Monday, May 30, 2011

I know who you are. 2 Cor 5:17, Chuck style.

My friend Brenda got me hooked onto the television series, "Chuck," and then she got me hooked on one particular quote:

"I know who you are."

Chuck says it to his love interest, Sarah Walker. If you follow the show, you know that Sarah has a past, that she's a spy ... and that Chuck sees her true sweet character throughout all of the facades she may play.

Brenda ties the quote to this verse in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"

I got to thinking about this today. I was flipping through a scrap book that my mother put together for me, and I found this photo from when I was 2.

Have you ever hit a time in life when you felt the Accuser was on your back, constantly?

It's amazing the types of messages you can get from other people -- even well-meaning people. In the past 2 weeks alone, I have been accused of being a bad parent, having religious "pride" (I was told that was my chief "sin") and being a hypocrite, a liar, a bully. I was accused of having a mountain of personal problems, because I had sinned and that God was punishing me for it.

Now ... when I hear things like that, I also have to think about people like my encouraging friend Brenda.

And I think about that verse.

We are new creations in Christ. The old is gone. The new has arrived! (And I love that Paul puts an exclamation point there, too!)

Who will condemn us? Who will accuse us?

Let me tell you something. When you're in a community of Christians and you hear words of condemnation like that, don't listen.

As a body of believers, we are to encourage each other, uphold each other, think the best of each other. We are to be Christ to each other.

Today, when I saw that photo of myself when I was 2, I realized something: This is how Jesus sees me. Innocent. Pure. Precious.


I'm His.

Yes, we do have sins in our lives, but Jesus forgives them. Yes, we're not perfect, but He who was Perfect was made sin for us, so that our perfection can be made complete.

We are new creations.

So the next time the Accuser comes knocking on your door, tell him this:

"Jesus tells me, 'I know who you are.' That's Chuck-style for 2 Corinthians 5:17. I'm a new creation, and I'm loved. Now get behind me."

Put on your Chuck game face. Remember who you ARE.

Because God isn't finished with you yet.

Friday, May 13, 2011

My Safe Place

Do you have a place where you run for solace? A place to commune and just be at peace with God?

This summer I decided to create my own special spot. Of course, we can talk to God anywhere. But sometimes it helps to have a place of refuge, where we know we'll curl up in the morning with a steaming cup of tea or coffee, open our Bibles and just ... sink in.

I made over my frumpy little car port into such a place, and I'm looking forward to the hot days and nights in my safe place. Click on the photo below to check it out.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Second-Guessing God's Goodness: The Conclusion

Conclusion of this story series ...

Let's face it. Bad things happen. Terrible things happen. And through all of it, all of us, even the strongest of believers, second-guess God's goodness.

I love the story of Lazarus's rise from death because of the complexity of reactions of the people affected by it. We can all see ourselves in at least one of these people.

Which one are you?

1) Thomas, the logical disciple: If you're a Thomas, you cling to the obvious. You may be loyal to Jesus on pain of death, but seeing past the small picture into the larger eternal one is a leap for you. You may feel like God allows bad things to happen, and you don't fault Him for it, but you also don't expect big things of Him, either. You're not going to get your hopes up that He'll rise to the occasion on your behalf. You're going to see the situation through, keep believing in God, but not believe enough that He will turn tragedy into victory.

2) Martha and Mary, the wounded sisters: If you're a Martha or a Mary, you ask the question, "If You loved me, why weren't You here to prevent this from happening?" You're mad at God, thinking that He ignored your plight, even though you've been faithful to Him. You don't understand why He'd sit silently by while a horrible thing occurred. And yet, when you do finally fall at His feet and weep, you sense His calm and love. Your heart turns towards Him. You believe in His goodness, and you trust that even in the blackest of days, God is working to bring good to your life again.

3) The Religious Leaders: If you're a Pharisee, you do a great job of faking faith. You put on a terrific show of loving God and being concerned for those in need. But when push comes to shove, you sincerely doubt God's goodness. When God does a miracle for you or in front of you, you easily dismiss it for a logical or scientific reason. In short, you're not going to believe in God for any reason. And you'll do anything you can to sow the seeds of doubt into the hearts of others.

And what is God's reaction to all of this?

Well, to know that, we have to look at what Jesus did.

1) He cried with those who were in pain. He didn't want them to have to go through any of it. But the fallen world brings along with it imperfections and evil -- and death. Man's sin brings bad things into men's lives. God won't prevent bad things from happening to you. But He will cry with you.

2) He felt anger at the situation. God is just as angry as you are at what has happened. In fact, He's angrier than you'll ever be. He knows more than any of us the cost. He gave His own Son to die on the cross so that we can live in a spirit of freedom. We can look at these tragedies in the face and say, "You will not defeat me, because God has defeated you." And God has. God defeated death. God defeated evil. God defeated sin. God doesn't prevent it from happening, no. But by Jesus's death on the cross, we can receive forgiveness for our sins, live in harmony and in trust and in love with God. And when this life is over, when we ourselves face death's grim face, death will not have power over us, just as it didn't over Lazarus. Our spirits will be raised to be with God in a place that is no longer touched by sorrow or pain.

3) He acted in spite of their unbelief. Even though some people were muttering against Him, saying He could have healed Lazarus, Jesus acted. Even though His closest friends doubted Him and asked where He'd been, Jesus acted. Even though His disciple Thomas gave a rousing show of support but fell short of expecting Jesus to do the impossible, Jesus acted.

In this case, Jesus brought the grave to its knees.

He brought a dead man back to life.

He turned mourning into dancing.

He proved He was God's Son.

And most of all, He demonstrated to all of us that even when we second-guess God's goodness, God loves us.

He loves us.

He loves us.

He loves us.

Do you get it, though?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Plot to Kill The Formerly Dead Guy

Part 9 in this story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Now you can imagine that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that had a serious effect on a lot of people who saw it happen. John, who writes the story, tells us that many people believed in Jesus that day.

Many people?

You mean, not all of them believed?

Logically, I would think that if I'd seen a dead guy walk out of a grave four days after being put in there, it would be enough for me to believe anything.

But guess what.

Some of those who were present high tailed it right back to Jesus's sworn enemies in Jerusalem. And when the chief priests heard about what happened, it set in motion their plans to kill Jesus. So Jesus withdrew until the Passover.

Now you know what happened at that Passover feast, right?

That happens to be Palm Sunday, when Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey, and many hailed Him as the Messiah.

Guess who else was there.

Yep -- Lazarus.

So .......... what do you think Jesus's enemies wanted to do with Lazarus? I mean, this guy was the proof in the pudding that Jesus was who He said He was -- the Son of God.

Yep: They made plans to assassinate Lazarus, too. They couldn't have that guy around! It would wreck everything for them!

Now let's look at this in more detail and how it pertains to us:

Has God ever done hand stands and back flips for you so that you'll believe? And when He does, do you recognize those things and sink your faith into Him more ... or do you look for excuses to kill the flicker of a flame of belief?

Here's the thing: There are people who, no matter what you say or do to share Jesus, will NEVER believe. NEVER. They will never believe. And you can't do anything about it. You know why? Because ultimately, it's between them and God. You can't force this.

When I was on Twitter trying to share my faith with atheists, I found that consistently they would say the same thing:

"If God is God, then why doesn't He grow an amputee's arm back? If I saw that, I'd believe in God."

My response always was, "What, raising Himself back from the dead isn't good enough for you?"

Because, listen.

God has already done the unthinkable -- the unimaginable. He resurrected Himself and conquered death. And we see from the story of Lazarus that even in that day -- EVEN PEOPLE WHO SAW IT HAPPEN -- did NOT believe.

So where does this leave us?

Tune in for the conclusion of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Asking the Unthinkable, Expecting the Impossible

Part 8 in the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Jesus stood at the face of Lazarus's tomb and then said the most unthinkable thing anyone could have imagined.

"Take away the stone."


How could He? Did He want to go inside the grave and look at the friend who He should have snatched from the jaws of death? If He'd just shown up earlier, none of them would even BE here at this grave! And now He wanted them to take the stone away? Was He out of His mind? How inappropriate! How selfish! How self-abasing, to want to grieve next to the dead body that He should have made whole when the man was alive! Take away the stone? Who did He think He was, anyway, God?

Martha spoke up on behalf of the group. Surely they were all thinking those things, and yet she managed to try to speak ease into the uncomfortable situation by offering a practical observation:

"But Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."

"Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"

The words stung Martha and the entire crowd. And with that question, Jesus threw down the gauntlet between hearts of doubt and hearts of faith. But were the sisters willing to go that far? If they opened the grave and nothing happened, they'd be seen as foolish women following a false prophet whose only interest was in self-glorification. And yet ... were they willing to make their loyalty and friendship to Jesus even stronger, by placing faith that He'd do something good for them?

In short, did they really trust in God's goodness, or did they second-guess it?

They went for it. They moved the stone. In spite of Jesus asking the unthinkable, they did it. With that one action, they effectively were saying to him, "OK. You told us to do this, and we trust you, no matter what. You can do the impossible, and we expect the impossible."

Jesus prayed aloud.

"Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

Then He paused and stared at the tomb, one which was extremely similar to that which He knew He'd be laid shortly.

No one moved. All eyes focused on Jesus as they waited for ... what, exactly? They were almost afraid to guess.

Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"

They heard a rustling from within the cave. Shuffling footsteps. Then they caught a glimpse of white linen as the head of a wrapped man bent underneath a low-hanging archway.

And Lazarus, wrapped in his grave clothes, some covering his face, walked out of the grave, four days after his death.

"Take off the grave clothes and let him go," Jesus said simply.

And yet.

After this miracle ... this unthinkable, impossible act of God Himself ... do you think it would be logical for all present to believe?

Yes, it would be.

But that isn't what happened.

Tune in for part 9 of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness."

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Naysayer Masqueraders

Part 7 of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Jesus's tears provoked an interesting reaction.

Some of the religious leaders were touched. "See how He loved him!" they commented.

But then there were the others. I call them the "naysayer masqueraders." You know the type. These are the people who show up to offer you comfort in a difficult time but ever so conveniently whisper doubt in your ear about God's goodness.

They masquerade as well-intentioned, good-hearted souls. And I'm sure they think they fit that definition. But in reality, they're the ones who actually can spur your heart to mistrust and poison you with subtle, smooth words.

Their logic is powerful. They state the obvious. They don't sugarcoat what they're thinking. They offer their "wisdom" with concerned expressions, a hand on the small of the back and kind eyes.

But let's call this what it is.



These are the people who, when you are at your most vulnerable state, can with one sentence throw your whole relationship with God into a storm-fest of disbelief.

When the naysayer masqueraders saw Jesus crying at Lazarus's tomb, this is how they called it:

"Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Do you get it?

Look how logical that is.

Look how a statement like that could sneak into the side door of your heart and give you pause, causing you to slam the brakes on trust in the face of trauma.

What I love, though, is Jesus's reaction to this whole scene. What happened next cinches every situation in which you have reason to second-guess God's goodness.

Tune in for the next part of the story.