Monday, November 28, 2016

Why not surrender?

My new little brother Wyatt has been having such a hard time obeying my parents. It's been such a struggle, and we keep finding ourselves asking "why???" with each new infraction and subsequent trip to timeout. My parents want only the best for Wyatt, and they are trying with all they've got to give it to him. Life would be so peaceful and awesome for him if he would be content to obey. But yet Wyatt oftentimes won't receive their love, because that would mean surrendering his will to theirs. He holds on to what he wants, wanting to control his own little life. He gets to--we can't make him submit; we can only put him in timeout--but it's miserable.

As my mom and I talked about it tonight, we were both struck by the powerful parallel of Wyatt's adoption to ours as children of God. God loved us unconditionally, while we were yet sinners, and died for us to bring us into His family. Yet, so often we are completely ungrateful for His loving fatherhood over us. What's more, we think it is oppressive!! We push forward with our own will and ignore God's. We break His commandments daily.

We do this because we selfishly want to keep control of our lives. And yet, if we would but surrender to God's will, we would truly live and experience the abundant life He has for us! It would be a life so free of conflict and worry. With each new day God gives us, we would find purpose and experience true joy as we walk in the plans He has for us.

But yet, like my little brother when he is sent to his room for timeout, here we are so often, alone at the dead end of our selfish will. Just as true, though, is that like my parents, God is waiting on the other side of the door for us. He's ready to wrap us up in His loving arms and tenderly guide us towards a life worth living. If we would but surrender to Him and trust His perfect plan for us, life would be incredible. Every day would be filled with purpose. Every moment would be full of His peace that surpasses understanding, even in the hard times.

Let's face it. we really, really suck at trying to live a life of meaning on our own.  So why not? Why not give over the driver's seat of our lives to our all-wise, all-loving Heavenly Father? I pray Wyatt will be touched by the love of his family and will learn to trust and obey my parents, so that his little life can thrive. Even more so, I pray for all of you, that you will do the same with our Heavenly Father. And please, please, pray the same for me! 
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.
Mathew 16:24-27

Monday, November 21, 2016

Donald Trump will not Make America Great Again

How many of you were surprised by our resent election results? Let’s see a show of hands. Ah ha, I am not alone. Looks like all of us where a little surprised. Even shell shocked. It sure looked like Hillary Rodham Clinton was our next president. And Mr. Bill Clinton our first first man. (that has a terrible ring to it, btw)

But here we are! Donald Trump, our President Elect! I won’t ask for a show of hands of who voted for him. Though if you didn’t, and since he still won, man you have the best of both worlds! If he turns out to be the next Adolph Hitler like the venerable, balanced, completely non-biased NPR would have you believe (sorry, local joke, scratch out NPR and insert liberal media of choice in the blank), than you can look your grandkids in the eye and say “I did not vote for that man”. If he turns out to save America, well he’ll be saving you too so all’s good.

So what will Donald Trump do as president? We’ve got a month and a half to speculate. Now let’s see another show of hands. Who is cautiously optimistic, especially after the appointments of several great conservatives like Jeff Sessions to Attorney General?  Here goes my hand! Who’s with me?

Now, who thinks he is just what America needs? Might he, just might he, actually save America?? Can he stop our free falling debt and revive our economy? Can he appoint Supreme Court nominees that will uphold our constitution and stand for Christian morals? Can he defeat ISIS? Will he put in place reforms much like Ronald Reagan did? Is he, in fact, our next Ronald Reagan?

Yep, the hands are very cautious to go skyward on this one.

But let’s admit it. How many of us, deep down inside, want it to be true? How many of us secretly hope that Mr. Trump will save our nation. How many of us day dream about the change that he could bring, especially with both a republican House and Senate? Even if you can’t admit to these secret thoughts (I do, in case you were wondering. Sorry. I’m kind of a day dreamer anyway), I think all of us can agree that we are breathing a sigh of relief. The evil empire is defeated. We torpedoed their death star. Conservatism won. Liberals lost. We can all relax.

Or can we?

I want to put it point blank. Donald Trump will not save America. Not. Even. Close. You see, he can’t. No mere man can. America is made up of people, and in their natural state people are radically depraved. Unfortunately, no man, including our president, can change people’s hearts. Our president and government can punish wrong-doing, but it can’t completely stop the wrong-doing from happening. What’s more, our nation was set up so that the people would have a profound say in who gets to lead them. So if our nation is indeed made up of a majority of people following the natural, selfish desires of their hearts, guess who they are going to vote for? Someone who will force them to change? Haha, of course not, you guessed it! They will vote for someone naturally fallen and selfish like themselves. As John Adams wisely put it: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Donald Trump may do a lot of good in restoring and preserving conservative--maybe even Christian--values in our country, but in the end four or even eight years is but a glimmer of time to make positive, lasting change. Take Ronald Reagan's presidency as a recent example of how lasting the positive change of one presidency is. Our nation is declining, and though it will be awesome if we at least hold steady or even climb upwards these next few years on the morality charts, we will again nose dive if we as a people don’t repent from our sinful, selfish ways and come back to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Donald Trump is not and can never be a savior. There is only one Savior for America, and His name is Jesus.

We can rejoice, maybe, that we blew up a liberal “Death Star” in that Hilary Clinton is not our next president, but believe me, the Empire still lives, and it’s getting ready to strike back (cliché, I know . . .). This Empire isn’t in some galaxy far, far away either. Neither is it a certain political party, just to be clear. It’s right here, a spiritual force of darkness bent on stealing, killing, and destroying anything that resembles goodness. We are called to throw on our spiritual armor and fight it. This is the real battle.

So don’t relax, Christian friends. As significant as it is that conservativism is getting another shot in America, we should be seeking with even more fervor something far more significant: a Christian revival! Let’s seek to show genuine love and kindness to all those we meet. Let’s be that example of those who believe by our speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. Let’s pray with all sincerity that our leaders would come to faith in Jesus, that we may live quiet, peaceful lives in all Godliness and dignity. As we cultivate this faithfulness in our own lives, may the hardened ground of America again become fertile. May it blossom with the abundant life and rich spiritual fruit of a nation truly under God! Just imagine that for a minute! What if this was the start of something different in America. What if we could look back on this year, 2016, as the lowest point we ever reached as a nation before we skyrocketed back up to the prosperous, God-fearing country we once were. With Donald Trump, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.

I have no hope that America will be great again thanks to Donald Trump. But I have every hope in what my almighty God can do. That’s where my hope is. So Lord, I trust in you to save this nation, if it be your will. Help me to do my part to cultivate faithfulness in my own life and in my circles of influence. Save Donald Trump, I pray, that he may live for you. I pray you would humble him to receive the wisdom we all so desperately need, that he may know how to wisely govern our nation. I pray for each and every Christian in this nation, that we would place our hope solely in you. I pray that we would use this time of relative freedom to preach your Gospel by our words and deeds. Wake us of our apathy, and make us vibrant and proactive, instead of passive. I pray that you would use us to revive this nation to a genuine faith in you. This I pray in the powerful name of the only One mighty to save, amen!

if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Idol Dreams

Have you ever had an idol dream? And no, I do not mean the idle wanderings of a subconscious mind, but an idol dream—a desire that burns its way into your thoughts till it consumes your energies and passions. No mountain is too high to scale to attain your dream, and soon your every decision in life is affected by it. Our culture glorifies your pursuit. Disney tells you to believe in yourself and make it happen. No dream is impossible, if you just believe! (Especially if you are willing to sacrifice just about everything else in your life to have it.)

As a Christian, you are sure that God has given you this dream, and that it must be His perfect will for your life. He wouldn’t give you this burning desire if He didn’t want you to fulfill it. You find yourself having a hard time praying “if it be your will” or “your will be done” when talking to God about your dream, because there are no “ifs” about it! It is His will, and all you need prayer for is on how to wisely attain it.

But then God takes it from you.

It hurts. Really, really badly. Broken dreams can be devastating, stealing away the joy you thought you had and leaving a hollow, empty spot inside you. Life loses a sense of purpose, and you find yourself barely going through the motions. Your mood swings dangerously all over the place, from apathy to anger to regret. You find ways to medicate the pain, and rarely are any of them good. In the middle of another sleepless night, you ask God why over and over again.

But then, searching through the rubble of your broken dream, you make a discovery. It wasn’t the breaking of the dream that left you feeling so empty, but the dream itself! You realize the hideous idol you have fashioned. No wonder your life feels so empty now, because you have ripped things like joy, contentment, and purpose from the place in your heart where they belong and made them the very cornerstones you built your dream upon!

We are without excuse for the idol dreams we fashion. In fact, we are in some ways worse than the pagans of old (and present!). Whereas they fashioned idols out of wood and stone, we go beyond the material and make idols out of a piece of our soul. Isaiah 44:9-20 is a candid, revealing look at the foolishness of idolatry. Idolaters toil so long at their work making a god that is both pleasing and fulfilling to them, a god they believe will deliver them! And yet “no one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!’” (Isaiah 44:19)

How silly! But how much worse are we for the idols we make of our dreams? I confess that I am guilty of such foolishness. The last season of my life I spent chasing my own dream rather than seeking first God’s kingdom. I didn’t even notice the idol my dream had become, until God took it from me. And for a while, believe me, I asked Him why over and over again! But now I am so thankful for my broken dream. My great God, the Lord of Lords and the only one to be praised, loved me too much to let me run after my own will away from His. Gently, He broke me from my idolatry and turned me back to Him.

Thank you, Lord!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

You see, Moses’s calling to God’s chosen people in the Old Testament is the same to us chosen, redeemed Christians of this day. Listen to these words, as the Jews would in the Old Testament! “Hear oh Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

God wants all of us. He deserves all of us, if we really do believe His Word. He has created us. He has called us. He has sent His only Son to die for us. He shed His own blood for us. He is risen and is preparing an eternal home for us. What more could we possibly do but live only and always for Him?! How could we not give Him all the hopes of our hearts, the desires of our souls, and all the energies of our might in light of what He has done for us?

I am not saying that we should turn from every desire we have ever had. That is both impossible and would leave us with literally nothing to do but sit around like a vegetable and wait to spoil. I do believe God has given us certain desires in accordance with His will. Nate Saint had a desire to become a pilot, and God used him mightily because of it. C.S. Lewis had a desire to be a writer, and God used Him mightily as a writer. Must all of us single folk have a desire to be married, and God uses that desire to bring about righteous families that will live out their days for Him. Don’t think that I believe dreams are wrong. What is more, if we would but commit all our works to the Lord, our plans would be established (Proverbs 16:3), because they would look like what our Lord wants for us! If we delight ourselves in Him and Him alone, He will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4), because they too will be His! We only get ourselves in trouble when we cannot submit our dreams to God and let Him use it or take it from us however He wills.

So, when you look at your life, at your priorities and the attention of your heart, soul, and strength, can you say with utter assurance that the Lord has all of you? Have you surrendered every dream and desire you have to His will? Or, like me recently, have you let a dream claim too much of your attention and priorities than it should? Does a desire of yours have any piece of your heart, soul, or might that should belong only to God?

God, the jealous guardian of your heart, wants all of you. Will you come? Will you let go of the why, and instead choose to trust? Will you live your life to glorify God and further His kingdom, even if that means letting go of a dream you really wanted to pursue? God would say the same to you as He did the nation of Israel after that passage on the folly of idol worship. You can read these verses in Isaiah as if God was speaking directly to you!

“Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant, O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me. I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”

Isaiah 44:21-22

I am so content to be God’s servant. It is so much more than anything I could hope for or imagine on my own. Break me of any idols in my life, Lord, that I may live completely and wholly for you, all the days of my life! I don’t care if it hurts, I’d rather have you! Thank you for wiping away my sins and letting me live for you! I can shout joyfully with all the Earth for what you have done! Show forth your glory in me!

And I pray the same for you, friends, each and every one of you who will read this! May you live wholly for Christ and be a living testament to all creation of God’s redeeming love. May the same be said of you as of Israel:

Shout for joy, oh heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout joyfully, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into a shout of joy, you mountains, o forest, and every tree in it; for the Lord has redeemed Jacob and in Israel he shows forth His glory!

Isaiah 44:23