Things Above

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth

Colossians 3:2

I am committing Colossians 3 to memory. God has parked me in this passage and has used it to challenge me, teach me, confront me, and encourage me. The truths in this chapter are currently performing an amazing work of transformation in my life. What a gift from God!!

Regarding vs. 2 and it’s life-altering truth, I pray God reminds me of it in my daily life. All the time. I want my mind to be completely and solidly set on things that are much bigger, stronger, and lasting than the temporary ones in my walk on earth.

So when I wake up in the morning, I must set my mind on God’s thoughts, through meditation on his word.

When I do chores, drive my kids from place to place, pay my bills, or wash my hair, I must remember Him in all I do. His purpose for me, in the moment, includes doing all those things, and He can, and will, teach me and show me truth, even in the mundane.

When I interact with my family and friends, I must look beyond my needs and desires and practice loving God by loving others. I must put to death selfishness, as I set my mind on things above: all things lovely and good, pure and holy.

When I work at my job, I must set my mind on giving glory to God in all I do, knowing my calling is higher than the earthly activity I am involved in. As I remember this, I will use opportunities wisely, remain joyful, pray constantly, and reflect his kindness to others.

When I feel discouraged or afraid, I must remember that God has all things under his control and that he never ceases to actively work in my life and those whom he loves.

When I am tempted to be lazy or self-indulge, I must remember God’s calling and commands. May God help me fear him and obey him, be quick to repent, and receive his forgiveness.

When I am senselessly busy, may I stop and rest, and enjoy the gifts God has given me.

Lord, help me to always set my mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

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God is Not Fair

God is not fair!

Is it not eternally penned? Stories of God commanding the killing of people, the annihilation of nations, the harsh and violent punishment for sin and evildoing? God is not fair to require the slaughtering of animals, the constant shedding of blood – bulls, goats, doves – Whatever did they do to deserve it? This God of the Old Testament, this God of the Jews: Not fair.

And how about here and now? All we need to do is look around or read the news. Some are rich and others poor. Some die old and some get killed. Some are free yet some are prey. Where is the fairness? “The poor will always be with us,” said Jesus. We live in this world that is saturated with tears and pain, conflicts and wars. And here we are: Stuck! We are all powerless to change the evil of this world. God, however, is mighty; yet he doesn’t change it either! For reasons that He only, fully understands, he chooses to permit suffering to continue. Unfair.

And then, there is me. Hard as I try to be happy, careless, and free, I am inevitably disappointed. I don’t want to cry from pain, but people I love, die; those I want, don’t want me back; and things I crave, I fail to attain. Unfair! It is all unfair!

God is unfair. But he is just. Justice is part of his name, his nature, his core. His justice never fails to punish the guilty. And so here we see the most unfair work of God. Out of all the unfairness in the entire history of our world, one act stands out as the most outrageous and outlandish. God planned this day with the utmost of care – every detail pre-arranged – From the beginning of time, whenever that was, however that worked, he willingly and purposefully lined up the events in human history to culminate in this heinous act of utter unfairness. He warned us. Isn’t it eternally penned for all to see? Abraham spoke of it, as did Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, and many other prophets with countless amounts of words, both spoken and written for the world to know.

God’s anger burned, for sin and evil were great. So his wrath against malice and his unceasing need for justice were finally poured out. God the Father assigned God the Son, in the form of man, to be the recipient of his wrath. He knew mankind could not handle such punishment, such anger, such justice. So he poured it out on one man; his only son; his most loved and cherished being. But Jesus was innocent! He had done no wrong to deserve this! But willingly he came, as a lamb to the slaughter. And willingly he died the death of a criminal. And willingly he became a curse, taking the form of sin, the meaning and guilt of sin, all upon himself. In one selfless act, God himself satisfied his wrath once and for all. It was so great and so vast that alas, his anger was forever spent! The guilt of mankind on one man. Unfair! Unfair!!

And one more thing is unfair: I cannot purchase, bargain, or even work for my salvation or right standing with him. My envy from last week, my lust from yesterday, and my pride from this morning, have all been paid for, fully justified, but not by me. Are there enough “good” things I can do to compensate for the “bad” ones? If that were true, I would end up losing every time! If it’s not arrogance, it’s laziness. If it’s not selfishness, it’s self-pity, but either way, any day of the week, and every hour of the day, my mind thinks an impure thought and my will moves me to a wicked act. And yet, here I stand, forgiven and clean! Unfair! To be washed and pure because the innocent one took the punishment on my behalf, and the anger of God, meant for me, fell on another. Unfair, unfair, unfair!!

God is love, and his love isn’t fair. It is unmerited, from start to finish. It all makes sense now! His commands, his requirements, his need for justice, they all point to Jesus and our immense need of him! Suffering, pain, tears, and death are part of this world, but this is no longer all there is. Happiness is not our greatest need. Fellowship with God is. Through Jesus, he opened a door and made a way for us to experience this. To all who call upon his name, he gives the right to be called children of the Most High! He died and rose again and is now preparing a place for us, for the rest of time. Is it not eternally penned for the world to know? In the most unfair way, he has demonstrated his love forever. Praise him, praise him, praise him!

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

(Charles Wesley, 1738)

Is the Lord’s arm too short?

“The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.'” (Numbers 11:23)

There are days when you feel encouraged by the reminder that God is on your side.

There are other days when you are jolted back into reality as you remember His goodness and mercy.

Then there are those days when you feel you won’t be able to take one more breath unless God gives you the strength.

I just had some of those days. The latter ones. The ones that cause you to feel like you will drown unless someone rescues you.

The ones that cause you to fall flat on your face because it’s the only thing you can do.

There are verses in the Bible that lift your spirit and give you direction.

There are verses that teach you truth and correct your thinking.

And there are times when certain verses become your life line.

“Is the Lord’s arm too short?” He tells me… Is He not powerful, not willing, not able, not near, not good, not faithful?

On days when I cannot take one more step or breathe one more breath, the Spirit reminds me that He is with me, no matter what I’m facing or what I’m fearing.

Can there possibly be any better God than one who cares deeply?

Can there possibly be any better God than one who is strong and in full control of all things?

He says “You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

Can there possibly be any better God than one who fulfills all his promises, for his own name’s sake?

I pity them who go through the hardships of life and do not have this comfort. I wish everyone did.

I thank you, God, for your presence, your promises, and your power.

May you be glorified.

Be Still And Know That I Am God

Today I need an extra measure of faith. Lord, will you grant that to me?

I need to trust your goodness and mercy. Abba, will you help me?

I need to remember that you do not treat me as my sins deserve. I haven’t earned your compassion. You have freely bestowed it on me. My God, will you reveal that to my heart?

Today I must put my confidence in the steady and constant strength of the Lord of Hosts. Father, will you carry me?

I desire the love and comfort that one feels only in the arms of a good shepherd. Jesus, embrace me.

God is my refuge and strength, a every-present help in trouble

Therefore I will not fear, through the earth give way

Though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea

Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging

The Lord Almighty is with me; the God of Jacob is my fortress

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God”

(From Psalm 46)

A Prayer For Our Kids

Father, may our children love you more than anyone else in this world, and may they live to please you and glorify you. But if they stumble and fall, if they forget or neglect you, may they remember to call out to you because you are a merciful God who restores the humble.

May they enjoy good health and a long life, and be grateful for the blessings you bestow on them. But if their health fails, may they trust that you are in control of all things and find comfort and joy in you.

May they go through school and get a good education which leads to great jobs, and may they enjoy financial stability. But if they don’t, may they learn to be content and grow in their dependence on you. May they remember that their worth does not derive from their education or financial status, but from the fact that they belong to you.

May they marry great partners and have healthy children, and may their love for their family bring them fulfillment and purpose. But if they ever find themselves alone or childless, may they know that you are the lover of their souls. May they experience your strong presence and peace.

May they always be surrounded by faithful, supportive friends. But if they live through betrayal or abandonment, may they know you and understand you more because you were betrayed and abandoned by your friends.

May they live a life of service to you and to others, and so glorify Christ in all that they do. But if they are driven by selfish ambition and negate your lordship, may your loving chastisement and kind discipline bring them to repentance. May they find rest only in you.

I pray this knowing full well that you love them more than I do because they belong more to you than to me. I trust that you will complete the work that you have begun in each one of them.

When Conviction Calls us to Clear the Stage

CONVICTION.

It’s this thing that happens when God whispers in our ear and shows us that we are doing/thinking/believing something that is wrong and against him.

CONVICTION.

It’s the in-your-face, uncomfortable, or painful assurance that we must change.

CONVICTION.

It’s often fleeting. It comes when we are attentive and it leaves just as quickly if we dismiss it.

CONVICTION.

It’s the demonstration of the mercy and love of God, telling us to repent and change our ways. If we follow it, we learn and change. If we ignore it, we harden and miss a great opportunity of growth.

CONVICTION.

It’s a good, good thing. Therefore, we must not try to avoid it nor rescue our loved ones from it.

LISTEN TO GOD.

BELIEVE HIS WORD.

WHAT IS RIGHT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT MAKES US HAPPY.

CRY AND GRIEVE AND MOURN OVER SIN, IF NEEDED. IT’S OK TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE.

REPENT AND TRUST GOD’S GUIDANCE.

THE END RESULT IS WORTH IT, BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL AND GOOD, AND HE WANTS THE BEST FOR YOU/ME.

TRUE JOY WILL COME AS A RESULT OF FOLLOWING GOD.

Now internalize the words of this song….

Suffering with Hope

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”  – Proverbs 13:12

I suffer. You suffer. We suffer. Pain is a common ailment, affecting 100% of the world’s population. Sure, there are people who go through more anguish than others. Not all pain is equal in degree or in longevity. But at the end of the day, we can all say that we have either suffered or are continually suffering one way or another. So let’s change the saying to a new an improved version: Three things are certain, suffering, death, and taxes.

The question is not if we suffer, but how we suffer.

As I see it, there are two ways of enduring the hardships this world has to offer: With hope or without it.

Suffering with no hope feels like darkness. There is nothing to look forward to, nothing to make us get up in the morning, and nothing to motivate us to keep trying, breathing, moving forward. Suffering without a living, present hope, as the proverb says, makes the heart sick. A sick heart will see no light nor will it desire to live. A sick heart wants to succumb to the pain instead of fighting against it. It will desire to give up and will seek a way out. Suffering without hope is desperate.

Suffering with hope feels altogether different. The object of our hope strengthens our minds to do battle against our pain. We endure when we hope. We find strength when we hope. We can embrace our suffering and see the good in it, when we hope. In fact, we can even have joy in spite of the pain, when we hope. A cancer patient can endure radiation because she has hope it can heal her. The unemployed father gets up every morning and endures the hardship by applying to jobs because he hopes he will find one soon. A child suffers through relocation and changes of school when he hopes he will make new friends. Hope helps us to keep trying.

But the problem with hope is that it is not always real nor attainable. What happens when chemo doesn’t work and the cancer does not go away? Or the job search lasts not for a few weeks, but for a year? What if a student hopes to recover from his failing grades but can’t and loses his scholarship? We can hope for a new boyfriend, a better car, a marriage, a child, and that hope can help us through a season. But what if the object of our hope never materializes? What if fertility treatments don’t work? What if we are evicted from our home? What is our hope then? How can we endure then? Do we succumb and give up?

Yes, any kind of hope can help us in our suffering, even if for a little while. But there is only one kind of hope that will sustain us all the time and in all circumstances. There is only one hope that does not disappoint.  Even when there is no earthly hope that can possibly pick us up, there is an eternal, supernatural hope that will. A man named Job, written about in the Old Testament, lost everything: His children died, his processions were burned away, his wife left him, and then the icing on the cake, he got so sick that he was in constant pain and unable to care for himself. He fought hard against suffering. He said: “Though he (God) slay me, I will hope in him”.  He understood two things: 1. God allowed suffering in his life, and 2. He could trust God with his pain because God obviously understood why he would do such a thing to Job, even when Job could not understand it. Yes, the whole book of Job shows us a tremendous struggle of belief and unbelief. But in the end, we see that these words really reflected where Job put his trust. He obviously would never see his children again. Humanly speaking, there was no hope! Yet, he hoped. He hoped, not in a physical restoration or restitution, but in God himself.

Suffering may find us. But we can find hope, but deciding to trust God. He, himself, is our hope. It is not what he can give us or what he can do for us, that should give us hope, but who he is: his character, his presence, his comfort, his wisdom, his knowledge, and everything that makes him God and huge and good. We can put our trust in him so that He becomes our hope.

When we desire him more than what he can give us, we will then breathe life into our pain. “…. A desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. Yes! Let us make him the object of our desire:

  • By reading Scripture that reminds us of who he is and how much we need him
  • By talking to him, acknowledging his presence and power in our lives
  • By listening to him (spending time in silence, hearing God’s Word preached, talking with others who trust in him also)
  • By refusing to allow our emotions to win over our will to trust. Persevere and fight!

I have endured suffering with no hope, the dark kind. I have also suffered with great hope in Christ. I wish for myself, for my children, my family, and my friends, and even for you, dear reader, to never suffer in darkness.

“Why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” -Psalm 43:5

 

Gomer’s Song

So I wrote a song a little while ago. I don’t particularly like this home recording of it, but oh well, here it goes.

The reason why this song is meaningful to me is because it’s based on the story of Hosea and Gomer. It goes basically like this:

Hosea was a prophet of God. God spoke to him and told him to take Gomer as wife. She was an unfaithful woman who continued to be unfaithful, even after their marriage. She had children with other men. Somehow (not specified in the book), Gomer ended up back out on the streets prostituting herself. She ended up in a slave market, more than likely being sold as a sex slave. By all standards, but especially by God’s standards, Gomer did not deserve for Hosea to stick by Gomer. But God spoke again to Hosea and told him to go and buy his wife from the slave market (even though he had full rights to her, for free). He did just that. With 15 shekels of silver, he paid the price to redeem his wife from slavery.

Hosea is a picture of Jesus, who was to come years later. The imagery of this book explains how God’s people are unfaithful to their God, but Jesus paid the price to buy us back to himself. He paid the highest price for us, because He loves us and desires an intimate relationship with us, with me. What love! What gift! This is why I will love him forever.

Out of the Depths I Cry to You

When I am tempted to despair, I remember you, my God

You have been so faithful, so true to everything you have spoken

I doubt and fail and waiver

Yet you remain in your mercy

I look to you this day

I wait for you with hope

I trust in your word and cling to your promises

I find refuge in your unfailing love

Come and rescue

Come and provide

Come quickly, my Abba

More than watchmen for the morning I wait for you

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord

O Lord, hear my voice

Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins

O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness

Therefore you are feared

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits

And in his word I put my hope

My soul waits for the Lord

More than watchmen wait for the morning

More than watchmen wait for the morning

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord

For with the Lord is unfailing love

And with him is full redemption

He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins

 

Dealing With Anxiety: Answers in Philippians

So I’m reading Philippians this morning (one of my favorite books of the Bible — basically my go-to book whenever I need perspective), and I stop in my tracks when I get to 2:28. I notice something for the first time, “Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.” I notice the words: Less anxiety.

Paul had anxiety?

I try to put it in context, understanding the background story: The believers in Philippi loved Paul and wanted to provide for him, knowing he was enduring suffering and persecution (just as they were). So they sent him a man called Epaphroditus to help him. EP (let’s abbreviate, shall we?) stayed with Paul, risking his life and becoming very ill, to the point of near death. EP had become very distressed to hear that the Philippians found out that he was ill. He didn’t want to cause them worry (a lot to learn from that kind of selfless attitude), and now longed to return home.

So here comes the verse where Paul says that he is also eager to send EP back home, so that when the Philippians see him again, they can be glad. This would relieve Paul of anxiety. It would not take it away, but it would lessen it.

Yes, Paul had anxiety.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, anxiety is a human emotion; a natural response to difficult circumstances. I’ve read psalm upon psalm where King David pours out his anxiety in song. However, I am smiling just because, for the first time, I read it in Paul’s words.

I just love the apostle Paul. I love that he freely shares his struggles and he also explains how he deals with them. He has so many reasons to be anxious. Pain. Persecution. Loneliness. Alienation from loved ones (no facebook or skype, say what?). Sickness. Poverty. You name it! He is not some kind of saint who is above human feelings and discouragement. He struggles, and in the midst of his struggles, he writes encouraging notes to his friends. He shares how anxiety and pain do not rule him, but he has found inexplicable peace.

Shouldn’t I read this letter and see what advice he gives his loved ones? Paul doesn’t only write from a purely theological and intellectual place. He writes from experience! Yes, there is copious amount of doctrine in every line, but similarly, there is practical, day to day help for people like me. In this letter, I read not only what Paul says to his friends in the form of counsel, but I also read about his own attitude and view of life. This wonderful, little book gives me insight into the man who experienced peace in spite of the storm. Here are the 7 answers to anxiety I see in the book of Philippians:

  1. He is thankful for the people who surround him and spends himself encouraging them, praying for them, and building them up. He has learned to love people deeply and genuinely care for their well-being. He puts others first. (1:3-9, 2:1-5)

  2. He lives, not for himself, but for the glory of another. He is driven by the call to advance the Gospel. He is single minded in purpose and pursuit. (1:12-26)

  3. He truly understands that suffering and hardship are in the hand of God. It’s not simply that God is not surprised by the suffering he’s going through, but he is convinced that God has sent it his way, and for a good reason. (1:28-30)

  4. He rejoices. I think this is an attitude of being joyful, as opposed to grumbling or complaining. Because he has such a high view of God, he is able to see his life from a positive perspective. (2:12-18

  5. He not only gives encouragement, but he allows himself to receive it from others. He is not proud to think he doesn’t need help, but rejoices when others offer friendship and support (2:19-30, 4:10-20)

  6. He is not self-reliant, in other words, he doesn’t trust that he is strong enough or good enough to achieve his goal and complete his race. He trusts and relies in the power of God. He prays earnestly, confident that God will empower him to do His will. (3:1-11)

  7. He does not dwell in the past and doesn’t wallow in the things he could have done or should have done. He looks to the future instead — not the immediate future, but the ultimate one. Within that perspective, he doesn’t rely on temporary things, but has his eye on eternal things. (3:12-4:9)

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your life in writing. One day I will meet you and rejoice alongside you.

I will keep this book close by to meditate on through the course of my life. I want to imitate Paul, because he imitated Christ.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:6-7)