A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.

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Raindrops and Angus Dei

Rain dropsLooking out the window this morning I saw lingering drops of rain drooping off of tree limbs in my backyard. I was praying at the time and was suddenly moved by such a common sight. I thought how fleeting such a sight is. Granted, the rain is likely to return in the afternoon, but for the time being, the sun was coming out and the drop would soon fall to the dirt below or evaporate into thin air.

Such a short life-span, yet it was beautiful as the slanting morning sun sparkled through its prism-like features, glinting and winking its way through the crisp morning air. And in a way, it would finish its short life by either helping to nourish the earth or the atmosphere. So, it had beauty and practicality.

But was it pure coincidence that at that moment I saw this drop? Or was it some sort of God-ordained natural metaphor? Typically, I don’t have my morning prayer time in that room, our living room with the gas fireplace and the large picture window. I typically have it in the den where there are books, lower light levels and a tiny window that peaks upon the roofline of our neighbor’s house.

Fast forward and I’m at church and one of the worship songs we sing in Angus Dei. The phrase Angus Dei is taken from John the Baptist’s bold and startling declaration about Jesus:

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
—John 1:29

Angus Dei is Latin for The Lamb of God. Jesus is referred to as the Lamb many times. In Revelation 5:12 heavenly beings are singing:

“Worthy is the Lamb who is slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

Revelation 12:10-11 speaks to the “accuser of our brethren” being overcome “by the blood of the Lamb.” And there are many other deeply rich and theologically significant references to Jesus being the Lamb of God .

But for me on this morning, it reminded me that, as the drop of rain, my life is also short:

All flesh is a grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away. But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
1 Peter 1:24-25 (quoting from Isaiah 40:6-8)

And yet the word of the Lord states that I have eternal life through faith in Christ (see John 3:16, 10:28 & 17:2-3; Romans 10:9-10; 1 John 2:25). This means that my earthly life is short compared to my eternal life. The question is what am I doing with my time here? Does my life nourish others as the little raindrop brought nourishment to earth and sky?

Perhaps the metaphor is a gentle reminder that my life is more than just grinding through every day. It’s more than traffic jams, nice dinners, prayer and work. My life is to be a light to others; hopefully drawing them closer to the Lamb of God, the Lamb of God that takes away sin and offers us eternal life. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the eternal things of life. Yes, living in the present is important, but it’s a real art to learn how to live in the present while still retaining an eternal perspective. The present is not the end-all, be-all of existence; it’s really just the starting point, the warm-up band before the Big Act. And the Big Act is to be forever with Jesus where there is no more pain, suffering, tears or death (see Revelation 21:1-4). It’s living life as God truly intended it to be: whole, healed and forever with Him.

How has God spoken to you in brief moments of life? How has He inspired you to ponder the eternal nature of life through the natural elements around you? If so inclined, feel free to share some of your thoughts; it’s always valuable to hear how God works in other people’s lives.

Chair Thinking

 

blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree

 

Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

Oops and Grace

I was late to an early morning meeting yesterday. It was our Elder meeting; and I’m the chair. Talk about a recipe for how not to be a good leader! And it was all just so silly.

The meeting started at 7 am and my alarm went off at 5:30, the same time as my work week mornings. I had plenty time to pray, to read, to “coffee,” and hop in the jalopy and head across town. All was going as planned and I was on pace to be early. But as I was nearing the main artery leading over to the east side of the river, I realized I forgot mySatchel wallet. Not only that, I forgot my bag which included my wallet, cell phone and iPad that had my Bible app and the agenda for the meeting! I did, however, remember my coffee.

Crap! I had no choice but to turn around and fetch my satchel. Now, not only was I not going to be early, but I was definitely going to be late; like ten minutes late.

Grumbling before leaving my driveway for the second time, I texted our pastor letting him know of my oops. I was so angry with myself and frustrated. I don’t want to be the reason for the delay, especially since everyone else is sacrificing time on an early Saturday morning.

Finally arriving at the meeting, I felt pretty low and a bit defeated. But the reception I got dispelled my brooding gloom. The others treated me cheerfully, welcoming me with warmth and only polite ribbing. There were no scowls or rebukes or terse greetings. I was welcomed and immediately included in the meeting.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is grace in action. Here I had an oops that was countered by grace. Bullinger defines grace as “an inclining toward, courteous or gracious disposition, friendly willingness; on the part of the giver of a favor, kindness, favor; on the part of the receiver, thanks”*. I was being extended kindness rather than rebuke, and I was, of course, thankful for that. I didn’t deserve the grace I received; but even so, grace is what I received.

God also gives grace. His grace has eternal gifts with it. It is purely by the grace of God that we have salvation in Jesus Christ. Scripture says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

A couple of verses before this the Apostle Paul speaks eloquently of mercy and grace working in tandem:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
—vv. 4-5

We have access to salvation in Christ through faith through no work of our own. We can’t buy it, we can’t earn it, we just express faith in Christ to receive this free gift from God:

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
—Romans 10:9

That’s it! There are no rituals, no works to accomplish or hoops to jump through, just a simple expression of faith from a sincere heart.

As the Elders showed me grace, so God shows us all grace; but His kindness opens up an eternal destiny to be forevermore with Jesus. So, have you experienced God’s grace yet?

*Ethelbert W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p. 341.

Who Needs Salvation?

crossing the chasm

We all need salvation. Scripture says so. I explored this a little bit in my Killing Shalom post. In that post I share Scripture that leads people into the new birth through faith in Jesus Christ. What I didn’t explore in a lot of detail was why we need a savior in the first place.

 

Adam and Me

Simply stated, Adam and Eve were the first created human beings. When they willingly sinned, they introduced a sin nature into the fabric of their psyche. This sin nature then became ingrained into their DNA; and by default, it is ingrained into our DNA as well. (See my post on Image for a little more background on this.)

When they intentionally sinned, they tarnished humanity’s desire to seek after God. This tarnishing built into them the desire to seek fulfillment outside of God. It also led them into a type of pride where they fancied they could become like God. This is the same sin the got Lucifer booted out of Heaven.

 

Sin Nature and Depravity

Because of the tarnishing of this aspect of God’s image, we now have hard-wired into the fabric of our being a sin nature; that is, an intentional, ongoing rebellion against God. Humanity is now depraved in the sense that while humanity for the most part is not as wicked as it could be, humanity is still utterly incapable of reversing this stain of sin without an intermediary

This sin nature has been passed down through the generations (see Romans 3:21-26 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). This is why Radmacher says that “because the human race is ‘in Adam,’ everyone is spiritually dead, and, if this is not corrected, the ultimate result is eternal death” (Salvation, 2000, p. 7).

None of us escape this sin nature and this natural separation from God. The only way to span the chasm between God and man is by faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Mind the Gap—Spanning the Chasm

Thankfully, Jesus spanned this chasm by tearing down the wall of separation between humanity and God. Scripture states that at the death of Jesus, God tore the temple veil from top to bottom (see Matthew 27:51-54, Mark 15:33-39 and Hebrews 10:19-20). It is symbolically significant that the veil is torn from the top down. If I tore the veil, which is really a heavy curtain or a tapestry, I’d tear it from the bottom up; provided I had the strength to tear it all. However, such a tear would be, obviously, man-made and therefore insufficient. Being torn from the top down, however, indicates it is God doing the tearing of the veil. It is God that is opening up access to Himself through the accomplished works of Jesus Christ. We no longer need a priestly intermediary, we now, by faith in Christ, have direct access to God. Jesus is now our High Priest (see Hebrews 4:15).

 

No Prerequisite but One

And entering into a salvation relationship is by simply placing our faith in Him. It has nothing to do with our politics, our lifestyle, our hobbies or interests; it is on the basis of our faith in Christ: do we, or do we not, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Romans 10:9-10 is very clear:

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Notice how there are no rules, no sprucing ourselves up or other hoops to jump through; God is saying come as we are and enter into His saving grace through faith in Christ. A sincere heart genuinely seeking salvation in Jesus is welcomed with open arms. Once a person receives salvation, they now have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. The Holy Spirit can now transform their lives, becoming more and more like Christ! Godly fruit can now be produced in a person’s life in such a way that God’s light and love now shines to those around them, drawing even  more out of the darkness of sin and into the light of God’s saving grace.

So what are you waitin’ for? C’mon in!

Observations from the Backyard

Backyard observations

I haven’t blogged for a while. I’ve been adjusting to lots of changes. Adjusting to a new home in a new part of the city, increased (but very fun) responsibilities with my new position, and slogging through the second-to-last semester of grad school; all while trying to maintain a balance with the rest of life. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to just sit still and quiet the mind. This morning was just such a time as I sat on our bench in the backyard. It had recently rained so the air was freshly moist, the raindrops were rolling off leaves with a distinctive liquid-y plop onto other leaves or the ground, and the birds were out in force as the land drank in the refreshing after a summer of being parched. Here are just a few simple observations from this time of

quietness.

Initial Sense

The peaceful breeze,

fresh with moisture and fragrance;

Bringing season’s change.

Floating Thought

Cars rumble away,

destinations and errands.

But birdsong remains.

Almost Over

Beckoning silence.

To-do lists and checkboxes.

The tensions of life.

Integrity and Proverbs 10

Integrity

Proverbs 10:9 states that “He who walks with integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will become known.” Integrity is defined as “completeness, innocence, uprightness”[1]. I highly value being a man of integrity and strive to maintain it as best I can. Over time, however, I have made mistakes and my integrity has taken a bit of hit; especially if I have said or done something stupid while trying to represent Christ! But part of understanding integrity is recognizing when you’ve tarnished your own; you learn what not to do again or how to do or say things differently in the future. I also highly respect other men of integrity, they are a great example to me and a great help for me in making big decisions.

A key value of integrity contained in the proverb is we can walk securely; as we live a life with integrity, we know that we have nothing to hide and that we keep our word. Others begin to trust us so we need to value the trust they have in us and not compromise it through foolish actions or words.

Keys to Integrity

Keys to understanding, building and maintaining integrity include continually opening our lives up to Holy Spirit examination. Through this we need to do our best to hear and obey when He, the Holy Spirit, reveals weaknesses or barriers inhibiting a freer flowing of Him in our lives (cf. Ps. 139:23-24). Another key is spending time in God’s Word; the more Scripture we know the more equipped we are to live a life marked by integrity, especially as we study the life of Jesus. Hanging around those with high integrity is also a good idea, we can learn a lot through how they live their lives, especially when they are in difficult circumstances. This leads us to add two more aspects to integrity: humility and obedience.

Lacking integrity reveals a person that is two-faced and unstable (cf. Ja. 1:7). This person cannot be trusted with the things of men or of God. Such a person also lacks the humility to recognize their error, which can open them up to very serious calamities. This causes us to ponder if the lack of integrity means a strong presence of pride.  We will explore this possibility in a later post on Proverbs devotionals.

Practical Steps

Now more than ever integrity is eroding in our culture at rapid rates. Politician don’t mean what they say, entertainment is becoming more and more dehumanizing and sexualized, and the individual is quickly replacing the sense of community. One way to help stem the tide of such erosion is becoming a person of integrity: say what we mean, keep our promises, help others when we have opportunity, and lean more deeply into the things of God.

[1] Strong’s Concordance, pp. 136 & 555.