Silent Noise

This past week I had the privilege of traveling outside of the states for the first time. I drove with a couple of guys to Algonquin Park in Canada. If you are not familiar with this park, let me fill you in. It is basically a huge park made up of hundreds of small lakes. It is untouched by man. You are not allowed to drive motor boats, build buildings or docks, the water is uncontaminated and the wildlife untamed. We spent an entire week traveling the Algonquin and barely scratched the surface of the beauty there. It is vast, gorgeous, and pristine.

I left my phone behind, along with anything else that would be a distraction. Midway through the week we had a solo day. Our group of eight split up and spent the entire day alone. I brought along my Bible, journal, and a book I had been reading. I found a giant rock off the shore and set up camp for the day. I spent most of the day sitting on the rock singing, praying, reading, and thinking for the sake of thinking. It was an enriching time spiritually, a refreshing time physically, and a time of growth mentally. It wasn’t until reflecting on this time later that I came to realize the importance of silence.

Silence is grace given by God for us to grow to become like his Son. In Scripture, there is a pattern of men going out into the wilderness before important transitions or intense situations. Jesus went into the wilderness before his three years of ministry began. The Apostle Paul followed this same model (Galatians 1:17-18). Getting away from the distractions of life to focus on God is extremely important before a big life transition.

As many of you know, I am about to get married. This is going to be a really big change in my life that will come with its joys and struggles. With that being said, this trip could not have come at a better time. I was able to focus for an entire day on my Savior and what His sacrifice means for my life. It was refreshing and refocusing. I realized that a “solo day” only meant nine hours spent with the One who is always with me. I wasn’t really alone, but for aware of His presence. It was an incredible joy to sing with only Him listening. To read Scripture aloud among His creation.

I think a solo day is something I will try to recreate in my life. Many Christians harp on us if we spend time away from people. “You’re supposed to be the light,” they may say. “How are you going to accomplish that if you’re always alone?!” While I am not recommending you become a recluse living in a cave miles away from civilization. But in order for you to effectively be the light, I am convoked that you will need a day here or there spent entirely with the One you are telling others about. These moments of silence are where you will be able to experience God’s grace in ways you wouldn’t fathom.

Put away the phone. Get off the computer. Shut down your brain. Pick up the Book. Petition and sing praises to God. Grow in the grace of our Savior. I challenge you to find a day this month, and spend it entirely with God. You will not be disappointed.

The Fear of Man

It affects us more than we realize. It shapes our behavior, our actions, our thoughts, and in some cases our destiny. We let it guide our steps, control our hearts, and rule our lives. The fear of man is powerful and potentially the greatest threat to Christians. We encage ourselves with thick bars of imaginary scenarios, possible trials, and desired, all-encompassing comfort. Fear of man paralyzes us for the purpose that God has called us to. I am writing this as someone who has struggled with this my entire life. I do not claim to have overcome it, but with daily grace, I believe I am growing in this area. In this quick look at this issue, we have to begin with the heart of the matter.

Continue reading “The Fear of Man”

Glorious Mysteries

Wouldn’t it be nice to live life without any mystery? I have pondered this question for some time. There are moments when I just want to know what the future holds. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how you are going to die? For some of us yes, others maybe not. It might not be great if we found out we are going to die of a shark attack, that could bring some unnecessary anxiety to your life. But seriously, sometimes I think it would be nice knowing how your life is going to end and how you’ll enter into eternity.

But mystery is a good thing. I remember as a child wanting to know who I was going to marry. I thought it would be so awesome just to have a name or to know something about her that could give me a clue. Now I am thankful that I wasn’t given a vision of my wife before ever meeting her. I think it might have been slightly awkward if my jaw dropped as I first met Alyssa in English class.

The truth of the matter is that mystery can be grace. Let me explain. Without mystery, trust can be lacking. There will be moments in life when we wonder if we’ll make it out alive, if we’ll be able to continue in life. It is in these moments when faith is given the opportunity to blossom. It is in these intense situations that we must lean in and trust in Christ and His goodness.

As life continues, our faith becomes stronger because we have lived through these experiences of despair and trouble. Even in these hard times, mystery is God’s grace in our lives. As a young person, there is still so much mystery to life. Yeah I’ve figured a few things out, but I’m still not exactly sure what specific ministry God will use me in. I don’t know what state or city I will settle down in. I have no idea what my kids will be like. I don’t know how long I’ll continue my education. There are still so many mysteries in life, and it can be easy to stress out about all the mystery. But these are all opportunities to trust God and lean into Him more.

This is one disappointment about growing old. When I have retired, my kids are grown up, and the mortgage is paid off, there will be less mystery. You still never know what a day will hold, but for the most part, there is less mystery than before. Steven Curtis Chapman describes these mysteries becoming reality in his song The Glorious Unfolding.

And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
We’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding

We were made to run through fields of forever
Singing songs to our Savior and King
So let us remember this life we’re living
Is just the beginning of the beginning

Life is a glorious unfolding. At life’s end, we will be able to look back and see God’s faithfulness. We will see His goodness in our lives, His unstoppable grace, His renewed mercies.

There are mysteries, though, that transcend this life. There is still another glorious unfolding. It is that of eternity. There we will see the glorious unfolding of God’s ultimate, sustaining glory. There, our joy will be supreme because of the Alpha and Omega’s reigning glory. The mysteries we face today only point to those that will unfold in heaven. Mysteries are God’s grace in our lives. They cause us to trust Him more so that we can love Him more.

Good and Bad as Grace

The subtitle to my blog is more than a phrase, it is a lifestyle: “Learning to see the good and bad as grace…” Before I explain what this has meant for me, I want to make it clear that this is a worldview within the Christian worldview. This is a way that we as Christians can perceive the events of our lives. I have chosen to see the transpiring moments of my days on this earth in this light. This is a counter-cultural way to see the world; it does not come naturally or easily.

The Unnatural Worldview

As humans, we tend to let our circumstances determine how we behave. We wake up a little later than we should have, our coffee was made wrong, our boss chewed us out, our child gets sick with the flu, and for the rest of the day, we will be miserable. We let our circumstances rule our lives. Worse still, we let them steal our joy.

Of course, these are small trials in life. What about when a loved one passes away? Or when we get that diagnosis from the doctor? How about when we lose our job and don’t have a back-up plan? These are some bigger trials that will come into play on the stage of life. How should we respond to these? Those without Christ would get bitter, depressed, jealous, or abusive. How should the Christian respond to these trials? How should we react when we our child is driving us crazy, and how should we react when a family member dies? This lifestyle will help us respond correctly to both the small and the more daunting trials we may face.

Circumstances Don’t Rule

Circumstances don’t rule the Christian’s life. There are several reasons why this is true. God is in control and is good, we are not meant to live on earth permanently, and the physical realm does not encapsulate our joy. The bottom line is that the Christian can look at the good, the bad, and the ugly and see them all as grace.

God is in control… It may sound cliché, but it is true. “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). God is all-knowing and all- powerful. He is also good. He knows exactly what is best for us. Sometimes, this means we receive that diagnosis or we lose our job. God knows what’s going on and what is best for us. In Tim Keller’s book Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he says,

God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.

Unanswered prayer, trials, and tribulation come to us through God. There is a reason for them, there is a purpose for our current struggles. Remember in them that God is in control, and He will guide us through them. This is promised in Scripture and displayed in the lives of many of the Biblical heroes of the faith. God is faithful to us even in our darkest moments.

This is not our home… We are on this earth for a very short time. If we have received the Greatest Grace, we are only waiting for forever to get here. Earth is not our home, worshiping Christ before His throne is. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” These trails only make us long for our coming, unbroken eternity with our Savior.

He is our joy… We do not live for the prosperity of earthly gains, but for the prosperity of the soul. Knowing Christ is our joy, and nothing can come close to comparing to this. Everything else leaves us empty, with a gaping hole in our chest. Again, Paul writes, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). When we understand this, our worries, fears, and pain are belittled. Our joy is not found or restricted by the fading physical world; it is explosively discovered in our growing, intimate relationship with Christ.

Bad as Grace

When we understand and believe these things, we can choose to see the good and the bad as grace. It is still hard. Sometimes the pain is unbearable, the horror too horrific, the death too often, but I believe that even in these circumstances, we can experience spiritual peace because our hope is in God. These times can be an opportunity to lean even more into Christ, depending upon Him completely. When the trials come, they can be for our good. The horrible things we experience can be grace in our lives.

Suffering has a way of stripping away all of our guards and self-protection to get to our hearts. This is why Scripture refers to suffering and affliction as the refiners fire; trials refine us and transform us more into the image of Jesus Christ. Unpleasant circumstances will force us to see the ugliness of our hearts that we have been trying to hide.

Each morning we wake up, we have no idea what the day will hold. A season of suffering could be close at hand, and we will have a choice to make.

The Choice

Because of the eternal graces, we can choose to see the good and the bad as grace. Because God is good, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, just, loving, and merciful we can choose to see the most wretched circumstance as grace in our lives. We may never understand, but we should still choose to accept.

The choice is yours. The decision lays before you each day. Will you choose to find your joy in Christ or in the passing physical world? It is when we choose to find our joy and worth in Christ that we are set free. This is the gateway to thriving in any circumstance rather than desperately clawing your way to survival in the midst of everyday life. Examine your heart, where are you seeking joy?

Lord, help me to see the good and the bad as grace. I no longer want to live my life according to life’s restless circumstances. I want to have the joy of Paul, that even in prison he had unimaginable joy. I want a peace that surpasses understanding. Give me joy in you. Help me to hate my sin and love you more. Conform me into the image of your Son.

Amen.

The Mysteries of God

I remember as a child thinking about God. My parents told me He was eternal while the Bible said the same. I distinctly remember trying to grasp this… Before there was Earth God was. But that means God existed forever, before He created anything. If he existed for forever, then how did we ever get to today? Forever means continually, on and on and on and on… How did He exist for forever and we still got to today but He will still exist for forever after today.

This is just one of my many trains of thought as a child, but this is only one characteristic of God that is slightly beyond the human brain capacity. There is also God as the Trinity, three persons in one Being. There is the omniscience combined with the omnipotence of God. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, how can He allow the suffering we see around the world without stopping it? There is God as omnipresent. He is literally everywhere at once. Our minds have a hard time with that one. Prayer, we often fail to understand how prayer works. What is our role in it and what is God’s? There are many, many things that we do not understand or grasp about God.

Agnosticism

I am not saying that God cannot be known. Agnosticism is the belief that God exists, but we cannot know Him. It is a middle ground between atheism and Christianity. We know many things about God because He has revealed His character through Scripture; the Bible is His self-revelation. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20). These are just a few passages explaining the characteristics of God.

We can also learn much about God’s character through his creation. We look at the stars and see God’s incredible power and presence. We see a forest and see his creativity. We look at some of the fish of the sea and we observe God’s sense of humor. Humanity is created in His image, so we can learn much about God through what we know about people. Agnosticism is a myth and it is not what I am testifying to here in the least.

Mysteries

With this being said, there are many mysteries we still wrestle with about God. Scripture does not reveal every key detail about God.The unknown can stir up plenty of doubt in a believer’s mind. We often attempt to fit God into our circumstances rather than viewing our circumstances in light of who God is. This takes faith.

God is so infinitely beyond the human brain. Although, the brain is all that we have known in life, God is far, far beyond it. It can be easy to get caught up in human reasoning. This can get us into trouble and some strange, cultish beliefs. I have a hard time with people who have to have every question answered about God. Do I know exactly how prayer works? Well, no, but I do know that Scripture commands it of me, and Jesus modeled it for me. Often, we place our entire focus on what we do not know about something, forgetting what we do know.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

-Deuteronomy 29:29

Sometimes, we can get too focused on what we do not know. Whatever we do not know, we must view in light of what we do know. This requires us to faithfully trust in what we know about God’s character even when our circumstance don’t seem to line up correctly. There are going to be mysteries about God that we will never understand.

Passivity is Not an Option

I am not saying that we should not explore some of these mysteries. It can be a healthy thing when we discover more about God. After all, God is the main character of the Bible; He is present in every Biblical event. We can learn something about God from every passage; the Bible is His self-revelation. We should always be growing in our knowledge of God. There are, however, a couple of things to keep in mind when we approach these mysteries.

#1. Don’t become obsessed. Don’t let your study of God’s omnipresence become the focus of your life or ministry. It is not healthy for one of the mysteries to become our primary focus. Always seek to bring it back the gospel. How does your study connect to the gospel?

#2. Stay humble. When you discuss some of these gray areas, remain humble. Who is to say that you understand every detail about how prayer works? Everybody has their opinion, let them share it and enjoy a friendly discussion. You probably are not completely right about how you view God. Always remain humble and seek to turn away from any dogmatism.

#3. Grow. The entire point from these studies is so that we can grow in our affection for God. Use these kinds of studies to implement your relationship with Him. Always go back to Scripture and view what you do not know in light of what you do know.

Mysteries as Grace

These mysteries of God are by His grace. I am so thankful that I do not know everything about God. That may sound a little odd, but let me explain.

My friend always used to say it this way, “If we knew everything about God, it’s almost like He would cease to be God?” I believe that these mysteries of God are a characteristic of Him. He is so beyond our human brain capacity, we do not even begin to comprehend what Scripture has laid out plainly about Him. We don’t truly understand how big He is. We don’t entirely understand the Trinity. We don’t completely know how prayer works. This keeps us humble and dependent upon Him.

This is not blind faith, as some would accuse. Neither is it faith through a magnifying glass, examining every minuscule detail. The truth that is revealed to us through Scripture is exactly what God wanted to be revealed. No more and no less. These mysteries are each eternal graces, they keep us dependent and humble. The mysteries of God should stimulate more faith in what we do know about God, rather than create more doubt and uncertainty. Don’t be defined by what you don’t know. Use these mysteries to press further into our love of God and what we are sure about Him. He is good, righteous, merciful, triune, all-powerful, everywhere, all-knowing, just, grace-giving, eternal, victorious, and his love endure forever.

The Day America Became Independent

 

Very recently, I have come to realize that I put too much faith in my nation. Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I love this country and many of the things she has stood for  throughout her life. But I have not agreed with many of the decisions that have been made by this country’s leadership lately. It has been scary to see religious liberty in question. This messy presidential election alone could be an example of the moral decline of this nation. Besides this, we have issues of sexual identity, immigration, abortion, Isis, gun control, mass shootings, racism… The list is almost endless.

As I have seen this list grow larger, I have become more worried. Where is this nation headed? And how bad will it get?

These are the questions I mean to address here. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed, declaring that America was a nation and was no longer dependent upon Britain. What an incredibly terrifying day that must have been, those fifty-six men scratching their names upon the document that would be this country’s foundation. On that moment, America was born. Since then, we have celebrated this on the 4th of July, perhaps we have even boasted this.

Living out its 240 years (so far) as an independent nation, America has shifted to an independence from God. The Declaration of Independence was based on Biblical principles, but we have abandoned this, trying to thrive while separated from God. We have abandoned his word, we no longer come to him in prayer, we often see His church as only a building at best. We have forgotten God, relying on our own strength. Pride has slowly wrapped its claws around this country and sank them into her heart, deeper and deeper. What is wrong with this country? We no longer depend on God.

When you have the comforts we have, it can be difficult to depend on God. We have incredible medical procedures and medicines to cure most illnesses. Most American’s have decent jobs and are able to sustain a living. Most American’s have families or friend to keep company with. When we have all these things, plus so much more, we lose our dependence on God. Let’s see how David describes his dependence upon God in comparison to wealth and comfort.

Psalm 62

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
  He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

   How long will all of you attack a man
    to batter him,
    like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
   They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
    They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
    but inwardly they curse. Selah

   For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
   He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
   On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

   Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah

   Those of low estate are but a breath;
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
   Put no trust in extortion;
    set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

  Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
    according to his work.

 

David did not trust in riches, he did not trust in high estate, or in hard work; David trusted in one thing, in one Being. He held all of his trust in God. Power belongs to God, to Him belongs salvation, to Him belongs steadfast love. To put trust in riches and wealth is stupidity when we have such a Fortress.

This is where prayer is so important in the Christian’s life. Prayer brings us into a dependence on God. When we realize that He is in control, we suddenly loosen our grip on life. At any moment, I could collapse from a heart attack. At any moment, I could get fired. At any moment, I find myself in the middle of a mass shooting.  Each of our lives are held together by mere threads that could be ripped apart at any given moment. Prayers is when we realize this before God. We thank Him for another grace-filled day, hour, moment, or second. Prayer keeps us humble, and it keeps us dependent on God.

America is enthralled by her own strength. She is delighted by her own beauty. She is dependent on herself completely. When America slowly lost her dependence on God, she slowly became more dependent upon herself. This is why we see moral chaos in a once Biblically sound country. Today, celebrate America the beautiful. Thank God that she was founded on Scripture. Thank Him for so many good years. But pray for a dependence on God.

The best thing you can do for America, is to turn back to God. Realize that He is good and gracious. Everything we have is only by His grace. Become dependent upon Him. Hunger for His word, yearn for Him in prayer, and long for fellowship with His body. See these things as life-giving and joyous. Put more faith in a perfect God than an imperfect nation. In order to change a culture, you have to start with you.

This country is heading in the complete opposite direction of where God is. America is self-reliant. We delight in our riches. We depend only on ourselves. May we turn and run back to our roots, may we turn back to God.

May our pride fall and die before our country does.

A Feast of Ancient Words

“Ancient words ever true

Changing me and changing you

We  have come with open hearts

Oh, let the ancient words impart

They resound with God’s own heart

Oh, let the ancient words impart…”

These lyrics recite one of the greatest means of grace that we have constantly at our fingertips. The Word of God… The God of all knowledge, who created the cosmos, who is all powerful, who created the depths of the sea, who resides in perfect Heaven, who named the stars, this God wrote a book.

I remember as a boy, I was a big reader. I loved reading fiction, I’d sit on a summer day with no school and devour a book. Sometimes I would start a book and then discover that it was a part of series with a final book not yet released. So I would quickly read the books that were written in the series and then I would wait for the release of the final book. I would wait, dreaming of how the story might end. I would hunger, the tastebuds of my brain longing to linger over the coming literary flavors. Finally, the day would come and the preordered book would arrive at my doorstep. The anticipation was killing me. I would rip into the box, and hold the book in my hands in a stunned state of awe. Here it was, the final edition to the series, the end of the tale, the farewell of all of the characters. I would almost get nervous, what if it didn’t meet my expectations? Then, with a deep breath, I would flip to the prologue and dive into the final epic.

Ok, I know what some of you are thinking, “What a nerd!” That’s alright, I embrace it. But, nerd or not, I think it is safe to say that very few of us ever approach God’s Word with this attitude. Often an attitude of religious duty drives us to read Scripture. It is either out of religious duty or we just don’t do it at all because of laziness. I would challenge us all to reevaluate how we approach Scripture.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

-Psalm 19:7-11

 The Psalmist approached God’s Word with an incredible sense of awe. He described it as being more desirous than gold. It is sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. I’ve had honey straight from the comb, there’s not much else sweeter. It is perfect; it revives. Scripture is not deserved by any of us. Through the Bible, God reveals his character to us. Scripture equals grace as a means of sustaining spiritual life.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

-Isaiah 40:8

God’s Word is unchanging. It will last an eternity. While my copy of Scripture is not eternal, the truth found in the text will last for forever. The Bible is an eternal grace.

So why don’t we treat it like an eternal grace. It sits by my bed each night, I pick it up on average about every other day. The Psalmist describes it as life-giving. Take away his food, his home, his status, his family, just so long has he has the Word of God with him, he will press on. Let us hunger and thirst for Scripture as our only source of life.

But how do we do this? How do we learn to crave Scripture?

David Mathis in his book Habits of Grace says

The potential practices [for Bible reading] are limitless, but the principle beneath the practices is this: The fundamental means of God’s ongoing grace, through his Spirit, in the life of the Christian and the life of the church is God’s self-expression in his Word, in the gospel, perfectly kept for us and on display in all its textures, riches, and hues in the external written word of the Scriptures.

The key to hungering for the Bible is to have the proper perspective of Scripture. Scripture is only available as a means of grace. We do nothing in order to receive it. It is available twenty-four seven as a source of life. It has been perfectly preserved and is understandable. Can you believe it? The inklings of God are knowable and are the spiritual nourishment for the Christian.

Believe it and live it, Christian. We have the eternal grace of God’s Word, that resound with God’s own heart, at our side all the time. Quit starving yourself and feast on the riches of God’s Word. Here is my number one tip for learning to hunger for God’s Word:

Read it.

If you have never consistently read the Bible, you have yet to feel and experience the joys of it. When we are constantly listening to what God is saying through His word, we become dependent upon it. Suddenly, our jobs, our finances, and our phones all take a back seat. You do not truly know how detrimental starvation is until you know what it feels like to be full.

Today is a Monday. Pick up of the Word, and create some silence so that you can listen to what God is saying. It may be painful at first, but this means of grace will produce growth much faster than any other method. Feed your relationship with the Lord. Join me at the table of grace and feast with me.