My Spiritual Pet Peeve: “We are so blessed.”

One of my big spiritual pet peeves right now is when Christians say things like: “We just had such a great beach vacation. We are so blessed.”

No. You are fortunate. You should be thankful. You should acknowledge what a great vacation you had and what a luxury it is to have such an experience. You should be GRATEFUL.

But for something to be true, its inverse must also be true.

And by proclaiming your beach vacation a “blessing” what you’re saying is “My good circumstances are evidence of God’s blessing on my life.”

The inverse of which would be, “My difficult circumstances are evidence of God withholding his blessing … or of God’s curse on my life.”

And for a follower of Jesus, this has no scriptural truth whatsoever.

In fact, THIS is what God considers worthy of His “blessing” –

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

Matthew 5:1-12 (NLT)

So, when you are relating something positive that’s happened or going on, please don’t Christianize it by calling it a “blessing.” Instead, say something like, “We just had such a great beach vacation. We are really thankful for that time together!”

And, when you are claiming God’s blessing, or you are asking for God’s blessing, understand that the process of being “blessed” is going to be a whole life’s journey that includes:

  • realizing our utter need for Him
  • mourning
  • being humbled and learning humility
  • hungering and thirsting for justice
  • being merciful
  • having a pure heart
  • working for peace
  • being persecuted
  • being mocked
  • being lied about and having evil things said about you

In short, to ask for and expect to receive God’s blessing is to surrender YOUR life and YOUR heart and YOUR will to Him to be made more and more like that of Jesus, who fully embodied each of those things.

And, why in the world would someone want that?

Because, I expect God’s true blessing is more abundantly beautiful and wonderful than any “good circumstances” I could possibly imagine or ask for here on earth, for God promises “a great reward awaits you in heaven.”

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And Mary Responded …

Given the recent calendar page turn into Advent, I’ve been pondering Mary lately and what she must have been thinking as she faced an eternity-changing event in her life.

Consider Mary’s circumstances: She was a young girl (likely between the ages of 12-14), “ready” for marriage and betrothed to a man from her tiny village of Nazareth.

Betrothal in ancient Israel was much more significant than our modern (and Gentile) version of “engagement” and included a 9-12 month waiting period where the couple was legally married, but had not yet consummated the marriage.  If the bride became pregnant by another man or was found to not be a virgin during this period of “sanctification”, then she could be divorced or stoned to death.  If she was allowed to live, then most certainly, she and her family would be socially and spiritually outcast.

So, it is under these legal, social and spiritual circumstances that the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her that she will become divinely pregnant and will give birth to the long-awaited Messiah (Luke 1:26-38).  Surely, Mary knew full well the dangers and heartache that awaited her.  Had it been me, I’m certain I would have wondered: “Could this really be for my good?”

But, in fact, that’s not how Mary responded.  Instead, Scripture records Mary’s response in a passage known as The Magnificat and I think there are some lessons for us in it:

46 Mary responded,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Luke 1:46-55, NLT

First, the text tells us Mary’s “soul praises” and her “spirit rejoices”. From this, and because Gabriel told Mary the Spirit of the Lord would come to her, we know Mary was fully united with the Holy Spirit and thus, it is by the Holy Spirit that she is able to praise God in the midst of such difficult circumstances.

Second, Mary calls herself the Lord’s “servant”.  She was fully submitted to God as her Lord. You may have heard the phrase, “You can’t say ‘No, Lord'”, meaning that God is either Lord of your life and you are submitted to His leading, or He is not. There is no in-between.

Third, even though her social, legal and even physical well being were threatened (or could have been), Mary proclaims that God has done great things for her.  Mary is fully confident in God’s sovereignty, even though she is facing difficult circumstances and can’t see the future for how they will turn out.

Fourth, in vv 51-55, Mary reflects on God’s character revealed throughout Israel’s history. In so doing, Mary leans on her version of “Scripture” for encouragement — and she is fully believing God is faithful to keep his promises.

From these lessons, we can ask the same questions of our ourselves:

  1. Am I fully united with the Holy Spirit? Is there anything hindering my relationship with the Lord this Advent? An attitude to confess? A habit to quit? A sin to turn away from? A relationship to reconcile?
  2. Am I fully surrendered to God’s leading?  Is God truly Lord over my life?  Am I willing  to praise God with my mouth, but not willing to accept His teaching and direction when it’s different from what I want?
  3. Am I fully confident in God’s sovereignty — regardless of my current circumstances — even though I can’t see the future?
  4. Do I fully believe God is faithful to keep his promises?  Am I regularly leaning into Scripture for evidence and encouragement of God’s character and promises?

I love the verb that opens this passage in the NLT, “Mary responded” (emphasis mine). Many translations use the phrase, “And Mary said …”.  But this verb “responded” suggests to me that Mary did not just preach herself a sermon and keep the knowledge in her head. No. Mary responded in her mind, in her spirit, and with her actions.  She purposed in her heart to believe God, trust in Him and live out her faith accordingly.

How are you responding to God this Advent season?

Good Friday Meditation

Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34 NLT)

I wonder: Is this the moment of Jesus’ worst suffering on the cross: to be fully separated from the grace, mercy, love, protection and covering of God?

And I wonder: Is this is the moment Jesus experienced hell – complete and total separation from God, wracked with pain, suffering and death? For this is the reality described in Scripture that awaits all who reject Jesus Christ in this life.

Yet, because Jesus endured this hell on the cross is precisely why and how we can avoid doing so. And what is required of us? A heart and life surrendered to Him.

Sounds simple enough.

That said, i must admit that one of my biggest pet peeves with Evangelical Christianity is the phrase “All you have to do is recognize your sin, ask Jesus to forgive you, and follow Him.” At its core, this is certainly true — it is the gospel message — but to be “saved” is not a formulaic “sorry in, salvation out” equation. All you have to do?? What the gospel requires of us is much.

In fact, friends, by only our broken humanity it is impossible for us to adequately respond. We are incapable of recognizing our sin until we are impressed by the holiness of God. We are incapable of asking Jesus to forgive us until we are broken and humbled by the mercy and grace he has demonstrated to us. And we are incapable of following Jesus apart from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in us.

Instead, we require the complete work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to do any of this:

    It is the Holy Spirit who draws our hearts to Christ while we are still sinners.

    It is the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to the wretched sinfulness of our hearts in light of the awesome holiness of God.

    It is the Holy Spirit who causes us to respond in faith to the grace and mercy of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    And it is the Holy Spirit who continues to work in us — day by day, sometimes minute by minute — convicting us of wrongdoing, turning our heart to repentance, urging us to obey his Word, and compelling us to praise and worship of Him who has redeemed us.

The reality of Good Friday is that those who reject him will ultimately experience the same suffering Jesus did: complete and total separation from God, wracked with pain, suffering and death. But not for a few hours; for all eternity.

Unless we respond to the complete work of the Holy Spirit.

Then, Jesus’ hell is enough. For at the moment Jesus’ suffering was complete to satisfy God’s holy requirement of atonement for our sin, Jesus gave up his spirit for us and said:

“It is finished.”

It is completed. There is no greater sacrifice that could possibly be accomplished. For those who will believe in Jesus and live by faith in his sacrifice, his suffering is enough.

Then, the reality of Good Friday is the grace, mercy, love, protection and covering of God; for all eternity.

If your heart is being stirred to respond, please message me.

Stormy Weather

Did you know the lifecycle of a thunderstorm — from first cloud formation to storm dissipation — can be as little as only 30 minutes?! And:

  • Thunderstorms occur in all 50 states in America. (No one is exempt.)
  • They can occur at any time, day or night, throughout the entire year. (It is always storm season.)
  • Approximately 1800 thunderstorms are in progress at any given moment around the world and lightning strikes the earth 100 times every second. (SO many people impacted by thunderstorms around the world while here we may sit, basking in sunshine.)
  • Any person who is outside during a thunderstorm is at risk for being struck by lightning. (Storms present real danger: everyone should seek shelter immediately in a storm).

In sum: Thunderstorms can form quickly, can cause harm, and nearly everyone at some point will experience one.

Just like thunderstorms, oh, how quickly the storms of life can sneak upon us, toss us from side to side, and cause us to fear and doubt: a health crisis, job loss, divorce, bankruptcy, out-of-control children, death of a family member or relationship, a broken heart (just to name a few). We find ourselves asking questions like: “How did this happen?” “Where is God in this?” “Who will help me through this?” “What possible good could come from this situation?”

Consider this familiar “Storm Story” from Luke’s gospel:

22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and started out. 23 As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger. 24 The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. 25 Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” The disciples were terrified and amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!” (Luke 8:22-25, NLT)

I see at least four lessons here that apply to the storms of life:

  • Jesus sets our direction into the storm (v. 22)
  • Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm (v. 23)
  • Jesus has authority over the storm (v. 24)
  • Jesus uses the storm to increase our faith (v. 25)

Friends, no one is exempt from the storms of life – no, not one. They can occur at any time, day or night, throughout the entire year. So, when you see “storm clouds” brewing on the horizon or if a storm sneaks up on you with no warning — tossing and turning life in ways you could have never predicted — rather than reacting in fear and doubt, choose to look up and see Jesus:

  • Thank Him for His sovereign will over you
  • Praise Him for His steadfast faithfulness to you
  • Revere Him for His authority over and around you
  • Worship Him for His sanctifying work in you

Persecution: Luke 23:28-46 and John 19:26-30

In addition to the physical torture Jesus endured during His trials and execution, Jesus faced those who mocked him, lied about him, mischaracterized his ministry, and aimed to destroy his reputation.  And not just by anyone, but by His own people.  Pilate was ready to set him free when the crowd shouted for the release of Barrabas and the crucifixion of Jesus.  The Romans may have carried out the sentence, but it was the Jewish people – Jesus’ own – who sentenced Him to it.

We know that throughout Jesus’ ministry, He taught us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and persevere persecution.  But there is a degree of pain that is unique when we are persecuted by “our own people” – those who once claimed to have loved us – a family member, a spouse, a close friend, a church member, or a spiritual leader – that makes it particularly difficult to endure.

Adding to our hurt, we might feel emotionally or spiritually paralyzed because no matter how “right” we think we are, nor how sure we are that we sit in “Truth,” we can’t break through to the inner chambers of the other person’s heart.  Where there was once a warm, vibrant, loving relationship is now overtaken by cold, hard apathy at best, and intentional, focused aggression at worst.  As such, the knowledge that there truly is nothing we can do increases the paralyzing, panicky, anxious sensation in the pit of our stomach.  How, then, ought we respond? Is there godly “action” we can take when we are being persecuted by those whom we love, who once claimed to have loved us?

We fully acknowledge that Jesus’ purpose for dying on the cross was to take on our death – the punishment of our sins – and thereby, secure our salvation by His grace.  And Jesus’ death on the cross also reminds us that He endured infinitely greater suffering than we ever will – and that every relationship in the Lord will be fully restored in the New Jerusalem.  But, from the cross, Jesus also provided us with just the action plan we need on this side of heaven when, as Christians, we, too, are persecuted by “our own.”

And, as I would expect, Jesus gives us a solution that requires us to look only inside our own hearts – and not at the hearts of those who aim to hurt us.  From His place on the bloody tree, Jesus spoke seven times.  It is in these seven statements where Jesus gives us an action plan for how we are to respond when we, too, are persecuted by our own.  The result is complete release and total freedom, even amid ongoing persecution.

“Do not cry for me; cry for yourselves and for your children…If men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28-31)

Spoken just prior to being lifted onto the cross, Jesus urges the women who mourn for Him to instead call out to God for His mercy to be on those who persecute Him.

I will not cry for me and indulge in self-pity, but I will “cry” (get on my face and cry out to God) for His mercy to be on those who persecute me – and for others whose lives are impacted by my persecutors.  Lord have mercy.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus goes before The Father to ask forgiveness for all those who are in the midst of crucifying Him.  He doesn’t wait until after the Resurrection to forgive them.  He doesn’t expect the crucifixion to stop because of His act of forgiveness.  (In fact, His enduring the crucifixion is the very act of forgiveness.)  He doesn’t wait for those who persecute Him to be sorry or to ask for forgiveness.  His forgiveness is between Him and The Father.  He gives it freely and He gives it first.

Jesus’ forgiveness is perfect and complete, and therefore, it can be once-given.  Mine is not.  If I have to repeatedly go before the Father to forgive those who persecute me, that’s okay.  If I have to go daily before the Father to forgive those who persecute me, that’s okay.  Any un-forgiveness in my heart toward those who persecute me will inhibit my relationship with the Father.  And if that means I have to daily take it before Him, admit my imperfect forgiveness, and ask for His help to make it complete, He will make it perfect for me.

(To the repentant criminal): “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:40-43)

Jesus continues His ministry, even during His crucifixion.  He never strays off message.  He is not distracted by His own pain and suffering.

I will not allow Satan to distract me from completing my ministry every day – whether at home, in a secular workplace, or a Christian organization – even amid ongoing persecution.  I will repent of my own sin, daily claiming the promise of salvation for me, which will, in and of itself, give me all I need to then lead others to the Lord.

(To His mother and to John): “Dear Woman, here is your son,” and “Here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27)

Even in the midst of his own suffering, Jesus leaves no business unfinished nor any relationship uncared for.

Setting aside my personal pain, I will finish every task The Lord puts before me to my fullest ability and make sure every relationship is well cared for. 

“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

Jesus did not need something to drink.  He asks to taste the vinegar just prior to giving up His Spirit.  Rather than asking for the drink as the means of physical refreshment, I wonder if He is simply choosing to continue to engage with those who persecute Him, continue to show His love for them, even though that means willingly accepting their bitterness and ugly-tasting offering.

I will continue to engage with those who persecute me, willingly accepting their bitterness because to shut off the relationship with them means to shut down my testimony of God’s love for them. 

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Jesus FINISHED His part in God’s plan for our salvation.  He couldn’t go halfway and ask God to just take away the rest.  He had to finish the task completely in order for God’s plan to be complete.  Because Jesus finished, His is not only an example for us to follow, but a promise for us to claim of a final END to our persecution when we reach heaven.

I will finish my part completely.  I will complete whatever task I have.  But, I will also claim that Jesus FINISHED death (physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual death), and therefore, we have the promise that eternal suffering, persecution and condemnation are NOT for those who are in Christ Jesus.

“Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Upon finishing His task, Jesus commits His spirit unto God the Father.  He is completely surrendered to the will of the Father.

I commit my life and my work into the Father’s hands because I belong to Him alone.  I live to glorify and please Him, not those who persecute me.  My life is not in their hands; rather, I place my life into His hands, completely surrendered to a loving Father whom I trust.