Until God becomes our only hope

“It is true that sometimes God doesn’t become our only hope until God becomes our only hope.”- Jared C. Wilson

Jared Wilson concludes Chapter 9 of The Imperfect Disciple as he notes that grace goes all the way down to our deepest pain.  In fact, Pastor Wilson posits that we’ve all prayed “I just want this to be over” kind of prayers.  Put differently, Jared asks if we’ve ever been undone from how done we are with suffering.  Jared adds:

” . . . given the sovereignty of God over all things, we ought to acknowledge that the Bible doesn’t teach that grace goes down only until you get to the point where Saran takes over and starts doing his (emphasis Jared’s) work.  No, it’s grace all the way down, even into the deep, dark cellar of affliction.”

Therefore, the author observes, when you’re in the pit of suffering, Jesus doesn’t send heavenly “good thoughts” or “good vibes” your way.  In addition, Jesus doesn’t blast you with some ethereal virtues.  Pastor Wilson continues:

“No, when you  are laid low in the dark well of despair, when the whole world seems to be crashing down on you, when  your next breath seems sure to be your last, Christ Jesus is down in the void with you, holding you.  He keeps your hand between his own. . . .  offers his breast for your weary head.  He whispers words of comfort a whisker’s breadth from your ear.”

In conclusion, Jared reminds us that grace is all-sufficient for suffering.  And for pain and glory too.  Grace not only goes all the way down, but grace also goes all the way up.

Today’s question: What brings you to the point that God becomes your only hope?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Swallowed up into his glory”

Where we place our hope and trust

“Our daily life communicates where our hope and trust is placed; we are actually ‘praying’ with our words and deeds every day.”- Jared C. Wilson

As Jared Wilson concludes Chapter 5 of The Imperfect Disciple, he describes prayer as “spilling your guts.”  Therefore, prayer doesn’t have to be pretty, tidy, particularly eloquent, or even particularly intelligent.  God speaks to us in the Bible and we speak to Him in prayer.  Also, spilling our guts in prayer enables us to process God’s Word.  In response, we interact with our friend Jesus through prayer.

Yet, God never checks His watch when you’re talking to Him – although, Jared suggests, you might!  In fact, Pastor Wilson stresses, God’s more eager to listen to you than you are to speak.  And God’s not distant, but, as John Ortberg puts it, closer than you think.  Jared explains:

“We are constantly moving away, and he’s constantly following.  He is a much better chaser of us than we are of him. And he’s a much better listener.  He picks up everything.”

Hence, you find the rhythm of God’s kingdom in a consumer culture as you seek humility.  That humility comes as you reject independence, admit dependence, and confidently embrace God’s acceptance of you through Jesus Christ.

In addition, since we acknowledge our helplessness (spilling our guts) through prayer, the more we pray the more we:

  • abide in God’s strength and love
  • surrender thoughts of our own glory
  • unbusy ourselves with the enterprise of our own glory
  • lay down our bricks and trowels and let God knock down our Babel Towers
  • get off the treadmill of routine religion and find the rhythms of the kingdom

Today’s question: In your daily life, how do you communicate where you place your hope and trust?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Bringers of the gospel”

Great blessing out of difficulty

“God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.”- Peter Marshall

Os Hillman applies the Joseph calling to the larger stories of Jacob, Moses, and Paul, respectively, in Chapters 14-16 of The Joseph Calling.  Next, in Chapter 17 (“Experiencing Your Larger Story”), Os reminds us how those six stages usher you into the larger story of your life.  Hence, Os defines that larger story as ” a life . . . filled with the activity of God and the manifest presence of his life being lived through you.”

In 1990, the author notes, Henry Blockaby developed a popular Bible study series titled Experiencing God.  The very first principle established that God’s always at work around us.  Thus, our responsibility involves joining in what God’s already doing.  Os explains:

“We are not to think up things to do for God; we are to join him in what he wants to do and what he is already doing on earth today.”

Furthermore, Mr. Hillman observes, one kingdom principle requires faithfulness in small areas before God entrusts us with larger ones. In the process God causes fruit to be born from our obedience.  Not from our sweat and toil.

In conclusion, Os offers these words of hope:

“I want to encourage you to be more aware of where God is working around you.  Ask God to give you more opportunities to share his love with those with whom you come in contact.  One of the easiest ways to minister to people is to ask to pray for them when you hear of a need they have in their life.”

Today’s question: What great blessing do you see rising out of your difficulty?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “What God calls us to – simply be His friend”

Something that requires an appreciation banquet

“When we truly grow, then obeying God no longer looks like something that requires an appreciation banquet.  It looks like what should come naturally, like something that needs to be done.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 6 of The Me I Want to Be with four stages of spiritual growth.

1.  Incompetent and unaware.  In this stage, not only are we incapable of doing something, but we’re not even aware of our incapability.  As Pastor Ortberg explains, “the first cost of incompetence is the inability to perceive incompetence.”

Thus, living in continued ignorance represents the danger in this stage.  Because pain brings awareness, pain = the cure.  When reality crashes into us, we experience pain.  With awareness, change becomes possible.

2.  Incompetent and self-conscious.  At this stage we remain incompetent, but now we know it.   However, the danger here involves giving up due to despair over our incompetence.  As a result, at this stage we need hope.

3.  Competent and aware.  Here we constantly think about ourselves and our efforts at growth.  Furthermore, like the prodigal son’s elder brother, we often compare ourselves to other people.

Therefore, pride represents the danger during this stage.  Hence, stage three lostness, John notes, carries its own blindness.  People rarely seek help for their pride problem.  As the author quips, no Betty Ford Centers for the Insufferably Arrogant exist.  But not because we don’t need them.  We need humility.

4.  Competent and unself-conscious.  Pastor Ortberg describes this final stage as a place where “competence not longer looks heroic- just sane.”  We naturally just do what needs to be done.  Therefore, the best version of ourselves lives in this quadrant.

In conclusion, John states progress through these four quadrants isn’t strictly linear or sequential.  We move back and forth all the time- and this varies from one habit to another.

Today’s question: Do you feel you’re deserving of an appreciation banquet for your efforts in ministry or vocation?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “You and your Like – o – Meter”

Learning to hear the voice of God

“In learning to hear the voice of God, one thing is certain — if you cannot hear a ‘no,’ you will have a hard time hearing from God at all or believing that what you think you’ve heard is in fact from God.”- John Eldredge

As John Eldredge begins the Winter section of Walking with God, he presents two crucial concepts necessary for hearing the voice of God.  John states that hearing God:

  1. requires surrender, giving all things over into His hands
  2. not abandoning your desires, but giving them over to God

Romans 4:21 tells us Abraham based his faith on a clear and specific promise of God.  John observes that the passage states that “God had the power to do what He had promised.”  Thus, John notes, when it comes to our faith, we must be careful that our earnest hopes and desires don’t lead us to claim a promise God hasn’t given.

Furthermore, no matter how hard our adversity hits us, those adversities don’t have to be brutal and lonely.  Most importantly, accept the grace of God when it comes!

However, we must remain aware that Satan loves to act as an opportunist.  Mr. Eldredge explains:

“He is always looking for open doors, opportunities, a chink in the armor.  He’ll seize what might otherwise simply be an event- an argument, an emotion, a loss- and he’ll use it as an entrée for his lies, deceit, and oppression.”

Thus, even in moments of tenderness and sorrow, we can’t drop our guard.  While that seems unfair, Satan never plays fair!   In that way, we remain free to bring our hearts to God sans Enemy interference.

Today’s question: What Scriptures assist you in learning to hear the voice of God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Worship language – or the living God?”

But even if You don’t, my hope is You alone

Mr. Henning’s first class, Grades 3-4, St. Paul (Dorchester), Chicago

“But even if You don’t/ My hope is You alone”- MercyMe

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods . . .”- Daniel 3:17-18

After graduation from Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, IL, St. Paul Lutheran School called me to teach grades three and four.  Sometime during the winter of 1974-75, I developed the worst sinus infection I’ve ever experienced.  Extreme congestion reduced my voice to a whisper.  Therefore, even if I reported  to school, I faced a communication dilemma.

As a result, my industrious students seized the day.  Presented with the opportunity to be my voice, they eagerly volunteered to read answers from the teachers guides and give directions for assignments.  Our cohesive classroom community carried through the next two days without a hitch.

Writing in Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, Timothy Keller notes a puzzling statement in Daniel 3:18.  The verse begins, “But even if he does not”.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego admit the possibility God might not deliver them.  Why?  Because they place their confidence in God.  They chose not to rely on their limited understanding of what God would do.  In other words, Pastor Keller adds, the three men trusted in God period.  Tim Keller explains:

“But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego really believed ‘all the way down’ to God.  So they were not nervous at all.  They were already spiritually fireproofed. . . . Their greatest joy was to honor God, not to use God to get what they wanted in life.  And as a result, they were fearless.  Nothing could overthrow them.”

In conclusion, Pastor Keller describes three lessons learned from the story of “The Fiery Furnace”:

1.  God is with us in the fire.  This metaphor means God understands the difficulties of living through the miseries of this world.  God walks with us.   However, the real question revolves around if we’ll walk with Him.  Life falls apart when we create a false God-of-my-program.

2.  We must treat God as God and as there.  Timothy Keller exhorts: “If you remember with grateful amazement that Jesus was thrown into the ultimate furnace for you, you can begin to sense him in your smaller furnaces with you (emphasis Tim’s).”

3.  You must go into the furnace with the gospel to find God there.  It’s most dangerous to go into the fire without the gospel.  You’ll be mad at God, mad at yourself, or both.  If you trust in Jesus, your furnace will only make you better.

Hope comes in two flavors

Brigid Bazlen, age 14, as the Blue Fairy on WGN-TV, 1958

“We all hope, but hope comes in two flavors- hoping  for something and hoping in someone.”- John Ortberg, Know Doubt

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump:  for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”- 1 Corinthians 15:52 (KJV)

It’s almost 7:30 pm on a chilly Monday evening in 1958.  While parents watch in an adjoining room, a studio technician escorts me and five other youngsters to our seats- oversized mushrooms in The Blue Forest.  At 7:30, The Blue Fairy, suspended by wires, flies above the forest, saying: “I’m the Blue Fairy.  I’ll grant you a wish to make all your dreams come true.”  Resplendent in her blue gown and diamond tiara, Brigid Bazlen clasps a silver wand.  After descending to the forest floor, she asks each of us a question: “What is your favorite zoo animal?”

In 1958, WGN-TV, then located in the Prudential Building, produced two color programs- The Blue Fairy and Garfield Goose & Friend.  Although only televised in the Chicago area, The Blue Fairy won the Peabody Award for best children’s programming that year.  The award catapulted the series- and Brigid- to national attention.  Brigid later appeared in King of Kings (1961) as Salome and in the soap opera Days of Our Lives (1972).

Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister George MacDonald (1824-1905) once wrote: “Anything large enough for a wish to light upon, is large enough to hang a prayer upon.”  Yet, as John Ortberg points out, we must recognize the truth that one day every thing we hope for eventually disappoints us.  That’s why hope comes in two flavors.  Therefore, through the power of the Holy Spirit, faith requires:

  • belief- what we do with our minds
  • commitment- what we do with our wills
  • hope- what we do in our hearts

Furthermore, Pastor Ortberg suggests, our wishes reveal something true about why we exist and the reason God created us.  And Frederick Buechner echoed these thoughts when he stated that “sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.  Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.”

Three-day stories-  Jesus’ death and resurrection, for example- demonstrate (1) desperate need and anticipation and (2) hope hanging by a thread.  Although that hope comes in two flavors, only one flavor transforms your soul, rather than reducing Jesus to a heavenly meal ticket.  John Ortberg explains:

“What got released on Sunday was hope.  Not hope that life would turn out well.  Not even hope that there will be life after death.  Hope that called people to die: die to selfishness and sin and fear and greed, die to the lesser life of a lesser self so that a greater self might be born.  And many people did.  This hope changed things.”

How long, Lord?- a powerful prayer of hope

” ‘How long, Lord?’ in the Bible is seen as a powerful prayer of hope.  Far from a complaint, this lament is a bold declaration that God is present, hears, and is powerful to act on our behalf.”- Esther Fleece

“How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?”- Habakkuk 1:2

In Chapter 7 (How long?”) of No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece stresses that, in Scripture, the expression “How long, Lord?” stakes our hope in God, the only One able to save.  Thus, Esther asserts, Scripture normalizes “How long?” questions.  After all, the alternative looks ominous.  Ms. Fleece explains:

“When we keep our laments locked inside, we bubble up with bitterness toward God.  We become buried under our own frustration and doubt.  But when we bring our concerns to God and ask Him openly, ‘Lord, how long?’ it opens both a conversation and an opportunity for us to be transformed in the waiting.”

Similarly, the author notes, we lament, mourn, and wail when God’s provision for us changes.  For example, at times it seems we don’t hear from God like we used to or He provides in an unfamiliar way.  This weaning process is:

  • a healthy and necessary part of growing up spiritually
  • painful

However, Esther encourages us to see weaning as something we celebrate because we’re confident of who God is.  Also, we know He always has our best interests in mind.

Yet, the minute things go wrong, we slip into default mode.  We question God’s care and provision for us.  Esther cautions:

“We mistakenly categorize God’s care as circumstantial rather than based on His character that has stayed constant and true throughout the ages.”

In conclusion, a shift in what God’s provision looks like doesn’t equate to the nonexistence of that provision.  Also, our dependency on God continues all our earthly days.  Esther observes:

“As we grow into older followers of Christ, our dependence on Him may look different, but is never goes away . . . . Each season holds a beauty that can be celebrated, and each birthing and weaning season can hold a lament.”

Today’s question: How do you use “How long, Lord?” as a powerful prayer of hope?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog; “Intent on reaching resolution”

God’s sovereign control and arrangement of life

“The word we use when we refer to God’s sovereign control and arrangement of life is . . . a word punctuated by truth and postulated by accuracy.  that word is providence.”- Dr. Tony Evans

” . . .. which He will bring about at the proper time — He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”- 1 Timothy 6:15

In Chapter 11 (“The Providence of Detours”) of Detours, Dr. Tony Evans stresses that we need to avoid the concept of luck.  The word luck has infiltrated our vocabulary.  Unfortunately, the term’s found its way into our mentality.  Hence, we begin to view things, Tony notes, from the vantage point of luck rather than divine providence.

As a result, we desire to have this force we can’t grab, hold on to, count on, or actually embrace.  When this happens, luck dominates much of our thinking.  Thus, luck becomes an idol Satan uses to move our faith, hope, and trust away from God.

Nor does positive thinking provide a solution.  Dr. Evans explains:

“Now positive thinking encourages the mind and the spirit, and it is a healthy thing to do. But when you put your faith in the basket of your mind’s power to work out your destiny, you’ve set yourself up as an idol as well.

When we read the Genesis account of Joseph’s time in jail, we find the account focuses more on God than it does on Joseph.  In fact, Tony believes, providence = one of the most important things you need to know in your Christian experience.  The gospel, of course, remains the most important thing.

Today’s question: What evidence do you see of God’s sovereign control in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Faith- the hallmark of providence”

Love knows no limits

“Grace has no gaps and love knows no limits.  Love endures all things.”- Judah Smith

Pastor Judah Smith concludes Chapter 5 of How’s Your Soul? by discussing the third and fourth characteristics of love, as found in 1 Corinthians 13:7.

3.  Love hopes all things.  Authentic God-love functions all the time.  As the author quips: “No exceptions, no disclaimers, no prenups.”  Love bears, believes, and hopes all things.  Therefore, a love that always hopes:

  • means that love holds on to eventual development
  • recognizes we won’t always be in our current situation
  • understands we’re on a journey and we’re a work in progress

As a result, Judah stresses, love must work with people in the rough.  At least on the surface, such people are anything but lovable.  Furthermore, since all of us travel a long journey, love needs to hope.  Just as someone believed in you at some point in your past and helped you get back on track, you possess the opportunity to pass it on to others.  Love hopes all things.

4.  Love endures all things.  Pastor Smith states that “to endure means you don’t retaliate or reject.  However, that doesn’t imply that we ignore sin, hurt, and pain or that we never confront it.  But, we must focus our efforts on communication and restoration.  We never withdraw our love, no matter what happens.

When people test our love and resolve, only God’s love enables us to endure all things.  Consequently, motivated and saturated by God’s love, no breaking point exists.  Because no matter what happens, God’s love is bigger!

Today’s question: What situations make it hard for you to apply the concept that love has no limits?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Inner tranquility”