We live in angry times. Joy and peace can be thin on the ground when there is so much divisiveness, name calling and anger. Even among the brethren of believers we can hear grumbling, discord, and general kvetching about this politician or that, these people or those, and in general how wrong the rest of the world is compared to us.
Perhaps it is a time for a check-up from the neck-up…
- Am I praying for God to correct people or situations? While it is wise to take our concerns to God in prayer, it is not wise to tell God just who needs correcting and how He ought to do it. When I start telling God what to do, I have theologically eased my bottom on to His throne. Instead of trusting God to do what is right, merciful and just, I usurp His authority – with arrogance. In truth, I am too small and powerless to “fix” others; I am too short on wisdom to know how to “fix” them. My peace is shattered when I forget that God is God (and I am not). I have a better hope of retaining peace when I relinquish people to God’s capable hands.
- Am I praying for God to change the political climate or outcome? Well, the disciples felt the same on the night Jesus was arrested. They were certain this could not be right – everything was horribly wrong! Yet from God’s point of view, everything was exactly right. God was not asleep at the wheel then. He wasn’t nodding off when the Black Plague passed through and killed so many people there were none left to bury the dead. He wasn’t distracted, missing the French Revolution while they burned Paris and chopped people’s heads off. He certainly is not unaware of the dissension and chaos we see now (which is mild compared to the plague or guillotine). He is at work making His Kingdom come to pass. Nations will rise and fall – but God remains. I maintain my peace and joy when I remember this is not my home – I belong to God’s Kingdom. I am just passing through and God remains in control.
- Am I dwelling in worry, fear or arrogance? Maybe I can’t seem to turn off the news (even though it raises my anxiety level). Maybe I scroll thru Facebook and reply to every wrong-minded post I see. Maybe I troll twitter and snort or “tsk” at how foolish people are. If I fill my mind with YouTube rants, Facebook arguments, and Twitter posts, it should be no wonder my attitude becomes “YouTwitFace”. The Bible does not command us to be up on current events, encourage us to keep abreast of everyone’s opinions, or follow people on the internet. In fact, I must change the input to get a different output. We are to dwell on that which is noble, pure, lovely, admirable (Philippians 4:8). If I fill my mind with the very best things of God, I will more easily remain at peace and filled with joy.
I don’t mean to suggest we should be unaware of what is happening or that we should not pray about it. We should do both of those things. I am suggesting that we sip gently from the news and media (if we must), and instead drink deeply of the things of God. The world may be angry, but we do not have to be. In fact, we are called to be different than the world. We are to be peace-makers, bridge builders, grace holders. We are to encourage one another, love our fellow men (and women) – even if we face the predictions in Revelation. So buckle up my brothers and sisters! It could get much worse before it gets better! But it will get better. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. He is The One who was, and is, and is yet to come. He gave us His peace (John 14:27) – He gave us His joy (John 15:11). No matter how angry, fearful, selfish, or biting the world becomes, I can still choose to rest in these truths:
God is on His throne.
I have His joy. I have His peace.
Many of us are afraid to voice our doubts – perhaps especially around other believers.
We live in a culture that tells us truth is relative. When we are confronted with other people who devoutly believe their faith, we wonder if ours is real. Is Jesus really the only Way? What about these other faiths? Or perhaps we have a crisis of doubt when we lose a loved one, or life takes a decided down turn. Is God really good? Does he really love me? Among the faithful, these doubts are often swept under the rug as private shame. When I doubt, I believe there is some problem inherent to me and I slog along under the weight of my unbelief alone.
Doubt, in fact, is normal for humans, maybe even healthy. Doubt is the crucible on which deeper faith is forged (or flounders). Mind, there is no pat answer for doubt. Each of us must find an answer for our doubt: an answer we can fully own.
The first place for answers to doubt is prayer and meditation. This is the blood and bone of belief. Nothing can substitute for that. If you don’t have any idea where to start, turn to Psalms. A large portion of them ponder and faith side by side. They have been good ground for meditation for two thousand years.
Another place for answers, however, are among small groups of believers who are doing life together. If you have no community, get one. And stick around for 6 months (or longer). People with doubts need to spend time among folks who are farther down the faith road. Good answers are housed in the heads of those who have paid (are paying) the price of prayer and meditation. In a small, safe community of believers, we can bring our raggedy faith and find a support system, not accusation or dogma.
Finally, answers to doubts are bound in books. In the past two thousand years, neither you nor I can be the first person to struggle with any particular doubt. Many have gone before. They have drawn helpful maps. Which book is useful depends on what triggers the doubt. Do you doubt God is real? There are good books for that. Do you doubt God hears your prayers? There are resources for that. Do you doubt God loves you? Do you doubt there is a reason for your suffering? Do you doubt (insert your doubt here)? There are books on that. Ask a pastor or someone who has a deep faith for a recommendation; they can guide you to useful books.
Going a few rounds with doubt can strengthen our faith. Our salvation is once-and-done — but the strength of our convictions? Our trust in God? Our peace? That is a progressive thing that requires us to wrestle thorny doubts. Each doubt answered and rousted out, though, leaves us more securely tied to God.
Doubt should not be avoided. It is not a private shame. When doubt shows up among us, we must treat it with dignity and kindness. We must make a space at the table for the doubter (NIV Jude: 19-23). As we squeeze up and let doubt have room among us, the doubters will be close enough to see a living, blood-and-bone faith. Then – by God’s grace – they may ask questions and know they don’t bear up under doubt alone. Eventually – by God’s grace – doubt will be forged into faith.
January lends itself to self-examination: out with the old, in with the new.
If you haven’t noticed, we serve a God who does “new” very well. The Israelites had been 400 years in slavery in Egypt and he sent Moses to do a new thing among them. The Ninevites were about as evil a culture as you can imagine, and God sent Jonah to preach a word so they could be new. Jesus came to put away the old covenant of law and brought us a new covenant under his blood.
We, however, are not much like God. While God blissfully may be doing “new,” we humans are decidedly not. In fact, we are stubbornly hanging on to the old.
Our old ways, thoughts, and hurts are comfortable in their familiarity. They often come to define us. We carry around our patterns as labels and do not question them, maybe even using them as justification for why we are this way. “I am just old,” one says as a way to justify liking old hymns and not learning new ones. “My family is just like this. We are all hot tempered,” another says to justify the abusive rage that spews out at any perceived slight. “You don’t understand! I can’t do that – I just can’t. It’s not me!” another wails as fear overwhelms them. We become “old”, “like my family” or “that is not me” because to embrace being different, we would have to face the deep things inside us that render us unwilling to change, to be angry, and to be fearful. Facing those things can be terrifying. If we peel back our stubbornness, we will have to own how selfish we are down deep. If we peel back our rage, we may see deep wounds and ugly scars left by people in our pasts. If we peel back the fear, we might find we care more about what other people think of us than God’s good opinion. In short, facing the deep things always forces us to let go of our safe labels. And (horrors!) if we give up all of that, what will fill the cavernous space?!
No, we humans are not embracing “new”. We like the old, comfortable t-shirts with our old labels and our old sins still intact, thank you very much. Believe me when I say I have a drawer full of old t-shirts I drag out and wear around. You see, even though I may hate them, they are still known and comfortable.
Yet, I have also — with the strength of God in me — thrown a few of the t-shirts out. Ask any believer who has rooted out a sin or two: there is sweet joy in shedding the weight of the old, horrid things. Because that is what fills the cavernous space: sweet joy, gentle peace. When you finally break the chains of bondage to the old, you step into freedom from annoyance, rage, fear and the like.
Is there something that no longer serves you well? Take a long look at your life patterns. Is there anything dogging you that you’d rather not take to the grave?
If we were all honest, there is a yes in there for every one of us. Perhaps this is the year to take off an old t-shirt and lay it at the foot of the throne.
I won’t lie and say it will be easy. As a point of fact, for most of us it is a long slog. We have to lay down our burden at the throne and walk away, only to discover we have picked it up again before the day is out. We have to apologize to God for our refusal to let it lie. We have to apologize to other humans for the damage we’ve done them in our old patterns and the damage we do to them as we fumble and practice new ways. We will feel naked without our old label and old t-shirt. We will be awkward, maybe embarrassed. We will have to ask our brothers and sisters to cover our errors with love and mercy, and encourage us when we falter. We will cry sometimes. We will repeat this cycle — far more times than we ever wanted to. But if we persevere, we will also, gradually, become something new.
We are not called to be sad, broken, lonely, weary, isolated, fearful, angry, selfish, arrogant, snarky, or domineering – in short, slaves to sin and in bondage to our pasts. We are called to be new.
As a child of The King, part of the inheritance is to be loving, joyful, peaceful, forbearing with others, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled – free! We may be a long way from possessing that inheritance at all times and in all ways – but oh, my brothers and sisters! Let us not weary in well doing – let us press on towards the goal! This means owning a few (probably painful) truths and unclenching our fingers from things we need to release to God’s hand. Swap out an old t-shirt for new robes. And today? Well, today is a good day to start.
Not because we wanted,
For change is not usually our choice.
But the Lord of All says “change”
And His children heed His Voice.
My life is Yours, and so as well my breath.
My time is Yours, and so beyond my death.
The old has passed away.
We cannot now it reclaim.
My future made of mist
Waits for You to name.
I breathe in…
Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
Behold! I do a new thing!
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.
I have family members who are not members of God’s family (yet). One of them, knowing my faith, reminds me upon occasion that she does not need “a white male to save her.” I forget that the culture in the USA usually shows Jesus as a white male. Since he was a Jew (probably had dark, curly hair, with brown eyes and olive skin tones, I have to agree with her. There is no white male to save us. There is only Jesus. He became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14). For those of us who are in God’s family, “we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
But what does it mean “to see his glory”? Is it some aura thing that only the most holy can see? Nope. Is it some internal feeling where you never have dark days because God’s glory is with you? Nope.
There are actually several Hebrew words and one Greek word that are translated as “glory”. They each have slightly different overtones of meaning. We won’t pause to do a word study here (though feel free to go there yourself!). The gist of all these words is the outshining of God: His character, attributes, majesty, importance, honor, and presence.
Further, scripture tells us that God’s glory is not a secret. He is manifest in the world around us (Romans 1: 19-20; Psalm 19: 1-2). Being manifest in the world, however, was not enough – God actually desires us to see his glory in heaven as well. To this end, He became flesh to show us the way.
He came to be our kinsman redeemer from sin. (Romans 8:17, Hebrews 2:11)
He came to be our propitiation. (Hebrews 2:17)
He came to be our friend. (John 15:15)
And because He is those things, He also came to make our joy complete. (John 15:11)
As we each go about our Christmas celebrations, we can see the glory of God around us, in us, and among us. Oh, not the fullness of God’s glory – we won’t see that until we are in Heaven. But here on earth, wherever we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control there you see a piece of the glory of God. Whenever we see a sunrise so glorious that moves us to tears, there you see another bit of the glory of God. As we see a person sacrifice for someone else, there we see yet another slice of the glory of God. These things have no skin color – they have no gender. They are the glory of God made manifest in you and I, his vessels of mercy (Romans 9:23). For He is Immanuel – God With Us, the Word become flesh in a wee babe.
May God open your eyes to see His glory this Christmas – and may your joy be complete!
It is tinsel time. And jingle bells.
However, not every person is jolly this time of year. As the tinsel goes up, for some, the soul drops into despair.
I have a very short word of hope for this: God. He is the first and the last word in hope for the broken hearted. Our Enemy, however, makes it hard to hold onto that truth. We must often rehearse the truths in its parts to combat his lies. Here are some foundation blocks on which you can stand firm when The Enemy is in your face.
- You. Are. Loved. The first lie The Enemy would have us believe is that we are UN-lovable. It is easy to buy into. Other people may have done things to you – horrible, betraying, demeaning, abusive things. It has made you wonder if you are lovable because why would that person do this to you…unless there was something wrong with you. That is a Lie. Or perhaps you have done things that you think are so shameful and so unforgiveable you could never be loved if someone really knew it all. Lie, again. Or maybe it is rooted in something I can’t even imagine. It is still a lie. All lies. The Enemy wants you to believe this lie so you remain defeated, especially when the rest of the world is tinsel-and-jingle-bells joy. Here is The Truth: Christ loved you so much He died for you. Even if no one else ever came to faith because of His sacrifice, He would still have died for you. Did die for you. And why? Because He loved you that much – you are so precious to Him that He could not bear Heaven without you. For God so loved, he gave his son. The Holy Spirit is the seal of proof in you until the time you go home to Heaven. You are known. You are seen. All of you – every bad and every good thing. You are known. And you are still loved. There is nothing in you, or that has been done to you, that can render you unlovable by the Father, the Son and The Holy spirit. TRUTH: You. Are. Loved.
- You. Are. Not. Alone. This is the second lie The Enemy would have us believe. It is tied to the first. I mean, if I am not loveable, then that is why no one wants to be around me. And if I am not loved or wanted, then why would I force my presence on them – better to stay in my room. Alone. When we buy into this lie, we think we are alone in our sorrow and mourning; no one cares. Lie. Still a lie. Always a lie. The Enemy wants you isolated and broken. Here is the Truth: I am with you until the end of the age, Jesus told us. The Holy Spirit is with us at all times. There is nowhere we can go in the earth that God is not already there. When you are sleeping He sings over you; when you are awake He watches over you. He bends low to hear your every gasping prayer and collect every tear, and He will never leave you – never. TRUTH: You. Are. Not. Alone.
Perhaps you already have a favorite verse you’ve worn thin from repeating it to yourself. But in case you don’t, let me leave with a few (just a few! There are many more!) of God’s promises to you.
God is your refuge, your strength, and your shelter:
- Psalm 119:114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I put my hope in Your word.
- Proverbs 18:10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.
- Joel 3:16 The LORD will roar from Zion and raise His voice from Jerusalem; heaven and earth will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for His people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.
God loves you with a love stronger and deeper and wider than any human can love:
- Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- 1 John 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
- Ephesians 3 17-19 …And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power… to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
God is with you – He will not abandon you:
- Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
- Leviticus 26:11-12 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.
- Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
- Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
This year has been harder for most of us than many other years. It is not one many of us want to repeat. If you face this holiday with more sorrow than joy, or more anger than peace, or more fear than you can remember having in a long time, take heart. God is still with you. You are still His beloved child, the apple of His eye. He is Big Enough to walk with you thru your entire sea of grief and thru every horror, memory, hurt. God doesn’t need (or want) you to be tinsel-and-jingle bell when inside you there is only pain. God is OK if you are real with Him. He will not turn from you.
You are loved.
You are not alone.
God is your strong tower.
He is with you unto the end of the time.