Will God Come Through?

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
(Genesis 15:5–6 ESV)

Abram was 88 years old when God promised him a son who would multiply his offspring into billions of people. Abram wanted kids. God said that He would provide. And to Abram’s credit, he believed it. God said it, Abram believed it, and Abram’s faith was counted to him as righteousness.

Now keep in mind that Abram had just heard the literal voice of God tell him that against all odds, he and his wife would have a child at their ancient age. But when Sarai heard God’s promise, she unconvinced Abram–she got him to believe that God didn’t actually mean what He said because it was too unbelievable. So, in faithlessness, Abram “took” one of Sarai’s servants, and this servant bore a son who would be a thorn in Abram’s progeny’s side for the next, what.. 6,000 years or so.

Fast-forward thirteen painful years. God provided. Just like he said. Abram begot Isaac, and the rest is history.

1) God told Abram and Sarai that they would have a child
2) Abram and Sarai did not believe God was telling the truth
3) Abram and Sarai decided to “go rogue” and take it into their own hands
4) Disaster ensues
5) God remains faithful and gives them a son 13 years later

I live this all the time. I respond to my life in anger, frustration, and faithlessness and prove that I don’t really believe that God is Ultimate Good and wants the Ultimate Good for me.

I’m finding out that the point at which I respond in anger, frustration, and faithlessness is the point at which I refuse to believe that God is telling the truth. When I respond faithlessly, I am not believing that my path is actually the most gracious, best path I could ever traverse. My solutions are more immediately tangible, and therefore I believe that they are better.

But of course, it doesn’t work that way. The more I intervene, the worse everything gets.

I’m not saying that we should all sit back and wait for God to make everything better, but if I thoroughly believed that the Father will graciously give me all good things in Jesus (Romans 8:32), I would never get angry. I would be free to feel pain and never grow resentful. I would be able to absorb anything because I would be convinced that it wasn’t meant to destroy me–it might undo me, but never destroy me.

The problem is believing all this when the stakes are high and all the cards are on the table. I don’t know how to get myself to believe like that, but God does. I need Him to enable me to see the whole screen–not just a few pixels. He is loving. He does care. I just don’t get it all the time.

When Sin Looks Good

Living a Christian life  believing the truth and authority of the Word of God is a safe place to be. He’s in control of every painful experience, He leads His children through the valleys of the shadows of death into infinitely greener pastures, and He fills every single soul that longs for freedom and fullness.

But our experience is often not so straightforward.

I read: “I am the Bread of life, he who comes to Me will not hunger (John 6:35).”
I feel: “The things that seem to satisfy my mind and my heart are diametrically opposed to Him and to His character.”

I read: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).”
I feel: “When I give my anxieties to Jesus, nothing seems to happen. I wait for Him to do something with them and it seems like He doesn’t do anything.”

It seems easier to ignore John and Peter and look for my own way to solve my own problems and satisfy myself.

The third chapter of Genesis begins quite simply: “The serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field the LORD had made.” Why do I forget this? Why am I so surprised that I think sin is going to be more fulfilling than submitting my will to my all-knowing Father’s? Why don’t I believe that he will graciously give me all things in His giving of Christ on my behalf in the story of the gospel?

The Enemy isn’t an idiot. Not only does he know what he’s doing, he is the best at what he does. He is literally the most crafty. Nobody is better than him at tricking people into believing that what feels good and seems most satisfying actually is. I should not be surprised when I read His words in disbelief because I look around and seem content living a life of unrepentant sin. I should expect to be lulled to sleep by the delicious fields of poppies that cause me to become blind to every lie I believe and every destructive decision I make. I am a human, and so I get deceived like one.

But thankfully, our God is in the business of intervening.

As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. (Genesis 19:15-16)

Neither Lot nor his family were in any kind of hurry to listen to what the messengers were telling them. They were content living in a city that was hours away from burning to the ground. They thought they were safe. They liked their house. They threw darts, shot pool, and shared some local microbrews with their neighbors. But because of the mercy of God, the angels forcibly removed them from their home and from everything they loved in their city so that their lives would be saved. He didn’t have to, but He did. Because that’s the kind of God that He is.

Now I recognize that He doesn’t always work like that. He doesn’t always yank everybody out of perilous circumstances. It is totally possible that I could go years of my life believing lies and being convinced that I’m pursuing life when I am running headlong towards the diving board, catapulting myself into death’s pool. It’s only by His mercy that I don’t.

We have a very real enemy who will do whatever he can to dismember our souls. And we have a more real Savior who is able to uncover lies and bring the deepest, most thorough level of restoration and peace that we could think to long for.

But It Looks So Good

Pictures of Grace: Grace Is Not about Me

And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19 ESV)

In Part Two of Tullian Tchividjian’s sermon series Pictures of Grace, Tullian takes the story from Luke 17 about Jesus’ healing the ten lepers, nine of whom never come back to utter a word or any expression of thanks for totally unmerited grace they received from Jesus. Jesus didn’t simply touch a scratch on some guy’s arm and it stopped bleeding. He gave them their entire lives back. Lepers were forced, by law, to live outside of the city so that they did not contaminate everyone else. Jesus not only saved them from their illness, but He gave them the chance to join their husbands and their wives again. They could hug their children again for the first time in years. They could worship YHWH again with the people in the temple.

All of this, but the nine did not come back.

When I have gone out of my way and sacrificed what I considered a great deal for somebody and never received a “thank you” or any sign of thankfulness, I usually get upset. My first thought is something about how I should never have wasted my time. I’m really glad that I’m not Jesus. That’s not how Jesus works. Jesus doesn’t save his Grace Capital for those who will recognize all that He’s done, because then grace would be about those to whom He distributes it rather than about how gracious He really is. Jesus doesn’t save grace for those who will respond. Jesus saves grace for those to whom He wants to give grace. I get it wrong when I think that God loves me only when I understand how awful I am. I get it right when I understand that He loves me because He wants to and that I will never understand how unworthy I am in comparison to how perfect He is. Tullian puts it this way:

We make a big mistake when we conclude that grace is first and foremost about the recipient. It’s not. Grace is all about the giver. It’s all about the giver. It magnifies the giver. What this story is intended to do is not make us say, “Wait a second, this one deserves it, these nine didn’t–Jesus, come on, you’re really not doing the nine any favors.” … Jesus says, “You don’t get it.” Grace has nothing to do with the recipient. That’s the very nature of it. If the good blessings that I enjoy were dependent on my good behavior, you and I would be in big trouble. That’s what makes grace so amazing.

Blog - Pictures of Grace Pt. 2

Why I Don’t Evangelize

The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him. (John 7:11-13 ESV)

It’s not that the people didn’t like Jesus. They thought he was a great guy. They had probably heard Him speak a few times. They had seen Him do some miracles and probably even knew a few who had been healed.

Still, after all this, they didn’t speak about Him in public because they were afraid of the Jews.

Is that the bottom of what’s wrong with me? Is my problem that I fear man? Will eradicating my fear of man cure me of not being able to publicly evangelize?

Now fearing what men will think and how they will relate to me is a legitimate problem that should be addressed, but I’m not sure that it is the most fundamental problem, because here’s what I realized:

I already am an evangelist who regularly evangelizes, even when I know that the person I’m talking to will probably disagree with me.

I regularly tell my friends, family, coworkers, and other random people how good my favorite Thai restaurant is. I exclaim the glories of the Pad Thai, even if I know they will disagree. But I don’t really care what they think. There are numerous Thai restaurants in Minneapolis, and I know quite a few people who prefer a different restaurant than mine. I know they will disagree. I know that the chances of changing their minds are slim to none. But there’s no way that I stop talking about how good this restaurant is, even if I’m the only one in the city who thinks so.

I think it is similar with sharing my faith. The reason I don’t is that I am more convinced of the pain in the rejection I might face than I am convinced of the reality that Jesus is better and more satisfying than anyone or anything else. The fundamental problem is not that I need to care less about what other people think about me. The fundamental problem is that I’m not sold down to my bones that the good news of Christ-for-us really raises the dead to life and that who He is satisfies.

If I really believed it like I think I do, I would talk about more it than I know I do.

Why I Don't Evangelize FINAL

Pictures of Grace

I’ve lately been re-listening to Tullian Tchividjian’s series from 2011, called “Pictures of Grace.” In this six-part series, he pulls examples from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that display the undeserved grace of God through Jesus disrupting our graceless understanding of right and wrong and replacing it with the one-way love of Jesus as we see it in the gospel.

After finishing my freshman year of college, I felt a very particular need for my Savior in some very particular ways and knew that I was powerless to affect any meaningful, God-honoring change in my life. This sermon series was probably the most life-giving and revitalizing series that the Lord used during that period of time, and so I want to share it with you. Here is a link for the sermon and the thought below to encourage you as it has encouraged me over the last 4-or-so years. Taste and see that the Lord is good because of who He is and how He works totally apart from anything we can do or offer him. The restoration of our hearts cannot be dependent upon how resilient we are to absorb discomfort, but rather how much we truly understand our need for him all day, every day.

The only people who begin to get better are the people who realize that their relationship to God doesn’t depend on them getting better. When that grips your heart, you actually start to get better. Sin loses its grip on you.

Blog - Pictures of Grace Pt. 1

Let Your Kingdom Come

Let Your Kingdom come.

I’ve heard about this theme over and over in the last few weeks. Maybe it’s all a coincidence. Maybe it’s a Christian fad. Maybe the Lord wants me to pay attention.

I’ve been spending time in A Praying Life by Paul Miller, and he talks about about how he was on a business trip with one of his children who has a fairly serious disability. On this trip, he felt wave after wave of defeat, deflation, and discouragement over how it seemed like God wasn’t answering any of his prayers. Then, he writes on page 212,

As I sat there on the plane, frazzled, with Kim melting down next to me, I thought, “This was a mistake. I will never do this again.” What I didn’t realize was that the Kingdom had come. It is always that way with the Kingdom. It is so strange, so low; it is seldom recognized. It looks like a mistake.

What a funny way to talk about the Kingdom. When I think about God “bringing the Kingdom come,” I think about large masses of people turning from sin to faith in the Gospel. I think about generational curses being broken. I think about painful family conflicts that have been festering for years that finally resolving. I think about young men and women making grand decisions to deny selfish pursuits and give up everything to pursue the Lord and His mission.

God does do those things. He does them all the time. I’m just not sure that’s all of what “Let Your Kingdom come” means exactly.

When Jesus asks, “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” He is, by necessity, asking for the destruction of all Kingdoms that are not in alignment with His Father’s. He is asking for the forces of Light to make war with the forces of Darkness. He is asking for sin, death, and the grave to be dealt blows that they can’t recover from.

We are heirs to His Kingdom, but we aren’t fully right. We are waiting for total resurrection in a broken sin-laced body that is awaiting it’s total redemption. Therefore, when the King conquers a field in the Kingdom of Darkness, a piece of our sinful flesh dies. We experience the refreshing cleansing power of His Kingdom shining light into darkness. Generational healing is easy for the King–it’s just not usually painless. For the Kingdom of Light to shine forth, the Kingdom of Darkness must first be overwhelmed and destroyed. The Kingdom of Light shining light into places of darkness reminds me of the way C.S. Lewis describes Aslan as Aslan removes the crusty scales from Eustace the dragon.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Praying “Let Your kingdom come” is a prayer that will be gloriously answered and the heirs of the Kingdom will celebrate when it comes. When the King of Kings establishes His Rule over and above the rule of all other powerless pretenders, His children will dance and shout for joy that Love has come. Not without a fight. Not without casualties. Not without the death of how I think the world should work. But with a lot of joy.

I daresay a bunch of it.

Devos: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Dat!

What’s the number one reason that you don’t spend more time than you do “doing devotions?” Are you working too hard? Are you too physically active? Are your artistic ventures taking longer than you planned for? Have you overcommitted yourself to social events?

Here’s the bottom line. You are busy.

I know. There are only 24 hours in a day. I know. You need to work the amount that you do to make the money that you need. I know. This electronic culture makes it so easy to get distracted by good and important things like sermon videos, Christian blogs, e-communication, text messaging, Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat, and other good important things that necessitate immediate attention throughout the day. There’s no way that we would be able to find any opportunity to get rid of these obligations.

Let’s turn and glean from the wisdom of one Rect. Lewis Bayly, author of Practice of Piety: Directing a Christian to Walk, That He May Please God. He addresses this very objection:

But it may be thou wilt say, that thy business will not permit thee so much time, as to read every morning a chapter…

In other words: back then, everybody was also too busy. This is how Bayly responds:

O man, remember that thy life is but short, and that all this business is but for the use of this short life; but salvation or damnation is everlasting! Rise up, therefore, every morning by so much time the earlier: defraud thy foggy flesh of so much sleep; but rob not thy soul of her food, nor God of his service; and serve the Almighty duly whilst thou hast time and health.

So maybe you miss a text message. You don’t reply to a Snapchat. You aren’t aware of how many Instagram followers you have, or worse, you stop using Instagram altogether. You might even work a little less during the week. But at the end of your life, who cares? There is life after this, and it lasts forever. In Bayly’s words, get up earlier, and feed your soul because the realm of spiritual existence is far more real and far more lasting than this one.

It is true–we do have important, and even good things towards which it is worth giving our time. However, one thing I have been learning is that the fight of life is not between what’s good and bad, but what is better and what is best.

It is good to work long, hard days. It is good to spend time discipling other men and women and it is also good to be discipled by men and women. However, just because it is good doesn’t mean that it should be done.

What is good, spending time until having a deep theological conversation until 1AM, or playing Halo until 1AM?
What is best, regularly spending time having deep theological conversations until 1AM and then waking up with an hour or less before work or class, or being disciplined in bedtimes in order to arrange one’s heart for the pressures and stresses of the day?

This can be a difficult question because sometimes the line is quite fine, and each man and woman is responsible to be fully convinced in his or her mind before our Creator God. Bayly’s exhortation gives us an eternal lens through which we can hope to make more faithful decisions. The more we assess our days in the view of what really matters, the better we will be able to see the difference between the better and the best.