Pure Joy

29 01 2013

Have you ever had a bad day?  I know.  It was a silly question.  We all have bad days.  Some have bad weeks and others face years of struggle.  The longer we live the more we understand that life is not fair and suffering is a reality we must deal with.  Most people intellectually understand we need to respond well during difficult times.  To help us feel guilty we see stories of someone who has it way worse than we do but handles it with much more grace and dignity than us.

To increase our guilt the Bible seems to support this high standard of handling difficult situations with a positive outlook.  Take a look at what James said in his letter:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2 NIV)

I did a study of the verse and while the translators who wrote the NIV used the word “pure,” if you look at the original Greek the letter was written in you could also use the word “all.”  Imagine having a perspective of all joy while facing a trial.

So if you are a “good” Christian you walk around with a fake smile and praise God for the trial you are going through.  But what if the Bible is right?  What if there is this joy that is all-encompassing you can have as you go through a trial?  I believe that level of joy is available and waiting for us.

To get there we need to take two steps.  First, we have to believe this was not the way God wants things to be.  For proof just look at his reaction in Genesis Chapter 3.  We live in a fallen world.  This is why one of the pictures we use is the picture of God redeeming us or saving us.  This is why we look forward to Jesus returning.  We don’t expect Jesus to just stop by Wal-Mart on his way to Jerusalem.  We expect Jesus to bring an end to this fallen world and restore creation to God’s original plan.

Second, we need to see God’s response was to become personally involved and face suffering directly.  Jesus faced a wide range of pain and suffering before ultimately facing the cross.  Bottom line God gets it.

That’s when it hit me.  Those moments of all-encompassing joy happen in those intimate times of prayer when I am crying out to God and he hugs me and I know he understands.  The hug feels like a deep inner peace wrapped in compassion.  It is powerful.  In that moment my perspective changes and I am able to have a joy that puts things into perspective.  I am also reminded that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story.  He conquered sin and death and put suffering on notice that it’s time is limited.

I know there are a wide range of responses to what I just said.  For some they fully agree and have experienced those hugs.  For others they have lost that sense of connection with God or are angry with God and the last thing they want is to have God hug them.

Books have been written on this topic and a short devotional will not answer everything.  I would tell you that trials are the point where theology (our understanding of God) and practical life meet face to face.  We are forced to come to terms with what we believe about God and ourselves.

For those of you who have experienced those hugs I encourage you to spend some time thanking God.

For those who need a hug I encourage you to take a systematic theology class….not really.  I encourage you to not give up and to seek God in the midst of your trial.  It may mean talking with someone about what you believe and adjusting your understanding of God.  You may have to wait a little longer with confidence that at just the right time God will give you that hug.  The peace is amazing, the compassion is phenomenal and the love in incredible.

God is good.  I believe it.  I have experienced it and I hope you will too.

Double fisted grip

16 08 2012

Today we drop our oldest son off at college.  There is a crazy mix of emotions.  We are excited for him.  We are proud of him.  We are scared.  We are sad.  We will miss him.  When I was sitting in the parent orientation and they were showing a video on dorm life, I could feel the tears trying to surface.  My son is leaving home.  I have to let go.

I am thankful God never does.  In John 10:28-29 Jesus gives us this picture of his grip on those who follow him.

28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

He is confident that no one can grab them from him.  Then, He goes a step further and says his Father also has his hand in the picture.  I love this picture of a double fisted grip.  I see it as us being in Jesus’ hand and Jesus’ hand being in his Father’s hand.

When our son was 10, I demonstrated this by putting a small rock in my hand and then wrapping my other hand around it.  I challenged him to try and get the rock.  He worked hard but was only able to pry a couple of fingers off the outer hand.  He still had to make through the second hand.  Needless to say the rock stayed secure in my double fisted grip.  (After he wrestled through High School and worked out all summer I am not sure I would try this now.)

How does this apply to our lives?  It gives us confidence as we face the day.  Situations and circumstances will constantly change.   We will have good days and not so good days.  No matter what our day brings at the end of it we will still be in the double fisted grip of God.  This leads to a change in perspective.  It is easy to see that this life is not always fair.  God sees it from a much broader perspective that includes all of eternity.  As I am sitting in God’s hand, I can begin to look at the world from God’s perspective (much easier said than done).   God never promised us an easy or safe life.  He promised a rich and rewarding life.  We live out our faith trusting God has a better perspective.  This gives us confidence.  A continuous loop is started.  As our confidence grows, we gain a better perspective which increases our confidence.

I want my son to have a rich and rewarding life.  I know he will face hard times.  I know he will face times when life will be unfair.  I also know God will hold him in that double fisted grip.  I will have to let go and have confidence God won’t (also much easier said than done).

Sometime today take a small object and put it in your own double fisted grip.  Thank God for his double fisted grip on your life.  My prayer is this simple exercise will increase your confidence and change your perspective.

It’s complicated

16 02 2012

One of the people I listen to is Tim Keller.  He is a pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.  I like both his teaching style and his depth.  I was listening to one of his sermon’s about struggling with personal issues.  What leaped out at me was the simple idea: it’s complicated.  He did a great job of illustrating how sometimes a physical condition will impact our emotional wellbeing, how sometimes our emotional wellbeing impacts our physical wellbeing and how a moral issue can harm our emotional wellbeing.  Our tendency is to try and make it simple.  The medical doctor will try to connect everything to the physical ailment.  The counselor will tie everything to an emotional issue.  The religious person will make everything a question of morality or the amount of a person’s faith.  The reality is the water is muddier than that.  Even as I listed the simplistic ways doctors, counselors and religious people handle situations, you were most likely thinking of examples of people who don’t fit that mold.  Tim Keller was primarily focused on passages in Proverbs.  The title was called the “Wounded Spirit” and it podcasted on August 5, 2011.  I would like to take his idea and take a broader look at our relationship with God.

If we were honest, we tend to oversimplify God’s view of us and our circumstance.  We will keep God at a distance because we already know the “right answer.”  We see the problem as being more complex and we are not sure how we can follow the “right answer” given the situation we are in.

Exodus 1 tells the story of midwives put in a situation where they were told to kill Hebrew boys as they were born.  They did not kill the infants (right answer).  However, they lied to Pharaoh about it (wrong answer?).  What if they had told the truth?  Pharaoh may have simply killed them and replaced them with midwives who would follow his orders.  This was an incredibly difficult situation.  The Bible does not try to make it simple.  God blesses the midwives for protecting the children.  So, does this mean it is okay to lie?  Of course not.  It means sometimes life is hard and there are not always simple answers.  However, God was right there helping those women walk a difficult road.

Fast-forward to Jesus and we see an interesting pattern.  There is no pattern.  For two blind men Jesus touched them and they were healed (Matthew 9:27-30).  For one man he spits in his eyes and only partially heals the man and then completely restores his sight (Mark 8:22-26).  Another time he put mud in the person’s eye and the man washes out the mud in a pool (John 9:6-7).  Why the differences?  I don’t know but I am going to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt.  I bet there was special significance for each one of them.  In fact, study Jesus’ life and you see over and over again he treats each person in a way the person needed to be treated.  His focus was on the person and not just taking care of the problem.

I have to pause.  I have just taken one story from the Old Testament and briefly touched on the life of Jesus.  The Bible paints a very realistic picture of life.  As you take time to read and study it, you will find a rich and deep understanding of life and an amazing picture of God.

What does this mean for our day to day lives?  I believe the implications are huge.  As we invite God into our situation, we can have confidence God understands the complexity.  God may simply touch an area and we will see a dramatic change.  God may give us a partial glimpse at what he is doing and we will have to wait to get a clearer picture.  God may have us go and do something before we see God’s work.  If you are like me, it won’t always make sense.  However, if I can give God the benefit of the doubt and assume he is more concerned about me than just solving my problem I get pretty excited.

This also helps me stay balanced as I help others.  Where am I being too simplistic?  Am I focused on the person or just solving their problem?  Am I looking to God to give me wisdom and insight?  Do I have confidence God understands the complexity of the situation better than I do?  If we can remember to keep ourselves balanced and focused on the right things we will find ourselves in step with God and a blessing to the people around us.

See how easy is it is?  Just repeat after me: It’s complicated.

Avoiding the Mediocre Life – part 1.

20 09 2011

“So King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” (Acts 26:19)

This was said by Paul later in his ministry. The vision he was referring to was given in Acts 9. God tells Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Fast forward to chapter 26 and Paul is before a Gentile king. He was living out the incredible life God had envisioned for him.

One of my mentors connected the dots for me on this story. He pointed out that while we often look at our current circumstances or dwell on the past, God is looking to the future and sees how we will be. In Acts 9 Paul was a persecutor of the church. Ananias tried to remind God of Paul’s past and why Paul was on his way to Damascus in the first place. God understood who Paul was but God was looking at Paul faithfully standing before King Agrippa in the future.
How does this apply to you and me? We don’t have to let our past or our current circumstances derail the plan God has for us. God has a vision of us being a great friend, a faithful spouse, a terrific parent and for some leaders in the church. Our part is to trust in God’s vision.

The first step in trusting God’s vision is to remember God is more concerned with who we are than what we do. Often times we bog ourselves down with creating a huge “to do” list for God hoping that if we finish all the items on the list then God will be happy with us. This is a part of our accomplishment driven culture. We naturally define success by what we have done. Now if we apply this logic to a one year old child, it falls apart. What can a one year old accomplish other than looking cute and making all the people in the room talk funny? We don’t hold the child accountable for what the child has done instead we enjoy the child for who he or she is. Compared to God we are at best one year old children.

I want to dig into this idea a little deeper. Think about the last time you were with a child. What was your focus? First, if you are like me, you want to check out their toys. Kids give us a great excuse to play and some of their toys are pretty cool. What was your focus when they did something wrong? For the most part you focused on their character. You guided them on how to share or play fairly. You taught them cheating is wrong and pulling hair is not an effective conflict resolution strategy.

If we can see that God is focused on our character and who we are as a person, then we start to focus on the right things.

This week I encourage you to spend some time in prayer and ask God about your character. What are those areas you can celebrate because you are strong in them and what are areas you need to work on? Working on those areas is a matter of praying, reading the bible to get God’s perspective and often times having someone holding us accountable to help us change.

Now you might be wondering how this ties in with my title “avoiding the mediocre life.” I am glad you asked. This sets the stage for what we will talk about next week. As we see God molding who we are, the stage is set for us to have an incredible impact on the world around us and have a life that is anything but mediocre.

God Bless,