The Impossibility of Obeying God

One of the pastors at Third Church RVA reminded me yesterday that God calls us to do things we can’t do without him. In his sermon on Luke 9, referring to Jesus feeding the 5,000 people in the crowd, Rich Hutton pointed out that after hearing the request from the disciples to send people home to feed themselves, Jesus gave them a directive instead. “You give them something to eat,” he said. But how would the disciples do this, when they were hungry and tired themselves, as well as broke and needy? Impossible.

God calls me to do the impossible. And God’s calling to you, dear reader, is unattainable as well, at least in your own power. What is God’s calling? What are his commandments? How are we to obey him?

“One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: 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 mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.'” (Mark 12: 28-31)

In my youth, I used to think I could do these things. I believed I could love God with everything in me, and I could love other people. But the more I grow and live, the more I realize it is absolutely, unequivocally impossible for me to do this! I look back at my life and realize that the main motivation for my actions, even the “good” ones, has mostly been self-centered. Not that I realized that. Not that I am that discerning even now! But I’m taking a hard look at myself and finding that even what I do in service of others is often tainted with pride and self-indulgence. Have I ever truly loved God and loved my neighbor? Yes. But have I obeyed God’s commands well, faithfully, and consistently? Absolutely not.

Just as it was impossible for the disciples to feed the crowd, it is impossible for all of us to do what God requires of us. And just like in the story of Mark, we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus not only understands our inability, but is willing to step in and do the work with us and through us!

God calls us to do the impossible, SO THAT HE CAN HELP US! This blows my mind! I so desperately need God’s help and He is so willing to give it! Jesus was the one who fed the crowd, but the disciples were the ones handing out the bread. Their reluctance turned into joy, and their burden into gratitude.

Lord, will you help me today? Will you come to the aid of my readers as well? Do what we cannot do ourselves. May you empower us today to love you with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and may you love others through our service to them. May you purify our hearts so that our motivation for living and our purpose for serving is God-centered and not self-centered. May we pour out honest love and kindness towards those whom are closest to us, spouses, children, parents, friends. May we desire your glory to be displayed for all to see as we serve people outside of our inner circles. May we not seek self-satisfaction from our good works, but instead experience true joy and gratitude that stems from a sincere place of worship to God and service to others.

I thank God that in giving us commandments that are impossible to keep, He also demonstrates his love for us by empowering and supplying for us, to us, and through us.

“The Lord is the strength of his people” (Psalm 28:8a)

 

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When Change is Hard but Necessary

I have a confession. I tend to be fatalistic, especially when it comes to change. I can perfectly hope and see that change is possible in others, but when it comes to me, and when it involves transformation of character, I struggle to believe that it is possible. But it IS possible, and today I am speaking to myself.

Change is hard, but not impossible.

Change is hard, but is necessary.

Change is hard, but required.

The type of transformation I’m talking about is the growth that must occur in all of us, in character, mindset, and actions. This growth demands a continual laying down of the old self and the putting-on of the new self, and modifies us, making us more and more like Jesus. The biblical term for this is sanctification. It cannot occur without the aid of the Holy Spirit, because it is supernatural. Yet, mysteriously, though it comes from God, it does involve an active part of our will and desire for change. It is a cooperation, of sorts, of our willingness and obedience, and the power of God.

But like I said, my default setting is to be fatalistic. It’s a lack of faith, really, to think that I can’t change, that it’s too late, that I’ve lived one way or another for too long, that there is no way back, that my habits and impulses will remain the same, no matter what I do. This type of thinking is completely devoid of God! How can I believe I can’t change? Have I not the presence of God himself dwelling within me? Have I not the promises that He will do this in my life, as I yield and surrender to his will for me?

When I succumb to this negativity and lack of trust, I am assuming that: A. God is not able enough, B. Change is optional, and C. The Bible does not apply to me.

So here, today, in writing for all my readers to see, I preach this to myself:

A. God is more than able. “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Co 9:8)He does not spare his grace nor withhold his power from those who need it. If we seek, He said, we will find, for “You know how to give good gifts to your children, so how much more will your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk 11:13)

B. Change is required. Sanctification is not optional, for “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thes 4:3). It will happen either in gentle, steady, and slow-moving transformation of character, or in jolting, difficult, sudden change. One way or another, sanctification can and WILL happen in the life of every believer. The degree of alteration varies from person to person, but God will never give up on his people and will always desire and produce good fruit. Therefore, the idea that it is too late to change, should not be part of the Christian’s belief system.

C. The Bible is always applicable. If I avoid change, I am also ignoring the process God is calling me to embark in. When God says to “put to death what is earthly” (Col 3:5) or to “walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16), He is commanding me to be actively involved in the process of sanctification. When God declares that I am “His workmanship, created in Jesus Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them” (Eph 2:10), I can rest assured that I am not alone in this road of change, because this is part of his pre-ordained call for me. All of God’s Word applies at all times, both his commandments and his promises. I am not exempt of either one. I am not the exception to the human race. Change is both promised and required in the book that God himself penned, therefore it can and will happen.

So enough with the “it’s too late” or the “I’m set in my ways” or “there is no hope for me”. Be done with the pity parties, the victimization, and the pessimism. Yes, change hurts, but not only is it possible for God’s children, but it’s also good, pleasing, and God-glorifying. It’s time to accept it, embrace it, and allow it. Be humble, aware, and decisive about seeking God’s Word, praying, receiving counsel, and gaining wisdom from others. It’s time to desire change with passion and discipline, and to do anything necessary to attain it. (To read more about responding to God when He convicts us, click here)

jude 1:24-25

I Am Joining the Lamentations 3 Challenge. Will You?

Once and again I read an article that hits me right between the eyes; You know, the deeply convicting kind. The article that I’m about to share is one of them. And by convicting, I don’t mean that I see what I’m doing wrong and feel guilty about it. I mean that I realize what I’m missing, and want it. My soul yearns for it and calls me to take action. The Spirit moves me to thirst for it, like a deer panting for water.

So, dear reader, here is the challenge I propose:

  1. Read “Six Wrong Reasons to Check Your Phone in the Morning” from Desiring God, by clicking here. Read the article in its entirety. Don’t cheat. Just do it, and then come back to this blog and read the remaining points.
  2. If you long to experience the steadfast love of God and taste his new mercies every morning, then make a commitment, along with myself, to make time for reading Scripture and prayer before checking your phone for notifications, emails, news, or any social media. This may mean that you keep your Bible on your night table, in the bathroom, or breakfast table. In my case, I often tend to read Scripture from my tablet or phone. But since I don’t want to see any notifications before I actually read my Bible, I will only use the actual book (you know, the one with pages made of paper).
  3. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Well, how about we triple that to make sure it really, really, really sticks! How about a 2-month challenge! I’m starting it tomorrow morning, and so can you. Whenever you read this blog, you too can begin.
  4. If you “like” or “comment” in response to this blog, I will add your name to my prayer list. I will pray that God helps you start and keep this commitment, and that He will establish this pattern as a life style for both you and me. I will appreciate your prayers on my behalf as well. If you share this on social media, use the hashtag #Lamentations3challenge, so we can keep track of each other.
  5. Relax and rest in the Lord. This is not an all or nothing pledge. God is full of grace and understanding for when we are unable to keep our commitment. He is sovereign over emergencies, change of schedules, young children who demand attention, sickness, and even our forgetfulness or mismanagement of time! If you don’t keep your end of the deal, pray and start all over again. Even if we are not faithful, He always is.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:22-26)

Lamentations 3

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)

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)

 

With The Eye on The Finish Line

I’ve never been good at running. As a child, I was always last in my school’s races. As an adult, I do not have the stamina for it. But I love to watch runners (one of my favorite Olympic sports) and I imagine that being fast and strong would feel free and powerful.

Lately (I love summers when I have tons of time to read) I’ve been learning about runners, such as Glenn Cunningham and Norm Bright, whose lives shone forth dedication, passion, and discipline. They loved to run. Cunningham’s legs were burned as a child and he was not expected to walk, much less run or become the fastest long-distance runner in the world. Bright ran even after he became blind, and it’s told that in his 80’s, he would walk around his care center with his grandnephews, as he timed the walk on his stopwatch.

Paul, the apostle, defined life as a race. I may not understand what it feels to be physically fast, but I think I sort of get the concept of a race, if nothing else, because my life feels like one. I know I have left the starting line, and I am currently running. Sometimes I feel exhaustion, as if I can’t run any longer. Other times I feel energized and renewed, with fresh vision and stamina. And I know there is a finish line waiting for me. We all get there one way or another, sooner or later.

How will I run this race of mine? That is a question I need to answer constantly. Distractedly? Aimlessly? Self-relying? Or will I run it strongly and with macular vision? It is said that Cunningham’s favorite verse in the Bible was Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” This is my desire, to wait on the Lord and to continually sense the strength-renewing power that comes from abiding in HIM. Oh, I have known this power many times in my race. I have been lifted, dusted off, and energized plenty of times. It is not just wishful thinking. I know this power to be real and effective. Because as I run this race, in the power of God, He gets all the glory.

I do not know when my last day on earth will be. I do not know when I will reach my finishing line. Today, I pray for strength and vision for my next lap, and joy while I run with everything I’ve got. On that day, when my race is done, I will get everything my heart ever longed for, because when I meet Jesus face to face, He will be my everything. Ah, I can hardly contain my excitement and longing! When I cross that line, those who love me should throw a party and rejoice with me, for there is no greater reward than running the race, finishing well, and obtaining one’s reward.

 

Glenn Cunningham, 1933

Glenn Cunningham, 1933

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:13-14

May I please have some water?

About three weeks ago I had oral surgery and consequently initiated a steady diet of pain killers and antibiotics (actually the antibiotics were needed because of an infection in my finger, but the point is I was on heavy meds.) A couple of weeks after the surgery I started developing a horrible case of dry mouth. Man, oh man, this has been very uncomfortable! What started as a nuisance has turned into a very painful situation, to the point of tears. I’m assuming this extreme dryness has been a side effect of the medication (took my blood sugar just in case, and thankfully, it’s not diabetes.) I’m drinking water by the gallons, chewing gum to hopefully stimulate my salivary glands, and every other trick I have found on the internet. And still no improvement.

I haven’t journaled (is that a word?) in a while, and today, as I turned on my laptop, I got to thinking that my blog’s title is “Like a Deer Panting for Water”. The deer reference, of course, is Biblical and it points to the need and desire for God. In the words of King David: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2) So here I am, thirsting in my physical body, and the thirst is so strong that it actually hurts and it keeps me from sleeping at night. There are times in the day when I can barely talk and I feel like I’m suffocating. And even though I am not at all happy with this condition which I hope is temporary, today I am thankful for it. God is not-so-gently-but-very-wisely explaining to me what thirsting for water really feels like, not only in the physical sense, but spiritual.

True, unsatisfied thirst is painful and strong enough to drive us to do anything to obtain hydration.

In the physical sense, thirst can only be satisfied temporarily. If we stop drinking water, we die. Plain and simple.

In the spiritual sense, there is one water that is living and able to satisfy not only temporarily, but eternally. Jesus said in John 4: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again (referring to earthly water) but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Spiritual thirst is very real, but we don’t always identify it as such. It is only when we find the source of living water that we can look back and realize that we have been given life-sustaining nourishment for our souls.

Even though spiritual water is eternally satisfying, in a sense, we won’t enjoy that complete delight until we are face to face with the Lord. For now, we have a need to continually seek, pant even, after the water only He can give us, in the daily fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the feeding of his Word.

In both senses of the word, I’m thirsting. I’m in desperate need to alleviate this non-quenching dryness in my mouth, and I’m in DESPERATE need of God’s continual flow of himself in my soul.

Unlike the deer panting for water who will not be satisfied with anything other than water, my soul often wanders after water-substitutes. Lord, may you fill me with a passion and a drive to seek after you as if my life depended on it (cus it actually does). Drive me to your word and to prayer. Help me to listen and grow.

Thankfully, I have experienced having spiritual thirst before. And I have been satisfied by God. So understanding my need and knowing where to find the answer for it is not an experiment nor is it a mystery. Thirsting after God has been and will continue to be my drive from the moment I came to faith the Jesus until the day I depart this earth to be with him. Everything I need is in him.