Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hard to See

When I was a kid Magic Eye 3D puzzles were very popular. In case you don't remember them, they were crazy images like the one above. If you cross your eyes just the right way a three dimensional image appears from within the pattern. (I found this picture on the following website which was also helpful in reminding me how to do it:

I was reminded of these puzzles as I thought about hard it can be to really understand what is going on in the world. Scripture bears this out in a number of different ways. 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the truth of the gospel or understand who Christ really is. Jesus Himself spoke about people having ears to hear and eyes to see. He said that people could watch Him perform miracles but not really perceive who He was. They could listening to his teaching but never understand their true meaning (Matthew 13:13-16).

Have you ever experienced something like this? Do you ever read your Bible and come up empty? I know I do. Because of the sin in our world and in our hearts it is often hard to see and understand spiritual truths. Sometimes it is hard to understand the Bible. It can be hard to understand who God is and why He allows some of the things He does. To see the truth we have to look at things the right way. We need to quit relying on ourselves to figure everything out and turn to God for help.

So today before you sit down to read your Bible, stop and ask God to help you understand. Ask God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Ask Him to help you understand who He is and to see the wisdom in His dealings with the world. And pray for your lost friends that God would open their minds to see the light of the gospel in Jesus.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I Lack Peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

Lately, I have a hard time sitting still. At any given moment I feel that there are ten really important things I should be doing. Even when I am holding my two month old son I feel the need to free up one of my hands so I can be "productive." I'll hold James in one arm and put away toys with the other. Or I'll tell my daughter, "I will read that book to you when I am through loading the dishwasher, sweetheart." But when I'm done with the dishwasher, I have to fight the urge to move on to the next thing. 

In other words...I lack peace. 

It's difficult for me to admit that this isn't because I have a "Type A" personality or because I am such a hard worker or even because I am busier than you are. Nope. I lack peace and I feel the need to run myself ragged because I am anxious. And I am anxious because of a lack of prayer.

I look at the demands of my ministry and the needs of my family and I realize that there isn't enough Lance to go around. I rightly assess that I am not equal to the task. The problem is my response to this realization. I ought to respond in faith by lifting this up to the Lord in prayer. I ought to turn to God in prayer and ask for help. If I would present my requests to God then I would be filled with the peace of God that transcends all understanding just like Philippians 4:6-7 says. 

But my natural response to anxiety isn't prayer. It's to WORK HARDER. To gut it out. To find a way to get it all done. Often this means that I push relationships to the fringes of my life and develop an unhealthy focus on increasing my efficiency. This has led me to be short with the people I love and to miss important opportunities for ministry. 

The funny thing is that I actually thought all of this hard work was pleasing to God. I thought I was working for God. In reality, I was working against God's will for my life. Instead of taking my problems to God for help, I was trying to solve them all by myself. I had made myself into an idol of sorts. I would solve my own problems. You've probably heard the saying, "Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God." I have never liked that saying. I think we should work and pray like it depends on God. Yet, here I am working like it depends on me and not praying about it hardly at all!

I didn't mean to do any of this. I got overwhelmed and started to worry. I began feeling self-conscious that I wasn't enough and I determined to do all that I could to make it work. Sadly I forgot that I was completely powerless to accomplish anything apart from God. I forgot that when I am weak, then I am really strong because God's power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). I forgot that no moment has ever been wasted when it was spent in prayer asking God to solve our problems.

Listen, there's nothing wrong with multi-tasking or hard work. In fact, I believe that God expects His children to be diligent workers. But let us work from faith, not anxiety. Let's embrace the truth that our problems are bigger than we are, and then let's lay those problems at the feet of an almighty God who dwarfs them in size (Matt. 11:28-30). So don't be anxious about anything, but simply present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Big God

Nothing in this world makes my problems look smaller quicker than thinking about the greatness of God. When my gaze is lifted off the things of this world and I consider who He is, I am reminded of just how big God is. Compared to His greatness, my biggest problems are small potatoes. 

Recently this has brought me great comfort. I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated in life. I had been spending too much time contemplating the enormity of my "to do" list and not nearly enough time contemplating the enormity of God. My perspective had gotten locked in on the mundane frustrations of this world. I had become consumed by my need to succeed. I failed to see the glory of God all around me in creation, crying out for me to lift my eyes. I was locked in a very unhappy way of living. But when I dedicated myself to return to Bible study and prayer, God did a wonderful thing. He revealed Himself to me again through His Word and through prayer, and once again I was amazed at how big and wonderful God is. How could I have forgotten for all this time!?

Perhaps you are locked in a small way of thinking today too? Here are some passages of Scripture designed to lift your gaze and place it back on God.

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, you his servants; praise the name of the Lord. Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 113)

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever— he issued a decree that will never pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 148)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Dirty Floss and Polluted Garments

When it comes to cleaning, almost all married couples are "unequally yoked." There's usually one spouse who stands out as the messier of the two and one who is inevitably called the "neat freak." I am the latter.

One thing in particular that I do drives my wife crazy. I talk incessantly about cross-contamination. In part it comes from my time working as a short order cook. Stacy has listened to me talk about cross-contamination as it relates to food preparation, diaper changing, taking out the trash...a whole host of scenarios really. For example, "Stacy dear, your floss touched the faucet handle that we touch after we use the bathroom to wash our hands. You may not want to put that in your mouth." I drive her nuts! But thankfully there is grace even for this. And as it turns out this is a biblical concept of sorts.

In the little book of Jude, sin is pictured as a type of spreading disease that contaminates all it comes in contact with. In Jude 1:22-23, the brother of Jesus instructs believers to "be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh."

Jude isn't telling Christians to avoid interacting with lost people as though they might contaminate us. That would go against his admonition to snatch them from the fire of God's impending judgment. Rather, Jude instructs us to always respect our own vulnerability to the power of sin. His emphasis on the garment stained by sin serves to remind us how much we ought to hate sin. If we hate even clothing that's been contaminated by sinful actions, how much more ought we to hate the sin itself. This reminds me of the Old Testament priests. When they entered the tent of meeting or later the temple to make atonement for God's people, they had to undergo ceremonial washing, bathing and even changing of clothes to ensure that the stain of sin wasn't on them as they entered God's presence.

At the end of the day this image captures the core of the Christian life. How can a person ensure that the stain of sin is not found on them when they stand before God? Zechariah 3:1-5 provides a beautiful and insightful picture into the Christian answer to this question. In the immediate context it speaks to the high priest's sin being taken away so he can make atonement for God's people, but Joshua serves as a type of how we all can find forgiveness in Christ.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

Satan is eager to accuse us all. And just like Joshua we are all clothed in the filthy rags of our sin compared to God's holiness. But those who place their faith in Christ will be washed as white as snow. God offers to clothe us in the righteousness of Christ and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness. But unlike Joshua we cannot wait until the day we stand before God to deal with our sin. The Bible tells us that on that day it will be too late. Sin is a spreading disease for which there is no cure after death. It'll be too late to try get right with God after you die. We dare not wait to deal with our sin or to warn those we love. The cure must be administered while you are still alive. Hate sin. Hate even the garment contaminated by sin. For it has the power to separate you from God for all eternity. Have you turned to Jesus in faith for the forgiveness of your sins? If not, then remember that today is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2) If so, then who might God be calling you to snatch from the fire?

For further reading...

  • 1 Corinthians 5:9-13- Paul agrees with Jude that Christians should not separate from non-believers. Interestingly, Paul tells us who we should separate from.