Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guilt and Love

Read Luke 22:47-62 before you read this post.

This morning I was reading in Luke 22 about Jesus’ arrest and Peter denying him. Such a heartbreaking story. We all like to think that if we were Peter we wouldn’t have denied Christ, but I am not so sure I wouldn’t have.

I’ve denied him so many times in my life. Denied his way by not waiting and listening to him. Denied his convictions and willfully sinned. He commanded us to “deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him,” (Matthew 16:24) but I have done just the opposite. I’ve denied him, taken up my desires, and followed them to where they would lead.

Luke 22:61 is so sad. I can see it in my mind’s eye. Peter had just lived up to Jesus’ prophecy about how he would deny Jesus three times, and then the rooster crowed.

“The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him… And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

Could you imagine the Savior of the world, on his way to the greatest human suffering of all time to save you from your sins, starring you in the eye right after you disowned him? Man, this story has so much weight to it. No wonder Peter went outside and wept.

The Gospel of Luke doesn’t talk about it, but the 21st chapter of Gospel of John tells us how Jesus reinstates Peter on a beach one morning after his resurrection. Jesus asks him three times if he loves him. Peter wasn’t an idiot; he knew what the three times meant. Jesus asks him if he loves him, then gives him instructions to feed and take care of his “sheep.”

Jesus chose the man who had just rejected him when the pressure was on to be the man he builds his church on. Jesus had told him earlier, too, that the devil had desired to sift Peter like wheat, but Jesus had prayed for him that he wouldn’t fail (Luke 22:31-32).

It is my personal thinking that Peter never forgot the face of Jesus on the night he looked at him right after he denied him. I don’t know how you could forget something like that. But if that was all Peter remembered then he would have just moved forward in guilt. All his works for the church would have been fueled by his guilt and inner regret.

When we are motivated by regret, I don’t believe we are moving in the power of God, because “there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those that are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1) None! Only the Son of God can set you free like that.

Peter didn’t go forth in ministry by being pushed on by his own regret and guilt; the Savior’s love, forgiveness, and call is what motivated him onward. And Peter moved forward under the power of Christ, and under his encouragement.

I don’t think Peter ever forgot the face of Jesus on the night he denied him, but more importantly, I don’t think he ever forgot the words of Jesus that morning on the beach.

We cannot serve the Lord out of guilt, regret, or sense of what we owe him. It makes it a game of works to be accepted by God. We serve the Lord because he loves us, and he has called us.

There is no scale with God where we have to fill up our side with works to balance out all that he’s done for us or given us, his side of the scale will always incomprehensibly outweigh ours.

He loves you. He desires you. You can’t earn love like that. You just can’t. Jesus desires those that deny him; he calls those that curse him. You can’t earn relentless love like that. His love is a fire that consumes our past mistakes, sins, and regrets until there is nothing left but his grace, truth, and love.

Jesus loves me, this I know.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Faith, Failure, and Hope.

Do you ever get scared to pray prayers because you’re afraid God is going to answer them immediately? I’ll give you an example I’m kind of embarrassed of. I don’t pray for patience anymore. I honestly don’t because I’m scared God is going to cause my car to break down, or somebody will rob me, or someone will ask me if I can watch their brat 8-year-old who has found the only remaining bottles of Surge left on the planet and drank them right before I came over. I’m only 25, but quite frankly I don’t feel like I have the nerves left to learn patience anymore. Obviously, I am way wrong and have much more to learn in patience, and plenty more nerves left to burn out. I’d just rather pray for “supernatural patience.” You know, the kind God just downloads into your soul and you get it. Like Keanu Reeves learned kung fu in the Matrix.

But as you’ve probably learned, as have I, it doesn’t usually work like that. Life is full of lessons that can only be learned on the streets pain and in the schools of hard knocks. Mr. Rogers did his best while I was growing up, but there are some things that expressionless puppets can’t teach you. Who knew?

Yeah, I am afraid to pray, sometimes. Am I the only one who ever treats God like he’s this fortune teller/genie thing that is just waiting for me to screw up the magic words only for it to only result in the exact opposite of what I want to happen? I have somehow done it. I’ve minimized my Almighty God down to a bad made for TV movie.

I know the verses like Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” and Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” But it is a whole other challenge to actually believe them and implement them into your mind. Isn’t it funny how we can know things are true and still not believe them? We’ve been conditioned to be doubters.

Every time I go visit my mom in Ft. Pierce, FL thereI usually try to go to the jetty at the beach and pray at night. It’s pretty much pitch black there so many of my prayers are to not get shanked and robbed. After that fear subsides I just look at the ocean and talk to God. That’s right Sunday School teachers, I am praying with my eyes open. I’ll return all my Bible bucks if you want. But not the candy, I earned it.

One night I was out there and I was praying and just thinking about the future and my life. Places I felt like I’ve failed. Areas I wish I could change but can’t. Overall frustrations with being a young man in pursuit of God. Now you can say that God no longer speaks, or that we can’t really ever know that it is God, but I would like to clearly state that I believe God still does speak to his children. I felt like the Lord told me that night that I have become a doubter. He told me that I was always looking over my shoulder waiting for something to break or to lose something I loved. I’ve become good at praising God through the hard times, and maybe so much so that I forget the blessings the Lord has promised his people. I’ve had some things in my life happen to make me kind of not the wide-eyed, optimistic believer that I once was. Some of it is part of the maturity process of getting out of new born faith in God, and some of it is just not of God.

I guess I’ve just become someone who is tired of getting his hopes up and being let down. So better to just be surprised than disappointed, right? While that might make sense in some worldly wisdom form, I don’t think it is how a God follower’s mentality should be. And the Lord cut me to the core that night.

People love a good underdog story, but no one wants to be in the beginning of one. We love the story of Joseph in Genesis, look at how glorious it ended! Second in command of all of Egypt!? Come on somebody praise the Lord! Can I get an “amen?” And yes, that is one of my favorite stories. The guy went through hell and God exalted him. We all want to be Joseph from Genesis 41, but no one wants to be Joseph from chapters 37-40. Having your own brothers throw you in a pit, getting taken out of the pit and sold as a slave, turning down sex and getting accused of rape, put in prison, and helping people in prison who get out and forget about you for years. No one wants to be that guy.

The world is quick to look at a chapter 37 Joseph and call him a failure. Give up man. It’s over. Quit trusting in your God that doesn’t bless you. Give up on your “dreams,” they were just dreams.

But if they would only wait until chapter 41. If they would only consider the end of the road. If we would only consider that maybe it is all a part of a process bigger than ourselves and bigger than our weak minds. That maybe God HAS indeed heard every single prayer we’ve prayed and seen every single tear we’ve cried. And maybe, just maybe, he knows and loves his precious children like he says he does.

One of my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 13:12.
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

This verse clearly states that we just won’t understand some things. Many times we can see that God is up to something, but we just don’t know what it is fully. We get so frustrated that we don’t know the whole story or every detail of the work being done, but honestly, we’re just not going to know some things. At least not right now. But soon, we will see it face to face. We will see the completeness of the love of God and we will understand it. We will know fully. We really will get it.

The frustration of not knowing can lead to doubt. One time I felt so confused about things going on in my life and I was becoming convinced that I must have totally been missing God because I was confused, and God is “not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).” Then I heard the Lord say, “You’re not confused; you’re just discouraged.”

If I feel like God is not being faithful, it’s because I don’t know what faith really is.
If I feel like God is not being good, it’s because I don’t know what good really is.
If I feel like God is not being loving its because I don’t know what love really is.

God is not a magician; he is the Creator. God is not a genie; he is the Good Shepherd. As my friend Mike once put it, “A really Good Shepherd.” It is all part of the journey in faith. Learning to bet it all on God. Accepting the hard times but trusting that the Way actually knows the way.

Pray on, prayer.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Viva La Resistance!

On this Friday afternoon in Arlington, Virginia, I find myself sitting in a park I didn’t know existed. I’ve been up here a few weeks visiting my sister and brother-in-law. I don’t have a car so I’ve been walking around today. I saw this park so I decided I would stop here for a bit.

To get to this picnic table I am currently sitting at, and to hang out with these wonderful ants wandering around it, I had to walk down a somewhat steep little hill with no walkway or stairs. I’ve been walking around in the sandals I have been wearing for about the past four years, and being a Florida boy, I’ve worn them a lot. Upon my descent down the hill I quickly realized just how much I have worn them. I might as well have been wearing skis. There is little to no traction left on my sandals and I found myself going down the hill much faster than originally expected and intended. I even did one of those little hops near the end so I wouldn’t fall. I didn’t fall but I sure looked like a girl pirouetting around as I landed. Nancy Kerrigan style. Win-lose.

You never realize the importance of good traction until you are without it. There is just something about friction and resistance that makes things work. In no way do I understand physics or have even attempted to take a physics class in college, but I do know that life is built around it. Physically and spiritually. God has a way of taking things that seemingly work against each other and using them to produce growth and good things. Sometimes the friction hurts. Sometimes we don’t understand it or why it is happening, but either we believe Romans 8:28 or we do not.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

One of my favorite stories as a kid was the story of the prophet Balaam and his donkey that talks to him in Numbers 22. I thought talking animals were so cool. I guess I watched “Homeward Bound” one too many times.

The story goes like this: This guy Balaam would go around and speak what the Lord told him to, and inevitably upset a lot of people. (Another example of the friction a life for God can create.) One day Balaam saddled up his trusty donkey and hit the road. Problem was, he was headed down a road the Lord did not want him on. So God sent an angel to stand in the middle of the road. And it wasn’t one that was bringing “glad tidings of comfort and joy,” this one had a big sword ready to swing. The donkey was able to see the angel, so she stopped heading towards it. Three times the angel appeared on the road in their way, and each time the donkey would either try to walk away or sit down, to which Balaam would get angry and beat her for.

After the third time of this, God went Disney on them and opened the mouth of the donkey so she could speak. And she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” And what is funny to me is that Balaam talks back to the donkey like it’s no big deal that she is speaking. “You made me look like a fool! If I had a sword I’d kill you!” The donkey said in reply, “Haven’t I been your donkey for a while now? Do I ever do stuff like this?”

Then God allowed Balaam to see the angel, and then he hit the ground. The angel said, “I am here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. If your donkey had not turned away I would have killed you.”

God spared Balaam that day, more than just by not taking his life-breath. I wonder what would have happened if Balaam would have made it all the way to the destination God did not want him to go to.

When I think back on my own life I can think of multiple different times I was heading in the wrong direction without even knowing it. And that’s just in the metaphorical sense, let’s not even talk about how many times I’ve actually been lost in a car (especially in D.C. this week!) God has been so merciful to me and closed doors and gotten me off of paths that lead to destruction.

I wonder how many times God has put an angel in the road and we didn’t even know it.

We try so hard to make things work. The way of America is that if you have anytime to actually breathe then you’re not running hard enough. When we face hard times and opposition, we beat the donkeys we’re riding on to make them do what we want. Because if something is not going as we planned or as we’ve desired, the problem must be that we’re doing something wrong or not working hard enough. And we try our best to force the outcomes that we feel are best, or worse, that we feel we deserve.

I wonder how many times God has put an angel in the road and we didn’t even know it.

Psalm 37:23
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and he delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”

If we are seeking the Lord, and seeking his will, then he is going to be leading us, even when things are hard or confusing. It is the traction we need to actually get anywhere on our journeys. Psalm 23 makes it clear that the Lord is our Shepherd that leads us, but we still go through valleys of the shadow of death. Does that mean that God has led us to the valley?

I’m not saying that this is an easy thing. When things don’t work it is frustrating. I’ve literally laid my hands on people, prayed, and seen them healed right on the spot. I’ve prayed the same prayers with the same faith and seen them die. There really are no formulas to faith in God. Sometimes I don’t get it.

I have spent many times kneeling by my bed in tears, begging God to hear my requests. Wondering that if God is truly for me then why are there so many things against me? Why does it seem to work for others but not for me? “Why haven’t you come in power, Lord? Why haven’t you stepped in? How many mustard seeds of faith does it take to see a mountain move?”

Real life is full of questions like these. We may never get answers to many of our questions, but we don’t serve God because he is the question answerer, we serve him because he is the King.

Paul says in Philippians 3:10-11 we go through the journey with him “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed by his death, if by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Perhaps the greatest example of friction is the friction between death and life. You can’t get much more opposite than that. In the Kingdom of God it takes death to get life. Death of our will. Death of our desires. That we may know him. We share in his suffering, but even greater, we share in his resurrection and life!

Things are difficult? You’ve tried all you know to do? I wonder if there is an angel in the road. You can’t get them to love you? Your boss won’t notice you? I wonder if there is an angel in the road.

We need the resistance of the world. Our spirit needs the friction with the world. We need the traction, the uncomfortable ridges and breaks in our would-be smooth surfaces. You know what something with no traction is? It’s a slide. And there’s only one direction a slide will take you. Psalm 24 says, “Who will ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” Go try to climb a hill in bowling shoes.

We need the trials and pain sometimes. Don’t be afraid to wait upon the Lord. I know waiting goes against everything most people tell you to do, but hey, maybe it’s time for a mutiny on what is ruling this world. VIVA LA RESISTANCE!