All Good Things Come From God

Daily Office Meditations: 6th Week of Easter – Tuesday

 

(5) For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; (6) That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children,

Psalm 78:5-6;

 

(11) ” Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today,

Deuteronomy 8:11

 

16) Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (17) 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 1:16-17

 

(2) When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. (3) Give us day by day our daily bread. (4) And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

Luke 11:2-4

The most helpful thing that I have found for keeping God in the proper place in my life is a daily acknowledgment of the ways He has provided for me. We see in the Psalm and the Deuteronomy passage this same principle. We need to see God’s character in His provisions for us. The two lies that the devil attempts to get us to believe are lies about 1. The character of God, 2. The power of God.

When the Israelites were complaining in the desert, right after God rescued them of decades of slavery in Egypt through miraculous means, they lost sight of either the character or the power of God. When He provided food and water in the desert, they asked: “Can God provide meat for His people?” It’s easy to write off the Israelites as terrible people, “a stubborn and rebellious generation,” but we can so easily fall into this same trap.

When I was leaving for college, I didn’t have the funds for my first year. My mom called me the day before I was leaving to tell me that an anonymous donor had provided the funds. The following year, the same thing happened. My third year, I bought my books, registered for classes, and even attended one day of classes in faith, but no money came. It was so easy for me to doubt God that week. He had miraculously provided thousands of dollars for me to attend that school and the first time He didn’t I doubted His plan and resented Him.

I had to remind myself at that moment of what He had done for me. God has never forsaken me, He has provided above and beyond what I have needed and there is no circumstance that can separate me from the love of God. I never finished school and that still grates on me to this day, but I have learned to stop questioning God, as He has used every aspect of my story to propel me into His purposes. His track record towards me is just too good.

James reminds us to count all good things as coming from God. Ann Voscamp wrote a book on how gratitude changed her life. When we put God in His rightful place as the provider of all that is good in our life, it is impossible to live in fear or resentment. How do we put God in His rightful place? We remember everything He has done for us and for those we love. We write down our testimonies (big or small) and we share them with others. We read of the marvelous works He has done in Scripture and in Christian books or blogs.

And we pray the way Christ has taught us to pray. “Our Father” affirms the good identity of God. Later in this same passage, Jesus talks of how we give good gifts to our children and how much more God will give good gifts to us. “Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” Puts God in His proper place in reference to our daily struggles. God is bigger and greater than anything we are to face. “His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts.” We may not see the big picture, but we can be assured that “all things work together for our good.” “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Here we see our mission and focus. Because we acknowledge God’s rightful place through our gratitude and worship, we are automatically oriented towards His will and His kingdom. And since His kingdom is heaven, we are called to bring heaven to earth. This is amazingly encouraging to me as I build my family and establish the small slice of the kingdom that God has given me: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” “Give us this day our daily bread” God is the provider. Your job, money, family, success, fame do not provide for you. God is the one who provides for your daily needs, look to Him. “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” Easy link: If we are fully convinced of the greatest miracle of God’s forgiveness and grace towards us through the death and resurrection of His Son, then how can we hold anyone’s sin against them? Our forgiveness and their forgiveness are linked and bought with a price. “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil” This is the result of following the principles above. If you acknowledge God as your good, all-powerful Father, then why run after that which does not satisfy. Tonight my son longed to touch the blazing-hot metal part of the oven door as I was removing our fully-cooked, home-made pizzas. I kept him from that and he was convinced that I was withholding his deepest desire at that moment. We are much like Rowan in that regard. Any time we face temptation, we are questioning whether God really knows our good and cares for our good above all else.

So we see today in the Daily Office a call to orient our lives around God and what He has accomplished for us. I pray that each and every person reading this will take the time to allow God to reveal the depth of His love for us, that type of revelation will transform you from the inside out.

Moment of Surrender


There once was a man who flew to Rome to meet Jesus. He had been told my a close friend that Jesus wanted to meet him there. When he got there he skipped the tourist sites and went to a basement chapel in one of those storied cathedrals. As he walked towards the altar he saw a man kneeling in the dust in unremarkable clothing. Jesus knelt before him and despite his promises not to ask anything stupid, the man asked, “What are you doing?” “Praying,” Jesus replied. “For what?” the man asked. “I gave man free will and I will never take that away, but I pray always that the hearts of man would be surrendered to my will.”

The most powerful moments in the Bible are characterized by the weakness of surrender. Abraham who surrendered his comfortable life to become a nomad with a promise. Moses who left his dessert home to return to certain death in Egypt as a prophet declaring freedom without hope of success. David who was so surrendered to God’s will that he would not kill Saul even as Saul hunted him. Mary who said let it be, disregarding the scandal and death that might await her if she was found to be pregnant. The ultimate moment of surrender as Jesus prayed, “Father not my will but thine,” in a garden; the very opposite of the first sin in the Garden.

The first sin of man was to reject God’s will, not to surrender. Ever since then, the battle for men’s hearts has been fought with the goal of surrender. The mystery of Christianity is that our surrender does not lead to the abolishment of identity or efficacy, in fact it leads to the very opposite. We surrender to God and become more truly ourselves. We surrender to God’s will and find ourselves more in control of ourselves than ever before.

Nevertheless, we continue to seek control in our lives. We are an anxious and striving people. We find the illusion of control in many ways. We try to get money which symbolizes the power to control our lives. We buy shiny things to distract ourselves from the lie. We build ourselves little kingdoms which are characterized by addictions, escapes from reality, self-loathing, or a false sense of holiness. The call of Jesus denies all these things. Our plans for our lives, our guarantees of success, our dependence on substance abuse, our media-insulated isolation… all of these things are obstacles in the way of surrender. Bonhoeffer writes that the call of Jesus can be summarized, “Come and die.” Everything in our fallen outlook screams at us to run from this invitation and clean to our false sense of control.

The lie is shown in the reaction that follows excess, the emptiness that succeeds our attempts at self-fulfillment. “There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every man.” That moment of emptiness is when the call can be heard. “Pain is God’s megaphone to an unhearing world.” That is why Jesus says, “It is harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven…” When we fill ourselves with the shadows of God’s goodness, the earthly things that fade, we cause ourselves to believe in our own control, our own sufficiency apart from God. When that rug is torn out from under us we have two responses before us: we can proclaim all is meaningless and eventually cycle back into the illusion of control (whether through suicide or less extreme sedative) or we can embrace the moment of surrender. The invitation is always there, He stands at the door and knocks. It is an invitation into a “condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”

The most powerful moments in history are when humans give back the gift of free will and find themselves truly free. God is always calling us to give up that thing that we need to be happy, that thing that you cannot live without. That is why it is a call to die, a call to die and experience resurrection. The result is love, joy, and peace if we will only let go. We need the moments of surrender, because it is only in our weakness that Christ can be strong in us.

Maybe We Are the Weirdos

EARTH

Picture this: You grew up and lived in the same town your whole life. The same town was your family’s home for generations. You only friends were life-long friends because hardly anybody moved. Or maybe your “town” was really a caravan wherein a community which included your family would move from place to place as fit their needs. Birth and death were the main two ways that your community changed. Through thick and thin, your community was the way you survived. You didn’t move away or stop being friends with people on a whim because they were basically all you had. Friendship was based on mutual experiences and going through life together (the ups and, especially, the downs) Families were close because at most you had a couple of bedrooms in an adobe house for the three generations of your family alive at that point. For moral, cultural, and survival concerns divorce was uncommon and families tended to stick together. When you got married you might move into your own space (or not) but you were still in that same town or “tribe.”

Now picture this: At every stage of your life you are submerged in a (usually) new group of people consisting mostly of your peers. You are constantly able to connect superficially with a large portion of the planet’s population. It is normal for many families to move two or three times in the course of the 18 years of your early life and these moves could be across state lines or even around the world. Most of the world is accessible to you online or through transportation. If you have a disagreement with someone you can click a button and they are “un-friended.” If you like someone you can click a button and “friend” them. BFF is a common term but the reality is that by your late twenties you are probably not close to anyone you were friends with in high school (much less junior high). Divorce is very common and people often cannot wait to separate from their families at the legal age of 18 (or earlier if possible). The idea of growing out of friendships is popular and the phrase “there are plenty of fish in the sea” is used liberally.

Most people would prefer the current way of life where everything is accessible, but I think we are meant to live in lifelong communities and I don’t think we are very good at it.

A Brief Look at the Hall of Faith

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First, I need to apologize for not following up my last blog as I had planned to with a list of Kingdom Principles… It proved to be a bigger task than I expected. For now this blog will remain random bursts of impassioned writing attempting to relay whatever facet of Truth happens to have ignited my interests enough to require a blog entry. Hope you are encouraged!

I was reading Hebrews 11 today and was struck by the last verses of the chapter (and the beginning of chapter 12). Some of you may have heard this chapter referred to as the Hall of Faith and it is quite the challenge to get through in one sitting. There is so much here! The writer of Hebrews simultaneously argues for Christianity to the Jews using their most revered ancestors, does some serious exegetical work that refines and nuances the Christian faith we take for granted today, and sets up the link for the Hebrew Christians (and all Christians afterward) between the God-breathed Old Testament and the New Testament. For the sake of this blog however, I am going to just focus in on the last section and what it might imply for us.

In Hebrews 11:32, the author begins the ending of his treatise on the Hall of Faith. In 11:33, He describes the actions accomplished through faith (argued here and elsewhere to be the same faith as our own) by OT figures, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection.” Oh yeah! This is the Christianity I am all about! We have access to a faith that can move mountains and do all that other cool stuff with kingdoms and strength and lions! If you get nothing else from this blog please understand that our faith is POWERFUL.

But… there the author is not finished yet. He continues, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Wait a second… That doesn’t sound like the faith I signed up for. A faith that leads to social, physical, and emotional persecution? A faith that could even lead to death? Well I guess there are things in life worth difficulty, “no pain, no gain” and all that. In the end they lived happily ever after, right? God promises abundant life here right? That doesn’t sound too abundant. Well next He writes something that blows my mind, “39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…” This is my favorite pat of the chapter. These men and women of faith experienced the power of God in ways I can hardly imagine and were persecuted in a similarly spectacular fashion, but they did not receive the promise. They continued to persevere in faith (through many bumps on the road) for a promise they never fully received. And yet, without them, we would not have received the promise of God. God used them to further His Kingdom, the promise they were pursuing, so that we could share in its inheritance. The author continues, “40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” We were given the Kingdom as our inheritance. We were given the promise that the whole heritage of our faith was looking towards!

There is more here than I could possibly cover, but two thoughts: what an amazing and unappreciated inheritance we have through Christ! and God fulfills His promises even if you do not see it in the short term (we’re talking thousands of years here) 🙂

Chapter 12 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

No commentary can surpass the power of these last two verses. Thank you Jesus!

Authenticity is to Truth what Selflessness is to Love

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Alright so everybody wants to be authentic right? Right, but is authenticity really what we are seeking? I would postulate that authenticity without truth is like selflessness without love. Love gives selflessness direction and purpose. Merely doing things without a selfish impulse does not in any way cause them to be loving; however, if you do something out of love then you are being selfless in the process. If you pursue authenticity without a pursuit of truth or if you miss truth in your pursuit of authenticity then there is no limit to where you could end up. Hitler was authentic to who he was. One of the reasons he swayed a nation to commit atrocities was through his authentic belief in what he did. Hitler was more authentic than most people you will ever meet. So was Alexander the Great. He thought he was the reincarnation of a god, several actually. Ok, Ok so you are not going to be the next Hitler (most likely), but this is important: authenticity comes through truth, but it does not necessarily yield truth. I can authentically believe that there are aliens inhabiting my basement, but this would not be true.
The way this most often manifests itself is through justification of practices that are “true to who I am.” “I divorced my wife and tore apart my family because I just wasn’t being true to myself,” “I eloped at age 17 because that was the most authentic expression of me,” “I left the Christian faith because it didn’t feel authentic.” Truth is much bigger than authenticity. Be authentic because truth will only manifest itself in your life through authenticity and if you are honest about who you are. Pursue truth and with it you will gain true authenticity, pursue love and you will gain true selflessness. There are a lot of authentic people living debilitating and sinful lies, there are a lot of authentic faiths but only one True faith, there have been many selfless people who had not love and were merely clanging cymbals. Authenticity and selflessness are essential pieces of love and truth, but they are only parts of the whole.
p.s. I think kindness is to goodness what authenticity and selflessness are to truth and love