Develop in the Dark (Part 1)

develop in the dark (part 1)

Wait. What?!

You know the feeling—that moment when life seems to running smoothly, everything going as planned, and then… well, let’s just say it happens. It happens to the best of us, at the worst times. And if there’s one I’ve learned, it’s that because of itlife rarely goes as planned.

Living in Chicago for over 12 years has brought this little nugget of a statement to life. You see, it doesn’t matter which way I decide to drive to my destination, something unexpected always happens. I’m talking potholes, construction zones, detours, rush hour traffic, accidents, pedestrians, slow drivers, speedy drivers, selfie-taking drivers, all of which seem dead-set on sabotaging my commute. It’s as if they were all secretly conspiring the moment my key hit the ignition—waiting for just the right time to shout, “Cue the jaywalking pedestrians and get ready to move the bulldozer in place.” God bless Chicago.

What do you do when you set on an intended course, but then… the phone call, the doctor’s report, the divorce papers, the accident, the layoff give you notice that your life will taking a difficult detour and you have no choice in the matter? These things are common to our existence, but also serve as unwelcome reminders that in our humanity we are not often in control.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

I don’t know about you, but when life gets dark and I can’t see my way, my natural reaction is to take a detour. If I turn up some side streets, go through some alleys, and skip traffic for a few blocks, I feel more in control. I’m literally in the driver’s seat. But what ends up happening more often than not is that it actually takes me longer to reach my destination than if I just would have slowed down in traffic, waited for the light, had patience with the slow driver in front of me.

Truth be told, I could have stayed the course many times but my impatience and pride got involved. From experience I can tell you this truth: Detours don’t develop you. Discipline does. It takes discipline to not swerve into the alley every time we can’t wait when our way seems blocked, rather than looking for a short-cut out of the pain of patience.

In Luke 9:22-25, Jesus said, “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the religious leaders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and on the third day be raised up alive. Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” (MSG)

God wants to bring us through the darkness to develop us, to grow us. But developing in the dark takes discipline and often goes against everything squeamish impulse in our bodies. It boils down to this: staying committed to what is right at all costs, regardless of how it feels or if we have an explanation for the slow down.

Hebrews 11 tells us, “Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that–heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.” (v13-16)

You might not understand the why, but you know the Who.

Hold on. Hang on. Trust the process. Stay the course.

“You can’t control the events and circumstances in life… but… you can control your reactions to the events and circumstances in your life.” —Dr. Carolyn Leaf

“Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.” (1 Peter 1:7)


Reflection

  • What does a detour in the dark look like in your life?
  • Are there areas in your life where God may be asking you to slow down when you are trying to hurry up?
  • What would it look like in your life to develop in the dark?

Next Up: How to Develop in the Dark (Part 2)

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Jesus Wants You to Stop Resisting Sin

Resist
Christians should stop resisting sin. A bit controversial I know, but frankly I’m tired of seeing the people I care about wrestle with the intense and forceful temptations that claw for their soul. From the fall of Adam sin has been in our nature. Where was sin just before Cain killed his brother? At the door—knocking… pounding… anxious to come inside (Gen 4:7). Resisting sin makes the noise in our head and the angst in our soul echo all the louder. Why? Because when there is a vacuum in our souls the emptiness yearns to be filled.

Smoking can be a difficult habit to break. Although nicotine cravings only physically stay within the body for about five days, the random urge to smoke can last a lifetime. The reason for this is that it’s a habit set into motion by a trigger—like a time you would typically take a short break from work, stress, or anxiety. A friend of mine told me how he quit smoking: “Instead of lighting a cigarette, I would suck on a blow pop. It tasted better… AND I got gum at the end.” Fairly insightful, no?

Jesus said it this way…

When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. —Luke 11:24-26 (NLT)

Many Christians are losing the battle against sin and temptation because they are trying to resist while they still have a vacuum inside. The Bible tells us to resist the devil and he will flee… but not before we submit to God (James 4:7). We are to be filled with the Spirit which, in turn, leaves no room for the enemy.. even if he makes a good case to enter our lives.

Imagine an airplane packed to capacity and someone runs up and says they need to get on the plane because it would make everyone on the plane feel better or less stressed. Considering they were telling the truth… would that really be such a bad thing considering the handful of sweaty first-time flyers nervously talking to the person trying to read next to them?!

“I need to get on the plane so everyone can relax.”

“Sorry, sir, there’s no more room.”

“Please… please let me on. It will make people feel better.”

“Nope… no room.”

“LET. ME. ON!”

“Sorry. Go home now.”

When the vacuum of the human soul is filled with the presence, peace, and love of God, even if we desperately want to give in, we can’t. There is simply no room for the devil. The only way sin can creep in is if we leave the door open, unlocked, or unattended (something I will expound on in another blog).

So, Christian, my advice is this: stop resisting and start replacing. Let your life be so full of God that there’s no room for sin. Go to church, get involved, do daily devotions, listen to music that brings glory to God, think on the cross, meditate on God’s goodness, memorize scripture, nurture healthy relationships, fill the void that the enemy wants to fill. When you start replacing your sinful habits with Godly ones, God will begin to fight your battles for you. You’ll still need to keep your guard up (Eph 5:13, Prov 4:23), but when you turn your energy towards the things of God, He will exponentially multiply your resistance.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. —Galatians 5:16 (NLT)

For further study, read and meditate on Galatians 5.

I love to hear feedback from my readers. If you agree, disagree, or can add to this topic in any way, I want to invite you to share your thoughts in the comment section below. If it has been a beneficial read, would you consider sharing it with others on your social network?

*Photo credit by Bahi P under CC License. Title added.

Love Wins, Except When It’s Hidden

Much controversy has stirred recently surrounding Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins which releases today. Some Christians label Bell a universalist for his views, while others defend him—appalled by the mere fact that certain Christians would call out other Christians on their theology. Obviously we should never be mean-spirited in our dialog with any one, especially our own, but is staying silent and allowing what appears to be theological error really what the Bible calls love?

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. ~Proverbs 27:5

The purpose of this post is not to comment on the book—I think Kevin DeYoung already responded gracefully enough in a recent review (read here). What I AM thinking about is how often we define LOVE as some pithy and “let others be who they are” sort of mentality. We live in an individualistic society where a common belief is that everyone’s beliefs are right and to tell someone they are wrong is just… wrong. But this isn’t what the Bible calls love and love like that doesn’t win.

True love is making hard decisions. It’s dying to your selfishness for the betterment of others. Love is not easy, and it certainly isn’t for the weak. Love is passionate. Love is tough and love is humble. Love put Jesus on a cross and held Him there. Love raised Him from the grave. Love runs into burning buildings to save a life. Love tells a child not to touch a hot stove or run into the street. This kind of love makes children cry as they wonder why they can’t get what they want. Love doesn’t hide the consequences and say everything will be okay as someone self destructs.

Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry? Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die? Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand? Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you damned? ~Leonard Ravenhill

Some people think telling others about hell isn’t a loving thing to do because it involves fear, but maybe it’s fear that really keeps us silent on the subject of hell in the guise of love.

We are called to love others. We share the gospel became we love people. And we don’t share the gospel because we don’t love people. Instead, we wrongly fear them. We don’t want to cause awkwardness. We want their respect, and after all, we figure, if we try to share the gospel with them, we’ll look foolish! And so we are quiet. We protect our pride at the cost of their souls. In the name of not wanting to look weird, we are content to be complicit in their being lost. ~Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Crossway, 2007, p. 27

Love speaks.
Humbly.
If love remains silent… it loses.

Enough faith?

throwAt age 17, I had been given the opportunity to give a message to a tribe of people up in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. I had my message all prepared when not more than 5 minutes before I was to speak, God nudged me to preach the Gospel from Mark 16. I did just that and by God’s grace, over 90% of the small rural church responded for salvation.

As the service was coming to close, I proclaimed that God not only saves but is also a healer.  I opened the front for anyone who needed a miracle. Numerous people came forward, but a short elderly woman stands out clearly in my mind.  Slowly she nudged her way through the crowd up to the interpreters. She spoke softly to them and they turned to me with anticipation in their eyes, “She is deaf in one ear and would like you to pray for God to restore her hearing.”

I believed God could do it, but in the moment I was overwhelmed but my own inadequacies. I turned around and faced the back wall for a moment. “God, I am not sure I have enough faith for this, but I trust you.”  Tears began to stream down my face as I turned back and faced the woman. Laying my hands on her ear, I began to simply pray for God to heal her.

When I finished, one of the interpreters began to whisper in this woman’s deaf ear. A smile stretched across her wrinkled cheeks as she began to jump up and down with utter enthusiasm shouting something in in her native language.

“She can hear!!! She can hear!!!”  

I crumpled to the floor in awe of a merciful and tremendous God who loves all His children, even those lost in the mountains of southern Mexico.

Since that day, I have prayed for healing of others on numerous occasions. Some have been. Others not. But I’ve realized my job is just to act in faith (pray) and leave the results to God.  I don’t have to question the why or how.  Faithfulness is just being willing to step out and trusting God with the results based on His character.  

You see, “enough faith” is acting in a way that displays trust in something we believe to be true. It has nothing really to do with results. Matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. It is action when we aren’t sure of the outcome, but trust that God does.  It’s knowing God in the moment and understanding his will.  Faith is something we believe enough to move us to action.

That is enough for me.  The rest is up to God.

Wise guy advice

Last night at Bible study we looked at the story of the wise men recorded in Matthew 2. We had a wonderful time exploring the connections and difficulties of how they worshiped Jesus despite what their expectations of the Messiah might have been. They had no trouble bowing before the king of the Jews even though at the time was a small child. The wise men acted by faith, not by sight.  They saw God in an unlikely place and circumstance.

On the side, we also looked at King Herod and his attitude towards the Christ child. He was greatly threatened by the possibility of this king of the Jews and did everything in his power to thwart God’s plan.

Often in our lives we can be threatened by Jesus as well. We get scared that Jesus might take away our control, power, dreams, and ability to do the things WE WANT and so we fight against him instead of worshipping him. When Jesus steps onto the scene of our lives, we are forced to look closely at who is really on the throne of our heart in ALL circumstances. Will we bow down when situations aren’t quite what we expect or will we struggle to keep control of our lives?

Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,”

Ephesians 5:15-17, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

These wise men understood that God was in control no matter what they saw with their natural eyes and rejoiced and worshipped according to that faith. What a wonderful testimony to us today! Today, let us walk in the same wisdom and knowledge of the Lord, understanding His will in all the circumstances we face, not just in the times of blessing. He is still all powerful and holds us in the palm of his hand.

Phil 1:6, “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Church Planting with Bob Ross?

Recently, I was trying to help out my daughter Olathe with some math homework. I was taught a certain method of reaching the answer. She, on the other hand, is learning several methods of reaching the same answer. So naturally when she asked me for help it became frustrating for both of us. Let me explain…

For me it was frustrating because I knew what the answer should be and the method I was taught to get to that answer, but that wasn’t what the teacher wanted. If I persisted to teach her my way, she would not actually get a good grade because she needed to show her work through a different method.

On the other hand, it was frustrating for her because she needed help. Since I wasn’t there in class to hear the method she was supposed to use, I had to try to draw it out of her and then work with what she was telling me, which I was more than happy to try.

As a church planter I often find I don’t know how to accomplish everything the Lord requires of me. Many times I want to ask Bob Ross how to paint a “white, puffy cloud” when God really wants me to learn how to paint a storm in abstract. If all I ever do is paint by numbers, will I ever really learn how to paint? In the end, I might have a decent painting, but never a skill to paint an original masterpiece.

Maybe God is more interested in me learning to hear His voice rather than some easy answer to church growth.

When it comes to church planting, there is no shortage of advice, but there just might be a shortage of church planters that rely on the Spirit to show them the next step.

Glean all you can from other church planters, books and blogs but ultimately take “good notes” in the class of the Holy Spirit and learn how to get the methods and answers needed directly from Him. Then as you receive or hear advice from others, you will be able to sort out the methods that God might be calling you to attempt in your context. The rest… respectfully decline.

Discovery Changes Everything

I have been thinking a lot lately about the art of discovering. Discovery is when you realize the existence or potential of something that already existed. It might be that old song a person recently heard for the first time and now plays over and over again on their iPod. It might be that book that was pulled out from the shelf that just can’t be put down. It could simply be discovering the joy in the loving arms of your child, parent or spouse.

On a greater scale, when we discover the divine in the natural we can rest in the bigger picture that God is in control. Take for example the inspiration of Scriptures. The inspired Word of God wasn’t declared inspired by man or a committee… it just is what it is – INSPIRED. We can only discover or recognize that fact. When we do, the inspired Word of God comes alive to us because our perspective has changed. We now realize it is more than just a book of stories – it is God’s communication with man. This changes everything. God is in the details.

As a Christian, I am learning to discover that God has created, ordained and purposed things around and in me long before I choose to recognize them.

This happens all the time in our relationships. Sometimes, as Christians, in the midst of disagreement with a spouse or when the kids act up, it is easy to forget that they are a gift from God. When we do this, we sew strife. We take the gifts that God has given us for granted as they get lost under busy schedules or selfish ambitions. However, as we begin to rediscover God at work in our relationships, our perspective changes and we find joy and wonder in those we are close to. This changes everything. God is in the details.

Lastly, we can discover God in the midst of confusion, pain, or frustrating circumstances. He has been there all along, but maybe we haven’t taken the time to notice because it seems so crazy.

Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. -Genesis 25:21-24

Rebekah’s pregnancy was a result of Isaac’s fervent prayer. God answered this prayer, and I am sure this fact was greatly rejoiced over at first. After a season, though, Rebekah felt the strain and the stress of something that wasn’t quite right. I wonder if she was thinking to herself, “If this is an answer from God… what the heck is going on?”

During the strain of a situation it can become easy to forget all that God has done. For Rebekah that moment was pivotal to her endurance in faith. She could have chosen to become bitter at God, forgetting that her situation was an answer to prayer. But, in grand style, the scripture says she went to inquire of the Lord. She knew God was in it and if she could only discover what was going on she could rest in the Lord. God did in fact answer her and she endured this stressful pregnancy until the 9-month season was over.

God is in the details. The art of discovering God and His will can be likened to that book that has been sitting on your shelf for ages. Often you’ve looked past it, sometimes even despised that it takes up so much space. Then, one day you decide to open it and discover a story that invites you on an incredible journey. You grab a latte and sink into that big, comfy chair by the fire. No matter where this story takes you, you are captured. Though conflict arises, you read on knowing that the author is taking you somewhere and this changes everything.

All the while you wonder, “Why didn’t I discover this book a long time ago?”