Divine Interruptions

I think one of the lessons that God is trying to teach me lately is that my plans are not always his plans. Last week I had a full week scheduled out complete with lunch appointments, outreach opportunities and counseling appointments. On Sunday night I was ready to go and launch out into my week, but on Monday my week came crashing down around me in a pile of  burning rubbish when my wife developed a horrible tooth ache that needed immediate attention. All of a sudden my beautifully laid out plans were thrown out the windows in a panicked search for an available dentist, because as all men know if momma goes down we’re all going down.

As I arranged for babysitters, called insurance companies and waited in the waiting room I began to reflect on Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I’ve usually thought about this passage in relation to salvation, suffering and other big theological categories but as I waited for Amy’s root canal to be finished it dawned on me that Isaiah 55:8-9 applies to everyday life as well. I may have my plans, my thoughts or my way of doing things but God’s ways are much higher than my way and He has the prerogative to interrupt me whenever he wants. Shalom comes when I simply recognize this truth and embrace His divine interruptions.

November 14 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »

“I Need My Stuff…”

cameraroll-1311714047.088795The other day I heard my middle child, Cody, say something that I hadn’t heard him say before. As he was sitting down on the couch, he said “Daddy, I need my stuff.” Somewhat bewildered I looked at my wife inquisitively as she proceeded to give him his blanket, two Barbie dolls (yes that kills me, but he does love these silly dolls), a stuffed bear, a stuffed dog, a small sword and a glass of apple juice. Not quite knowing what to think, I turned back to my iPad and let the moment pass me by.

I hadn’t really thought about this again, until last night when Cody and I had a horrible argument about his “stuff.” Amy was gone and it was just me and the boys at home. So, like any good Dad I decided to put on a movie. Just as Curious George 2 was getting started Cody began to grumble and complain that he didn’t have his “stuff.” Sensing where this was going, I began assembling what I could remember of the “stuff” that Amy had given him, but unfortunately I was too late and I quickly had a full fledged tantrum on my hands. Again, as any good Dad I followed my instincts and sent him up to his room…but then I started thinking about what was really going on in his heart and decided to give it one more try.

I made my way up the stairs, opened his door and in between sobs I asked him to come sit in my lap. When he finally calmed down I told him, “Cody, you know that Daddy loves you don’t you? Daddy loves you and that’s why Daddy is so worried that you love your stuff so much. I think that you love your stuff more than you love your Daddy, but I want you to love me more than you love your stuff.” Now, I’m not sure how much of that actually got through to him, but as I sit here tonight reflecting on this little incident I know that I’m feeling freshly convicted that I need to love my Heavenly Father far more than I love the “stuff” that He gives to me.

October 19 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »

Meditation on Psalm 39:11

Psalm 39:11 says, "When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him…"

Sin is largely about our affections. It’s about what we desire and what we’re willing to sacrifice for what we desire. At the same time redemption is about affections. It’s about God changing our affections from our insane love for ourselves to that which is supremely lovely and valuable, Jesus Christ.

Now, this changing of affections is not easy, it is not without discipline and it is not without pain. That’s why the Psalmist says, "When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him." A large part of redemption is the process of God consuming the things which used to hold our affections and replacing those desires with an even greater affection for Jesus Christ.

July 25 2011 | Devotional | Comments Off on Meditation on Psalm 39:11

By Hooks and Chains

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One of the hard realities about Biblical Counseling is the realization that you cannot change someone.  If a drunk is determined to drink, all of the talk in the world isn’t going to change the fact that he is going to go to the bar tonight and get drunk.  The good news is that while I cannot change anyone, God can and he seems to use two primary means of doing so.  1) By using a faithful counselor to confront sin and encourage the process of change. 2) By using painful circumstances in life to bring a person to a sense of his need for personal change. 

2 Chronicles 33:1-13 is an intriguing account of a king named Manasseh who sinned greatly against God and who God had to chasten in order to bring about repentance.

Verses 1-9 record the atrocities that Manasseh committed:

He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations…he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers.  He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger…

Verse 10 records God’s first response to Manasseh’s rebellion, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.”  Since Manasseh refused to listen to God’s counsel verse 11 says, “Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.”  Finally, verse 12 records Manasseh’s repentance, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers…and God was moved by his entreaty…and brought him again to Jerusalem…Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.”  It took the hooks and chains of Assyria to finally bring Manasseh to his senses and realize that the Lord is God.

The fact of the matter is that God is very jealous for His people and He will use any means necessary to bring his people to the place where they will listen to Him, even if that requires using hooks and chains to get our attention.

July 19 2010 | Devotional | Comments Off on By Hooks and Chains

Exposed

Psalm 139 begins with these words,

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.

These beautiful verses begin what many consider to be one of the most intimate psalms in all of the Bible.  As David makes his way through these 24 verses he explains how there is nothing about him that God does not already know.  In other words, David stands before God completely exposed, so much so that in verses 15 and 16 he writes,

My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance…

This level of exposure may sound intimidating at first, because it leaves us with no place to hide.  David writes, “Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”  Upon further reflection I believe that this exposure is one of the most comforting aspects of our relationship with God.  Consider a few of the benefits of standing totally exposed before God.

  1. Being exposed before God frees me from any pretense. So much of life is spent trying to be someone or something that we’re not.  Yet, there is no reason to pretend with God, because He is already fully aware of exactly who we are.  In other words, we are free to be ourselves with God.
  2. Being exposed before God frees me from the fear of man. Because God already knows every single detail of my life, including all of my faults I don’t need to be afraid of what other people find out about me.  This isn’t to say that we need to go parading our sin about, but rather that because God already knows all of the details of my life and there is no one I want to please more than Him, I don’t need to be afraid of what men say or think of me.
  3. Being exposed before God reminds me of my need for the Gospel. The thing which makes my exposure before God bearable is the fact that Christ has cleansed me and clothed me with his righteousness.  Ultimately, I have no business standing before God with any confidence whatsoever, yet because of the work of Christ I can come before the throne of grace with confidence because of what Christ has done.

May 24 2010 | Devotional | Comments Off on Exposed

Trusting God When It’s Hard

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The other day I got a call from our Real Estate agent with some bad news.  Prices in the area are continuing to drop in the worst real-estate market since the 1960’s, so we had to drop the price of our home by another $10,000.  This wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for the fact that we had already priced the house $15,000 under what we’d actually paid for it.  The good news is that when we bought our home we put a lot of money down, the bad news is that we’re almost certainly going to lose it all…assuming that we can sell the house at all.

I’ve known for quite some time that this is a pretty bad market, so it’s not as though all of this comes as a surprise to me, but somehow that doesn’t make it any easier.  Last week, after having our home on the market for over a month without a single person coming to look at it,, I began to get nervous.  What if the house doesn’t sell by the time we need to move?  Do I rent it out?  Where do I find renters?  What if the market continues to drop and 2 years from now I’m in a worse position than I am today?

If you’ve ever been in what feels like a desperate situation, you know that questions like these can make you feel as though the walls are closing in around you.  You begin to theorize and strategize and to frantically search for any means of escape or redemption.

These feelings aren’t limited to financial situations, they can be equally true of the mother struggling with a disobedient child who only wants him to obey, or of the pastor struggling with a critical church member who only wants to have a church business meeting without any fights, or of the business owner who only wants to see the economy turn around so that he can stay in business.  What they all have in common is the passionate desire for some kind of redemption from difficult circumstances.

What I’ve come to realize is that the great danger in these momentsImageProxy2 is not that God will not deliver me, but rather that I begin to desire redemption from my circumstances more than I desire the Redeemer. In other words, the danger is an attitude that says, “You can tell me about Jesus having the answer to my problems all day long, but what I really need is…”.  The reason that this attitude is so dangerous is that it functionally denies the sufficiency of Christ and replaces my need for Christ with my need for deliverance from a set of circumstances.  In the midst of hard things, the only proper response is to trust.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God, the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19a)

The issue that is at stake when God asks you if you trust Him, is if you desire the Redeemer more than you desire redemption from your circumstances.

April 19 2010 | Devotional | 7 Comments »

God Knows

There are a number of people in my life right now who are suffering in various ways.  Some are suffering from cancer, some are suffering from the loss of a job, and some are suffering from the fear of the unknown.

The other day I was reading through the book of Exodus and I came across a remarkable passage about suffering.  The passage is found in Exodus 2:23-25 where Moses writes,

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.  Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.

When God’s children suffered under terrible persecution (even having their children ripped from their arms and thrown into the Nile), God responded in four ways.

  1. God Heard – In the midst of their suffering God was not absent.  His ear was attuned to His people.  In the same way, God is never absent in our suffering.
  2. God Remembered – God did not forget that those going through suffering were his children, He remembered them.  In the same way, God does not forget His children today.  Isaiah 49:15 says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”  God always remembers and He always shows compassion for His children.
  3. God Saw – It is not just that God was aware of the suffering of his children, but rather he was intimately acquainted with it.  Every lash from the task masters and every bitter tear was cried in His presence and He saw it all.  No matter how dark the valley may be, you can rest assured that God sees.
  4. God Knew – There is great comfort in the fact that God knows our suffering.  There is comfort in the fact that God knows our suffering because God is sovereign and good and He is able to minister to us in our afflictions.  Not only is God sovereign and good in our suffering, but He is also present.  God knows because God does not allow us to walk through suffering alone, but rather he holds our hand and when necessary he carries us.

When we walk through dark valleys in this life, we can be assured that 1) God hears, 2) God remembers, 3) God sees, and 4) God knows.

Psalm 73:23-26 – “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

March 29 2010 | Devotional | Comments Off on God Knows

The Danger of Complacency

Complaint I’ve recently been reading through the book of Numbers during my morning devotions.  Numbers is basically all about the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites as they make their way up to the promise land, refuse to enter, and are exiled to wander the desert for 40 years.

The nation of Israel was never a particularly happy group of people during these travels, but their unhappiness appears to ratchet up to a whole new level in chapter 11 of Numbers where we read:

And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. – Numbers 11:1

Now, you would think that the Israelites would have learned that God is none to pleased with complacency from this incident alone, but the story goes on in verses 4-6.

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving.  And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.  But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

Despite everything that God had done for the nation, including saving them from the Egyptians who were slaughtering their children, parting the red sea, providing food in the midst of the desert, they still grumbled about their circumstances.  In verse 20 God summarizes why He is so upset with their complacency.  He says, “You have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt.’”  God is saying that their complacency was a direct rejection of Him.

This seems like something of an odd statement as the Israelites weren’t really saying anything directly about God.  They were complaining about their circumstances.  The fact that they didn’t like the food they were being served, etc.  At face value, their complaint was not necessarily a theological problem as much as a practical problem, yet God declares their complacency to be an outright rejection of Him.

So, what is going on here?  I believe that what the Lord is getting at in this passage is this: When we complain about our circumstances we are implicitly questioning the goodness of God.  Because God is absolutely sovereign over all things, when we complain/grumble about the circumstances that God has placed us in we question His goodness in placing us in whatever life-situation we are in.  That means that whenever I utter a complaint in private or in public about how hard it is to raise my kids, about how difficult it is to get along with my boss, or how much I wish that my church would do things differently, I am questioning the goodness of God. That certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to have a good relationship with our boss, do a good job of parenting our kids, etc. but there’s a vast difference between improving my performance as a parent or an employee and simply grumbling about the things I don’t like in my life.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 provides an excellent example of how we should respond to the difficulties of life.  Habbakuk writes, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the field yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; i will take my joy in the God of my salvation.  God, the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

March 22 2010 | Devotional | 1 Comment »

Stuck in a Rut

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If you’ve anything like me, you’ve probably experienced argument amnesia before.  This is what happens when you get into an argument (often times with your spouse) and after a few minutes, you can’t even remember what you’re fighting about.  It almost doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, you somehow continually find yourself back in the same place.  In short, you’re stuck in a rut.

One of my favorites lines in Psalm 23 is in verse 3 where David writes, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”  The Hebrew can also be translated, “He leads me in the ruts of righteousness.”  As the Shepherd of Psalm 23 leads the flock from one pasture to the next, he would follow a path that many sheep had trodden before.  The result of all this travel was that the path would become well worn and eventually turn into a rut in the ground that the sheep would follow as they were lead by the Good Shepherd.  What makes the imagery of Psalm 23 so powerful is that these are the “ruts of righteousness.”  As you follow the Good Shepherd, these are the natural paths that you take.

Just as there are “ruts of righteousness”, there are also “ruts of unrighteousness.”  A “rut of unrighteousness” is a pattern of sin that is so intuitive that we periodically fall into it without even realizing where we are or how we got there. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I can’t believe that I did that again!” when you fought with your spouse, or yelled at your children, or said something hurtful to a co-worker, then it may very well be that you’re stuck in a rut of unrighteousness.

The thing about a rut is that you have to be intentional about stepping out of it, otherwise it will lead you to the same place every time.  A large part of the process of redemption is stepping out of these “ruts of unrighteousness” and following the Good Shepherd in new paths that may at first seem unnatural, but which eventually lead you to green pastures and quiet waters (Psalm 23:2) where you can find rest.

March 15 2010 | Devotional | Comments Off on Stuck in a Rut

The Antipsalm

I’ve been spending some time in Psalm 23 recently and in my study I ran across the following poem by David Powlison.  It’s called the “Antipsalm” because it’s written to be the exact opposite of Psalm 23.  Oftentimes in Bible study it helps to see what something is not, in order for you to see what it is.

I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle — I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert — I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
I’m haunted by emptiness and futility — shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I’d rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I’m alone … facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me — except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”
I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
It’s a living death,
and then I die.

February 24 2010 | Blog | Comments Off on The Antipsalm

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