Identifying Painful Paths

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! ESV Psalm 139:23-24

A literal Hebrew translation:
23- Search me, God, and know my inner man/mind/heart/will; Examine me and know my disquieting thoughts (the things that make me anxious)
24- And see if there is a road/way/path/journey of pain or idolatry in me, and lead me in the way/path/journey of long duration/of old/futurity

The RVLT (Robert’s Very Loose Translation)
Search me O God and know the deepest parts of my soul; Examine me closely and know the thoughts that trouble me the most (that I may not even be aware of). Especially show me the ways I keep running off into idolatry and pain and instead lead me in the safe path that stretches behind and before me to eternity.

In other words, David realized in his heart and life he kept running off God’s path into idolatrous and painful ways of coping with life. Similar to a rut made by running water that runs off the road, David kept slipping into the proverbial ditch and finding himself coping with life in unhealthy idolatrous/sinful ways. He asks God to reveal those paths and lead Him in a narrow, healthy path. May we ask God to do the same for us on a daily basis. God will gladly search our hearts, know us, and keep us on the safe (yet narrow) path–the path that stretches behind and before us to eternity. May we allow God to search our hearts, know our thoughts, and lead us on this safe path when our feet so often run off it into dangerous coping mechanisms.

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Standing in Awe

My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and He feared Me. He stood in awe of My name. Malachi 2:5 ESV

At sporting events we jump to our feet when an athlete completes and amazing play. At weddings, we stand to glimpse the bride. We stand in respect as a flag draped coffin goes by. Hearing the roar of fighter jets causes us to stand and crane our necks for a glimpse of the Blue Angels or the F-35 or whatever we think it may be. Deeply rooted in our humanity God has hard-wired a standing response when we are overcome with awe and emotion. Why is it then, that when we attend religious services, when we pray, when we read Scripture, when we interact with God almighty we find ourselves only standing when told?

Rather than being guilted into standing, consider the first part of the verse above. God made a covenant of life and peace…with a people who deserved judgment and death. God in His mercy and grace offered life and peace instead of condemnation and separation. This amazing truth begins to explain the natural standing response. Our righteous, holy God offers this amazing covenant to those who deserve it least. First, this should strike fear in our hearts. Why would God do such a thing? Is there a catch? What does He expect? These thoughts cause us to live in fear of Him, and while many theologians argue we shouldn’t be afraid of God, I think there is a certain level of fear that should exist when we come before our creator. As we live in fear before Him, standing becomes a natural response. We stand in awe of who God is and all He has done.

Are you standing in awe of God today? Have you meditated on the true meaning of the gospel? Jesus Christ, who never sinned, became sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness that He is. He determines to reverse our lot, bring life and peace to us who deserved the opposite. Dwelling on this thought will raise us to our feet in honor of our God. Next time you worship, do so standing…not out of guilt but out of fear and gratitude before the God who saved you.

A Beautiful God

For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! ESV Zechariah 9:17

My wife and I watched the Netflix movie Dumplin last night. It wasn’t a great movie, but its message ran against our cultural definition of beauty–stressing that all women are beautiful, regardless of size. This morning I read the foreword to the next book on my reading pile: Rethinking Sexuality: God’s design and why it matters (by Juli Slattery, foreword by Gary Thomas). He argued we have allowed the beauty of God’s design for our sexuality to be high-jacked by the world. Even searching for the picture that tops this blog post showed such a contrast between God’s beautiful creation and the world’s decimation of this beauty.

God often ties together various strands of our lives, teaching us through the convergence of multiple sources. That happened for me this morning as I came across the verse above where God describes His own goodness and beauty and reflected on the concepts of beauty I have come across in the last few hours. Because Satan hates God, he has done everything he can to destroy our view of God’s good and beauty, and to replace it with a false understanding of goodness and beauty that can never satisfy. This lust for a worldly beauty that is both unattainable and ultimately unsatisfying leaves us ever searching for true beauty and goodness. Ironically, we spend our days pawing through the garbage heaps of lust, porn and desire, seeing traces of God’s beauty imprinted on His creation, but never looking up to see God in all of His own beauty and goodness.

Perhaps the greatest mystery is why we reject reveling in God’s beauty and goodness, only to try to find satisfaction in mere reflections of His beauty (and warped, wounded and broken reflections at that). Satan has so blinded us to the beauty and goodness of God, that we spend our days chasing fragments of this beauty instead of simply sitting and basking in the beauty of God. May you today be different. May you look up. May you embrace the beauty and goodness of God, beginning with the beauty and goodness of Jesus. He gave Himself for us to redeem us, and as we gaze into this gospel, may our lives be transformed by the genuine beauty and goodnesss of God. Great is His goodness, and how great His beauty!

Shepherding in God’s Strength

And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. ESV Micah 5:4

Do you ever feel that God has called you to do something so far beyond anything that you have the power to do? Ever give it your best shot and come up short? Perhaps you try your best to be an awesome parent–patiently instructing your children, being firm in discipline, yet showing grace. If you are like me, you fail quite often. Perhaps you try your best to reflect Christ Jesus at work–looking for opportunities to share your faith, pray for your coworkers, and put forth your best effort as unto the Lord and not unto men. Again, if you are like me, you try and fail quite often. Perhaps you try to reach your neighbors–great ideas like a cookout, getting to know them, making sure you always wave. And again, you never quite get it right, at least not like you envisioned it.

Be encouraged! Look at the verse above. It’s talking about Jesus and how He would shepherd. Notice how Jesus, in all of His perfection and power shepherds. He does two things. First, He shepherds, not in His strength, but in the strength of the LORD. Secondly, He shepherds not in His own power, but in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God! This absolutely blew me away. If Jesus didn’t shepherd in His own strength, but only did it through the strength of the LORD and the majesty of His name, how can we even begin to do things without the power of the Trinity in us?

As you parent today, may you do it not in your own strength but in the strength of the Lord. Jesus has died for you, God has adopted you, the Holy Spirit lives in you. Draw from that strength and the majesty of the great name of our God. At work, draw from the example of Jesus, the call of God and the prompting of the Spirit. With your neighbors, let the Holy Spirit open doors to share the good news of Jesus when God enables you to do it. Don’t shepherd in your own strength–join Jesus in shepherding in God’s power.

God’s Splendor in Children

…from their young children you take away my splendor forever. ESV Micah 2:9b

This verse sent chills down my spine this morning. Perhaps it’s because I’m reading Unwanted: How sexual brokenness reveals our way to healing by Jay Stringer and had just completed the chapter on sexual abuse. Perhaps it’s because I’m wrestling with the horrors of trauma and abuse inflicted on children in the foster system. Perhaps it’s because my wife and I are wrestling with a possible adoption of kids who have had God’s splendor taken away from them forever. Regardless, the verse hit me hard.

Apparently God places some of His splendor on children. Think about that for a moment. Is that why children are so innocent? So beautiful? So full of life and energy? Is this why Jesus loves the little children so much and wants them to come to Him? Is this why children’s ministry is so vital in the church? Is this why we find ourselves repulsed by those who molest and hurt children? Could it be that God not only places His splendor on children, but that adults can cruelly and forcibly remove that splendor from them? This thought weighs so heavily on me this morning. Child abuse (whether sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual) can remove the splendor of the most high God from a child. No wonder the impacts are so great and last a lifetime. We sin not only against a child, but against their creator, who so carefully crafted them in His image, breathed life into them and placed His splendor on them. And we take it away…forever.

What’s to be done with this truth? First, recognize the seriousness of child abuse. Secondly, work diligently to protect children. Prosecute those who abuse. Protect the children in your care. Thirdly, rejoice when you see the splendor of God in children. May God’s glory radiate clearly in every child you interact with today. Finally, for those who have had God’s splendor forcibly ripped from them, know that in Christ Jesus, all can be restored. Give your life to restore the splendor of God in those who have lost it. Mentor, adopt, advocate, encourage, foster, coach, and of course protect those who are most vulnerable. Pray God will place His favor and splendor on them once again. Celebrate the beauty of God as seen in His splendor in the lives of children.

Deceitful Hearts

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” ESV Jeremiah 17:9-10

We think too highly of ourselves. We think of our hearts as basically good and positive, and we think of ourselves as generous and kind. However, Jeremiah reminds us that ultimately our hearts are desperately sick, and we often deceive even ourselves. In reality our hearts are like the broken, dead leaf in the picture above. We are self-centered, self-worshiping, self-idolizing people. We may not like this description, but it’s ultimately true.

In the following verse, God explains His role. He ultimately searches our hearts and tests our minds. In doing so, He gives to us according to our deeds, which generally means His justice demands He repay us with suffering and judgment. However, in Christ Jesus we have hope. In Christ, we have a new heart, and the Spirit of Christ indwells us. When God looks at our broken heart, He sees the light of Christ shining through (that is, if we have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus His Son through faith alone). When God looks at us, He is able to give to us according to the fruit of Jesus’ work for us. All the good of Jesus is credited to our hearts, because His light shines through us.

May you be encouraged in this way today. Yes, our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick…so sick we can’t even know them. But, through faith in Jesus Christ, His love shines in our hearts. God sees this, and rewards us with His grace. May our hearts radiate Jesus’ light and life to others. Be encouraged my friend!

Idolizing Marriage

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. ESV 1 Corinthians 7:8

I grew up idolizing marriage. Actually I probably was more idolizing sex, and marriage was the ticket to sex (at least in conservative Christianity). Marriage and children was the expected outcome of all good Christians. Save yourself for marriage. Marry the person God has for you. Be fruitful and multiply. Live happily ever after. Could there be any other possible outcome in life?

I’m reading a book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien), and in the first chapter they debunk this glorification of marriage. To be sure, the Bible does hold marriage in high regard. And sexual relations should only take place in a committed marriage. But the Bible also glorifies singleness. Paul argues people should consider it a calling. Jesus (who lived single!) also indicated some are called by God to be eunuchs and taught that in the resurrection, none of us will be married. Perhaps in Christians circles, perhaps in our fear of divorce, immorality and the like, marriage has become the panacea for all problems. Unfortunately, this view ignores the strain marriage brings. Any couple that is happily married will tell you marriage takes tremendous work–work that sometimes diverts our focus from the kingdom, just as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 7. So does the Bible make marriage out to be a bad thing? Not at all. We just need to have a balanced approach to life as the Bible does. God considers both marriage and singleness to be equally honorable calls. Many of my single friends really want to be married and many of my married friends desperately want to be single. In this conundrum, we first need to realize both callings are good. Then we can begin to discern God’s calling on our particular situation.

Are you single? Have you embraced this calling (at least for this season)? God may lead you to be married in the future, or He may lead you to remain single for a season, or lifetime. All are good options. Are you married? Why did you get married? Had you idolized marriage? What troubles has that caused for you? Once married we stay married, but we need to identify and repent of the idolization that led us to marriage. Ask God to open your eyes to these things so that you might fully embrace the lifestyle to which He has called you.

Failing Forward

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” ESV Matthew 14:28-31

Much has been said about today’s helicopter parents who constantly hover over their children to make sure nothing goes wrong for them. Psychologists have observed these kids actually are more prone to anxiety and depression because they don’t know how to handle failure in life. Perhaps that’s why Jesus was the opposite of a helicopter parent, allowing His disciples to fall…and learn from their failures.

Perhaps no better example exists than Peter–one of Jesus’ most outspoken and powerful apostles, but also one who fell a lot. In the story mentioned above, Peter’s faith and impulsiveness drive him to walk on the water to Jesus in the midst of a storm. It works for a while, but then the wind catches his attention, taking his gaze off Jesus and decimating his faith as he begins to sink. Jesus reaches out his hand and grabs him, but at the same time, uses the opportunity to teach Peter the value of faith. Had Jesus never allowed Peter to sink, or had He not taken the opportunity to challenge Peter’s faith, a valuable teaching opportunity would have been lost.

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor speaks of “Falling Up,” or learning from our failures and growing through them. Parents who never allow their children to fail ultimately set them up for greater failure, or are forced to constantly bail their children out, even as adults. If you have parents (or direct reports, or people you mentor, or influence), make sure you allow them to fail. Then when they do, take time to address what caused the failure and help them develop a better plan for the next time around. This way they don’t keep repeating the same mistakes. Jesus took this approach and over three short years developed twelve men that changed the world. Let’s learn from Jesus and allow our children to fail forward as they thrive in Christ.

Passing the Baton

Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. 7 But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me… ESV 1 Kings 2:6-7

We often live for retirement at our work, and on one level I understand. Work is hard, and it’s nice to look forward to being done. Or perhaps God is calling us to a new job, and we only have a limited time left. Regardless, at some point, all of us transition jobs, careers and callings, and how we choose to do that says a lot about our spiritual formation. Wise leaders spend time preparing their replacements and then adequately passing off their responsibilities.

As David grew older and increasingly removed from the daily life of his kingdom, cracks began to appear. Two of his sons led revolts and tried to install themselves as king. The first one created a civil war, while David averted the second through wise counsel from his closest friends. When David installed Solomon as king, he didn’t just turn him loose to reign. Instead, he spent time coaching Solomon on the important first steps he needed to take as king. Part of that included explaining to Solomon who the good and bad guys were in the kingdom. There were certain situations David hadn’t dealt with. Perhaps he had lost the will to challenge these evil people. Perhaps he felt he owed them certain things. Regardless, now that Solomon was in charge, he urged his son to sack certain people and deal loyally and faithfully with others.

While we must be careful in what we say about others, we can learn from David’s example the importance of passing our callings off to younger people. I’m forever grateful for the work of my predecessor. He candidly shared with me the joys and sorrows he had while pastoring our church, and his wisdom and insights have guided me well after his retirement. May you do the same. Don’t be afraid of the next generation. Don’t keep your knowledge to yourself. Don’t force them to learn through failure and mistakes. Like David, pass the baton of leadership by sharing everything you can to help the next generation. Then they will stand on your shoulders and thrive. That’s good leadership.

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