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God Has Friends In Low Places

The other day I was sitting out in the backyard listening to an audio book and getting a much-needed dose of vitamin D. Two Mockingbirds were darting back and forth just feet in front of me and were making so much noise that it was becoming difficult to hear my audio book. I knew that they had a nearby nest and were only trying to protect their young from a potential threat (apparently Mockingbirds don’t understand that paralyzed people in a wheelchair don’t pose a threat).

Then I saw two beautiful Bluebirds sitting in a nearby live oak tree just minding theirbluebird in tree
own business. Like me, they seemed to be doing their best to ignore the noise and the antics of the paranoid Mockingbirds. Every five minutes or so, one of the Bluebirds would fly over and land on the roof of a dilapidated birdhouse that Mary’s been meaning to replace. After observing this for almost an hour, Mary came outside and told me that the Bluebirds have a nest in that old birdhouse.

 

bluebird picI was thinking that there must be a serious birdhouse shortage in our area for these beautiful Bluebirds to have chosen this run-down dwelling to build a nest. Then I remembered that Jesus was born in a smelly stable. Maybe there was a pair of Bluebirds nesting in that stable too.

I had somewhat of a revelation about the beautiful and holy taking up residence in dwellings that are far beneath them. It’s the one thing that distinguishes genuine Christianity from every other belief-system that can be named; the Holy Spirit (literally) resides in the followers of Christ.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

It’s not a coincidence that Jesus was born in a place that most homeless people would have avoided. But, even if Jesus would have been born in the greatest palace on earth, it would have been far beneath Him. It’s as if God chose the lowest of places to emphasize this.

It’s also not a coincidence that we see this same pattern with the birth of the Church (Acts chapter 2). The Church began with the Holy Spirit indwelling a bunch of very ordinary men and women that were gathered together in a room. From a Holy God’s perspective, that “upper room” was a very “stable-like” scene. But even if the Holy Spirit began His work in the hearts of the holiest of men on earth, it would have been far beneath Him.

The disciples were grief-stricken after Jesus explained to them that He would have to die. He comforted them with the following words:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (John 1:16-17)

Later Jesus told the disciples that all of them would abandon Him. Peter stated emphatically that he would die with Jesus before denying Him. We now know that, out of fear of being arrested, Peter ended up denying Jesus three times within hours of making that vow.

But after being indwelt with the Holy Spirit (the “helper” and “Spirit of truth”), this same Peter stood before thousands of the very people he once cowered before and boldly declared that Jesus is “both Lord and Messiah.”

This man that was so afraid of being associated with Jesus on the night that He was arrested that he denied even knowing Him, years later would ask to be crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to die in the same manner as his “Lord and Messiah.”

Biblical knowledge is so important, but theological knowledge alone cannot transform a person the way Peter and the other disciples were transformed: only the Holy Spirit can do that. And this kind of radical transformation is the true and lasting message of the Easter story.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

What Are You Seeking?

I follow a Bible reading plan every year, and the plan I’m following this year begins with John’s Gospel. I’ve always thought it was much more than a coincidence that the first words spoken by Jesus (in John’s Gospel) come in the form of a very profound question; it’s a question that everyone should know the answer to:

“What are you seeking? (John 1:38)

When I read that question on January 1st, I paused to think about what I should be seeking this year. I believe that our New Year’s Resolutions, or lack of, tell a lot about what we’re seeking. The following is a list of the top ten New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. Other than showing that we smoke too much, spend too much, sit too much and eat too much, what does this list tell us about the American people?

  1. Lose weight.
  2. Improve finances.
  3. Exercise more.
  4. Get a new/better job.
  5. Eat healthier.
  6. Manage stress better.
  7. Quit smoking.
  8. Improve a relationship.
  9. Quit procrastinating.
  10. Set aside time for yourself.

Besides being obsessed with our bodies and being guilt-ridden over repeatedly doing the things we don’t like, it seems to me that we’re focused on treating symptoms instead of the disease. I think all of these resolutions are good, but notice that none of the top 10 resolutions are in any way spiritual. Maybe that’s why only around ten percent of those that make resolutions succeed in keeping them. And of that ten percent that succeeds at conquering a habit or addiction, a large percentage of those will simply replace that habit or addiction with an equally destructive behavior. It seems that we’re trying, and mostly failing, to fight the flesh with the flesh.

Jesus and the Apostles tell us that we should be seeking the things whichpeace quote lead to peace. Not “world peace,” but our inner-peace. I’m not a psychiatrist or an addiction counselor, but it seems to me that a lack of inner-peace is at least partially, if not mostly, to blame for the majority of our bad habits, addictions, bad attitudes and other negative behaviors.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace…” “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 8:6 & 14:19)

I haven’t yet perfected this inner-peace thing, but I’ve come a long way over the last ten or fifteen years. I’ve discovered that seeking peace through doing things like reading the Bible, prayer, listening to sermons and having like-minded friends, including blog friends, will greatly increase our sense of peace. If our primary focus is on seeking peace—the Prince of peace, we make Christ our partner in overcoming addictions and bad habits and bad attitudes.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Even if you’ve already broken your resolutions, reset your priorities and start over again. Make seeking peace your number one goal and it will increase your joy and hope and give you the strength to conquer your “demons.”

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Prioritizing Our Hopes

When you go through a trial, especially an extended trial that disrupts or even destroys your earthly hopes and dreams, you either learn to focus and depend more on your eternal hope or slide further into despair.

I imagine that every Christian that has gone through an extended trial will remember coming to this difficult crossroad and facing this choice. In truth, seek firstit’s a decision we should have made when we committed to follow Christ – whether or not we were going through a trial at the time. By definition, a Christian is someone whose primary hope is an eternal hope in Christ.

“…we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” (Hebrews 6:18-20)

I know that God wants us to have hopes in and for this life, but, for the Christian, those hopes must be secondary to our heavenly hope. Our heavenly hope must govern our earthly hopes. This is the only formula that leads to the “Abundant life” that the Bible talks about. If Jesus is not the Christian’s primary hope, he or she will have a really difficult time when (not if) a trial comes. Even when everything is going great (by the world’s standards), the Christian that does not have his or her hopes in order will not be experiencing the inner joy and peace that the Bible tells us we should have.

Unfortunately I speak from experience. If asked, I probably would have said that eternity was my primary hope before being diagnosed with ALS, but aim at heavenlooking back now I really don’t think it was. It’s so easy to get caught up in our career, our marriage, raising kids, our homes and so many other things involved in day-to-day life that, without even realizing it, our earthly hopes and dreams can become our primary focus.

In this context, I think it’s fair to say that hope and love are synonymous. If Christ isn’t our primary hope, He is not what the Bible calls “our first (most important) love” either. I remember when I began reading the Bible, I had a real hard time with the following verse: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37)

Probably because I didn’t understand Christ’s nature at that time, His demand seemed harsh and even narcissistic. After reading the whole New Testament and getting a better understanding of His selfless nature, I realized that His demand had nothing to do with harshness or ego; it is a simple matter of priorities. It’s only by loving Christ more than anyone or anything that we are able to demonstrate His unconditional love to and for others. Likewise, it’s only when Christ is our greatest hope that we are able to fully appreciate and enjoy our earthly hopes. And, it’s only when Christ is our primary hope that we will know if our secondary hopes are also God’s hopes for us.

God Doesn’t Make Sense!

The fact that God’s nature was difficult for me to understand used to be a real challenge to my faith. This was especially true after being diagnosed with ALS. I don’t remember ever asking God “Why me?” but I naturally wondered why God would allow this or any other horrible disease to strike anyone. I began to rethink everything I knew, or thought I knew, about this being we call God.

One of the first things I studied was the Christian definition of God; the Christian belief that God is made up of three separate beings (Father, Son and Spirit) that are actually one being. This doesn’t make sense! I have heard many different analogies that attempted to explain this concept of this three-in-one God by everyone from children’s church pastors to highly-educated Theologians, but I still don’t get it! I know better than anyone that I’m far from being the sharpest knife in the drawer, but after many years of trying to figure out this concept of what we simply call the Trinity, I’ve concluded that no one is able to explain this Triune God in terms that are understandable to even the razor-sharp knives among us. And, I’m now okay with this because –

If we were able to understand God in human terms, He wouldn’t be God; He’d be a man.

C.S. Lewis was one of the best Christian apologists of the twentieth century, but before becoming a follower of Christ, he was an outspoken atheist. He concluded that there was no God because the idea of God didn’t make sense to him. He wondered why a supposedly loving God would allow his mother to die when he was just ten years old. He also wondered why a God that claims to care so much for His creation would permit the horrors he witnessed as a soldier in World War One. I imagine a lot of people asked similar questions after seeing innocent people being killed and maimed in Boston and in West, Texas. But, ironically, it was also this seemingly nonsensical nature of God that brought Lewis back to the God of Christianity.

“Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

As a professor at Oxford, Lewis and some other professors, including his fellow professor and friend, the author J.R.R. Tokien (Lord of the Rings) formed a group where they would meet and discuss Philosophy, Theology and other “Big issues.” Tolkien was a Christian and he began challenging Lewis’ conclusions about God. Like me and so many others that have come to a crossroad, Lewis began to rethink his beliefs about this mysterious God.

lewis

 “Atheism turns out to be too simple” – CS Lewis

Lewis also came to the conclusion that mere mortals were unable to fully comprehend what we call the Trinity. And, like me and those who understand the implications of this conclusion, this idea of an incomprehensible God intrigued Lewis. He eventually ditched his “simple” atheism and turned to a complex God.

He wrote: “On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings… On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine…If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about…Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn’t have guessed. That’s one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It’s a religion you couldn’t have guessed.”  

Why do we expect to understand why God allows tragedy and heartache when we cannot even comprehend the makeup of God? We haven’t yet even figured out why people do the things they do. God sees the Big Picture – the eternal picture, the picture that we’re incapable of seeing. For that reason alone we should give Him the benefit of the doubt when tragedy strikes.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Overcoming Regrets

Do you ever feel like your regrets are haunting you like ghosts from your past?

I used to allow regrets over things I’ve said or wished I had said and things I’ve done or wish I had done, to steal my joy, peace and hope. I became so aggravated with these condemning “ghosts” of regret that I finally decided to figure out how to defeat them. The following “battle-plan” (for conquering regrets) has helped me and I hope it might help others dealing with this problem too.

Defining this enemy
Even though I knew what the word regret meant, I began by looking up the definition, which, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is: “sorrow aroused by circumstances beyond one’s control or power to repair: an expression of distressing emotion (as sorrow)” 

I also noticed that repent is one of the synonyms for the word regret. I suppose this makes sense in one way; it’s the same thing to feel regretful and repentant (over something we’ve said or done). But, from the Christian point of view, there’s a contradiction between the definition of regret and the synonym of repent. The definition says that regret is “beyond one’s control or power to repair,” but the Bible repeatedly tells us that repentance is the “power to repair” (regrets, guilt and shame). I just had this thought: If regretting and repenting were synonymous, repenting of something we regretted would be redundant. 

The Apostle Paul wrote; “…the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world (by Webster’s definition) produces death.” (spiritual, emotional and even physical death) (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Here’s an example of what Paul meant: Judas regretted betraying Jesus (Matthew 27:3), but he didn’t repent of his betrayal and his failure to repent “produced death.” Whereas Peter regretted denying Jesus (Matthew 26:75), but he repented and moved on.

Defeating the enemy

I know that Peter, Paul and all Christians regret mistakes and past wrongdoing, but if we truly believe that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), we’ll get to the place where our regrets no longer have the power to control our emotions; we’ll begin to put them into perspective by understanding how God is making good result from our failures.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I’ve come to the conclusion that these feelings of oppressive regret and condemnation are not from God. I think that many of us won’t release these feelings of regret because we wrongly believe that to feel regret is to be repentant. But the Bible tells us that the Christian life is a spiritually and emotionally “abundant life;” a life of joy, peace and hope. These uplifting things that sustain us through even the most difficult trials cannot possibly coexist with feelings of guilt, regret and despair.

I believe the first step to putting your regrets behind you, where they belong, is to quit allowing them to attack your mind as a force – divide and conquer them. When regrets come to your mind, begin to categorize them. For instance, if the regret is over something that’s in your power to resolve; like apologizing to someone or paying back money you’ve borrowed etc, take the actions needed to resolve that regret. This category might be what the Bible calls “the conviction of the Holy Spirit,” which prompts us to act according to God’s will – it works with our conscience. It’s vital to resolve this category in order to have a good (guilt-free) relationship with God – “…if our conscience is clear, we can come to God with bold confidence.” (1 John 3:21 NLT)

Another category, which was a big “ghost” for me, was regrets I harbored regarding things I said or wished I had said to loved-ones that have passed away. I am no longer haunted by this ghost; he faded away when I realized that I don’t want my memory to evoke feelings of guilt and regret (for my family and friends) when I’m gone, and I know those that I’ve lost didn’t want me carrying around that burden either.

There are many other categories of regret;  parenting and relationship mistakes, bad investment mistakes, times we’ve sinned against God and hurt others and so on, but none of these categories controls my emotions any longer, and I believe it’s God’s will for every Christian to overcome oppressive feelings of guilt and regret.

You may wonder, as I did, what the source of these feelings of regret and false-guilt is if it’s not from God, as the Bible says – “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

That means the source must be our carnal nature (“self-condemnation”) and/or an outside dark spiritual force. I believe it’s probably some of both. The Bible tells believers that our old nature is at war with our new nature: “…the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh…” (Galatians 5:17). The Bible also says that Satan is our “accuser” (Revelation 12:10) and that he attempts to negatively influence our mind, will and emotions through people and in other ways.

But regardless of what the source is, it’s clear that the last thing any negative source wants is for regretful thoughts to provoke thanks-giving to God, so this is the most powerful weapon against these things. Form a habit of thanking God for forgiving you (of the things you regret) every time a regret comes to mind. I promise you that the power these regrets have to cause sadness and feelings of shame and condemnation will begin to diminish and you will start to see your past in its proper context – God’s context.

The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of putting regrets in the proper context. He repeatedly referred back to his regrets of persecuting, imprisoning and even participating in the killing of Christians; he even said that he wasn’t even “fit to be called an apostle…” (1 Corinthians 15:9). But then he added the following words that I’ve adopted and hope every follower of Christ will apply to themselves – “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

If we’re allowing our regrets to affect our joy, peace and hope, His grace is proving to be vain to us; we’re essentially telling Jesus that His suffering and death wasn’t enough to take away our former sins and mistakes. It’s a new year; it’s time to let your regrets go!

“…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“… one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

“You can’t go back and change the beginning,
but you can start where you are and change the ending.” C.S. Lewis