The Impostor: Who Are You, Really, Behind That Mask?

On Halloween, many of us wear masks, don’t we? (Of course, in the age of CoVid, we have all had to wear masks some of the time, even when we didn’t want to.) The Beatles’ song, “Eleanor Rigby” describes her as “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door”. Have you ever “put on a happy face” when you didn’t feel like it? Have you ever been an Impostor in your own skin? Jesus understood that all of us sometimes take refuge behind a public persona, and that all of us allow an impostor to represent us at one time or another.

Penitence Versus Persona

“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; and give tithes of all that I possess.’

And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)

The Self-Important Failure

If you are reading this, you have probably exalted yourself at some time or another. It’s human nature. You have looked in the mirror and thought, “I look good!” You have spent money on yourself that didn’t HAVE to be spent. You have done something just because you wanted to, even if there were bad consequences. When you have confessed your sins, maybe you are relieved that there are other folks who are far worse.

Perhaps you have merely taken pride in an accomplishment, or perhaps (like me) your pride has subtly exercised itself in less edifying ways. Maybe you have been secretly glad that you were not like someone more evil or less principled than you; maybe you shake your head at someone else’s rude behavior, and are glad that you aren’t like that.

At some time or another, all of us hide behind a persona that presents us to the world as someone who appears better than we actually are—much like the Pharisee who prayed his very public self-congratulatory prayer…

The Way We Hide

In the wonderful book “Abba’s Child”, Brennan Manning says our proud public self is actually someone called the Impostor, who offers a presentable image but hides our flaws and our true, broken self.

He says: “The impostor is the classic co-dependent. To gain acceptance and approval, the false self suppresses or camouflages feelings, making emotional honesty impossible. Living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us. The impostor’s life becomes a perpetual roller-coaster ride of elation and depression… The impostor is a liar.” (pp. 34, 35)

impostor mask

The Mask over the Mask?

My good friend Mark Krimm and I acted as accountability partners for several years, and one of the things we discovered was that we not only had an Impostor, but we even have an Impostor to HIDE the Impostor. He’s the guy who humbly acknowledges his sin and brokenness 1) without sharing all of it, and 2) is secretly proud of how humble and transparent he appears to be. He looks good on the outside, but his priorities are messed up and he’s really not doing business with God where it counts.

impostor face

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as external spirituality, and it hurts to realize sometimes that I have the capacity to portray a humble but broken Pharisee, even though I am really just an unfaithful dirty rotten sinner. On the other hand, the tax collector had no such pretense. He didn’t even deserve to be in church, but he was there, praying an honest prayer.

Begging not Boasting

Israelites despised tax collectors because they worked for the hated Romans, and people considered them traitors at best, extortionists and thieves at worst. They were social pariahs, the lowest of the low. In the gospels, they are often mentioned as synonymous with sinners, as in “tax collectors and sinners”. No Pharisee worth his salt would even go into the same room as a tax collector, and yet Jesus called one (Matthew) to be his disciple, and had several notable encounters with them.

This story about prayer and confession offended and enraged the Pharisees, but it gives hope to the honest sinner who 1) is so convicted and downcast that he is absolutely humbled before God (he couldn’t even raise his eyes towards heaven); 2) is passionate and truly sorrowful about his sin (he beat his breast in anguish); and 3) is honest and repentant before God (he begged for mercy).

What’s Behind YOUR Mask?

SO, here on Halloween, get real about your mask… The question that arises from this story is, which category are you in? A proud Impostor who feels self-righteous, or a humble sinner begs who for mercy? Every day we choose one of those attitudes or the other. Both of those folks will be surprised by God’s response; but only ONE of those folks will be justified.

Two Prayers

Two men went to church one day,
Where they could take some time to pray.
The sinner and the Deacon stood,
And one felt bad, while one felt good.
The Deacon proudly walked the aisle;
His tie was straight, he had a smile
And stood down front for all to see:
“I thank you, Lord, for blessing me!
I’m glad I’m in your Holy plan,
Unlike this other, sinful man…
I thank you I don’t drink or cuss!
I come to church without a fuss,
And tithe from all that I possess,
While other people love you less.”

The sinner stood way back in place,
While streaming tears ran down his face,
Anguished, hoping none could see,
He beat his breast and made his plea:
“Oh Lord, be merciful to me!”
He humbly prayed with no disguise–
He couldn’t even lift his eyes…
The God of Grace, the God who cares
Will listen well to both these prayers,
And both these men will be surprised,
When only one is justified.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

“Evil Days” Require Wiser People. Are They? Are we? Be Careful

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV) Stop for a moment and think about the world around you. Is the world getting better and better? Do you see mankind evolving upward towards better values? Is our culture more wholesome and encouraging than it was ten years ago?

An Undeniable Trend

I used to hear older people talking sadly about how there seemed to be more evil in the world now than there used to be. They would reminisce about the “good old days”, when neighbors were more neighborly, it was safe for kids to play “down the street”, and you never heard a cuss word or saw nudity on your TV. And that was over 40 years ago! Now I AM one of the older people, and I feel the same way. But, it seems even worse today than it was THEN!

Look around. Standards have changed. A Jack in the Box commercial on TV sold their new bowls by using phrases generally applied to male anatomy, making a poor play on words at best, and a comparison that doesn’t make me want to rush out and buy a pair, SMH… (That’s “Shaking My Head” if you’re not up on internet acronyms.) The “poop” emoji is now on billboards as if it has marketing value. We accept these allusions and buy these products today without a thought.

Going, Going…

Not only has decency begun to disappear, but so has truth. Journalists and politicians lie so subtly (and so constantly) that you don’t know what to believe anymore. Half-truths and accusations are disseminated so frequently as facts that they are often accepted as true. Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels said that if you tell a big enough lie, and tell it often enough, it would become accepted as fact.

Our communications culture demonstrates this every day. Narratives are created and fed to us over and over. His words could be applied to current reporting, political posturing, and to the hateful bipolar atmosphere in America today. People will gladly ignore truth if telling a lie will help them get ratings, clicks, or attention.

evil days

Today’s values and standards are definitely different than they were “back in the day.” Commercials on TV reach out to consumers by saying “Break the rules!” Abortion is considered just another birth control option. High school kids go to movies that promote sex and violence, even as youth groups take a stand against human sex trafficking. Our culture is extending legalization of marijuana, so that better living through chemistry can become even more common. Schools are counseling children to question their gender. Gambling online is available to anyone who wants it.

Moving the Line

Our children (and our neighbors) have internet access to virtually anything, and are bombarded with everything from non-stop materialism to hard-core pornography. Video games make death and violence commonplace, because after all, they’re just games.

Music (which weaves its way into our brains forever—quick! How many songs do you remember from when you were a teenager?) is full of stories about breakups, drugs, sex, and casual relationships. Hip hop and heavy metal are full of anger, abuse and violence. Interpersonal relationships are changing rapidly, falling away from the personal touch of conversation and affection to on-screen interaction, where it is easier to lie, misrepresent, and misunderstand…There were evil days in 60 AD (when Paul wrote this), and they are evil still…

How do we respond wisely to evil days? James 1:5 says if you want to be wise, go to the source: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” If you would truly like to make the most of every opportunity in this life, then ask the Lord for wisdom. Apply it to your decisions about what you watch, who you listen to, and what you believe.

“Be very careful, then, about how you live.” Put another way, Paul is encouraging you to be full of care, to care deeply about how to live. Avoid evil and choose good wisely. Ask the very source of Wisdom to give you some, and study it in His Book. When calamity strikes or when opportunity knocks, you’ll be ready. Evil days surround you. don’t be unwise.

Some Things Never Change

Be careful how you live, because we live in evil days,
And evil tries to infiltrate our lives in many ways.
There’s no regard for gender, creed, infirmity, or youth;
It challenges our decency, integrity and truth.
Stop and look around your world, and don’t believe the lies.
Be careful how you live, and make an effort to be wise.
Do you want to find some wisdom? Here is where to look:
You’ll find it when you talk to God, and study in His Book.
Allow your heart and mind to join with His in Holy unity;
Be careful, then, and make the most of every opportunity.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Four Dimensions of God’s Love: Height, Width, Depth, Length

In yesterday’s post I challenged you to look in John 3:16 and see the four dimensions of God’s love that Paul mentioned in Ephesians 3:17; Take a moment now and read John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”)

four dimensions of love

Now ask yourself, How high is God’s love? How wide? And how deep? How long? After you have paused to reflect on that, make a list of the four dimensions–height, width, depth, and length–and jot down how John 3:16 applies to each one. Then compare your thoughts to my observations below:

How High is It?

How high is it? God’s love is infinitely high, defined by the character of the one who extended it: GOD. It comes from above us in every way. It is purer than what we call love, more committed, more personal, more selfless, more complete and more complex than our earthly perception allows. Isaiah 55:9 says: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Think higher than Everest, higher than the heavens, and beyond the vast reaches of infinite space…

You can speak with men and angels, you can search the heights above; Beloved, if you count the ways, the greatest of these is love…

How Wide?

How wide is it? It is so wide that it includes EVERYONE. Every color, creed, culture and character is under the span of God’s amazing love. “God so loved the WORLD (Yes, Grace is available to everyone) so that WHOEVER believes is saved…” Romans 10:13 says “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

2 Peter 3:9 says, “Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but EVERYONE to come to repentance.” God’s love is as wide as every person who ever had a choice.

No need to hide from love that cannot be denied, It changes who you are inside, And ultimately you become His bride– And not just you but everyone who believes, receives, Yes every. One. So if you wondered: that’s how wide…

Plumb its Depths

How deep is it? It is so deep that God spared no expense and paid the ultimate price to extend it. He gave his ONLY begotten son. Salvation is free but it’s not cheap. It cost God his Son; it cost his Son his life. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

God is not an automaton without feelings or emotions, and yet the loving, jealous, passionate God allowed His Son to experience the cross in MY place. Read that sentence again. Seamlessly together for eternity past, they separated. The only perfect and unified force in the universe tore itself apart for us. Without any guarantee apart from His own character that everything would go as planned, God sacrificed his Son and Christ died. That, my friends, is DEEP.

Don’t Forget How Long

How LONG is it? The verse concludes with, “So that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have EVERLASTING life!” How long is THAT? There was a song from 1957 by Johnny Mathis where he said he would love his girlfriend “until the Twelfth of Never. And that’s a long, long time.” EVERLASTING is longer than that.

A thousand, ten thousand years from now, we will all be somewhere, perhaps remembering when we first opened our hearts to the four dimensions of God’s love. I hope because I know that you and I will be still be experiencing those four dimensions, and we will just be getting started.

There they are: John 3:16, the four dimensions of God’s amazing love. You are welcome.

Love in Four Dimensions

You can speak with men and angels, you can search the heights above;
Beloved, if you count the ways, the greatest of these is love…
That love is in God’s Character, reflecting who He is;
So if you wonder just how high it is, remember this:
The love extends beyond the sky, as lofty as the world is wide–
Don’t hide from love that cannot be denied!
It changes who you are inside, and ultimately you become His bride–
And not just you but everyone who believes, receives: Yes every. One.
It’s as wide, you see, as Calvary, and that’s how it was done.
God made the ultimate payment at a cost that was infinitely steep;
Salvation may be free, my friends, but it was never cheap:
God sacrificed His only Son for us. His love is deep.
That love will live beyond this world, forever and a day:
(The love that’s higher, wider, deeper than these words can say!)
The love of God will far outlast the words within this rhyme:
Beyond the twelfth of never, friends! (And that’s a long, long time!)

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Four Dimensions, Deeper Love: How God Loves You Completely

In Ephesians, Paul mentions the four dimensions of God’s love as if everyone knew about them; so tell me, have YOU ever thought about the four dimensions of Christ’s love? In his book of superlatives, Paul talks about where God’s love is planted, and what it looks like. Even if you think you have love all figured out, his description is a revelation that will push your boundaries and redefine your limits!

four dimensions

Why Four?

In this eloquent prayer for his friends in Ephesus, Paul expresses the fervent hope “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:17-18 NIV).

In this passage from Ephesians Paul calls out the four dimensions of God’s love. Have you ever thought about the dimensions of God’s love? Have you ever truly grasped the width and length and height and depth of the love of God?

In this world, our perception of God is limited. We look at Him through a finite lens, and even when we think we see Him as majestic and incomparable, perhaps we are leaving something on the table… First Corinthians 13:12 confirms: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Paul claims that there is more to love than we see, and that it has dimensions that go beyond our perception.

The Shemah

Paul’s definition of love is steeped in the Hebrew Shema, which reminded believers to love God with every means at our disposal: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Jesus quoted that passage in Matthew 22:37 when challenged to give the greatest commandment.). So do you love God with all your heart and soul and mind? Have you grasped the four dimensions of God’s love?

We should be careful of not seeing love as it really is. Paul calls upon us to extend its boundaries, to realize how much more God intends for it to be. As C.S. Lewis said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

In this life we dabble about with romantic love, we cherish motherly love, we love our friends, and of course we love animals and food and possessions and things. And we talk about God’s love… But Paul’s picture of love suggests that God’s love is infinite and powerful and amazing: perhaps we can broaden our perception.

All Means All

First, he says that we need to be ROOTED and ESTABLISHED in love. This suggests going deeper, taking nourishment, and transforming like a seed does when it gives life to a new plant. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

Paul says that when we connect with love’s transforming power, we will see the dimensions of God’s love. Read a verse you’re familiar with, John 3:16, and think about the four dimensions of God’s love: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The verse that everybody knows contains the truth and power about God’s love that everybody should grasp. Look in John 3:16 and ask yourself, How high is God’s love? How wide? And how deep? How long? They’re in there. Read that verse and make a list. Go deeper.

Love in Four Dimensions

Paul tells folks in Ephesus (and also tells the rest of us)
That perfect, Godly love will start with Jesus dwelling in my heart.
The love of Christ Paul mentions, he defines with four dimensions,
So awesome they can make you weep: it’s wide, and high, and long and deep!
Investigate what that must mean. Read John, the verse is 3:16,
And make a list right there beside: how long, how high, how deep, how wide?
It’s there, if you go deep enough: the four dimensions of God’s love…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Do People Smile at a Wedding? Well, Think About YOURS…

A wedding is something that makes people smile! (Yes, some people cry, but usually they are tears of joy, not sorrow…) And whether or not you are married, this wedding verse actually has something to do with you: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10, NKJV)

All Dressed Up With Someplace to Go

Isaiah makes a bold statement: he claims that when we have a relationship with the Lord it should be as obvious as wearing a Wedding dress, something that everyone around us can see. He says that God literally “clothes us with the garments of salvation, and covers us with the robe of righteousness.” Even though a spiritual relationship with the Living God is an intimate internal affair, Isaiah says that following God should result in obvious external changes. When we follow God, he says, we should look and act differently…

Why do you think he used the analogy a bridegroom and a bride? First, it is because at a wedding, the Bridegroom and bride are the most identifiable participants.

wedding smiles

Their clothes are distinctive; their ornaments and jewelry identify them as people involved in a new relationship. That makes sense, since a wedding in those days involved the whole village and proclaimed to everyone present that the happy couple was now reserved for each other. Unlike all of the other guests, these two wedding participants were entering into a binding legal agreement that was spiritually sanctified and publicly proclaimed; like theirs, our union with God is a covenant relationship. It makes good theological sense that Isaiah would compare our relationship with God to the social, legal, and spiritual underpinnings of marriage.

There was also a tremendous sense of anticipation, certainly for the bride and groom on their wedding night, and also for everyone involved. A new family was being created, and a new household was being established. The village had reason to celebrate! But that’s not why he used the analogy. Read the first part of the verse again.

Why, A Wedding?

Isaiah compares our walk with God to a wedding because of JOY. He says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord. My soul shall be joyful in my God”! Joy is the defining characteristic of a wedding: there is the power of positive goodwill, the allure of romance, the promise of unlimited potential, and the beginning of something new. I can’t recall attending a wedding that did not have a sense of joy, can you?

Setting up a new home, private moments of intimacy, first baby steps, family meals, setting and achieving goals… All of these, and so many other actions and events are related to that place in a wedding where the bride and groom say “I do.” Without THAT moment, none of these other moments ever happen. Potential remains unfulfilled, and two hearts remain independent until that moment occurs.

Have you said “Yes” to God? Are you walking with Him? Then don’t forget: His purpose is not to obligate you to the law, not to burden you with mission, but to create with you a new family bond that brings you joy. Jesus said, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) John said, “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:4)

As you consider where God is in your life, don’t forget that He has adorned you in the garments of salvation, and covered you with the robe of righteousness. He has brought you into His family, and there are many, many moments of love, joy, and intimacy with Him waiting to be claimed. Sit and ponder that for a moment. Find your JOY. Now, go smile at everyone you see today for no earthly reason; after all, it’s YOUR wedding!

A Joyful Wedding

The blushing bride is gorgeous, walking slowly down the aisle;
The groom and everybody else await her with a smile!
Every eye is fixed upon her presence in the room
As she proceeds to take her place beside her anxious groom.
This day was planned with all the art and skill they could employ
To bring this love together, and to bring these lovers joy!
Isaiah says this wedding vow will be one that endures,
And that you are the bride, because this wedding day is YOURS.
Rejoice! Be glad! Embrace this day, and all that it will bring:
You’ve been adorned and chosen. You are marrying the King.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Stop a Minute, and Remember the Thrill of Your First Love

John’s Book of Revelation begins with letters to seven churches. Those admonitions are often interpreted as representing various ages of church history, and the church at Ephesus is equated with the end of the Apostolic age. John’s letter to us describes one of the greatest dangers to the church at ANY time: the danger of losing your first love… “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write…you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” (Revelation 2:1; 3-4, NKJV)

When John wrote to the seven Churches in Asia Minor, he wrote to literal church locations. His book about the Apocalypse was carried by messenger and read aloud to each congregation, and his message was cosmic and stunning to say the least. I’m sure that the reading of John’s letters in the late first century drew crowds and created quite a buzz in the local churches!

He Quit Preaching and Went to Meddling

To each congregation he gave a compliment, a criticism, and a command that probably addressed actual contemporary events or persons in that particular church, so I’m sure that listeners had many questions about who was to blame, how things got to be that way, and what to do about it. So in some respects, it was just a normal letter, written to contemporary churches John knew about.

But many theologians also believe that the letters to the seven churches also have a historical application and that each church can be compared to an era in history that corresponds with John’s message. (For instance, the church at Ephesus symbolizes the cooling off of the Church’s first love, and the end of the Apostolic age; Smyrna represents the era of church oppression and martyrdom, Pergamos the church becoming connected to the world, and so on. It’s a stimulating study if you are interested.)

But the application that intrigues me most is the PERSONAL ONE. When you read the messages to the seven churches, what jumps out at YOU? Are there compliments you identify with? Are there criticisms that make you uncomfortable?

Remember that First Love?

As you read John’s words to Ephesus, for instance, does anything resonate in your heart of hearts? “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” Our Sunday school class once described the characteristics of new or first love from a romantic point of view, and here is a partial list: “You want to spend time together.” “You think about each other all the time.” “You love talking together. You love being together.”

Ever feel that way? Have you ever been caught up in the new stages of a romance that are so powerful that it commands your thoughts, your time, and your desires? Romance writers talk about it, and surely you can remember it from that time you first “fell in love”!

first love

Now think about the things you felt when you first encountered God’s love, when you learned about Grace it became real to you… what happened on the day you realized that God loved you, that Christ died for you, and you decided to grab ahold of it and love Him back? Do you remember the joy? Do you recall the comfort, relief, happiness and gratitude you felt? I was FORGIVEN! I was LOVED!! I had HOPE! For me, it was like seeing the world through new eyes, and about finding a confidence that wasn’t held down by my own inadequacy or insecurity.

If you ever appropriated God’s love by faith, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a feeling of life-changing love and assurance so complete that it is both infinite and intimate. It’s a doorway to new possibilities that include spiritual awakening and eternal life! As I recall, it came with a bunch of new discoveries about life and the way the world works.

Bringing it Home

So here’s the question: do you still feel that way today? Are you walking around feeling loved, touched by grace, grateful that you can spend time with the Father? Have you left your first love? If you have, remember. Remember the early feelings you experienced when you stepped away from the deadly selfishness of the world to the selfless love of Jesus.

If you have wandered away from those emotions, reclaim them. Allow yourself to be courted by the Creator. Read some Psalms or the book of John. Go on a honeymoon with God. Serve someone else in His name, and see how you feel. It’s ok to feel romantic or smitten with God. He feels that way about you, and His first love is also His eternal one.

A Love Sonnet

Oh Lord, when there are times I, failing, doubt,
And do not seek to know Thy love and grace;
When I, in haste and worry, rush about,
And turn all inward seeking from Thy face;
When I forget that you were my first love,
And take for granted how I have been blessed;
When I, with thoughts below and not above
Am tempted, and I fail to pass the test –

When I am sore beset by worldly grief,
For having failed to put my trust in Thee,
While knowing that this trust would bring relief,
And that Thy face would never turn from me;
When our First Love’s romance, Oh Lord, I spurn,
Please call me back, and help me to return.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

YOU Are a Big Part of The Cosmic Romance

My daughter and her husband recently went to a costume wedding. While somewhat fun and whimsical, it still contained the key ingredient: two people in love got married! However it is structured, a wedding ceremony is ultimately full of romance. In these unique celebrations of love, there are often flowers and music. The groom is dressed in his finest, waiting by the altar as the lovely bride approaches. He is nervous, she is blushing. She glows with beauty, and he glows with pride. There is a sense of anticipation and joy that makes a wedding day very special.

With that in mind, stop and think about this: the Bible compares the way the Almighty God of the Universe feels about YOU to the way the groom feels about his lovely bride. It says, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5, NKJV)

Weddings are amazing events –costumes or street clothes– and they are almost always full of love and romance. When you consider the amount of time, creativity, and preparation poured into a wedding day, it has to be one of the most anticipated days of a lifetime. I was the father of two beautiful brides, (and one handsome son as well!). Each event was significant and special, attended by hours of planning, selecting, decorating, and choosing every element so that the wedding day went just right.

The Perfect Day

At a wedding there are participants, coordinators, flowers, colors, and rehearsals. There are photographers, videographers, tuxedos, caterers, locations, churches, gifts, meals, DJ’s, music, toasts, and shoes… There are countless other things besides mere romance to consider. Who’s in the wedding party? Where do people stand? What’s the order of the ceremony?

When I’ve had the privilege to officiate at weddings, I have noticed that most of these details are very important to the Bride. She is not only giving herself away, she is coordinating the blending of two families to create a new one. That means, of course, that her wedding must be special. It should commemorate the occasion with all of the appropriate decorations and elements. Brides and their mothers (and perhaps their wedding planner) dream of, conceive, plan, and manage every detail of a wedding so that it will be a perfect day.

romance

Grooms… not so much. Most of the time (in my observation) Grooms leave a lot of that preparation stuff where it belongs, with the Bride and her mother. Yes, they smile and say, “Yes Dear”, or “That looks great”, but really, how much work do most grooms have to do getting ready for the wedding? So why didn’t Isaiah say, “As the bride rejoices over the wedding day, so shall your God rejoice over you”? Why did he compare God’s love for us to the groom?

Anticipation the Way it USED to Be…

I’m gonna get real for a minute. In our modern age of birth control, weddings have lost something that used to be a huge part of the anticipation and build up for the special event. Face it, most couples today have slept (or lived) together already. Before birth control, you were playing Russian roulette with your future to do that, and 60+ years ago, most women weren’t willing to take that chance. I’m not being Polly Anna, and yes I know that people still did it, but not nearly as easily or as often as they do today.

Weddings before birth control still held the romance and pure physical anticipation of intimacy. Physical consummation was scary, mysterious, spiritual, sexual, and highly anticipated, particularly by the groom. He’d been mooning over his fiancé, longing for her, and doing all of the highly charged heavy petting she would let him get away with. 60 years ago a groom approached his wedding day begging for union. That was just the way things were before women engaged in the “sexual revolution”. The danger of pregnancy outside of marriage was a powerful (although not total) deterrent to sex before that special wedding day.

But Wait, There’s More

I’ll pause for a moment and say that even today, when I officiate weddings, it is always a special moment when the bridal procession starts, and I can see from up close the look in the groom’s eyes as he watches his beautiful Bride, prepared and reserved for him, coming down the aisle to be presented to him.

There is always longing, pride, affection and commitment in that look; I mean, it’s a wedding! But where physical intimacy has not yet occurred, the sense of anticipation is that much higher. The desire for intimacy brings the groom an even greater sense of urgency to the bride’s approach. It puts the RRRR in “romance”! The bride is presented in all her loveliness, proceeding slowly down the aisle as everyone turns to look. The groom is waiting, a raging combination of love, romance, and hormones, anxious to consummate this union that he has anticipated so long…

True Intimacy

Lest you think I am obsessing over this aspect of the ceremony, picture this: Isaiah 62:5 says THAT is exactly how God rejoices over us. That is why Paul quoted Moses in Ephesians 5:31-32: ““For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” A man leaves his home and family to start a new one, and to become one with the woman he loves. He will find completion and comfort in her arms, and they will discover the delights and pleasures of that union together.

As a groom stands and rejoices that his bride is coming down the aisle to be his—that is how God feels about us. Can you imagine? That is how God feels about us!
As we walk down the aisle to be His bride, can you feel His gaze upon us? It is filled with pride, affection, commitment and joy—as well as the pure longing for intimacy that has been planned since eternity past, and will bring joy for eternity to come. Be glad! You are being rejoiced over. You are at the center of the cosmic romance.

The Eternal Romance

The blushing bride is in the aisle, approaching sweet and pure;
She cannot hide her glowing smile, and yet remains demure.
Her face is like a work of art; she looks her very best–
Anticipation makes her heart beat faster in her chest!
Her steps are slow and measured as she walks into the room;
She could not be more treasured by her loving, waiting groom.

He sees her dress, her hair, her skin, the beauty waiting there within,
And drinks this lovely vision in, and knows that she’s reserved for Him!
He looks at her with perfect pride, a love that cannot be denied,
A heart that wells up deep inside with love for His eternal Bride!
Where joy is full and tears are dried, this Cosmic Romance will abide…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

A Guide to Staying Happy: Repent, Refresh, Renew!

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.“ (Psalm 51:10-12, NIV) David was not a man of half measures. When he fell into gross sin, he did so dramatically and completely by committing first adultery and then murder.

Is It Really Such A Surprise?

Does it surprise you that David could fall so far even when he knew God’s law so well and loved God so much? How did that happen? Christian take note: none of us is ever immune to sin. Bible knowledge and perfect church attendance do not create a guarantee that you won’t ever follow your heart into stupid choices. Every Christian I know is a dirty rotten sinner, including me.

The Apostle Paul, who was certainly one of the most spiritual men who ever lived, said that he struggled mightily with sin, and followed his fleshly desires against his own better judgment: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:15; 19-20)

It Wasn’t Just a Paul Problem…

Paul describes an internal spiritual battle that all believers experience when the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit does battle with our selfish, carnal nature. It’s something every one of us deals with. The flesh wants to slide into sin, and the Spirit wants to renew. David gave in to his fleshly desire and fell deeply into sin. When he came to his senses and repented, he did that deeply too. He not only acknowledged his sin and felt remorse, he begged God to restore their fellowship.

In David’s great prayer of confession in Psalm 51, he asks the Lord for several things. I’m thinking that this passage would be a pretty good one to pray through every day, and not just when you are battling sin. Here are David’s requests: 1) “Create in me a pure heart”. David understood that God was the only source of purity, and he asked God to sanctify him.

renew heart

2) “Renew a steadfast spirit within me”. David didn’t want to return to the Lord for a moment or a day, but for a lifetime. He had already proven that he could follow his own evil desires. David, who once pursued God as the deer panted for the water, had wandered into the desert. Confronted with his sin, he asked the Lord to make him steadfast, consistent, and persistent. Having tasted once the Spirit of the Lord, he understood that only God’s Spirit could renew his heart and restore his fellowship.

Headed the Right Direction

3) He wanted to hang out with God all the time. David had traded God’s eternal presence for temporary delight, and found only disappointment and heartache. He now understood that only God’s presence offers true delight, and only God’s Spirit sustains. David wanted to exchange the regret and remorse of sin for the renewal and refreshment of forgiveness.

4) “Restore to me the joy of your salvation”. Do you remember being relieved, glad, secure, content, and joyful in your first knowledge of salvation? Return to that moment. The honeymoon is never over, and the great romance continues! Rejoice anew in your salvation. As John says in 1 John 1:4, “These things we write to you so that your joy may be FULL.”

5) “Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” David did not beg for wisdom, discipline, or for the ability to control—he begged God for sustenance. What sustains you? How willing is your spirit? If you ask God to purify and dwell in your heart, to grant you the JOY of your salvation, and to sustain you, and MEAN IT, I think that you will find that your heart is willing indeed. Repent. Renew. Be restored. Be sustained.

The King’s Lament

I don’t know why I ever thought myself above reproof,
When I saw Bathsheba bathing as I walked upon the roof;
She brazenly displayed herself and all her worldly charms,
And I knew that as I watched her, she would soon be in my arms.
I didn’t see where it would lead, or all the consequences,
And every day I wish I would have come back to my senses.
I might have kept from taking steps and breaking Yahweh’s trust,
Instead of giving in to sin and falling into lust.

I’m sorry, Lord. Forgive me for my wicked, selfish sin,
Create in me a brand new heart. Renew me from within.
Be present with me, Lord, and make my heart a new creation,
And please restore within me all the joy of my salvation!
Grant me a willing spirit, let me walk in all your ways;
Sustain my soul, and let me humbly love you all of my days…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Man Was the Word, The Word Was Man: It Changes Everything

The Apostle John made the amazing claim that the Word was God. Certainly that claim had universal and cosmic implications, but those subjects were already being debated in divinity schools… The first chapter of his Gospel says the word was far above man, pre-existent, eternal, ephemeral, the essence of the divine Godhead, mysterious and unknowable. These mystical terms certainly position Jesus in the pantheon, a deity whose authority is unquestioned.

Son of God, but then THIS

In verse 12, however, John seems to take a radically different tack, one that changed the game entirely. He claimed that the Word became a Man. He said: And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” It may seem crazy to some that a man claims to be god; it is even crazier to think that God would claim to be a man. And yet Jesus often referred to himself as the Son of Man, a prophetic reference from Ezekiel.

John’s insights about the “Word made flesh” (about Jesus) in his Gospel’s introduction are pretty compelling. Not only does he connect the dots to say that Jesus was God, and was preexistent from the beginning, he identifies Jesus as the Creator: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3 NIV)

Not Just Another Guy From Galilee

Since Jesus was not just a man, John illustrates what that means. As the Word, Jesus was the creative part of God’s personality. “God SAID, Let there be light, and there was light.” God spoke the universe into existence. Jesus was literally the Word who created this universe, the heavens, and this world…

This is an area that I think we humans might have a hard time grasping in all of its implications, both spiritually and emotionally. As the preexistent creative personality of God, Jesus spoke, energized and framed the cosmos into existence. Colossians 1:17 says “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus, the word incarnate, came to earth as a mere man and lived upon the planet he had made.

Think About Cold Water, for Instance

The earth and all that had sprung from it were his creation, the expression of his creative power and intent. How do you think he sometimes felt, walking upon the very earth he had spoken into existence? Sitting under a tree to find protection from the sun he had made? Looking up and identifying the stars at night? Drinking cold water after a dusty walk? I’d bet that the strongest maternal instinct would pale in comparison to the intimacy Jesus felt with his creation…

man

And on the other side of that equation, do you think that fallen man’s mistreatment of it, and of each other, ever broke his heart? As he saw the selfishness, the cruelty, the tragedy in his world, do you think he ever thought, this is not what I intended? That I will do whatever it takes to fix this? (Hmmm, does he ever say that just looking into your heart?)

Made for More…

The Word made flesh—which is the Advent, which is what we celebrate at Christmas—means that he came to earth and literally became part of his own creation to do something about it regardless of the immeasurable cost. We should live, then, as he intended.

Perhaps it would help if we saw the world around us through His eyes. We should appreciate it with His love… It might help us to look beyond the commercial culture or the selfish driver who barged into my lane. Today, put on the Son of Man’s glasses of grace and see the world the way its Creator saw it See it the way he intended it to be. And while you’re at it, look at yourself the same way, with more than a mother’s matchless love. If you think Jesus loved his creation, then imagine how he feels about YOU. See? Last Christmas really DID bring good tidings of great joy!

The Son of Man

Of all the things that men have said,
The one that makes you scratch your head
Is John’s assertion that the Cosmic plan
Involves Almighty God becoming man.
How ludicrous that claim must be!
Why, any fool could clearly see
That God’s incredible, matchless worth
Would never limit itself to earth!
But if He did… what things would He must have felt!
What air he breathed! And when he stooped and knelt
To touch the grass, to break an earthen clod:
What did he think– the Word, Creator, God?
Surely he enjoyed what he had made–
A cold refreshing drink beneath the shade,
Laughter where the children ran and played;
The sunsets, with His handiwork displayed…

Surely he loved creation more than most;
He knew far better all that had been lost:
Knew its value, and He knew the cost.
He knew the covenants, knew they’d not been kept;
He stood above Jerusalem, and wept.
And then this God– this Galilean Jew
Gave up his life to rescue me. And you.
I wonder– the Bible never makes this clear–
Did He miss heaven more when he came down here,
Or after all He’d said, and seen, and done,
Did He miss us as much when He went home?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Patience Requires a Lot of, Well, Patience

They say that patience is a virtue, something that Micah apparently believed: “But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7, NIV)

Timelines… Long, Surprisingly Slow Timelines

Have you ever been frustrated because God’s timing is different from yours? Does it ever seem like it’s taking a REALLY long time for Him to act or move or provide something on your behalf? When you think about patience, consider these folks:

Abram was 75 when God told him, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you”. (Genesis 12:2). He was naturally skeptical when, TEN YEARS later he still had no children, but God assured him in Genesis 15:5, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” It was ANOTHER FOURTEEN YEARS before Sarai became pregnant with Isaac.

Imagine speaking with God, having his rock solid promise, and waiting TWENTY-FIVE YEARS for its fulfillment. Do you think Abram may have had his doubts during that time? Struggled with believing God’s promise?

And what about Sarah? Barren, ashamed, laughed at, scorned… She waited so long that when she knew she would actually bear a son, she laughed out loud! Against all logic, God’s promise was delivered and so was Isaac.

A Star in Egypt

Moses as a young man was a rising star in Pharaoh’s house but became a murderer-fugitive, and had to go live as a sheep herder in Midian. According to Stephen, (Acts 7:29) he lived there FORTY YEARS. Exodus 7:7 says Moses was EIGHTY when he went to see Pharaoh. I don’t know about you, but 40 YEARS seems like a really really long time to wait for something… Did he have patience? Do you think Moses ever wondered about his life purpose while he tended sheep? Wondered if God had any reason for sparing him as a baby in the bulrushes? Felt alone or discouraged?

David was anointed King of Israel while he was still a sheep-herding teenager, but didn’t become king until he was THIRTY. In those intervening years, he ran, hid, fought, feigned madness, and was threatened by Saul. He lived in a life-or-death situation, estranged from his family as a fugitive in the wilderness. God’s pending promise did not negate the difficulties or dangers of the time David spent waiting for it to come to pass.

A Different Path to Inauguration

As David hid out in the desolate country around Ein Gedi, or as he hunted and lived off of scraps, do you think he ever longed for instant gratification? Certainly David felt oppressed and discouraged during those years, and yet even when Saul was delivered into his hand David refused to harm the Lord’s anointed. God was ultimately faithful in his promise and David became Israel’s greatest king. In Psalm 40:1 he said, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined and heard my cry.”

patience

Even though Paul preached powerfully and began telling his story right after his conversion, he spent THREE YEARS in semi-seclusion away from public ministry before God began to use him greatly. So when Micah says he will wait for the God of his salvation, he is honoring a long list of Biblical characters who showed patience and faith.

Be a Good Waiter

Are you a very good waiter? DO you find yourself getting impatient with God, or worse yet, giving up on His promises? Micah (and Abraham, Sarai, Moses, David, and Paul) would say: “Be patient. Watch expectantly. Wait for the God of your salvation. You might be surprised at what He will do.” (And maybe also at when He will do it)

Sarah’s Testimony

God gave me a promise. And I watered it with tears,
And I tried to hide my anguish, all my doubts and all my fears,
While the other women laughed behind my back; my hope grew dim–
But my small faith somehow remained intact. I trusted Him,
Way past the time that trusting made Him sense, and even after!
When I found out His word was true, I couldn’t hold the laughter!
God’s promise seemed to take forever. But now that it is done,
I know His word is true, for He has given me a son!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword: It Cuts Both Ways

Here in the United States we talk a lot about freedom, and we live in a culture that certainly loves to celebrate it. People are free to do what they want, to exercise their rights, and to feel independent of control by others. Our Bill of Rights guarantees us certain freedoms, and we are passionate about maintaining and exercising them.

Independence Has a Cost

But, Freedom is a door that swings both ways. The Bible has a lot to say about our freedom to choose, and about all the contingencies that result from it. Apparently doing whatever you want may offer a brief, giddy sense of empowerment, but it often has consequences that extend farther than the feeling…

“To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue. All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord. Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:1-3, NIV)

“There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21, NIV)

“So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels.” (Psalm 81:12, NIV)

“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.” (Romans 1:28, NIV)

According to Proverbs, we have the right to make plans, to keep our own counsel, and to make choices based on our heart’s inclination. Those plans may or may not coincide with God’s plans, but we are not restricted to obedience. These verses point out that our actions come from our heart, our motives, and our will; we are free to plan and pursue our own choices. Although we live in a world created by a sovereign God, the Bible is pretty clear that He has granted us the right to exercise our own will.

The Door That Swings Both Ways

But freedom is a two–edged sword. When we have the ability to do whatever we want, we have the ability to choose to do something foolish, impractical, or selfish. Apparently every time we make plans, and every time we take action, we have the option of seeking and taking the Lord’s counsel–or not. Solomon points out that our human plans can be self-interested, temporary, based on impure motives, self-delusional, impulsive, stubbornly selfish, and sinful. Men have been proving that for centuries.

freedom my way

The Lord’s plans, on the other hand, are not based on petty human desires for power, fame, or lust. They are solid, dependable, wise, and worthy. These verses highlight a couple of things. 1) Before you make plans or take action, seek God’s counsel. We aren’t always even honest with ourselves about why we are doing something, or what our true motives are. Going through the process of asking the Lord what He thinks provides perspective, and it is always a good idea.

2) Remember that your plans can take you the wrong direction. We have the freedom to be stubborn as we walk away from God. To be sure, He will call us back, He will offer counsel and direction, and the Holy Spirit will offer motivation to do right. God’s desire is for us to be holy as He is holy, to walk with Him and to commit our way to Him. He will call all people to Himself, and He will offer all men motivation and inspiration.

Only Two Kinds of People

But there are several places in Scripture where it plainly says that at some point God will honor man’s freedom to such a degree that He will “give them over” to their own plans and desires. Those who continually choose self over God will ultimately get their wish. C. S. Lewis said, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’”

When wrong seems right, and when culture tells you it’s ok to choose something depraved over God’s plan, tread lightly. Exercise your freedom wisely. You may find that you have started down a one way street. Don’t miss that last exit.

It’s All About Your Choice

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,
But even so, the Lord has given us the right to choose.
He doesn’t make us follow Him or go against our will,
And even when we sin, His grace abounds and calls us, still.
If you persist in choosing sin, however, you may find
That you have wandered out so far that God is far behind,
And He’ll allow your own depravity to rule your mind.
Choose wisely. God desires that every person would be saved;
But, He also lets each person choose to be depraved.
Tell me, on your tombstone, which result will be engraved?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Does Your Purpose Drive Your Dreams, or does Your Dream Drive Your Purpose?

Nothing defines your purpose better than standing up and announcing it in front of everybody you know. Have you ever done that? According to Dr. Luke, Jesus did it in his hometown, at his home church:

A Surprising Statement?

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, “ (Isaiah 61:1-2, NIV) These were the words Jesus read in Luke 4:16-19 at his home synagogue in Nazareth to proclaim his purpose and begin his public ministry.

Luke’s account of it says, “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He [read from Isaiah 61].” Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, where apparently it was his normal practice to attend synagogue on the Sabbath. He announced his mission to a group who probably found it surprising that an apprentice carpenter would claim to be called to devote his life to fulfilling the word of God.

Not What They Expected

As the eldest son in Mary’s house after the death of Joseph (sometime after Jesus was 12), he had probably been fulfilling his obligation of working to take care of his mother, brothers and sisters. Jesus was undoubtedly part of the village landscape, and people there were familiar with him. I’m sure most of them assumed they knew what his station in life would be from then, on. But things had recently changed.

He had been baptized by John the Baptist and allowed his connection to the Spirit of God to go public. He had been tempted by Satan in the wilderness and had offered the Word of God as his defense. Jesus had gone and preached to great acclaim in Galilee. Now, in his home synagogue, he began his public ministry with a proclamation from Scripture. He read from Isaiah with conviction and understanding, and his commentary on the meaning of these verses put a stake in the ground about his identity and his purpose.

This was a Good Thing, Right?

So, what happened next? Si they welcome the new prophet and get excited in a “hometown boy does good” way? Did they accept him? NO! The very people he grew up around tried to stop him! “So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. (italics mine) Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way…” (Luke 4:28-30)

This somewhat surprising turn of events is really not all that surprising if you think about it. The people in the village had labeled Jesus, and assumed he would be a craftsman like Joseph before him. They weren’t ready for such radical change, and Jesus’ announcement scared and intimidated them.

purpose driven

He announced he had a mission from God, so they suddenly saw him differently and treated him differently. But wait, you say, that doesn’t happen in our enlightened and tolerant culture! Hmm… why does the media follow the Kardashians and the celebrities, but ignore all the good things that happen through every church in America each week? Why does it criticize Tim Tebow so much but celebrate the shallow and self-absorbed?

And it’s not just about media coverage, it’s about the way the current culture defends itself against change. The culture that celebrates shallow celebrities condemns champions of morality as haters. In the Sixties, Martin Luther King was killed for proclaiming a dream. He boldly called for God’s justice in an unfair world. If you ever proclaim a godly purpose, there are plenty of dream-killers ready to halt your progress. There are even literal killers ready to do the same thing.

What’s YOUR Purpose?

Have you ever wondered about God’s purpose for your life? He has one, you know. Rick Warren’s Book does a pretty good job discussing that possibility. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Purpose-Driven-Life-What-Earth-ebook/dp/B008EGV4BQ?ref_=ast_author_mpb . There is something to be done in the Kingdom of God that only you were created to do. It has nothing to do with worldly assumptions, money, fame, or self-importance. But it could very well involve encouraging a friend, helping the poor, healing those who are broken-hearted, and sharing freedom with those who are bound.

It may be that your purpose is connected to whatever your dream is; when you discover that purpose, you may be surprised at who supports you and who tears you down. When you decide to better yourself, to commit yourself to the Lord, to pursue His mission for you, there will be someone around you who wants to keep you down, and wants things to stay the way they are. And here’s something to consider: are we ourselves “dream-killers”, or “dream-supporters”? Whenever someone has a godly purpose, we are either for it or against it. Where do we land?

The example of Jesus says, “When God calls you to do something, don’t listen to the discouragers, the labelers, the dream killers, the ones who will try to stop you and tear you down. Follow your calling above all else.” If you are surrounded by naysayers and skeptics, pass through the midst of them, and go on your way. The Kingdom of God should always get priority over the labels and assumptions of culture.

A Surprising Announcement

Jesus stood before his friends and chose Isaiah’s scroll,
And there proclaimed his mission from the words upon the roll.
The Spirit is upon me, and my mission has been started,
To preach the gospel to the poor and heal the broken-hearted.
I’ve come to set the captives free! To all of you I say:
The Kingdom of the Lord is now upon you. Here. Today.

The people almost came undone! Why, how could this man be the one?
How has the Kingdom now begun? Isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s son?
They formed an angry mob and tried to throw him from a hill,
But Jesus slipped among them through the power of his will,
Committed to the mission he had come here to fulfill.
His purpose was compelling then; it is compelling still.

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