Never, Never, Never Give Up: God is not finished with you yet!

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Your life is full of trials and set backs. We spend so much of our energy just dealing with the problems, to stop the bleeding -so to speak, and never seem to get ahead. We feel our full-time job is dealing with the unexpected problems rather than getting to the things we feel are important. Many call this the “tyranny of the urgent” and this often requires a reset in our thinking and focus, but what happens when we have done everything we can and we still feel that the impossible problems of life are never going to be resolved? The question each of us asks when we face impossible circumstances of becomes less about what to do but rather if we should even keep trying. Maybe… Should we just give up?

Giving up is the first step away from the real solution, and it often is the best way to fail. Practically, giving up feels like it offers us a total solution, but in reality it often just creates more problems, and it guarantees that we will never succeed.

Do you want to succeed in life?

One hallmark of success is never giving up on your dream. Countless men and women who are now historically viewed as “successful” were viewed as failures in their greatest hour! Don’t believe this? Here are some examples of people who never gave up in the face of impossible circumstances: Walt Disney (went bankrupt and faced opposition to his dreams his whole life but revolutionized the entertainment industry), Thomas Edison (failed 10,000 times in his search for electrical power until he became wildly successful in electric power and world-changing inventions), Michael Jordan (was cut from his High School basketball team only to go on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time), Oprah Winfrey (was fired from her first job as “unfit for TV” but kept at her dream to become the greatest TV host of her generation), Albert Einstein (“flunked” the 5th grade, didn’t get into college, and failed at his first salesman job but kept at his dream and became of world-class physicists), Henry Ford (his first two companies went bankrupt but finally was successful in car production and changed industrial business practices and methodologies), Winston Churchill (considered past his peak for top leadership, rejected by his father, rejected by his own country and King, lead the world and Great Britain in the fight against racist and fascist Nazi Germany in the face of strong political opposition that worked to remove him and often questioned his strategy, and he was removed from office immediately after he “won the war” only to come back and become Prime Minister a second time! Churchill was famous for his power to express what was needed in the darkest hours, “Never, never, never give up!)

These examples of people who never gave up often did so without a spiritual anchor. What about people of faith?

William Tyndale (was run out of England and eventually captured and executed, but not before he produced the first English translation of the Bible).

Jeremiah the Prophet (faced opposition for his message from God, was imprisoned on false charges of desertion, his prophetic writings were literally cut up and burned in the fire by the King, and was left to die in a muddy cistern pit, only to be rescued and lived to see his prophecy fulfilled).

Paul the Apostle (faced opposition from Christian leaders his whole life, had only limited success in his missionary efforts during his lifetime, was falsely accused, imprisoned several times, and was ultimately executed for treason against the Roman Empire, but ignited a global missionary movement that has lead billions of people to salvation in Jesus).

Jesus the Messiah (initially his ministry was a huge success with a regional buzz but when people heard his real message his huge following dwindled, he was hounded and hunted down by the religious leaders of Jerusalem and was crucified on the basis of false charges, his core group of disciples abandoned him in his darkest hour, Peter denied him three times, and he was hung on a cross and executed letting the whole world know his mission was a failure while only his Mom, his best friend, John, and Mary Magdalene watched as soldiers, leaders, and the crowds that once followed his every move mocked him as he took his last breath and said, “It is finished.” He accomplished the impossible mission of living a life honorable to God and defeating the power of evil and brokenness of the whole world).

Why were these leaders successful? Didn’t they all die and not see their success? They were successful largely because they didn’t give up, but more importantly they held true to the calling God gave them in faith. They trusted that the mission God gave them and the purposes He had for them would not be stopped by the impossible circumstances they faced. The facts are indisputable that how we feel and how others view us is no true measure of our success. And the underlying truth is that the purposes of God for each person are not measured on a daily basis but in the final outcome of the mission He has for each of us. This is why we must “Never, never, never give up!” because God’s plan for you will succeed if we hold true to the calling and mission He has given us.

Do you feel like all the tires are falling off your vehicle at once and it might just be time to give up on your journey? Again, everyone, all the time, feels like they do not have the resources to keep going. The key is to find hope in God’s purposes for you and never give up. Every single person feels like all the tires are falling off most of the time! If you really knew how “successful” people feel, you would be in good company!

Do you want to quit the projects you desire to accomplish because they are just far more difficult than you ever imagined? Every single person who experienced success felt this way! No one ever did anything significant without hard work, discipline, and the truthful self-talk of never giving up.

Do you want to give up on your faith, your church, and your life? Many have doubted and wanted to die! Jeremiah, Elijah, Paul the Apostle all felt this way, but they were refreshed with new zeal when they re-engaged with the calling God gave them.

Do you want to stop fighting temptation and just “give in?” Giving up on following the path God has set for you is jumping from the frying pan into the fire – literally into the mouth of the Dragon (also known as the Devil, Satan, the Accuser, who wants to eat you alive and burn your life to the ground). The pain of spiritual separation from God is far worse than the trials of temptations. God will give you a place to stand. He will forgive and restore you, and He will keep you in Jesus till your final day. Never give up on fighting the good fight of faith.

Do you want to quit your job? Maybe God is calling you to a new position, but He might also being doing something great through your hardships that you just haven’t seen yet.

Do you want to quit your marriage? God might very well have something more beautiful for you through your trials and teach you the joy of repentance and selfless love.

Do you want to give up on your kids? Children are a gift from God and they have a long road to maturity. Our task is to train them and love them through every twist and turn of life so that they too can never give up and be successful.

The critical factor for your success is trusting in God’s purposes for you and never giving up despite how you may feel, how your circumstances appear, and what people say about you. God has something to say about you: Nothing can separate you from His loving purposes (Rom. 8:28ff). He will complete and keep you to the very end (Phil. 1:6). He daily helps those who trust in Him (Acts 26:22). He will wipe every tear from your eyes and make everything new (Rev. 21:4-5). Never, never, never give up!

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Why Everyone Should See the Shack

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Why everyone should see The Shack

I was asleep to the ocean of pain in my own life, and The Shack woke me up.  My traditional upbringing rarely equipped me with models that adequately handled the pain in a healing way. Consequently truths about God were impressed on me that left me uncertain about a God that seemed far more interested in right behavior than relationship and a deep connection with Him. I was trained in biblical academics at some of the finest institutions, but I doubted God’s goodness, and I had invisible walls between myself and God. The pain of my experience clouded my mind and most importantly my heart.

What do we do with our pain in the face of a God we have been told through traditions is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving but allows so much pain and feelings of injustice? These are the questions The Shack addresses through a fictional story designed to help us see and know a very real side of God and relationships that are so desperately needed in our pain.

When the book, The Shack, was released there was a buzz, often negative but also some positive about its story. Theologians, bloggers, and spiritual people all weighed in on its so-called “heresy and flaws.”  My wife, Lisa, hosted a book discussion and several women read and digested the book deeply. It was, as of today, the largest gathering she has hosted. Why? It wasn’t because they were riding a wave of “pop-culture-heresy,” but because The Shack touched and addressed some of the deepest and most profound questions about our spiritual lives. And it provides an imaginative, yet accurate, story of how to understand God and process our pain.

To understand The Shack we have to consider its genre and purpose. Although it might be fair to say the story leaves out and challenges some classically held views on God and His nature, what it does present is a corrective balance through a picture of real aspects of God that bring healing and hope. The Shack presents, through imaginative storytelling, the power of a God that loves deeply and knows everything – far beyond our limited and quite judgmental vantage points. It highlights God’s profound wisdom in the face of our so often rash and inept ways of handling evil and the ocean of pain it brings. The Shack demonstrates a God that enters into our pain, handles evil in a far bigger and more glorious way than we my dream, and brings the wisdom of His grace and forgiveness to our hearts. Rather than focusing on wrath and punishment, we see in The Shack a real side of God and his immeasurable wisdom. In The Shack we see a glimpse of God’s truth and gracious love woven into a fictional story to bring help, hope, and healing to our broken hearts.

In the recent release of the film, The Shack, it has yet again stirred up a buzz. I’ve read several blogs and articles condemning the film as “heresy,” yet many of these articles miss the main point. We are designed for relationship with God and each other – His image bearers. Our brokenness, pain, and limited perspective cloud our ability to trust Him and His vast and patient love. We know that God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience leads us to healing through repentance and forgiveness (Romans 2:4), and that the depths of His loving and wise ways are beyond our limited imaginations and responses to pain (Romans 11:33-36). The Shack helps us enter into a deeper spiritual world and divine perspective that better define wisdom and forgiveness.

To be sure The Shack doesn’t cover all the aspects of God’s nature, and due to its genre it mainly highlights element so often missing in our thoughts about God. Christians need to watch the film and read the book with open eyes to discern what is missing, but I believe to also receive the elements that it was intended to present. If we receive The Shack this way, we just might find the God that is really there, really does have answers, really does provide help, hope, and healing for the pain and evil in our hearts.

For these reasons and so many more, I think everyone should see The Shack.

Courage

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Courage.  You can’t lead and win without it.  Finnish drivers lead the world in rally car victories, and they do it with with a culture of driving courage. In Finland, they teach their drivers “sisu.”  Sisu is the Finnish word for “courage,” but its nuances are deeper than our English word can convey.  Sisu means something deeper than basic courage.  Sisu means courage-wisdom-skill, and the ability to face fear to accomplish task at a higher level.  The question is: What task do you face that requires “sisu” to overcome and succeed?

People of faith and desire for victory know that leadership is full of the need for sisu.  We have to face our fears and proceed in faith that God will accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible, and not hold back in a tough turn life throws at us.  We need courage.

Eph. 3:20 tell us that when we operate in our Spirit empowered calling in Christ, God will be able to do more than we can even imagine if we have the courage, or “sisu” to trust Him through every challenging twist of the race.

We need to drive on the road of life with courage.  As a rally car driver faces a turn, he doesn’t just “slow down” but faces the corner with sisu.  That means braking just right, getting the right gear, and accelerating through the turn to maximize the hitting of the apex to perfectly follow through with speed, even in the face of the fear of crashing.  Drivers need courage to face the challenge of the corners and keep the most momentum through them.  Life is full of twists and turns on rough roads that appear dangerous.  Christians need the courage of the Spirit to move forward with maximum momentum and not lose heart.   Today I’m sure you faced some rough turns, and we know many are yet ahead of us in the race of life.  Let’s cultivate a culture of courage and get a little more “sisu” in the Spirit!   God will provide and give us the ability to face the turns for the advance of His Kingdom.

Unjust Suffering with Purpose

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The story of Joseph inspires us about the fulfillment of God’s purposes to save and do good for His people. Yet at the same time it challenges our idea of what that process will look and feel like in our lives. We often believe our story should be an ever increasing journey of joy; each day with less pain and challenges, but this is not the case. Recently several people shared a picture that sums this pattern better than 1000 words:12717941_1973814622842861_4940173371820713140_n

Many of us have experience untold loss and pain that leaves us reeling and questioning God’s goodness and possibly His mission and purpose. Like Joseph, in our younger years we believe He gave us a vision of greatness but our present circumstances appear to have dashed these dreams we thought with certainty were given by God. Is this really an accurate view? The story of Joseph speaks today about our lives in its testimony of the greater purposes of God through our pain and plan for our good.

Joseph’s story highlights and outlines brightly how God actually works through suffering, especially unjust suffering, to reveal hope. Imagine yourself in Joseph’s sandals. His brothers kidnap him, sell him into slavery, fake his death so that they can cover their tracks and ensure no one will be the wiser to go rescue him! Then when Joseph makes a brief recovery by rising to a position of honor in Potiphar’s house he is falsely accused of adultery and sexual assault only to be thrown in prison without trial. How must Joseph have felt to see a glimmer of success only to be quickly pushed back into the ash heap of prison, left to rot in the dungeon of rejection and defamation of his hard-earned reputation. Even in prison Joseph sought to serve God by interpreting the dreams of the cupbearer and baker only to be abandoned yet again! this is the place many of us find ourselves: forgotten by those in favor and suffering unjustly for things we do not feel we deserve. We feel utterly forgotten by former friends, so-called “church family,” and perhaps we even may feel abandoned by God. When we feel the pain of rejection, abandonment, false accusations, and the humiliation of loss does that mean our mission and purpose is also lost? Maybe we say to ourself, “God’s mission and purpose for me is over. Perhaps I misread His earlier goodness to me as delusions of grandeur or megalomaniac notions of greatness with a touch of naiveté in spiritual immaturity. Maybe I should give up and die.” Each of us can find ourself in this lonely and confusing place when the pain of unchangeable loss churns our hearts like the forces of breaking waves over our lives. Pushed down, disoriented, and hopeless we feel we can’t breathe and there exists no possible way to reach solid ground.

The good news is that if you are still reading you are alive, and that speaks to the present fact that God is not finished with you. Like Joseph, you will someday soon be raised up – stronger and more prepared for the next wave and wiser to accomplish the purpose and mission to which you have been called. We cannot give up.

Remember the Story. At just the right time and after the sufferings, you like Joseph, will be set on solid ground. Though many have done you wrong and left you for dead, God has not and will not. We see this in the end of Joseph’s story but most clearly we see this truth in Jesus. He is the one who suffered the ultimate unjust rejection, pain, and death on the cross. Jesus was left naked and bleeding on the cross, while being mocked and derided, only to be finally and completely abandoned by God Himself. Jesus’ mission was to finish the pattern that Joseph started, and secure for us the goodness of God’s permanent call and presence in our lives. Through the pattern of suffering Jesus was plunged into the depths of death only to be raised three days later. He was vindicated and victoriously raised for the defeat of not just death but all injustice. He secures your story through suffering, and He provides the pattern of how God’s purposes and mission will be known in you. Jesus, like Joseph, went through pain, not around it. Why do we think it would or should be any different for us? The challenge is the fact that it will not be different but the same, except that now we have in Jesus even greater hope.

What has happened to you that your heart cannot seem to take? Put it through the Story of Joseph leading you to Jesus. What unjust fires have left your imagined life in an ash heap that appears to be an eternal and irrecoverable tomb? Do not allow the desolate condition of your present circumstances dictate the vision, mission, and calling of God in your life. Jerry Sitter, in his book on suffering rightly states,” Your life does not consist of a succession of isolated events randomly strung together but rather a story with a purpose that [ you, like Joseph] do not see and will never entirely understand.  [Joseph says to his brothers] ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.'”

We must find ourselves in the real story of God’s goodness.  We must, in Jesus say, “I choose to believe and live in the fact that God is working out His ultimate purpose in my suffering and pain and is leading me toward a day of greater good.”

Just in Time or Just in Case? How God will deliver for you.

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Your life is full of needs. Many of these needs are acute and time sensitive. Will God give me a new job before the money runs out? Will God provide healing for the health of me and my loved ones? Will God provide rescue from the brokenness of my relationships personally, professionally, and socially?

When will He provide? Why does He seem to wait?

I used to cry out to God and ask Him to give me everything I thought I’d ever needed so that “Just in Case” I would be protected and have the comfort of knowing that I was resourced for the troubles of life.  God did NOT answer these prayers.

Inside I knew that my prayers actually lacked faith. I wanted God to give to me resources above what I needed or in advance so that I would not have to trust Him when times were tough!

God most often does not provide in advance, nor by the way is He late!  God provides “Just in Time.”

“Just in Time” is a shipping and inventory phrase that describes a revolutionary way to resource production.  Rather than order tons of parts or supplies in advance, a company will estimate how many parts they need and order the parts in exacting quantities to arrive just when they need it.  This saves time and money because they do not need to have warehousing for extra inventory.  Rather than hold on to supplies “Just in Case’ they move to the more powerful “Just in Time” system.

I am convinced that God works on “Just in Time” shipping!  

Whatever is going on in your life God knows about it and He knows with exacting quantities what and when you need it!  God wants you to trust Him and in prayer and active waiting rely on His Just in Time provision for you!

He will deliver for you not “Just in Case” but “Just in Time”!  

They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:31 ESV)

Resurrecting Doggies

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Does God care about your dog?

If I pray for my dog will God answer?

Does God answer prayer, period?

This past week our Life Group (small group Bible study) received a prayer request about a couple’s ailing dog, Buddy. Buddy had lost his sight, could not raise his head, and was failing. His owners had to pick him up and physically take him outside, and they had to watch him to keep him from hurting himself by running into walls! They took Buddy to the veterinarian but there was nothing they could do for him. It looked like this was the beginning of the end of Buddy. But nonetheless we prayed for Buddy, and I suspect in our “theological sophistication” we may have done it more to care for and love our friends, not really believing that God cared for or would answer a prayer about a dog. Not only did we pray but so did Buddy’s owner. He went home and laid his hand on his old doggie friend and prayed, “God, you answered Hezekiah’s prayer and gave him 15 more years… would you heal Buddy, and just give him a few more?” And very soon afterward Buddy was healed. Buddy’s sight was restored. Buddy’s head was raised and he stopped running into walls. Buddy’s energy and health is back almost to his prime! He is now running around and playing and can go outside by himself. This was a virtual “doggie resurrection.”

God does answer prayer.  I was so taken aback by how my friend had far more “theological sophistication” than I imagined possible with reference to a dog! He prayed a biblical prayer to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and was definitively answered! Why should we have doubted this possible? Did God not make all dogs, let alone the whole universe by the power of His Words? Did God not raise Jesus from the dead? Did not God do this for His glory and our benefit? Why do we doubt when we pray? Is anything too trivial or too hard for Him? Buddy and his owners don’t think so… they believe in “doggie resurrections” and the power of prayer.

I, myself, am humbled… and have a new and fresh insight into the power of prayer.

Who is building your house?

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Solomon should know… he was a prodigious builder. During his reign the Kingdom of Israel expanded its boarders and buildings on a greater and grander scale than at any other time. However, Solomon’s wisdom led him to sing to the Lord this song…

Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psa 127:1-2 NIV)

What wisdom is there in this song for us today? For me it’s that my life should not be one exhausting, overly scheduled, no-room for margin, frenetic paced race. So many of us are laboring as if it is up to us to build our homes, lives, and community. Sure we need to work hard, but where is God in our labors? Without God’s strength we labor in vain… destined to burn out, depression, and creating hollow shells that do not have the Lord in them! Do we have the wisdom to trust God to build His house in us and among us or are we carrying that burden on our own? Do we know what it is to have God build the house?

If I were completely honest with myself I’m pretty sure a lot of my life may be “vain” because I’m so often doing thing in my own effort. You can only pull yourself up by your bootstraps so far… how vain!

My prayer for us all is that the Lord would provide the wisdom for us to trust Him as we labor in Him and for Him. May He provide for us what we need for labors that are fruitful and healthy. May He give us the wisdom to do what He calls us and have room for margin and rest in our lives. May He grant rest and sleep to us in His love.