E-pistle

E-pistle

by Kevin McClure

God is in Pursuit of You

My mind seems to have a default setting to Bible verses like, "Seek the Lord while He may be found" (Isaiah 55:6) and "Seek first His kingdom" (Matthew 6:33) and "If you seek Me with all of your heart, you will find Me" (Jeremiah 29:13).  Seeking God is central to the Christian life. In the years I've known Christ, I've found myself deeply moved to seek Him. I am thankful I want to seek Him. 

 

In recent months I am paying more attention than ever to the reality that God has been and is seeking me. He's the One who took the initiative to create us and redeem us. He came to "seek and save" us (Luke 19:10). He is revealed as the God who is love. The love which is His very essence is a love that is impossible to get our minds around. We are invited, Paul says, to explore the full scope of it- to experientially know its height, depth, length, width and breadth! When we begin to experience even a little of God's love, we're undone. Ruined! We become love sick and our response is to seek Him. 

 

When the Bible speaks of seeking God we are tempted to interpret that as our responsibility, which makes it feel like a duty. When we yield to the embrace of His love, seeking Him becomes a delight, an opportunity, a priviege, but not an obligation. In my journey, yielding to this has been a learning curve. I'm not there yet! The door is open, just a crack, but it's open and opening. 

 

Will you open the door? Ask your Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to help you open it, so you may lean into His embrace and experience the love of the One who has been seeking you. 

Are You Afraid to Tell God What You Really Want?

What's troubling you? Good times seem fleeting and trouble often comes in one form or another. No one escapes. When facing trouble Christians aim to keep a stiff upper lip. We've learned to muscle through. In the short term that is doable and appears noble. Over the long term- and life itself is usually long term- it is both impossible to sustain and foolish to try. The Christian culture doesn't lend itself to honest suffering- we're all so uncomfortable with it. Our advice to sufferers includes quotations of Scripture, "You know, 'God makes all things work together for good'" (Romans 8:28) and "Don't forget, 'in everything, give thanks'" (1 Thessalonians 5:18); all true but this falls short of Paul's advice to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).

 

I mention this because the best way through suffering is to lean into it and not try to muscle through it. Don't short circuit grief. Grief is a necessary part of all suffering, for all suffering entails some type of loss: loss of health, a job, a marriage, a career opportunity and so on. Grieve your losses, cry about your pain and permit God to meet you in it, preferably in the company of people who know how to grieve with you and who do not try to advise you out of it. I also suggest that you take some time to journal in private and in your journaling write out exactly what it is you want God to do. Want, not need. Such an idea has good biblical precedent. Jesus asked Bartimaeus, who cried out for Jesus' attention, "what do you want me to do for you?" (Mark 10:51 NLT) Bartimaeus showed no uncertainty. Jesus granted his request for his sight. It is common for Christians to edit their prayers. We don't trust our motives. That's not bad, but it presumes that God doesn't care about your wants. Let God do the editing. Let Him sort things out. You'll do yourself a favor by fully venting what's inside. And who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you receive. 

Don't You Care?

The earliest followers of Jesus were largely regular guys. No special training. Blue collar types, unpretentious, not highly educated yet schooled in the biblical narrative. They were sincere in their faith. They loved Jesus and for three years they did life with Him. They were growing in their understanding of Who He was, continually being amazed at His teaching and miracles, wondering at times, "Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey Him?" They found out. He was and is the Messiah, God's own Son. 

 

Despite all they saw they didn't know His true heart toward them. On the boat in the middle of a severe storm that tested the mettle of even the veteran commercial fishermen among them, they screamed at their sleeping Savior, "We're in trouble - don't you care?" (my own paraphrase). It was not a question as much as an exclamation, perhaps even an accusation.

 

Is it irreligious or perhaps even sacrilegious to say such a thing? Isn't this the very question each of us has when we find ourselves unwillingly driven to the worst pain of our lives? "Where are you, God? Do you care?" are things virtually every human being, even devout followers of Jesus Christ have wondered. We know the right theological answer but, if we are going to know at an experiential level that He cares, we have to ask the question, don't we?

 

True faith isn't based on pretense or simply trying to believe. It's based on gut level, raw honesty. If you wonder if God cares, let Him know. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you in such a way that doubts about that won't linger. 

Strive to Rest?

"Let us therefore strive to enter that rest..."  Hebrews 4:11

 

There is a place of rest from striving for God's people. Yet it takes striving to enter it. Does this makes sense? Not to my finite mind. Yet the infinite One teaches that both are necessary.

 

You may be disappointed if you think I'm going to solve this dilemma here. Instead of offering a weak attempt at explaining it - which would result in greater confusion, I want to invite you into the journey of discovery.

 

Rest and restfulness are things God wants us to have. That is plain. Striving is the antithesis of these; yet striving is somehow necessary to attain rest. Two facts. Diametrically opposite. How do we harmonize them? I'm not sure we can. I continue to puzzle over this and it is puzzling that motivates me to pray, "Holy Spirit, I may not be able to make sense of this. I know you want me to enter the Sabbath rest you have prepared for God's people. I'm told I need to strive to enter it. What do You mean by this? Help me to engage in the holy striving that will enable me to enter the Sabbath rest of which You speak!"

 

And that, my friend, is my challenge to you for this week - pray that you will strive the way He expects you to strive so you can enter that restfulness that will distinguish you as a follower of the Prince of Peace.

Easy?

I write as a guy who is trying to figure things out. Trying to find my way. I listen to some very well-known teachers of God's Word and I must say, they make this journey sound easy. "Just turn your troubles over to the Lord...think on things above..."  Of course, what they are saying is true. We do need to turn our troubles over to the Lord. My question to you, my reader, is, "Do you have an easy time doing that?" Do you find that though you do it, you need to do it again? And again?

 

I am reading Matthew's Gospel in my daily reading and I came across Jesus' very familiar but often forgotten words:

 

"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (RSV)

 

What did Jesus mean when He said the way that leads to life isn't easy; it's hard?

 

It's been hard for me. If the teachers I've been listening to are telling the truth about their seemingly effortless entry into such things as peace and tranquility then I envy them. I'm not there. My Christian life is a daily struggle. It always has been. 

 

My life has been an on-going journey of discovery. I read God's Word daily because I need to, even though I don't always feel like reading it and even though I often find it difficult to understand. Praying sometimes seems fruitful and sometimes I feel like I'm in an echo chamber and my prayers are bouncing back to me. Sometimes I think I'm making progress toward greater transformation and sometimes I feel stuck. I listen to some people and their always positive-sounding, never difficult approach actually discourages me. But then, I read Jesus' words and think, "Maybe I'm not so far off after all!" Can you relate?

Thanking God for His Own Sake

Lately I've become aware of an actual need on my part to worship God for no other reason than that He is God.

 

The Bible tells us that "every good and perfect gift" we receive is not accidental but is "from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:17). It also tells us He is merciful and by virtue of this, He regularly shows His kindness to even "the ungrateful and the wicked" (Luke 6:35). We know that He is the Author of our Salvation, the Forgiver of our sins, the Healer of our pains, and our Deliverer, too. 

 

All that said, He is worthy of our worship, just because. Not because He is virtuous and generous, but just because. 

 

It is a good thing to thank God when you receive a job promotion or a special financial provision. It is good when you thank Him because He has healed you of an illness.

 

It's a very special thing when you realize it is good to thank Him "just because" especially when things are going south, when you are in the thick of your pain, when what you feared has materialized, when you don't know if you can go on. When you are able to do that from your heart it is probably because you've fallen in love with Him, for His own sake and not just for what He can do for you. That seems to me to be a good place to be.

 

Would you like to ask Him to help you fall in love with Him and to learn to thank Him in the worst of times, just because?

Who's the Hero in Your Story?

Years ago I brought a group of men I was pastoring to the men's retreat of a much larger church. We knew the fellowship would be deep, worship would be intense, times of prayer would be rich and as lovers of God and His Word, we couldn't wait to learn from the guest speaker we'd heard so much about. 

 

I've never witnessed a more energetic preacher in my entire life. I bet he burned 3,000 calories per message. He was colorful, sometimes humorous, and always challenging. Yet I went away unsettled, not sure what it was that troubled me. He talked a lot about commitment and testified about fighting through temptation. I was frankly very amazed at his ability to resist some very enticing sexual temptation, which he graphically described. As I processed his message, I realized he was the hero in his own story. 

 

The men of my church didn't walk away from that retreat with a fresh appreciation that the Holy Spirit was the Hero who would meet them in times of trouble. They learned they'd need to tough it out. What we really heard was law, not grace. We were called to what we should do for God, not told of what He would do for us. 

 

I can recognize such a misleading emphasis now because I've made the same mistake many times. How easy it is to imagine you are the hero in your story. If that's how you see things, you're settling for something way less than God intends.

 

God separates seas, causing them to congeal, drying the ground underneath to make a pathway for His people. He frees people who are bound and heals broken hearts. He provides food in abundance for hungry people. And, yes, when we want to be delivered from temptation, He not only teaches us to pray, "Deliver me from evil," just when we're thinking we're going down for the count, He shows up and proves He can satisfy every vulnerability we have in such a way that we won't settle for the counterfeit comforts of this world. Will you let Him be the Hero in your story?

God Wants To Use You

I've never been more convinced that Christians need to know who they are. We are first children, not first disciples, but children, His very own beloved children. From this place of intimacy we can grow to accept the authority that comes with this privileged relationship.

 

As we grow up in the Father's House He includes us in His affairs, the business of His Kingdom. He entrusts responsibility to us. With this responsibility comes authority. Not just any authoritiy, but His very authority. He backs up what we do when our actions are reflections of His.

 

This isn't just for the people who are seminary trained or have "Reverend" in front of their name. It's for all of His children, male and female, young and old, rich and poor.  Joel prophesied this very thing and Peter affirmed it on Pentecost (see Acts 2:16-21).

 

God has plans to cause His Kingdom, that is the range of the "King's domain" to materialize in this earth before Jesus' return. He plans to accomplish this through us. What does this look like? It looks like what happened when Jesus appeared on the scene - the good news was preached, the sick were healed, the tormented were delivered, hungry people were fed (and excellent wine was provided for a wedding celebration). What does this tell you about what matters to God? (Hint: Everything!)

 

When you hear this what is your reaction? Do you think that God doesn't intend to include you in His expansion plans? Perish the thought! If you are His child you are included! You have an assignment. He's given the Holy Spirit to empower you. Begin to ask Him to show you ways that He'd like to use you to expand His Kingdom in your neighborhood and place of business and family. You won't need to button-hole people! Like leaven, you can simply be Jesus with skin on and effectively and often subtly bring Kingdom life. Ask Him how. 

A Willing Heart

I was recently listening to a sermon by pastor and author Greg Boyd, and he referred to a quote from the Anabaptist tradition:

 

"The mind can never see what the heart is unwilling to obey."

 

I find myself resonating with this statement. It called to mind something the Lord Jesus said in John's gospel (7:7). He said, "If any man's will is to do his (God's) will, he shall know whether the teaching (of Jesus) is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority" (parenthetical remarks are mine). This suggests that being able to discern God's will is linked to a willingness to do His will.

 

Are you willing? Can you know for sure? David prayed to have a willing heart (Psalm 51:12). Peter sincerely believed he was willing to follow Jesus to death but found out he was not only unwilling to do that, he was willing to deny that he even knew Jesus. 

 

Peter didn't really know his heart; he only thought he did. Are we unlike him? Dallas Willard referred to the heart as "the executive center" of one's life. It's the place where we experience God's life. It's also a dimension we can't see. No one can take an X-ray or an MRI of it to let you know its condition. Only God truly knows the heart. That's why it's best to ask God- like David did- to be upheld with a willing spirit. If you want to grow in your understanding of God's will for your life, ask God to do the preliminary work of preparing your heart to be obedient to His will. 

Speaking the Truth - to Yourself

Spiritually healthy followers of Jesus Christ learn the necessity of acknowledging both "ends" of truth, the ugly end and the beautiful end. Somehow we must manage to remember both our need, -the ugly end- and God's provision- the beautfiul end. The writer of Ecclesiastes (7:18 NASB) put it this way:

"It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them."

We must confess sin, admit it and own our culpability (1 John 1:9a). That is the ugly side of it. Yet, that is not enough. As a Christian you must confess your belief however feeble that belief might be, that Christ has cancelled the record of debt that stood against you (Colossians 2:14) and He cleanses you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9b).

We must not hesitate to confess other things, like fear. Declare to God what you are feeling and invite Him into it and also declare the promise that you need not be afraid, for He is with you as you face your fear (Hebrews 13:5,6).

It's easy to fixate on the ugly end of things. If you do, you'll get stuck there. Don't pretend there isn't an ugly side. Just invite God into it and boldly declare His particular promise that addresses the ugliness even when you don't feel confident that God will come through. Such a declaration is faith at work, even when- and especially when- you are assaulted with uncertainty. If you focus only on the beautiful side of things, you run the risk of living in denial about the challenges you face and spiritual pretense may define you. Embrace both sides of truth and speak them to yourself!

First Things First

I loved Len Sweet's book, First a Follower. In it Len, who is the author of over 50 books and a true scholar, argues against the trend for pastors and other types of Kingdom leaders to obsess over building their leadership muscle. Instead he helps leaders focus on being followers of Christ first and foremost. His book is badly needed. As much as I like it and think it is helpful, given the trend which Len is bucking, I think there is something else that precedes even "followership." I think the first thing God wants us to know is that we're first a child. His child.

If any part of being a follower, of being a disciple, doesn't flow out of knowing you are a son or daughter, your "followership," that is, your discipleship, will be out of kilter. If it doesn't proceed from knowing you are a son or daughter of the King, then in all likelihood it will become a work for you to perform. A duty. 

Duty is not bad. Service is good, but no one renders better service than a child who loves his parent. All of the various pieces of followership like taking up one's cross, giving sacrificially, sharing the faith and more can be unintentionally divorced from sonship. Don't let it happen. It seems so noble to focus on discipleship. If you do and you don't know who you are, you will not only be exhautsted, you won't be a very good disciple. 

Sons and daughters make the best disciples. Why? They know they are the beloved. They know what this life we call the Christian life is all about- it's about relationship, not performance. When we enter into deep union and full communion with God (this is a lifelong journey), the pieces of discipleship fall into place. God calls us to lay competing loyalties before Him and because we know we are loved as we are, we find ourselves saying to Him, "Of course. Nothing is better than You. Please take this from me" and on and on. Does this make sense? Do you know who you are? 

 

 

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