What's the Big Deal?


He was the delight of his Father. Their joy was complete when they were together. They needed nothing else. Unity of spirit, unity of desire, unity in every way. It was their very existence. They laughed together, planned together, rejoiced together in delight at their creation. They had always done everything as One and would continue to do so.


Except Friday was coming.


We often overlook what that Friday really meant to God. We read of Jesus' agonized cry in the Garden of Gethsemane and cringe at the physical torture he faced. Sure, he was grieved. Who wouldn't be? And in our human attempt to understand, we miss the real point.


We can only fathom the physical realities of the beatings and crucifixion. They were gruesome enough, but not the real pain. To comprehend the real tragedy of those 9 hours we have to get inside the mind of God and gaze for a moment upon total unity. 


We don't understand unity. Marriage is the best picture God could paint for us and we have made a mockery of that.


But the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know. It's all they'd known. Jesus knew what was coming and experienced a dread so great it almost killed him beforehand. To be separated, despised, scorned by his Father. It was unthinkable.


But in those hours, Jesus became SIN. The sin he had never touched now defiled him in every way. As he was hoisted into the hair to hang as a public disgrace, the heaviness of every sin human beings had ever embraced pressed upon him.


And he had to endure his Father's disgust. "How could you! You lied! You stole! You adulterer! I'm horrified by you. You deserve this just punishment.'


The thunder of Righteousness Offended echoed through the soul of the Son with a vibration that would have shaken him off the cross had the spikes been weaker.


"You disgust me! How could you rape little babies? You've cannibalized human flesh! You've molested old women, tortured pets, and ignored your children! You are covered with the stench of immorality, arrogance, and lust! I cannot stand this! I will not look at you any longer!"


He took not only our evil acts, he also took our grief. Our regret. Our sorrow. The One who had never known remorse now felt the full force of our guilt in his heart. The shame of the 16-year old after losing her virginity. The regret of the 22-year-old mom after the abortion. The grief of the drunk driver who has just killed a family of 3. The embarassment over the drunken party. The remorse at hiding those porn videos. As his body bore the weight of our sin, his soul bore the weight of our guilt.


And the source of Living Water cried out, "I thirst!" It was not wine he wanted, nor water. His soul, as David's once did,  thirsted for the Living God. A thirst he had never experienced before.


"Your evil requires that I withdraw my presence. You are the very embodiment of all I hate. I cannot tolerate you in this condition. I am leaving you. This is what it feels like to be without Me. This is the punishment your sin deserves."


The sky grew dark as the Light withdrew.  But it was a darkness the Son had never known and he cried out, as a child cries out in terror: "Father! Abba! Don't leave me! Why? Why are you forsaking me?"


In those hours on the cross, Jesus gave us a clear picture of what Hell is like. Hell is feeling the full weight of our sin and guilt with no comforting presence of the Father. No relief. No hope. No end.

 
God displayed Hell for all the world to see so that no one has an excuse.

Until we comprehend what our sin cost God, we will continue to abuse his grace. We wrinkle our noses at our self-will and pride and we shrug. "What's the big deal? God will forgive me."

  
Take another long look at what happened during 9 hours one Friday. Can you see your sin on him? Is that your little white lie tucked in his matted hair? Is that your lust pressing down on his shoulder? Your dishonesty clutched in his palm? 


Take a good look at what sin costs God.
Where do you plan to tuck your next one?



 


Do I Need to Turn This Car Around Right Now?


If you're smiling at the title, you are either a parent or remember your own parents' threat, accompanied by The Look.


When you ask your children that question, it's usually an empty threat designed to scare them into compliance. And you've no doubt perfected The Look that your mother gave you.

However, those words are really a choice and your kids have the option of seeing if you mean it. Any kid with a shred of sense won't push it that far, but there are always those kids...

Even adults are faced with this choice. When we desire to move forward with the life God has for us, there are going to be speed bumps, curves, and one-way-streets that do not look passable. Often He asks us to do things that are uncomfortable and outside the realm of what we expected. 
We balk.

It is then that God turns around and gives us The Look. "Do you really want to stop right here? Is this as much of Me as you want? Is this as far as you want to go with Me? Do I need to put you out on the side of the road and use someone else to accomplish my plans?"


We have a choice to make. We can stop right there, settle for lukewarm, turn our faces away from the prize and say, "Yeah, that's far enough. This is too hard. I want to be back in charge."

God never gives empty threats. If we demand the right to be charge of our lives, He gives it to us. But in that act He also withdraws His protection, His peace, His security, and His fellowship. We can still go through the motions of Christian living, but the Light is gone. And often we don't know why.

We all have those areas of personal goodness that come easily and we take inordinate pride in them. Maybe you're a giver. Giving money to worthy causes is easy for you. Makes you feel good about yourself and you are satisfied that by being generous, you're right where God wants you to be.

When you're ready to move on with God, that won't be the spot where He threatens to turn the car around. To become all he wants you to be will require something you're not comfortable with. Maybe He's asking you to let go of a childhood pain, forgive an ex-spouse, teach a Sunday School class, ask forgiveness from someone. You'll know. He's always very clear about it when He knows we're serious about hearing.

You can ignore it, turn your face away, talk yourself out of it, or pretend that everything's fine and hope He forgets about it. But it is in that moment, He opens the car door and out you go. You're still His favorite child, but He can't take you anywhere anymore. The heart-to-heart fellowship is gone and now a shadow clouds your prayers and your worship.

OR...

You can grit your teeth and rush to obey. The moment you do, relief floods back into your soul. It's like someone turned the lights on. There's no barrier between you and God.

Obedience brings the smile back to His face and you can move together down the road. Obedience in every single area keeps the light glowing in your relationship. It keeps the shadow from your prayers and allows pure-hearted worship to flow from your deepest core with no reserve.

So when you close your eyes to pray, do you see The Look? Is He going to have to turn the car around because He can't take you any farther? Your capacity to experience God stops at the spot where you say no. 
Do you really want to spend the rest of your life right where you are?

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A Day in the Life Of...

As I drove home tonight around 8:30 pm after nearly 9 hours of counseling, I thought of the apostle Paul's words: "I am being poured out as a drink offering before the Lord." (2 Tim. 4:6)

Do you ever feel that way?

I didn't, until I began this counseling ministry nearly 3 years ago. Now I get it.

Being poured out means you are drained from the inside. As a pitcher is emptied of every drop it contained, so my spirit is often emptied of every ounce of strength. It's not a physical weariness, such as anyone feels who has put in a day's work. That is part of it. But the pouring out is an intense spiritual and emotional exhaustion that must be replenished by the Holy Spirit before you can do it again.
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A typical day looks something like this: (All names and situations altered to protect my clients.)

7:30--Receive a text from Andy about his broken heart. I'm seeing him tomorrow, but he can't wait.

8:00--Eat breakfast at my computer while sending reminder texts to tomorrow's clients. Check email and Facebook for new counseling requests or messages.

8:05--Begin receiving confirmations and cancellations about tomorrow's schedule.

8:06--Start trying to shuffle client times to accommodate changes so that I won't be left with a hole in my schedule.

8:25--Incoming call from new client. Sounds desperate and I'm concerned. He must have a time after 4:30 due to work. No open slots until next week. Schedule him next week anyway.

8:40--Pray that God makes an opening for this desperate guy sooner.

9:00--Shane, tomorrow's 6:30, calls. An emergency has come up. Can he reschedule for next week?

9:10--Reschedule him and breathe a 'Thank you' to God. I call the new client and let him know an opening has just appeared. Would he like it? He grasps it like a drowning man.

9:30--Drive to the church, praying for each client I will see today, and asking for the filling of the Holy Spirit that I might hear him and obey his voice every moment.

10:00--Welcome first client of the day. Spend two hours hearing Anna's tragic story of childhood molestation, failed marriages, drug addiction, and an attempted suicide. Show her that she is relying on herself to meet her needs and God wants to do that. She's a pastor's daughter, and thought God was one more angry male who couldn't be pleased. She meets a Jesus she never knew and gives him her heart. She eagerly schedules another session next week.

12:00-1:00--Lunch and answer texts that have come in during the last session: Andy sends me an update on his broken heart. My youngest son wonders what's for dinner or is he on his own. My daughter tells me she loves me and she is having car trouble. Another client cancels for tomorrow. A voicemail message from a former client asking if I will see his daughter.

1:00--Welcome Ben and Liz. He's had multiple affairs and she has looked the other way. I ask about his porn addiction, which startles them both. He breaks down and admits it for the first time in his life. I assure them there is nothing God cannot fix. They commit to doing whatever it takes to repair their home and his heart. Begin teaching them about addiction.

3:00--Welcome new client James. Looks like a kook, but I ask God to love him through me anyway. Destructive anger driving everyone from him, including his family. Teach him about offering his rights up to God. Lead him to do that. He leaves with a big smile and a promise to return next week.

4:30--Do a one-hour with Brandon, the 15-year-old. Sullen and unresponsive. His mom made him come. He tells me things I cannot share with her and I struggle with finding the ethical line. By the end he has at least made eye contact and nodded a couple of times. I take that as success, but know he won't be back. Pray I gave him something he can hang on to when he goes home to his dysfunctional family.

5:30--Ten minute consultation with my pastor about a former client who is in trouble again. Get his advice on Brandon's ethical issues as a minor.

5:40--Welcome Jenny. She's one month out of psychiatric lockdown where she got no help at all and is considering giving up on life. Sense demonic presence and help her get rid of them. Then lead her to go back and forgive the 6-year-old Jenny who allowed her step-father to rape her for 8 years. She realizes her self-destruction is an attempt to punish that little girl and she breaks free. Sobbing and at peace, she hugs me and gets tears and snot on my blouse. I don't mind.

7:20--Take a ten-minute break to gulp a 7-Up and a bag of peanuts for supper. Answer a question from a former client passing by in the hallway. His marriage is in trouble again. Do I think more counseling would help? His wife cursed me and walked out last time. I'll have to think about it.

7:30--It's Rachel's third session. I spend an hour and a half contending with her about leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses--a religion that has left her terrified and suicidal. I can't help her if she won't let Jesus in. I rely on the Holy Spirit and my hours of preparation this week studying her religion to find some crack in her defenses. With tears on her face, she sets her jaw and shakes her head. It will be our last session. She walks away, broken and hopeless. This time I cry.
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Tomorrow I will go back and do it again. Different faces. Different stories. Each one a life that is indescribably precious to God. 

Were I to base my continuing ministry on whether or not I consider myself a success, were I to rely on my own strength, desire, or ability, I would quit. Too much risk. Too much at stake.

But my only goal--and your only goal as you pour yourself out as a drink offering--must be: Lord, was I as obedient to you today as I know how to be?  

For a Christian, is there any other question? Is total obedience to him optional?


His answer is enough. He will refill my tank and I will do it again. Because that's what an offering is. It means I let go and it is all His. His people. His victories. His reward.


Are you pouring yourself out as a drink offering before the Lord?

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Can I Have It My Way?



Do you remember Burger King's popular slogan back in the day? "Have it your way" helped Burger King reach the pinnacle of business success and recognizably.

The idea of having a hamburger exactly the way you want it has spread like a grass fire in our culture. Self-determination is our national identity. Even shopping for a simple item has become a confusing maze. Every item has a hundred options: colors, flavors, sizes, low-fat, high-energy, super volume, extra-butter... We consider choice a right and expect it to apply to every situation.

Unfortunately, this also applies to seeking God. We assume we can pick and choose what we like about God or Christianity and leave the rest. Even modern evangelicalism has sunk into this mire of "have it your way."

Grace has become the buzzword of the new slew of evangelical preachers and has been spread thickly like mortar over every lifestyle. A chirpy little client of mine announced with confidence that she knew her live-in relationship with her boyfriend was not "the best," but was certain God understood and did not mind. "It's just the grace of God, you know!"

Really? Didn't the Apostle Paul deal with this very subject in the sixth chapter of Romans? How many professing Christians in our day have ever read it?

Since when did obedience to the stated standard of God become optional?

When we set ourselves up as the final authority on our own lives and morality, we have effectively removed God and replaced him with Self. We become our own gods.

And that is not biblical Christianity. Nowhere in the New Testament will you find any precedent that resembles this ideology. The pattern set by those who received Christ as Lord was to forsake sin, forsake worldly lust, and take up whatever cross was necessary to follow him. Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)

Have you bought into this pseudo-Christian message? Have you decided that you can have God your way? It's not true. We come to him his way, or we don't come at all.

Repentance is the doorway to freedom. It's standing wide open. Be sure you walk through it.  





With Veteran's Day just passed, our minds are on those who have fought and are still fighting the battle for freedom. Untold thousands have faced danger, heat, cold, pain, and loneliness to ensure that those they love can continue to experience the luxury of freedom. Many lost their own lives in the process. Our nation owes each one a debt of gratitude, and they are received home with a hero's welcome. The 18-year-old private is welcomed with just as much honor and respect as the four-star general. They fought the same battle and made it home.

Have you ever considered that you will receive such a welcome when you arrive at your heavenly home? If you've given your life to Jesus, taken his battle upon you, and fought the good fight of faith, your transition from this life to the next will be a hero's homecoming. The Bible often compares our struggles here with a battle. Ephesians 6 even goes into detail about the kind of armor we must wear to be victorious.

We battle daily--hourly--with enemies we cannot see whose goal is to destroy us and the freedom Jesus bought for us. No battle is easy. Those veterans walking in the parade paid a high price for that privilege. And conquering evil, temptation, and our own sinful flesh is not easy either. We must be willing to pay whatever price is necessary to win the final victory. Jesus called it "taking up our cross daily." 

Dragging a heavy cross to the site of the crucifixion was definitely not easy. He was brutalized, mocked, and murdered; yet, he overcame it all. He won His battle and urges us onward as we fight ours.

Turn your eyes heavenward today. If you are serious about earning a hero's welcome, stay focused on the reason for your battle. You are fighting to hold on to the freedom Jesus gave you. Don' t let anyone steal it. Not sin. Not Satan. Not friends. Not your own weakness.  You are fighting for your King.

Battle on, Soldier. The hero's welcome will be worth it.
  

The Vote is In


 The election's over. Thank goodness!

Many are rejoicing; many are depressed.


We've come to the days when the issues are no longer murky. They are no longer political. In past eras, the debates were focused on taxes, roads and bridges, and how many tanks to supply the military.

But no more. Since the early '80's, the weight of public concern has shifted from the external to the internal. From economic to moral. From right to wrong.

Most Bible-reading Christians were disheartened when Obama won again. He represents everything Christianity rejects, and vice versa. How could God let this happen? Doesn't he care about America?

As I was praying for the election last Saturday evening, I cried out to the Lord, "How can professing Christians vote for that man? Don't they hear him? Don't they see? Otherwise right-thinking people seem blind to the fact that this man supports everything that You hate. He exalts sodomy, destroys pre-born children, and has thrown your nation Israel under the bus. What's going on, God?"

A scripture blazed into my mind and hung there, dangled before my mind's eye like a flashing marquee. It is found in Judges 14:4. Samson had demanded that his parents get a Philistine woman for his bride. They were horrified! No self-respecting, God-honoring Jew would marry a Philistine. Those people were evil! God''s enemies. What was their son thinking?

Then the Bible says, "However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines."

This vile, reprehensible act that came from Samson's own lust was actually approved by God! Not for the reasons Samson believed, but for reasons in God's own heart.

God uses our bad choices to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. Often, it is judgement. We got the President we deserve. And God will use it to accomplish what must be done in this rebellious nation. 

I knew Saturday night who would win this election, but it was with a heavy resigned heart that I heard it officially announced. I don't welcome the destruction that we are headed toward, but I know that ultimately God is in control and His purposes will be accomplished. 

I trust him. He is good and He knows who His children are. He won't forget us. And it will be alright.

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Me? A Disciple?


 Ever wonder if you would have been chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve disciples?

What? ME? No way! Those guys were holy and smart and...and...discipl-ish...

 History tells us something quite different. They were ordinary guys, even a little rough around the edges. So what did Jesus see in them that made him choose them? If you'd have been walking around Galilee in those days, would he have chosen you? What would he have seen in you that he saw in them that would have made him pluck you from the crowd and transform your life?

Each one had something unique to offer--just as you do. Click on the link and take a closer look at these twelve men who changed the world. Which one are you?


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When we brought our Irish Setter, Babe, home a few years ago, we soon realized beauty was about the only thing going for her. Beautiful red heads are not necessarily gifted with brains. She was sweet and submissive, but the only thing she knew consistently was BIRDS.

In the field beyond her fenced yard, birds gathered constantly. I figured out the first week that pretty soon she would realize she could go over the backyard fence and then there would be no keeping her in. The few times that had happened, she came home hours later, long red hair matted with stickers and reeking of pond water.

So I decided to put up a hot wire along the bottom of the fence. All one Saturday morning I set up posts and strung my wire. While I worked, Babe helped by periodically dashing through it, tangling it and making my blood pressure rise.

I warned her. I scolded, pointed, yelled, and tried in every way to warn her what was to come. But of course, she didn't care.

At last, I plugged it in.

I clipped on her leash, led her to the fence, and exonerated my conscience by explaining as clearly as I could in dog language that she was not to touch the fence. In typical Babe fashion, she shrank back and her eyes assured me she would never in a million years touch my fence. No, she wouldn't do such a thing. Ever.

Then I unhooked the leash.

It didn't take long. The birds were gathering and her 8-second memory elapsed and there she went. She hit the fence at a run and everything went into cartoon slow motion. Yelps, flying legs, tangled wire...she looked like a cartoon dog with nine legs whirling in the air.

I raced to unplug the fence and disentangle my traumatized dog. She slunk to the patio, visibly shaking, staring in horror at the yard that had suddenly attacked her. (It took forever to get her to go back outside, but that's another story!)

The theme of this one is that until my boundary had consequences, it meant nothing.

When we set boundaries in relationships, we often make the mistake of thinking that our angry reaction is their consequence. It doesn't work, does it? In marriages, family connections, or friendships, boundaries keep the relationship healthy. Consequences make sure the boundaries stay in place. A boundary-less existence is one filled with chaos, enabling, and dysfunctional people lining up to take advantage of the one with no boundaries.

Being a doormat is not the same thing as extending Christ-like love. Love gives freely from its abundance. Enabling gives because it feels it has no option. Consequences are justly earned results of a certain action. When we leap in the way of the rightly-earned consequences of another, we inhibit the work God wants to do in that person's life. God uses consequences to teach us.

Babe has never tried to go over the fence again. Once she ventured back out into the yard, she avoided that fence completely. I never even had to plug it back in!

What relationship in your life needs healthy boundaries with consequences?

Be sure you are not robbing others of their right to learn from the consequences they've earned.

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