Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We Need People

As creatures, we have needs. One of our needs is for other people. It has been said we have been created with a God shaped hole, but we also have a person shape hole. In the beginning of creation, God creates everything good. He pronounces everything good until in Genesis 2:18 he says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.” Then God creates woman. This passage certainly points to marriage, but it also points to our fundamental need for other human beings. It is not good for us to be alone.

Here are some of the ways we need people.

1. Touch - We first and foremost need people for physical touch. If we are not held and touched when we are first born, we can die that is how bad we need touch. This need for touch does not go away.

2. To be understood – You and I have a fundamental need to be understood. We need to know that someone understands our perspective. Being understood connects us to other people.

3. Acceptance – We not only have a need for another person to understand us, but then to go further and accept us for our warts and weaknesses. Andy Stanley notes that acceptance paves the way to influence. It paves the way because it meets a deep need in us.

4. Spiritual growth – We grow in character through our relationships with other people. We learn to love by loving other people and putting up with their warts and weaknesses. The New Testament is full of instructions for spiritual growth that require relationships.

Those are a few ways in which we need people. What are some other ways you recognize your need for other human beings?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

We Need Jesus To Lead

It may sound obvious enough, but if you want to lead people spiritually, we need Jesus. In Acts 19, we learn that Paul is in Ephesus. God is doing extraordinary miracles through him. Some itinerant Jewish exorcists see the power of God working through Paul. Presumably they hear Paul doing amazing work by calling on the name of Jesus. These Jewish exorcists start copying Paul and try to engage in spiritual warfare against demons by saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” They don’t really know Jesus. They have no intimacy with Jesus and they just are using his name. As a spiritual leader we can fall into a similar rut. We can speak about Jesus or talk about spiritual matters in religious language or look the part, but all out of intimacy with Jesus. When we fail to cultivate our own relationship with Jesus we really have no authority or ability to lead others. This is what happens to the Jewish preachers.

The evil spirit answers them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know but who are you.” Acts goes on to tell us that, “And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, so that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.” The story is on one hand comic. You can imagine these guys being utterly shocked when the possessed man speaks back to them. And they run away naked and wounded. On the other hand, it is tragic because it is a story that gets repeated in so much in ministry and Church leadership. People get burned out because they have put the work of ministry ahead of an intimate relationship with Christ and so they have nothing to offer.

Or worst happens, people continue to work for the Church and they get by on skill or charisma or personality running the Church but they no longer have anything to really offer people because their own relationship with Jesus is stagnant. Eventually Churches without spiritual leaders who follow Jesus become stagnant.

In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he is it that bears much fruit for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus tells us pretty plainly that if we want to bear fruit as spiritual leaders we have to abide in him, remain in him, stay connected to him. Just as the branch receives nutrients and hydration and then can bear fruit, we receive the power and ability to produce fruit and produce disciples by remaining connected to him. On the other hand, apart from him we can do nothing. Apart from Jesus our works and our efforts are useless. We need him to lead others spiritually and no giftedness or ability on our part can make up for a lack of intimacy with Jesus.

If we don’t stay connected to Jesus either we will wind up beaten up and wounded like the itinerant Jewish exorcists or we will look successful superficially but not really produce fruit.

Why do we try and lead separately from Jesus?

Monday, April 23, 2012

God Provides

We are creatures and as creatures, we have needs. Our greatest and first need is for God. We especially need a relationship and intimacy with God. God desires intimacy with us and promises that if we will draw close to him and trust in him then he will meet all our other needs. Our neediness will either drive us closer to God or drive us further away from him. We will seek God and trust him to meet our needs or we will trust in things and wind up seeking them.

God promises to provide us with what we need. And he promises us himself. God’s providing for our needs and offering of himself go hand in hand. God will not meet our needs without offering us himself. And God meets our needs in order that we might know him. The story of the testing of Abraham so clearly illustrates this point.

God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham had waited years and years for God to provide offspring and fulfill his promise to him. Then one day God asks Abraham to take his one and only son and sacrifice him. Abraham obeys, only telling Isaac that they are going on a journey to make a sacrifice to God. On the way up the mountain, Isaac asks Abraham, “Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7)

Abraham responds with a line that is so rich and has such depth it is impossible to do it justice in this blog post. Abraham responds, “God will provide HIMSELF the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” God will provide himself. God is our provider. He can meet all our needs. He can meet our need or food and shelter and basic security. He can provide the approval we crave and the money to pay our bills. In meeting our needs and coming through for us, he most wants to provide himself. As we seek God for himself, we will find our needs met and a deeper relationship with him. When we seek God just for stuff, we lose both. As CS Lewis said, “Aim for heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim for earth and you will miss both.” Aim for a relationship with God and you will find your needs met. Aim for just your needs and you will struggle just to meet your needs and you will miss out on God.

Monday, April 16, 2012

God Is Quirky

Our God has a personality. The God of the Bible isn’t vanilla. He isn’t some ubiquitous force. As I read Scripture, especially as I have been reading the prophets recently, I have been learning to appreciate more God’s personality, especially the personality of our heavenly Father. Through the prophets, we see he gets angry, pissed off really and yet will go to any lengths to communicate his love for us. So often this personality gets lost in Church world or worst professional Church people or theologians will be embarrassed by passages of Scripture that really show God’s personality. Our God has a personality. Think of some of the things he told his prophets to do. He told Hosea to marry a prostitute so that he could show the Israelites they had prostituted themselves by chasing after protection from foreign gods and foreign nations. He told Jeremiah to put on underwear, then bury it and dig it up after a period of time to show how intimate he had wanted a relationship with them, but the relationship had deteriorated. I love this line in the 48th chapter of Isaiah. It says, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One O Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. O that you had listened to my commandments!’” I love that. You can hear the frustration in God’s voice that people will just not listen to him and do what is for their own good. As a parent, I often feel the same way with their kids. If we are growing more intimate with God, we are getting to know more his personality. We grow closer to God when we read Scripture in a way in which we see God is quirky, he is playful. Why do you think we are more comfortable with a vanilla God? What do you think of calling God quirky?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why Don't We See Our Need For God?

Over the last few weeks, I have blogged about how we are creatures with needs. Our health, our spiritual growth and overall success in life are greatly affected by how we meet those needs. As I have tried to write about our need for God, I have struggled to articulate why we need God. I have been reading Safe People by John Townsend and Henry Cloud and it helped me clear up the struggle. They write, “God has created all of us incomplete, in adequate, and in need of a huge shopping list of ingredients that we cannot provide ourselves…Deep within, all of us hate the idea of having to need other, having to ask for what we don’t have, having to bow the knee to God.” Basically, it is difficult because I am prideful. In general, we are prideful creatures who really don’t like admitting our needs. And often when we do admit our needs, we make it sound like others owe it to us. We need God more than anything else, but because we are so wounded by original sin, it is most difficult to see our deep need for God. Food and clothing and shelter and our physical needs we see pretty clearly. Our soul’s need for God is obscured by our pride and spiritual blindness. As I reflect on my prayer recently, I am not sure I have been really seeking God. I’ve had quiet time, but I think I have been looking for answers to problems more than I have been looking for God. I have put my needs for solutions to problems ahead of my need for God. Our souls desperately need God, but we have to continually reawaken that need because in our pride we will lose sight of our need for God and act like practical atheists. Do you agree that pride blinds us of our greatest need for God?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Principle of Yesterday

What happens today is the result of my actions yesterday. I am trying to drill that principle into my head. As simple as that principle sounds, I forget it. I especially forget it when I have a bad day of writing. I will stare at the screen and struggle to put thoughts together. I feel like I am wasting time. When I come home from work and my wife Mia asks how my day was, “I say frustrating. Or OK.” Then nine times out of ten when I go back the next day to write, things click. Suddenly, I have something to say. A good day of writing usually follows a bad day of writing or a day of struggle. If something comes easily to me, it is usually because an idea has been marinating in my mind for a while. The struggle of yesterday or past thought and reflection has become fruitful today.

The same thing happens in my spiritual life. I will pray today for something and expect God to act. Recently, I fasted for something and expected to see results from God that same day. What was I thinking? That is not how God works. We offer to him and then it usually God responds in his time, not ours, but it is rarely instant. This is why Scripture tells us over and over again to wait upon the Lord.

In an age of instant gratification and communication, we find it very difficult to remember that today was shaped yesterday. You reap what you sow. Whatever you have today is the result of yesterday’s actions. Yesterday may mean literally yesterday or a week ago or a month ago or a year ago.

Knowing that today is formed by yesterday, I offer two practical piece of advice.
One, don’t allow the feelings of struggle to defeat you. Struggle today often brings fruit tomorrow. The next time I struggle writing, I am going to remind myself that it is part of the process and that most likely my next attempt will bear fruit.

Second, develop the practice of reviewing the past day, past week, past month or past quarter. About 4 to 5 times a week as part of my prayer time, I go through the past day and go through my activities and thoughts. I ask God to help me see them in his light. Then I am aware how the events of yesterday may impact my day. I am also trying to get away four times a year to look back on my journal, so I can review what has happened and recalibrate my life.

What did you do yesterday that you are feeling the impact today?

Monday, March 26, 2012

What Delights God

Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight." - Jeremiah 9:23-24

We need God. As creatures we need our Creator. We need intimacy with God otherwise our souls will shrivel. To have intimacy with God requires we know his heart. In Jeremiah, God reveals his heart. He tells us the things that bring him delight. Whatever delights us says so much about us.

God tells us we don’t need first of all money or power or great wisdom, we need to know his heart and what delights him. So to understand the heart of God and have intimacy with him we learn that is a God of steadfast love.

We learn that he is a God of steadfast love. His love for us cannot be shaken or moved. He accepts us even when we fail. He sees us warts and all and loves us anyway. Some one once said grace is the reality that we are all bastards but God loves us anyway. We need to know God accepts us and will remain steadfast in his love, otherwise we will begin to look for approval in unhealthy ways.
God is a God who practices justice. God is practicing putting the world in right order. God delights in wrongs being righted. He delights when the poor and the disadvantaged are cared for.

God is a God of righteousness. God delights in putting us back in right relationship with him. He delights in changing and transforming us into a person that can stand before him and be reconciled to him.

We need to know these aspects of God’s heart because otherwise we will go completely off track. If we fail to know God is a God of steadfast love, we run from him when we make mistakes. If we fail to know God is a God of justice, we fail to know him through the poor. If we fail to see God as a God who practices righteous then we tend to try and change ourselves instead of relying in his power.