Saturday, May 17, 2014

That's the Kingdom of God

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
-Genesis 1:1-3

God is a God of order, but also creativity.  When He spoke into the darkness and said, “Let there be light” He began the process of creation, transforming the earth from a dark, void, formless place, to something of incredible beauty.  I love how the gospel is right there in those first few verses.  Our lives were dark and void, but God’s Spirit was hovering.  When God’s voice of truth came into our lives His light illuminated our darkness and we were saved.  Thus began God’s work of transformation in our lives.

My wife is very creative.  Among her culinary delights, she paints and draws and designs.  I have a painting on my wall at work, a hand-made calendar she made for my office, cards she has made for me as tokens of her love, and more!  To all these creative things there is an order.  A painter covers a canvas, a writer constructs sentences to weave together a story, an actor uses expression and words to convey emotion, and a good sermon has some structure to it.  Order and structure are conduits for creativity and beauty.

Creation has order to it.  Water and land and sky have boundaries.  Rivers have banks.  Plants, trees, and animals are made “according to their kind.”  God created male and female, similar, yet distinct, different (and let me add, though a subject for another time, that regardless of what our culture says, homosexuality is out of order).

Order, however, is not rigid.  God is not a perfectionist.  He is not a legalist.  Sometimes we take creative license to express something a certain way.  Order then should foster life and creativity, not stifle it.  It is a channel by which things can reach their full and glorious expression.  Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to lighten up!  Relax.  It’s nice to come home to a clean home, but the floors don’t have to be polished to perfection every day and a bit of dust on the coffee table isn’t the end of the world.

The Scripture says that, “…the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)  I would equate righteousness with having God’s order in our lives.  But is righteousness perfection?  I don’t think so.  First of all, we have received righteousness from God; it’s not something we attain in our own efforts.  God sees us as righteous because of what Jesus did on the cross.  Secondly, righteousness is a heart attitude, a desire to want to live pleasing to God.  Thirdly, righteousness will show in right-living.  When we live in righteousness, we will have order in our lives.

We are also a work in progress.  Sometimes creativity looks messy at first, but, that’s because it’s a work in progress.  You may feel like a mess, but, God’s still working on you.  You may appear to have everything in its perfect place, but feel empty inside, void of joy.  Righteousness is not the enemy of joy.  Order and structure should and ought to allow for life, vitality and freedom.  You’ve probably been in a church where there was a lot of structure and “order,” but no LIFE.  It could be a church bound up in tradition and religiosity, or it could be a church severely wounded.  God’s Spirit, hovering, wants to breathe life into that which is dead and bring healing to that which is crushed, so His church can live in the fullness of joy, full of life, creativity, and peace.

Sin causes things to get out of order.  When our lives are out of order we tend towards dysfunction and strife.  When we get back into alignment with God and His purpose, we experience the fruits of peace, love and joy.  When God’s Spirit moves, it may not always seem orderly as we might think of order.  Sometimes it may seem a bit messy.  But, God is bringing order into people’s lives, because what God is doing on the inside of a person is infinitely more important that outward appearances.  If a person is dancing wildly in front of the congregation, perhaps God’s Spirit is moving on him in a powerful way, setting Him free from chains of the past.  Who are we to say he’s out of order?  That’s the kingdom of God.

Here's creative card my wife, Leslie, made for my birthday this year:




RIGHTEOUSNESS, PEACE AND JOY IN THE HOLY GHOST, THAT'S THE KINGDOM OF GOD!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Risk!

When I was a young boy I went to the woods down the street from our house and explored.  There was a small creek, if you can call it that, that went through what I remember as kind of a swampy area.  On my 25th birthday, which is now over ten years ago, my mom sent me a letter in which she wrote the following:  “I remember you going into the swampy area down from our house in Dowagiac (the town we lived in in Michigan) and your mom would have quivers of thoughts [of you] stepping in to quick sand but as a young boy I knew you needed the adventure.”  Every boy loves the thought of a grand adventure, right?  Yet, with any adventure, there is RISK.     

First of all, I very highly doubt there was any quick sand in that swampy area.  I’m not even sure we have quick sand in Michigan, for that matter.  Nevertheless, when I was a boy I didn’t know what mom’s thoughts were, but, reading her letter makes me appreciate the wisdom she had.  Even though she was afraid, she held her fear, and allowed me to have my adventure.  I feel like that was an important part of developing me as a boy and as a man, the permission to explore. 

No matter what we do in life there is some risk.  The world can be an unsafe place.  Even the home can be an unsafe place.  God Himself takes great risks.  He risks trusting frail human beings with important tasks.  He allows us to step into responsibilities knowing that we could fail and that, in the process, we could hurt others.  Yet, he gives us a chance.  And when we follow Him, seek Him and obey Him, we succeed.  And even when we fail, He is able to redeem our failures and still complete what He began in our lives. 

God takes great risks.  How about the risk of temptation?  God stood back while Adam and Eve were tempted, risking that they could disobey.  And they did!  Yet, God already had a plan in place.  God does not tempt us, but He certainly permits temptation.  Jesus Himself was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1).  What if he failed? 

God allows imperfect men to marry sweet wives, knowing those husbands may mistreat them.  God risks allowing imperfect couples to raise children, knowing that we will wound those children.  God gives wonderful dreams to us, knowing we could foul the whole thing up.  God entrusts us weak vessels with His message of salvation, knowing we will often fall short of His holy standards.  God entrusts imperfect people to shepherd His flock, knowing those Pastors could damage the sheep.  And sometimes they do.

We risk a lot in following God.  It’s not really risk, it just feels that way to us.  If we follow Him we may have to risk trusting Him to provide for our needs.  Will He come through?  Will He be faithful?  There is a tension that we feel in walking by faith that is uncomfortable.  We all have, at times, those feelings of uncertainty.  What if I was wrong?  What if I didn’t hear from God when I really believed that I did?  Why is it that I hear from God so clearly sometimes, yet, sometimes reality doesn’t seem to line up with the wonderful things He has spoken?  That’s the risk we take.

God develops us, He forms and molds us, not in a place of complete safety, security and comfort.  He develops us in the realm of real life.  Real life can be messy.  When the Spirit hovered over the earth before creation, it was dark, “formless and empty…” (Genesis 1:2)  Yet from that dark place God formed something beautiful, full of light and life, creativity and order. 

As you walk with God, take a RISK.  That risk may involve great sacrifice, even suffering.  You may be betrayed, become discouraged, quiver with fear, and get hurt.  Yet, there will also be great joy, satisfaction, excitement, and, in the end, a great reward in heaven.  Take a risk!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Agonizing Defeats, Glorious Victories!

“…we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.  Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us…” II Corinthians 1:8-10

Have you experienced a defeat, failure, or burden in life that seemed beyond your ability to endure?  We all may walk through valleys of seeming agonizing defeat, where we feel the “sentence of death,” but I believe that God is able to raise us up to a place of glorious victory!

When I started out in Christ I don’t think I realized it would be so hard.  I wanted to be like Jesus.  I wanted to know Him.  I wanted to walk closely with the Lord and do great things for Him.  But praying to be close to the Lord and actually going through the valley of despair and utter discouragement, where you feel like you’re at risk of losing it all, that’s a whole other story. 

The fact is, there are valleys deep, dark places in life.  I would venture to say that those who purpose to walk closely with the Lord may go through some of the darkest valleys of all.  We cannot pray them away.  We can’t possess so much faith that we rebuke them till they disappear. 

Sometimes the best faith is the faith that bears down and perseveres.  How about the faith that, though bewildered, though questioning God at every turn, though shaken to its very core by the sheer weight of the agony, gets up another day and presses on?  How about the faith that says, “God, I don’t understand this, but I will follow You.”

We rise up again to face another day.  Tested?  Yes.  Tried?  Indeed.  Despairing of life?  Sometimes, yes.  Nights where we cry out to God in agony of soul?  Yes, we’ve been there.  “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (II Cor. 4:8-10) 

Thank God He has not assigned us to a life of perpetual failure and defeat.  We serve a God who raises the dead, who always causes us to triumph! (II Cor. 2:14)  The life of God flourishes in our deepest valleys, as we do walk closer with Him and we do become more like Him. 

As we press on in faith we are encouraged, and we encourage others.  We are ministers of the same life of God that raised us up from our darkest valley.  In fact, what we may see as a valley of defeat may be a pathway to greater and more glorious victory.  We need only look at the cross to see this truth.  You may have suffered what seemed like agonizing defeats, but God looks down on you and sees a glorious victory!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

January

the times I wish that you were here
you would know just what to do
now I am living in fear
and I just want to feel that peace which once surrounded me
I hold her close, and thank the Lord
looking back, wide-eyes with wonder
when I walked into the room I could feel the darkness
but when I saw you in the sanctuary
tears streaming down your face
I could feel the presence of God
and though the battle was fierce, I knew that He was real
I remember every moment, just like it was yesterday
I rode all over town, and back again
and how I wanted to please you
though I crashed, still, I brought the rose, unbroken
that was so long ago
now I face each day with fear
and I just want to feel that peace which once enveloped me
I hold her close, and thank the Lord
and she smiles and hugs me back
I wonder, will I ever, be free from the shackles and the chains
when I’ve cried out, and I still do and I still shout
and I’ve twirled around like a wild man
hoping to touch the face of heaven
dear Lord, will I ever
be free from fear and free from shame?
I rise up to greet you
but with every blow I’m taken back, to the ground
I am shaken, this giant unbeaten
I forget the days, when, like a child, I ran to the battle
that was before the long, cold journey
through the wilderness
and this desert has left its scar
and I wonder, if I’ll ever, be free from its shame
the heaviness laid upon my soul
ripped bare, I lift up my eyes
and wonder if I really have the strength
she places her hand in mine, and smiles
and I thank the Lord
Lord, come tonight and visit me
make the words that you have spoken real
let me see the day, when your word is not just memory
or a dream, of what might have been and all I hoped that it could be

but let it be alive in reality

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Best Days are Ahead

At times in my life I have looked back on what used to be and longed for those days.  Recently I was thinking of the house where I spent a good part of my childhood.  Those were great years, riding my bicycle all around town, exploring in the woods, going to my best friend’s house for sleepovers.  Those were the simple, carefree childhood days.  But those don’t have to be the best days.  The best days are ahead.

God wants us to have hope for the future, and, of course, joy for today. 

Someday I hope to take my wife back to the place of my childhood.  I want her to see where I grew up and be able to share those memories with her.  But I doubt I will ever live in that town again.  I can’t turn back the clock and relive those days.  And that’s okay. 

There have been times in recent years where I've struggled significantly with the direction of my life.  I felt stuck in my job, it seemed I couldn’t leave if I wanted to.  I think, at times, I was a bit frantic, thinking I had to figure out something to do with my life.  I wanted to do something of significance.  I felt like Joseph in the prison, the Lord was with me, but it seemed like little was changing for the good.  My discouragement, at times, and sense of disappointment was deep and debilitating.  It has clouded my whole view of life. 

But today is a new day.  God has brought about changes in my life in this last year that have given me a fresh hope for the future.  About a year ago I was promoted in my job.  The pay, though not super-great, is better than I’ve ever made.  I met my beautiful wife, Leslie, and now I have hope that we will start a family, that I will be a father, and that our family will serve God in ministry.  God has also given me a fresh sense of direction regarding my career and my calling.  Things are not perfect, but, things are better.    

The oft-quoted verse in Jeremiah says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (vs. 11)  No matter how good things were in the past, or how bad things may have been, we can believe that the best days are ahead.  My prayer for you today is that God will give you fresh vision for the future.  I pray that God will “give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…” (Ephesians 1:17-18)  

The best days are ahead!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Every Good and Perfect Gift

Thinking back on many Christmases, can you think of a gift that was especially meaningful to you?  As I’m thinking about this, I know I’ve received some nice gifts over the years, but, looking back, it’s much less about the gifts received and more about the memories shared with loved ones.  I’m thinking of the times around the holidays at the dining room table or in the living room playing games with the family.  Or how about the times spent singing carols and reading the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2 on Christmas Eve?  You probably have similar memories.  Those memories are a gift.

Last night my wife and I spent the evening with my sister, Becky, and my brother-in-law Jason.  I read a book and relaxed while Leslie and Becky baked in the kitchen.  Then we sat at the dining room table and played a board game.  Later that night, at home, Leslie and I read from the Scriptures and then prayed as we took Christmas communion together as a couple.  I wrapped a couple of gifts, we tidied up around the house, and we got to bed about 4:30 in the morning.

I woke up today excited about watching my wife open the gifts I bought for her and about opening mine as well.  Before opening the gifts we read the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew.  We opened the gifts and then, for the the remainder of the day I’ve been able to just relax.  The day has been a gift that I’ve been able to share with my lovely wife.   

The Scripture says that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)  God brings perfect gifts into our imperfect lives, and in the midst of our own imperfections, He blesses us.  I realize how much I don't deserve God's gifts, yet, as I write this, I look over in the kitchen, and there my wife is, a great blessing in my life.    

Though we did not deserve him, God gave us His Son, Jesus, His good and perfect gift from above.  He came into our lives and blesses us, though we are imperfect.  Through Him we can sense how greatly blessed we are.

This Christmas I am thankful for the gifts God has given me and how much He has blessed me.  And, I am thankful that He sent His Son, Jesus, as a baby in a manger, to ultimately die on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!"
II Corinthians 9:15  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Commissioned!

“…that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:19

The following is a dream I had last year, on Sunday, October 28th.  I will explain the dream as best as I remember it, from what I wrote in my journal, adding my thoughts and impressions from the dream.

I arrived from work, feeling somewhat detached from what was going on.  There were people sitting, watching some kind of conference or event that was taking place.  We were in some kind of cafeteria or auditorium.  There was an event taking place with my church; I believe people from my church were there.  I think they were looking through glass to the auditorium, and on the other side of the glass there was a stage, and I know Jan Crouch from TBN was there. 

Then I walked down a hall of some sorts, and sat down by a small wooden door.  Inside the door Creflo Dollar was speaking.  It may have just been an audio recording of him.  I believe he was speaking on the primary mission of the church.  Maybe he had 3 points about the church’s primary mission. 

Then I looked up and saw Paul Nelson’s face, broken, like he was weeping.  Paul and his wife are the youth pastor’s at my church, and the directors of our World Prayer Center.  It was as if he was longing for all of what God has to be realized, a deep cry of the heart for the fullness of all that God has.  I believe that desire could be for me personally, for my home church, and even for the church at large.

Then my pastor came and laid his hands on me.  I believe he stood behind me with his hands on my head.  The sense and impression of his prayer was that of GRACE, BLESSING, and COMMISSIONING, and even DELIVERANCE too.  He was praying a blessing of grace for me, I believe for my deliverance, and commissioning me to fulfill the Great Commission.  I believe I heard the words, “Go, go, go!”  There was a sense of commissioning and sending.  For me, personally, perhaps a sense that I will be delivered in my heart, and sent out to fulfill the Great Commission. 

When Pastor laid his hands on my head there was an earnestness in his prayer, I believe, that spoke to something deep in my heart.  As I awoke I was weeping – not really shedding tears, but weeping.  I was being touched by the Lord. 

I think much of the dream is self-explanatory.  However, when I shared my dream at my church’s Sunday evening equipping service I believe one of my friends pointed out that the dream speaks of a generational transfer taking placing between one generation and the next.  Jan Crouch, Creflo Dollar, and my pastor all speak of the former generation.  Jan and Creflo, despite their imperfections, may speak that God will use us even though we are far from perfect.  I believe there is a deep desire of God for the church to walk in the fullness of all He has called us to do, both corporately and personally.