Thursday, September 30, 2010

God Never Wastes a Hurt

How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:12-14 (NLT)

This psalm begins with “the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1) and then goes on for the next six verses about how the brilliance of the sunrise and starry nights speak of God’s greatness. Then, the psalmist moves to extolling God’s Word in the next five verses as perfect, trustworthy, right, clear, insightful and true (Psalm 19:7-11).

After establishing that God is powerful and creative and that God’s Word is perceptive and true, the psalmist turns to the inner workings of his own life. “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?” Even the apostle Paul admitted that “The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:14-15, NLT). We don’t always understand why we do what we do because we don’t really understand ourselves.

But, our all-powerful God has insight into us that we can only gain through Him. God doesn’t reveal our brokenness to give an excuse for bad behavior. God shows us our hurt so He can heal it. This isn’t an abracadabra, poof, you’re healed sort of deal. Often we have to work through the things that we’d rather forget about. And, we can get stuck on the smallest things.

“I’m never going to be like my mother.” “I’m not going to let their abusive words define me.” “I’m never going to let someone take advantage of me again.” “I can’t trust anyone except myself.” We can run, but we can’t hide. Until the light of God’s truth shines into these dark places in our minds, we cannot be healed.

Our pain can either be the greatest source of our sin and shame or it can be the greatest point of God’s grace and even ministry to others. Open wounds continue to bleed. The pain of our past continues to punish people for the sins of others. Their ungodly actions toward us fuel our ungodly actions and attitudes toward others.

But, when our wounds are healed, every scar is a testimony to God’s grace. What was once a source of shame is now an avenue of God’s grace to us and to others.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible (if that’s legal) is Genesis 50:20 – “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” God never wastes a hurt.

What part of you needs God’s healing touch? How have you received God’s grace? How can you offer comfort to others with the comfort you’ve received (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)?

Now, to avoid future sin, the psalmist closes with a prayer that I pray frequently: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be please, Lord to you.” That’s a good way to start the day.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Disunity: That Was Easy

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! Psalm 133:1

We have two boys. They are loud. They yell. They hurt each other. They fight. For a while we wondered what was wrong with them. Then, it occurred to us that neither of us grew up in a house with two brothers.

Brothers love each other. It’s just that their love language is punching and wrestling. Brothers want to out-do each other. One will boldly proclaim that he is better than the other. It’s in their blood.

Disunity is easy. It comes naturally. Right now, think of any person that you know. Now, think of one thing that’s wrong with them. See how easy that was. Then, you mention that fault to another person. It gets repeated back to the person, and boom, you have disunity. It’s as easy as growing weeds in your yard. No effort. No attention.

Unity is hard work. Think about that same person. What’s one thing that’s good about them? Now, that’s a little more challenging. We tend to think about how much people irritate us. We don’t naturally go to what a blessing they are.

Unity says that when we have something against someone, we go to them (Matthew 18:15) and work it out. Unity says that when my preference is different from theirs, I learn to appreciate the differences. The whole is greater than just me. In God’s economy, it’s not right for me to impose my will on everyone else just to prove how big I am.

What are you in a disagreement about right now? Can you see the other person’s side? Can you argue their case? Is there a middle ground? Can you agree to disagree? Does it really matter? Is it worth the fight?

How well do you know them? Have you heard their story? It might explain a lot about how they’re acting.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You’re Not Worthless

He must become greater; I must become less. John 3:30

This verse doesn’t say, “He must succeed, and I must suck.” There is nothing wrong with excellence and success, or initiative and innovation, unless it takes Jesus’ place in your life. We don’t need to fail to make Jesus a winner. He’s already won.

A little cat adopted us. I say, “adopted,” he’s really just freeloading on the cat food bowl in the backyard. He’s a cute little kitten, a nice gray Russian Manx. He stayed around this morning while I filled the bowl. His hunger overcame his fear of me.

Thinking that he was warming up to me, I moved the relationship forward a little too fast. I reached to pick him up. He arched his back, he hissed, he scratched, and he got me (somebody call Ted Nugent). That kitty was being as fierce as he possibly could be. It was just cute. It was laughable. He can scratch a little (I bear the wounds), but he didn’t leave me reeling in fear.

He was threatened. He was insecure. This was his natural instinct. It was all he had.

Following John the Baptist’s example, we are not encouraged to become less because God wants us to feel worthless. We are directed to become less because our tendency is to become more. We want to live large. We want to be bigger than who we are. We want to be admired and respected. We want to be sought out. Everyone on Facebook and Twitter is crying out to be acknowledged. I mean at least let me be the mayor of Something on Foursquare. (Good grief, that little Russian Manx is apparently mayor of my own house.)

So, here’s the deal: we are of great worth to God, because He paid a painful price for us. He gave His Own Son (John 3:16). We have Jesus, and that is enough. In success and in defeat, in triumph and in failure, Jesus is enough. He becomes greater, and we ride His coattails. We get out of the way, and others see Jesus in us. People will say, “You’ve changed. You’re more patient, polite or kind.” Our secret: it’s Jesus in us.

How does Jesus want your spouse to be loved? How does Jesus want your kids to be treated? How does Jesus want your boss (yes, that one) to be respected? Notice, I didn’t say, “What would Jesus do?” That’s fine. But, those thoughts tend to be moralistic and just place a heavy burden on us. The more important question is: What is Jesus doing through your life? How are you letting Him take the forefront of your life? How are you backing down?

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Monday, September 27, 2010

A Dangerous Prayer

Do not put out the Spirit's fire. 1 Thessalonians 5:19

On the first day of the church, the Day of Pentecost, 120 believers were gathered together to pray. Jesus had just ascended into Heaven 10 days before. They began to pray. The Holy Spirit came upon them in a visible and tangible way: tongues like fire on their heads, sounds like a rushing wind, and a spontaneous linguistic ability to communicate the Gospel (Acts 2:1-4).

This caused quite a stir among the crowd that day. Jews from the entire known world with different languages and dialects heard the Good News in their native tongue. Their assumption was that this was the result of intoxication (Acts 2:5-13). That’s funny to me. I’ve never seen a drunk master the Rosetta Stone language course.

Peter straightened things out (Acts 2:14-40). Flakey, unreliable Peter presented the Gospel with eloquence. Three thousand people trusted Christ as their Savior that day (Acts 2:41). What an amazing result. What an overwhelming result. It was a miracle.

If the 120 had attended a church planters conference, they would have been instructed to build their core team. They might have been told that 120 was too many to start with. Maybe they should narrow it down to 12 or so. Then, begin to gather small groups of folks to cast vision for their church. They would have advertised their church for months. Then, on kick off Sunday, they would hope for a good, manageable number, but not too many. Three thousand would have been quite unreasonable.

There’s the word: reason. Sometimes our reasoning and our low expectations block the Spirit’s work in our lives. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not encouraging us to turn off our brains and start acting crazy. God gave us a brain and a book, the Bible, and that is an integral part of our faith. But, how much of the Book do we truly believe?

We only believe the things that we do. We can say that we trust God, yet if we don’t turn to God first, do we truly trust Him or do we just trust ourselves? We can say that prayer is important, yet how often do we pray? (Notice, I didn’t say “how long.”) You get the point.

The Bible tells us that Elijah was “a man just like us” (James 5:17). Elijah prayed that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t rain for three and a half years. Elijah faced off with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He prayed fire down from Heaven (1 Kings 18:16-39). Elijah was a man just like you and me.

Put yourself in Elijah’s shoes. (God did in James 5:17.) What has God directed you to pray? Have you seen much fire from Heaven?

Now, God is probably not directing you to heal the sick or raise the dead (but don’t shut that door). There are many ways that we can block the Spirit’s work. When we’re anxious, do we smoke or drink or eat or anesthetize ourselves with television or internet? The Bible says to “cast your anxiety on Him for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He even wants to be a part of that.

Maybe there is a bad habit that you need to forsake or a good habit that you need to start. How have you asked God’s Spirit to help you? Maybe you are in the middle of a firestorm emotionally, you are paying a high price, what does the Spirit want to teach you? Even if it’s not your fault, suffering is much too costly to be wasted.

Maybe you just don’t know. Then, pray a dangerous prayer: “Lord, I am available to you.” Then, pay attention to what happens next. God, by His Spirit, wants to be involved in your life. Not as an add-on or another activity, but right in the middle of it. Your hand is on the dial. Let the Spirit flow.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

God Is With You: Good News or Bad News?

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. Psalm 139:7-8

This is either good news or bad news depending on your relationship with God. If you’re running from God, then His presence probably feels like the “hound of Heaven” who will track you down wherever you go. You can’t get away from Him.

As a teenager, this took on the connotation that I’d better behave, because God was watching everything that I did. Maybe this is how teenagers should feel. The implication, however, was that if I messed up, God would put that on my permanent record. If I didn’t confess my sin, then I’d better hope the rapture didn’t occur any time soon. Fortunately, I’m not this eternally insecure any more.

For those of us who belong to God and desire His presence, this verse gives a lot of comfort. When you are in a dark place, God is there. When you feel totally alone, God is there. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t made a mistake.

The Holy Spirit is a calming presence in our lives. John Ortberg says the Spirit is a “non-anxious presence” in our life. He’s like a friend who is easy to talk to. He is the Spirit of Peace (Romans 8:6).

The Spirit gives us peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). What is happening to you and around you is not an accident (1 Peter 4:12). God knows your address. God knows your anxiety. God knows your fears. God is with you (Hebrews 13:5).

What are your anxious thoughts today? Take a moment right now to exhale your worries and fears and inhale the presence of God’s Spirit, if you will. God is with you no matter where you are right now.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

“Welcome to Walmart”

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. Ecclesiastes 9:10

In the more cynical chapter of his life, Solomon spouted a few positives out of the decay of a negative. “Work hard now, because when you’re pushing up daisies you won’t need to work, plan, know or understand.” Aren’t you glad he gave us so much to look forward to? Death and taxes, we get it.

But, think about this. What’s the sense of an unfriendly greeter at Walmart? Seriously. You don’t want to encounter Eeyore at the front door. They’ve brightened up the stores, but it still feels like the grapes of wrath in there. Greet with all of your might, man. America needs it.

Everyone wants their life to count. I’m not sure that most people know how to get there. It doesn’t seem to be a very direct path.

What are you doing these days that’s bearing fruit? You know I didn’t move to Greenville, SC to write devotionals or organize BrookwoodU classes or start BWomen, the MOB, the Brookwood Business Network, the Point, Impact, PrimeTime or Brookwood Young Couples. I am here to get you into a small group. Now, 62% of you are in a group. The rest of you, please make my joy complete, get in a group already.

What has surprised me is that out of everything I do, I like writing these devotionals the most, and you, hopefully like reading them. People will stop me every week and tell me how a devotional has helped them. In fact, last night I was sitting next to a guy at the MOB who said, “I didn’t mean to read your devotional the other day. I was on another site and accidentally ended up on your blog. I started reading, and it was exactly what I needed to hear.” I think that was a compliment. I got a kick out of it anyway.

As a child, no one aspires to middle management. I’m not sure that most aspire to be greeters at Walmart. In my house, the aspirations are toward being spies, superheroes, pastors and forensic scientists. (I’m sure that superhero was just thrown in there to humor me).

So, here you are, however many years later. What are your hands finding to do? How can you be the best at what it is that you do? Your job, your marriage, your friendships, your family, your neighborhood – what would put you on top? Not for the sake of pride, but for the sake of truly living.

Maybe we just need to plaster a smile on our face and cheerfully say, “Welcome to Walmart. Would you like to have a buggy?” (See I’m catching on, even if it is a cart).

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hope Floats

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

What have you ever deferred? It’s not a word that we use much. Many people defer their college loan payments until after they finish graduate school and/or find a job. That’s a good thing to defer. No payments. No interest. Makes you wonder why anyone would stop taking classes. Those loans could just be deferred into oblivion.

Hope is to the heart what oxygen is to the bloodstream. It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t tell us that we need to give a reason for our faith, rather we are instructed to give a reason for our hope: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Our hope is not merely in hope. Otherwise, we could probably buy “hope on a rope” from Christian television. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). Why do we have hope?

This is not just a hope that things will get better. Job learned these things the hard way: “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness” (Job 30:26). The Bible promises that “No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3).

The Bible shows us a process for hope: “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5). While it would seem easier to just buy a lottery ticket, the odds are better with the process.

Often we become discouraged because we hope for the wrong things. “I hope my kids will behave everyday, all day, for the rest of their childhood.” “I hope that my marriage, my job, my life would become problem-free.” “I hope that I can survive this day.” Hope anchored to circumstances is bound to drag us down. Hope anchored to God will lift us up despite our circumstances.

Rick Warren says, “You can live a week without food. You can live a few days without water. You can live a few minutes without oxygen. But, you can’t live a second without hope.”

How’s your hope level today? If it’s low, then surf over to and search the word “hope.” You won’t be disappointed.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No One Loves You More Than God Does

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

My son, Timothy, is sometimes scared of the dark. But, he’s more scared of the dark of the dark, the shadows. The sunset casts shadows. The moon casts shadows. The nightlight, the hall light, his CD player – shadows, shadows, shadows.

I’m not sure how his fear of shadows began. Perhaps he watched Peter Pan one too many times. Now, he fears that the shadows in this room will also go rogue.

Movement causes shifting shadows. For old Tim, wrestling around in his bed, causes his shadows to move and plays into his fears. He’s five now, so fortunately this is fading. Plus I showed him how to use a shadow blaster: his flashlight.

God’s shadow doesn’t change. God is constant. One of my favorite hymns says, “There is no shadow of turning with thee” (Great Is Thy Faithfulness). Christ will always be the Head of the body. God will always be the Mayor of Heaven, despite any attempts from users. God is way ahead on check-ins.

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. Not every gift we receive is good or perfect. Thankfully some gifts come with a gift receipt, if not, there’s always ebay. But, a great gift-giver is a wonderful thing.

What makes a great gift? It’s not that they buy you something big or expensive. It’s that they know you well enough that they know exactly what you like. The relative who gives me a shake weight, just doesn’t have a clue. If they give me coffee or iTunes or a Kindle, then they’re speaking my love language. (Christmas is coming. Please feel free to forward this email.)

No one knows you more than God does. No one loves you more than God does. (REPEAT) No one knows you more than God does. No one loves you more than God does. (ALOUD THIS TIME) No one knows me more than God does. No one loves me more than God does.

What do you truly need today? God wants to give you good and perfect gifts.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no Shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
As thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided;
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto thee.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

God Wants a Satisfying Life for You

You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. Psalm 145:16

Do you really believe that God wants you to be satisfied? Trust me here, I’m not turning into one of those preachers who promises that you’ll be healthy, wealthy and wise. But the opposite of that tends to say: “Life on this earth is supposed to suck so we will long for Heaven.” Besides, if life wasn’t hard, how would we ever develop godly character? Yes, I sometimes tap into the gift of martyrdom. The trouble is that you can only use it once.

God opens His hand to us. He doesn’t hold back. God desires to give us every good thing (James 1:17). But, our Puritan ways dictate that if we get too much of what we want, then we’ll get fat and happy and forget about our need for God. I don’t know about you, but I tend to like people who give me stuff. If God will truly satisfy the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4), I’m not going to hold that against Him. He certainly won’t hold that against me.

Now, at this point, I am obligated to say that there is a right way and a wrong way to fulfill your desires. Many people fall in love with someone or something. They become so enamored with that someone or something that this must be from God. As the great theologian, Barbara Mandrell, said “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” The things that we depend on to satisfy our desires become idols and addictions.

For some, this is eating or vegging out in front of the TV (okay, those are mine). For others, it’s working or drinking or surfing into the darkness. For some, it’s a relationship, whether it’s love or hate. The problem is that we get stuck on these things and aren’t ever satisfied in the way that God intends. (If you just said, “I’m stuck,” then check out Over Haulin’ on Thursday nights at Brookwood).

Can you trust God with your desires? He actually gave them to you. Do you believe that God wants you to live a satisfying life? This is God’s vision for your life. Just like we want our kids to have a happy childhood, God wants you and me to have great lives. He really does.

This entire psalm is certainly a cure for a bad day.
It will even elevate a good day. Take a moment to read about what kind of Heavenly Father we have: Psalm 145.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

God Understands You, Even When You Don’t

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139:23

Everyone of us has the same limitation. We can’t look at ourselves objectively. It’s too personal. It’s too close.

Now, we can spot everyone else’s strengths and weaknesses from a mile away. This is not judging (Matthew 7:1) as much as discerning and sizing up the situation (1 Corinthians 2:15). Our role in observing others is to help and encourage them, not to sentence them to “they’ll never change.” But, when it comes to ourselves, it’s a lot harder to do.

Some of us only see bad things about ourselves. We are painfully aware of our faults or at least we continue to find ourselves in relational tension created by our faults. We can’t explain it, but we know it’s there. But, some of us don’t see anything wrong with ourselves.

Some people just think that they are cut from a different cloth. Their ego provides some sort of amnesia so they don’t even consider their effect on others. If somebody has a problem, then it’s their problem. There’s nothing wrong with Ego-man.

These are the extremes. We either make ourselves out to be bigger than we are or we see ourselves as smaller than who we are. All of us are somewhere on the spectrum. But, how do we gain insight into who we really are?

Other people can give us insight. Our spouse, our friends, our small group, they all tend to see us more objectively than we ever could see ourselves. We can gain some insights from them. When we’re down, they can lift us up. When we’re big headed, they can pop our balloon. The problem with other people is that everyone has an agenda.

Maybe “agenda” is too strong. But, everyone has a greater personal interest than their interest in us. They are more interested in themselves. “If Allen were less of a jerk, then my life would be better.” “If my spouse was saved and went to church, my marriage would be better.” While we should have a concern about our spouse’s eternal destiny and even this writer’s ability to annoy, why is that a concern to us? Do we truly want what’s best for them or what’s best for us? The perspective of others is helpful, but it’s not unbiased. There is only one source of unbiased opinion: God Himself.

In this verse, the Psalmist invites God to explore him inside and out. God understands things about us that we don’t understand about ourselves. When we feel that no human being on the planet understands us, God understands us. And, He loves us no matter what.

God knows our anxious thoughts. He knows why we’re anxious. It’s usually because we are projecting beyond what we can control. God knows everything (Job 37:16; 1 John 3:20). He knows the resolution of everything situation that we face. God is certain of what no one else can forecast or predict.

God knows how each of us is wired. Not only does He know what we worry about, He also knows why we are worried. God even knows that often our worry will drive us to Him, so He gives us something to worry about just so He can hang out with us. (There is an easier way.)

Are you ready for God’s examination? It’s not a test that you will fail. If you have trusted Christ for your salvation, then you have immunity from elimination. God’s exam is like the doctor’s office. That thing that’s eating at you – He understands. That relationship that is rocky – He knows why. That cycle that finds you excluded – He can help.

Pray this verse with me today, then listen for the answer.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

God's Mercy Is Not a Consolation Prize

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14

Jesus didn’t hate the Pharisees. It would be easy to get that impression. But, Jesus loves all people equally. He loved the Pharisees just as much as He loved His disciples. The disciples were just more open to His teaching.

Tax collectors were equally hated by all people. While paying taxes was painful enough, the tax collectors of the day had a rather inequitable system fit for their own advantage. They ripped everybody off: rich and poor, young and old. They were equal opportunity offenders. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the tax collectors were sinners. They had sinned against everyone by stealing from them. If anyone would burn in hell, it would be tax collectors for sure.

So, why was the tax collector’s pray more acceptable than the Pharisee’s pray? The tax collector acknowledged his need for God. He was a sinner. He needed mercy. It was not an option.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, felt that they had lived their lives so well that they really didn’t need God’s mercy. If everyone lived their lives as well as they did, they wouldn’t need God’s mercy either. The problem is that no one actually lives their lives that well. Mercy is a necessity, not a consolation prize.

Which group would you put yourself in? Are you a miserable sinner and everybody is well aware of it? Or, do you feel that you’ve got your act together spiritually, and you don’t have that much to confess? Or, are you somewhere in between?

Here’s the test: what have you confessed to God recently? How have you offended Him by falling short?

God doesn’t want us to live without His mercy. Our goal is not to become self-sufficient, that only leads to self-righteousness and pride. You and I are no better than anyone else. Acknowledging that our survival is entirely dependent on God’s grace is the first step toward humility. You and I are capable of every sin that we’ve looked down our noses upon. It’s by God’s mercy that we can become who He created us to be.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Secret to a Good and Pleasing Life

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2 (NLT)

Let’s look at this verse in reverse. Most of us would say that we would enjoy a life that is good and pleasing. What does a good and pleasing life look like? It can’t mean that everything will go our way. That’s not possible. Maybe a good and pleasing life is one where we can roll with the punches and keep things in perspective. Nothing is the end of the world, expect for, well, the end of the world, and God’s in control of that.

The pathway to this kind of life is learning to know God’s will for us, which is perfect. When I was in Bible college, every student was obsessed with two questions: What is God’s will for my life? And, Who is God’s will for my life? I completed four years and didn’t have a very clear picture of either. It was probably for the best.

If God had told me that His will for me was to go to a church that would face tremendous turmoil within the first 18 months that would eventually lead to the removal of the senior pastor, I might have stayed in the hotel industry. If God had told me that He had a beautiful bride waiting for me in California, but that she wouldn’t be mine for another 13 years, I seriously would have questioned how much God actually loved me.

God’s will is perfect, but it is so out of line with our expectations that we really can only see its perfection in hindsight. Looking forward, God’s will is wrought with much frustration and questioning. We struggle from attempting to press God into the mold of our expectations. The truth of God’s will is that we really don’t have a clue about it and it seldom resembles what we expect. Yet, God’s will is perfect.

To find God’s perfect will, we have to change our thinking. That’s not to say we must succumb to the power of positive thinking. That’s all good and well, but some of us just aren’t that happy all of the time. Changing our thinking is not reciting platitudes or visualizing success. Changed thinking comes from transformation.

God wants to transform us into who He created for us to be. The major obstacle to this transformation is the world around us. The culture pressures us to dress a certain way, to act a certain way, to live a certain way, and to drive a certain thing. Pursuing the trappings of success often leaves us bankrupt in the transformation department. There’s nothing wrong with stuff. The problem lies in our desire for stuff.

Good marketing causes us to live in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. It’s the ad man’s job. If he doesn’t do his job, then he doesn’t get what he wants: our money.

Unless we have more stuff that’s newer and shinier, then our stuff is only getting older and duller. But, it’s not just the stuff. It’s who else owns the stuff. The “newer and shinier” crowd doesn’t tend to hang with the “older and duller” crowd. But, working harder to fit in with the crowd distracts us from what’s perfect for our lives: God’s individual will for us.

When was the last time that you stepped out of the norm to do something ridiculous for God? While it would be easy to rail against the culture of the world, we also must resist the culture of the church. God did not design you to look the same and act the same as every other believer. God isn’t manufacturing widgets.

He is uniquely crafting our souls and minds to do exactly what He created us to do. As we put our energy into turning our focus to God, He will transform us into who He desires for us to be. Then, we will find the good and pleasing life that we’ve longed for.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pretending to be Someone I’m Not

“The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine."
Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you." Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
"I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. 1 Samuel 17:37-39

Who would have thought that the skills David gained by herding sheep would equip him to face Goliath? But, it wasn’t the actual skill that brought about his victories; it was the Lord that delivered him. Defeating the lion gave confidence that the Lord would also help him defeat the bear. Defeating them both gave him confidence to face the giant.

David’s core value was trusting in God. His greatest asset was his faith in God. While David did plenty to wreck his life, his heart was ultimately in the right place (1 Samuel 13:14). That’s not to say that the end justifies the means. David suffered much because of the sins he committed and due to the actions of his children.

To prepare David for battle, Saul attempted to impose something on David that didn’t suit him. Saul’s armor was the wrong size. Saul was a kingly-looking man (1 Samuel 9:2). David was quite ordinary. In fact, the Lord had convince David’s own father through the prophet Samuel that David was the right choice (1 Samuel 16:7).

The armor wasn’t the only ill-fitting thing. What worked for Saul wasn’t going to work for David. In fact, trusting in armor and carrying such a heavy burden would only inhibit what God had called David to do. David once again had to trust God to deliver him rather than trust in Saul’s armor to protect him. He had to rely on how God would use him rather than duplicating how God used Saul.

A Hasidic tale sums this up well. Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me; ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” (Source: Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer).

Every believer is gifted and called to ministry. For most it’s not a vocational calling. Some of us have the privilege of serving in full-time ministry, but all of us have a ministry. I shouldn’t go about ministry the way that you do, and vice versa.

Like David, our efforts shouldn’t be applied to pretending to be like Saul. Our question is: Why are you not [your name here]?

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Take This Job and…

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30

My parents made several trips to Costa Rica in the late ‘70s to help with construction of a Bible college in San Jose. They became friends with a missionary couple there, Bill and Hilda Bradney. As God would have it, a few years later, the Bradneys were missionaries-in-residence at my Bible college in the States.

One morning in class, Hilda held up a small brightly colored souvenir from Costa Rica. I immediately recognized it. My parents had brought several of these back from their trips.

This piece was a yoke like oxen would wear. Hilda explained how a poorly made yoke would cut into the neck of the beast making the work much harder and much more painful than it needed to be. A properly made yoke was smooth and would allow the animal to perform the task without injury.

This was exactly what Jesus was saying in this passage. There is a hard way of doing things, and there is an easier way. There is my way of doing thing, and there is God’s way. Now, please don’t misunderstand, either way there is work involved. The question is do we go about our work in a way that brings harm or in a way that gives life?

If we get to the end of our day exhausted from worry and stress, we have a heavy burden from a jagged yoke. If we feel the frustration from trying to please an unreasonable boss, client or customer, we haven’t acknowledged that there is a higher Boss that deserves our loyalty and who completely understands (Revelation 2:2). If we feel that our success is entirely up to us, then it certainly seems like we’re pushing a boulder uphill. All of this is the product of a rough yoke.

God challenges us to work hard (Proverbs 14:23), which is the kind of work that God deserves (Colossians 3:23). But, His work doesn’t leave us bruised or broken. Here’s the secret: you don’t have to change jobs to get a better fitting yoke. Your success in life depends more on what happens in you than what happens around you. That’s not merely a platitude. It’s a foundational truth in Scripture and in the business world. I just finished When the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins last night. He compares similar companies during similar time periods facing similar adversity. The companies that succeed are humble, diligent, methodical and assured. The companies that fail are arrogant, growth-obsessed, panicky and unfocused.

The question is not which company do you work for? The question is which set of qualities best characterizes you. One set is the result of a heavy burden, while the other is the result of an easy yoke.

I challenge you to lay down your way of doing things and your take on life and ask Jesus to show you His vision for your life. Ask for His perspective. Ask for His help. He is more than glad to give it to you.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Caffeinated Water or Living Water

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:37-39

We are a people obsessed with bottled water. It’s convenient. It’s healthy. It has become more expensive than soda at some places. It creates a lot of trash.

For a time someone was marketing caffeinated bottle water. I suppose it balanced things out. We could hydrate and dehydrate ourselves at the same time. But, if they ever come out with decaffeinated water, well, that’s where I draw the line.

Water was celebrated at the feast Jesus attended. During the first seven days, the priests and the people made a procession to the pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher. They collected water to pour on the altar, in commemoration of the water that God provided to the Israelites in the desert (Numbers 20), which was a symbol of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4). (Source: The Fourfold Gospel)

As the Jews were celebrating the water that God miraculously provided to His people in the desert centuries before, Jesus stood up and said, “Oh, by the way, this miraculous water, well, that comes from me.” While we need to thankfully look back and remember the times that God has provided for our needs, we also need to remember that the book on His miracles hasn’t been sealed. In fact, Jesus says, this living water, this flow of the Spirit is something that all believers possess.

The flow of the Spirit is part of the life of every believer. But, why does it seem more evident in the life of some believers, but not in others? The Spirit’s flow is not like a flood that sweeps us away. What happens in us and through us comes largely by our choice. Do we want to plunge into that river with abandon? Do we just want to stick a toe in? Or would we rather just set up an umbrella and a chair on the riverbank and just relax and enjoy the day?

The limitation on the unlimited flow of God’s Spirit lies with you and me. How do we enter that flow? We simply ask. We don’t need elaborate or spooky prayers. All that we need is a simple request like “God guide me in this decision.” “God help me in this relationship.” “God use me to touch others today.” Then, pay attention to what happens next.

When I’m in the flow of God’s Spirit, I am calmer (not necessarily calm, but calm-er). I find that I am more understanding of others. I tend to be more creative. When I am out of the flow, I am critical. I am negative. I am down on everybody and everything, even if I don’t let on.

My life is beyond my control. And, believe me, at times I have tried to desperately control my life only to drive myself crazy. My life is more than I can control. Giving up the control of my life to God and plunging into the flow of the Spirit gives tremendous freedom. Things that I worry about melt away. While I don’t always understand how God works, I do know that outcomes are in His hands, not mine.

What is blocking the flow of the Spirit in your life today? Is it not asking? Is it depending on yourself or something else? Are you just completely distracted by what’s around you that you don’t even think about it?

As a believer, there is a living, dynamic force available to you. He will elevate you beyond where your heart and mind typically go. He will empower you to be the person you’ve dreamed of being. He will enable you to overcome the adversity that surrounds you. Start the flow.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spiritual Growth is Not Self-Help

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:16

It’s fun to discover something new about yourself. If you’ve ever taken a spiritual gifts test or a personality test, you get jazzed from the insight into what it is that God created for you to do. The Bible tells us that there are many parts of the body (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12: Ephesians 4). The parts are not identical, that’s for sure.

1934 Alfa Tipo 3B Race Car
My friend, Mike Zeller, is an artist among other talents. Recently, I viewed his show called “Watercolors on Wheels” at the Metropolitan Arts Council in Greenville. I am amazed by what Mike can do with watercolor. I can’t imagine painting with watercolors. They just seem so unruly. My painting would probably run into a puddle resembling some sort of tie dye creation. I suppose that I could paint tie dye pictures, but I really don’t care for it.

Every one of us is gifted and called to do a work (1 Corinthians 12:7). It’s great to find out how we can make our individual contribution to the Kingdom. But, this verse touches on something else related to our gifts.

Gift discovery is not just a means of feeling good about ourselves and our purpose in life. This verse adds some context to the use of our gifts: we are a part of a whole. Our growth is contingent on the growth of those around us. Spiritual growth is not merely a self-pace, self-help program. In fact, spiritual growth leads us to become more focused on others and less focused on self.

The key to our spiritual growth is connection. Not just connection to God, but connection to each other. Paul gets anatomical on us here, by evoking the image of ligaments that join and hold us together. “Ligaments are fibrous bands or sheets of connective tissue linking two or more bones, cartilages, or structures together” according to Dr. Keith Bridwell of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. Without ligaments, the body of Christ would be just a bag of bones.

We would have all of the parts. All of the parts would be together, but the parts would like coordination. I would do my spiritual thing. You would do your spiritual thing. We would live in harmony as long as our spiritual things didn’t collide. But, sometimes the collision produces the growth.

Study, prayer and meditation on God’s Word are all wonderful things to help us grow. We certainly need to seek quiet and solitude at times to hear God above the din of this world. But, this type of spiritual growth is only one dimensional. Our spiritual growth must be integrated into our whole lives.

Yes, growth takes place in solitude. But, growth also takes place serving side by side and connecting in a small group. We gain much from the experience and insights of others.

How are you connecting with others to grow spiritually? I would encourage you to take an intentional step by joining a small group for the ME series. There is another small group connection this Sunday, September 12 at Brookwood Church after each of the services.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Bland Christian Life is a Misinterpretation

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

The world paints the opposite picture. For a lot of people the idea of following God seems just as restrictive as following a family budget. The lie is that we lose of freedom by following Christ. Yet the truth is that only in Christ can we be truly free (John 8:36).

The Enemy’s purposes are clear: theft, death and destruction. Affairs don’t lead to better relationships. Pornography doesn’t lead to intimacy. Overeating doesn’t lead to satisfaction. Alcohol abuse only leads to hangovers. And, shopping binges only lead to garage sales. You don’t end up headed north by traveling west.

The easy answer creates more problems. The quick fix leads to greater damage. The wide path leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

Jesus came to give us a life that produces all of the fullness and richness that would completely satisfy us. Our frustration is that we can’t just flip a switch and have it. Fullness from God is carefully cultivated. Most of us are just too impatient with that. Our impatience causes us to turn to things that fulfill us temporarily. We believe in God’s promises, but then we pluck the apple off of the tree. Sure, it makes us feel guilty, but we’re in control over it. Or, so we think.

I am not writing this to judge you. I am writing this because I am one of you. I’m continually learning to resist the exaggerated pleasures of this life and look for the simple pleasures that God provides. I too am learning to lay aside the saccharin that kills and to reach for the sweetness that God provides.

Here’s the catch: we have to choose to neglect the quick fixes and the accessible diversions and choose to engage in things that truly satisfy. A lot of evenings I find myself vegging out in front of the television. I like to watch the Food Network. The food looks good. The people look like they’re having fun. They say it smells good, but it just smells like my house to me. They say it tastes good, but it’s not in my kitchen. I’ve looked.

I’m not going to forsake the Food Network entirely, but I have backed off. It makes me hungry, which ignites my overeating. So, last night, I just watched a couple of shows. I also painted my mailbox post. (Our HOA is a little intense about such things.) I also had a conversation with my wife, then I got my things ready to go to the gym after work the next day, so I wouldn’t be rushed in the morning. It felt more productive. It felt richer. It felt a little more satisfying even with less snacking.

Jesus didn’t come so you would lead a bland life. If you feel that a vanilla existence is more spiritual, then you have misinterpreted Scripture. Jesus died so that we can truly live the fulfilling life that God intended. Our job is to avoid the poor substitutes and embrace life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19).

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When Good Things Become Bad Things

Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Galatians 3:11-12

Most of my own efforts at spiritual growth have been rather pathetic. For many Januarys I have been inspired to read the Bible through in a year only to find myself stuck in the middle of Leviticus in the middle of February. End of story. I can follow the rules for a while, and then I just run out of steam.

Whether we’ve tried to break a bad habit or start a new one, most of us are only self-disciplined to a point. People celebrate our self-discipline. We might even impress ourselves: “I’m on the fast track to spiritual gianthood now.” But, if our self-discipline only produces pride in our ability to follow rules, then how much spiritual growth has actually taken place?

The rules don’t bring us closer to God. In fact, they often put up a barrier. Rule keeping may cause us to feel more secure, but it doesn’t necessarily make us more godly. If following the rules actually worked, according to this passage, it would only lead to following even more rules.

God is more concerned with your heart than whether or not you follow the rules (Isaiah 29:13). Even Jesus broke the rules to do the right thing. (Matthew 12:9-14). The Christian walk is about a relationship with God, not rules.

For some, rules can become an obstacle. For others, rules can become an idol. Anything that we depend on other than God is an idol to us. If I have a financial need and charge it on my credit card rather than asking God to provide, then my credit card is an idol to me. If I avoid sin to guarantee my place in Heaven, then my self-righteousness is an idol to me. If I believe that daily Bible reading will help me avoid temptation and do the right thing, then I’m in for a surprise.

So, what do we do? We surrender ourselves to God. As we give our ideas, our abilities, our problems, our opportunities, our ambition, our comfort, and everything else to God, He gives us something better.

What is it that you can’t live without? What makes you feel secure as a believer? Church attendance? Serving? Reading daily devotionals in your email? None of these things are bad, unless your effort begins to take the place of your dependence on God. As Michael Mack says, “God loves you too much to let you settle for less than him.”

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Why Don’t I Feel Like a New Creation?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17

I always wished that this verse was a little more automatic. “You are a new creation. Poof, the old is gone. Flip the tassel on your mortarboard. You have graduated to sainthood.” Then, we would all throw our caps into the air, and we would move on into our new lives. But, in reality, when I read this verse and look at my life, I think “not so much.”

Paul is describing a spiritual transaction. What once bound us to an eternity of punishment has been exchanged for an eternity in Heaven with God. Our destination has been changed. Now, our path must be re-routed.

Just like programming new coordinates into your GPS, your route is recalculated, often with the instruction to make a U-turn. If you depend on the GPS, you often find that the route is unfamiliar. Sure, it might be a shorter way, but it makes us uneasy. We’re not entirely convinced that the GPS is right. It’s just a machine. Even though it speaks, it doesn’t listen. The GPS doesn’t always get it right, but God does.

Some of us changed our destination many years ago. Often we get the feeling that maybe we should be a little further along than we are. Part of spiritual growth has to do with our availability and attention. The other part is being patient with the process.

You are a New Creation. God did that work in your life when you came to faith in Him. But, it’s also a work that God continues to work out in your life (Philippians 2:12-13). In the process, it’s easy to grow impatient with yourself and with others. God is at work. He’s guiding you in the right direction. Trust His guidance.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Misunderstanding God’s Creative Process

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

I was driving down Cicero Avenue in Chicago a few years ago. For some reason, I thought that this would save a little time driving from I-90 to Midway Airport. The route was far from expedient, but it was educational.

The light turned red. I stopped and looked to my left. At that moment, I saw a man with ratty looking clothes and an unshaven face, lifting a bottle cloaked in a paper bag and taking a swig. This is not an unfamiliar scene. What was unfamiliar to me was my response. I didn’t think “That dirty old bum. I can’t believe people live like that.” The thought that instantly popped into my head was “This is not who God made you to be.” I surprised myself in that moment.

The light changed. I began to drive, but I also began to think about that man. Years ago, he was a precious baby cuddled his mother’s arms. Every person who looked at his little face couldn’t help but smile. I doubt that he receives many smiles his direction these days.

Most of us will never be a bum on skid row. But, in our thoughts, our attitudes, our actions, our priorities – are we who God created us to be? We are God’s workmanship, His masterpiece. We are not our own workmanship. Believers are not “self-made.” We are designed by God to do what God created us to do. The problem is that we often misunderstand God’s creative process.

Sure, we want to see how everything will come together. We all want to feel that we are living a life that’s worth living. We want what Joseph had. “He succeeded in everything that he did.” (Genesis 39:3) But, none of us want to be thrown down a well (Genesis 37:23-24), sold into slavery (Genesis 37:36), falsely accused (Genesis 39:17), and thrown into prison (Genesis 39:20-21). If we could skip the process and just get to the final product, that would be awesome.

I’ve always been fascinated by sculpture. The thought of taking a block of granite or marble, envisioning the sculpture, then carefully removing everything that is not part of the masterpiece is mind-boggling to me. But, this is the perfect picture of God’s work in our lives. When we go through trials and hard times, God is chipping away at the parts of us that don’t belong on His masterpiece. It’s not pleasant. Sometimes we wonder if God cares about us at all. But, as we trust His hand, we come to learn that His intent for us is for our good.

How is God chiseling away at your life these days? Do you feel like you are living the life God intended for you or is something getting in the way? Are you resisting the work that God needs to do? Are you resenting it?

God has a plan for you. You must learn to trust His hand.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is Abnormal the New Norm?

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them. John Ortberg wrote a book with that title a few years ago. Once you’ve experienced enough of life and the variety of people that God has created, you come to understand that people are only normal if abnormal is the norm.

People have strengths and weaknesses. Every person has a fallen, sinful nature. Everyone is flawed and wounded in some way. We can put on a pretty good fa├žade, but then people get to know us.

Apart from Christ, our relationships would completely collapse. As believers, our commonality is not found in the shadows of our lives. It’s the darkness that draws suspicion, at times, even paranoia, about each other.

Everything that we’ve talked about over this last month, every” one another” that we have considered, is only possible in the light of Christ. Without Him, we are left to the devices of this world: conditional relationships, self promotion, and other sinful behaviors. In the light of Christ, we can actually tolerate each other’s flaws so that fellowship can actually be formed.

Sure we could sit in circles and compare our sinfulness. We would find an element of support there. But, I’m not sure that we would get much better. The point of fellowship is not to feel better about our sinfulness. Fellowship draws out the light of Christ within us. The people of God with the Spirit of God interacting with the Word of God can accomplish powerful things.

Our fellowship draws out the light of Christ. In turn, the light of Christ exposes the dark, shadowy areas of ourselves, not to embarrass us, but to demonstrate the lack of power sin has to hold us captive any longer. As we shed the shell of darkness, the light shines forth.

When we look at the church, we see people of different backgrounds, different races, different social classes, different upbringings, different genders, different hometowns and different flaws united together to celebrate the most important thing in our lives: the light of Christ. While everyone at church probably won’t end up being your best friend, we have something in common that elevates us beyond our differences.

What is the quality of fellowship with other believers in your life? Who is encouraging you?

If you are not in a small group, you have an opportunity on Sundays, September 5 and 12 at Brookwood Church to meet small group leaders and sign up for a 5-week study by John Ortberg called The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You. This is a great opportunity to learn and to experience true fellowship with other believers. A current listing of small groups is also available at

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