Sunday, August 31, 2014

He Delivers!

I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.”
Psalm 34:1

In December of 2005, I was struggling with a heaviness on me, so much that I didn’t think I could take much more.  I prayed Psalm 34 on a Wednesday night and cried out to God with all of my heart.  Nevertheless, the next day was just as bad.  I went to bed feeling frustrated.  That night, however, I had a dream.  In the dream I was worshipping the Lord.  While worshipping a lady from my church came up and laid her hands on me and I fell to the floor, touched by God’s presence.

I woke up the next morning feeling much better.  God had touched me.  It’s not that He completely removed my struggle, but He gave me the strength that I needed.  God’s grace was sufficient for me; His power made perfect in my weakness. (see II Corinthians 12:9) 

Sometimes we may go through difficult experiences and perhaps the only explanation is that we are simply being attacked by the enemy.  We have an enemy and he hates us.  I know, from my own experience, that the weight of oppression and heaviness can be crushing and debilitating.  We need the presence of God.

I have known depression and I’ve known despair.  But I’ve also known God’s presence lifting me up, giving me the strength to carry on.

I believe God has used these times in my life to help me draw closer to Him.  When we seek God during difficult experiences, our walk with Him is deepened.  God also uses the hard times to grow our faith and to form His character in us.  Through it all, He is closer to us than we realize. 

Difficult times in our lives can be because of our own sin or disobedience.  However, very likely that is not the case.  We cannot make the mistake of assuming that just because life is difficult that it means we have failed God or are living in sin.  It may simple be an attack from the enemy. 

Consider these excerpts from Psalm 34:

I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice. (vs. 2)

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them. (vs. 4-7)

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are attentive to their cry … (vs. 15)

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The righteous person may have many troubles,
    but the Lord delivers him from them all
... (vs. 17-19)

There are some difficult words in these verses: 
  • afflicted
  •  fears
  •  shame
  •  poor
  •  troubles
  •  brokenhearted
  • crushed
Yet, there is more in these verses that show us we do not have to stay in a place of defeat. 
  • God answers
  • God delivers
  • God hears
  • God saves
  • Angels encamp around those who fear Him
  • God’s eyes are on us
  • God is attentive to our cries
  • God is close to the brokenhearted
King David, who wrote this Psalm, sinned and made mistakes in his life.  But he was a man after God’s own heart; a man who loved God.  Nevertheless, he experienced trouble in life.  He testifies, 4 separate times in the verses I quoted, that God delivers us out of our troubles.  We may go through times where we feel very much attacked by the enemy, but with the Lord there is DELIVERANCE.  We can move on to a place of victory.   

Another word in these verses is RIGHTEOUS.  Life is not easy, perhaps even especially for the righteous.  We need God’s help to overcome our flesh and we also contend with demonic powers bent on our destruction.  We may struggle with fear, heaviness, anxiety, shame, etc.  Yet, God is faithful.  A few moments in God’s presence can change our perspective on life and the circumstances that hedge us in. 

A Scripture that holds special meaning for me is Isaiah 54:10.  It says,

Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (vs. 10)   

God’s love for you will never change.  His unfailing love will never be shaken.  His covenant of peace will never be removed from your life. 

Do you feel afflicted, overwhelmed by fear, clouded by shame, troubled, poor, brokenhearted, or crushed in spirit?  Please believe me, I do not want to minimize anyone’s struggles.  I know what it is like to struggle in life.  But I know that Jesus is the answer; God has the answers.  Rejoice in the Lord, seek His face, worship Him, cry out to Him, draw close to Him.  He will deliver you!

Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together. (Ps. 34:3)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

All Things New!

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
II Corinthians 5:17

The fall of 2012 was a time of transition in my life.  I met Leslie at that time and then we were married in June of 2013.  The season of transition was not just in the sense of going from the single life to the married life, but also of receiving a promotion from the Lord.  During that time, the Lord spoke to me several times, communicating His heart towards me and confirming His will for my life.  One of the things I believe the Lord told me was that I’d been through a long test, I passed the test, and I’d been promoted.  He also showed me that I was coming out of sorrow and into the Promised Land.  It was, in many ways, like transitioning from an old life to a new life, or at least God cleansing me and setting me free from things of the past.    

Prior to that time, I had gone through a season of real disappointment and discouragement, even, at times, depression and despair.  During that difficult season, I became angry and bitter towards the Lord.  It seemed like His promises for my life were not coming to pass.  I was definitely questioning God’s faithfulness.  But then everything started to change. 

Psalm 105:19, referring to Joseph, says, “Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him.”  I lived that Scripture.  I waited many years on a promise I believed God has given me.  Part of that promise was marriage.  At age 33, and not seeing God move on my behalf in this area of my life, was disappointing and discouraging.  There were other disappointments too.  The Scripture says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Proverbs 13:12).  That’s how I felt, sick in my heart.

Nevertheless, and regardless of my feelings, God was faithful to His Word.  That said, moving forward from the old things of my life and into the new things has not been easy.  The enemy puts up a fight; he does not give up easily.

God’s word has, in many ways, come to pass in my life, yet, I have still struggled, and I still struggle today.  God may say, in essence, “It’s time to enter into your Promised Land,” but we don’t enter into it in one day.  In my experience, it is a process.

Satan certainly does not want to see us move into all that God has for us.  Some of the enemies in my life, such as anger, disappointment, bitterness, do not want to let go.  Even while entering into my “Promised Land,” I’m still struggling to overcome in these, and other, areas of my life.  Moving past these feelings is not easy.  Also, perhaps because of the depth of past disappointments, I have not obeyed, or I’ve at least struggled to obey, instructions from the Lord.  Nevertheless, despite the struggles, God keeps moving me forward into His plan and purpose.

Last November (2013), after getting married in June of 2013, I was cleaning out my old apartment.  Unfortunately I had to keep paying the rent on my old apartment because of the lease, even though Leslie and I were not living there.  So, there I was cleaning out my old apartment.  When I threw out the trash, I threw out the entire wastebasket, not just the trash bag. I realized that was the last place I would live as a single man, and I believe God was showing me that it was time to get rid of old stuff in my life.  There are things I used as a single man that served a purpose, but God was showing me that it was now time to get new things, things that are not just mine, but things that are ours (Leslie's and mine).

There are some things in our lives that are precious and we'll never get rid of them.  Other things need to be discarded.  It's time to be clean and free from all of the old things of the past. 

As I write this, it’s August of 2014, and there are still struggles.  It’s still a process.  There are still these old things I want to be free from.  I wonder how much farther along I might be if I had fully obeyed all God has told me to do.  Yet, God keeps moving us forward into His plan and purpose.

Now that we’re in Virginia, we have our own place (our own apartment), and Leslie is working on decorating the walls with pictures from our wedding.  We were able to spend the gifts cards we received from the wedding on new things for our new place.  We have a new mattress set, with new sheets, a new comforter, and new pillow and pillowcases.  Leslie has lots of new stuff, like pots and pans and knives, to use in the kitchen.  We have a new coffee maker that I picked out.

After living in Texas for almost 14 years and working for the same employer for most of that time, we are now in a new place (Virginia) on a new adventure (law school) and we believe there are new doors God is going to open to allow us have a part in building His kingdom.

We can appreciate and hold on to things from the past that are good.  Hopefully you have many things for which to be thankful.  But there are also some old things that we need to get rid of.  We may have collected junk and garbage in our hearts and spirits.  God wants to cleanse us from those things, and make us new.  He wants to wash away these things in our lives and fill us up afresh and anew with the things of His Spirit.

According to the note in my Bible*, the word for new means, “..unused, fresh, novel… new in regard to form or quality, rather than new in reference to time...”  Through Christ, God makes ALL THINGS new.  We are in the process of being revitalized, restored, healed, delivered, set free, and becoming more like Christ.  As we walk in the New Man of the Spirit, we can be renewed more and more every day.


“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
II Corinthians 4:16

*New Spirit Filled Life Bible

Monday, August 11, 2014

There is a Place

"Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
John 14:1-4

this world is full of striving and struggle
but there is a place
this world is heavy with heartache
but there is a place
this world is worn by fighting and war
but there is a place
this world… it is tossed and it is weary
harassed
helpless
but there is a compassion
and there is a place
in this world you will have trouble, He said
but take heart
I have overcome
in this world you will have tribulation
but look up
I give you peace
in this world you will be hated
and you will be persecuted
but look up and look beyond
I go to prepare a place
in this world you may be weary
weighed down and heavy
gaze out upon the night sky
at the sliver of the moon
there is hope
look across the fields of golden wheat
there is a harvest
yes, let your eyes stretch out across horizons
somewhere, beyond the sky
I am preparing a place
and right here, where you stand
I am there
I am here and I am there
preparing a place, a room in heaven
where sorrow will be no more
where no one will ever again grow old
where never you’ll meet a stranger
and everything broken will be restored
no more sighing
no more pain
no fear, no torment, no suffering
there will be no night there
look up, my friends, and take heart
there is a place

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