Heavens and Depths

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
Psalm 139:7-8

David had a deep understanding about what it meant to be loved by God.

Here was a man who accomplished great things for God. He stood up to and defeated the Philistine champion. He honored Saul even though he was trying to kill David. He killed tens of thousands of the enemies of God. He established the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. He drew up plans for the temple of God. He was even called a man after God’s heart.

David had a dark side as well. He committed adultery with the wife of one of his trusted generals. He tried to cover up his sin, devised a plan, and ordered Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed. He lied to the prophet of God, tried to vindicate himself before God, and allowed pride to control his heart.

David had his ups and downs.
His times of passionately pursuing God, and times where he deliberately disobeyed.

And yet, he knew he was loved.

Before David accomplished anything, before he performed great exploits, before he sinned and fell and had to face the consequences of his choices, he had a revelation about God’s love.

No matter where he went, no matter what he did, God was still there.

Whether David found himself in the heavens, pursuing God with all he had, obeying His commands, growing his relationship, and doing everything a good God-follower is meant to do, or whether he turned his back, made his bed in the depths of sin, despair, and darkness, God was there.

God wasn’t going to leave David.
He wasn’t going to abandon him.
He wouldn’t love David any more or any less based on what he did.

And it changed David’s life.

God’s love transcends our actions.
Goes beyond our choices.
And pursues us whether we pursue Him or not.

We are loved and we are accepted by the God of the universe.
Whether we go up to the heavens, or make our bed in the depths.

He will pursue us, He will find us, and He will love and accept us no matter what we’ve done.

So, my brothers and sisters, as you journey towards the cross this Lenten season, may you find the overwhelming love of God pursuing you. May you realize you are loved and accepted no matter what you have done. And may you, as you embrace that love, find the strength to cast off every sin and passionately pursue Him in return.

Where in your life do you need to be reminded that you are loved and accepted?

A Crouching Enemy

“But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Genesis 4:7

Sin. We all do it.

We all have those areas in our lives where we fail to live up to God’s standard. Where we put our own desires and cravings before the needs of others. Where we allow the lusts of the flesh to take over and do things we wish we hadn’t.

It’s part of our inherent nature.

We stumble.
Fall.
Struggle with those sinful temptations that assault our minds.

Sin is seen as nothing more than failing to do what is right.
A lack of good judgement and a promise to do better next time.

But God paints a different image of this beast.

After refusing Cain’s offering, God warns him about the dangers of not doing what is right – that it unleashes a force in our lives ready to destroy us.

Sin isn’t some bad behavior, mistake, poor judgment, or temptation we struggle with. It’s not just breaking a command, dealing with jealousy or anger or selfishness or vanity. Sin isn’t breaking away from some ancient code found in the Bible.

It’s an animal crouching.
Waiting.
Looking for the right opportunity to pounce and devour its prey.

Sin is a living force ready and waiting to attack the moment we choose anything less than God’s standard. It has motives, plans, desires to consume every aspect of our lives and rip us apart. It wants nothing more than to see us maimed and bloody, lying in the gutter of what was meant to be our lives.

Sin is not to be taken lightly.

It’s an enemy to be defeated.
A force to be subdued.
An animal to be mastered, brought into submission and dealt with.

Otherwise, it sits by, crouching, waiting for that opportune moment when our guard is down to pounce…and destroy the life God intended us to live.

So, my brothers and sisters, as we begin this season of Lent, may you be reminded of the severity of your sin. May you find yourself mastering that beast within. And may you, as you focus on the saving power of Jesus Christ, find that the crouching lion of sin has turned into a docile cat with no power over your life.

What area of sin in your life do you need to master?

Experiencing Resurrection

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Philippians 3:10-11

Yesterday, Christians around the world gathered to celebrate Easter – that time of year when we remember Christ’s resurrection from the dead and what it means for us today. We went to church services, gathered with family to share a meal, thanked Christ for His death and resurrection, and indulged in the luxury we gave up during Lent.

It is a pretty powerful day in the Christian calendar.

But then Monday rolled around, and we were back to life as usual.

No sign of new life. None of the excitement of Resurrection Sunday. No more exuberant celebration, Facebook status messages exclaiming that He is risen, or inviting our friends and family to church. Just back to our everyday tasks as if Sunday had been like any other day.

We think Easter is all about celebrating something that happened 2,000 years ago.

Paul had a different view.

You see, to him, Christ’s resurrection wasn’t just something you celebrated once a year. It wasn’t about bunnies and eggs and candy and dressing up and going to church and eating ham.

It was about change.
Real change.
In us.

It was about changing our mindsets, attitudes and outlook on life. It was aboutt changing the way we viewed others, and how we treated them. It was about recognizing the strongholds in our lives, and allowing Christ to set us free. It was about realizing the dreams we’ve allowed in die within us, and seeing them brought back to life. It was about facing the sin within us, and allowing Christ to resurrect something beautiful out of our darkness, and somehow to attain to a resurrection of our own.

Resurrection Sunday was never meant to be about celebrating something that happened, but something that happens. Every minute of every day in the lives of those who follow Christ.

And allowing that change within us to point others to Christ.

And so, my brothers and sisters, may you begin to see resurrection not as something that happened, but something that continues to happen. May you see Christ bringing resurrection in every area of your life. And may you, as you continue to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, experience resurrection of your own.

How can you continue to experience resurrection?

Hope is Coming

“Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” John 11:45

This week, many Christians will find themselves in special services, reliving the events and celebrating the freedom from sin found through Christ’s death. We rejoice in these days, thanking Christ for what He did and go as far as calling it Good.

But to the first disciples, this week was anything but good.

They didn’t understand the need for Jesus to die. They didn’t realize it was all part of God’s redemptive plan. They didn’t know that His death was only temporary, and that He was going to come back to life in a few days.

To them, Friday was dark.
And Saturday was empty.

They watched as their Messiah, the One who was supposed to overthrow their Roman oppressors and establish Israel as its own kingdom again, was killed. Nailed to a tree. By the ones He was supposed to conquer. They stood by as everything they gave their life for – the kingdom they abandoned jobs, homes, family and friends to establish – was over.

Everything they went through, everything they sacrificed, everything they learned, practiced and taught was all for nothing.

Jesus was dead.
Life just didn’t seem to make sense.

The disciples did the only thing they could: they went back to the lives they knew before Christ.

They had lost hope.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve gone through a set of circumstances that made you feel as if God wasn’t there. Maybe you’ve prayed and sought and cried out…only to have things get worse. Maybe everything you gave your life for, everything you thought God was going to do, fell apart and all you want to do is return to the life you knew before.

Maybe everything feels dark and empty and there is just no hope for things to get better.

But remember, Sunday is coming.

He didn’t stay in the grave.
Death did not have the final word.
Hope coming.
You might just need to endure some darkness to get there.

[Image via Bud Ellison CC]

Becoming

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:13-14

Paul knew the kind of man he was becoming.

He knew where he had come from. He knew the former zeal he had for the law. He knew all about his old reliance on rules and traditions and deeds to make himself right with God. He accepted the fact that he was formerly against God, persecuting and killing those who served the true God.

Paul was intimate with the details of who he used to be.

But he didn’t let that define the man he would become.

He didn’t allow his past sins to stop him. He didn’t let his old thought life hinder him. He wasn’t going to continue letting his old self dictate who he was.

Paul recognized that every action he took, every command from God he obeyed, every time he stepped out in faith, every thing he did was shaping the person he would become.

Both good and bad.

So Paul did the one thing many of us hesitate to do.

Paul took the time to work on his character.

He allowed God to point out the areas of sin in his life. He wrestled with destructive thoughts in his life. He pushed and pulled and faced the shame of his old self. He made amends with those he hurt.

Paul focused less on what he was doing for God and more on who he was becoming in God.

That’s not an easy path to take.

It’s easier to do stuff for God. We can put a value on what we do. How many messages we’ve given, how many people we “won” to Christ, how often we’ve evangelized, how many people are in our ministry, how many times we’ve volunteered. It’s easy to figure out what you’ve done for Him.

But who we are becoming? There’s no quantitative value to show how far we’ve come. It’s all about looking inward, dealing with areas of nagging sin, working on character flaws, dredging up the dirt and muck in our lives and dealing with the things we’d rather keep buried.

Who really enjoys finding their flaws and trying to fix them?

If we want to do big things for God, if we want to make a lasting impact in the lives of those around us, we need to develop our character.

Those nagging sins and character flaws we think aren’t a big deal, have the potential to bring a lot of hardship and pain into our lives.

  • “Just looking” at that guy or girl will eventually lead to you wanting more.
  • Telling little white lies to get what you want will lead to bigger, and more hurtful lies.
  • Finding value in popularity or job status will lead you to use others.
  • Pretending to be someone you’re not will eventually blow up in your face…or cause you to lose yourself in the lie.
  • Spending more time watching TV than with God or your family will eventually cause you to be disconnected and alone.

Every decision you make today – how you spend your time, how you respond to hurts and pain, who you hang out with, how you respond to criticism – all will set the pace of who you will be in 10, 20, 30…even 50 years from now.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as we prepare ourselves to experience resurrection, may you remember that what you do is not more important than who you are. May you have courage to do the hard work of shaping your character. And may you, as you prepare yourself to experience the risen Christ, find that you are changing who you are becoming for the better.

How is God working on your character?

Consider it Pure Joy

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”
James 1:2

Every time I read the book of James, every time my eyes try to stroll pass that second verse without taking it in, every time I’m in a trial and trying to find comfort, I can’t help but think James was a little crazy. Or high on drugs. Or maybe just completely off his rocker.

Consider. It. Pure. Joy.

When you are let go from your job, consider it pure joy.

When your marriage is falling apart, consider it pure joy.

When the checkbook doesn’t have enough to pay your bills, consider it pure joy.

When you are being persecuted, mocked and tormented, consider it pure joy.

When life as you know it is falling apart, consider if pure joy.

When the pregnancy ends abruptly, consider it pure joy.

When your child chooses the ways of the world over the ways of Christ, consider it pure joy.

When the car breaks down, the house is broken into or the neighbor tries to sue, consider it pure joy.

When trials and tribulations come, my immediate reaction isn’t to jump up and down with joy. I don’t relish the idea of going through hard times. I don’t pray for them. I don’t ask God to make me more joyful by putting me through trials. I don’t consider trials the joyous times of my life.

Trials and joy don’t really go hand in hand for me.
And I think it’s safe to assume, they don’t go hand in hand for you, either.

Joy in trials goes against our very nature.

And while James’ statement may make it seem a bit weird, while his command to consider it not just regular joy, but pure joy to go through, seems a bit crazy, maybe he was onto something. Because trials produce something in us that no amount of blessing or comfort or gift ever could.

Trials help us grow.

If we allow them to, the trials and hardships we face have the potential to build our character, deepen our faith, and widen our compassion. They help us weed out our bad attitudes and thought patterns and pride. They push us to depend on fully on God for everything. They shape us, mold us, and smooth out our rough edges.

Trials bring us into maturity and make us more like Christ.
And that is something to rejoice over.

Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because those trials and hardships and nights you find yourself crying out to God with seemingly no answer are producing in you the character and maturity to walk into all God has for you.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as you face trials and hardships and difficulties in life, may you find yourself rejoicing. May you come to see that every season of life, both good and bad, are being used to mold you into the person God has called you to be. And may you, as you push into Him in your trials, find that the very hardship you want to run from, is the very thing you needed to grow closer to God.

How has God turned your trials into something  joyful?

Lent Deeper: Made New

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
2 Corinthians 5:17

It’s not always easy to believe that we’ve been made new.

We know our sins. We know our mistakes. We know the ways in which our minds haven’t been renewed. We know the regrets that still haunt us. We could immediately point out those temptations that still plague us. We still have those deep dark secrets we hide from the world.

No point in time in our walk with Christ can we honestly say we don’t know how we’ve sinned.

We know the mistakes we made yesterday.
The thoughts we let run through our minds last night.
And the selfish desires that run through our hearts on a daily basis.

We are intimate with our faults.
Which makes it hard to believe that we’ve changed.

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Lent Deeper: Received by the King

“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.”
Psalm 27:10

David was familiar with rejection.

When the prophet Samuel came calling, looking to find King Saul’s replacement and anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king of Israel, Jesse, David’s own father, barely acknowledged him.

He brought all his other sons before Samuel.
He tried pushing each one into that position.
He hoped and prayed and desired that one of his other sons, one of his stronger sons, smarter sons, more manly sons would be anointed king.

He wanted one of his other sons to be king.
He didn’t even consider David in the running.

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Turning Away from Sin

“Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me.'”
Jeremiah 15:19

Read through the book of Jeremiah, or really any of the Old Testament, and you might get the idea we serve a vengeful God.

Whenever the Israelites sinned, whenever they did wrong, whenever they made a mistake, didn’t sacrifice the correct animal, forgot to celebrate a feast, touched a dead body, reaped all of their field instead of leaving the edges for the poor, didn’t wash their cup or their hands or themselves correctly, or even just looked in the wrong direction, God would punish them.

It seemed they were always doing something wrong.
Even in this portion of Jeremiah’s story, the children of Israel had messed up again. They refused to follow God’s command, began neglecting the poor and the widow and the orphan, turned their back on God and started serving other gods.

So God promised to punish them.

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Lent Deeper: Facing the Darkness

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
James 1:15

Tomorrow starts the season of Lent, those 45 days before Easter where many Christians take time to reflect on the power of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and prepare themselves to experience new life.

It’s a season of introspection, a season of reflection, a season of preparation and repentance as we journey to the cross and resurrection of Christ.

And it all starts by facing the darkness within.

We all have it. That one sin, that one struggle, that one area of darkness that we just can’t seem to conquer. We pray about it, set up boundaries to avoid the temptation, go to counseling, prayer circles and even set up accountability to tame the darkness within, but still stumble.

We’re flawed.
Warped.
Broken.

And we know it.

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