Wednesday, August 26, 2015


                Recently I finished the book I was reading and went to my bookshelf to find something to replace it. I found a copy of A.W. Tozer’s classic book The Knowledge of the Holy. I had never read it, so I pulled it off of the shelf. It has been an enriching and challenging journey.

                When I was in seminary, I had to write papers on the attributes of God. At that time, they were academic exercises. Over the years, I have returned to study those attributes from time to time. Whenever I have done that, it has been a challenging experience. Currently, as I work my way through Tozer’s book, I have been challenged again by the significance of understanding God’s attributes.

                Of first importance in this study is to realize that we can never put God into a neat box. All of our attempts to understand and explain the attributes of God fall far short of reality. We are like children trying to explain abstract concepts to adults using concrete terms. God indulges our inadequacy, while encouraging us to dig deeper.

                One thought that has been circling in my brain is the little amount of time I spend actually contemplating who God is. I tend to see God in big, general terms, without really exploring His character. As long as God remains abstract, He will remain distant. It is as we try to explore God’s attributes that we draw near to Him. He becomes real in our minds. He ceases to be out there somewhere and becomes a real presence in our lives. Come near to God and he will come near to you. James 4:8a

                Today I read about God’s omnipresence. Of all of God’s attributes, this is the one that always grabs me. Omnipresence means everywhere, always, present. It is hard for me to get my mind around the truth that there is nowhere where God is not present. David expressed this truth masterfully in poetic terms in Psalm 139.
        Where can I go from your Spirit?
        Where can I flee from your presence?
    If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
        if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
    If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
        if I settle on the far side of the sea,
    even there your hand will guide me,
        your right hand will hold me fast.
     If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
        and the light become night around me,"
    even the darkness will not be dark to you;
        the night will shine like the day,
        for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139:7-12

                David’s words are both comforting and alarming. There is never a time when or a place where God is not with me, whether I acknowledge His presence or not. This is a great comfort in times of trouble. It can also be a great concern in times of rebellion.

                It is hard to come to grips with the truth that our whole reality is enfolded in, permeated by the presence of God. Just like a fish is surrounded by and supported by water, we are surrounded by and supported by God. Our very existence is in His hands. If we were somehow able to remove ourselves from God’s presence, we would cease to exist. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' (Acts 17:28a)

                What does it mean for us to live in this reality? It begins by intentionally acknowledging God’s abiding presence every day. We do not live independent of God, but in total dependence upon God. He is actively engaged in every aspect of our lives.

Psalm 139:1-6
    O Lord, you have searched me
        and you know me.
    You know when I sit and when I rise;
        you perceive my thoughts from afar.
    You discern my going out and my lying down;
        you are familiar with all my ways.
    Before a word is on my tongue
        you know it completely, O Lord.
     You hem me in--behind and before;
        you have laid your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
        too lofty for me to attain.

                Once we grasp the truth that God is always present with us, then we can intentionally include Him in the activities of our lives. We can make decisions with God in mind. We can seek to please Him by what we do. When a child knows that their parents are watching, they often act differently. They want to please their parents, so they do things to gain their attention and hopefully their approval. In a similar way, we should live our lives within the reality that Our Heavenly Father is watching. He is delighted when we intentionally do what pleases Him.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

And a Child will Lead Them

Matthew 18:3
 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

                As parents, we have a responsibility to lead our children. As the Bible says, we are to train them in the way they should go. That means that we are to lay a spiritual foundation for them upon which they can build their lives. Our goal is to equip them to be able to engage their world in God honoring ways.

                When it comes to our spiritual development, adults have some advantages and some disadvantages. These advantages and disadvantages tend to stem from the same source; our knowledge and life experience. As we mature in life, our knowledge of God, the Bible, and life itself grows. We gain a better understanding of theological truth. Our life experiences shape our theology. We view the promises of the Bible through our personal filters, which have been formed by our life experiences. All of this gives us a perspective that children and adolescents do not have. Those same life experiences also tend to hold us back. Our excitement and enthusiasm for our faith is tempered. We tend to over think things, which often keeps us from acting in faith and trust. We prefer the safe paths to the risky ones.

                Children, on the other hand, do not have all of those restraints entrenched in their lives. They tend to see life as a great adventure to be explored. They have yet to be disappointed or fail, so they do not expect that. Instead, they plunge into life with youthful abandon. This can get them into trouble in a general sense. But, when it comes to living out their faith in Christ, it is a great asset. They do not see barriers. They see opportunities. They are willing to take risks for the gospel out of faith and trust in Christ. Where adults hesitate, youth jump in with both feet.

                This past weekend I had a double blessing. I had the privilege of meeting with a couple to talk about their faith and I had the privilege of baptizing their teenage daughter. This couple is awakening to the reality of what it means to be a follower of Christ. They both had some religious experience in their background, which in some ways was a barrier for them. They eagerly asked me questions about what it really means to follow Jesus. It was refreshing and exciting. The catalyst for this spiritual awakening is their teenage daughter.

                Their daughter has been a part of our youth group and has come to genuine faith in Christ. Her parents have noticed a dramatic change in her life. That change has sparked a longing in their hearts. On several occasions, during our conversation, they mentioned that the reason they were meeting with me was because of their daughter’s faith. At one point they said, we feel guilty, because we should be leading her into faith and she is leading us into faith! At the conclusion of their daughter’s baptism, the dad came up to me and said, I’m next.

                Jesus said that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the kingdom of God. He did not mean that we should become childish, but that we should be childlike. Children tend to be trusting, open, and accepting. They have yet to have the kind of negative experiences that tend to make us closed, suspicious, and skeptical. The Bible is clear that we should have a reasoned faith, but we should never let reason get in the way of taking God at his word and trusting him. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

When I am Weak…

                I really don’t like to be sick. It is nice to have “a” sick day once in a while; an excuse to stay in bed and rest. But when one day turns into two, then three, then a week; enough is enough. That has been my experience over the past week. Needless to say, being really sick drains a person of their energy and prohibits them from doing both the things they need to do and the things they want to do. Food does not taste good. Restless nights lead to exhaustion, which can lead to irritability. Being sick is just no fun.
                People who live with chronic illness often lead diminished lives. They expend all of their energy coping with their illness. There is little left over to enjoy the positive things of life. Like Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh, they live with a dark cloud constantly hanging over their head.
                Facing an extended illness is discouraging, but it does not have to diminish our lives. In fact, God often uses negative experiences, like an extended illness, to shape our lives. That was the case for the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians, Paul recounts his own struggle with a chronic illness.
                 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10
                There are at least four outcomes that God wants to accomplish from our facing extended times of illness or struggle.
                First, our struggles can be a corrective to our own self-sufficiency. Paul said that God gave him a thorn in his flesh to keep him from becoming conceited. Paul had accomplished some pretty amazing things. He had seen God use him in miraculous ways. He had experienced God’s power like few others had. All of these things could have led to pride and arrogance on the part of Paul. He could have gotten an inflated view of himself. So God popped the bubble, and showed Paul just how weak he really was.
                We all face the danger of becoming self-absorbed. We can begin to see God as our servant, doing our bidding, instead of the other way around. This was definitely an issue Paul struggled with, both for himself and for others. In at least two of his other letters, he specifically challenged people not to get an inflated view of themselves. God will often use illness to bring us back to reality.
                Second, our struggles can remind us of who is really in control. Even if we don’t have an inflated view of ourselves, we can become over confident in our own strength and abilities. We can begin to trust in ourselves, rather than in God, to face the challenges of life. God reminded Paul that His grace was all that Paul needed to face the challenges of life. It was not about how strong Paul was, but about how strong God is. That is a lesson we all need to learn over and over again.
                Third, we can demonstrate the power and glory of God through our weakness. When we face on-going challenges with grace and confidence, we show the world that our faith is genuine. It does not crumble when things get rough. In fact, our faith shines brighter as our situation becomes darker. I have known a couple of people who were struck with terminal cancer, and faced it in the power of God. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, or becoming angry, they used their situation to bring glory to God.
                Fourth, God wants to use our struggles to help others. Paul made this clear at the very beginning of his second letter to the Corinthians.  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Cor. 1:3-4 Paul had won the right to speak into the lives of others, because he had been actively in the battle.
                Often, the best person to help someone through a particular struggle is someone who has gone through it themselves. There is an empathy that cannot be manufactured. Their words ring true and carry much more weight than the words of someone who has faced that struggle only in theory.

                Being sick for an extended period of time is not a blessing. But God can use it to be a blessing to us and to others. My current illness will pass (soon, I hope). It has not been fun, but I have seen God use it to encourage the faith of others. So I give God praise that He has shown His strength through my weakness. (I’m still working on the “delighting in weakness” part.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


                It would be nice if life always moved along smoothly, but it does not. Life is often interrupted by obstacles that get in our way and hinder our progress. On our way back to Minnesota from Michigan, we ran into road construction near Chicago. For over an hour, we sat in bumper to bumper traffic, moving at 10 to 20 mph. When you have many hundreds of miles to travel, hitting road construction is not a blessing. The next day we were traveling through Iowa making good time, until I realized I had made a wrong turn. Instead of being on the freeway, where I was supposed to be, I was out in the country traveling on a secondary road. We made the course correction and got back on track, but it cost us more time. Finally, throughout the day, my throat began to feel congested. I started to cough and felt like I had to constantly clear my throat. By the time we got home, I felt horrible. I spent the better part of the next day in bed. I did not anticipate any of these obstacles. I did not plan for any of these obstacles. But, I had to deal with them none the less.
                All of the obstacles that we face in life have a spiritual dimension, whether we recognize it or not. Every obstacle tests our spiritual condition. They challenge us to put our faith into practice. Our first response to an obstacle is usually frustration, which can quickly turn to anger. If we do not recognize the spiritual component in our situation, we can easily feel justified in our frustration and anger. Yet, these are not emotions that bring glory to God.
                Basically there are three categories of obstacles that we face. The first are obstacles intended to trip us up and cause us to sin. These have their source in Satan’s plan to undercut believers. These are usually obstacles that we do not anticipate. They tend to catch us by surprise. They usually focus on some vulnerable area on our lives. The second are obstacles that are the result of our own bad choices. We cannot blame Satan for creating them, but he will indeed try to use them for his negative purposes. The third are obstacles that God puts in our way to test us. The purpose of these obstacles is to sharpen our faith and make us spiritually stronger. We cannot always tell which kind of obstacle we are facing. On the surface they may look alike. Each time we face an obstacle, we should see it as an opportunity to grow in our faith.
                There are two passages in scripture that specifically address the issue of facing obstacles. The first is found in James 1:2-4.
    Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
                In this passage, James does not separate the different kinds of trials. Instead, he tells us to treat every trial, no matter its source, as an opportunity to grow. Instead of getting frustrated with the trial, James instructs us to persevere. Persevere does not mean to grit our teeth and endure. Persevere means to stay the course. It means to keep moving in a positive direction, even if it is difficult. For example, when I was caught in construction outside of Chicago, I was tempted to get off of the highway and look for an alternative route. But, I have learned from past experience, that doing so often gets me into further trouble and does not really save me time. So I stayed the course and we got through it.
                James goes on to say that the goal of perseverance is to develop our faith, so that it will be mature and complete. There really are no shortcuts in life. Shortcuts only lead us to more problems.
                The other primary passage is Hebrews 12:7-11.
    Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
                The writer of Hebrews tells us to see hardships as godly discipline. We most often interpret the word discipline as punishment, but that is not the meaning here. Discipline is focused training. It is setting the boundaries so that a person can excel. A lack of discipline never leads to a productive life. Living a disciplined life often seems hard, and at times painful, but it is the path to life. Hebrews tells us that discipline, rightly responded to, leads to a harvest of righteousness, wholeness and a sense of well-being.

                I do not know what the specific lessons are that I am supposed to learn from my recent series of obstacles. But I know that God wants to use them to shape and mold me for His glory.