Need a Spark?

I’ve talked to a few people recently who feel they are struggling spiritually. They feel they are just going through the motions. They are believers; that is, they believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died for their sins, and they’ve accepted the gift of salvation. However, their spiritual life has no real life to it. It’s blase and lacks any vibrancy at all.

They read their Bible, but not consistently, and their infrequent devotion time with God is dry and barren. Their prayer-life is virtually non-existent, and any prayers seemingly hit a glass ceiling. Lastly, going to church is a chore. It’s something they do because they know they should, but they would rather be virtually anywhere else on a Sunday morning. And for the most part, they ARE anywhere else; they haven’t been back to church in quite a few weeks.

This isn’t what they want. They desire more. They want a spiritual life that is alive, and where God speaks and answers prayer, and where they experience God’s power – spiritual power – in their lives to live victoriously.

Does any of this sound familiar? It does to me. I’ve been there. Many times. I think we all have. So, how do we “snap” out of it? How do we turn our spiritual life around so it comes alive again?

I don’t know much, but I’ve come to realize that although we call it a “spiritual life”, it is not a “thing”; it is a relationship. It is a relationship with God. It is a relationship with Jesus. It is a relationship with the Holy Spirit. Not three relationships, but just one… with God. And like any relationship, if we choose to ignore it or neglect it or betray it, it will slowly (or not so slowly, with betrayal) wain or die out.

However, God is passionate in His pursuit of you. You are just what He’s looking for. You are just who he wants. And He will go to no end to have a relationship with you. And unlike human relationships, He will forgive you no matter what you’ve done and no matter how many times you’ve done it. He accepts you just as you are and loves you just as you are. He loves you just as much as He loves Mother Teresa or Billy Graham.

All you need to do is come back to Him.

It takes humility to come back. It requires saying that you’re sorry and that you want to do it differently this time. You have to tell Him this. You have to tell Him that you need His help. This is where it starts. God’s Word says,

For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite”(Isaiah 57:15)

This is where the spark is ignited.

Secondly, because it is a relationship, you have to nurture it. You need to start doing the things that bring you closer together, and stop doing the things that push you apart. Going back to church, where there is worship, where others are drawing close to God, where you will hear the Word of God spoken, the Good News proclaimed, and where like-minded folks are pursuing the same relationship will help you. As Rick Warren says, “You were formed for fellowship.” You need other believers in your life, for encouragement, for friendship, and for accountability.

You need to begin rekindling your prayer-life and Bible-reading. This is so crucial. This is where the relationship blossoms. Start small and slowly grow it into a time you can’t live without. But you must start. Even if it seems dry and lifeless, continue doing it – by faith. Tell God that it seems dry. Tell Him that you’re going to continue to ask, seek, and knock, because He promises to answer… He promises that you will find Him… and He promises that the door will be opened. Be persistent. Be relentless in your pursuit of the relationship.

Lastly, treasure this time with God. Guard it. It is the most important time of every day, whether it’s done in the morning or evening. You will find that it’s not just the morning or evening that He will be with you, but throughout every moment of every day.

For me, it was hard to realize that this time devoted to God is not just another thing on my To-Do List. It’s not another thing that I need to get done to make me feel better about myself (or think that God will feel better about me). It was a way to nurture the relationship, to get to know God better. It’s a way for me to yield more and more of my life to Him, and have His life lived through me more and more.

But as God says through the prophet Isaiah in the Scripture above, it begins with a humble and contrite heart. That is the starting point for revival.

A Clever Deception

I don’t want to review movies, but Sharon and watched the movie “Noah” Friday night and it’s taken a couple of days to compose my thoughts on the movie. It bothered me.

My emotion leaving the movie was filled with dismay and anger. I’m not bothered by the movie not being biblically sound. That seemed to bother many, but it didn’t really bother me, in a way.

What bothered me most was a clever, subtle reversal. It’s a reversal the enemy, Satan, delights in. It’s one he is very good at. It is something similar to his original deception.

What became astoundingly clear by the end of the movie was the depiction of good as evil and evil as good. It seemed (to me) that the following was portrayed:

1) The fallen angels were depicted as once betrayed by humans (ha!) and in the end, helpers of Noah. They were the good guys, even shown as heroic.

[As opposed to Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:7-9; John 8:44]

2) Noah was depicted as evil, hell-bent on destroying – literally – his family in order to be obedient to God.

[As opposed to: “This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (Genesis 6:9 NIV)]

3) God was depicted as a vengeful, hateful Creator, bent on destroying the ENTIRE human race, including Noah and his family. He was depicted as a God who would kill babies, and only Noah’s supposed disobedience saved his family, and, of course, the human race.

[As opposed to Genesis 6:17-20; Romans 5:8; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8-10]

4) Humans were portrayed as solely to blame for the Fall, the original sin of Adam and Eve, and there was no blame cast on Satan, and later, his minions. Some watching the movie may have thought that even the Creator was to blame.

[As opposed to Genesis 3:14; James 1:13-15]

5) Humanity was only saved by the will and disobedience of a man.

[As opposed to the fact that humanity is saved only by God’s redeeming Son. See Romans 5:16-19; Hebrews 5:8-9; Romans 5:6-9]

Good was evil. Evil was good. The classic deception of the father of lies.

However, truth brings freedom, and the truth will always be that as Christ-followers, we are children of God, by the love the Father has lavished on us (1 John 3:1). We have the Spirit of Jesus living inside us (John 7:39-39), and we live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. (Hebrews 12:28; Matthew 16:18; Revelation 20:7-10)

Always victorious!

Is there life BEFORE death?

“God, how can I make you more known?”

That’s a question I’ve been dwelling on for several days. Since March 13th, in fact. I wrote it down in my journal on that day.

Some people have told me privately that my writings each morning have helped them. That’s certainly one way I can answer the question at the top of the page. But in what other ways can I answer that question? And there are a couple of questions that accompany the main one.

Like, “Why is it that the first question I ask myself each day ISN’T that question? Why don’t I think of ways to make you more known? Why isn’t that my goal? I seem to want to make MYSELF more well-known. Why is that?”

Okay, that’s more than a couple of questions.

But as I write each day, that is a question I feel compelled to ask. Because if I write and post it somewhere, I must have the motivation of making God more known. If that’s not my motivation, then it is self-indulgent dribble. It serves no one but me. If it doesn’t make someone know God just a little bit better or a little bit more or is not redemptive, as God is redemptive, then it should be tossed into the garbage.

In fact, I need to be asking the question at the top of the page each day as I wake up and start my day. If my actions, motives, words, and behaviors don’t attempt to make God more known, and then each day has been no more than self-indulgent dribble… a waste of energy… a waste of… life.

I know that sounds harsh, and you may say, “God wants us to enjoy our life, too. What’s wrong with living life to the fullest?” My reply would be, “Who says that can’t be done by making God more known in the process? In fact, I would say that enjoying life and living life to the fullest comes from making God more known.”

In fact, I believe that Jesus words about “abundant life” in John 10:10 were all about living for God and others. I believe that the abundant, fulfilling life in which Jesus shows us is a life which channels God’s living water into the lives of everyone around them. This can happen in so many ways, whether it’s sitting by the bedside of a sick friend, feeding the hungry, adopting a child, a smile and a hug to someone who needs it, or typing words on a page. It can be loving your spouse as God intends it, or raising a godly family, or working with integrity on your job.

When Jesus said these words…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

… He wasn’t just talking about life after death. Shane Claiborne writes about this when he says, “Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death.”

Making God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, justice, hope, healing, friendship, wholeness, acceptance, victory, freedom more known brings life… true life.

So my day begins with the question: God, how can I make you more known?

A Harvest in the Wilderness?

“The Wilderness” “The desert” “Tough times” “Trials”

Different people call them by different terms. And to one a tough time may not seem so tough to someone else. But everyone goes through them and they look differently to everyone.

Why do they happen? If you’re like me, you’ve said the words, “Why, God, why?” At times, there’s no clear answer. Sometimes, it’s trouble of our own making. We get ourselves into terrible messes. At other times, it seems so random. But what if some of the time, it was God’s design?

Does that sound far-fetched? What if the “desert” is the only place where God can get my (or your) attention? What if He led us into the wilderness for a purpose? Is that possible?

We only need to look at Scripture to see when God led his faithful ones into the wilderness, and in the process or as a result, experienced God’s closeness like never before. Moses, the murderer, fleeing for his life. Abraham packing up and leaving for the middle of nowhere. David hiding in caves. Elijah on the run. Even Jesus was led to the wilderness. Each time, they encountered God or experienced His Presence in ways like never before.

There’s some beautiful Scripture in Hosea of God promising His unfaithful, chosen nation of Israel would be led into the wilderness, but it would be for a purpose:

“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. (Hosea 2:14-15 NLT)

Sometimes the only place we can hear God’s voice is in the barren wilderness, when we’re seemingly abandoned and all alone. But He promises restoration and transformation. The valley… the desert… the tough times… the trials… will be a gateway… a doorway to HOPE! It’s in the desert that the restoration comes. It’s in the wilderness that the healing comes. It’s in the tests that you’re given a testimony!

Right now, I’m seemingly in limbo. Maybe you are, too. It’s a kind of an in-between, transitional time in my life. At times, it seems lush and fruitful, so to speak. At other times, it’s barren and dry. It’s a wilderness of sorts. And through it all, God seems so close, so intimate, and He speaks so tenderly.

As David knew oh-so-well,

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. (Psalm 23:4, NLT)

He walks through our darkest times with us. He doesn’t leave us there. He leads us through, to come out on the other side victorious!

Enthralled

I came home from work two days ago and Sharon was playing a worship song off a new album she had purchased. As soon as I heard it, I knew I would like it, but I really didn’t get a chance to really listen to it… until yesterday.

Driving home from Harrisonburg, I played that song and REALLY listened to it. The song is “Who Can Compare?” By Jesus Culture. It’s a very simple song with a very repetitive chorus and even repetitive verses. (Warning: the video containing the song is over 7 minutes long. Watch/listen to it when you have time and a quiet place to focus)

That’s one of the criticisms of modern worship music: it’s too repetitive and there’s no depth to the lyrics. The critics refer back to the hymns and their depth. But as I listened to the song and allowed it to saturate me, I began to sing the repetitive chorus and as I sang it over and over again, I found myself lost in worship to my God and King.

I nearly had to pull over to the side of the interstate. I was totally enraptured by love for God and His love for me. Honestly, I wept. As I continued to play this song over and over again, the repetition of the lyrics continued to bring me into the presence of the Lord.

I later reflected on that experience and I truly beleive that the repetition is DESIGNED to do that… to bring me in the presence of the Lord. The more I sing it and the more I repeat it, the more I believe it and the more my spirit connects with the Spirit of God. Rather, the more the Holy Spirit inside me testifies with God’s Spirit. It’s hard to explain. It seems impossible to put in words. But that’s how I get lost in worship.

I know that everyone has different tastes. And that’s okay. Regarding contemporary worship music, I’ve heard some say, “It’s just soooo repetitive. Over and over and over! I get tired of singing it over and over.”

It reminds me of this:

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they NEVER stop saying:
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is,
and is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
(Revelation 4:8-11, my emphasis)

Yes He is.

What lies beneath…

There’s a guy in a group I’m a part of who’s very quiet. He’s very thoughtful; that is, he’s a thinker. But he is seemingly unfriendly and aloof. When he talks, he speaks articulately and he makes you want to listen. He speaks with passion, but almost with anger. He seems sad. Angry and sad. Or just plain sad.

If you were to meet him on the street or in the store, you might be offended by his gruff attitude. You might just write him off. He wouldn’t be the ideal person to try to befriend, or even have coffee with. He just sort of rubs you the wrong way.

Everything I’ve described is about a real person and yet it may describe someone you’ve encountered. I think we all have. But the thought process I’ve just gone through is something that Jesus warns against: judging others.

Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” (John 7:21-24, NLT)

There are other verses in which Jesus warns against judging, but in this passage, he says that sometimes we have to dig deeper. We have to use some discernment. There’s probably more happening than first meets the eye.

So it is with the folks we encounter each and every day. The grumpy cashier behind the counter. The waitress that seems frazzled. The guy in men’s group that seems aloof. They all have stories and some of those stories involve tragedies. Some of their stories involve divorce. Some of their stories include getting a bad test result or the sudden passing of a loved one.

As James Bryan Smith says in The Good and Beautiful Life, “Philo of Alexandria is quoted as saying, ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.’ “

Sometimes, I simply have no clue. Lord, give me eyes to see what you see, ears to hear what you hear, and a heart to feel what you feel. And then, the obedience to respond to your leading.

I may need a reference…

I don’t know if you’ve ever been at the side of someone who has drawn their last breath. I’ve had that privilege twice: once was at my mom’s bedside when she passed away in 1986. The other was in 2001 when I was at the bedside of Ruby Truslow, one of the matriarchs of Community Fellowship Church of the Nazarene. Each time, it truly was a privilege. I really can’t describe the sweetness of the final moments of those lives. In each case, though, there was a tremendous sense of peace, and I’ll say it again… a sweetness.

Last night, I was reminded of that sweetness as I had the privilege to fellowship with a few members of our men’s group at CFC. We hadn’t been together since I had left the church in August. The occasion, however, was bittersweet. We were visiting a man who’s been part of that group for the past two years, and togther, we’ve journeyed through his battle with stomach cancer. He’s experiemced quite a few ups and downs, and just received word that the cancer has spread to his bones. He has been an inspiration to us all with his steadfast faith and the delight he takes in being with his family and friends.

Our friend, Bruce

Our friend, Bruce

You might know Bruce Catlett. If you met him, it wouldn’t take you long to get to know him. With his wry sense of humor and quick wit, he’s easy to get to know and love. His faith is indeed steadfast and although his time left is short, his sense of humor, even in the face of death, is as sharp as ever.

My ears perked up last night when Bruce said, “It seems like life is sweeter – now that I’m closer to the end.” I asked him what he meant by that and he said that being surrounded by such great friends and having his family so close made the past few weeks so rich and so sweet. He said that he heard a pastor recently say, “So many of us are so busy living our lives that we don’t realize that we have a life to live.” In his last days, Bruce Catlett has never taken any of them for granted.

L to R: Brian, Wayne, me, Bruce, and Harold. Great friends.

L to R: Brian, Wayne, me, Bruce, and Harold. Great friends.

It was one of the sweetest, most blessed evenings in a long time. We laughed together, we shared our recent trials, but best of all, we prayed together for one another. After we took a group photo together he said, “I’m gonna take this photo to heaven and tell them that if any of the guys in the picture show up, call me for a reference.”

Indeed, Bruce.

Identity Crisis

As I’ve mentioned a few times, our church is working our way through a terrific book entitled The Good and Beautiful Life: Developing the Character of Christ by James Bryan Smith. All of the small groups are studying it and every Sunday, a message is preached from the appropriate chapter that everyone (hopefully) is reading. It’s a tremendous book and one I heartily recommend.

This week was all about judging others, or rather, how to live without judging others. One of the thought-provoking comments Pastor Brandon made yesterday was, in essence: Don’t change behavior to change the identity of the person you’re concerned about, but work with God to change the identity of the person, and the behavior will follow. He said that, many times in a counseling setting, we approach troublesome behavior from the wrong side, trying all sorts of behavior-modification techniques, from positive reinforcement to getting in someone’s face. Instead, we should seek for them to understand their identity in Christ. Continue reading

Too Much Overgrowth

It was a long time in coming: a 72-degree sunny day. Yesterday was beautiful, and was the Spring day we’ve been hoping for. I checked with my wife, Sharon, to see if it was okay that I spent the day riding my motorcycle, and she said, “Sure.” She won’t ride with me until it reaches nearly 80 degrees, so I set out alone at 10am in search of another covered bridge.

I am trying to see all the covered bridges in Virginia. There are 38 of them. Many of them are farther than I care to ride in one day, but I’m trying to see as many I can. Yesterday, I set off to see the Berea Church Covered Bridge, located about 10 miles northwest of Fredericksburg. Continue reading

It’s time to show the truth in love

This won’t be a popular post. That’s okay.

I just read a story that said Rev. Fred Phelps died. If you don’t know, he was the founding pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. He was known for fire-and-brimstone preaching and leading picketing, anti-gay protests, even at military funerals.

As I read the story and remembered the protests, I wondered how effective those protests were. I think I know. They still go on today. They probably have the same impact that Rev. Phelps’ protests had: None.
Continue reading