The Trophy Case

trophy case

Growing up in a small town, Friday night High School football was an event that the whole town looked forward to and came out to enjoy. Playing varsity football had its perks, from free McDonald’s to free haircuts if we wanted them. My school had won many state championships, and the hallways of the school were filled with trophies. My senior year I happened to win an award that will forever have my name enshrined in the halls of the school. I’am proud of that accomplishment, and I have gone back and remembered the joy of that season of life. I don’t relive those football memories everyday like an uncle rico from Napoleon Dynamite, but I will never forget them. Do we ever look back at the accomplishments and trials in our lives that show the victories that God has brought us through and has won for us?

In Habakkuk chapter 3, we find a prayer that is 19 verses in length. For 16 verses, Habakkuk remembers God’s past faithfulness to deliver Israel from her enemies. In the final three verses, he rejoices over God’s strength and majesty.

Habakkuk’s prayer is instructive for us today because it establishes a rhythm of remembering and rejoicing. When we remember God’s faithfulness and rejoice in it, we find a firm foundation regardless of our circumstances and it gives us Hope for the future. When we forget this rhythm, the weight of the world feels crushing upon our shoulders. Sometimes we need to talk and walk down memory lane and see the trophies God has won for us even when we feel like we have lost. God is never surprised when you blow it. He is never taken back. You can’t wear Him out. You belong to Him, and no one can pluck you out of His hand. You are His and He finishes what He starts.

Consider the Apostle Paul. If you put him in prison, he’s just going to convert the guards and the prisoners. If you try to kill him, he gets giddy about going to heaven. If you beat him, he doesn’t consider the suffering of this day worthy to be compared to the future glory. He’s free because he knows to whom he belongs. He’s free because he knows God has not abandoned him. He’s free because he knows that God began this and God will finish it. Can you imagine the situations He could look back on and see the faithfulness of God? We can do the same. May we remember with Habakkuk the truth of who God is and what He has accomplished. May we rejoice as he rejoiced: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Hab 3:18)

Going into a new year, let us remember the victories and the accomplishments not just from 2015, but even in the past that God has done in our lives. I hope you will feel encouraged that God is not done with you yet. He has your circumstances in plain sight and is going to work them out for your joy and His Glory. Let us go into 2016 with a spot for some new trophies, knowing that God has got this!

 

Advertisements

God At Work

gold

There is a show on the Discovery Channel called Gold Rush, when they find gold, it’s just not all that impressive. it looks like a dirty rock. Everybody is freaking out. “We’re rich!” It just looks like something that I could get outside in the yard. What’s happening in the show is they see some things that are there but are going to need to be drawn out. They’re going to need to be refined. They’re going to need to be cleaned up. They see the beauty of what’s there where I just see a dirty rock. They see the real value of the gold that is embedded in the rest of those impurities.

At least 12 times in the Bible, God is referred to as the refining fire. God and His relationship with us is one of refinement. God is not just interested in saving, but transforming us and pulling out of us those beauties that oftentimes we have a hard time even seeing in ourselves. The Bible is clear that God sees us as incredibly valuable, so don’t treat yourselves cheaply. God does not see you as cheap. The very blood of his Son is shed for you. This is about God initiating not only our ransom and rescue but purifying our lives and making us more like Christ for our joy and for his glory.

Here’s my point. God is at work in the messThat’s it. That’s my point. God is at work in the mess. “Our God is a refining fire. He will burn away impurities. He will wash away uncleanliness.” This is really a beautiful idea, although I will admit it’s a hard one.  J. I. Packer says, “Still he seeks the fellowship of his people and will send them as gifts both joy and sorrow to detach their hands from the things of this world and to attach those things to himself.” Packer’s argument is that God so loves you, so longs to be with you, so longs to have a right relationship with you where you are wholeheartedly his in pursuit. We’re going to stumble until the day we die,

He sends us joy and sorrow. In God’s deep and abiding love for me, he’s like, “No, no, no. I’ll send you joy, but from time to time, I’m going to walk you out into the desert. From time to time, I’m going to remind you of how desperate you are for me and that what you really need is me. From time to time, in my great and abiding love for you, I want to show you how little control you actually have. From time to time, I’m going to show you, because I love you, how powerless you actually are and how powerful I actually am. From time to time, I will show you that I am enough regardless. to pull you away from your idols, to pull you away from those things you like and are prone to worship, to remind you that you are not in control, and that’s a good thing. I am in control, and I can be trusted.

James 1, starting in verse 2.”Count it all joy” He’s saying, “Consider it all joy when you face trials of various kinds.” Would that be sickness? That’s various. Would that be financial? That would be various. Would that be relational? It’s going to fit in the various drawer. You name it. It fits in the various. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” Why? “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

God knows where our faith is, so the testing of our faith is not so God might know where we stand but so that we might know where we stand. God isn’t going, “Man, I hope Scott makes it.” That’s not what’s happening here. God is strengthening us. He is deepening our roots that we might stand all the more boldly and all the more brightly for our joy and His glory.

We consider it all joy when we face trials of various kinds because we know that God is at work in these various trials. We know we have not been abandoned but Then we begin to doubt, “Oh, am I really saved? Is this real? Christ isn’t working for me.” There is still mess to be worked out. There are still impurities to be burned off. There are still things that need to be cleaned off of us, and that will be true until the day we die.

Honesty before God and being in community is essential for the refining fire of God’s love to burn off the impurities from us so that what would be left is that beautiful gold. He goes further in Romans 5:3-5. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings” That’s a whole other level.  “Consider it all joy when you face trials of various kinds.” No, he’s going farther, and he’s saying, “Rejoice in your sufferings.” That one is hard for me. I can consider it all joy. I know God is at work in the mess, but this is like, “Rejoice. Be glad in your sufferings.” I need the Holy Spirit on that one.

Knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. you want hope to grow. You feel hopeless. You feel weighted down. You feel in the desert. You feel dry. You feel sick. You feel abandoned. God is at work in the mess. He’s saying here that God is developing your endurance, and in your endurance, hope will be more established.

It’s almost 2016 when people hit the gym for the first time in forever and they will end up with delayed onset muscle soreness. It’s what happens to you not the day after you work out but two days after you have worked out. What you’ll see happening in January is people going, “Oh, Don’t touch me.” They get back into the gym, and they have this, “I’m going to get in shape. I’m going to say goodbye to how I’ve been. I’m going to get back to what I once was.” They put a picture of themselves up in their mirror like Rocky did in Rocky 4. “I’m going to get back.” Then they really fade. It’s the breaking down of muscle. It is the running until your lungs burn that creates endurance. The apostle Paul says, “Rejoice when your lungs burn. Rejoice when your muscles are sore. Rejoice when you need water so badly you can barely stand it, for God is at work in the mess.” Because refining is taking place.

So many of us want lives where dependence upon Christ is not necessary. The reason you want that is because you think you or the things you want are going to be a better God to you than He will. You don’t necessarily want a life of ease as badly as you want a life of ease. It is a good gift to be desperate and hungry and needy. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is what Jesus teaches. The first sermon out of the gate, “They’re the ones who will see God. Blessed are the brokenhearted. Blessed are those who mourn.” Have you read the Beatitudes? That’s the life we’re after.

God is at work in the mess. He’s refining. He’s moving. That didn’t stop the apostle Paul from crying out and asking release from that thorn in the flesh. In fact, three times, he pled with the Lord until the Lord said,  “I love you. This is staying. My grace will be sufficient for you in this weakness.” At times we feel like we’ve been abandoned by God. There are trials, and there are tribulations. We’re in the desert. God feels far from us. Our senses are off. We feel discombobulated. Then we feel abandoned. “Where are you, God?” “I can’t believe this, God. I’ve been so good to you. I can’t believe you would do this to me. You would just abandon me in this moment of need, in this moment of trial. I can’t believe you would do this.” One of the things again that we see in the Scripture is oftentimes, the desert is used by God to increase our intimacy with him, to grow our faith in him.

Let’s be straight. The Lord disciplines all he loves, but the discipline of the Lord is never meant to consume or destroy his children, but rather to woo them, reconcile them. Because the Lord does not change, it means he does not change his mind concerning you. The Bible is very clear that you were saved at your worst. It was not you at your best that God saved. It was, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It wasn’t like you cleaned yourself all up, and then God said, “All right, now that you’re clean, I can kind of see there is some gold in there. I kind of like what you’ve done with the place, so I’ll take you. You’re in now.”

He has not grown weary. He has not lost patience. He is not wanting a mulligan because you cannot figure it out. Do you not know that the infinite, all-knowing, always-has-been, always-will-be God is intimately acquainted with all of your days before you’ve lived them? The God who is outside of time is well aware of how you’re going to blow it. And how you will succeed.

Some of what you’re experiencing might be the discipline of God, but please do not mistake that discipline as being heavy-handed or harsh. Just because something has been taken out of your hands,  just because there has been some loss of something you perceived to be yours does not make God, in his discipline, cruel. You don’t control the discipline of God by checking all of the boxes. A lot of what is going on is running underneath. It’s a script that is running that we’re completely unaware of, and those who have suffered have seen that script running underneath the rhythms of their lives, and they were unaware. The struggle, the life not of ease, but the life of trial and tribulation.

Since he is a refining fire, We’re all being refined, but some of us are hyper-aware of that refining work right now because it’s hurting, because we find ourselves in the desert, because we’re sick, or somebody we love is sick, or we’ve been wrestling with something for a long time, or we feel like God is far from us, or we’re struggling with anxiety and fear. I keep finding that when I wait on the Lord, that God does so much of his work. God accomplishes more in our waiting than in all of our doing. We wait on the Lord. We’re earnest for God to do this good work in us.

Difficulty is not uncommon. Don’t feel ashamed that you’re walking in some sort of difficulty. Be honest about it. That’s what the people of God are meant to do, to flank you, support you, uphold you. We walk honestly in community.

Charles Spurgeon  said “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace his hand, I can always trust his heart.” Don’t lose heart. God is at work in the mess. If you are weary, my hope is that after reading this you will be encouraged. You don’t think God is dialed in to your difficulty? Then what are you doing reading this today? in the middle of difficulty, in the middle of doubt, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of suffering, in the middle of sickness. You don’t think God is trying to give you some sort of divine hug today, trying to minister to your heart? Today is evidence that God is for you and not against you, that God loves you, forgives you, and delights in you.

 

Selfie

insta

Instagram, I’m not against it. I think it’s sensational. We post photos of our life, see which friends care for us, which friends encourage us, and which friends show up for us. It’s an incredible way to feel awesome or emotionally insecure. I don’t mind Instagram as long as we all understand that it isn’t 100% real. With all the angling, cropping, and filtering it’s not real life. Instagram is not always the most encouraging medium in our life. When we see our friends with new gadgets, on dream vacations, or eating something incredible with the inevitable food picture. We find ourselves discontent, and always wanting.

Social media is not aiding our efforts towards contentment. Let’s be honest, At no point did I decide to title this post “contentment” you know why? Contentment is not attractive. When is the last time anyone asked you to meet and talk on contentment?

We’re Americans! We don’t preach on contentment. Instead let’s hear about ambition, passion, goal setting, and dreams. Contentment though? It doesn’t seem American. Is it Biblical? How about we Just be happy where we are? No, We’re about being the CEO, COO, or anything with an “O.” We think we need drive, passion, ambition, and success and not contentment.

This is what Paul is speaking to when he writes to Timothy. Paul understands the practicality of contentment because He has lived it. 1 timothy 6:6 “But Godliness with contentment is great gain.” We must understand who Paul is. These words are profound and have much depth. He’s a man who has been shipwrecked, snake bitten, spoken poorly of, has a negative perception by society, he’s been publicly flogged, whipped, and had many difficult times since choosing to follow Jesus. Yet he writes that he knows how to be settled. Think about that. Through all those things Paul was settled and content? Yes! Paul is telling Timothy to be settled and content in the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

We came into the world with nothing and we will leave with nothing. This speaks to the brevity, shortness, and limitations of our life. You can’t take your Instagram likes to eternity with you. Eternity is what matters here. Life is short, and one day being discontented can lead to another day, to another day, to a week, to a month, to a year, to a decade and before you know it you live a life of despising what you did have. You are not promised tomorrow, and you can’t recover yesterday. All you have is today. Can we learn to be settled and content today?

Contentment makes sense. Dis-contentment is a stealer and it will steal from your satisfaction in life. The problem with getting “stuff” is that you want more “stuff.” Have you ever noticed that?  This “stuff” we beg for must need brothers and sisters. If you have an iPhone, then you must have an Macbook; then an Iwatch if you can’t always have your phone on you.  I’m not against apple and “stuff” but the pursuit of those things exclusively leads to a hollow and empty life.

Paul, also wrote to a church in Philippi and shares on how to be content. Philippians 4:11-12 “I am not saying this because I’am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul is saying his position, income, perception don’t make him who he is. Why worry about what you can’t control? If you find your identity in social media and “stuff” then your identity will fluctuate with the wind.

We must acknowledge the source, deliverer, and strength. It’s not your savings account, position, or popularity. You can live with peace, you have this opportunity to be content. It is afforded to you in Jesus Christ. Will you accept Him to be your source of contentment?

God’s Interruptions

homeless

We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige, and position. Jesus, however, measured greatness in terms of service, not status.

For a majority of my life I grew up in small farming towns surrounded by corn fields. Needless to say I have always enjoyed the moments when I have been able to visit a big city. This past September, I spent a day in Chicago Illinois. Knowing that I only had a day to spend in the windy city, I wanted to make it a very memorable time. I’m a planner, and I like to stick to schedules. I have been to major cities all across America, and was blown away by the amount of homeless people in Chicago. Quite honestly I had no intention of helping any of them.

As “Christians” we say a lot of things, we sing a lot of things, we “amen” a lot of things, but don’t always act them out. I think at times my motives are pure then something happens and realize ok, maybe I’m not as strong as I thought I was. A moment happened when I had the opportunity to help a homeless man in need. The problem was, I was being so self-absorbed I didn’t want to make a difference, because I wanted to stick to my schedule. I wasn’t allowing God to use me the way He has called me to be used.

There are over 2,100 times the word “give” is in the Bible. You might think “love” would be referenced more, but it’s only used around 700 times. Why? Because we can’t truly love without giving. You can give without loving, but the essence of loving is giving. After the incident in Chicago, the following Sunday my pastor was preaching on how we get so caught up in our schedules that we don’t make time for God’s interruptions in our lives.  After hearing this, the puzzle pieces lined up perfectly. I knew right away that I had to change. Change is not easy, and it did not happen over night. I know I can’t help every homeless person out there, or adopt every orphan, and visit every widow. But I told myself I will let go, and let God interrupt me any way he wants.

Thousands of books have been written on leadership, but few on servanthood. Are you available to God anytime? Can He mess up your plans without you becoming resentful? We miss many occasions for serving because we lack sensitivity and spontaneity. Great opportunities to serve and give never last long. They pass quickly, sometimes to never return again. So take advantage of the moment when it shows its self to you like it did to me last week.

I just got back from spending some time In New York City. Knowing that I would have a couple days there, I was thinking of ways I could serve and be open for God interrupting my plans. And that is exactly what He did. I met a man named Nelson, Older man sitting between two buildings with a cain. I asked Him what He was needing. “Shoes” He said. Little did he know I was carrying around a pair of shoes to give away. Right away I knew God had this planned. I said “Well Merry Christmas, I have a pair for ya!” He looked me in the eye and said “I can’t believe it, you’re an answer to my prayers!” God had all this orchestrated so He could be known and goodness could be seen. I will most likely never see Nelson again, but He knows that God hears his prayers and provides exactly what he needs and is loved by his heavenly father.

John wesley was an incredible servant of God. I will most likely never be at a level like his or one like a mother Teresa. But John wesley had a motto- “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.” Great opportunities often disguise themselves in small tasks. Don’t serve for the approval or applause of others. Do it for an audience of One and let goodness be seen.

“Why?” Let’s Be Honest.

roots

I had a conversation this week with someone who has walked with me through every good and difficulty situation I have ever faced. Someone who I would say is very grounded in their faith and has modeled the Christian walk during the high’s and low’s of their life. Someone who has wept on their face everyday praying over their kids, family and marriage. What surprised me during this conversation was when They said “I have wondered what is the point for me praying prayers when God doesn’t answer them, I don’t understand why certain things happen the way they do.”  After this was said the deafening sound of silence struck me. I didn’t respond. Answers to these questions rushed my mind but I stayed mute; because I knew exactly where they were coming from.

We know the scriptures that talk about God working things for our good, that He has a plan to give us a hope and a future. We try to hold onto these and trust in God’s sovereignty; then we see a mother with 3 young kid’s die pass away at a young age, we see hundreds of innocent people die in tragedy, we see loved ones diagnosed with life ending diseases. I have been there, I have walked it. I have laid in bed at night feeling the darkness that overwhelms my mind and the crippling fear that just won’t subside. My questions outweigh my answers during those long and lonely nights and I think “why God?”

At one time if someone had told me to “praise God in all things.” I would have said “that’s not possible.” But looking back at my pain I recognize it’s the things that I have suffered through that got my attention and brought me closer to Jesus and made me grow. These are the very things that taught me I’m not in control. This made me say with all my heart. “I need you, oh how I need you.” We may think God doesn’t hear us or doesn’t care in tough times so why pray?

We pray because God’s track record is perfect. He has never failed us before, He has shown us His goodness and that His love will endure. We must trust that His ways are higher than our own and He hears our cries. God, He knows what He’s doing.  There will never be a day He’s not strong enough to come through for us.

A friend texted me this week (2 timothy 1:7) “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Power is first on the list, and God’s power is more than enough to see you though. Embrace the invisible, and watch your faith grow. He knows what He’s doing.

God says we will reap a harvest at the proper time if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9) What I have learned is the proper time is never my time because I always want the harvest now. The law of the harvest is simple, growing up in southwest Michigan I have seen this with my own eyes. You plant in one season and you eat the fruit in another. We do not plant one day and the very next day eat what we planted. Right now you may have planted but you do not see any fruit, but what you can’t see is that your roots are going deeper, making you stronger to develop what you need for your coming season. Don’t stop praying, Don’t stop believing. God will bring exactly what you need in His proper time in His season for you. One day you will see, one day you will find all the answers to the question “why.”

 

 

 

The Invitation

paris

As a child many of us go through our young life with extraordinary dreams, but by the time we become adults we have ceased to dream like a child. We learn to set our expectations low, to bring our hopes and dreams closer to where we already are. In a lot of ways this makes sense. We don’t want to be dreamers, hopeless romantics, naive idealists. Now as adults we understand the harsh realities of our world. Now we understand often expectations are unmet, and all the hurt that brings. We experience Failure, We’ve had relationships end; we have had parents divorce; loved ones or friends die by natural causes or by the evil that takes place in the world.

Jesus is in the business of redeeming expectations. He’s in the business of reviving hope. In their magnitude and beauty, His expectations for our lives has much more in common with our childhood idealism then with our adult realism If you invite Him in so he can work from the inside out in you.  Suffering remains, but now it is experienced in the context of relationship with a God who is stronger than the suffering and is not afraid to enter into it. As I have traveled around the world and even around the America, I have found that often the people who have suffered most severely somehow have the greatest confidence in the goodness of God. I believe there are certain things about God’s goodness and about God’s response to suffering that can only be known by inviting God into our suffering and experiencing Him in the midst of it.

There is a bond of relationship that is possible only between people who have shared the worse, those who have walked each other through the wreckage of natural disaster, or those who have held hands at a deathbed. By suffering with us and sending His Spirit to live with us through all that we suffer, God ensures that the strongest possible bond we can experience and the deepest possible relationship we can enter into are both with Him and for His glory.

What we learn from suffering together with God also has something to do with how different the experience of suffering is when its is not suffered alone. One of the worst times Jesus suffered was when all His friends “deserted him and fled’ (Matthew 26:56) Sufferings greatest cruelty is its isolation, isolation that robs us of hope. But the experience of suffering is radically different when someone who loves you is right there with you every step of the way. Something about suffering together gives reason to hope. And when you are in Christ, you never have to go looking for somewhere who understands your suffering. You don’t need to go looking for someone who cares. We do not have a God who is distant- high in the sky when we die rather One who has known suffering; one who has wept; and One who is not far from any one of us.

The Christian response to suffering is primarily not a response of theory but a response of a Person and a response of relationship. We just have today, Pain and Suffering can strike us personally at any moment. Last night wasn’t just a normal Friday as some may have thought in Paris. My heart goes out, My prayers go up. We aren’t walking this road alone. Embrace the journey and If you are walking a tough road now, invite God to walk it with you. When you invite Him There will be the light of hope in your journey no matter how dark the road may be.

Growing Pains

I heard an interesting quote the other day that said “God is always doing 10,000 things in our lives and we are only aware of three of them.” When I first heard this I thought, ‘Yeah, and those three things totally stink!’ I’m so focused on the 3 rather then the 9,997. I truly think our circumstances help develop our character to be more like Jesus. My reasoning is obvious because we face circumstances all day long.

No one is immune to pain or insulated from suffering and no one gets to go through life problem-free. Not all problems are big, but all are significant in God’s growth process for you and me. Personally for me, I have learned more things about God and his character more profoundly from going through trials that I may not have learned any other way.

If we look at scripture, God could have kept Joseph out of jail, Daniel out of the lion’s den, Jeremiah out of the pit, and Paul from being shipwrecked or even the three young hebrew men out of the blazing furnace- but He didn’t. He let those problems happen and every one of those situations drew them closer to God as a result.

Rick warren says “Problems force us to look to God and depend on him instead of ourselves.” With Trials I have walked through with others, or different situations I have faced personally, I truly believe this with all my heart. Don’t give up. Be patient and persistent. Character building is a slow process, whenever we try to avoid or escape difficulties in life, we short-circut the process and delay our growth. Jesus entered into suffering for us. When we suffer, don’t avoid it but enter into it. The process isn’t fun but when you come out you won’t regret it.

Go to God, let him know how you really feel. Focus on who God is and his unchanging nature through seasons of our lives that do change. When job’s life fell apart Job still found things he could praise God for like- He is good and loving. That He is all-powerful. That He notices every detail of my life. That He is in control. That He has a plan for my life and that He will save me.

I don’t know anyone who has wrestled with God and didn’t walk differently after. He cares about our pain, and our trials because He is wanting to do a good work in all of us. When we grasp this we will pray fewer “Comfort me” prayers (“Help me feel good”) and more “Conform me” prayers (“Use this to make me like you”) If you are facing trouble right now don’t ask “Why me?” instead ask, “What do you want me to learn?” and “How can this be for your glory?” Don’t be troubled by trouble. Circumstances cannot change the character of God. His grace is still in full force; He is still for us, even when we don’t feel it.