“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,… (Eph. 1:16-18 ESV)
In Christ, we all have a ministry. Some work for a “public” or vocational ministry, others less formally minister “privately” to coworkers, colleagues, friends, etc. There are three things we typically tend to compare ourselves to in ministry –
- Insiders – Ministries, other peoples’ ministry efforts, organizations, or businesses
- Outsiders – People in “secular” careers, the unsaved, or those not following God’s call (“but I’m doing God’s work!”)
- Ideal vs. real – Our internal vision of how things should be vs how they actually are.
Generally it’s when things aren’t going well. It commonly manifests as either shame, self-doubt, or anxiety. Shame says “Woe is me, I should be further along, like so-and-so.” Doubt says: “If I were all I should be for God, I’d be making a bigger difference doing x, like them.” Anxiety (fear) says “what if program x flops?”. In all of these cases, we’re putting the course before the heart. Why? Because, it’s not about you.
Can I rub some salt in? Really, it’s not… about… you. Contrasting where we are to where we think we should be, where others are, or where we’d like to be factors out where God has placed us and what He desires of and for us. God didn’t make you them… He made you you. Does that clear anything up?
Repeat that to yourself while I do the same, so we both remember it, mmkay? Guilty.
Matters of the Heart
At the heart of this struggle is this: by grace, God has me right where He wants me. If I’m disappointed with where I am, I have a vertical issue: an idolatry issue with God. What I’m in effect saying is this –
“God should respect my plans and efforts above His.”
Core issue: we’ve taken a man-centric view rather than a God-centric view of things. But, take heart – “no temptation has seized you, but that which is common to man.” Easy enough mistake to make. As a card carrying member of the “been there, done that” club, I ain’t mad at ya…
My dissatisfaction with where He has me, even if I’ve been disobedient along the way, is ultimately dissatisfaction with His sovereignty. He can do whatever He wants and He’s not out to make you or I rich, famous, or even successful in and of ourselves. If He has me stalled out (which I’ve felt like many times in “full time ministry”), He’s aware of it. There is not a circumstance that has come about in history that hasn’t passed through his fingers. Nothing surprises God.
Satan‘s very first ploy was to get Eve to believe she was missing out on something. Trouble is… If you’re longing to be doing something else, there’s a good chance the only thing you’re missing out on is what you’re supposed to be doing right now. Read on, and we’ll uncover what it is we’re really missing…
Did God Allow It or Cause It?
I’ve been wrapped around that axle before, too. So, let me ask you… What difference does it make? Are you going to prosecute a case against the God who told the oceans how far they could go and no further? In my darker, heavier moments, I’ve tried it. Losing battle. Turn back.
Scripture contains enough references to God causing disaster and affliction (e.g. Daniel 9:14, Psalm 119.75) and God allowing the same (just search “God permitted”) that the doctrine of sovereignty ought to put to rest our anxieties over what isn’t, what could have been, and what calamities or shortcomings are yet to come down the pipe at us.
This isn’t to say that our desires and dreams don’t matter to God. Louie Gigilio recently tweeted: “What you do matters to God and man, but you matter because of what God has done. First things first.”
What’s Really Missing?
Paul gets it. His unceasing prayers (above) for the church at Ephesus are that they would know God, not see their ends to their desires met. Rather, that through a deeper heart knowledge of and intimacy with the Father their desires would become His desires. How about you?
If a dissatisfaction is a holy dissatisfaction, it is the kind that points us toward knowing God, not questioning Him or our circumstance. I would argue that sanctification is about God purifying us from matters of the heart that obscure us from truly knowing Him. Agreed?
I pray today, that you would come do a deeper intimacy with God so that your anxieties, fears, disappointments, and shame over what is not would be eclipsed and replaced with joy over who He is and what He has done. Don’t be robbed of present joy by what went wrong in the past, is missing in the present, or looms in the future.
“We weren’t meant to be somebody–we were meant to know Somebody”
– John Piper
Orphans in Your Heart
I have a friend on fire for adopting orphans. He once shared his frustration about many orphan relief efforts like building orphanages, wells, and feeding orphans. “Give the kid a place to live and you’ve still got an orphan.” You’ve met a felt need for the child, but haven’t gone to the root issue.
Knowing I’m not in any position to adopt (in this current season) makes my heart immediately bleed for the organization that is building the orphanages, digging the wells, or feeding the children. But, deep down, I know I’ve merely given them a fish, instead of planting them lakeside with a fishing pole and proper instruction.
“A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty;
rescue them, and you will have to do it again. (Prov. 19:19)”
Some people are just bound to be angry all the time. Don’t hate them. Anger itself is not a sin, it’s what we do with it that gets us into cahoots with God. We’ve all been discipled by our family of origin what “appropriate” expressions of anger are. Some internalize, others explode, still others manipulate, calculate, or plot revenge. Many fail to learn how to “dump” their anger – they hang onto it like an orphan without an adoption plan. We live in a culture that disciples us deeply in personal revenge rather than trusting in God’s vengeance. Just go watch an action movie.
Know Thy Enemy
Anger is a debt-debtor relationship that happens when someone or something fails to meet our expectations. It says “you owe me”. Holding onto a ledger full of debt is a toxic condition that turns Prov 19:19 into a prophecy. An outburst of anger is biologically accompanied by the release of the hormone cortisol. God designed our bodies to handle cortisol in short bursts, to protect us in fight or flight situations. Long term, it’s toxic. It’s terrible for their health: “fretting” or holding on to “you owe me”s can keep cortisol levels high leading to stroke, heart attack, low bone density… overall, bad stuff. No wonder God tells us not to fret.
If you have their permission (“can I help you solve this problem?”), you may be able to offer them some help. This can’t be removing the problem or solving it for them – you’ve merely built an orphanage, not answered their deeper need. It must be in helping them understand the debt at the bottom of their heart. “What does <person/circumstance> owe you?” Understanding that we don’t war against flesh and blood is vital to clearing the emotional confusion surrounding an outburst (or inburst) of anger.
The deepest need of the person struggling with anger is Christ at the center of their life. A proper understanding of the sovereignty of God equips them with a new Father who is never surprised by their “igniting circumstance”. They need to repeatedly answer through fervent, desperate prayer during many lucid moments: “How does God use affliction to transform us (Psalm 119:75)?”
Practical surrender to a sovereign God includes acknowledging He is in the good and the bad, trials are necessary (James 1:3), and it is okay to be angry, but not to sin against others or God.
Power of Prayer?
Prayer is crucial. While the temple in Israel was rife with the stench of death as thousands of animals were sacrificed daily, the priests would go out with censers filled with incense (representing prayer) that brought a sweet smelling aroma into the outer courts. So, what? Prayer may not change their circumstances, but it brings a sweetness amidst the carnage of unmet expectations. If you can teach them to pray with that understanding, you’re leading them to the answering of their deepest needs.
The gospel isn’t about “try harder” and “do more” it’s about the impossibility of pleasing God with our own efforts and His unfailing love despite that fact. It’s about what He’s already done. As today’s verse explains, behavior modification doesn’t fix the angry person. Get them out of a bind and they’ll just be angry again about the next thing that goes wrong. Only a new heart can do that.
Sometimes, a discipleship relationship with another godly man or woman is the critical link needed to help them sort through things on a regular basis. We meet with men, women, and couples often to provide an outside eye and biblical perspective on living the gospel and handling these kinds of issues. Maybe, they just need to grab coffee with a guy like me who’s battled anger frequently, lost often, but found lasting victory in Christ. Give them my card or connect us via a three way email. Aarron at Seasons of Life Ministries dot org.
Pray hard and without ceasing. Love deeply. Forgive thoroughly and often.
Can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a year out like that, running through Genesis, jogging through Exodus, marching through Leviticus, only to get bogged down and stalled out in the muddy genealogies of Numbers… “Next year…”
We attest that we believe scripture to be complete, inspired, and inerrant. We admit that if it’s in the Bible, we can trust God put it in there for a reason. And, when we’re reading Genesis and Exodus, it’s juicy and meaty, but Leviticus is a bit drier and tough. Numbers? Like a mouthful of sawdust, maybe?
What do the genealogies reveal about God? They tell us that He is a faithful Lord, who keeps His covenant from one generation to another. Whoever we are and however far we may have descended from the source of our human life in Adam, we are still part of God’s plan. Over the centuries we have developed differently, we have lost contact with one another, and we have even turned on each other in hostility, but in spite of all that, we are still related and interconnected in ways that go beyond our immediate understanding or experience.
Secondly, what do the genealogies say about us? They say that from the world’s point of view, most of us are nobodies. We live and die in a long chain of humanity, but there is not much that anyone will remember about us as individuals. Yet without us, future generations will not be born and the legacy of the past will not be preserved. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses, a long chain of faithful people who have lived for God in the place where he put them. Even if we know little about our ancestors, we owe them a great debt of gratitude for their loyalty and perseverance, when they had little or nothing to gain from it or to show for it.
Finally, what do the genealogies say about God’s dealings with us? They tell us that we are called to be obedient and to keep the faith we have inherited, passing it on undiminished to the next generation. They remind us that there is a purpose in our calling that goes beyond ourselves. Even if we are not celebrated by future generations and leave little for posterity to remember us by, we shall nevertheless have made an indispensable contribution to the purpose of God in history. So the genealogies bring us a message from God, even if they appear on the surface to be barren and unprofitable. All we have to do is ask the right questions, and their meaning will be quickly opened to us.
“Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:15)”
I’ve often wondered as I’ve read the Gospel accounts of Jesus why He would do a miracle and then tell someone not to make a big deal of it. I mean, he heals a guy of leprosy and tells him – “Just show the priests and offer sacrifices and keep the rest on the down-low. (Matt 8:8, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:14)” What’s with that?
Okay, so Jesus had a reason. I get it.
Why Are You Here, Lord?
But, he does this awesome, public miracle where he feeds over 5,000 people and comes up with leftovers and then “withdraws” to a mountain. We all know that Christ’s miracles were never done for the sake of spectacle, rather to authenticate the power of God in Christ and for His glory. So, in front of a crowd of thousands – AUTHENTICATED! Your Kingdom come, we’re with you, Lord – now BE OUR KING!
So, why doesn’t Christ just come out and say it? “I’m the Christ! Repent and come to God!” Instead: Withdrew again to a mountain? Come on!!!
The Core Issue
The trouble in this scenario is identical to 1 Samuel 8. It is the familiar cry of the depraved soul that says “I want to be like everyone else!” Or, in Israel’s case – “Give us a KING!” The Lord’s reply is similar to the prophet Samuel’s. God told Samuel that the nation hadn’t rejected Samuel, rather God himself. And, so in tragic irony, despite the fact that they wanted to make Christ their king, the people were still rejecting God as their king.
Though they were asking God in a body to be their king, they didn’t really want to make God their king. In classic Jesus form, Christ knew the motives of their hearts: it wasn’t God they wanted. It was freedom from oppression. But, not as Christ would have it. They wanted freedom from the oppression of man, not the freedom from the oppression of sin, self, and spiritual depravity. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, not like the kingdoms of men…
So, Lemme Askya:
Lemme ask you this day: do you want Christ, right now, or do you want merely His blessings? Paul Washer once said even the devil himself would like to be back in heaven as long as God wasn’t there and he didn’t have to bow his knee to Christ. So, what do you want? An earthly king to provide for you and go out and fight your wars like the rest of the nations, or do you want a Holy, sovereign, and worthy King that you can worship and serve for eternity? Do you want Christ because you don’t want hell or because you want Christ?
The Bible asks the same question over and over from Genesis to Revelation: “will you trust Me?” So asks the Lord of you right now: “Why Me? Do you want Me for Me or for my blessings?” Let us resolve to answer that question daily.
Jesus is usually sought after for something else, not for his own sake. – Augustine
in it with you,
Even An Atheist Can Articulate the Gospel
The mid 1800s were approaching and a church organ in the south of France had recently been restored. The parish priest asked a friend to compose a poem to celebrate the event. That friend was a professed atheist named Placidde Cappeau. His poem was entitled “Midnight, Christians”. It was soon set to music by Adolphe Adam and would later be translated into what we now know as “O Holy Night”.
It’s been my number one favorite for many years now, although recent arrangements of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Go, Tell It On The Mountain” by the acapella group Pentatonix now threaten its reign. Cappeau’s original text clearly marks Christmas as a celebration that God sent Christ to the world to eradicate the stain of sin. Wiki it and you may be astounded that an atheist could comprehend the facts of the gospel. Or, you may just be saddened that he, like many, would understand the facts, yet not respond as even he commands his listener:
“Fall on your knees,
O hear the angel voices.”
How Will You Surrender?
One day, we will all see the Christ, the risen Lord and returning King. The Bible teaches us that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father. It doesn’t say “every believer will bow”. It says “every knee”. In other words: whether we hear the gospel message and believe on it unto salvation or reject it as Cappeau did, we will acknowledge Christ as king.
From that point, we will either know Him as Savior King or Supreme Judge. The question is, will you surrender to the truth of the former while there is still time or surrender to the latter after time runs out?
As we approach the “New Year”, I want to encourage us all to remember – Christ is returning. Some say as early as this week. Others say years or generations off. Regardless, the gospel call is this: fall on your knees in surrender to the Lord as redeemer, savior, brother-slave, and coming King today. Celebrate His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection not only at midnight on a day that’s not even His real birthday, but everyday.
What Is Surrender?
I’ve long believed the Bible to be a collection of inspired and inerrant (in their original manuscripts) books that all ask the same question from the perspective of God: “Will you trust me?” That’s what this kind of surrender is all about: full time dependence on and trust in Christ. Not just uttering niceties one day or a few weeks out of the year…
We all have a tendency to be event oriented rather than process oriented. Salvation is both an event and a process – depending on how you understand “sanctification”. We err when we spend so disproportionately our money, time, and effort on one event when the eternal Lord is Lord of our process. Christmas shouldn’t be relegated to just one day or even a season – ransom from sin and death should be an everyday joy. I pray that now that “Christmas” is past (or approaching in another couple of months, depending on what sources you believe) that we (myself included) may begin to celebrate our Savior more fully regardless of the day of year.
Merry Christmas today, tomorrow, and everyday.
On our knees before the Savior,
My bad – here’s my favorite arrangement. North Point Community Church’s ten year old recording has held my #1 spot for a decade now. Thanks, to everyone who made it possible and Jeff Scott for the “money note” at the end.
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4:4-6)
Pregnancy and adoption – these are not emotionally neutral topics in our culture. Most of the time, it’s not attached to the word “unplanned”. But, even planned pregnancy is a game changer for the family involved. There’s preparation, baby gear, decisions to be made, sleepless nights, doctor visits, ultrasounds, and then, the baby actually arrives!
Adoption – this never falls in the “unplanned” category, does it? But, it’s a big deal to all parties involved. Someone “loses”, others “gain”. The stories are typically tearjerkers, but the life of the donor mom, the child, and the adoptive family is never the same. Having met my own biological sister for the first time when I was 30 years old, I know what it’s like to “lose” a family member to adoption, to have family secrets, shame, wonder, and a life changing reunion.
Your Past and Future
God says that because of Adam, we’re stuck under the law. Law says “do this/don’t do that” and you’re on good terms with God. But, these laws were impossible to keep. The written code said “don’t commit adultery”, but Christ would explain that even thinking lustfully breaks that law. How could anyone keep up? Worse, how could a good God expect anyone and everyone to jump over a bar that high?
In Genesis, Adam discovered permanent separation from God was possible with merely one sin against a God who is both holy and eternal. To fix that problem, he’d need an eternal sacrifice – an eternity of second chances. Ever feel like him? If he (consequently we) were ever to be acquitted, he’d need a perfect, eternal, blood sacrifice – because without the shedding of blood, there’s no forgiveness of sins. (See Heb. 9:22)
A baby changes everything.
Leaving Paradise… For What?
Can you imagine you’re on some island beach sipping a fruity drink and you get a call from me that says “I need you to come to Alaska so I can bash your thumbs to smithereens with a hammer. Can you help me out?” Would you hope on the next plane? Me, either. Yet, Jesus left more than a tropical shore and came to earth to be brutally beaten and murdered on a cross. Why? Because, His birth, death, and resurrection make our “adoption to sonship” possible.
I’m from New England. There are two kinds of music I can’t stand: “Country and Western”. But, as a father of four, with a sister who was given up for adoption before I was even born, and as a man adopted into the family of God by the shed blood covenant of Christ, Faith Hill got me on this one. So, here’s my number 2 favorite Christmas song: “A Baby Changes Everything”.
May the Christ child, his life, death, and resurrection change everything for you. For good.