Tag Archives: encouragement

My “Dirty Little Secret” or, “How to Properly Offend Others”

MMMSquareWhat I Remembered at the Daddy Daughter Dance…

I have a dirty little secret. It mostly only comes out at parties and weddings, but Friday night my firstborn and I attended our very first “Daddy-Daughter Dance” and it reared its ugly head: I can’t dance to save my life. Not that I don’t try… I used to think I was pretty good. I believed in my reputation of being a “great dancer” until a look of near panic came over my then fiancee’s face when we were at a wedding together. One look at my “interpretation” of the moves and she immediately thought: “Oh, NO! He’s a MESS on the dance floor!While I was initially offended at her opinion, I eventually faced reality. Not an ounce of rhythm in this dancer…

She’s now my wife of nearly 7 years. But, she who has all the moves still doesn’t understand how I can know so much about music yet be so “white” and clumsy on the dance floor. Having a ton of knowledge and doing the right motions, doesn’t mean you’re doing them with soul. It’s different to “know about” rhythm than to “have rhythm”. Wouldn’t you agree?

Jesus had a hard time with the Sadducees, Pharisees, and other religious types of His day because many of them were so caught up in their religious moves – outward behavior – that they didn’t realize they had no soul… Pharisee [Hebrew parûsh’] means “set apart”. And, I really believe that these guys started out in the same good place many of us do when we first come to know how holy God is and how utterly sinful we are apart from Him. I learned this in 2001 and immediately wanted to be “clean” in His presence. The problem for the Pharisees is that the ones Jesus was confronting had become so caught up in the moves – the external behavior – that they neglected the proper attitude of the heart: soul… rhythm… love for God and others.

They were Chris Brown in their minds… Montgomery Burns in their hearts… Therefore, Ed Grimley in their moves.

In the Sermon on the Mount beginning in Matthew 5, Jesus essentially tells thousands in attendance that the Pharisees, etc., had all the right moves in God’s eyes, yet no rhythm. How do you think they felt? Offended to know they had no rhythm? They had boiled a relationship with God down to a list of behaviors that demonstrate piety, but were devoid of it. In fact, throughout His interactions with them, Jesus exposes some of them as using God’s name and God’s law for their own gain. “Selfish ambition” is a drive for “progress” devoid of love for God and love for others. But, when it shows up in our own mirrors, ouch. Hurts to find out you’ve got all the right moves and no rhythm… Offensive.

Lately, I’ve heard a number of people talk about being “radical for God” or being “offensive for Jesus”. Most of them, are well meaning – out of devotion to God, and love for how the truth of Christ offends “those who are perishing”, they say offensive or radical things. Their initial hope is good: wake those who are slumbering to the love of God and the atoning work of Christ. However, there is a fine line between offending those enslaved by sin with the truth that can set them free, and being offensive just for the sake of offending.

How to Properly Offend?

We are in grave danger of walking in the Pharisees’ shoes when we seek to offend merely for offendings’ sake. The Lord didn’t offend merely to be countercultural and offensive. But, exposing “inconvenient truths” about deeply held convictions will offend those who do not have “ears to hear” constructive criticism. Jesus only offended with the “you ain’t got no rhythm” truth so that He could teach them “the unforced rhythms of Grace“, rooted in love for those who have all the right moves with the wrong heart and soul. Agape love – the kind of love that God offers us through Christ – is the kind that seeks to elevate others at our own expense, not vice versa. This is the proper starting point for offending others – aim with restoration in mind.

White Boy SyndromeSo, Lemme Askya…

Before you say one more thing to that guy who’s a hypocrite at work, before you send that private Facebook message, before you send that Tweet – are you seeking to offend only to be offensive or because you’d love to see the hypocrite transformed by the Truth, set free by the Lord, and welcomed as your brother/sister in Christ?

Much love (and a whole lot of rhythm),
AP

Be a VIP at the Biggest Super Bowl Party Ever!

NOTE: Late this afternoon, we will begin publishing the transcript of Rabbi Jonathan Cahn’s keynote address at the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. For now, please enjoy this week’s installment of Monday Morning Momentum in a Minute.
AP

“But, if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 2 Peter 1:9”

     When we lose touch with the massiveness of the sins we’ve been forgiven, we’ve become nearsighted and blind. You and I are “eternally opposed” by the enemy, be it Satan, our old sin nature, or the world and their common MO is to keep us so focused on present circumstances and worries of what is yet to come that we are just that: nearsighted and blind. The result – discouragement, ineffectiveness, and “unproductiveness”.

     This morning, I was interrupted on several occasions by each one of our three toddlers and even a few requests by my wife. When you crave uninterrupted time in the word like I was craving it this morning, “interruptions” can easily become the objects of your wrath. Knowing I couldn’t unleash my full fury on my bride or these three precious children, my brain followed the natural pecking order – “point your anger somewhere else”. In this case, it was inward. In other words, rather than exploding at my wife and kids, I chose to be discouraged. I had become short sighted.

     Ever been there?

     The beauty of my folly, or should I say the God who saves me from my own folly, is that ten minutes later, my wife encouraged me with this very verse:
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1.10-11)



Don’t Be Tardy to the Party…

     Imagine for a moment, the scene outside the Oscars or the Super Bowl – the atmosphere is rife with celebration and anticipation of the imminent event. The air is charged with excitement, with everyone looking forward to great moments of victory for someone(s) who will be honored very soon. But, this isn’t the Oscars and the crowd is far larger than all of the Super Bowls combined. 

     It’s THE biggest party EVER – the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) and the day we all get to meet Jesus face to face! And, that’s not all… You hear your name announced in 4-D Dolby Pro Logic 10.1 Infinisound. At the mention of your name, Jesus and the billions in attendance all shout “WELCOMMMMME!!!!” in unison. Balloons fall from the ceiling of heaven, a warm blizzard of confetti flies in your face, choirs of angels sing and Chris Tomlin (God’s worship leader) plays power chords on his 50-string guitar. You are given a VIP welcome to the biggest party EVER!!! Whoop-whoop!!!

     Would that not be “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom”?

Be Encouraged
     This is the target we have to keep our eyes on. This is the target I’m praying right now that God keeps my eyes on. It is so easy to become discouraged, ineffective, and unproductive when we are caught in near-sightedness. Lift up your eyes – look far into your past to see all the sin Christ has lifted you out of. Lift up your eyes – look into the future where a rich welcome awaits those who choose not to forget that we have been cleansed from our past sins.

Free to be Constrained

Ever Feel Threatened?
     There’s a guy in my life who’s avoiding a conversation with me right now because he thinks I’m expecting something for nothing. Actually, I owe him something, but it’s something I can’t give him until it first comes back to me. Long story short, he’s already written me off as lawless and fears I only want to talk my way out of it. Big communication shutdown. I’m in the wrong and need to make amends. But, when I’ve asked for mercy (“…press your plea with your neighbor… (Prov. 6:3b)), only suspicion has been returned.

     What he doesn’t know is that as a believer in Christ, I’m not only subject to the law (Romans 13:1), but I’m also subject to the law giver. Anyone who’s ever paid a speeding ticket knows that it’s no fun to be on the wrong side of the law. But, imagine coming face to face with the God who created the universe and hearing Him request an accounting of everything you did while on His planet in the time He gave you… Does that sound a bit more intimidating than traffic court?

     For me, it does.

Renewed by the Word
     Yet, the great news that God popped off the page is this – while there are men and women out there who would love to entice us into argument, character assassination, word wars, and even litigation, God is sovereign even over them. As I’m reading Proverbs, Chapter 1, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. (Prov. 1:10)”

     Am I calling this guy a sinner? No, categorically, not. I don’t have access to God’s Facebook friends list and I won’t be so arrogant as to sit in judgment over the guy from my mere human vantage point. Furthermore, I’m the guy in the wrong on this one, right? So, let’s focus on the point here and experience the freedom we have in God, shall we?

     Our freedom in Christ seems oxymoronic. To be free to say “no” seems a bit of a dichotomy. Yet, you and I, as Christ followers are compelled by Christ (see 2 Cor 5:14) to only one option – “do not be enticed into doing wrong”. Yes, the example given in this proverb is about being invited to join people who want to go inflict evil upon others, but it also extends to the broader category of “wrongdoing”.

Be Encouraged
    Sometimes, freedom is saying “no” when you have all the room in the world to say “yes”. Could I engage this guy in a verbal war? Could I bite back with character assassination of my own? Sure could. I might even be right at the end of the argument. But, I’d be wrong in Christ and would be abusing my freedom and would miss out on one of the greatest fruits of the Spirit: self control. My freedom actually constrains [Greek: ‘sunexei‘ to control or hold together with constraint] me to one option: love someone who is acting as if I’m any enemy and pray for him while he’s persecuting me. While it sounds painful now, I’d rather do that than lose both the fruit of the Spirit and eternal reward. How about you?

    Until Christ returns, there will always be those who want to wrangle with words and accusations, stir up dissension, even cause us physical or legal harm – they may also try to entice us into sinning against God with them. But, we serve the God who will, in the end, see their knee bowed to Him just as our knee will bend; they, too will be called to account for their actions. May our hope not be in our words or our temporal vindication, rather in the God who searches hearts and minds and will repay us all according to our deeds. (Rev 2:23)

in Christ,

AP

Making the Grades? – Monday Morning Momentum

     One of Cristine’s favorite Old Testament figures is King Josiah. Thrust onto the throne at age 8 after his father was assassinated by his own cabinet at the end of his two year reign. How does an eight year old kid cope with his dad’s untimely murder? The same way you and I ought to respond – “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.”

     I’m sure he grieved the loss. I lost my dad to divorce when I was about his age. My dad was still alive and it marked me for life. I won’t sit here and tell you it was easy. But, Josiah’s heart was all God’s. At eight, he’s crowned. At 16 he begins massive reform figuratively equivalent to bombing ESPN, MTV, FOX, and NBC’s broadcasting operations (2 Chron 34:3-6). He completely turned their culture upside-down. At 26, he restores the temple and the Book of the Law was found.

     If I’m this 26 year old “kid”, I’d be feeling pretty good about myself at this point – I’ve made up for my father’s wickedness, I’m serving the one, true, living God and routing out all other rival gods… I’d be fired up to see how my actions were lining up with this famous manuscript. It’s report card time!

“F.”

     I don’t know how far off the mark Josiah was or even where he was missing the mark, but when he read the text, he “tore his robes (v. 19)” in shame. Even though God had put the wheels in motion to begin the demise and exile of Israel because of their wicked disobedience to Him, the prophet Huldah tells the administration that Josiah will be spared this destruction. For the remaining 13 years of his reign, it’s pretty much “all good in the ‘hood” for Israel and they celebrate a Passover feast that even rivals anything put on in the time of King Solomon or even David, all on Josiah’s dime.

     The key is pretty obvious here – God postpones judgment on Israel a few years “because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God… (v 27)” It’s a gospel message all over again. Repent – change your mind and turn your heart away from idols and lesser gods – and you shall be saved.

     Seasons of Life is about relationships restored, first to the Father, then to the people. When our vertical relationship with Him is intact, often the relationships with those around us bang on all four cylinders with less stalling and coughing. In relationships, one of the greatest idols that comes between us and our God is expectation. When pride gets the best of us, we bank all we have on our plans and expectations of how things should go, people should act, outcomes should manifest. In so doing, we leave little or no room for the plans of God, leading to death, destruction, depression, and/or discouragement either figuratively or literally.

The Good News:

     As always, the gospel offers a reset button of sorts. When we set aside our altars and high places, holding our plans with open hands, we’re free to let God remove from our hands what is temporarily “ours” and replace it with what He knows we really need. With open hands we also lower the risk of losing our fingers when He removes something from our possession very quickly.

     As we grieve our oldest daughter’s departure to live with her dad, we thank many of you for your heartfelt prayers and encouragement. We thank others for tearing their clothes, sitting on an ash heap with us, and weeping without words. But, we also thank God that He has shown us two things: 1) that our children are not ours forever – we are to raise, love, and steward them as any other charge He grants us and 2) that we can trust Him with the expectations we had for how her life would go. Yes, we must grieve the loss of “our plans”, but Josiah’s dextrous feet shifted his balance so nimbly. God grants us the grace to repent of our plans, however good they may have been, and concede to His higher, greater, and better plans.

     What expectations are you holding onto? Will you trust God as Josiah did and run full force in the opposite direction if God so guides you? Even if it means going against what culture and comfort say is right?

The Better News:

     The message of the gospel is not “be good”. It’s “an A+ is completely unattainable” or “you’re wicked and completely incapable of pleasing God, so He did it for you.” You don’t have to try harder to tear down the altars and high places in your life. You’re incapable of doing it on your own. Thank God!!!

Be encouraged. Jesus took your test and passed it with flying colors! His grade can be trusted.

in Christ,

AP

It’s in There

“If the Lord delights in a man’s way,
    he makes his steps firm;
 though he stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24)”

     OK, hermeneutical time out – a psalm is poetry, poetry is not a promise. However, throughout both Proverbs and Psalms are great nuggets of wisdom, insight into the character and nature of God, and a repletion of principles we can regard as “best practices” or “bet your 401K on it”. Are we tracking?

     Our family is at a very difficult crossroads right now. Over the weekend we were faced with a decision so big, I literally woke with a 6 hour headache and took two hours to write a 4 paragraph email. To say that we were mentally and emotionally taxed would be grossly understating things. Repeatedly, I found myself talking out loud to God, begging Him for either overall clarity or at least enough mental acuity to stir the pasta sauce on the stove – neither of which I felt any mastery over. There was nothing useful in my head. Just a pile of unorganizable, edgeless thoughts.

     I’m an external processor – my thoughts untangle themselves best outside my head, such as in discussion or writing. Saturday, I had no one I could talk to immediately who’d bring appropriate experience to the table and mere moments to move on some of the moving parts of the decision. I felt mentally stranded, struggling to find internal resources to bring to bear on the situation.

     On top of that, I had three toddlers running around the backyard, each asking me to play something different with them or screaming that one of the others wasn’t sharing. I felt as if I was holding a live bomb with both hands while having my legs pecked off by a chicken. “Lord, I’ve got nothing to add to the situation but my need for You. Help. Me. Please.”

     Out of respect for your time, I’ll skip to yesterday, when answers came – I opened a bible to Psalm 37 and began reading. If you’ve never had an experience where the words are jumping off the page, pray for one. It will blow… your… mind. With all the thoughts swarming through my head and all the background “noise” outside it, I have never experienced a moment where everything around me just seemed to stand still and the living word calmed my storm. I was flooded with encouragement (I mean, just read that thing!), perspective, counsel, and peace.

     Why does this matter to you?

     Glad you asked.

     The bible does not promise us a wrinkle free life. It does not promise that good things will only happen to good people and the wicked will fail in all of their evil endeavors. It’s never that cut and dried. You’re going to be lied to by people who believe wholeheartedly that if you’re not experiencing great prosperity and material abundance, it’s your fault and your faith is not strong enough. But, scripture speaks forcefully against this:
1 Thess 5:23-24:Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” God is in charge of outcomes and He will achieve His purposes

     Ultimately, the Lord upholds our hand. His plans, not ours apart from Him, will ultimately succeed. If calamity is on us, it is no surprise to Him and He can be trusted to bring us through it. We may fall, even fall off a cliff, hitting rocks and branches on the way down. This does not make scripture a liar. Remember, poetry is figurative literal, not word-for-word literal. In the end – after everything we try so desperately to preserve is turned to ash at the coming of the Lord and the new heavens and earth – we who are made righteous by the blood of Christ will have a “safe landing”.

     I’m not waxing eloquent today to tell you “God is in control” and leave you with that. I’m passing this on in hopes it will spark one of you to lean into God and beg him for the encouragement you need when you need it and to remind you “it’s in there”. God has not left us to wander without direction. He has sent the Holy Spirit to “come along side us” and comfort – one of the ways He does this is to illuminate scripture as we seek the living God who inspired it. Trust in the Lord, wring the truth out of His word. That’s why He put it there. That’s why He sent the Spirit.

in Christ,

AP

Men Stepped Up, Ray Ortlund, and Monday Morning Momentum

Author’s note & pet peccadillo:
     Today, apart from being incredibly grateful to Ray Ortlund for His obedience to God in writing such a timely post as we’ll dive briefly into, I also can’t resist the temptation to play Spelling Nazi. Kelly Talamo named the environment “Men Step Up”, because in his words “lives change when men ‘step up’ to the Truth”. 


     I can’t tell you how many times I hear people ask “Hey, are you going to Men’s Step Up this week?” Okay, I can, I’ll just wind up gritting my teeth into dust… You get the point… I’ll step down off the soap box and put away my red pen. It’s not like I don’t occasionally invent my own words or brutally murder a rule or two of decent, English grammar…

   
Spurring One Another On…

What happens at the tables never
stays at the tables. Praise God!

     This past Friday morning, I had the opportunity to “bring it” at Men Step Up, Gwinnett. Essentially that means I was tasked with standing up in front of a crowd of guys, (many of whom intimidate the heck out of me from a spiritual standpoint), and “provoking” them toward a discussion that would take place at their tables.
     These weekly discussions are proctored by a table leader and outlined by about 4 or 5 questions on the front of an index card (see picture, right). The back side of the card will normally have a lie on it that many of us have either bought into, wrestled with in real life, or both, as well as a few select lines from scripture that either individually or collectively debunk the lie.

Men Step Up is a gathering where the lies of the enemy collide with the truth of God’s word. For more information,
go to http://www.menstepupgwinnett.com/

     If you’ve been reading the blog at all last week (Part 1, Part 2), you know we’ve been talking about the context for current struggle, trial, aggravation, etc. as a lead up to that event. I had planned to present this morning’s post as a combined update/devotional on the topic. However, it seems the day after I spoke, Ray Ortlund posted an article that capped off our discussion perfectly in a mere 20 sentences.

     So, here it is in its entirety with a brief send off from me at the end:

(Please, visit Ray’s blog from time to time at this link: Ray Ortlund. Original post here.)
     “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.  Let your garments be always white.  Let not oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.”  Ecclesiastes 9:7-9
     We could take any of three approaches to the daily experience of this earthly life.
     One, this present experience is all we have, our only chance at a little happiness.  But absolutizing this life puts enormous pressure on us, intensifying our desperation and pushing us toward doing stupid things.  Worse, it cuts us off from the endless love of God in Christ.
     Two, this present experience is a stepping-stone into eternity, which is all that matters even now.  This broken world is more to be endured than enjoyed.  Indeed, this world and everything about it are an embarrassment to any serious person.
     Three, this present experience is brief, non-ultimate and good.  While it lasts, it is to be dignified — not absolutized or despised but dignified — as a gift from God.  This life is a mixture of grace and tragedy, a good creation marred by our human folly.  So, the wise seek the things that are above, where Christ is (Colossians 3:1), and they receive with thanksgiving the good things God gives here and now (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
     The first approach is the unbelief of visceral idolatry.  The second approach is the unbelief of pious negativism.  The third approach is wisdom.  It is biblical, humane, sustainable.
Have a good day.

Be Encouraged:
     The fact that Ray & I have never met and yet he wrote the perfect synopsis of what we were talking about on the very same day, he’s dead on point here. In last week’s post and our discussion at Men Step Up, we concluded that eternal rewards are the context for current suffering, that current rewards are no indicator of eternal and Godly appreciation, and that when it comes to rewards, we have a three tiered “compensation plan”:

  1. One time paycheck: “Atta boy!!!” (remarkably temporary, a la Matt. 6:2, Matt 6:5, Matt 6:16)
  2. Royalties only: “I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (see Rev. 2 & 3) or
  3. Earthly Reward and Eternal 401K: “do everything without arguing or complaining. (Phil. 2:14)”, “Enjoy life… (Ecc. 9:8)” and “I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Rev. 2:23b)” 

     I was amazed at how pertinent this message was for the guys in attendance, at that moment. It may well be pertinent to you right now. Regardless of its relevance in your current season of life, this is a topic neither you nor I will fully grasp in a handful of blog posts or even conversations with godly men and women – this is one of those things that requires the illuminative power of the Holy Spirit to make clear and present in our everyday mindset. It may also require diligent and thirsty searching of the scriptures.

     Be encouraged, be spurred on, and be aware: That Day is coming when we will all receive rewards at the judgment seat of Christ. May your inheritance be great and may you enjoy this life and the one to come.

in Christ,

AP

Gollum, Self-Talk, and the Truth About You (Monday Morning Momentum Minute)

     Yesterday, a friend of mine was watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies and commented cleverly Tweeted “[Gollum] Smeagol needs to work on his self-talk. Very conflicted inside.”
     If you’ve never seen the movies, Smeagol is a disturbed and disturbing character who represents the inward and outward impact of sin on our lives over the long haul. Consequently, he is both tortured and twisted on the outside and in, having been visibly impacted by his enslavement to the fleshly desires, represented by the Ring of Power he so deeply covets. We could probably end in prayer here, right?

So, What’s the Problem?
     The quality of our self talk is a reflection of the quality of our hearts. Gollum’s self talk is much more “talk” than “self” because it comes out of his mouth so often referring to himself as “we” – conflicted and vehemently self deprecating. At one point, he even takes a stand against… uh, himself… arguing with his own reflection, which accuses him of murder. I’m actually refreshed by this in some ways: at least we know what’s on Gollum’s mind. No guesswork required!
     Today, I’m reading Proverbs 23:1-8. Check it out – it’s all about the inward motives of the heart. It’s all about unseen, “private” thoughts. When I meditate on this stuff, I’m mildly refreshed by Gollum’s “self-talk”: at least we know what’s going on in his mind. There’s no guess work here. Even though Jesus tells us very clearly that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”, some people have developed a really powerful filter that prevents the truth from coming out… at least for a time.

Kick the Habit, Not Yourself
     I’ve got a few friends that consider themselves addicts. For good reason – one of them has relapsed into chemical dependency no less than a dozen times this year. I know God’s going to pull him out of this and fully deliver him eventually. But, in the meantime, it’s hard for me to watch how hard he kicks himself when he’s down, calling himself names like “addict”, “doper”, “stoner”, etc. Last week, I was flipping through Ephesians and noticed several words highlighted. Every one was an identity statement: descriptive of how God thinks of us and who we are in light salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.

Here are a few of them:

  • v. 1 saint
  • v. 1 faithful in Christ Jesus
  • v. 3 blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ
  • v. 4 chosen before the foundation of the earth
  • v. 4 holy and blameless in Christ
  • v. 5 predestined to adoption as [a] son
  • etc., etc…

     You get the point, right? We see ourselves one way “for as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23.8 NASB), yet God knows our hearts. If we were to examine our own self talk, we’d get a very accurate picture of who we think we are. But, what would happen if we were to hold those results up against the way God truly sees us in Christ? Just because we think it doesn’t mean it’s true.

Be Encouraged
     There are dozens of “identity” statements throughout the NT that result from our faith in Christ. God not only put them there, but also preserved and protected the canon of scripture not that we would worship the word of God, rather that we would worship the God of the Word, and come to know Him and consequently how He thinks of us… in Christ.

     If you are in Christ, you are a new creation, adopted by God and given the gift of sonship [which includes daughtership, but is no relation to the Mother Ship] and eternal life. That may be very different from how you see yourself or think about yourself. God knows the relationship between what is in our hearts and what comes out of our mouths. He also knows that the way we think of ourselves determines a lot of how we behave. If we would just obey the scripture and think of ourselves as He does, what difference would it make in our day, our week, our weakness, our battles against the private thoughts that so easily corrupt our day?

     Let’s not go back to being the “stingy [evil eye]” man who sees himself like Smeagol. Let’s trust in the only One who holds the words of life.

Monday Morning Momentum Minute – Seeing Spots

     Cristine and I both have a tendency to lean toward the Psalms in our reading during troubling times. Isn’t there something refreshing to know that David, a flawed man, yet a man “after God’s own heart” was used to write some of the most God-exalting yet gritty and honest-to-God poetry in the whole canon of scripture? We both find it very comforting that in one line of a psalm, David is railing on about how the wicked prosper or how his bones ache because of his affliction(s), yet a line or two later he’s on about the faithfulness of God or God being a refuge and strength.

     As we walk alongside Brianna, our oldest daughter, through the most challenging season of her life, we’re also engaged in conversation and discipleship with other men and women who are experiencing the same deeply troubling adolescent trauma with their own children. We’re grief stricken at the painful and damaging choices we’re seeing so many teenagers make and the struggles that are so very present and real in their lives, fueled and exacerbated by a media rich, pornified, and bullying culture And, we are encouraged. Yep. Encouraged.

     In Psalm 10, King David is ruling over Israel, supreme in command of the nation next to God alone, yet seeing the injustice and self-centered, godlessness of the wicked in his culture, wonders what you or I might wonder against the same unjust backdrop – “Where is God?! Am I the only one seeing this stuff?!” (rollover for Psalm 10:1) One piece of perspective David never loses, even in questioning God is this: he sees spots, “bright spots” of God’s faithfulness. Throughout, he refers to God as YHWH – “I Am, That I Am”, the holiest of God’s names. “I Am” implies God’s sovereignty and omnipresence and later, David backs off a bit to acknowledge that” 
“you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
   you consider it to take it in hand.”

and lands the plane at:
16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
   the nations will perish from his land.
17 You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
   you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
   in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.”

     In the midst of our troubles and the great struggles Brianna and her peers are experiencing in the midst of a wicked and godless culture, God has repeatedly shown us glimpses of brightness – “You hear, O LORD, the desire… You encourage them, and listen to their cry.”

THINK:
Where are the “bright spots” in your current strife? Where are the places where God has already shown Himself to be the faithful and just defender of the poor, marginalized, suffering, and/or righteous? If not for you, for others? In light of the fact that God owes us nothing but judgment, yet has given us mercy and grace by slaying Christ on the cross in our place, what do we really have to complain or ache about? (Neither David, Cristine, nor I say this flippantly, but as men and woman currently bearing turmoil, stress, and even persecution.)

ASK:
Can I trust that though I don’t “see” God coming to my aid/defense/rescue that He is not ignoring, forgetting, or deleting my prayers from His inbox? Are you banking too heavily on rewards for righteousness and punishment for wickedness in this age rather than on the age to come?

BE ENCOURAGED:
 God is still on the throne – if we are followers of the living, resurrected Christ and not mere deists or theists, we worship a God who does not turn a blind eye to our troubles and will show Himself in “bright spots”, if not during the storm, at least after. We do not have a temporal hope, we have an eternal hope – that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2. Cor. 5.10)” The wicked will not go unpunished forever. The righteous will not go unrewarded forever. There will come a day, though it may not be today or even this age, but God is watching and rewards are both His to give and forthcoming.

PRAY: “Lord, You are the great ‘I AM’. Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine that You are watching, present, or even good when compared to what is going on around me. Help me to know that You are watching, You are present, and You can be trusted to be good. By the power of Your grace via the Holy Spirit, encourage me in this time – show me a ‘bright spot’ in the storm to remind me of Your past, current, and future faithfulness.”

Monday Morning Momentum Minute

“…do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity… but on account of the wickedness of these nations… Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff necked people. (Deut. 9.4-6 NIV)”

Ouch! That Doesn’t Just Hurt My Neck.

     “Stiff necked?” That doesn’t sound very “Jesus with long, flowing hair, holding a little lamb and playing with children” warm and fuzzy… I thought God was love and He loved me enough to send Jesus to die for me. Now, He’s calling His chosen people “stiff necked”?

     It means “stubborn” and, yes, Israel was being stubborn. You and I are often stubborn. Often, we take more credit for things that God does through us than we ought to. God makes it very clear not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New, that He has a plan and is set out on reconciling the lost to Him, wiping out wickedness not because of the righteousness of those He is pursuing, but because of His own righteousness. God… is… Holy. Without Christ’s substitutionary death (and resurrection), we’re not. Not holy. Ouch, is right. (Read on, this isn’t a permanent stiff neck…)

     Even after we become Christians (justification & salvation), we’re still not perfect. We have a new identity in Christ, but we’re not fully mature and glorified. Be encouraged. Despite our best efforts, God will accomplish what He has planned. The wicked will be punished eternally through separation from God. We who are considered “righteous by faith” will even forfeit some eternal rewards for our own wickedness. God is still sovereign. You are adopted into His family not by your own merit, but by His righteousness (see also, Eph. 2.8)

“So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Phil 2.12-13, HCSB)”

Let’s Loosen That Neck
       God is on track, pursuing an oft stubborn, off track and proud traitor race. This is not a license to do whatever we want – it is freedom from the condemnation the enemy of God would crush us with when we do falter. The great news is – God is sovereign regardless of our shortcomings and He is at work in us, giving us both the strength and the desire to do His work (see previous verse). 

Benediction:

     Today, may you keep a healthy perspective that you and I are not the reason why things work out well when they do. Yet, you and I are not hopeless when things don’t work out. You and I are not the solution to every problem, no matter how talented or in the zone we are. God Himself is the only one worthy of the name “I Am”, making us worthy of the name “I am not” (HT: Louie Giglio). I would only add “I Am Not, and That’s Okay” to the name-tag.

     May the great “I Am” strengthen you in confidence when you are in doubt, not because you are all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips, but because He is already and always on track with His perfect plan. May He encourage you throughout your day when the Accuser comes calling to tell you that you’re stiff necked and that’s all you’ll ever be. May you be in your circumstances, but not defined by your circumstances.

in Christ,

AP

Monday Morning Momentum Minute

Why?
     Every week, I hope God squeezes some truth out of my fingertips and onto our blog that may encourage you. Often, He has given me the dubious honor of telling you about landmines in the road by pointing to the limbs I’ve blown off as a living mine-sweeper. Here’s a lesson that cost me an arm and a leg in a very figurative sense. I hope you don’t step in the same spot now.
 -AP


The End of Superman
     Last year, I believe God Himself brought me to a low point. Through a season of conflict in our home, confusion in our marriage, near-crisis in ministry, and crushing exhaustion, He made me keenly aware of my own weaknesses and limitations. I looked at my wife one afternoon, actual tears streaming down my face as I grieved the loss of a favorite illusion.
     “What’s wrong?” she asked.
     I pushed four, feeble words out of my mouth: “I’m not Superman anymore…”
     I fought God for years, on this, but had finally begun the process of submitting to Him “one last stronghold” in my life – busyness. I’d heard the Mary/Martha parable for years and reacted the same way every time – “that’s a great story, Jesus.” and walked away from it each time thinking “but, that’s a story for women. It’s not about me.” I’d even preached it to other men… Ironic, isn’t it?
     Oops. Only last year did I realize how narrow was the gap between “busy” and “burnout”.
Desperate for a Word
     Only in that low, exhausted, “feeling like butter that’s been spread over too much bread” time could I become so starkly aware of the fact that I was running on my own steam, my own agenda, and allowing the noisy world to drown out the clear and present voice of my Lord. I recall crying out to him for relief many times over a period of weeks only to run into the same wall again only days later with what seemed like no reply from the Spirit. “I’ve gotta hear from you, Lord.” became the preamble to my every prayer.
    Early one November morning, reading through Psalm 33:16-22 (roll over for reference HT: reftagger) came a reply from the Word and, I believe, a Word from the Lord.
   For some reason I paused at this like a flashing red light – looking both ways to see what was coming – and I swear, I heard the Lord say a bunch of thingsanswering question’s I’d laid out in prayer for the preceding weeks, capped off by three words: “Respond. Rely. Rest”
  1. Are you in a season where you’re so busy doing so many things, putting out so many fires, that the majority of what you do falls in the bucket of “react”? “Respond” carries a far more calculated and prudent meaning with it than “react”, wouldn’t you agree? Are you, somewhere, trying to save yourself by a large army or great strength, when a more calculated, wisdom-based approach could yield smarter, compounded results?
  2. My friend Steve’s favorite question to ask headstrong, overachieving men is: “who ya’ depending on?”  So, “who are you relying on, right now?” If your answer now, like mine then, is anything other than an immediate, resounding “God”, God is your co-pilot, when He’s offered to be your pilot. Switch seats. Rely. Really.
  3. Watching the movie “Grace Card” the other night, I was dumb-struck by a scene where a doctor tells a father he can’t donate his kidney to save his son’s life because he has hypertension. I thought of how badly I’ve treated my own body with lack of rest and a “sleep when you’re dead” mentality, not considering how heart-broken I’d be if a doctor told me I was ineligible to save my own son’s life because I’d abused my own body into some one of those self-inflicted “old people” diseases. Are you stuck in the performance track with no discernible periods of regular rest? Who is standing in your shadow right now that would be impacted by your demise, even if you were “merely sidelined temporarily”?
Be Encouraged:
     You’re not the first idiot to fall into the undesirable place you may be at. You’re not even the first smart, seasoned person to fall for it, either. God’s eye is on you, but you’ve got to fear Him, depend on His faithful love, and position yourself for delivery by waiting on Him, not relying on you, your strength, or false hope in your horse or large army. None of this is based on how long you’ve been following Jesus or how convoluted and confusing your current circumstance. It’s all based on the simplicity of hope in God.
Exhale.