Category Archives: Uncategorized

When I Don’t Desire God (Part 2)

Too many people here in Uganda want to come to America – land of opportunity – to solve their problems.  It’s their answer to their problems.  I am like my Ugandan brothers, I desired an experience. I desired God’s blessings.  I desired God’s gifts.  I desired means of grace.  Yet those were not satisfying.  Only God satisfies.  Experience, blessings, obedience only satisfy for a moment.  I was not desiring God.

One of my most pressing questions for years has been, “How much prayer is enough?”  I saw in Scripture where people prayed for a long time – Jesus prayed all night when choosing His disciples, but Elijah prayed a simple prayer and it didn’t rain for 3 ½ years.

So I was looking for the right amount of prayer for _______ (fill in the blank).  If it took X number of hours, that’s OK.  If I wanted the thing badly enough, I just needed to put the time in.  We saw in the last post, we still have to put that time in, but how God answers is up to Him (for example, Psm 127:1).  Relationships really do not have formulas – just ask my wife.

So my experience with God was one like a store owner (God) and a shopper (me).  My job was put the work in to find out the right currency the store owner requires (that could be sacrifice, offerings, obedience, hard work, prayer, Bible study, faith, etc.), then find out the right amount required for my need (blessing, assurance of some protection, healing, gift, etc.).  That’s where I had the problem – how much was enough?

From what I can tell from Scripture God wants more than just to give us blessings or gifts, He desires to give Himself to us.  Is that not what He did when He saved us?  Sure He provides blessings, assurances, healings, gifts, etc., but more than anything else, He desires that we know and receive His Son.

So all of life’s problems: marriage problems, financial pressures, loss and grief, frustrations, addictions, failure, mistakes, sin, etc. He wants us to turn to Him. Depend upon Him.  Trust Him.  Not just for the blessings, not just for the release of the difficulty, but so that we, through the difficulties of taking up our cross may yield to Him; experience what He experienced and live in faith as He lived so that He is strong in our weakness.

While we desire to be released from the troubles, He may want to reveal His glory through those troubles.  This is easier said than done.  In fact, we can’t do it, but the best news of all is that Jesus can!  Run to Him.  Invite Him for a coffee and just chat.  Keep spending time with Him and He will change your life.

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What Depth of Intimacy Is Desired?

What type relationship do we desire to have with God?  The Bible describes various relationships that God has with His creation, the relationship corresponds to a level of intimacy with God.  These should not be viewed as complete or authoritative – it’s just my thoughts.  At which level of intimacy do we desire most with God?  Our answers are revealed in how we respond and relate to God.

God as Creator – this relationship is foundational, but not salvational.  This relationship acknowledges God as Creator.  It seems many people in the world are at this level, but God calls us to a deeper intimacy with Him.  Some agnostics perhaps are here, admitting a Creator, but not relating to Him.  They may have been wounded by God and are upset with Him.  A Biblical example is Adam & Eve or Cain.  Other religious people are here, too – acknowledging there is a Creator.  James writes, “You believe there is One God. You do well.  Even the demons believe – and tremble” (James 2:19).  Focus here may be on the moral law (10 commandments) and sometimes religious and/or political activity far outweighs any deeper relationship with God.  Saved people certainly recognize God at this level and relate to Him, but their on-going relationship is much deeper.

God as Provider – this relationship is based on God meeting our basic needs as His creation.  God relates to people at this level by what some Christians call “common grace.”  God provides His common grace to all men and women; things such as rain, growing food, etc.  God clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds of the air.  To relate to God at this level is just to receive His common blessings.  The Creation is at this level as the creation depends on God’s provisions.  Thus those who turn from the Lord are confused.   If these people do not move to Jesus as Savior, they will not be saved and will know God in the final sense as a Righteous Judge (Gen 18:25; Psm 50:6; 75:7; Acts 10:42).

Slave or Servant / Master – this relationship varies in the Bible and seems a bit complex.  It seems to include both general believers in “God” (not saved) and saved believers – those trusting Jesus for salvation.  Jesus says about this relationship that a slave does not abide in the master’s house forever, but a son abides forever (John 8:35).  The parable of the talents describes a lord and his servants.  One was lazy and was cast out.  When the disciples desired to have Jesus increase their faith, Jesus gave a parable (Matt 17:5-10) that related to their level of intimacy at the time – a servant does what his Master tells him to do and then he is considered an unprofitable servant. Later, just before the cross, the disciples would be called “friends” (John 15:15).  Paul muddies the waters of my thoughts on this a bit when he writes in Romans about salvation that we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to God (Rom 6:19).  Sometimes legalism (letter of the law obedience, which Paul says results in death 2 Cor 3:6) can rule a person’s relationship with God at this level.  Whether that person is saved or not depends on God’s working, which will produce fruit.

Sheep / Shepherd – Welcome to the flock.  The very basic relationship where a new creation in Christ seems to “normally” begin – if that makes sense.  Sheep are not very smart animals and need lots of care.  They are spiritually immature and tend to stray.  They are almost totally dependent upon the Shepherd.  Jesus assures the sheep that if one goes astray, He as the good Shepherd will leave the 99 to go search out the one lost sheep.  He also offers assurance to the sheep, which are easily spooked and scared, that He gives them eternal life, they shall never perish, and no one can snatch one of these from His hand (John 10:28).

God as Friend – James challenges the worldly, immature believer to the level of friend by stating, “friendship with the world is enmity with God.”  At the friend level is where a real relationship is started.  Trust is established and built.  The individual gains confidence in his walk with God.  He talks to God, not just when in trouble, but relates on a more intimate level.  God also relates to His friend on a more intimate level, and provides more revelation.  Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).  Communication amongst friends is intimate.  Abraham was a friend of God (Genesis 18:17; James 2:23).  Friendships are sometimes tested by challenges that arise.

Child / Father – “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  This relationship is one of much deeper intimacy than all the others prior.  Jesus draws analogies of son and Father: in asking for help in Matt 7:7-11; prodigal son in Luke 15; as well as heirs.  Paul does the same by writing, we cry “Abba, Father.” (Rom 8:15).  The term “born again” can be applied here.  Peter describes this relationship as “born (past tense) of incorruptible seed” (1 Peter 1:23).  So following the level of intimacy and analogy, a child is “in.”  While their salvation is secure, discipline and pain will be a reality, too for misbehaving children (Heb 12:5-12).  There can be tendencies at this level of intimacy for the child toward legalism as the child matures.  The child should seek to mature to a much deeper level of intimacy, confidence and trust with the Father.

Wife / Husband – The church in general is referred to as the “bride of Christ.”  The bride has made herself ready.  Hosea.  Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5).  Jesus came to earth to marry His church / bride, but was cut off.  There will be a wedding supper in heaven for his bride called “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) where Jesus will drink the final cup of the Passover meal with His bride (Luke 22:17-18).  A bride follows her husband’s lead out of love and focuses on the love her husband has for her (Eph 5:25-27).  The relationship, though founded on legal terms, is not lived out day to day from obedience and the perspective of a legal relationship.  Mutual love and respect make a marriage.  Obedience and legalism destroy a marriage.

God as Intimate Lover – seeing God face to face (Psm 27:8; 17:15; 41:12; 105:4; 1 John 3:2-3).  Intimacy (SS 1:1-4); A betrothed virgin waiting for her husband to return. The rose of Sharon; the lily of the valley (SS 2:1); being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18); Rejoicing in the Lord (Isa 61:10; Psm 33:1; Phil 4:4); Gladness in the Heart; Getting to know Jesus very intimately and sharing in His suffering (Matt 5:12) – He becomes treasured above everything else.  His voice is easily recognized (SS 5:2); His features well known (SS 5:10-16 & Rev 1:13-18).  Perhaps some of these won’t be attained until we’re glorified.

These are created from my own thoughts, although years ago I read something that vaguely referenced some of these levels of intimacy, but I honestly do not remember where.  I’m sure these levels are different and do not match what I read.  Theologically, I’m sure it’s quite scattered and dangerous, but might provide a bit of insight.  All the best!

Stuff

Police Sergeant Polhaus:  “Heavy.  What is it?”

Detective Sam Spade:  “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”

Police Sergeant Polhaus:  “Huh?”

Last lines of the 1941 film, The Maltese Falcon

In the movie, The Maltese Falcon, which Roger Ebert names as one of the greatest films of all time, Humphrey Bogart plays cold, hard detective Sam Spade who is suspected by police of murder.  It is difficult to miss how Spade’s name fittingly describes his character.

As the movie opens, the falcon is shown by light angled from a corner casting the bird’s dark shadow on a wall.  The movie begins by giving a brief history of the figurine and describing it as “a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels.”

In the movie, the falcon serves as a MacGuffin.  MacGuffins are used in fictional writing as an object that acts as a plot device and motivator for the characters throughout the story.  When a fictional story contains a MacGuffin, the protagonist and other characters in the story are willing to do almost anything to pursue, protect, sacrifice or control the object.

The MacGuffin causes the characters to be consumed by their passions.  MacGuffins can also be more abstract as in an idea, belief or philosophy, but that is beyond the scope of this post.  Two famous tangible MacGuffins include the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the one ring in the trilogy, Lord of the Rings.

As Michelle and I pack up, store, sell, trash and get rid of much of our “stuff” (see photo) I am reminded that our “stuff” is what dreams are made of.  I remember one day in Pasadena, CA where Michelle and I met and dated, that we looked into one another’s eyes and Michelle told me that I was the one she wanted to grow old with.  After marriage we began building our dreams with “stuff” – little things that reminded us of our lives together, which grew into larger stuff such as pictures, collections, furniture, vehicles, a mobile

home and a house. [Continued below picture]

Mark standing with some of his "stuff."

Mark standing with some of his and Michelle’s “stuff.”

That “stuff” holds power over us.  We cannot let “stuff” (material things) control our lives – yet if you are like us, we do it all too often.  What is it we would have difficulty parting with?  Is it a memento?  A collectible?  A treasure?  A person?

If you’ve watched the television show, “Hoarders” you have seen “stuff” on steroids to the point it becomes a form of mental illness.  It is sad to watch people desperately hold on to things and fear letting go of it.  Our tendency is to claim, “I’m not that bad.”  Yet when we start to part with something, a little voice goes off in our heads, “I need that.”  Or “It means so much to me.”

As in life, in the last scene of The Maltese Falcon the iconic falcon turns out to be a fake.  Yet the figurine was used by the writers to illuminate the hearts of the characters in the story.  Through the entire movie the characters pursued what they thought would bring happiness and security to their lives, while in reality it was only a fake, not genuine, a hoax and a deceitful glimmer.

In the closing scene, police sergeant Polhaus picks up the heavy Maltese falcon, turns to Bogart and says, “Heavy.  What is it?”  Bogart responds with a line that according to some websites he actually came up with on the set that is borrowed from Scene IV of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”

The movie teaches a great lesson.  In life we need to search for the truth and not chase illusive dreams that hold no value or substance, and in the end are fraudulent fakes.  Webster’s online dictionary defines Truth as “in accordance with the actual state of things, real, genuine, pure, faithful, unwavering, conformable to fact.”

An amazing statement was made one time, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)  Jesus was saying in our language today, “I AM the real deal.  I am genuine.  You can trust me.  I am faithful and unwavering.  I am not a fake or fairy tale like the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus.”

God did not leave His creation with some intangible, abstract teachings found in religion or philosophy.  He went well beyond that – He sent His son.  Truth became a person – tangible and real.

The “stuff” that reality is made of is Jesus, the Rock of Salvation upon Whom you can put your trust and rest from the stuff in the world.  He loves you and desires a relationship with you.  He will change your life and your world.

Link

Weakness Is Strength

WEAKNESS IS STRENGTH

I think most people realize the plight of Uganda – the country where we will be moving soon.  Uganda faces incredible challenges such as sickness, disease, poverty and squalor.  In Uganda the United States is recognized as a strong economic country where good health, opportunity, success, pleasure, food and fun exist.  Some of the Ugandan people believe, “If we could only get to the United States, our lives would be much better, much happier.”

But is that belief true?  During the time of the prophet Isaiah, it was Egypt that was the Land of Opportunity, the Land of Success, the Land of Security.  God warns Israel through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 30 of depending upon and trusting in other nations (Egypt, in Israel’s case) for their strength, defense and hope. 

Like modern day Ugandans, have we trusted in the values and principles of the United States to solve our problems?  Have we trusted in the values of our own “land” and society to bring us happiness, comfort and peace?  Just as God warned Israel then, He warns us (Ugandans, Americans and others) today about that false sense of security and peace found in trusting other things, other countries, other religions, other values and institutions, instead of Him.

God promises in Isaiah when we turn and come to see the reality of God’s love and care for us, “Then you will destroy all your silver idols and your precious gold images.  You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, “Good riddance!” (Isaiah 30:22 NLT)

When God’s love is fully realized and accepted, He becomes our everything.  He is our source of strength, no matter where we live.  No matter our plight or situation.

God’s Kingdom is about our weakness finding His strength.  If you have about 10 minutes, click on this link http://vimeo.com/33616313 to watch a video about God’s “upside down Kingdom” – a Kingdom where God’s strength (no ours, not our nation’s) is exalted.

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http://kingdomclips.com/best-dad.html

http://kingdomclips.com/best-dad.html

In all the hustle and bustle of preparing to leave for Uganda, I am reminded that we are going to a nation where 1/2 of it’s citizens are under the age of 16.  Many fatherless and motherless.  My Dad took a few moments this morning to gently remind me of Who He is through scores of His promises written in His Word.  Remember your Dad loves you deeply! 

If you have 12 minutes to hear scores of promises from your heavenly Father to you, I think you will be encouraged.  Take a few minutes in your quiet time today or this weekend to reflect on the promises and love of your heavenly Father.

Faith Is Taking One Day at a Time

Not too long ago I had the privilege of talking to “Faith.”  Faith is a forty-something single mom and former addict. When I arrived in the room where Faith was, she was sitting in the corner and remained quiet. I actually walked past her, not noticing her. I’ve known Faith now for about 4 years. Her life before that time was not the most desirable. She struggled and scrapped by day by day, while she resisted the pleas and harassment of her grown children who have their own set of serious problems and issues – seeking the pleasures and material things of life while struggling with habitual sins that bring only frustration, discouragement, jail time and lack of peace.

When I originally met Faith, years of abuse and hard living had been indelibly etched into her countenance.  Yet it was around this time that she had recognized her bad decisions and wanted to leave her past behind her. I didn’t know Faith very well, but she said the right words – that she was trusting in Jesus as her Savior and asked our pastor to baptize her. Our pastor, encouraged to see the light of the Gospel and a glimmer of faith, gladly performed the baptism. In fact, he asked Faith if she would share her story, which she nervously did in front of the congregation one Sunday.

I couldn’t help but question in the back of my mind about the sincerity of Faith’s situation. Having volunteered and worked in the prison environment for years, I have been hardened to numerous jailhouse confessions, lies and recommitments of addicts and habitual offenders.  I pitied Faith because her situation was so bad, and I had little hope for her.  She was like many addicts – desperately trying to get out of a desperate situation. And who could help her?  Although I was happy for her, her words seemed a bit artificial to me.

About a year after being baptized I ran into Faith again.  I asked her how she was doing and she mentioned that she had been experiencing some pain in her abdominal area. She was hurting. She was afraid of going to the doctor, but ultimately had to surrender. I found out later, after a few visits she was given the bad news – cancer. Years of hard living had taken its toll on her body.  I remember leaving that conversation sobered by the reality of what it must be like to have a doctor give you that news.  Thoughts like this had troubled me for years when working at Hospice.

Faith was told her situation and her treatment options. She said she thought God wanted her to fight the cancer. After years of working in Hospice, my outlook on Faith’s future was not good.  I am too ashamed to write about the specific words that crossed my mind that day – a confusing dark and jumbled portrait filled with monochrome grays of pity, despair, doubt, and grief.  Yet somewhere behind all that Faith was communicating that there was a sprinkled hue of hope.  I failed miserably at seeing it.

Faith started her treatment plan. She even continued working and volunteering during this time. It was not pretty. When I saw her, the look on her face would not hide the pain. When she stood talking, she would hold her arm over her stomach area and occasionally a small grimace would cross her face. Yet she rarely complained. I am sure she loathed the nausea, the vomiting and the humiliation of losing her hair.  Like most cancer patients she wore a scarf, and persisted with the treatments.

Over the next months Faith fell from my radar.  I would get occasional updates through others that she needed prayer.  Requests for help during the nausea and pain were the most frequent petitions.

Fast forward to my most recent encounter with Faith.  It was the first one in quite some time.  I was immediately struck by Faith’s countenance.  She looks so much better. Her face is fuller and her hair has started to return. When I walked over to her, a weak smile crossed her face and she arose to give me a hug. Her weakness was evident as she had to immediately sit back down. As she chatted about her situation, she told me she was in the third and final round of chemo. She’s hopeful this will do it.

This week will be the fourth of about 12 chemo treatments in this third and final round. Faith said Mondays are her best days. Tuesdays are chemo days so Tuesdays and Wednesdays are her worst. She usually feels a bit better by Thursday.  Through all this Faith still insists on working.  The person she works for is fine with her continuing to work.  Faith says she works because she cannot afford to be without a job. In her words, she’s used and abused people for so long she has no one else to turn to and has to work to provide her simple, daily needs.  She also quickly praises her brother, whom she says has filled her refrigerator with food, although he denies doing it, and helps her with traveling and other needs at times.

A few minutes into the conversation Faith’s comments struck me. Not only was she looking better, but something miraculous has happened to her in the last two years. Her conversations about God now have so much depth to them. I was further shocked and surprised to hear that during this entire health crisis, Faith has refused pain medication. I think because of her previous addictions. I was astounded. After working for 15 years in Hospice, we always offered drugs for comfort. Faith would not touch them. “The Lord helps me through the pain. When it gets bad, I talk to Him and He helps me through it,” her words sure, steady and convincing.

I asked Faith what she has learned about God through this process and ordeal. She responded, He just wants me to take things one day at a time. Don’t rush things.

Hmmmm, I thought. Patience. I verbalized the thought, “it sounds to me like patience. You’ve learned God is patient.”

“Yes,” Faith responded. “One day at a time.” The question occurred to me, wasn’t it Jesus who said not to worry about tomorrow?

“What else have you learned?” I asked.

“I can give Him everything,” she quickly responded. “I try to hold on to so much, but He has told me I need to give Him everything.”

Hmmmm, I thought. Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  His disciple, Peter writes, “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.”

Faith is getting to know Jesus intimately. The apostle Paul wrote that he wanted to know the fellowship of His sufferings.  Faith’s conversation, her demeanor, her words only praised the One who had helped her through this suffering and affliction. She confidently and sincerely spoke of the peace she has through it all. Then she said something that really pierced to my soul. “When I read the Bible, I can connect with Mary Magdalene.”

Mary Magdalene.  My thoughts rushed through the characters of the Bible to remind myself of Mary’s situation.  Mary Magdalene, the lady from whom Jesus cast seven demons. Drug and alcohol addiction are definitely spiritually dark demons. Wasn’t it Mary who was at Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection?  Yes.  In fact she remained closer to Jesus through all His suffering, while the disciples were in hiding. It was Mary to whom Jesus first revealed Himself after the resurrection. She knew the voice of Jesus, when He called her name.

As Faith spoke, I couldn’t help but review some of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  I was hearing them clearly – patience, love, peace, gentleness, self control, meekness, joy and others.

Faith sincerely desires to help other people now. She has a love for them, when in the past she only wanted to use and abuse them. Jesus is ministering directly to Faith and Faith ministered to me that day. It was the highlight of my day and my week, and maybe my month and year. It was that encouraging.

I encountered an outcast whom Jesus sought out, and has led her through extreme pain and suffering.  Yet this lady’s faith, though starting out so weak is coming through this trial as fine as gold tried in the fire. And she will tell you clearly, it’s only due to Jesus.

Faith is not out of the trial yet.  She still has a long way to go, and she is still facing the reality of the limit of her life.  But I experienced a person who has a love for Jesus that only few know and can testify to.  Can you imagine seeing the embrace and look on the face of Faith and on the face of Jesus when she finally gets home.  Until then her Master is there by Faith.

I think Faith’s advice to take one day at a time is wise.  I only hope I can heed it. Doesn’t her advice describe Faith?  Her best Friend said it best, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”