Advent 2 – Run – Do Not Walk – To Him

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Where does one begin to talk about Who God is?  He is immense beyond compare to anything else.  We have no earthly frame of reference to describe His greatness, no holy example of reverence to compare His righteousness.  The Lord is great beyond mere words.

What amazes me – as if there is only one aspect of God that amazes me – is the fact that He is approachable.  Not only is it possible to have a relationship with the Lord, it is expected.

So many times, we feel inadequate to the task, unworthy of God’s time or energy.  And, honestly, we are unworthy.  Undeserving.

Thankfully, God does not give us what we deserve.  He loves us.  He cares for us.  He has a plan for each of us.

We were created as relational beings, made to have relationships with one another and with God.  Can you imagine how it must have felt for Adam and Eve in the garden?  They walked with God.  Or, rather, God walked with them.

They were safe.

They were content.

They had an intimate relationship with the Creator.

They were free from worry and doubt and death.

That is until…

All they had to do was keep their gaze fixed on God and not give in to temptation.  It is somewhat like Peter stepping out of the boat to walk on the water to get to Jesus.  Now, I realize this analogy is a bit of a stretch, but stick with me.

Peter was fine as long as he kept His eyes on Christ.  He was doing the impossible.  He was walking on water. And not just any water.  There was a storm raging on that lake!  Swells, waves, rain, wind, thunder, lightning…

Despite the threat of death, Peter was fine.

Until…

Adam and Eve weren’t facing a storm.  Theirs was a perfect existence.  There was no threat of death.  Indeed there was no death.

Until…

What Adam, Eve and Peter all reveal is humanity’s Achilles heel.  Our greatest weakness.  Our biggest pitfall.

We stink at obedience.  We fail to recognize God.

Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent with “Surely you will not die.”  Peter was tempted as well, with “Surely you will die.”  And, when tripped by temptation, what happened in both cases?

God came in and saved.

By rights, the Lord could have just wiped mankind out when Adam and Eve gave in to the serpent and introduced sin to the world.  Imagine how they must have felt… locked out of the garden, life shortened and filled with toil and pain and all the horrific details that sin introduces.  They knew perfection.

They had perfection.

And, in their all-too-human arrogance, they blew it.

Still, God loved them.  He did not utterly abandon them.  Nor did He leave Peter to drown in the stormy sea.  Jesus – our Savior – plucked the disciple from the water and brought him safely to the boat.

Perhaps the worst thing Adam and Eve lost was intimacy with God.  Sin put a wedge between us and Him.  But, with Jesus – God Incarnate – we have the intimacy of true relationship restored.

Understand there is a difference.  Unlike the perfection of Eden, we are surrounded by a sinful world.  Approaching God, building a relationship with Him, requires effort on our part, and faith.  But we are promised: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:7-8a, ESV). 

Jesus walked on this earth not as some mere wise man or yogi or what have you.  He was fully man and fully God.  And He built relationships with people.  Intimate, close bonds.

And He still does.

The bond we have with God through Jesus Christ is the surest bond there is.  We cannot sin so big that He cannot forgive us.  We cannot slip so far or so fast that we slip out of His eternal grasp.  Like the Prodigal Son, we may run away from our Father.  But, even if we reek of pig sty and ick, we can always be assured that, leaving all the sinful past behind us, we can run back to our Father and know He loves us, know He will not reject us, know we are welcome back into His arms.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 (ESV)

God is amazingly, completely approachable – available at any time, day or night.  Even on weekends.  Go to Him in prayer.  So vital is prayer that Paul instructs us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  In other words, keep the line of communication with the Lord open at all times.

When we mess up, we run to Him.  When we have a need, we run to Him. He is our sure shield and protection.

But, God is so much more than that.  He is our loving, heavenly Father Who has made a way for us to have an intimate relationship.  Seek Him first and foremost, with thanksgiving for all He is.  Make a habit of spending time with the Lord in His Word and prayer.  Come to the Lord, for He is good.  Lay down your heavy burden and find rest for your weary soul in Him.

 

 

 

 

Advent 1 – Boy, Has He Got Some News For Us!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 (ESV)

Brennan Manning used to tell a joke about two Jewish men and a rabbi.  The first Jewish man walked into temple one day looking distraught.  He walked up to the second man and said, low and sad, “A terrible thing has happened.  My son has become a Christian!”

The second Jew grabbed the first by the arm.  Leaning in close, he said quietly, “Boy, have I got some news for you!  My son is also a Christian.”

“This is awful!” exclaimed the first man.  “Come – we need to talk to the rabbi about this.”

So the two Jewish gentlemen approached the rabbi.  “Teacher, we need your advice.  Our sons have become Christians.”  The rabbi was alarmed.  “Follow me.”

The three men hurried off to the rabbi’s office and closed the door.  Leaning in close to the two men, the rabbi said, “Boy, have I got some news for you!  My son is a Christian as well!  Come, let’s pray to our Lord God and seek His direction on this.”

The three men knelt before God and earnestly prayed about their sons’ conversion to Christianity.  Suddenly from above, they heard the loud, booming voice of the Lord: “Boys, have I got some news for you!…”

Selah.

Advent begins today.  From now until Christmas, we wait for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Not only that, we wait also with great anticipation the return of our Lord Jesus.  It is a time to seek the Lord, to draw near to God knowing He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

Why is it so important to draw near to God?  It is only through Him that we have life in the first place.  He is our creator, our sustainer, our source of all we need.

And, as anyone who has seen a crowd shot on a televised sporting event knows, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

It is ever so amazing that the God of the Universe – the One Who hung the stars and created the heavens and earth and all that live upon it; the One Who formed man from dirt and breathed life into our nostrils; the One Who is three – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – Who were all there at creation (as they always have been); this One True God Who is above all, including our frail abilities to fully grasp Him in His entirety, is also Our Loving Father Who is approachable.

Approachable.

We can go to Him.  We can talk to Him.  Anytime.  Anywhere.

We can have a relationship with Him.  We can trust Him.  We need to trust Him.

And you cannot truly trust a stranger.

The better we know God, the more we love Him, the more we trust Him, the more we grow in Him.

Over the next weeks, we’re going to get to know God better.  We’re going to see what He has to say and learn to trust Him more.

I hope you come along on the advent journey with me because, boy, has He got some news for you!

Forget That Little Gray Cloud – A Plea for Understanding and a Simple Hug

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

I have to chuckle at some the medicine ads on TV.  In particular, the ant-depressant drug commercials with the little, sad-faced, bummed out cloud that follows behind his depressed victim like a sad, floating basset hound.

Anyone with depression or anxiety will immediately recognize the inaccuracy of this illustration.  These feelings don’t trail benignly behind us.   They surround us, envelope us, blind us.  People dealing with anxiety and / or depression can have a hard time regaining our bearings because we can’t see through the thick fog around us.

I am writing this today for a few reasons.  If you suffer from anxiety, depression, etc… I want to bring you hope in Christ.  Know that you are reading words from a follower of Jesus who is walking this lonely path the same as you.  It is my heart to reach out to you with comfort and joy, hope and peace, a cup of cold water.  Know you are loved deeply.  Know you are not alone.  Know you are in His good hands, whether you feel it or not.

If you do not suffer from anxiety, depression, etc… I want to bring you hope in Christ as well.  We who carry this particular thorn in our sides know it can be difficult for you to understand where we are.

Trust me.  We know.

The lack of understanding of what we’re facing is painfully obvious.  The reactions are astounding.  They range from “where is your faith?” to “look at what so and so is going through.  Your life is good, what is your problem?”

Let me dispel some misunderstandings within the church about anxiety and depression, and help you to help those in need of comfort.

1. Not all anxiety and depression is caused by sin

Yes, sin will cause one to be anxious and depressed.  Guilt can be a wrenching emotion.  But, just because a fellow believer is dealing with anxiety and depression, do not automatically assume they are facing / masking some hidden sin or moral failing.

2. Judge not.

There are a lot of causes of anxiety and depression.  Lack of serotonin in the brain will do it.  Diabetics are particularly prone to depression.  A significant loss or life change can do it – even months afterward.  Stress is possibly the biggest factor in anxiety today.  One’s brain can only take so much stress and non-stop go-go-go before it gets tired and burnt out and can’t put two thoughts together.

Even if one’s anxiety and depression is the result of sin, Jesus forgives all who come to Him in repentance.  And that is a level playing field we all are on.  We all need Jesus, for more reasons and in more ways than anyone could possibly count.

3. Compassion and Empathy – Love in Action

Please understand how lonely depression and anxiety can be.  Fears and worries that people normally experience are only compounded and inflated in the minds of those of us who deal with anxiety and depression.

What we need is someone who can understand what we’re going through.  Someone who will help love us through the fears and doubts and anxious thoughts that tear through our minds and souls.

And, often times, it is what people do that is the greatest help.

It is amazing how some people can fear silence.  We feel like we should say something, and we do.

Without much forethought.

Please understand that our feelings of isolation and loneliness are only compounded when confronted with questions of “where is your faith?” or “what is wrong with you?”  For people who suffer from these disorders, it’s like telling someone with cancer to “get over it”.

We understand such reactions aren’t borne from meanness or cruelty, but basic misunderstanding.  If you’ve never experienced the physical pain of a panic attack (yes, it can feel just like a jolt of electricity running through your body), then it’s hard to understand what we face.  Unless you’ve been through the agony of anxiety so acute that you become anxious about being anxious, you can’t comprehend fear that deep.  Until you go through the dark valley of depression – not just having the blues but the exhausting drain of joy in your life repeated day after day after day after day… – you have no frame of reference for how it feels.

Please don’t feel like you need to fix us.  Please don’t think you need to fill the room with words.

Understand what we need could be something as simple as a hug.  A deep, loving, brotherly / sisterly hug.  We need to know we are not alone.  We need kindness and understanding.  We need to know everything is not going to be okay, but is okay.

We know how irrational our thoughts and fears can be.  We know 90% (or whatever figure you come up with) of the things we worry about never come to fruition.

Please understand we do not wish to come across as clingy or needy.  But we need a 3am friend – that person we can call day or night when we need someone to talk to.  We need someone to help pull our gaze outward and out of the swirl of fearful and defeating thoughts and worries and doubts.

We need to be reminded that God loves us, even if we can’t see or feel Him because, frankly, when the negative emotions are in high gear, it is easy to not be able to see God.  We need to be reminded that we are not falling apart.  But, mostly, we need to know that you – the body of Christ – recognize that we are a fellow member of the same body as you and we need your help, your love, your support.

We need to know we are loved and secure.

But… really, if you stop and think about it, don’t we all?

 

 

Proven Trust in Perfect Love

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39 (ESV)

We are called to love one another.  There are a lot of components to love: affection, selflessness, honor… One of the biggest components to true, honest love is trust.

There’s just one problem: we are all human.

Flawed.

Frail.

Fractured.

Failed.

And that means, at some point and time, somebody you love has – or will – let you down.  Disappoint you.  Break trust.

And if that trust is broken hard enough, it can leave us shaken and unsure.  Repeat that broken trust from one or several other people in our lives and one can easily become weary, leery, jaded, even downright caustic when it comes to trusting another person again.

When we’ve been hurt by others and live with “trust issues”, we tend to project that pain onto other relationships as well.  Will this person hurt me too?  How can I trust anyone again after what I went through?  We (try to) protect ourselves by building walls against any intruder who may potentially hurt us.

Unfortunately, we sometimes project our inability to trust on God as well.  It can be difficult to place our full trust in the Lord, to take Him at His Word.  After all, we took someone else at their word and look where it got us – let down, hurt, spirit crushed…

Understand this: the love of God is like no love on earth.  We humans are incapable of love in and of ourselves.  Especially to the depths of God’s love.  Unlike people, God does not merely love us.  God is love.

Love is the very essence of Who God is.  Now, that is an overly simplistic statement.  God is far more multidimensional than that.  But, consider this: can an orange be a banana?  Can a parking meter be a tree?  Can a conservative vote for Hillary Clinton?  (Sorry… definitely not making any political statements, just trying to humorously illustrate a point…)

The love of God for each of His children is perfect, because God is perfect.  And God is love.  It is His very being.  He cannot not love.

And we are talking about God here, folks.  Not some weak, milquetoast deity who is soft as marshmallow.  No softy could endure what Jesus Christ endured on the cross for us.

For you.

The love of God is whole, complete and unshakable.  He is our firm foundation.  He is our strength and our guide.  On Him we can place our full faith and trust.  In Him we have all we need.  Even when we face painful situations, we are not alone.  The Lord is with us, every step of the way.  His love endures forever.

It’s why He does all He does for us.

Whatever it is that is keeping you from running to God with arms open wide, please put it down.  Cast it off.  Knock down the wall of doubt and trust in the Lord wholeheartedly.  Decide in faith right now that, although people have let you down, God is not a person.  He is faithful, even when we are not.  He is trustworthy.  “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19, ESV).

And God proved His love and trustworthiness for you on the cross.

4  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

 

Some Days We Just Need To Hear It… and That’s Fine

I need to remember to quit asking people how they are doing.

Why?

Because it opens the door to a one-word answer (which is sometimes a one-word lie): Fine.

It is okay to not be okay.  Nobody’s life is so perfect and wonderful that they have no problems, no struggles, no issues to deal with.

Weakness makes us real.  Weakness is the point where God comes in and provides the needed strength to carry on.

Weakness is real.  And when we deny our weakness, we deny our need for Christ.

Don’t do that.  Be real.  Admit what you’re dealing with and shine the light of Christ on those around you.  Let them see you are hurting and vulnerable, but the strength of the Lord keeps you keeping on.

Rejoice in weakness!  Don’t hide it.  Let others see God working in you, transforming you in ways no one could ever imagine.

Remember that you are loved by Almighty God.

Remember that you are the recipient of magnificent grace from your Loving Heavenly Father.

Remember that you have been saved and forgiven and cleansed and made righteous by the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Remember that you are here to be salt and light to others, not to worry about anything but seek God first and foremost above all things.

Remember that you are not alone.

Remember that you are in His hands always – never abandoned, never forgotten.

Remember that Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  To which Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10, ESV)

Remember that it’s okay to not be okay.  We are all weak.  We all need Jesus.  And He is with us always, which makes our not being okay, okay.

Okay?

From the Bouville Archives: No Appointment Necessary – Bold Grace and Mercy

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

The grace of God is an amazing gift to behold.  You cannot earn it.  It is a gift – a gift from an infinitely loving and compassionate Father Who understands what each of us is facing at any and every single moment.

In faith, we have the ability to go to God and talk to Him at any time.  He is always with us.  He never abandons us.  And, not only can we go to the Lord, we can go confidently – or, as the King James Bible puts it, boldly.  It means we can be open and candid with our Heavenly Father.  We can speak with Him with the assurance that He hears us and understands our hearts and needs far more than we do.

Think about it: when we sin, what is our first instinct?  It is akin to Adam and Eve when they discovered they were naked – hide from God.  That is the voice of shame.  That is the misplaced thought that we cannot to go to the Lord to seek forgiveness and mercy.

Now, don’t misunderstand me.  We do not deserve forgiveness and mercy.  Sin is what got us into this relationship mess with God in the first place.  But God, being Love Himself, made a way for us to come to Him once more, able to confess our sins and repent.

Likewise, there are a lot of things that keep us from boldly going to the Lord.  Worry, doubt, busyness, low self-esteem, misunderstanding Who God is, legalistic beliefs, impatience… these can all build a barrier between us and the Lord.

But the truth of the matter is that we – God’s children – can approach the Lord at any time, day or night, no appointment necessary.  We can tell Him what is bothering us.  We can seek His peace.  We can ask Him for His help.  Even if you have no idea what to say or where to begin, just cry out “Help!”  He will hear you.  And He already knows what you need before you even take in a breath to speak.

And we can trust that He is Who He says He is, and will do all He says He will.  Not only that, the Lord will act in just the right way, at just the right time.  A literal translation of Hebrews 4:16 may read, “Approach God on His throne with great confidence and faith and boldness, that you may receive His compassion and His unmerited favor to throw you a lifeline at just the right time when you are in need.”

Place your faith firmly in Jesus Christ.  Know that who you were before is no longer who you are.  You have been forgiven – your sin record expunged.  Know that He loves you.  Know that He is real, and His promises are true.  And go to Him expecting nothing but God.  He is all you need.

7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)