Seeking Treasure in the Trouble

We don’t always get what we want. Our prayers are not equivalent to lottery tickets. God tells us that in this world we are going to have trouble. So bad things happen to good people. Not because God is doing bad things to people, but because He loves people enough to let them make choices and there are cascading consequences in a fallen world. The hard things can be good things.

In the Social Media age, the good news and big smiles are on display as we put our virtual best foot forward. Comparison between our trouble and other people’s smiles can feed frustration in the wake of problems. If we choose to evaluate our situation, consequences, problems, trouble, God, etc. in such a shallow manner, we will miss it.

We’ll miss the treasure available in the deep dive. The good stuff is often in the middle of the hard stuff. When our efforts and desires leave us disappointed and out of options, we can tap into more. We can tap into eternity.

The happiness that comes from good things is insignificant compared to the joy that is eternally available despite bad things. The peace that we can know exceeds our understanding and affirms God’s goodness when we choose to be thankful where we would otherwise be anxious.

Whether or not 2017 was your best year ever, there is a depth that is available even as you reflect. Ask God to show Himself in circumstances where you didn’t realize Him. Ask Him to comfort your soul and connect the dots of understanding in the wake of otherwise unsatisfying experiences. Press into Him and wait; He is faithful and He is good.

There is always more in Him and the trials that we face affirm us as much as they do Him. He tells us that we can inherit eternal treasures and share in His glory if we will choose to share in his sufferings (Romans 8:17). Bad things happen, so we can either choose to invite Him into the middle of those things seeking His glory and our inheritance or we can form some bad theology around our shallow expectations.

Concession is Not Belief

Our culture and traditions can lead us to believe things that aren’t true. We are conditioned by our surroundings and our surroundings can suggest we are entitled. We can believe, from our culture, traditions and surroundings, that we believe when we actually don’t.

Belief is more than acclimation. Belief is transformation. Belief will be evident in our exclamation.

1 John 4:15 tells us, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.” Honestly, that seems pretty easy; just acknowledge and you are good to go. That bar seems so low that heaven will most certainly be overcrowded.

The idea that shows up as “acknowledges” in that verse may mean more than we think, however. That word can mean, “to agree with” and it can even mean “to concede.” Wow . . . is it possible that John was writing that if we’ll simply concede that Jesus is the Son of God, we are then God carriers? We are born again by concession? Concession is about the same as, “I give up; you win,” so the conceder can move on to another subject. I don’t think so.

Other meanings for that word include “to profess,” as in to profess yourself as a worshipper. Finally, that word by definition, can mean “to praise, celebrate.” Now we are on to something.

When our acknowledgement is more than a concussion, but a profession as a worshipper who praises and celebrates Jesus as the Son of God, then there is evidence that God lives in us and us in Him. That is evidence of new birth by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus.

Cultural Christianity where church attendance and polite concession is not evidence of our belief. Sold out, all in, life changing celebration, praise and worship of Jesus as Son of God is.

We can get fooled into thinking that we are Jesus followers by our suburban insulation and Sunday morning habits. In some ways, those that are in the depths of depravity are better off in that they cannot be fooled into believing they believe. Maybe that’s why God loves us so much that He tells us in Revelation 3:16 that we should either be hot or cold, but lukewarm will get us spit out. Hot is praising, worshipping and celebrating Jesus as the Son of God, cold isn’t self-deceived into thinking they might concede and lukewarm is an aberrant alternative that is deadly in its compromise.

We Don’t Get It Until We Live It

The depths of grace never cease to amaze me. Just when I think I see it that much more clearly, I’m situated to walk in it and realize my view is so limited. My accumulation of knowledge regarding grace has not yet perfected my understanding and acceptance of grace. My actions and reactions in the circumstances I experience prove that there is more.

I had a friend tell me recently that he was going through a challenging legal battle a few years ago and was called to testify in a deposition. He would face unjust accusations. His preparation wasn’t a review of the facts, it was alignment with grace. He watched a scene from “The Passion of the Christ” in which Jesus was accused. He watched it over and over for several hours. The example portrayed which Jesus set before us of what grace lived out looks like was brutal. It was Him standing in the face of completely unjust accusation and not defending Himself. With all the defense in the universe available at His command, He stood in the truth of His identity. His identity was the foundation for His freedom. He knew who He was and who His Father was.

When rooted in the security of identity, there is nothing anyone can do to us that draws a defense. They can spit in our face, call us names, get their facts wrong or whatever else but the freedom born of security rooted in identity frees us from the need to respond. That’s grace and there is no fully knowing it until the spit, accusations, and questions come. Even when we are right. Especially when we are right.

I’m just not there. Not completely. I want to be. I’m trying. Yet, not yet.

Sometimes, for some time, I can hold back when the defense or counter-argument is sitting there for the taking. Sometimes, however, I pick up my tool belt and go to work. When I was practicing law, that was good and right. As I am diving deeper into grace, that kind of work produces a loss even when I win.

My friend knew the story of Jesus before he watched the movie that day before his deposition. He knew Jesus personally as Lord and Savior, as well. The experience of picking up his own cross and following Jesus in a way that afforded him the experience of grace is what changed his soul. The experience of grace facilitated the understanding of the knowledge of grace which was incomplete without the exercise of grace.

 

Boldly Pursuing Encounter

A few years ago I was the men’s pastor at Northwood Church and had the incredible experience of working with the men there to create a men’s program we called “Bold.” The response was powerful, not because we put together a great program, but because we facilitated an environment where men could come to realize the presence of God. Until and unless there was that realization, nothing changed. Once there was that realization, however, everything changed.

We would take breaks during the summer or over holidays and men would return to our next gathering following the break with a tangible anticipation for what was about to happen. I started to notice that the environment on those nights where we were returning from being away for a while were particularly charged with what seemed to be the manifest presence of God.

In some church circles, there is a phrase to describe those times where He is particularly noticeable. People will say, “God showed up,” to indicate a powerful time of encounter from which people are moved. The problem is that the same churches correctly teach that God is omnipresent; not dependent on time or space to be there. He was already there before the worship service and will be there afterwards, as well.

The difference, I believe, as we saw with the men returning to Bold was the hearts of those that were pursuing Him. When those men showed up expecting to encounter Him, the community of hearts was positioned to recognize Him. He was always there, but the collective posture of expectation and desire opened the window between the natural and supernatural. The supernatural is constant; it’s the natural that struggles to break through.

Church buildings and worship services don’t tend to the presence of God; that is the Mosaic temple where God lived in a box. God doesn’t live in a box; He lives in hearts. When there is a gathering and critical mass of the hearts present seek Him with an earnest desire to break through the restraint of the natural for a glimpse into the supernatural, God “shows up” to a place where He already was. The feeling that God showed up is the agreement of hearts in their pursuit of God and His faithfulness to reveal Himself to them.

When you go to some form of church gathering or faith-based pursuit, consider the invitation. Seek Him in a way that exceeds your understanding and breaks through to connect spirit to Spirit. If enough people in the room agree in that pursuit, the corporate encounter will, in fact, be a transformative experience of dwelling in the presence of God as hearts agree and see.

Giving Up to Gain and Gaining Abundantly

A friend of mine is a missionary in Guatemala for the past twenty years. He has been instrumental in the development and transformation of a remote area that otherwise would remain primitive. With multiple projects going at any given time including assisting with medical, educational, hygiene and other basic needs, he has helped the locals start a viable chile/salsa business. They export their product as a source of income as well as purpose.

He and I were talking recently and his conviction is that there is nothing of any significance in Guatemala or anywhere else that he has ever been able to accomplish. The conditions and challenges they have been presented with leave him completely dependent on God. The more they are called to, the greater the challenge and the greater the challenge, the smaller he gets. He has discovered with great certainty that God’s favor comes where it is the only hope for success, if not survival.

The more that he gives way, the more clearly the way that is made becomes visible. Striving, worrying or controlling produce nothing but frustration while prayer, release and faith allow for multiplication. Their conditions demand respect of the harshness of an environment that is literally life threatening and the life that is given as a result is deep and rich, even when difficult.

If everything in our lives is under control and manageable, we likely are missing the potential and capacity for life to the fullest. Jesus came to restore everything that was lost with the promise of abundant life (John 10:10). The abundance of life is in the depth of dependence. Where we will allow, He will multiply within us and transform our capacity to recognize, appreciate and further depend on Him for multiplication around us.

The Kingdom of God contains the greatest adventures life has to offer. Vacations, excursions, expeditions or other attempts to simulate the adventures of a life given over to the King pale in significance to the depth that is available in Him. There is nothing mundane, domestic, religious or safe about heaven colliding with earth. If your taste or perception of Christianity lacks the flavor of the Kingdom, the possibility is that you’ve accepted an incomplete or inaccurate version of the Gospel.

Where you are willing to risk the benefits of control for the depth of living, the exchange will be intimidating, exciting, fun and terrifying all at the same time. Where you will give up, He will increase in every way; starting within.

 

Just When You Think You Have It Figured Out, It’s Time to Take Another Look

Traditions are a cheap substitute for the possibilities of Truth. When we add our preferences one on top of the other and then pass them along to others, we do so at the expense of divine connection. Thankfully, when we think we have it figured out, the puzzle will get scrambled.

We are in what’s called a “post denominational” expression of the Christian church. It means that people who go to church do so because they are interested in Jesus, not the practices of a particular institution. They seek the Kingdom of God, not the organization of man who is at least one step removed from that Kingdom. It aligns perfectly with the announcement of Jesus in Luke 4:43 when He said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

Foretelling of this time of the Kingdom, the prophet Isaiah wrote  “These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish,
the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (v. 13-14)

When we think we have God figured out, we will try to master our perceived understanding by the creation of a rule, process, ceremony or program. That’s what religion does. We take what is living and active and attempt to harness it for the purpose of mastery, which simplifies the mysterious. We sacrifice the breath of God for a previous whisper which was turned into a doctrine of man.

The wisdom of the wise is only wise by comparison to the unwise. It’s foolishness to the infinity of God. The intelligence of the intelligent is only deemed so compared to others who make the same attempt at what is ultimately folly. Childlike faith overtakes cerebral mastery.

Look again at what Isaiah wrote. When we worship God based on our own creations of rules or traditions, He will astound us with His wonder. A fraction of understanding is overcome by a glimpse of His wonder. The glory of God is revealed in pursuit of the relationship. For the sake of His glory, put aside the things you think you know today and sit down beside Him. He’ll give you a fresh glimpse at the wonder of the One Who Is. Invite Him to astound you.