So, what will you settle for?


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So, what will you settle for?

Extreme church, exceeding righteousness, the surpassing value of knowing Him. I attended a photography seminar a few years ago and got an idea for promoting senior portraits that I felt communicated an important message to potential customers: “It’s Your Image . . . Don’t Settle.” Your high school senior portrait is (or, at least until social media, was) the most viewed photograph you would ever have made. It needed to be well-made, by someone who knew what they were doing. It needed to look the best it possibly could, better than what an amateur with a “good camera” could pull off.

I think I liked that as an ad campaign because it also fit with a spiritual principle that has become important to me over the years.

Don't Settle

Don’t Settle

God wants to give us Himself. We “settle” for earthly experiences. God doesn’t want to deprive us of pleasure, but wants us to find the greatest possible pleasure – knowing Him.

It is not only in the area of earthly pleasures that we settle for less than God has for us. It is also in the area of Christian living and lifestyle.

We have so many plans, programs and events that we consider to be part of living the Christian life, that we don’t know how to just be Christian. And that works both ways. We are so unsure of how to just be Christian, that we come up with plans, programs, and events in an attempt to make it happen.

We think church is something we “go to” and that Christianity is the things we do, especially in relation to church. We manufacture something called the Christian life that is composed mainly of classes, seminars, services, retreats…. We are so convinced that this is what it means to be a Christian that we teach people this is how they must live.

We preach “Go into the world and invite people to church” when Jesus said, “As you go, make disciples….” We are proclaiming religious activities instead of proclaiming Him. We teach people to join in our programs instead of teaching them to love God and live in His strength. We teach them to go to church in stead of abide in His presence. Instead of equipping the saints, we are engineering a lifestyle.

Besides just being the way we’ve always been taught, I think it’s just part of our struggle to “be holy.” We struggle to figure out what we must do to be holy. And in all our efforts, we never quite make it. The only way for us to “be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” is to let Him be both the standard, and the one who makes it happen. The Old Testament Hebrew names Nissi (Standard), and M’kaddesh (the One who makes holy) come to mind. That is who He is.

We settle for so much less than He desires for us when we raise up a standard of holiness that is anything less than God Himself. We settle for so much less than He desires for us when we strive to attain holiness by any means other than His indwelling presence enabling us to live. No wonder Jesus said our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees.

“It’s not the law, and not the book, not the knowledge of what is right, that works obedience, but the personal influence of God and His living fellowship.” – Andrew Murray

Your Father knows how to give good things to His children. He longs to give good things to you! He craves the privilege of giving you great joy. He takes great delight in giving you great delight. He apparently has fun blessing us!

He really is. And He really is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

 

Losing Your Loss

I’m a survivor. I’m a cancer survivor, four and a half years and counting. I’m also a divorce survivor, not counting, but it was a long time ago. I’ve had a variety of jobs, some at which I was successful, some at which I failed, and some that more or less failed me. Looking back on my life, you could say I’m a stupidity survivor. Although I have made some good choices and I have made some really dumb/bad ones, too. There have been bad experiences I inflicted on myself, and some that were inflicted on me by others. And I’ve done some things right, and at times have been helped or blessed by others, sometimes totally unexpected and often undeserved. I have had my share of heartaches and tears.

 

Listen deeper to what Paul said, “…count all things lost for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” If you are looking at what you lost, mourning it and grieving over it, you are still valuing it. It is part of the “all things” in your life. Count that loss itself, the very experience of it, as loss, for the surpassing value of knowing Christ. Let your experiences, good or bad, gain or loss, all result in your receiving the greater benefit of knowing Him.

No, I’m not saying ignore or even stifle your emotions. I am not saying it is wrong or a sin to grieve over a loss. You will. You are human. You were created with emotions. God is not surprised or offended by your grief. He made you that way. Grieve over a lost loved one. Hurt when a business you invest your heart in fails. Be sad when a child rebels and makes wrong and hurtful choices. Feel your hurt.

At some point, let your hurt cause you to let go a little bit more of the temporary, transitory, tactile, time-bound things that make up this earthly existence. Cling to Him. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

ALL things in life – good or bad – anything that we just keep holding onto that interferes with our holding onto Him – we need to learn to let go. If we will learn to count both our gains and our losses to be loss for the surpassing value of knowing Him, nothing the enemy throws at us can have a lasting effect on us.

Hebrews 2:14 says that Jesus’ death on the cross rendered the devil “powerless.” That means literally “of no effect.” Of no effect is working all day on a task and accomplishing nothing. It would be like running your lawn mower over your yard, motor running, blade spinning, but not cutting any grass. More familiar to most of us, it is like working for a couple of hours, entering something on your computer and closing the program without ever saving your work. You did the work, but there were no results – effort without effect.

People make fun of Christians because they believe in God and say he heals. They ask, if He heals the sick, how come He never grows new arms or legs on an amputee. Now that would be a miracle! Well, in the first place, they would not believe if God brought someone back from the dead to tell them about Him, and He knows it. In the second place, and more pertinent to this blog post – it really isn’t about sick or amputee and healing or not. What it is about is Satan’s purpose is to interfere with man’s relationship with God – with your relationship with God. He does not cause sickness, broken relationships, wars, tsunamis, amputations, or anything else just for the sake of inflicting pain and suffering. It is to keep our attention firmly fixed on things we experience with the five sense. It is to make us look at temporal, earthly things, and keep our eyes off the eternal.

When our focus is on knowing Christ Jesus, and we count all things as loss anyway, even the things the enemy throws at us will result in our knowing Christ. It is the opposite of what he is trying to accomplish. Satan is made of no effect. The results he was seeking to accomplish never happen.

This is the crucified life in practical application. This is being crucified with Christ. Over time, I will share more on this – some insights that work together to help make this easier to accept and, as a result, at least a little easier to do. It really is easier said than done. A lot of this at this stage is foundational. Knowing Him definitely is a foundational principle for Christian living. It should be our top priority, and nothing else is of greater value.

The amazingly wonderful thing is: God is willing to be known by us. He “is.” He exists. And, He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Can you share an experience when you learned through pain or loss to know, trust and love God more?

God’s Competition


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God’s Competition

Trish and I have two beautiful Appaloosa horses. Rocky and Domino are intelligent, strong, and almost trained. It is not a good idea for people with little knowledge of horse training to take on training an untrained horse, much less two. We intended to work with them some when they were young, but to have them professionally trained. There have been so many things that have competed for our time and money, that so far, we have been the ones training them. We have had some help from friends. But their training has been far from consistent. Not long term anyhow. We would stay with it for months at a time. Then something would happen. Once, Domino got a cut on his leg running through the pasture at night – apparently from a tree limb that broke off during a thunderstorm that night. Another time Rocky was limping, apparently from a stone bruise. Then there was my bout with cancer. Winter always throws us off pace. It could be argued that if we were serious about it we would either find a way to be consistent, or we would find a way to hire a professional trainer.

But then, that’s true of about everything in life, isn’t it? We give time and attention to the things we really believe in, the things we consider truly important? Sometimes there are setbacks and delays, but we make it happen? We keep after it until we attain the goal?

Rocky and Domino

Rocky and Domino

This is totally from my heart. I need it. I hope it speaks to all who read it. It’s written to anyone with a heart to receive, including myself, my wife, my children and their spouses, my grandchildren. I honestly doubt most of them will even read this. As I write it, I am praying, and pleading.

God loves you. He loves you dearly, deeply, passionately. He longs for you to love Him with the same fervor. He is contending for the affection of His people. That’s you and me. Don’t you see?

Yeah, I know. You love God. So do I. But let’s be honest. When it comes to how we live out our lives, day by day, moment by moment, there are a lot of things we give our love to. There are a lot of things we “cherish” or value more than we do Him. We say we love Him with our lips. The way we live our lives, the things we do, the things we focus on, tell a different story.

And why not? Those things are tangible. We can see them with our eyes, hear them, taste them, smell them, touch them. Entertainment. Books. Food and drink. Jobs. Money. Education. Girl friends, boy friends, spouses, children…. They are all so . . . here. They bring us meaning and pleasure (usually). Even when they do not please us, they are at least a real world experience.

Paul spoke of “the surpassing value of knowing Him.” What we value, we spend time with. We treat it with respect and tenderness. What we value, we say nice things about (praise). What is worthy of being valued by you? What is more worthy of being valued by you than He is? All things are eclipsed by the surpassing value of God.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God must faith that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” First, believe (faith) that He is. That He exists. Then, believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. What greater reward is there for seeking than finding. He wants to be sought. He is willing to be found. He will make Him self known to the seeker. Seek Him and He will reward that effort.

We are talking about a God who has a song that He likes to sing about you. (see Zephaniah 3:17). He created you for fellowship with Himself. He desires that everything about your life be to the praise of the glory of His grace. He wants you to enjoy Him.

God is not trying to make you miserable and take all the pleasure out of your life. He is simply trying to help you realize that you are settling for some really meager pleasures offered by the world. He is offering you Himself. He is offering you the greatest pleasure and joy that can possibly be experienced. “In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”

What’s in Your Life Wallet?


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What’s in Your Life Wallet?

What do you have going for you? What things are in your favor? What can you lay claim to that give you a sense of status or importance?

I was born and raised in a Baptist, church-going family. I was a “good kid” – a leader in the church youth group, class chaplain through most of high school. I helped found a Christian service club at the school. I was “called to the ministry,” attended a Baptist college – majoring in Religion and minoring in Greek. I married a Baptist girl who said she was “called to be a pastor’s wife.” Great fit since I was going to be a pastor. In addition, she played piano, I played guitar and we sang and harmonized well together.

Paul described the things he had going for him in Philippians 3:1-11. He concluded: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ….”

 Wenera

My good name was gain to me.  So was the respect of my peers and loved ones. Serving the Lord “in the ministry” was gain to me. Knowing what I was going to do with my life was gain to me. Having a wife who shared that ministry was gain to me. So was going to seminary.

And, I pretty much lost it all. The marriage was a little stormy, mainly because she married me to get away from her alcoholic parents and “hoped the love part would come later.” After a few years, she decided she wanted out and left. (That’s the short version. Relationships are always more complicated than that.) At any rate, all those dreams, all those things I counted as “gain,” slipped through my fingers.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me…. and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). Over time, because He never let go of me, I realized that I had been clinging to all the trappings the world could offer a young man entering the ministry more than I was clinging to Him. Because He never let go, I learned that all those things I had been clinging to were temporal – including “the ministry.” (One hopes “ministry” will have eternal results, but the ministry career itself is temporal.)

Whatever you are clinging to: a job, a ministry, “the” ministry, your parents, your spouse, or children, or siblings, a house, a car, a pet, a possession, lots of possessions, money, or even your own life – let go. Fall into the Father’s arms. Nothing can snatch you from there. Cling to Him. Seek Him first and His righteousness, and everything else you need in life will be added back to you. Quit trying to get your needs met. Meet Him. Love Him. Seek Him. Know Him. Count all those things you have considered to be gain, or a benefit to yourself to possess, as loss.

Most of my life I have sought opportunities to minister. I have wondered how I “fit in” in church. I’m learning to let go of even that. I’m learning to just seek Him.

Have you had an experience that caused you to lose something you once thought was essential to success or meaning in your life? How are you dealing with that loss?

Is It Reasonable to Believe in God?


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Is It Reasonable to Believe in God?

I’m not sure where it’s coming from. It’s nothing new for a young person to reject their upbringing when he/she goes off to college. However, in the past, by my observation, young people would adopt a worldly lifestyle. Yet, they still considered themselves “Christian.” They would drop out of church. They might go at Christmas and Easter. It was rare that they would totally reject the existence of God.

campus

Now it seems that is not enough. Now, many young people not only reject the existence of God, they become aggressively vocal about it. Maybe it’s college and university professors who teach from an atheistic viewpoint. Maybe it’s the preponderance of atheist blogs and websites. Maybe it’s just the cultural environment.

At any rate, when I’ve referenced spiritual truth in conversation with several different atheists, they have generally asked something like: “Whose truth? Every religion claims to have the truth. So, what makes yours right?”

Although they generally prefer a “scientific” answer, with no reference to religion, they have just asked a religious question. Since you asked about spiritual truth and faith, I’m assuming that I can involve “religion” in the answer.

God is. Think about that (not what anyone has said about Him, positive or negative):

  • Think about Him
  • Think about the implications of one entity being God – creator of the universe, creator and life-giver to mankind.
  • Assuming such a Being exists, consider His character – primarily that He is perfect and holy. Yeah, I know we could ask, “what’s holy?” But, c’mon. Most people have a pretty good idea what that means whether they accept it as a description of God or not.
  • If God is, then there is no one and no thing greater than Him.
  • Such a God is worthy of our attention, dare I say even our devotion.

Just for a few minutes, honestly and sincerely and seriously consider what the implications would be if it is true that this Being truly exists.

Now, if you’ve taken a few minutes to consider Him, what is the absolute best thing He could do for you or give you. Would it not have to be Himself?

Hebrews 11 says, without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God must faith that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. He is. He exists. And He exists as God. And He is willing to be known. Seek Him, and your search will be rewarded.

The Old Covenant was a covenant of law. The real point was here’s a standard. You cannot possibly live up to it in your own strength. Some of the OT characters came to God on the basis of faith, but many never did. The point of the New Covenant is that God by His grace made a way for mankind to experience righteousness and abide in His presence. It’s by grace through faith, not by law or works.

In my studies of comparative religions, here’s what I’ve found.

  • I’ve not found any besides Christianity and Judaism, and perhaps Islam, that worships God – God only – God as God.
  • The god, even the highest form of deity, of all others is something that God created – usually the sun, the moon, a river, or some mythical explanation of the seasons, etc.
  • Some may have an “unknown god” as the Athenians did – some god who is above all others. Even though they acknowledge this great spirit, their religion still revolves around worship of the creation.
  • In the case of atheism, it’s generally either man (humanism) or mother earth (environmentalism).
  • Of all religions, only Christianity offers a relationship with God based entirely on faith in the finished work of the Redeemer.
  • All others, even Judaism, try to please or appease God or their gods, through laws and/or rites, rituals and liturgy. Sadly, many Christians live this way, too.


Does that mean Christians can throw out the Law and live anyway they please? No, it means there is nothing greater than God. Why settle for less? Why settle for the things the world offers? Christianity is about knowing Him, growing into a deeper, richer, more meaningful relationship with Him. This isn’t done by rituals. It isn’t done by following a set of rules or laws. Whether you derive your lists of rules from the Old Testament or the New,  it’s still law, it’s not grace. You are separating yourself from grace and rendering yourself of no effect (see Galatians 5:4).

If you have you walked away from your faith in Christ: What experience served as a catalyst for that decision? Were you abused by someone within the church? Did the teachings of science cause you to doubt? Did scripture just never make sense?
If you are still actively following the Lord: Have you had conversations with those who have rejected Christianity? What insights do you have for how to converse with them? How do you respond to someone who only wants to accept “scientific evidence?”

The Love Shop?


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The Love Shop?

A young lady came in and stopped in front of a display near the entrance. In the middle of a grouping of plaques, Psalm 23, was printed in elegant calligraphy on pale green parchment-style paper, with a beautiful, ornate frame. She stood there several minutes, then left. She returned a few minutes later, and stood there again for several minutes. I walked over to offer to help, and noticed her wipe away some tears. I asked if there was anything I could do to help. She turned her face toward me. She was stunningly beautiful, in spite of a long scar down her right cheek. With evident sorrow in her voice, she simply said, “no.” She stood before the Psalm for another minute or so, then left.

LoveShop

Then there was the young man who applied for a job (I’ll call him Joe). As I interviewed him, I pointed out that we sometimes had people who came in wanting to talk about the Lord. Sometimes they had questions. Sometimes they sought advice on a Bible. I asked if he felt he could answer those questions. He began asking questions himself. Before the interview was over, he had asked Jesus into his heart.

Dave (not his real name) was a teenager from Chicago. He was staying with his cousins. They attended the same church we did. Trish and I were working with the youth, and had met him there. Dave had a lot of hurts covered by a pretty tough shell. He came into the store one day and was looking through the records. [If you’re not familiar with records, they’re kind of like prehistoric cds.] He said, “There’s no Christian rock music that sounds as good as the stuff I listen to.” I gave him an album by the group “Resurrection Band” and challenged him to give it a listen.

I left that store for another job within the Love Shop company. A couple of years later I bought that store and another. Shortly after returning, Joe’s parents came in. His mom said, “I’m so glad you’re back. I want to thank you for leading Joe to the Lord. He was so different after that. His attitude changed, his behavior changed. Now he’s in Bible college preparing for the ministry.”

Then she added, “Oh, and you remember Dave? Shortly after you gave him that record, he got word his dad had committed suicide. He was going to have to move. He was cleaning out his closet and found that album on the floor, unopened. He took it out and listened to it. One particular song really caught him and he listened to it over and over. Then he asked Jesus into his heart, and now he’s going to Bible college and is going to be a medical missionary!”

The Love Shop chain was purchased by a group of investors in Ft. Worth. I was working in the corporate office when my boss told me the franchisees wanted to sell the store I had managed. He asked if I’d be interested. You bet I would. We looked into it. We looked at the financial statements. The stores showed a profit. I was young and naive. I didn’t know you could show a profit on paper, and still be totally insolvent. The corporate accountant for the home office told me, “If anyone can make them work, you can.” Turned out, no one could. We bought them by assuming the previous franchisee’s debt, and watched them crumble around us over the next 14 months.

I was pretty much crushed.

I had invested over five years into a concept I really believed in. In addition, I had visions of owning several Love Shops. I was going to be making enough money to start a ministry to street people – addicts and prostitutes. There were lots of street ministries around, leading people to the Lord. But no one was discipling them. The churches either didn’t know what to do with them, or didn’t want anything to do with them. We would give them a safe place to live away from the streets, pimps, and connections. We would provide discipleship, counseling, milieu therapy, job training.

When our world is shaken and everything we hold to crumbles, the eternal still stands. Click To Tweet

This was a tough one to bounce back from. It was a few years after my divorce. Trish & I were married and had three children. I took a job as janitor at our church, and proceeded to rethink my life. This was the season when I’d drive down the road, see a dip sign, and felt like it was announcing my presence. It was also a season of soul searching, Bible study, and prayer. It was the beginning of my understanding that when our world is shaken, and everything we are holding onto crumbles, the eternal still stands. There is always One who never leaves us or forsakes us. He is faithful.

Has there been a time in your life when your hopes and dreams turned to ashes and slipped away? What happened? How did you recover? Have you recovered?