Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Prolonged frustration and bother don’t happen simply to goad us into good behavior or to teach us a lesson—they keep us from pretending we can do anything apart from Christ. And such things happen so we’ll find Him. The inability to keep yourself together or to keep producing the look of love for someone for whom you feel none is not a sign that you need to recommit and do the right thing. It’s meant to show you that you cannot (and are not supposed to) do anything apart from Jesus. Frustration is the beginning of the end of pretending.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
(Excerpted from "The End of Pretending," chapter 13 of my book, God's Astounding Opinion of You. For more information about it, click on the book in the right column.)
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Just thinking: If we have been given “fullness” in Christ, and it’s in Him that we find all the riches of satisfaction and glory given to us, might that explain why we get all twisted-up when we seek for fullness elsewhere? I know something about that twist, and I’m thankful for those who reintroduce me to true fullness.
Friday, February 24, 2012
I’ve been fasting this week. It’s not because God likes it when I fast, it’s because I do. Yeah, you read that right. For me, fasting is choosing a weakness through which I will know and savor God more. It’s all about satisfaction—mine.
In this case, I’m fasting from food, but in the past I’ve fasted from television, music (rather than listen to the stereo in my car on morning drives to work, I preferred thinking and listening for Him in quiet), news media, alcohol (I like an ale or a glass of wine now and then), and more. And not because any of it’s evil(!) or to be avoided.
It’s amazing how much I get used to turning to the things of this world for satisfaction, rather than to God, who actually satisfies me most and best. Like many, I suppose, seeking God or reading the Bible or praying can become all about obedience and willpower (“I’ve got to do it!”), especially when I’m getting more satisfaction and better pleasure elsewhere. Does that make sense? My deepest wants and desires and satisfaction have been denied because I’ve come to accept the comparatively shallow favor of the stuff of this world. In effect, I’ve been taken hostage to lesser joy and fulfillment. It’s torture.
Given enough time, I can begin to believe it’s actually normal and that I shouldn’t raise my expectations for much better. . .and shallowness becomes my new normal, perhaps assisted by sarcasm and humor, a fleshly attempt to cover over the pain. And then my thoughts go something like this: “I really should read the Bible.” “I really ought to pray more.” Or, “I’m really weak on the spiritual disciplines of study and meditation. I’ve got to be more committed.” That’s a good one.
I start to approach God and the things He likes as important things to do, rather than ways to know Him and like Him. And what about letting Him show me why He likes me? Reading the Bible and praying becomes a duration of time when I get my study and devotional timecard punched. Thunk-thunk! Going to church becomes all about following through on commitment. Giving money is about the pledge I made. Yuck. Round about then a college basketball game is much more exciting, or a bowl of ice cream, a shopping spree, a good movie, or a new electronic gadget. What delight, right?
Read the Bible? I’ll do that later or on Sunday. Yeah, that’ll be good then.
God no longer brings about the wedding of desire and satisfaction—fulfillment—because it has been lightly joined together elsewhere. What does God get? Commitment and Study and Pledges of Obedience—and frustration. A lot of frustration. He’s not as useful anymore.
But because He has crucified me to this world and this world to me (we’re incompatible; Gal. 6:14).), I can tolerate this painful hostage situation for only so long. A break out is drawing near.
That’s where a fast comes in. Through it I am needling myself—my true self—and saying, “Alert! Wake up and be satisfied! I can no longer stand surface satisfaction when I’ve been made for far deeper.” To be sure, I still have strong longings for satisfaction—in fact they get stronger—but the Spirit brings out desires now natural for me. I actually want God. I truly want Father. And any way to get Him and to know Him is where I start going. I begin talking to Him more (it might be sloppy or ugly or beggar-ish), even as I read my Bible. I start wanting to take a walk just so I can get out and look around and express my thoughts and questions to Him. I wake up in the morning and I think, “God, I want to be satisfied by you.” That’s a pretty welcome thought compared to what can otherwise go on in my noggin.
To be clear, no one has to fast to earn anything from God. Not since the New Covenant. Fasting is a way of enjoying what you already have. Any kind of fasting is toward satisfaction. It’s a way of acknowledging, “Jesus, you have given me absolutely everything already for entirely nothing. Hooray! I’m full already. So I want to hunger as a way of finding fullness. I’m going to refrain from light satisfaction in the hope you’ll bring out deep longings and equally deep satisfaction.”
This morning I made breakfast for my family: French toast, strawberries, bananas and real maple syrup. And I didn’t eat any of it. My youngest daughter is staying home today because she’s sick, and she just asked me to make her a piece of toast, with lots of cream cheese and lots of boysenberry jam on top. Lots.
And I’m loving it. The Holy Spirit—my friend and fascination and satisfaction—is carrying me along. The hunger I feel for a nibble is less powerful than the satisfaction I’m getting from Him.
And that’s what a fast is for.
(Some have asked for my thoughts on fasting. This is not an invective on Catholicism and the season of Lent; it’s a description of what I sometimes do in order to enjoy what God has given me.)
Monday, February 20, 2012
We're out. We're in. We're redeemed. We're forgiven. It is finished! How amazing is that? Col 1:13 “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
If it is finished, might that effect your approach to God and life?
It’s amazing what God has done for us, and it’s here in one sentence: Because we were under the oppression of darkness and the devil, He took us out and put us into the safe and secure family kingdom of Jesus; He got rid of everything and anything ugly and defeated about us by making ours everything perfectly beautiful and victorious that He is; and He made any memory or stain of our previous ways in dark captivity vanish completely and forever. How stunning is that?
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Friday, February 17, 2012
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Does it seem to you that the primary motivators in life today are fear, guilt and anger? I think that motivational trinity has crowded out what God intended—the motivation of love.
It’s happened to the church, too.
We seem ever to want to be motivated by crisis, by calamity, by a good cause and a good appeal, by a big need, or by a needed kick to our backside. I know the church doesn’t really want that, but it seems like it does. And I sure don’t like it. It’s not that we shouldn’t be motivated by a sudden event, it’s just that we can become addicted to the energy and appeal of the moment. And there is something much better, something more true and constant, something given by God Himself. The church was made for it. You were too.
God’s love produces confidence and daring and assurance and peace and rest and hope and, well, everything we need. God’s very being is love, so if we, His sons and daughters, attempt to do much of anything apart from love, we fumble and act unnatural. We feel it, too. Like something’s seriously out of whack in us. And it is. When the behavior of the Corinthian Christians went seriously crazy, the apostle Paul pointed them back to the love of God because it is the prime motivator—it rescues and refreshes and compels the people of God (2 Cor 5:14).
God’s love works.
I’m reminded of what love did to the Macedonians. God gave an amazing grace to these people who lived in “extreme poverty” such that in their joy they gave what little they had so others could hear the gospel. The Macedonians were in love with God, having been won-over by His love for them. And that love “welled up in rich generosity” (2 Cor 8:2).
Paul then wrote to the Corinthians that they, too, should “excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (2 Cor 8:8, italics mine).
That’s why the Macedonians gave – they were in love! They didn’t give motivated by an appeal to sacrifice, they didn’t give to make sure their tithe was on time, they didn’t give because others were in need, and they didn’t give because it was the right thing to do. They gave because they were in love, and that made their giving “acceptable” (2 Cor 8:12). Their gift wasn’t acceptable for any other reason but love.
And that’s what drives me bonkers for the church. I want believers to know and be motivated out of a burgeoning love affair with God. I don't mean we should never give unless we're right then invigorated by love, but I fear we've gotten used to giving without it. We've learned to motivate and to be motivated by something else. That's what makes pushy pastors and manipulative motivators out of our leadership. And I don’t think they like it any more than we do.
If we're not behaving well and doing good, it's because we're missing love.
If your motivation is low right now, go get some love—you need it and can’t live without it. If your giving lacks, if your service is stunted or reluctant, if there is gossip in the church and “sin in the camp,” go get some love—you cannot live without it.
“How can I get some of His love?” you ask. You might read Ephesians 1, or think about the gospel, which says you have been given everything for nothing, or ask Jesus what He thinks of you right now (you know it will be good!), or take a walk and start thanking God for what He has done for you in Christ, or pick up a favorite book and turn to that great passage about God’s love for you, or email or call someone and ask them to remind you who God has made you to be and what His thoughts are toward you. Or message me or email me – I’ll help you. It’s an assist and pleasure for me to think on and talk about God’s grace and love.
Because for me, too, love works.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
I've got some history with love. How about you?
Sometime back in the murky years of elementary school, there crept a dawning realization that I liked it when girls liked me. It felt good, so I took note of what girls liked. When I was funny, they liked it. When I was caring, they liked it. When I threw a touchdown pass, they liked it. When I looked good, they liked it. It wasn't long before I had a storehouse of knowledge concerning what girls liked. Pretty useful, I thought.
Through the ensuing years of wanting to be liked, I brought out of my storehouse whatever I thought was best for the situation. I wanted this girl or that girl to see me at my best, so I offered a bit of caring here, some physical prowess there, and perhaps a witty phrase or two to seal the deal. I discovered an important equation: She sees me + she likes me = Valentines galore.
What did I do when I wanted God's love? Pretty much the same thing. I wanted Him to see me doing the things He liked—reading the Bible, witnessing, tithing, caring, not sinning, etc.—so He would like me. I worked my equation: God sees me + God likes me = Valentines galore. It works with women and love, so it must work with God. It's the way of love.
Or so I thought.
But before I could trot out one dazzling speck of Valentine worthiness from my storehouse, God, who sees me at every moment, loved me for no reason I could see. Ever since we first got together when I was twenty-four, He has been dazzling me. Really, it's the most valuable part of my life—God's love for me. And I have never been able to motivate Him to love me. He has never once conveyed to me that He loves me now more than He once did. Not one time has He ever told me that His love for me is deeper, better, seasoned, more fun, more reliable, or more secure. I haven't done a thing to bring about anything any better. Maybe that will be my claim to fame. "Without doing anything to deserve it, Ralph knew that God loved him like crazy."
If you asked my wife, Sarah, why she loves me, she would give you reasons—some good ones. She would say, "I love Ralph because. . ." If you asked God why He loved me, His response wouldn’t be like Sarah's. While there are things He likes about me, He loves me without a because. I have done nothing to earn God’s love and there will never come a day when I will have to finally get myself together and earn His love. That's something that has fascinated and drawn me to Him ever since He first wooed me to Himself.
God is love! (1 John 4:8) God's love doesn't ebb and flow, rise and fall, motivated by the subject or the moment—God is love. And have you noticed? He's wild and reckless with it! When you consider who He loves, don't you come to the same conclusion? He doesn't keep His love only for the loveable—not for a moment. He lavishes His deep and lasting affection upon the best and worst of us without regard. And, try as we might, nothing can ever separate us from His love. Say it with me—nothing. God shot my equation all to hell. Really. He did it for love.
And now? I’ve got a new equation: God's love + God's grace = Valentines galore!
"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:4-9)
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
(For those of us who might need some time-tested help with the ladies on Valentine's Day.)
TOP TEN PICKUP LINES USED BY ADAM
10. "You know you're the only one for me!"
9. "Do you come here often?"
8. "Trust me, this was meant to be!"
7. "Look around, baby. All the other guys around here are animals!"
6. "I already feel like you're a part of me!"
5. "Honey, you were made for me!"
4. "Why don't you come over to my place and we can name some animals?"
3. "You're the girl of my dreams!" (Gen. 2:21)
2. "I like a girl who doesn't mind being ribbed!"
And the #1 pickup line from Adam is:
"You're the apple of my eye!"
Monday, February 13, 2012
“Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) is not a command to dance about and make merry as though the appearance of delight fulfills the command. It’s a directive for our own enjoyment. When we find God to be our greatest joy and pleasure, the presumed pleasures of drink and sex and ambition and covetousness are exposed as the comparatively empty pretenders they are, and their grip upon us is loosened.
We will reschedule, and, in a week or so, he will interview me about my book, “God’s Astounding Opinion of You.” For more information and to stream the show live, go to http://www.kpof.org/.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Thursday, February 09, 2012
I'm pretty dazzled by the community God is gathering and building at Saline, Michigan. I believe that you have an idea of the magnitude of what you're receiving from Him. It is sacred and it is beautiful. So why don't you all simply move to Colorado? Wouldn't that be better? Wouldn't that complete the whole thing? (I am secretly building a commune of my favorite people. Don't tell anyone.) I'm on my way home to my girls--all three. Hooray!
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
What if our life’s best work is to treasure our Treasure? And what if that explains most all of what goes wrong with us who aren’t finding Jesus as greatest treasure?
Have you noticed what happens to you when you find (again) Jesus as treasurable? Do you then have to force yourself to have a good attitude? To be compassionate? To obey God? To love others? No. Hmm. I wonder if there’s a lifestyle there. . .Treasure treasured produces. (Matthew 13:44; John 6:28-29)
Friday, February 03, 2012
What a wonder that is.