that, often times He sits back and waits. He wants to speak to us, to guide us and protect us, but He isn’t going to send an earthquake, windstorm or fire to get our attention. He will wait until we listen for the whisper and then, when our hearts are open to hearing Him, He will speak.

There are tons of good things in our lives, things that are valuable and honorable that we can support, but the tricky thing is that we sometimes have to say no to good things in order to prioritize the best things. It’s great to volunteer with an after school program; it gives an opportunity to build relationships with young people that can encourage them and affect their entire future. However, God does not want everyone to work in an after school program. Some people just shouldn’t do it, not because there is anything wrong with it, but because God has something better for those people. If we decide to work in that program anyways, we are trying to do what we want and what God wants, and that doesn’t work.

God will not be multitasked. He will not be worked into a schedule. He will not settle for what you are comfortable with “sacrificing” for Him. He will not compromise or negotiate with you.

He will have all of you, or He will sit back and wait until you come around. He will not bend – He will get what He wants for His glory alone.

The question is this – are we going to embrace our role in His plan and place Him as our highest priority? Will we fully and passionately follow Him, or are we going to continue to try to put Him in the passenger’s seat?

Are we prepared to stop everything, shut up, be still, and know God? Are we going to listen for that still, small voice, that whisper of truth in a crowd of confusion?

He is waiting for us. We can see His passionate, desperate love for us displayed in His son Jesus Christ. He wants a deeper relationship with all of us, and I pray that we will get ourselves out of the way and allow Him to speak to us.

Read any good books lately?

What were you doing when you were 8? Playing with friends, starting school, spending time with family?

For young Josiah, 8 years old became the age that he became King.

Josiah became King of Judah somewhere around 640 BC. His father and mother had died, leaving the throne to him.Judahhad seen better times –Israel, the northern kingdom, was gone, conquered byAssyria. With a single good king that had any interest in following God in the last century, the people were focused on a lot of things other than serving God. In fact, they had fallen so far away from God that they had allowed the temple – God’s home, the palace of the High King – to deteriorate. They had taken the Ark of the Covenant, the throne of the High King, out of His palace. There were altars and worship sites for false gods everywhere. This is not a situation set up for the 8 year old Josiah to succeed in.

But 2 Chronicles 34:3 says something interesting;

For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father…

Josiah had every reason and every expectation to follow in the sinful path of his predecessors, but against the odds he draws close to God. And it isn’t something he does gently. He destroys everything; all the altars, all the high places. He finds the priests that serve these false gods and he has them put to death. Josiah does something that even most of the good kings in the history ofJudahwere unwilling to do – he purges the entire country of all pagan worship. He then turns his attention toJerusalemand to the temple that had been neglected for decades.

This is where the story gets really interesting, because we find out something that we didn’t know before.

While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given through Moses.

(2 Chron 34:14)

The worship of the Lord had been so neglected that they had lost the Book of the Law, God’s Word to His people! It hadn’t been looked at or thought about for years, and it took a thorough cleaning of the entire temple to find it again!

Here’s another interesting thought. We were told that Josiah started following God when he was 16, and later would purge the country of any who worshiped anything other than the true God of Israel. However, he did this without his version of the Bible to guide him!

So what does Josiah do? He reads it. And the reading of God’s word has an effect on Josiah.

And when the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his clothes. (v 19)

Josiah had known things were bad, but in hearing the reading of God’s Law, he realized how far his people had fallen away from God. He also recognized that God had warned them of consequences of not following Him. Josiah sees this and seeks God’s leading for himself and for his people, and he leads a revival in his country. With the Word of God at the center of the movement, the people once again became the people of God. The chapter ends with the following line;

And Josiah took away all the abominations from all the territory that belonged to the people ofIsraeland made all who were present inIsraelserve the Lord their God. All his days they did not turn away from following the Lord, the God of their fathers. (v 33)

All this started with one man who chose to follow God. His heart was right, and God used him. But what was the catalyst for the renewal of the nation? The Word of God. Josiah had gotten rid of the objects that were leading the people astray, but it wasn’t until God’s Law was presented that the people returned to the worship of the Lord. It wasn’t until it was read and the covenant was renewed that it was written that the people continued to follow the Lord.

It can be easy to look at the story and wonder how they could just forget about the Lord, even to the point of completely losing the Book of the Law. It just wasn’t important to them. It wasn’t a priority to hear it, learn from it, or take it seriously. Slowly, over time, it was minimized, then forgotten.

But we often do the same thing – we have the full Bible, God’s great revelation that has been given to us. We usually have several copies lying around, but we end up taking the Bible for granted. We don’t consciously reject it, we just push it to the side, we tell ourselves we are too busy for it right now and we’ll get to it later. Our time with God’s Word slowly dwindles as it takes a back seat to other priorities in our life, and we find ourselves rapidly approaching the same place that the people in Josiah’s time were at – a place where the true God isn’t on our radar, but there are lots of other gods that we will worship, like money, power, popularity, pleasure, etc.

I challenge you to get out of your rut and get deep into the Word of God. Set aside a month to focus on reading and learning from a daily study of the Bible. Pray that God would use the time to teach you, to grow and stretch you, and most importantly to draw you closer to Him.

I challenged my youth to do this recently, and I have around a dozen that have committed to read the New Testament in a month. Join us! Between now (Tuesday, March 06) and one month from today (Tuesday, April 3), read through the New Testament. That would be an average of a little more than 9 chapters a day. Post on the comments page here to let others know you are doing it, and encourage each other in the process. Get others on board, and see what God does with you when you spend the time committing to a closer relationship with Him. You will be blessed!

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

(Heb 4:12)

Avoiding the Nightmare

One of my favorite TV personalities is Gordon Ramsay. It’s at least partly because I would like to get away with as much as he does, but it is also because I am constantly impressed with how he does his business – he works with passion, commitment, and an uncompromising focus on excellence. One of his shows, Kitchen Nightmares, features him going into failing restaurants and doing his best to turn them into success stories for the owners. It gets a bit formulaic at times, but one of the regular moments in most episodes is, I think, very telling. At a point early in the show, Ramsay sits down with the owner to talk about the history of the restaurant. Most of the time, whether the owner started the business or bought it, it was successful to some degree. However, a point came when it turned and went, as Ramsay would say, pear-shaped. The business declined, began losing both customers and cash. Then Ramsay asks the owner what he/she did at that point to try to fix things, and the answer is almost always the same.

“I didn’t change anything.”

The owner is afraid to lose his/her “loyal customers.” They think that things will get even worse if they change, or they don’t know what will happen and it scares them. So they press on with a failing business model, going deeper and deeper in the hole. To the owners, the results they see are random, unexplainable, or a reaction to some minor issue that is out of that person’s control.

What the owners don’t recognize is that their business and success (or lack thereof) is a direct result of decisions that they have made. They have chosen, either directly and with intentionality or indirectly without thinking, the path that has led the business to where it is. They do not recognize that, if that path has led to $1,000,000 debt, that they should maybe think about changing how they do things.

From the outside, we see this as a bit ridiculous – if we were faced with a million dollars in debt we would freak out! However, we often do the same thing with our own lives. We are unhappy with different aspects of our lives; we feel stressed out, unfulfilled, and overly busy. We have regrets about our time and our relationships, we are not happy about our finances, and we simply wish our lives were something other than what they are. We are not willing to accept that our lives are exactly the way they are because of the decisions we have made. Whether intentionally or indirectly, our lives are a series of cause-and-effect relationships and our decisions have created our present reality. It is true that there are things that are out of our control, when we are at the mercy of chance or other peoples decisions, but we are far more often in control of our lives than we often admit.

So if we bring ourselves to that point where we break through and decide to change something, where do we begin? Often times others will tell us to picture what we want out of life and work towards that goal, but I would suggest something different.

What this really boils down to is priorities. What is truly important, what is the priority for your life? For those who have chosen to follow Christ, the priority for everything we do should be to bring glory and honor and praise to God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says it better than I could:

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

We exist, we were created, for a purpose – to bring glory and praise to God, in this life and forever. There is nothing more. That is the reason we were created. We can fight that and do our own selfish thing, or we can embrace it and seek to fulfill our purpose to the best of the ability God has given us. We can make ourselves and our twisted, blind view on what we think we want to determine our priorities, or we can seek to turn our hearts and minds to what God wants and let Him determine our priorities. When we do that, we will feel a sense of fulfillment because we will be living as we were made to live. When we don’t, we will have a sense of emptiness because we are not fulfilling our purpose for existence.

Are you unhappy or unsatisfied with life? Do you have a sense of emptiness, a frustration with the results of your daily routine and the various activities in your life? Take a look at your priorities, think about the choices you have made that has led you to where you are, and pray that your priorities would be God’s. The reality is, even when we think we are in control, anything we do ourselves is possible because God allows it. He is in control. He may allow us to stray from Him and to pursue our own selfish goals for a time, but that does not mean that anything, anything, is outside of His power. He will guide us and He will help us when we seek to trust Him.

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

-Jesus (Matthew 6:25-34, The Message, Eugene Peterson)

Lazy Driving

Hi everyone! So it’s been a little while…how have you been? Good? Have a good Christmas? Still going on those New Year’s resolutions? (For those of you that joined my fitness club on January 2nd, can you not show up at the same time as me so I can have a parking spot again? Thanks.)

So I was reading an article today that I wanted to share. It was published in Relevant, Nov-Dec ’10, and it was written by the magazine’s founder and CEO, Cameron Strang. The article is called “The Price of Vision,” and I thought he had some really brilliant comments on driving towards the vision God has given you and not taking the easy way out. Here is a link to the article, followed by some exerts I found challenging and insightful and a few of my own thoughts.

The Price of Vision

“While it may sound harsh to say that, there is a sense of entitlement and urgency that saturates our generation. We’ve grown up hearing nothing but yes. We’re going to be the best. We’re going to change the world. We’re going to surpass our parents’ generation.”

“We’ve had things handed to us, and when it comes to our dreams, we’ve been told God will give us the desires of our hearts. But are we actually willing to pay the price?”

“I needed to let go of the controls. If God called me to do this, He would open the doors, not me. And at the same time, somewhat paradoxically, I needed to have unwavering resolve to pursue the vision He put in me.”

“If something comes easily and without sacrifice, it’s rarely significant.”

Are we willing to drive hard after those things God has put in our hearts, or are we going to take the safe, easy way out? Are we going to do whatever it takes to accomplish His purposes for His glory, or are we going to look for shortcuts?

I believe God has huge, amazing things He wants each of us to accomplish, but He does not give us the easy way out. Through our journey following His path for us, He is making us more and more like Him. Don’t look for the easy path, look for His path.

Forgetable

Ever wish your memory was better? Then you are probably jealous of someone like Carrie Wells, the lead character on the TV show Unforgettable. The character has a real-life condition called hyperthymesia, where an individual has perfect autobiographical recall of his or her life. Basically, that individual can tell you everything they saw, heard, or experienced from nearly any day of his or her life.

 

While that may sound great, and for Carrie Wells it helps her to be a superstar police detective, in real life it isn’t always a good as it may seem.

At the age of 8, Jill Price’s memory became nearly perfect, and by the time she was 14 years old she could remember every moment from every day of her life.

Give me a date from [1980] forward and I can instantly tell you what day of the week it was, what I did on that day, and any major event that took place – or even minor events – as long as I heard about them on that day.

However, for Jill Price this “gift” doesn’t stop at the ability to recall her past. Her past has literally haunted her for her entire life.

My memories are like scenes from home movies of every day of my life, constantly playing in my head, flashing forward and backward through the years relentlessly, taking me to any given moment, entirely of their own volition.

Imagine the entirety of your life running like a movie in your memory all day, every day. You can’t shut it off or get rid of it; it’s always there. You remember good things like nailing a musical recital in high school or hitting a game-winning shot, your wedding or the birth of your first child. But you also remember the bad events, like failing a big test, doing something to hurt a close friend, having your heart broken, or even the death of someone you cared about. Would you really want vivid memories like these popping into your head at random throughout your day? Even if we have worked through some of the pain of our past, we likely aren’t going to be excited to review it in exact detail. However, for Jill Price this becomes even worse.

One of the features of my memories that is most difficult to cope with is that the emotion of them isn’t dialed down; my memories are apparently exceptionally emotional and sensually vivid…It’s not as though I’m looking back on the events with the distance of time and of adult perspective; it’s as though I’m actually living through them again…For me, the emotion that comes along with every memory is every bit as potent as it was the day I first had it.

For years Jill has had the memories of her parents’ separation, her grandmother’s stroke and death, and her husband’s death from a stroke at the age of 42. As we can only begin to imagine, this sort of emotional toll is at times devastating for Jill. When I first heard this woman’s story, the commentator introduced it as his expectation of what hell would be like.

I believe Jill Price would gladly give up the pain and misery of reliving these awful events day after day, but the reality is some of us do that kind of thing to ourselves. We allow ourselves to relive our past pains, failures and mistakes. We have lots of help, too. In Revelation 12:10, Satan is called the “accuser of our brothers” (ESV). In the story of Job, we see him attacking Job’s integrity. Peter tells us Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He is looking to destroy us, and he will do whatever he can to do it. He will remind us of our past; our sins, our rebellions, our failures. He will show us how we have hurt others and how we have hurt God. He will try to paralyze us by the reminder of how truly messed up we all are.

Imagine Paul’s struggles; he was a Pharisee (not an organization that Jesus was very high on) and he led a group that was seeking to exterminate Christianity. He was as big of an enemy to God as you could imagine. In Philippians, Paul writes a list of reasons that he could have confidence in the flesh, including being a “persecutor of the church” (3:6). This is obviously something he isn’t proud of. But he doesn’t let it drag him away from God’s plan for his life. He follows that statement by saying;

Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 3:13-14

Don’t let your past failures hold you back from what God has for you now. If you have unconfessed sin in your life, then confess it, repent of it, and know that God has forgiven you. That means it’s gone. Move on.

God has bigger things in store for you. Forget the past. Look to what God has for you now.

 

Quotes by Jill Price come from the book “The Woman Who Can’t Forget” by Jill Price with Bart Davis.

Thoughts to drive us

It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything.
-GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Our temptation is to look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted. We are in fact very like honest but reluctant taxpayers.
-CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory
 
Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue…solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity. 
-GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

We do not want joy and anger to neutralise each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return in the evening.
-GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows but only empties today of its strength.
-Charles Spurgeon
 
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
-Winston Churchill 
 
We have not any need to rebel against antiquity; we have to rebel against novelty.
-GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The church is often like a football stadium where 22 people need a rest and thousands of people need exercise.
-Tim Keller, via @DailyKeller

It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.
-GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Christians shouldn’t be surprised when, in seeking to do God’s will, we find ourselves trapped in painful, frightening, difficult, or impossible situations. Life is hard – especially for Christians. We have a determined enemy seeking to devour us. “In the world,” Jesus warned, “you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).
Then He added: “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
-Robert Morgan, The Red Sea Rules

It does not matter (comparatively speaking) how often humanity fails to imitate its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitful. But it does frightfully matter how often humanity changes its idea; for then all its old failures are fruitless.
-GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
-GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Dirty

Sometimes the way I read my Bible is a little delusional.

Take, for example, the story of Hosea. I used to love that story. God tells his prophet Hosea – a spiritual leader, one of those “church guys” – to go out and marry a prostitute. Not a reformed and repentant prostitute either; he is supposed to go up to some street-walker and take her into his home. I can only imagine what would happen today to the church where the pastor spontaneously marries a prostitute.

Hosea obeys. Apparently he and his new wife Gomer get along OK, because they have a child in relatively short order. However, two more children are born shortly thereafter, whose names are “No Mercy” and “ Not My People.” What kind of father names his child “Not My People”? No father does…that’s the point. Hosea 1:3 says that Gomer “bore [Hosea] a son,” but verses 6 and 8 simply say that Gomer gave birth to children. These children were not Hosea’s.

The message of the story is dramatic. God is telling His people that they are cheating on Him, that “the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” (1:2, ESV) God isn’t pulling any punches here, He is stating it the way it is. Instead of being passionately, deeply in love with the groom, the bride is out sleeping with whoever she can pick up off the street.

Reading this story in the past, I have often pointed to the sinfulness of Israel, to God’s patience and kindness, and to how generally sinful humanity is. My problem was that I never really saw the personal message for me in the story. As I put myself into the story I was always an observer to the story, someone watching the pain of Hosea and the ridiculous rebellion and rejection by Gomer with sympathy; or I would identify with Hosea, understanding the feeling of helplessness and rejection.

My problem was that I wouldn’t accept the fact that, in the story, I am Gomer. I am the prostitute that was rejecting my Groom. I am the one that is continually walking away from the One that saved me, that loves me in spite of myself and is willing to provide for my every need.

It hurts to put ourselves in the role of Gomer because it becomes painful. We begin to see our rejection of God clearly and we begin to have an idea of the pain that we cause God. We have to come face-to-face with the ridiculousness of our choices: that we have walked away from something so good for something so terrible. We have to say, “I am the prostitute, whoreing myself out to whomever I meet.” That hurts.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Despite the rejection, the deception, and the pain God sends Hosea back out to get Gomer. Even after the adultry and two illegitimate children, Hosea takes her back. It isn’t even Hosea being willing to accept her after she comes crawling back full of apologies and remorse. Hosea has to go out, find his wife, and even pay for her; things have become so bad for this unrepentant adulteress that she has fallen into slavery.

Like Gomer, we have to recognize that, on our own, we are at a rock-bottom level of hopelessness. But God hasn’t given up on us; He still wants us and will redeem us. He loves us so much that He has paid for our rebellion and our mistakes. Despite the terrible things we have done to Him, He is still there to bring us home. On the other side of the pain we feel in understanding our rebellion and extreme sinfulness is a joy and a love that we otherwise could not understand.

God is desperately, passionately, deeply, and completely in love with you. Despite whatever it is that you’ve done, He is still there to pay the debt and bring you home, without any worry of guilt or resentment. Return to Him with joy and feel His love surround you as He holds you in His arms and carries you home.

This is a painting by my friend Scott Erickson. This post is very personal and I wanted to include some of his art, which has meant a lot to me.

Check out more of Scott Erickson’s art…it’s great!

Are you Tebowing?

Its hard to be famous.
Not that I have a lot of personal experience to draw from – this blog hasn’t exactly exploded nationally. Yet.
But just think about it. If you are famous, people recognize you and stop you everywhere. Everyone you meet has ideas in his or her head about who you are, and many of those expectations are going to be impossible for you to meet.

“I thought you’d be taller.”
“You know, you really aren’t that funny.”
“What’s that smell? Is that you?”

Being a famous professing Christian adds a whole new dimension to the picture. Now there are a whole new set of expectations, all based on different ideas of what it means to be a Christian, starting with the impossible expectation that the person is perfect.
Complicating matters, many people who profess to be Christian have dramatic failings where it becomes clear that their desire to follow God’s guidance for their life is or for a time was less than their top priority. For whatever reason, Christians and Christian groups have too often tried to latch on to individuals, only to be left with a black eye when that person’s dirty laundry is aired out. And very often that dirty laundry is brought out, because the simple act of professing faith in Christ is enough to draw the ire of many. Being a Christian is enough for many to hate you.

Take, for example, Tim Tebow. Tebow is unquestionably one of the greatest college football players of all time. In 2007 Tebow became the only sophomore to ever win the Heisman Trophy and he nearly won it again in 2008. He won two national championships and two SEC championships with the Florida Gators. He is the only player in NCAA history to rush and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season. Overall he holds 5 different NCAA records, 14 SEC records and 28 University of Florida records. At the NFL Draft, Denver traded 3 picks to move up to draft Tebow.
Despite all of this, he is one of the most controversial athletes in the NFL. His style of play is nontraditional, and many experts have predicted that he will fail as an NFL quarterback. Much of this is pretty typical of professional football analysis, but there is also widespread agreement that the analysis and criticism of Tebow has at times gone a bit over the top. He is constantly under the microscope, by fans and critics alike. Everything from his arm motion to his body language and personality has been nitpicked. He has become a lightning rod, and everyone seems to have their own opinion of him.

Part of the attention that has drawn people to Tim Tebow comes from his very vocal profession of faith. Tebow grew up as a missionary kid to parents serving in the Philippines. He was home schooled for a time after his family moved back to Florida. A favorite story shared by commentators leading to the NFL Draft, Tebow spent time during summer breaks doing missions work in the Philippines, including assisting in performing circumcisions (how’d you like to do that on your next vacation!).

Tebow has boldly stated his belief and faith in Jesus Christ and has appeared to live a life consistent with the teachings of scripture. This has all drawn the attention of many. I bring Tebow up now because all of this attention has had a fairly dramatic effect on many, as was recently pointed out in a Fox Sports article written by Jen Floyd Engel entitled “Why the heck do we hate Tim Tebow?” You should read it yourself, but here are a couple of excerpts I found interesting:

He is too nice, and thereby we want him to trip up so we can feel better. We want him to be revealed as a hypocrite, and when that fails to happen, we settle for gleefully celebrating his failures on the football field. And why? Because he dares to say thanks?

I find it especially telling that Tebow rarely lectures and does not fight back…Tebow is just a guy with the good sense to say thanks. Instead of taking his cue, we mock his faith. And that says more about us, none of it good.

There is a great deal more that is worth taking note of so really, go read it. But when I read these things, a couple of verses come to mind.

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
-Matthew 5:16 (ESV)

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
-1 Peter 3:15-16

Reading the article, I would venture to say that Engel is not an evangelical Christian. However, she has taken note of how Tebow has lived, listened to what he has said, and seen how people’s reaction to his faith has been critical and unfair. She is seeing God’s truth and glory through Tebow’s life, something that each and everyone one of us is called to. It even brings her back to a coworker who simply prayed before his lunch at work – that simple act of thankfulness made an impact on Engel and her coworkers. How many little opportunities to share little pieces of our faith with others do we miss because we aren’t looking for them!

Dwight Howard "Tebowing"
So often, it is the little things that make an impact. In college, the NCAA adopted the “Tebow Rule,” banning messages written on the little black stickers that players wear under their eyes to cut glare from the sun, because Tebow would write Bible references on his. He didn’t fight it or speak out against anything, but his actions pointed others to the Bible. A new popular spinoff of the “planking” craze (which I find hilarious!) is “Tebowing,” mentioned in Engel’s article and popularized in part by NBA superstar Dwight Howard (pictured here). Following a touchdown, Tebow kneels in a quick prayer of thanks to God, and others have taken to kneel in various strange and awkward places in what could be seen either as a joke or as an act mocking Tebow or prayer. Either way, Tebow’s act of thankfulness has again brought attention and ultimately glory to God. Praise God!

Ask yourself, what are you doing to bring attention and glory to God?

Be afraid. Be VERY afraid!

What scares you? Monsters? Clowns? Bugs? Chiropractors?

We all have things we are afraid of, whether we like to admit it or not. Sometimes it is for perfectly legitimate reasons: we are afraid of snakes or spiders because we know they could hurt us. Sometimes, our reasons are less legitimate, such as in the cases of aerophobia, the fear of drafts, or cathisophobia, the fear of sitting.

Sometimes fear is a very good thing. Take Proverbs 111:10;

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (ESV)

For a long time I struggled with the idea of the fear of the Lord. Why do I need to be afraid of God? Doesn’t He love me? Isn’t He good? Why should I fear something that is good, wants what is best for me, and will never act rashly or in blind anger? But this verse (and many others like it) is in the Bible, so I’ve got to deal with it.
Some people explained it to me by saying, “Well, we have to fear God, but it isn’t real fear. I mean, it’s not like horror movie fear or something like that.” For a while I went with that idea, but it doesn’t really line up to the scriptures. Take Isaiah; in Isaiah 6 the prophet is taken in a vision to the throne room of God, and Isaiah views the Lord in all His heavenly splendor. What is Isaiah’s reaction?

Woe is me! For I am lost… (5a)

As my High School students translated the verse, it equates roughly to “Oh crap, I’m dead!” Why did Isaiah feel this way? He continues;

…for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (5b)

Isaiah had an attack of the Fear of the Lord, and it caused him to examine his life. The shock of seeing the Glory of God, seeing Him in all of His awesome holiness and glory, made Isaiah realize how truly and utterly sinful he was, so much so that he did not believe he could continue to live.

This reaction isn’t isolated to Isaiah. Throughout the entirety of scripture, when people have an encounter with God, typically the first words the Lord says are “do not be afraid,” because most everyone is! That is the reaction all of us will be pressed into when we encounter God face to face.

That is the value of the fear of God; it puts our lives into perspective. We often like comparing our lives to other people’s lives. We say things like, “I’m not perfect, but I’m better that the guy at the desk across from me, or my manager, or the entirety of the HR department. I’m a pretty good person compared to Charlie Sheen or Muammar Gaddafi or Adolph Hitler.” We can get pretty good at justifying our lives, but all of that goes out the window when we meet God. We realize that our lives are not being weighed against our neighbors or coworkers or some despot from history, they are being weighed against God’s perfection. That is a measure that none of us can hope to match. When we realize that fact, we come face-to-face with God’s holiness and justice, and it fills us with fear.

However, it doesn’t stop there. As the psalmist said, the fear of the Lord is just the beginning. When we acknowledge our sinfulness and God’s perfection, that is when God looks at us not with judgment or wrath but with love, saying “fear not.” When we have rightly acknowledged our sinfulness and rebellion, we are in the place that God wants us. Francis Chan describes God’s perspective this way:

I am this amazing God that you ought to fear, but once you get to that point, you don’t have to fear Me.

Don’t let pride control you. Don’t continue believing you are good enough, that you are your own boss, and that you drive your live. Take time to consider the fear of the Lord. Look at the Bible’s portrait of our holy, just, loving, all-powerful God, and realize how much greater He is than we are in our sinful, selfish lives. Then, give that pathetic, rebellious life over to Him and watch the amazing things He will do with it.

Not a blog post about Cults and Mormons

Some days I sit down and have a ton that I want to write about. Some days…not so much. Like today. So, instead of forcing something that I’m not really feeling led to write, I give you this.

There are a lot of questions swirling now about Mormonism because of the strong presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. A lot of controversy has been directed at many Christians who claim Mormonism is a “cult.” But what is a cult? Mark Driscoll wrote up a nice article talking about what a cult is and where Mormonism falls in the religious spectrum. Take a read!
http://pastormark.tv/2011/10/18/is-mormonism-a-cult
Cliff’s Notes summary: Mormonism is a cult. And it isn’t a cult. Go read the article.