Introduction - Boy, are we all different! The world is colored by a vast array of personalities, opinions, and interests. Aren't we glad we are not all the same--dull...
They sat stiffly, eyes never meeting, pain etched on tear-stained faces. Disillusionment. Confusion. Despair.
Never married, but sharing a toddler they both loved. Moving in and out of each other's lives. Affairs on the side. Lashing out. Getting even. Sexting others. Lying.
They were the poster children of this generation.
"You can make your own rules," they are told from infancy on. Their instructors are the public education system, Hollywood, and People magazine. And they learn quickly, putting it all into practice the moment puberty hits.
By 21 they are used up, strung out, and angry.
Why didn't it work? I did everything I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. And now here we sit, our lives already mapped out for us by our own choices and it looks nothing like the movies.
There is a stoplight--several, actually--that I really don't like. It is slow to turn green and placed in an aggravating intersection that I would rather zip through. According to the current philosophy, I should be able to make my own rules. If I don't like that light, I shouldn't have to adhere to it. You can't tell me what is right for me. I won't hit anybody. Probably.
There is also a Posted: Keep Out sign on my road, a few feet from a drop-off. But what if I decided that sign was a bit to moralistic for me and I should decide for myself whether or not to keep driving?
We all instinctively understand physical laws and why they are important--regardless of whether we like or agree with them. But when it comes to morality, we stiffen up. God's laws are viewed as stuffy and old-fashioned, designed to force us into a mold. Common sense and values are thrown out the window. Kids plunge into these boundary-less relationships with no pilot at the wheel. Their brokenness follows them as they raise their illegitimate children-- the ones who truly pay the price. By puberty, those children have learned their lessons well and they continue the cycle.
Take a long look at the couple in the photo above. Are they the picture of unbridled freedom?
The world pulls the old bait-and-switch. It advertises a celebrity life of wanton pleasure and delivers a trailer in the ghetto with unpaid bills. My newest clients are just two of millions who've been duped by the ads.
Thankfully, they each gave their lives to Christ last week. Their problems are not over, but they have each aligned themselves with the only One who knows how to make a mosaic out of shattered hearts.
The warning signs are there and if we heed them, we save ourselves untold heartache. We also develop character--a word quickly becoming obsolete. Patience, respect, self-control, and delayed gratification are worth developing, but in this microwave culture they take too long and deny me what I want in the moment.
America's motto of "Give me what I want right now!" is costing us more than we have. When will we learn?
Her tiny toes pressed against the size 11 shoes as they swung into the daddy/daughter dance. Far above her head, Daddy smiled as he maneuvered through the tricky steps, avoided the other dancers, and managed somehow to keep time.
All she did was hang on.
When the music ended, applause rippled around the room and she stepped carefully off the shoes and blushed with pleasure. What a thrill it had been! Yet, she could have never done it alone. She'd have been lost among the moving legs, stomping feet, and dance moves she'd never learned. But with Daddy here, all she had to do was hang on.
Life is a daddy/daughter dance and we don't know the moves. All God requires of his children is that we cling to him with everything we've got and trust that He knows the moves. Trust means that we can swing through the crowd of confusing choices, potential dangers, and shaky circumstances and not let go. Our hands may get a little sweaty, but that just makes us cling more tightly.
So many Christians white-knuckle their way through life, straining every spiritual muscle to accomplish things for God. Trying...trying again...trying harder...
How exhausting it is!
We have somehow gotten the notion that we have to do God's work for him. That he is incapable of getting anything done here on earth unless we dive in and do it for him. Where do we come up with that?
God knows the dance. He knows the music. He wants us to rest on his feet and let him do it all.
Are you trying to do the daddy/daughter dance by yourself?
I've been extremely busy this past week--thus no new posts! I finished a certification program and am now a Divorce and Family Mediator.
I have also just about completed work on my new counseling website. Hop on over here and take a look.
Thanks for stopping by. New posts to come.
Their sound was polished, the music well-done. But something felt wrong.
The worship band was singing about God, even incorporating Scripture into the songs. The chanting, applauding crowd seemed oblivious to what I was seeing and I noticed that I was the only who had sat down after the second song.
The crowd was on its feet, responding as the band wanted them to, but something was wrong. My spirit began to rebel.
I was attending a Night of Worship with one of my favorite worship leaders, Kari Jobe. I had not known another worship band would be leading off--one I'd never heard of--but I had eagerly prepared to enjoy them too.
I hadn't expected this internal resistance. Spiritual resistance.
"What is it, Lord?" I asked over the noise of the place. "Am I being overly-critical? Maybe they're just not my style."
That wasn't it.
I began to study the lyrics beamed high on the screens. Nothing wrong with them, exactly. Or was there?
Was I being too harsh? I didn't want to be. I had come expecting to worship the Lord with a group of strangers who were my brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, my heart thudded uncomfortably as the first band charged into their next song, whipping the crowd into a lather.
It wasn't just the first song. Or the second. Song after song, the theme became painfully obvious: The focus of the entire hour was about harnessing the power of God for MY purposes rather than seeking the person of God for His purposes. God was presented as a genie, obligated to respond to my requests because I had faith.
I began to pray against the spirits that were present. Some of them were not from God. I prayed for the gullible people who may never realize the error in their theology until the god they thought they were worshiping let them down one day.
When Kari came onstage an hour later, everything changed. The whole spirit of the place calmed. Her very presence seemed to usher in a new kind of Spirit. Though some of her songs were upbeat and the crowd responded with excitement, the evening was spent exalting the name of Jesus rather than what He could do for us. Her focus was on lifting Him high, worshiping at His feet, praising Him for who He is.
I continued to think about it for days afterward. Was I correct that the first band was not what God had in mind when He commanded us to worship Him in spirit and in truth? Or was I being hyper-critical?
We can worship God in a million ways, not all of them understood by everyone else. We have different styles, different needs, and different ways of expressing our hearts to God. But the end result of true worship is always the same: exalting and glorifying the Lord--not demanding that He bless us, favor us, and demonstrate His power to us when we so desire.
Sometimes we can get a little too familiar in our relationship with God and we start to believe the cart is pulling the horse. We get pumped up on sermons about "faith that moves mountains" and start to worship the power of our faith rather than the Bestower of it. It's a subtle deception that Satan enjoys, because it robs a Holy God of all the adoration due Him.
Have you found yourself caught up in this switch-game? You thought you were worshiping God, but now that you think about it, your worship was directed at yourself and all you could be when God finished gifting you.
Are you singing joyfully along with lyrics that command Almighty God to reveal Himself to you? Bless you the way you want? Increase your profit margin? Is the God of your worship being depicted as a genie-in-a-bottle, there for your personal use?
Satan is the father of lies and will not flinch at inspiring well-meaning musicians to weave a few into their lyrics if it means robbing his Enemy of the glory due Him.
Check your lyrics. Do they present the God of the Scriptures as He really is or as our egos want to perceive Him?
- So you were passed over for the promotion you wanted.
- The ones doing the job seem incompetent. You know you could do better.
- Prince Charming picked someone else.
- You trained so long and hard, but you lost anyway.
WHY? Why, God?
One universal characteristic shared by mankind is imagination. It manifests itself in a million ways from fantasy to real heart's desire. We can see our dream in our minds. We just KNOW how things would go if only we got the chance. And we can see how God could use us, how good we would be if He only picked us.
And He doesn't.
Have you ever wondered how David's brothers felt as Samuel the priest studied and then rejected each of them as future king of Israel? Do you think a few of them felt slighted by God? "Hey, I'm a good guy too! Why couldn't I be king? I would do a much better job than that little shepherd kid."
Or how did the gallant military leaders of Gideon's day feel when God selected the trembling guy who didn't want the job? Rebuffed? Insulted? Indignant? Each imagining the glory he could bring upon Israel if only he'd been chosen.
Or what about the young woman who grew up next door to Mary, dreaming that she might be chosen as the mother of the Messiah. She'd kept herself pure, loved God, did everything right and thought she had an excellent chance until Joseph's peasant fiancee made her shocking announcement. Imagine the shock and disappointment when Mary's son began to prove Himself as the real Messiah. All the other girls knew they'd been passed over for the honor of being his mother. Why? Why not me?
Let's face it: Many times God's plan looks nothing like what we imagined. It makes no sense to us and deep down, we question His decision. "I'd do a much better job, Lord. Why didn't you pick me?"
God Himself gives the clearest explanation of His sometimes backward choices: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways."
God seems to delight in surprising us, shocking us, and leaving us a bit confused when we try to figure it out. The key is to remember that He is not nearly as interested in our tiny corner of reality as He is in unfolding the Big Picture. We are merely players in His story.
Yes, He cares about our hurts and desires, but He also wants us to take a step back from our self-centered world and enjoy the Big Picture with him. Rather than work in our lives so that we receive glory and honor, He wants us to work with Him so that all the honor and glory due Him is adequately placed. We can only do that when we are wholly surrendered to His will--whatever it is.
It wasn't all ticker-tape parades for the above chosen ones. David ran for his life for years after Samuel's announcement. Gideon spent sleepless nights in fear about the outcome of this war for which he felt incredibly unprepared. And who can adequately imagine the suffering of Mary as she watched history unfold in the life of her baby boy.
We love to imagine the glorious result if we were chosen, rarely considering the hours of labor, doubt, fear, and often despair that comes with it.
If you're chaffing over a disappointing loss, a dream that never took wing, a life path that makes you wonder if you were passed over for blessing, take a step back. God's reasons are for Him alone to know. But you can be certain that if your life is surrendered to Him, there is no blessing, no promotion, no honor He will withhold from you that is in your best interest.
So go ahead. Made that concession call. There is something better just down the road.
"That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection..."
The Apostle Paul knew how to turn a phrase. He could capture the deepest thoughts in a simple fragment.
We like the idea of knowing Jesus in all His power and glory. As believers, we live for the day when "every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord." And to be honest, we often have a "take that!' attitude when we think about it.
But the idea does not stop there. It continues with "...and the fellowship of his sufferings."
Most of us skim right on past that one. We smile at the power part, but grimace at the idea of having to suffer with Christ in order to truly know Him.
I always assumed this referred to physical suffering, as in the cross. I thought of the martyrs or other Christians tortured for their faith. And the verse certainly encompasses them.
But this week God showed me a deeper insight about suffering, a kind that Christ must have endured every day he was on the earth and one we can only experience when we allow ourselves to be drawn completely into the heart of God.
The trivial nonsense we usually call suffering is embarrassing:
"Had to miss the OU-Texas game because I was at church!"
"Broke up with my party boyfriend because I thought God wanted me to."
"Gave up drinking and smoking when I got saved. Hope the Lord appreciates it."
The fellowship of His suffering has nothing to do with forsaking worldliness. Missing a football game would not have caused Jesus any hurt, so we cannot say we are sharing it with Him.
In order to experience the fellowship of suffering, we have to feel what He felt, understand what He understood, and yearn for what He desired. The closer we draw to God, the closer we want to be. You cannot get close enough. The more we hunger and thirst for righteousness, ache over the darkness stealing the souls of men, long for the moment we shall see Him face to face, the less attractive this world becomes. And we get to the point we can say with Paul, "For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain."
Death is no longer the enemy; it becomes the ticket home.
As I agonized over several of my clients' choices this week, grimaced at the headlines (New Mosque to be Built), sighed at the complacency of modern Christianity, I thought: I don't want to be here anymore. I don't fit. I wanna go home.
Then I wondered: Did Jesus ever feel this way?
And I knew the answer. He did.
He spent so much time alone with His Father because He was homesick. This world held no attraction for Him except the job He had come to finish. The baubles and trinkets meant nothing at all to him. The races, the competitions, the value-system was all a waste of time. He'd come for one purpose only--to do the will of the One who sent Him. Then he was outta here.
What suffering it must have been for the perfect Son of God to dirty his feet with our filth, to listen to our tawdry jokes, hear our whiny complaints, listen to our blaspheming, watch the men He'd created destroy each other. Even his own family didn't believe in Him, and the rag-tag bag of disciples rarely caught on either. How wearying it must have been.
Weariness is part of the suffering that comes with chasing the heart of God. To comprehend the horror of sin and what it cost God, to bear His burden for the lost world, to contend daily for the eternal souls of men and watch many slip through your fingers is to place yourself at odds with almost everyone. To totally clip all ties with this planet and live only for the world to come will earn you many raised eyebrows, but it is the only way we can truly fellowship with the One who taught us how to do that.
But there is suffering involved. Spiritual suffering. The kind that only Jesus and His followers understand. It's not hopeless depression, such as the world has. It's not the self-centered whining that is so common everywhere. It is grieving for what grieves the heart of God and knowing you can only be satisfied when you stand at last in His Presence.
But you can't yet. He has a job for you to do first. So like our Model, we turn away from what our hearts desire and say with Him, "Not my will but Thine be done."
And we stay, and we labor, and we trust and pray, aware with every breath that this is not our home. We inhabit a foreign planet and we don't know the language.
But we stay because He's asked us to. Just like Jesus did.
And that is the fellowship of His suffering. It is not for the fainthearted or the ones who find their delight in this world. Sadly, most professing Christians take another path.
But it's worth it because the fellowship of His suffering is the only way to truly know Him.
He dragged it the final few feet, muscles straining, sweat beading his body like he'd been in the sauna.
With great effort he heaved it up and onto the slab where it slithered like jello until it was finally still. Breathing hard, he lifted his eyes and his hands to the sky. "There. It's done. It's all yours. I'm through with it."
He turned to go, feeling lighter than he'd felt in years. Everyone said it was so hard, but this was the best investment of energy he'd ever spent. For years it had strangled him, weighing him down, keeping him light-years from the only source of Power he cared about.
But now it was done. Finished. Once and for all. He'd never have to worry about it again.
He started down the path, whistling under his breath. Oh, it felt so good to be free! Free at last!
The path down the mountain split like a Y.
He stopped to consider. From which way had he come? It all looked the same from this direction. To the right, heavy undergrowth choked a dense forest, deep with shade. To the left, sun dappled a wide open path.
A faded sign was tacked to a tree. The paint was peeling, but there appeared to be an arrow on it and he squinted to make out the words.
The sign seemed to indicate the path to the right, but as he squatted to peer through the thicket, he frowned. Surely not. He hadn't remembered all that tangled undergrowth. Practically a jungle. He'd need a machete to get through it. Nothing but cold, uninviting brambles. And...was that a drop-off?
The path to the left was sunny and clear. A robin hopped across the stones and in the distance he could hear a babbling stream. He glanced at the sign again, then shook his head. Couldn't be accurate. The sign must've been twisted in a big wind. Surely the best path would never be that complicated. Supper was waiting, there was a ball game on tonight, and he'd never liked forests anyway.
He turned to the left and stepped into the sunshine, but his legs felt suddenly heavy. With each step, it felt as though he was dragging his own weight.
It was not until he made it to the bottom of the mountain that he realized the very Flesh he had offered on the altar was once again firmly entwined with his body, sucking the life from him like a man-sized leech.
What happened? He'd thought it gone for good.
He eased the slimy fingers from his throat and peered back up the mountainside. The stones from his homemade altar caught the sunlight and flashed like a beacon.
This had to be done every day, didn't it? Every moment. Crucifying the Flesh was a lifestyle, not an event. A continuous series of choices until the Spirit ruled completely. Somebody had told him that once, but he hadn't believed it.
Come to think of it, hadn't the Apostle Paul said the same thing?
The weight around his heart grew heavier. The icy fingers clutched his neck, his chest, making it hard to breathe. Funny how he'd once been used to living this way, but now found it intolerable. Never again. He'd never go back.
With a determined sigh, he started up the mountain.
18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (Rom.6)
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God's law, for it is unable to do so. 8 Those who live according to the flesh are unable to please God. (Rom. 8)