On God and gummy worms

NCSPCJXHSeveral Sundays ago, right in the middle of singing a familiar worship song, God showed up. My eight-year-old son was singing next to me. His attitude had not been the greatest, and mine could have used a few adjustments too. He was fidgeting, and I was trying hard to keep my thoughts in order for the message that I was about to give. That’s when it happened — he stopped fidgeting long enough to tug on my sleeve. “Dad” he whispered, as his lower lip quivered. I leaned down to listen as he continued. “Remember the other night when you told me not to eat any more gummy worms after I got in bed?” He pauses, his eyes refusing to look at me. “Well, I did.”

I stop singing, and sit down next to him. I touch his chin to redirect his eyes to mine. “Are you asking me to forgive you?” He nods. His lip still quivering. I smile. “Well, I do.” He throws his arms around my neck, refusing to let go. The music is still playing. The congregation is still singing. But God’s message is rising above all of that. He is speaking his familiar story of repentance and forgiveness through a little boy who is clinging tightly to the neck of his father.

I set my son down and continue to sing with the rest of the congregation, but there is a voice that is singing more loudly than mine. I stop singing again, and listen to the eight year old next to me singing with all of his heart:

God of wonders beyond our galaxy; You are holy, holy.
Precious Lord reveal Your heart to me, Father hold me, hold me.
The universe declares Your majesty, You are holy, holy, holy, holy.
Hallelujah, to the Lord of heaven and earth!

My son isn’t only singing loudly, but he’s smiling — the kind of smile you can’t hold back no matter how hard you try. The kind of smile you have when you no longer have to hide a secret.

God, do you feel this kind of joy — the father’s joy I feel right now — when I come to you in repentance, seeking your forgiveness? I look at my son again, who is still belting the song with everything he’s got.  And is that what I look like when I’ve been forgiven – unable to contain the joy of a burden lifted? 

His voice raises at the refrain: Hallelujah, to the Lord of heaven and earth! I think to myself: I couldn’t agree more.

A great story on forgiveness

Ravensbruck prisonI shared Corrie Ten Boom’s story on forgiveness this past Sunday. This is a story that never grows old.

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. …

And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. …

“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.

“I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us.”

“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, …” his hand came out, … “will you forgive me?”

And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” …

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/voices/boom.html

What restoration doesn’t mean

2013-09-08 RestorationFor 22 years Joseph had been in Egypt while his brothers lived daily with the lie they had propagated about his death. For that same time Joseph’s father believed him to be dead, and never stopped mourning for his son. You would have thought that such a restoration would be a great celebration. I’m sure it was, but it was not without its challenges. Don’t be caught off when you confront challenges in the restoration process. Here are three from the Joseph account.

Restoration doesn’t mean you will be without regret.

Joseph had a gift for each of the brothers who had sold him into slavery: a new cloak (Gen. 45:22). Can you imagine wearing your new cloak on your three-week journey to tell your father you had lied to him when you had torn up Joseph’s cloak and stained it with blood?  The cloak was a garment by day, and a blanket by night. A 24/7 reminder of what they wished they hadn’t done.  Even when we have been restored in our relationship with another, we may still have regrets for a past that we wasted.

Restoration doesn’t mean that there will no longer be conflict.

One of the final warnings Joseph gave his brothers was: “Do not quarrel on the way” (Gen. 45:24). A great reminder that just because we’re restored doesn’t mean our old habits of blaming others will no longer be a problem. The brothers had years of habitually lying and failing to take responsibility for their actions.  A change of heart was a start, but it did not instantaneously bring about a change of life style. Don’t be discouraged when, having restored a relationship, you still have some conflicts. Give thanks for the restoration, and work at changing the old habits in your communication.

Restoration doesn’t mean you will find it easy to trust.

When the brothers do tell their father that Joseph is alive, Jacob goes into shock. He doesn’t believe them (Gen. 45:26). That shouldn’t be surprising. He is asked to believe sons that have just confessed they had been lying for 22 years in a row. If you are working towards being restored in a broken relationship, don’t assume trust will come naturally. The other person’s belief in you will come, but it may take time. Joseph’s story gives us a unique insight into this truth. The passage says, “But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (Gen. 45:27). Jacob couldn’t deny what he could see. So it is with trust. Be thankful that there is a commitment to restore the relationship, and don’t demand that the offended party trust you too early. Give them time to see the change. Trust grows when what we say synchronizes with what they see.

Safe in the Storm

front cover proof safe in stormIn John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Hopeful passes over the final river without difficulty, while Christian fights to keep his head above water. Nevertheless, both reached their final destination. God is taking you on a journey. Your path may be darker than others’, but it is doable. Not because of your strength, but because of his power. Not because of your plans, but because of his wisdom. not because of who you are, but just because he loves you too much to leave you where you are. As you trust him, you can remain safe in the storm.

Taken from Safe in the Storm: biblical strategies for overcoming anxiety, p. 58. Published by Biblical Strategies. Available through Amazon.com.

The importance of framing your worldview

Slide1The landscape of our culture’s thought patterns is changing rapidly. You will struggle to grasp how significant those changes are unless you examine their foundations. The following slides will walk you through seven different worldviews that have left a significant impact on our society, and provide you with the Biblical response.
J.B. Phillips warned us:

Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold, but instead let yourself be transformed by the renewing of your mind (J.B. Phillips translation of Romans 12:2)

Now is the time to think carefully about what you believe (slides read from left to right).

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Why do I procrastinate?

Slide1Procrastination. At five syllables even the word takes a long time to say. Say it slowly and you’re liable to evoke images of unbalanced checkbooks, people you meant to call back, and honey-do lists that have no end in sight. Each of us has a propensity to put off certain tasks. Perhaps you’re among those who thought that procrastination was your spiritual gift, and that you had been given a double portion.

Most books on procrastination will talk about time-management. But procrastinating is more than a time issue. It’s root cause lies deeper. We can’t simply address how we stop putting off the important tasks, without answering why we were putting them off in the first place. Here are three primary causes. Choose the one that applies to you and start to work on it today – not tomorrow.

Fear: The secret motivator

Jesus told the story of three stewards who were entrusted with various amounts of wealth. The first two invested wisely, but the final steward hid his talent in the ground. Notice his confession when his boss returns home.

Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours  (Matt. 25:24-25).

The unwise steward was afraid. Fear is often the motivator for putting off what is difficult. Perhaps we’re afraid of failure or what others might think of us. This perpetrator works in secret, because rarely do we confess our fear to others until it is too late. How much better to confess your fears early on, seek help, and then walk by faith.

Sloth: The stubborn enabler

A wild sloth can sleep 15-18 hours a day. Which is about as much as a domestic house cat (but that’s another story). Talk about an unproductive life. By contrast, the Bible holds up the ant as a model for the sluggard to examine.

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? (Prov. 6:6-11)

The ant is thinking about her future,  and she busies herself over making sure she’s prepared. Even hard workers can struggle with laziness, when it comes to what they don’t want to do. When I received my grandmother’s Bible upon her death, a small note fell out of it. In her own handwriting I read: The longer you wait to solve a problem — the more serious it quickly becomes. Don’t put off tomorrow what should be done today.

Pride: The overconfident optimist

The procrastinator always believes that tomorrow will provide a better opportunity than today. This is pride’s subtle lie. We don’t know that we will have tomorrow. We do know that we have today. James gave this strong warning:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance (James 4:13-16).

James reminds the procrastinator that he has a pride problem. He is overconfident in his optimism.  He has arrogantly assumed  that he will be in a better position tomorrow. But we don’t know that we will have tomorrow, so we ought to make a humble investment in tomorrow by being diligent today.