Finding God in the Ruins

FindingGodFinding God in the Ruins (David C. Cook, 2016)

Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain is the first book by Matt Bays.  Matt Bays is a writer, speaker, and a musician “with a passion for calling people out of their hiding places.”  Pastor Bays believes suffering and doubt are necessary components- even the very essence- of faith.  We can increase our understanding of who God is by allowing ourselves to ask the difficult questions.  Unexpressed doubt can be toxic.  Therefore, Matt states, “redemption is not an escape but rather a journey. . . . redemption will always be most powerful when we can trace God’s hand along the way.”

Discipline is a critical prerequisite to our journey inward.  Fear, however, keeps us from committing to true and lasting change.  As we courageously ask God “Where were you?” we find an honest place with God.  Getting all of God is equally delicious and painful.  When we are in an honest place with God, the sharp edges of our pain begin to soften.  Receptiveness to God’s comfort means being open to that comfort when we least expect it.  Specifically, God often is found mixed into what many consider life’s greatest disappointments.  Pastor Bays observes: “God’s core value is at its absolute highest when we are at our absolute lowest.”

Is God calling you to and for something that He needs you to make right in the world?  If so, don’t be too eager to punctuate your pain with an exclamation point before the time is right.  While your pain may remain, God also will remain.  You will find God’s grace beautifully on display in your storytold.  Acknowledging the truth of who you are actually can set you free.  While you can rewrite your story and definitely change the ending, you can’t rewrite the beginning or change the author.

Telling our stories is how we authenticate who we are and is our healing gift to others.  We will find God in the ruins once we understand we are worthy of love and understanding.  More than answers to our questions, we need the love of God.  Bathed in God’s love, we can accept the burden of responsibility to share our stories so someone else can be set free.  Matt concludes:

“Each of us has a calling that comes from the core ache within us- a calling to write with our lives the beautiful stories of God’s redemption.”

 

How to Forgive

HowtoforgiveHow to Forgive (Harvest House, 2007)

June Hunt, founder and CEO of Hope For The Heart- a worldwide biblical counseling ministry- wrote How to Forgive . . . When You Don’t Feel Like It in 2007.  When June first became a Christian while in her teens, she discovered God had one standard or commandment: love one another and even love your enemies.  In other words, hate no one.  Ms. Hunt emphasizes that God does not set aside that standard based on any one person’s specific situation.  There are no exceptions.  Those who don’t grasp this true meaning of forgiveness live with embedded bitterness.  Forgiveness, then, is not something we can accomplish with our own strength.  Forgiveness is supernatural.  We need Christ’s strength.

June states that “learning to forgive is nothing short of learning to think like God.”  As we learn to think like God, we renew our minds.  Without a proper understanding of God’s unconditional forgiveness, Ms. Hunt believes, it is almost impossible to forgive someone who has deeply hurt us.  Although forgiveness begins with pain, June underscores the idea that “pain should never stand in the way of forgiveness.”  Therefore, it is unproductive and unwise to hold God responsible for our pain.  Blaming God looks back and places the focus on our pain.  Trusting God, in contrast, looks forward and focuses on His plan.

Within God’s will, suffering has a purpose.  June stresses that our understanding of forgiveness must being with this truth: “By God’s design, you are the master of your mind  (italics author’s).”  Thinking and acting like God are necessary to sustain you throughout the process of complete forgiveness.  The process of complete forgiveness consists of four stages: facing the offense, feeling the offense, forgiving the offense, and finding oneness.  Deep wounds must heal from the inside out.  Forgiveness, then, is not a single event.  Forgiveness is a way of life.

Forgiveness is a gift.  When you forgive, you are blessed in giving that gift- whether or not your offender or wounder is willing to receive it.  Ms. Hunt comes back to her central theme:

“The primary reason God wants us to forgive is because forgiveness sets us free to be all He designed us to be.”

Forgiveness is powerful, purposeful, and pervasive.  It produces a change of heart.  You get yourself back.

 

The Circle Maker

CircleMakerThe Circle Maker (Zondervan, 2011)

Mark Batterson, lead pastor at National Community Church in Washington, DC, wrote The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears in 2011.  Mark’s stated purpose in writing The Circle Maker is to “show you how to claim God-given promises, pursue God-ordained dreams, and seize God-ordained opportunities.”  Drawing circles begins with discerning God’s will, the goal being to glorify God.  As you discern what to circle in prayer and spell out your prayers with specificity, eventually it will spell God’s glory.  God will answer at some point, and His answers are not limited by your requests.  That means you can live with holy anticipation and pray with holy confidence.

Pastor Batterson emphasizes that prayer solving, rather than problem solving, wins the day.  Consistency and intensity are essential to praying.  And after you pray through, you need to praise through, even if God doesn’t answer the way you want or in the time you want.  Ultimately, the size of your prayer comes down to the size of your God.  Your impossible prayer is an easy answer for a mighty God.  Far greater than your capability to receive is God’s capacity to give.  God always provides just enough just in time.  Nothing is too big- or too small- for God.  Sometimes God gets in the way to show us the way.  Divine detours take us to the miracles we need, but don’t necessarily want.

When drawing prayer circles begins to feel long and boring,  because answers don’t seem to be forth coming, Mark encourages us to stop, draw, and pray.  Pray primes us, putting us in a spiritual frame of mind and sanctifying our expectations.  Staring the day in prayer is the best way to establish a daily rhythm in order to have a daily relationship with God.  To break the faith barrier, we need to press in and pray through.  Goal-setting is a great way of simultaneously praying hard, thinking long, and dreaming big.  Each prayer is precious to God and sealed by Him.  The end of a prayer is the beginning of a dream, the beginning of a miracle, the beginning of a promise.

 

 

 

Glory Days

GloryDaysGlory Days (Thomas Nelson, 2015)

Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now is the latest book by Max Lucado, teaching pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.  Max’s book is based on the Glory Days of Israel- seven glistening years sandwiched between the difficult days of Exodus and the dark days of the judges.  Canaan is a metaphor for the life we can have right now, a real state of the heart and mind, a spiritual reality.  Canaan is “a life defined by grace, refined by challenge, and aligned with a heavenly call.” God already has given us Canaan.  We have everything we need to be everything God desires.  In Canaan we don’t fight for victory, we fight from victory.

The most important tool in your spiritual growth is the Bible.  Pastor Lucado emphasizes that it is not enough for you to possess the Bible.  God wants the Bible to possess you.  In the Promised Land it is necessary to walk by faith, lean on grace, and hear God’s voice more.  Satan isn’t troubled at all by your wilderness days, but he steps up his attacks as you enter the Promised Land.  In order to see Jesus, your eyes cannot be on your Jericho and your lips cannot speak the language of impossibility.

Help comes when we lift our eyes to see Jesus and live out of our inheritance, not our circumstance.  In doing so, we move from false premises to God’s promises.  Although the blessing of God’s favor is no guarantee of an easy life, it is the assurance of God’s help.  It is essential to consult God in everything and call on God for great things.  As we apply this to God’s unique gifting for us, Max reminds us that God’s definition of a promotion isn’t a move up the corporate or educational ladder, but a move toward our call.

Promised Land people don’t naively deny the existence of problems.  They immerse their minds in God-thoughts.  Standing at the crossroads of faith and unbelief, Promised Land people choose faith and press into God’s promises.  God not only stays with you, He fights for you so you can live the Promised Land life He desires for you.  Max summarizes God’s goal for you:

“This is your inheritance: more victory than defeat, more joy than sadness, more hope than despair.  These days are Glory Days.”

 

The End of Me

endofme2The End of Me (David C. Cook, 2015)

The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins is the most recent book by Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  In the first section, Kyle focuses on four specific beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount that lead us down the narrow path to real life.  The second section describes the great kingdom paradox- how we are in the best position to be used by God in significant ways when we get to the end of ourselves.

Jesus wants to go a little deeper, beyond the surface of life, to what’s inside us- what makes the surface the way it is.  This is a question of being broken , not a question of brokenness.  Pastor Idleman observes that the end of me often comes when our dreams come to an end.  Yet, it is possible to wake up from a nightmare to a dream, experiencing God’s presence as never before.  Because God looks at the heart as the true measure of who we are and nothing can be faked in His presence, there is no substitute for humbling ourselves before God.  This is a proactive, not passive process.

Kyle states that we struggle with authenticity- it’s a risk we don’t want to take.  Nevertheless, the author writes, “Jesus calls us to live one life and live it out in the open.”  Jesus’ name for that is purity of heart.  Our emptiness means God has us right where He wants us, for Jesus fills that emptiness with joy and abundance.  It is unnecessary to settle for the full life when we can pursue the filled life.  Jesus is our only hope.  All we need to do is bring Him our helplessness.  Jesus will meet us there at the end of ourselves.

God’s favorite time for this to happen is right now.  God simply asks for our faith and obedience.  Temporal pursuits will fade away.  Only God’s plan and will truly matter.  Contrary to limited finite thought, our “disqualifier” becomes God’s qualifier- and God doesn’t choose us without equipping us to carry out His unique mission for our life.  Human weakness creates the space God fill with His strength.

 

Simplify

SimplifySimplify (Tyndale House, 2014)

Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul is the latest book by Bill Hybels, founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.  Simplified living requires uncluttering your soul, and there are no shortcuts.  Total honesty is necessary in crafting a custom replenishment plan to counter the price of toxic depletion.  The key question is: “How would you spend your time if God were in charge of it?”

Pastor Hybels emphasizes our schedule should be far less about what we want to get done and far more about who we want to become.  There is power in a single word written on one’s schedule and lived out with intentionality.  It is essential to put God first and keep our priorities on track.  In order to do this, a financial reconciliation with God may need to take place- where the power of God breaks the power of money in our life.  When we’re fully reconciled to God financially, we joyfully can accept God’s current level of provision.

Another key step in simplifying life is examining our work life.  Pastor Hybels finds it helpful to filter potential jobs through four foundational alignments: passion, culture, challenge, and compensation.  Ultimately each one of us must come to terms with our ministry downsizing or vocation loss, and we must forgive.  The author notes that forgiveness has two dimensions- internal release and extension of mercy.  Everyone’s forgiveness timetable is different.    Fear also is closely associated with job loss.  Life is simplified by eradicating pockets of fear running rampant beneath the surface.  The journey to overcoming fear is a joint venture in partnership with God.

To be a good steward of life, we need to surround ourselves with wise, mature, good people of high character and have a realistic understanding of others’ natural influence.  Furthermore, everyone needs a life verse.  A life verse must personally resonate, guide our path, give us a reference point, and reflect God’s guidance in our lives.  In addition, thinking of life in terms of temporary seasons helps us to recognize the active movement of God’s hand in our current season and that there’s purpose to His activity.  Moving on means saying yes to the unknown.  Pastor Hybels concludes:

“Be quick to say yes to the things that empower you – directly and indirectly- to lead a life of eternal significance.”

 

 

All the Places to Go

Alltheplaces3All the Places to Go (Tyndale, 2015)

The full title of John Ortberg’s latest book is All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?  God Has Placed before You an Open Door.  What Will You Do?  Pastor Ortberg describes an open door as the great adventure of life, because it signifies the possibility of being useful to God.  Thus, the subject of John’s book is God’s offer of an open door and our response to it.  Faith provides the greatest foundation for the open mind-set needed to cultivate divine opportunity awareness.  As the author explains, “The open door is often more about where my insides are than where my outsides are.”  We never will be ready or know exactly what we’re getting into.  The only thing that matters is that Jesus is ready.

Open doors are divine invitations to make our lives count- with God’s help- for the sake of others.  Pastor Ortberg emphasizes God’s primary will for you is the person you become and not the circumstances you inhabit.  Prayer is closely associated with seeking and discerning.  Prayer is the primary way we communicate with God.  When faced with a choice, we need to ask God for wisdom.  John clarifies that growth is the ability to handle larger and larger problems, not avoiding those problems.  While it is wise to choose our doors carefully, when we choose to go it is imperative to go wholeheartedly!  Choice means that sacrifice is involved.  Choosing one thing means not choosing another.

Pastor Ortberg underscores the importance of accepting the truth about ourselves if we are to go through an open door.  Ultimately, facing the truth about ourselves will bring us life.  Although open doors sometimes are neither fun nor safe, open doors always are about something far greater than our own benefit.  On the other hand, at times we run into closed doors.  While we may not like or understand closed doors, some of the greatest doors are those that never get opened.  As John concludes, God has plans we don’t know:

“There is a door that is open to you.  In the mystery of divine providence it may have been opened long ago, but it remains open now . . . a divinely-opened door intentionally, thoughtfully, purposefully, deliberately opened by God himself in front of us.”

 

 

The Grave Robber

GraveRobberThe Grave Robber (Baker Books, 2014)

Mark Batterson’s most recent book is titled The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible.  The book is based on seven miracles of Jesus reported in the gospel of John.  Each miracle represents a different dimension of Jesus’ power.  The prerequisite for a miracle is a problem, which then provides the perfect opportunity for God to reveal His glory.  The miracles in the gospel of John don’t just reveal what Jesus did, but what He wants to do in your life.  One of the truest tests of spiritual maturity is seeing miracles in the monotonous.  Pastor Batterson states that we would crack the joy code if we’d recognize the moment-by-moment miracles that surround us.

Whatever situation we’re in, God has us exactly where He wants us, even if that situation is not where we’d choose to be.  Mark notes that there are no accidents, only divine appointments.  Miracles and divine appointments happen at God Speed.  They never are early or late, but always right on time.  Only one assumption is true: God is able.  We need to keep taking steps of faith, what Eugene Peterson refers to as “obedience in the right direction.”  Rather than doing things differently, we need to see things differently- for God can take a little and make a lot.

God wants to stretch our faith so that someday our biggest dreams will seem incredibly small.  Paradoxically, the more we give, the more we enjoy what we keep.  While God’s blessings amplify joy, miracles fortify our faith.  Miracles are found on the other side of fear.  At some point in our life journey, we need to take a radical step of faith.  That moment will define every moment that follows.  No mater what we might think, when Jesus gets involved it’s never too little, never too late.

The ultimate goal of any miracle is not the miracle itself, but the glory of God.  Jesus is calling us out of our tomb, to resurrect what has died.  As Pastor Batterson concludes:

“He will give you your smile back.

He will give you your laugh back.

He will give you your life back.

Do you believe this?

If you do, He will make the impossible possible.”

 

 

Waiting on God

WaitingonGod2Waiting on God (Howard Books, 2015)

Waiting on God: Strength for Today and Hope for Tomorrow is the latest book from Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA since 1971.  He opens his book with the assertion that the word never can stir the deepest fear in the human heart.  Thus, the challenge of waiting on God is “the ability to keep hoping when the nevers of life bombard us.”  Dr. Stanley’s definition of waiting on the Lord provides the basic outline for this book.  Waiting on the Lord manifests an “expectant endurance that is demonstrated by a directed, purposeful, active, and courageous attitude of prayer.”

Our focus must be directed toward God, our Provider, rather than the object of our desire.  We need to center our thoughts less on our questions and more on the Father’s ability to answer them.  Even though we are tempted to figure out God’s plan and speed it along, we are to demonstrate confident trust that God is committed to seeing us through every trial we face and is raising up an answer to our prayers.

The second characteristic of godly prayer in waiting is being purposeful in pursuing the Lord’s plan.  When our main objective is a personal and intimate relationship with God, everything else will fall into place as the Holy Spirit directs us- bringing out the very best of who we were created to be.  God’s Word, prayer, and godly counsel are an integral part of this process.

Dr. Stanley notes that waiting passively is not what the Lord intended for us as believers.  While we are to be still in allowing the Father to work through our circumstances, we must be active in growing spiritually.  Perseverance is the key to receiving the very best God has planned for us and helping us endure the delay.

The fourth characteristic of waiting on the Lord, being courageous, is stretched and refined during our darkest times.  Yet, it is when we feel most unworthy and defeated that the Father is closest to us.  We are in a spiritual battle with Satan.  Our weapon is the sword of the Spirit- God’s Word.  The Father is “moving us toward the light on the most efficient and effective route possible.”  Confidently wait on the Lord, for the best is yet to come . . . always.

 

 

How Can I Possibly Forgive?

PossiblyForgiveHow Can I Possibly Forgive? (Harvest House, 2014)

How Can I Possibly Forgive? Rescuing Your Heart from Resentment and Regret is that latest book by Sara Horn.  Sara begins by stating that in order for us to appreciate the unconditional love God gives us and in turn asks us o give others, we need a better understanding of forgiveness.  To achieve that understanding we need to identify  the white noise in our life drowning out that the Lord wants us to hear.  As Sara notes, “what distracts our hearts distracts our souls.”  When we only see our pain, we cannot see God’s plan.  Focusing on our pain leads to bitterness.  We quickly can move from sadness to resentment and from denial to anger.

Bitterness, though, is not easy to hide.  Eventually we expose ourselves and our soul feelings come out.  Although we have big hurts, we have a bigger God.  People and situations fail us, but God never fails us.  Healing is a process, and forgiveness aids in that process.  Forgiveness involves dealing with the really hard stuff that is more difficult to forgive, let go, or even think about and discuss.  However, we are not left alone to figure out what to do- we have the Holy Spirit.  With God’s help and grace, we can see His righteousness in our hearts and lives.

Sara emphasizes that full satisfaction cannot be reached when our goal ends in us.  “What about me?” needs to change to “What about Him?”.  While forgiveness is not easy for us,  forgiveness is possible with God.  When we forgive, we make room for what God wants to do.  Forgiveness means giving up our claim for justice and our need to be right.  And sometimes we must recognize that we have to move on. Through it all, it is essential for us to rely on God’s forgiveness, faithfulness, and favor.

Sara cautions us that it is futile to stay angry with God- nothing good comes of it.  Yet, when our little bit of faith intersects with God’s faithfulness, God can do amazing things in us and through us.  We struggle most with hurt when we seek love from other people rather than Jesus.  We can choose to let it go.  Sara concludes:

“There is no sweeter sound than the exhale of release.  Forgiveness is possible when we give it all to God.”