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”

When our hearts are trained not to lament

“So it is when our hearts are trained not to lament.  We begin to see ourselves as the protectors and keepers of our hearts instead of leaving that responsibility to God in faith.”- Esther Fleece

Today Esther Fleece continues Chapter 2 of No More Faking Fine.  She talks about the third coping mechanism we use to short-circuit the healing process.

3.  “I’ll never make myself vulnerable to getting hurt again.”  The author notes that “we make incorrect if/then statements about God all the time.”  For example, we might say or think: “If God prompts me to pray for something, then I can expect the outcome I desire.”

However, many times our if/then beliefs about God result in a different  “then” than we expect.  As a result, that disappointment weakens our faith.  Perhaps we begin to distrust our prayer relationship with God.  We even doubt God Himself.  Also, we exchange an honest prayer of lament for a type of prayer to ourselves.

Therefore, we convince ourselves to trust our own discernment instead of God’s pathway and plans.  Have we heard God correctly?  As a result, we rely on our own devices rather than crying out to our God who hears.  Consequently, we make unhealthy vows of self-protection or self-interest.  While we pledge vows to God out of love, we make vows to ourselves out of fear.  Eventually, fearful vows turn into lies.  In addition, fearful vows accomplish the exact opposite thing we intended.  Put another way, unlamented hearts lead to unhealthy vows.  The cycle of brokenness continues.

In conclusion, Esther notes the implications of unprocessed laments.  Satan turns these issues into slander against the character of God.  The author writes:

“Unprocessed laments keep our hearts in chains.  It keeps us stuck in the cycle of the wrong if/then statements we were holding on to to begin with.  God wants to help our hearts get unshackled from these chains.”

Tomorrow Esther covers the final two coping mechanisms.

Today’s question: What Bible verses counter a heart trained not to lament?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The snowball effect our coping mechanisms create”

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”

The hot iron of His molding grace

“God will place the hot iron of His molding grace on the wrinkles of our souls when He needs to.”- Dr. Tony Evans

Dr. Tony Evans concludes Chapter 3 of Detours as he completes his discussion of detours and testing.  He notes that Joseph could have blamed his brothers for selling him to the Ishmaelite slave traders.  Yet, in time, Joseph saw God’s hand of guidance and direction.  Reflecting on his journey to Egypt, Joseph said God brought Him there.  He didn’t blame the hand of man.

Therefore, Dr. Evans notes, “if you . . . miss seeing what God is doing, you will miss the divine purpose of the detour. . . . So never think that just because it’s people you see that it isn’t God directing behind the scenes.”

However, our emotions yoyo up and own.  Doubt = a default response to life’s trials.  But God is a big God, able to handle our words.  In those times  we face feeling of doubt in the darkness of the deepest pit.  Then we must remember God uses those tests and trials- even detours- to:

  • help your unbelief and give you trust
  • open your eyes to see spiritually beyond the physical
  • show you what He wants to improve

In conclusion, Dr. Evans relates a true story of the loggerhead turtle.  The average loggerhead turtle is thirty-five inches in length and weighs around 300 pounds.  In this story, a female turtle climbed up on a sand dune to lay her eggs.  After she did, she became disoriented and started walking away from the water.  Rangers saw this.  They put shackles on her, tied up her legs, and flipped her on her back

Next, they attached a chain to the shackles.  Then they dragged her upside down back to the water with a four-wheeler.  As Tony observes, the rangers jerked around and messed with the turtle.  But the rangers did what was necessary to get her where she needed to go.

Like the loggerhead turtle, we feel jerked around and messed with when adversity hits.  We yell in our hearts at God.  However, Dr. Evans reminds us:

“God answers, often too quietly for us to hear over our own shouts, ‘I’m taking you exactly where you need to be.  Trust Me.’ ”

Today’s question: How have you experienced the hot iron of His molding grace?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “How much of God comes out?”