Yes, You Can

"I Can't!"

How many times have you used that tired old phrase? Is it a reason or is it just an excuse?

Imagine for a moment that you live in constant physical pain. You couldn't finish high school or go to college because your brain has damage that will never go away.

Imagine that you live on several different medications just to manage your pains and your brain malfunctions. You can only drive a specially-equipped car, can't use your right hand very well, and limp everywhere you go.

On top of that, you have no full-time job and very little money. The minimum-wage jobs that other kids can get are off-limits to you because of your physical limitations. The employment options are few.

Would you: (choose one)

1.) Sit around the house watching TV and feeling sorry for yourself?

2.) Become angry at the way life treated you and turn to drugs and promiscuity?

3.) Hide on the outer edges of life, crippled by low self-worth and self-pity?

4.) Invest every moment in serving others and bringing glory to God?

My daughter Susie has chosen the latter.

At nineteen, she teaches me what real love looks like as she spends every moment volunteering at women's shelters, hospitals, homeless outreach programs, and leading worship everywhere there is an opportunity.

Last weekend, she successfully coordinated her second benefit concert, raising another $1000 for a local youth shelter. She set it up, coordinated the donations, secured the venue, designed and printed the brochures and fliers, solicited the volunteers, and hand-made special gift bags for the kids currently at the shelter.

Her band, Brother Rabbit, was the highlight of the evening. She has taught herself to play every musical instrument you can imagine and God has gifted her with vocal talent that is going to take her places. But she is scarcely aware of her talent. She is too busy loving people.

She radiates genuine love that cannot be faked. The unlovely, the forsaken, the forgotten people crowd to her because they see Jesus in her without her having to say a word. She is the personification of what Jesus meant when he said, "
The world will know you are my disciples by your love."

In her words, she has "chosen to be happy." She recognizes that this life is a gift from God and he will demand an accounting for what we do with it. There are thousands who need her gift of hope, and she spreads it with every breath.

When it comes to meeting a real need, I've never heard her say, "I can't."

So what are you doing with what you've been given?

How would the world benefit
if you took "can't" out of your vocabulary?

Cold Eggs, Anyone?

The breakfast looked good. Susie had tried her best. It was the loving thoughts of an eight-year-old that counted, after all.

Surprising Mom with breakfast on her birthday sometimes sounds better than it tastes. A plate of bacon and eggs doesn't have a lot of appeal after sitting on the table for half an hour, waiting to surprise Mom when she gets up.

Of course, I ate it valiantly, bragging on it all the while. Had to choke down the last piece of stiff toast, but I did it.

But why wasn't it as tasty as it looked? Had she intentionally chilled it?

What does it take for something warm and inviting to grow cold?

Absolutely nothing. Simply remove it from the heat source and it grows cold by itself.

Jesus warns in Matthew 24:12 that near the end of time, "the love of many will grow cold." Have you ever wondered who these people are? Have you ever wondered if you will be one of them?

What does it take for a heart to grow cold? The same thing it takes for a plate of bacon and eggs.


Simply remove yourself from the ongoing warmth of a relationship with God and you will instantly begin to chill.

  • Get a little too busy to pray.
  • Forget to read your Bible. Again.
  • Church services seem stale.
  • Serving God starts to look like a lot of work.
  • God becomes just another thing on your To-Do list.

It doesn't take much before a heart once warmed with the fire of passion for God becomes cool.
It starts with a little thing: A prayer goes unanswered. A tragedy goes unexplained. God no longer seems like your friend. He's become a heavenly jokster, using you for comedy relief.

Your attitude shifts. Resentment creeps in. Distance multiplies and your love grows cold.

The solution for my cold breakfast was to keep it under heat until the moment I was ready for it. The solution for our cooling hearts is to guard our intimacy with God like a buried treasure. Unless we are active in keeping our hearts near the warmth, we will grow cold.

  • Do you guard your worship time against every intrusion?
  • Is your relationship with God the single most valuable aspect of your life?
  • Would you rather go hungry than lose that intimacy with God?
  • Is the Lord your God a consuming fire in your soul?

If you stumbled over any of those questions, you are in danger of being one of those Jesus was talking about. It won't be intentional. You probably won't even notice it happening, but your love for God will grow cold and it won't take much for the world to stamp it out entirely.

If you don't appreciate cold eggs for breakfast, just remember God doesn't appreciate cold hearts for fellowship.

When the tough times come, will your love grow cold?

The Three R's

Many people don't realize there is a huge difference between regret and repentance. Consider this illustration.

A man's shortcut home every day takes him past a string of adult bookstores. Having struggled with moral issues in the past, his stomach tightens every time he has to drive by the seedy parking lots. Gaudy neon advertisements in the boarded-up windows seem to pull at him with magnetic force and he fears he will eventually give in.

And one day he does.

The next time his trip takes him down that street, guilt pours over him and he loudly berates himself for his weakness. He calls himself every kind of name he can think of and promises God he'll tithe a double portion this week to make up for it.

That's remorse.

One week later, the temptation is still there and now he pictures the stricken look on his wife's face when she found the pornographic material in his briefcase. His stomach fills with acid. Shame washes over him and he wishes there was some way he could take his decision back. If only he hadn't done it...but it's too late now.

That's regret.

One stormy night, as he signals the right turn that will take him past the bookstores, an image flashes into his mind. Jesus is gazing at him. And although his eyes are filled with compassion, his flowing white robe is stained and bloody, smeared with filth, and in his arms he carries the pile of porn the man had bought.

Horror strikes him as he sits at the stoplight and for a moment he forgets how to drive. Cars honk and zoom around him while he sits frozen behind the wheel.

"Neither do I condemn you," Jesus says and his voice fills the car. "Go and sin no more."

The vision is gone as quickly as it came and now the only sound is the rain pelting down on the car hood. The man slumps over the wheel, stricken with a grief so great he thinks he's having a heart attack.

He glances to the right, down the neon strip where temptation lurks. With deliberate motions, he jerks the steering wheel to the left and shoots through the intersection. No matter how much farther it is, from now on he'll take the long way home.

That is repentance.

Two men betrayed Jesus on the night he was crucified. Judas felt remorse and his life ended. Peter repented and his life was transformed.

Don't settle for remorse or regret for the sins you've committed. Neither will absolve you of guilt. Only repentance brings you under the forgiving grace of God and has the power to transform your life.

Get Up and Dance

You know this feeling!

It's been a long winter.

The first hint of spring sun warms you and you wanna get up and dance.

So what are you waiting for?

Why do you let so many things
...............................................weigh you down,

..............................................................rob you of joy,
your shoulders until you can hardly see the sun?

Shake it off! If God be for you, who can be against you?

Turn your face to the Son this week and bask in His warmth.
Listen for the music your God sings over you,
and get up and dance!

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. (Ps. 37:6)

Are you Seeking?

One of my favorite songs says, "The more I seek you, the more I find you. The more I find you, the more I love you."

The greatest commandment instructs us to love the Lord our God with everything we've got. But have you ever noticed how hard it is to really love someone just because you're told to? You can pretend, but your heart knows the difference.

Remember when you were a kid and you had a fight with your brother? Your mom probably forced you to "make up," which consisted of you having to say something you did not mean at the moment. Your lips were saying, "I love you," but your heart was still screaming at him.

You wouldn't admit this on penalty of death, but do you sometimes worry that maybe you don't really love God like you're supposed to? You try to make up for it with a frenzy of churchy activities, good works, and lots of gushy spiritual-sounding talk that you hope conveys the opposite of what's really going on in your heart.

Regardless of what you look like on the outside, inside you're in turmoil. After all, how can you express utter devotion to a God who would let you hurt so badly? A God who could have, but didn't, stop that drunk driver, curb your child's race to destruction, reverse the ravages of cancer. You feel abandoned, discarded, and terribly confused about this God to Whom you're supposed to offer such passion.

But how can you admit something like that? It sounds so unChristian. Isn't love for God supposed to just BE there when you accept Christ as your Lord? After all, you do believe what the Bible says and you know you're supposed to be delighted that God loves you. But something feels off. God seems so far away.

The reason he feels far away is because he IS far away.

His presence is not like loose change that can be easily gathered off the sidewalk. A slot machine we can plug with prayers until we get what we want.

And we don't like that. We expect everything to be easy. We're used to it and become a bit miffed when some fruit we want isn't there for the picking.

But the secret to falling in love with God is found in that little verse in Jeremiah: "You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek with all your heart." If you're honest with yourself, are you really seeking God or seeking what he can do for you?


We are a society of action. We equate spiritual busyness with loving God. After all, if I'm DOING all this good stuff, isn't that showing God that I love him? I go to church--maybe I'm even the pastor! I read my Bible, lead study groups, homeschool my kids, teach Sunday School...


Notice how when we talk about loving God our thoughts go straight to our works?


None of that is wrong, just don't let it substitute for a deep heart relationship with God, which is what he wants from us. If he didn't, the verse would read: "You shall work for the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength."


So what does seeking God look like? How do you seek God if it doesn't involve service?


I believe it starts with giving up. When you recite your wedding vows, you voluntarily give up your identity as a single person. You turn over your life, your dreams, your passions to another.


You seek God the same way. You have to let go of your right to understand--and for us often over-educated human beings, that can be tough. We feel an obligation to understand God, to be able to explain him to others, to find the reasons behind the inexplicable happenings of life. None of that is Scriptural. All we're commanded to do is to love him.


When we hang on to our need to understand why, we limit our capacity to embrace all of God. We hold him responsible for the things we don't like, and that holding-on stifles our love for him. Seeking becomes a frustrating wade through the muck of Scripture, none of which seems to apply to our particular situation. We finally stop trying and figure God is destined to remain a distant icon to whom we owe our grudging allegiance.


Giving up means you let go of the right to understand, the right to refuse what you don't like, and the right to be God's judge. You have to let him be God again. And in that moment, seeking begins.


It helps to remember that God does not want to remain far away from your aching heart. He's watching for you with the light on.


And what's more, he even provides the love that you are incapable of giving on your own. With every syllable of worship that falls from your lips, your love for God grows. With every act of contrition, every lifting of stubborn hands, every bowing of your knee and your will to His, love grows.


Do you truly love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might? Don't lie to yourself. Or God. He's not fooled a bit by your busyness or your theology degree. He's waiting for your heart to come to his. For you to dance at his feet, to bask in his nearness.

Loving God starts with seeking.


Seeking an Ocassion

Some things are just too hard to understand.

But that doesn't mean there is no reason.

My eldest daughter has been a grief to us for the past decade. Her rebellion against everything that is good and right seems so pointless. Why, God?

As I wrestled in prayer over her once again, I thought of the adorable little princess she once was. The birthday parties. The cuddling. The talks about life. The ice skating lessons and braces.

And now...

I didn't know then, but God did.

He knew. He watched us love her and raise her and infuse her with truth...and he knew. He already knew where this was going. How could he do that to us? Why has he allowed this?

And then I remembered another son who rebelled against his family and his God. Knowing it was strictly forbidden, he barged into Hedonism and found a wanton woman that would satisfy his lust. "Get her for me!" he ordered his poor, distraught father.

His parents tried everything: pleading, commanding, explaining, forbidding. No use. His headlong race to destruction could not be stopped by an atomic blast.

I understand. I've been there. But the next verse shows us a different slant to the story of Samson. Judges 14:4 says, "His father did not know that this was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines."

Really? This was of the Lord? Samson choosing evil was of the Lord?

God used this story to show me something that helps make sense of a parent's worst nightmare. Sometimes he uses a person's own willfulness to accomplish his purposes. His purposes rarely look like ours. That's why he tells us to trust him.

My purposes would have included a grown daughter who loved and served the Lord with all her heart. How could that not be of God?

But he has plans for us, for her, that I do not know. He is allowing her to expend herself in wickedness because he is "seeking an occasion." He can use what she's doing now to bring about more good than if she was behaving herself.

Isn't that an amazing thought?

As I trust him with her, with me, and let him use this for good in my life, He is accomplishing far more through me than if had I not had to go through this. He is using what I'm learning in the lives of many people.

The message of betrayal, suffering, and forgiveness is going farther than the message of peace I would have chosen.
I use the pain from this situation nearly every day to impact someone else. People are being saved and lives are being restored because of what he has called me to do as a counselor.

The message my daughter will share when she at last comes "to the end of herself" will be farther-reaching than if she had never strayed. As backward as it seems to us, God likes to use evil to bring about good when we take our hands off and let him.

There are times when an evil choice from a dark heart is "of the Lord."

Is there a situation in your life that seems so wrong it can never be made right?

Maybe God is "seeking an occasion" to bring beauty from ashes, turn darkness into light, and destroy the very evil that now appears to be in charge.

Maybe rather than a tragic mistake, your situation is exactly as God wants it to be because he is "seeking an occasion."

Don't get in his way.


If you had to pick one short phrase to describe the message of the entire Bible, what would it be? (No peeking!)
How about:
  • God is love...

  • Plan of redemption...

  • God's reaching down to man...
(Pretty good, keep going.)

There are a thousand ways we could sum up the theme of Scripture, but my favorite recurs more than 40 times and is scarcely noticed. Yet, for me, it captures the flavor and richness of God's word more than any other.

But God...

The Bible gives us hundreds of examples of people just like us who wanted their own way, chose what felt right to them, and found themselves in trouble. It paints in vivid color the sin that gets us there, our hopeless desperation, and the rightful consequences headed our way.
Like Superman charging to the rescue, the little words "but God" sweep away the obvious and allow for the impossible.
"We were dead in our sins, but God..."

"My heart failed within me, but God..."

"The wicked seem to get away with everything, but God..."

"The Israelites thirsted for water in the desert, but God..."

"My enemies surrounded me, but God..."
The Bible is filled with desperate, hopeless people who had no hope except that God chose to intervene--usually at His own expense. He shows us over and over that without Him, we don't stand a chance at a victorious life either here or hereafter. Without those two little words, the Bible would just be another depressing book designed to make us feel even worse about our meaningless lives.

With those words, our hopelessness is transformed into hope. Despair becomes delight. Shame becomes confidence, and ashes turn to beauty.
What is going on in your life that requires those words? Maybe your situation looks hopeless, your relationships shattered, your future bleak. By yourself, you are helpless to change a thing.
Don't give in to despair. Hang on to the message of the Bible, captured in two priceless words:

But God....

Too HOT or Not?

You hear about it all the time.
At least one time in your past, you've probably done it yourself.
We don't like to think of it this way. We have such creative ways of explaining our own choices that sound much better than those of
"other people."

But it's the same thing.

How many times have you bent the knee to old Nebuchadnezzar's golden idol?

Come back here!
You have and you know it.

The familiar story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego found in Daniel 3 is great for keeping 3rd graders enthralled in Sunday School. But too often, we leave it there. We make the expected point about trusting in God and then close the book.

But let's talk about all those other people who DID bow to the golden idol. We tend to dismiss them and focus on the 3 brave guys who refused. They are worthy of attention, but how many times can you say you have stood alone in a sea of popular opinion?

Let's take the whole antiquated golden statue out of the picture. Culture differences tend to make us skip the whole point, but we need the point. We live the point:

  • The man who played with the numbers to avoid the IRS.
  • The millions of pre-teen girls dressed like street whores.
  • The teenage youth leader who gives into sex with the quarterback to save her popularity.
  • The preacher who begins to believe his own positive press.

They are the masses we ignore in the story.
They are the ones bowing down.

There had to be others in that vast crowd who didn't believe in the idol either. There were many other captive Israelites in Babylon. Where were they? They knew the God of Israel. They knew his commands, his standards, and his power. That's why they were captives in the first place. They had tossed those out the window. So...where were they?

They were where we have each been at some point in our lives. Excusing ourselves.

They looked around. Everyone else was doing it. It looked harmless enough. Just a bent knee for a few seconds, then it was over. Shouldn't make that much difference. Who will notice? No one will care.

Besides, that fire is HOT!

God's choices are usually hot. Righteousness is HOT. Selflessness is HOT. Standing alone in a crowd of idol worshipers is too HOT. Swimming against the tide is unpopular and unpleasant. Most of the time, complete obedience to God is just too HOT.

God's expectation of us is found in verse 27. "They were willing to die rather than disobey God." That's the key. We're usually not.

Salvation took death to achieve for us. And it takes death to perfect in us. Our death. But most of us are not willing to die to ourselves and live for God. The fire is just too HOT.

Could that be why our world is in the shape it's in?

Could that be why our nation, once "under God," is now under attack? Because to stand alone and defy culture is just too HOT.

The outcome of the Bible story is the change of an entire nation's allegiance within the space of one day. The idol came down and holiness came in because 3 young guys didn't let the quaking in their sandals stop them from obeying God.

How might your world change if you decided that no fire is too HOT to keep you from obeying the voice of God?


A Counselor's Prayer

(This post has received more hits than any other and is currently number 1 for a Google search of this title, so I'm running it again. Feel free to copy and use it, just give proper credit when you do. Thanks.)

Oh God, remind me why I'm doing this.

Why me? What do I know about anything?

They sit across from me, broken dolls whose dull eyes beg me to offer hope that they no longer believe exists. Hope is a four-letter word that belongs to someone else. They've given up because they are out of options. They can see nothing in the future but more pain.

And I'm IT? I'm all that stands between desperation and hope? Sometimes, life and death? What were you thinking, Lord?

Who am I to tell a young rape victim that God loves her?

Who am I to advise a wronged wife to stay with the man who tore her heart out?

Who am I to offer understanding in situations I have no ability to understand?

How can I make a woman believe in a loving Heavenly Father when all she knows is fatherly abuse?

How do I gather the scraps of a shattered life and put them together again?

How do I convince a woman consumed by rage that it is safe to leave that anger with You? She's mad at You too.

How do I pretend to believe that this round of sobriety will be different for the lifetime drug addict? The last eight times didn't work, but this one will? Because now he faces ME? I'm not sure I believe that myself.

I feel so inadequate. So unworthy. Who am I to be trusted with this great responsibility? Who am I to meddle deep inside the private recesses of a human heart, to hold it in my hands, twist it, turn it, hurt it so that it can finally struggle free from its prison.

It's scary, Lord. Sometimes, right in the middle of a session, I don't want to do this anymore. Why am I doing this?

But now I'm remembering something.

I'm doing this because You asked me to. You promised that you would do it through me if I would just stay out of the way.

And now that I think about it, You have every time.

You put a smile on the lips of that rape victim.

The young couple is holding hands again.

The ones who knew only hate are experiencing love for the first time. It's hard for them. They don't know what to do with it, but You're showing them a little at a time.

And as I watch, I know it isn't me at all. It never was.

You always seem to enjoy choosing as your tools the least likely people: the frightened Gideon, the obstinate Jonah, the renegade Moses. And look at that ragtag band of disciples Jesus chose. What an unlikely group to be entrusted with Your plan of salvation for the entire world! Frankly, I would have chosen some better candidates, if I'd been given the opportunity.

So I guess I'm in good company, huh? Is that what You're telling me? My inadequacy fits the profile?

Is this what you meant by "My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness"?

I'm glad to know that, because if I wasn't sure You were doing this through me, I would quit. The burden is too great. The price of failure too high.

But You're right. I have seen You work. I've sat there and watched Your Spirit open a closed heart, purify a perverted soul, cleanse a dirty conscience, heal a damaged spirit. And I just sit there. You're doing all the work.

If You called me, You will enable me. I'm just a warm body for Your Spirit to flow through. Healing is not my job, it's Yours.

I panic when I forget that. Help me never to forget again.


Painful trimming

(Re-posted. New posts coming soon.)

Yankee hates grooming time. She starts to shake when she hears the water running and tries to hide in impossible-to-find places---like the couch. (There's not a lot of gray matter underneath that ponytail.)
And toenails are the worst. She fights me the whole time. One little nudge in the wrong place and she yelps like I'd cut her leg off--eight pounds of insulted outrage.
As I wrestled with her today, snipping off nails that were curling under from lack of trimming, I thought about how like her I often am when God needs to trim off unnecessary things in my life. I fight and yelp, tuck my treasures underneath me, hoping he can't spot them. But He knows if left untrimmed, they'll grow until they hamper my walk with Him.
The next time I feel that urging in my spirit, that gentle nudge that tells me I need a trim, I'll think of Yankee. Her regular grooming is crucial for her to stay healthy, happy, and a welcome addition to our family. If she only understood that, she wouldn't fight so hard. It really doesn't hurt; she's just afraid it will.
God's grooming of our lives, habits, and desires really doesn't hurt, either. We just think it will. But if we stop fighting Him, we'll be so much better for it.
What might God want to trim from your life?

Is some attitude growing out of control?

Is there some drive that doesn't lead you closer to Him?

What about a passion that you've decided to keep tucked safely out of His reach because He might trim it off?
Remember Yankee. It's for your own good. Stop fighting.