When God Seems Distant

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Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

 

I was ready to respond to those who didn’t ask.
    I was ready to be found by those who didn’t look for me.
I said, “I’m here! I’m here!” to a nation
    that didn’t call on my name.
I extended my hands all day
    to a rebellious people
        walking in a way that isn’t good,
        following their own plans;

Isaiah 65: 1-2

As a pastor, folks tend to be spiritually open and honest when they come to my office or when I visit with them.  It’s not unusual to hear words like, “God seems distant.”, or even “God couldn’t still love me after what I’ve done.”

The Bible is full of reassurances like this one from Isaiah.  Isaiah spoke these words to people who felt like God had abandoned them.  These are meant to be words of comfort and hope that God has not abandoned us.  The prophet’s words remind us that God never left, and God’s hope and love for us never waned – it’s the people who moved away from God.  As a friend of mine likes to say, “If you feel far off from God, guess who moved?”

Sometimes we just need to reminded that God still loves us in spite of who we are and what we have done.

Fred needed to hear these words when I visited him in the local jail.  Justin needed to hear these words when I met with him in the hospital.  Scott needed to hear these words when he came into my office:  “God still loves you.”

Maybe you’re the one who needs to hear these words today.  God still loves you!, Always has and always will, no matter what you’ve done.

We all have times in our lives where we need the reassurance, after what we heinous things we have done, that God still loves us.  (That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer consequences for our actions, but that nothing can stop God from loving you.)

Maybe you need to hear it again.  God still loves you.

Prayer:  Lord, after all that I’ve done, I’m amazed that you could still love me.  I know I don’t deserve it, but thanks.  I guess that’s why it’s called amazing grace.  I pray today for all those who feel far off from you or don’t believe that you still love them.  May they hear your voice when you say, “Here I am!  I’m here.”

Following the Rules or Living Love?


  • For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.” – ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:4-6‬ ‭MSG‬‬

For me, Christianity and my faith is not about all of the rules or a set of “right” beliefs, it’s about how God’s love and grace transforms and shapes us for living.  These words above were penned by Paul, the guy who was an ultimate rule follower and killer of Christians, but became a missionary for The Way, teaching others about faith as a way of life and Jesus commandment to love.

If the Church would love more and judge less, the world will be a much different place.  I think we, the Church, the disciples of Jesus, are being led to way of life that is far less concerned with right beliefs and far more concerned about living love.

I’m not saying rules and understanding don’t matter or are not important; I believe they are, but I think the recurring theme of God’s love and grace throughout the Bible is  more important.

Prayer: “Show me how you work, GOD; School me in your ways.”  Psalm‬ ‭25:4‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Today’s blog was inspired by recent reading of Richard Rohr and Brian McLaren

Why Work Hard?

father's outlook

 

I also observed that people work hard and become good at what they do only out of mutual envy. This too is pointless, just wind chasing. – Ecclesiastes 4:4

 

It’s almost Father’s Day, which has me wondering two things.  One, because I’m a dad, I feel the joy and the weight of that responsibility, and two, I wonder what gift my family will get me to celebrate the occasion.

Work hard, have more.  Seems to be a mantra of our culture.  Advertisers depend on it.  But really, where does it get us?  And yet, as a dad, I have everything I need and more.  And yet, as a father, I still get excited about the thought of adding to my treasure store.

Today’s verse from Ecclesiastes might as well be from Proverbs.  There’s a backhanded wisdom here.  Wisdom from what is foolish.  Chasing after more always leads to emptiness, yet we chase it all the more.  It’s a stark reminder that I need to hear from time to time.  Maybe you do too?

In a positive light, this verse, because it reminds me of the emptiness of hard work for wealth’s sake, it also reminds me of hard work for God’s sake, for the world’s sake, and for my family’s sake.

In reverse wisdom way, Ecclesiastes 4:4 reminds me of my “why”. Why I do what I do, and where the drive comes from to work hard at it.

Let me encourage you to once again consider your “why”.  “Why” do you do what you do?  Yes to make a living.  Yes for provisions.  Yes, because you can, and by doing what you do well, you can make the world and your neighborhood a better place.

That’s why.

Prayer:  Lord, your love inspires us to work hard to make the world around us better for others.  Help me to remember this when my heart again strays to chasing more material things or wealth.  Amen.

 

photo credit:  Abdeel Zavala Lopez, available @ unsplash.com

In Pursuit of Wisdom


“My child, if your heart is wise, then my heart too will be happy.”‭‭ – Proverbs‬ ‭23:15‬ ‭CEB‬‬

We all make bad choices, myself included.  That’s why wisdom is so important.  The Bible even personifies God as wisdom.  (It should be noted that wisdom is a feminine noun in ancient Greek.)

In a sense then, it occurs to me that striving for Wisdom is like chasing after God.  I like to think I’m getting wiser every day.  The pursuit of being more like Jesus, is in part, pursuing wisdom.  

Solomon didn’t wish for more wealth or more power as king, he asked the Lord for wisdom.  

I appreciate today’s verse from Proverbs 23 even more from a parental perspective.  

I don’t just want wisdom for myself.  Because I see it’s value, I want it even more for our children.  

Lord knows they’ll need it.  Look at the global problems and issues we are handing them.  

Maybe we could all do little more in pursuing God and live a little more like Jesus by chasing wisdom.  And maybe, just maybe, the world around us will be better for it. 

Prayer:  Lord, grant me wisdom.  Amen. 

Contagious Grace

the-grace-card

As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory. – 2 Corinthians 4: 15

I deserved to be in trouble for being a brat in class.  Mrs. Stubblefield showed me grace.  I never misbehaved in her class again.  How could I?  The grace she showed me, transformed me as a student and as a person.  It was a seemingly small act of grace, but over two decades later, it’s still a profound moment for me.

The apostle Paul writes about the grace that God give us. It’s supposed to inspire us, to well up in us, so that we share it with others.  This grace that God gives, we give.  Paul says that paying this grace forward brings God glory.

All this has me thinking today, “who can I share grace with today?”  I hope you’re asking the same question of yourself.

This grace thing is supposed to be contagious, and when it is, to God be the glory, because that’s where it all started.

In a world full of despair and fear, maybe gifting grace to each other is the prescription we need most.

Thanks to God and to Mrs. Stubblefield, and all those who show grace.  Now it’s our turn, you and me, to go be the people that God uses to spread grace around the world.

Prayer:  Lord, thanks for your grace.  Now, show me who I can share that same grace with, the grace you first gave me.  Amen

Rising from the Ashes

Adversity - CSLewis

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! He is the compassionate Father and God of all comfort. He’s the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God. – 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4

I recently heard an interview with Ryan Leaf.  He was the second player selected in the NFL draft of 1998, behind Peyton Manning.  Believe it or not, there was serious discussion over who should be drafted first.  He was that good, and then…everything went wrong.  Long story short, he didn’t go on to NFL glory, he went to jail, addicted to pain killers.  Now, from his life experience, he’s sharing his story to help others who are battling addictions.  If you get a chance, you can hear a bit his story here.

Cyndi lost her son to addiction.  Now she’s started a support group for people who have lost a family member to addiction.

We have a grief group that meets at our church, comprised of widows, who come together to support one another for those who know the pain of losing a spouse.

What do all of these folks have in common?  Through their tribulations, the have found the strength, courage, and the will to help others who are going through the same things.

That’s what Paul is talking about here in 2 Corinthians.

It is precisely because of our experience and hardship, that God can use us to help others.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying God created our hardships, most of that we do on our own, or it’s just a part of life.  However, I do believe that God can use that experience of suffering that we have gone through to help others.

Two things come to mind for me today in this passage through Paul’s words.  One, God is with us in our time of trial and in our tribulations, and God knows what it’s like because Jesus suffered on the Cross.  Two, God wants to make good come from our hardships.  Like the legendary phoenix rising from the ashes, God brings new life where the world sees death.

My friend Judi was part of widows group at a congregation I used to serve.  She said once, “We don’t want new people for our group, (because it means they are suffering the loss of a spouse), but we are here for anyone who needs us.”   They went to lunch together every Sunday after worship, because they had learned that was a lonely time for widows.

So, you know your hardships.  If you are currently going through some hard time, ask for help, find someone who has been there before, and learn from them.  If you have come through tough times and suffering, how does God want to use you to help others who are now going through similar situations?

Prayer:  Lord, you have walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death.  Now use me as a guide for others who travel this road.  Amen.

Learning Patience

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Patience leads to abundant understanding,
    but impatience leads to stupid mistakes. – Proverbs 14: 29 (CEB)

If you want to get better at something it takes practice.  We can learn from books and teachers, but the greatest teacher in life is experience.

Reading through Proverbs 14 today, there’s a lot of wisdom, but the verse that jumped out at me was vs. 29.  Maybe because patience is still something I need to learn.  My passion bucket for life runs deep.   To say I have a competitive nature, well, most of my friends and family would tell you that’s an understatement.  I have learned that much of life is not a competition, but changing my ways and habits is always difficult.  I’m sure some of you reading this can identify.  We all have areas of our life and personality we would like to improve.

The problem with learning patience is the necessary experience.  I know if I pray for patience the Lord will send me opportunities to learn and grow and they will be tough situations.

I’m finding my courage to pray to learn to be more patient because I want to be a better husband, I want to be a better dad, I want to be a better friend, and I want to be a better pastor.

So here goes…do you have the courage to pray for patience with me?

Prayer:  Lord, I feel the need to be more patient.  It’s an act of love.  Help me to learn patience.  Give me the opportunities to learn.  Bring it on.  After all that you have done for me, I want to be better, I want to do better…I want to be more patient.  Lord help me.  Amen.

Trust Issues

sheep

When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  – John 10: 4

As a parent, I love my kids.  Shocking, I know.  But because I love my children I have this desire to provide for them and protect them until they can do it on their own some day.  My kids know I love them, but I don’t know if they’ll ever understand how much.

Through Jesus, we know God loves us, but I’m not sure we’ll ever understand how much.

In John 10, Jesus is using shepherding analogies to help us understand who he is, and therefore who God is – and not just who God is, but what God is like, that is, the very essence and nature of God.

We know that a shepherd takes care of the sheep, but here in verse 4, it’s more than that.  The shepherd goes ahead of the sheep, to lead and guide them, to ensure the sheep get water and pasture, and safety – provision and protection.

Because God loves us so much, God wants to fill that role of providing and protecting us.  The only question left is will we follow where God’s love leads?

As I read these words, I am invited and challenged once again to trust the voice of The One wants to provide and protect me.  Am I listening to this voice?  Do I trust this voice more than I trust myself?  Do you?  It’s the voice of one who is wiser than we are and loves us more than we could ever comprehend.

Prayer:  Lord, your love is trustworthy.  Help me trust in you today more than I trust myself, my own strength, or my own understanding.  Amen.

True Hope is Not a Return to the Past

always new

18 Don’t remember the prior things;
    don’t ponder ancient history.
19 Look! I’m doing a new thing;
    now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert,
    paths[a] in the wilderness.

– Isaiah 43: 18-19

It seems the older we get, the less open we are to change.   As we age we find a way, a routine, that works for us, and as long as nothing, no one, or no circumstance messes that up, we’re good.  Here’s the thing.  While many things are similar day-to-day, nothing is ever the same.  Life around us and in us is always changing.  Deep down we know that.  We feel it in our aching bones.  Maybe that’s part of why we pine for the good ‘ole days and the way things were.  

Here’s the dirty little secret.  That’s past is always what was, and not what is, or what will be.  No matter how great the past was, it’s not coming back.  We need to know our history, remember it, and learn from it, but it’s never coming back. Unlike Jesus, that past can’t be resurrected.  

Part #2 of that secret?  That’s how God created the world to be.  Always changing, always creating itself anew.  Always changing, adapting, growing.  It’s in the definition of what it means to be alive.

Case in point:  I’m not the same dad today that I was to my children when they were babies or toddlers.  Our relationship is alive and therefore always changing.   When your cells in your body stop growing and changing, well, it means you’ve joined the Lord on the other side of death.  

Here’s the beauty I find in it though.  No two days are alike.  It’s an adventure, a new leg of life’s journey each day.  You never know what lies ahead on the next page in the story of your life.  

In the Isaiah 43: 18-19, the Israelites are hoping for a return to the glory days.  They wer great, then destroyed and sent into exile.  Through Isaiah, the Lord explains, that our past is in the past, but also promises to be with us today in making the future.  This is true hope – Not a return to the past, but God with us today and tomorrow and forever.  God creates anew and God continues to love.  That’s how God rolls.

Prayer:  God you’ve been gracious to us in the past.  Be with us today.  The only thing that doesn’t change is Your love for us, and that is more than enough.  Amen.

The Parts of the Bible I Don’t like

 

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“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”  – Romans 12: 14

Mark Twain famously said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

Like the verse above from Romans 12 about blessing those who persecute you, or Jesus teaching about loving not only you neighbor, but also loving your enemy (Matthew 5: 43-44), some parts of the bible, I think I understand, and they really convict me to my core.

Loving those who love you is hard enough, but for the followers of Jesus it’s not enough.  We are commanded to love those who persecute us, our enemies.

Today, well, every day, I’m challenged to love those folks that just don’t like me.  My big brother taught me something years ago.  He said, “Trust me, there are plenty of people who have had good reasons to not like you, but there are also those persons who don’t like you, well, just because they don’t like you.”

It’s hard for us to understand most of us to understand that some people aren’t going to like us “just because”.

Although it doesn’t seem to matter to Paul, as the author of Romans, or to Jesus about the “why” someone doesn’t like us, or even “why” we might not like them – whatever the reason – we are called and commanded to love and bless our enemies anyway.

I guess Twain was right, it’s not the parts of the bible I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.

My challenge every day, and my challenge to you today, is to love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.

So who is The Spirit prodding you to love today?  Which persecutor or enemy?

Prayer:  Lord, loving is hard and makes us vulnerable, yet you call us to love not only our neighbor, but even our enemies and those who would persecute us.  Give us the strength and wisdom to do it.  Amen.