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”

The reason we are more than we know

“The reason we are more than we know is because God is greater than we can imagine.”- Susie Larson

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.  It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’  God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.  We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.  And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us — an unbelievable inheritance.”- Romans 8:15-16 (MSG)

In Chapter 4 (“Dare to Pray and Say What’s True”) of Your Powerful Prayers, Susie Larson discusses God’s invitation to trust Him.  God wants us to trust Him with:

  1. the surface parts of ourselves we find difficult to acknowledge
  2. the deepest parts still needing healing and wholeness

Thus, we first, through the power of the Holy Spirit, dare to believe.  In other words, we appropriate God’s truth.  Then we walk and talk that truth.

Yet, Ms. Larson notes, as we walk through life, we find ourselves in storms that smash against us.  And whether those storms are self-made, natural elements of a fallen world, or the result of someone else’s rotten choices, sometimes we respond in ways beneath our dignity.  In addition, the author notes, Satan just loves to see us sulk in our humanity.  During such times, Ms. Larson observes, it helps if we remind our souls that we:

  • love because Christ first loved us
  • walk in God’s promises
  • enjoy His presence because He’s the one who invited us there in the first place
  • can and will be used greatly by Him- Jesus planned ahead of time to redeem us from our frailties

Today’s question: What Scriptures enable you and others to realize the reason we’re more than we know?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Live in the reality of God’s love”

When we see the rainbow, the shower’s over

A partial rainbow rises above Chestnut Mountain Resort near Galena, IL.

“It is said that when we see the rainbow the shower is over.  Certain it is, that when Christ comes, our troubles remove; when we behold Jesus, our sins vanish, and our doubts and fears subside.  When Jesus walks the waters of the sea, how profound the calm.”- Charles Spurgeon

“Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout.  I the LORD have created it.”- Isaiah 45:8 (ESV)

On a recent vacation to Galena, IL, my wife Vicki and I dined at the Sunset Grille, a restaurant overlooking the Mississippi River at the Chestnut Mountain Resort.  After enjoying a relaxing meal along with a idyllic view, we walked back to our car.  Suddenly, Vicki spotted a partial rainbow, with every single color vividly displayed, in an otherwise clear sky.  This phenomenon puzzled us, because no storms passed over the resort.  However,  when we returned to our hotel, the clerk informed us that a brief, heavy thunderstorm hit the hotel, about 12 miles northwest from the Sunset Grille, earlier that evening.

Following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss, you enter what pastor and author John Ortberg calls the “uncertainty period.”  Most importantly, John asserts, a significant reason for your uncertainty exists — a good of not knowing.  Consequently, Pastor Ortberg believes, this “uncertainty period” offers:

  • a unique opportunity for growth
  • a confident, joyful approach to life, even when you don’t yet know if you’ll get what you hope for
  • a type of soul strength not available through immediate answers
  • a call for trust rather than condemnation to anxiety

Thus, uncertainty forms an essential element of life.  Thomas Merton (1915-1968), a Trappist monk and spiritual intellect, once suggested that if you find God with great ease, perhaps you’ve found something other than God.

Therefore, Pastor Ortberg explains, trusting God provides the necessary foundation as you struggle with the not-knowing times of life:

“You have to trust the author.  You have to believe that God has a good reason for keeping his presence subtle.  It allows creatures as small and frail as human beings the capacity for choice that we would never have in the obvious presence of infinite power. . . . God wants to be known, but not in a way that overwhelms us, that takes away the possibility of love freely chosen.”

Finally, John concludes, you’ll find God anywhere you’re willing to see the entire world through wonder-filled eyes and a tongue fluent only in praise.  In other words, as Max Lucado states:

“We don’t need an ‘Over the Rainbow’ god.  We need the One who created rainbows.”

Our desire to have a nice little life

“The collision of our desire to live a nice little life and our need to remain in Jesus can bring about a sanctification of our will, where all things truly are subjected to Christ.”- John Eldredge

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”- John 15:4

Today in the Fall section of Walking with God, John Eldredge notes that we often overlook Jesus’ seemingly simple command to remain in Him.  Thus, if Jesus must tell us we need to remain in Him, He knows it’s quite possible not to remain in Him.  In fact, our common life consists of a life lived separate from God.

As a result, we tend to want two mutually opposed things, to:

  • live a nice little life
  • play an important role in God’s kingdom

In other words, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, heads in one direction.  However, we head in another, but not to some easily recognizable, flagrant sin.  We simply wander off, looking for the pasture we think best.  It doesn’t even cross our minds to ask God about it.

John stresses we must remember that, as Christians, we don’t get to live a normal life.  To remain in Jesus, John states, we must accept that fact in all the details of our lives.

However, John stresses, we don’t ask because we don’t want to know what God thinks.  For if we know what God thinks, then we face the decision whether to follow His counsel or not.  Thus, the issue becomes obedience.

Therefore, we return to holiness.  to ask = an act of holiness.  We ask because we seek to follow the Good Shepherd and live by faith in Him.  Our “nice little life” thing really gets in the way.

In conclusion, John emphasizes, holiness doesn’t equate with abandoning our desires- a resigned posture of the soul that asks God to “tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”  Rather, in holiness the heart is present and engaged with God.  As we bring our desires to Him, we submit our wills to His.  We genuinely trust that what He says is best.

Today’s question: To what degree do you desire a nice little life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Our day-to-day grind; nothing close to Eden”

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.

What feels like the end of the story

“What if what feels like the end of the story is actually just the middle?  When God is the author of your story, you can trust that his grace will have the final word.”- Kyle Idleman

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”- romans 8:28 (NIV)

In Chapter 10 (“More Hopeful Than Your Despair”), the concluding chapter of Grace Is Greater, Kyle Idleman states we reach a point in our story where we want to stop reading.  Our challenge overwhelms us, the situation seems impossible, the pain too much.

Yet, in Romans 8:28, Paul tells us God will bring a good ending to our story- no matter how bad our current chapter seems to us.  That’s the promise of grace.  However, when adversity strikes, Kyle states, it’s easy to view Romans 8:28 as at best naïve, but more likely offensive.

Pastor Idleman researched the Greek word translated “we know.”  As a result, he discovered the Greek word means “an absolute, unshakable, confidence.”  In addition, Kyle notes, Paul also uses the word translated “we know” in Romans 8:22.  That passage reads: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning.”

In other words, Paul says, we can count on two things:

  1. Life is hard (v. 22)
  2. God is good (v. 28)

But, Kyle adds, sometimes the space between these two truths feels like an eternity.

As Pastor Idleman concludes, he admits it’s fun knowing the end of the story before the actual ending.  Perhaps that’s because once we know how the story turns out, we’re more comfortable processing the information.  Therefore, we turn our focus on a deeper understanding of the story.

Although we lose some of the suspense, that allows us to not only just enjoy the journey.  It allows us to actually enjoy it.

Today’s question:  What feels like the end of the story for  you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “How we define the word ‘good’ “

Complaining – the rival of grace

“Whining is the opposite of worship, and complaining is the rival of grace.”- Kyle Idleman

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

In Chapter 8 (“More Peaceful Than Your Disappointments”) of Grace Is Greater, Kyle Idleman asserts that 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reflects more than a helpful suggestion or a hint for healthy living.  It’s a command.  Thus, lack of gratitude isn’t a wink-wink sin.  God considers it a big deal.

Therefore, Kyle stresses that God takes grumbling and complaining very seriously.  Why?  Because He takes it personally (emphasis Kyle’s).  In addition, God takes complaining personally because it:

  • overlooks the greatness of the grace we’ve received from God
  • undermines the Good News of the Gospel
  • ignores the generosity and faithfulness of God

As Pastor Idleman summarizes, complaining boils down to a refusal to trust God and acknowledge His grace in your life.  The author adds:

“Complaining has a way of pulling the shade down on the window of grace.  It keeps the light of God’s grace from shining in.”

Furthermore, Kyle states, research shows that the more we complain, the more we find things to complain about.  Also, when we complain our focus centers on what we wish was different, not on thankfulness for God’s blessings.  Unlike complaint, gratitude doesn’t depend on circumstances.  Gratitude recognizes that God’s grace gives us reason enough to be thankful in all circumstances.

In conclusion, Pastor Idleman notes that ultimately, we possess few reasons to complain about our situation.  We worship a God of resurrection.  Therefore, Kyle urges you to reverse engineer grace in your life.  In other words, find reasons to be grateful for God’s grace in situations you wish were different or in things you’ve complained about along the way.

Today’s question: How has complaint served as the rival of grace in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “We need to first be limited”

The other side of lament- life

“On the other side of lament, there is life.”- Esther Fleece

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”- Luke 1:19

In Chapter 11 (“Hope Beyond Lament”), the concluding chapter of No More Faking Fine, Esther shares her discovery that moving forward from lament to healing always requires rest.  Furthermore, this process:

  • doesn’t happen overnight
  • is intentional, not accidental
  • requires sleep, slowing down, and stillness

Also, Ms. Fleece stresses, God uses every season of life to bring us closer to Him.  Consequently, that includes our seasons of resting and waiting in the presence of God.  In addition, God intends rest to revive and refresh us, enabling us to continue on our healing journey.  Ultimately, we invite others into our healing journey as well.

However, although you’re trading your laments for something new, it’s unlikely you know what your “new” looks like. Furthermore, it’s unlikely you know what God’s planned next for you.  Yet, God asks you to trust Him and take the next step.  As a result, Esther explains:

“Sometimes God gives us grace to rest, and sometimes He gives us grace to enter back in, to take land back for Him, and to advance the gospel outside of our comfort zone. . . . Just like it took faith to step into the journey of lament, it would now take faith to rise up out of lament into something new.”

In conclusion, Ms. Fleece notes that as God begins our healing process, He want us to start dreaming again.  What did God create you to do?

Today’s question: What have you discovered lies on the other side of lament?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A vow of praise- in the midst of uncertainty

Remembering- a bold action

“Remembering is not a passive reflection, but a bold action of calling God’s truth into the present.”- Esther Fleece

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”- Proverbs 3:5-6

As Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 8 of No More Faking Fine, she reminds us of the beauty of lament.  Lament involves “unedited, unfiltered real talk that allows God to meet us right where we are.”   Therefore, when we feel like God’s forgotten us or left us behind, we’re able to openly express those feelings.

Then, the next step is to remind God of His promises to us.  Obviously, God remembers His promises.  Thus, reminding God benefits us, as Esther notes:

“But reminding God of the promises He has made helps us remember them and reassures us that He can be trusted to keep them. . . . Remembering is an active tool to reignite our faith.  As we wait on Him, He actively renews the strength necessary for us to persevere.”

The Hebrew language uses active tense verbs for “remember” (zakar) and “not forget” (lo shakach).  So, our intentional practice of remembering “leads our hearts into thankfulness for the past and hope for the future.”

In conclusion, Esther encourages us to dive into Scripture during those times we feel God’s forgotten us.  Reading Scripture provides a great opportunity to refresh our memory of God’s character and promises.  Esther writes:

“God’s promises are energizing; they give us courage, and courage helps us to get moving to do what needs to get done.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you make remembering a bold action?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Forgiveness- our invitation to process the pain”

When we have unanswered questions

“We can rejoice, even when we have unanswered questions, even when we have doubts and fears — and yes, even while we are still lamenting. . . . We can receive the peace of God and raise our hands to say Selah . . .”- Esther Fleece

As Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 7 of No More Faking Fine, she observes that the pain we face is temporary.  Yet, pain never feels temporary.  But for Christians, pain never is our final destination.

However, lament helps expand the concept of peace beyond the immediate.  It acknowledges and abides in God’s vast and mysterious plans (Walter Brueggeman) while trusting in God’s goodness.  Esther adds:

“An invitation to wrestle with God, to come face-to-face with Him in our deepest need and darkest questions, can have an outcome of peace in our hearts if we first allow ourselves to lament.”

Therefore, as Esther looked at Habakkuk’s process of lament, she discovered that Habakkuk:

  • demonstrated persistence
  • stood watch and waited faithfully, expectantly- even when not pleased with God’s response
  • anticipated God would respond
  • expected his understanding of God to change in the process
  • rejoiced, even though his circumstances remained grim
  • had Selah, although his circumstances had yet to change

In conclusion, Ms. Fleece applies Habakkuk’s approach to us:

“Even as we cry, ‘How long, Lord?’ we can trust the process that  in the waiting, we are being strengthened, sanctified, and transformed.  Even in the waiting, God is powerfully present, and that can be our source of deep, unshakable joy.”

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, what unanswered questions persist?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Circumstances might not always feel like a gift”