Monday Musings: thankful for the hope of our eternal country

Mondays…

Mondays when it’s cold and dark and wet outside.

Mondays after a long, holiday weekend.

Mondays in the middle of a pandemic.

Mondays when the motivation isn’t there.

Mondays after you’ve had to say goodbye to someone you love.

Mondays when you’re sick.

Mondays when you’re quarantined.

(Mondays when you’re sick and quarantined.)

Mondays after a not-so-normal Thanksgiving gathering.

Mondays when the kids are home from school…again.

Mondays with more angsty posts on social media.

Mondays.

Maybe you resonate with some of these Monday feelings right now…or maybe even all of them.

And, if you’re anything like me, sometimes you need a little perspective reminder.

Something to recalibrate your thoughts.

Something to remind you that this world is not going to give you the kind of hope and joy and peace that you’re looking for on a Monday (or any day).

Because, this world is not your eternal country.

And, these Mondays aren’t going to last forever.

So, rather than letting your Mondays (or any of your days) get the best of you, remember these words from Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1…

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the Morning Light from Heaven is about to visit us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”

Mondays…

Mondays when you remember God’s tender mercy for you.

Mondays in the Morning Light of Jesus’ presence.

Mondays when God shines light into your darkness.

Mondays when He guides to the path of peace.

Mondays when you can be thankful in all your circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:17)…

And hope for your eternal country.

“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good because it is good, if bad because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” – C.S. Lewis

Monday Musings: why we can (and should) still be thankful this Thanksgiving

Thankful.

If there’s anything that I’ve learned this year, it’s that we can (and should) be thankful in all circumstances.

Why?

Because it’s God’s will for us to be thankful in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

(Really, we could just stop right there with that…it’s kind of a mic drop statement that Paul makes in that verse.)

But, let’s be honest…this year has been unlike any other circumstance that we have all collectively faced in our lifetimes together.

And, it’s testing us in lots of ways.

Being thankful seems so 2019…the good old days, when everything was still normal. Back then, it was relatively easy to be thankful.

But, thankfulness isn’t so easy in 2020.

In many ways, this year has been a total dumpster fire, a train wreck, a sinking ship, or whatever other word picture you like to use.

And, it’s hard to be thankful in any of those circumstances.

In times like these, we can learn a lot from those who have gone before us, and David is no exception.

David (as in King David) was literally running for his life, trying to get away from Saul, who was literally trying to kill him.

Needless to say, his circumstances were less than ideal…literally.

So, David ends up finding a cave to hide in, and he starts writing (think of something like the equivalent of journaling today).

He starts off crying out to God, asking Him for protection and help and mercy. (Psalm 57:1-3)

He then acknowledges how bad his circumstances are…he’s surrounded by his enemies and he knows how bad they want to destroy him. (Psalm 57:4 & 6)

And then he praises God! (Psalm 57:7-11)

He’s still in the cave.

He’s still being chased by Saul.

And, yet he is still thanking the Lord for His unfailing love and His faithfulness to him. (Psalm 57:9-10)

Why?

Because David believes that God will ultimately fulfill His purpose for him (Psalm 57:2).

He believes that God will send His unfailing love and faithfulness to him (Psalm 57:3).

And, he believes that God is sovereign, and that He rules over not just his circumstances, but all of creation (Psalm 57:5 & 11).

May we all be a people whose hearts are confident in God no matter the circumstances (Psalm 57:7).

May we trust in His unfailing love and faithfulness at all times (Psalm 57:10).

And, may we continue to thank the Lord among all the people and sing His praises among the nations this Thanksgiving week and beyond. (Psalm 57:9)

My heart is confident in you, O God;
    my heart is confident.
    No wonder I can sing your praises!
Wake up, my heart!
    Wake up, O lyre and harp!
    I will wake the dawn with my song.
I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.
    I will sing your praises among the nations.
10 For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens.
    Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

11 Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.
    May your glory shine over all the earth.

Monday Musings: when personal comfort and safety become idols

Comfort and safety.

Let’s all admit that we’re creatures of both.

We live in a culture where a person’s comfort and safety is seen as an inalienable right…something worth fighting for even.

At the core of every person’s views on life, religion, politics, money, relationships and everything else is a deep-down desire for their own personal comfort and safety.

And, unfortunately, this desire has seeped its way into the Church.

We idolize comfort and safety just like everyone else.

We make choices everyday based on how comfortable or safe that choice will make us feel.

At the core of religious consumerism and the “Christian ghettos” we choose to inhabit is our deep-down desire for our own personal comfort and safety.

And, the problem with that is this…

We’re actually surprised when we have to face hard things.

We’re surprised that we might actually have to take risks or to suffer as Christians…either because of our faith or simply because of the fact that we live in a world that is horribly broken by sin.

And, so we end up living risk-averse, low-impact spiritual lives in a world that desperately needs us to “turn from our selfish ways, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus.” (Luke 9:23)

When pursuing our own comfort and safety become the driving force behind the everyday decisions that we make, we eventually become spiritually impotent people who spend more time whining and complaining about the evils of our culture instead of looking for ways to transform it.

It’s almost as if we’re surprised by the fact that it might be hard, unfair, risky, or uncomfortable to live as Christians in a God-less society.

But, the reality is we shouldn’t be surprised at all.

Suffering is part of the deal of following Jesus…our own personal comfort and safety is not.

We know this is true because Jesus said it is, and His life on earth backed it up…He really was a “suffering servant.”

It was Jesus who said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But, take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We know this is true because Jesus’ first followers said it too, and they also went out and backed up their words with actions.

It was Peter who said…

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 & 19)

As we continue to face trials and suffering in this world, may we be a people who suffer well…in a manner that pleases God.

May we be a people who keep on doing what is right even when it requires us to get out of our comfort zones, take risks, and do hard things.

And, may we do these things trusting our lives to the God who created us, always remembering that He will never fail us or abandon us.

Monday Musings: what God says to you in your angst

Angst.

If I had to choose one word to describe the general feeling of 2020, that’d probably be it. Everyone’s feeling a bit angsty these days.

Apparently, it’s not just a teenage thing.

Angst is nothing new…

Remember the story of the people of Israel escaping Egypt? It started with Moses versus Pharoah’s magicians in an epic battle of plagues…and ended with the people’s ultimate escape through the Red Sea.

What you might not remember is that God’s people got a little angsty before they crossed that sea.

You can read about their angst in Exodus 14:10-12, but all you really need to know right now is this:

When the people of Israel saw Pharoah and his army chasing after them, they went into full panic mode.

They freaked out.

And, they went on a little tantrum where they whined and complained to Moses about how terrible they knew life in the wilderness was going to be.

(So yeah…angst is nothing new.)

Now, Moses could have reacted in lots of different angsty ways himself.

But, he didn’t.

In fact, this is what he said…

“Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

Now, let’s fast-forward to 2020.

If there was ever a year that we all needed to hear a word like that from God, it’s this one.

We might have different reasons for our angst…our personal health, the economy, online everything, government restrictions, the election, politics in general, fear, family dysfunction, work stress, the “new normal,” and whatever else is causing you angst these days.

And, in the midst of all that angst, God is saying you…

Don’t be afraid.

Be still.

I will rescue you.

I will fight for you.

Just stay calm.

The question is…do you believe Him? Are you trusting Him?

At the heart of a trusting relationship with God is the confidence that He can overcome all of your deepest panics, anxieties, worries, and fears.

So, this week you have a choice to make.

Will you let your angst get the best of you…or will you trust the LORD to help you overcome it?

May these words from Psalm 46 encourage you to “be still, and know” the God who is just as present and powerful in your angst today as He was back in the wilderness with the people of Israel…

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.

Monday Musings: 3 everyday action steps you can take to kill the sin in you

(NOTE: This is a follow-up post to last week’s Monday Musings: the urgency we need in 2020.)

The urgency is real…

If you are not pursuing God every day, you are pursuing death.

So, every day becomes an opportunity for you to say…the old me is gone, and the new me is here.

Every day is an opportunity for you to live with the kind of urgency that seeks to kill the sin inside of you and become who you are in Christ.

Okay, so if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering…

WHAT DO I DO NEXT?

If you are feeling that sense of urgency in your heart that something needs to change when it comes to your everyday sins…

If you’re beginning to understand the gravity of your sin…and how much love that it took for God to send His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, down to this earth, to die for you.

If you’re feeling that kind of urgency right now, and you don’t know what to do with it, let me give you three action steps that you can take today and repeat every day…

Action step one: Confess your sin to God…own it and then repent and turn away from it. (1 John 1:8-9)


Action step two: Tell someone about it…don’t try to beat your everyday sins alone. It doesn’t work. (James 5:16)


Action step three: Cut off the lines of supply to whatever sin you’re struggling with…it’s better to not have to face the temptation to begin with than it is to continually be faced with having to fight it. (Hebrews 12:1)

And, in all of these things, remember this truth written by Paul in Romans 8…

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

May God give you the will and the strength and the courage to do what you need to do today.

Monday Musings: the urgency we need in 2020

Urgency.

I think we get what it means to live with a sense of urgency right now…at least with some things. Like…

We have a sense of urgency for schools to open back up again IN PERSON.

We have a sense of urgency for the outcome of the upcoming elections.

We have a sense of urgency for more local businesses to stay open.

We have a sense of urgency for all kinds of major cultural issues of our day…everything from abortion to racial discrimination to political and social divisiveness.

Not to mention that we live every day with the urgent feeling that our lives would just go back to normal.

You’re feeling that right now, right?

I think we all are.

We all get the concept of living these days with urgency.

But I’m not so sure that we get it where it matters the most.

Because, while all of the things that I just listed are important and are getting a lot of the attention and angst in our culture and communities these days, none of them address our most basic problem.

The problem of our everyday sins…

Both the obvious ones that are clearly seen and the hidden ones that we do our best to hide.

Both the sins that we commit intentionally and the ones we commit unintentionally.

On our best days, we confess our everyday sins to God and sense the urgency of killing them.

We become what we are…a new creation in Christ.

But, on our worst days, we tolerate or excuse or even ignore our everyday sins and have no real urgency to do anything about them.

And, the danger is that we end up slowly becoming cultural Christians who live our everyday lives more and more like the culture around us and less and less like the God who lives in us.

Instead of becoming what we are, we act like who we were without any real sense of urgency to change.

We get lazy in our everyday faith, while we play the waiting game for things to go back to “normal” or for Jesus to come back and get us out of here.

We forget that the ultimate goal of being a Christian is not just to spend eternity in heaven with God in the future, it’s to become more and more like Him in the everyday now.

And, in order for that to happen, we need to live with the right kind of urgency.

We need to live with the urgency for constant renewal and refreshing.

We need to live with the urgency to pursue God every day, growing in our knowledge of Him.

We need to live with the urgency and understanding that our everyday sin is not something to be excused or tolerated or ignored.

We need to listen to Paul’s words in Romans 8:12-14, when he says…

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.

The bottom line is…if you are not pursuing God every day, you are pursuing death.

Think about it this way…

When you get up in the morning, and you open up your computer…maybe you’re like me, and you’ve left a bunch of tabs open.

So, you go to your Facebook tab or your daily news tab…and you find yourself staring at yesterday’s news.

WHAT DO YOU DO?

You hit the refresh button…and that is exactly what we need to do as Christians every day if we want to become what we are.

We need to be renewed and refreshed every day so that we become increasingly like Christ and decreasingly like who we were the day before.

Every day is an opportunity for us to say the old me is gone, and the new me is here.

Every day is an opportunity for us to live with the kind of urgency that seeks to kill the sin inside of us and become who we are in Christ.

And, that’s the kind of urgency we all need to live with now in 2020…and beyond.

Monday Musings from Colossians 3: We are what we wear

Remember the TLC show What Not to Wear?

The basic premise of the show is that people would nominate their friends to go through a clothing makeover with two fashionistas in a one hour episode for all the world to see.

To be fair, in order to be nominated, you had to have a pretty poor taste in clothing. But, you also had to be willing to listen and take the advice of show’s two “clothing experts” who would literally start by going through your closets and getting rid of most (if not all) of your wardrobe.

Watching the whole process unfold on TV was interesting. People clearly had their favorite sweaters and outfits (for example), and were reluctant to get rid of them. Sometimes, it was clearly painful for them to let them go.

But, they needed to.

They needed to let go of their old wardrobe if they wanted a new one.

And that got me thinking…

What if there was an episode of What Not to Wear based on Colossians 3 and we were all in it?

What if God went through our closets, looking for things that we needed to let go of?

What would He find lurking in our spiritual closets?

In Colossians 3:5-9, Paul gives us a partial list of things God might find…

Sexual immorality.

Lust.

Greed.

Anger.

Slander.

Dirty language.

Lying…

Just to name a few.

The bottom line is that these things don’t look good on us when we wear them. They are all part of our “old nature,” which Paul says we have “stripped off.” (Colossians 3:9)

The truth is, we all need a spiritual clothing makeover.

Because, to the people around us, we are what we wear.

So, we need to go through our spiritual closets and allow God to get rid of anything in them that doesn’t look like Him.

And, we also need to “put on our new nature, and be renewed as we learn to know our Creator and become like him.” (v.10)

We need to “clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience…and love.” (v.12 & 14)

Honestly, this can be a painful process, and it doesn’t happen in a neat and tidy one hour episode of our lives.

But, it needs to happen…because people are watching.

May God give you the strength and humility to go through your spiritual closets with Him today.

And, may what we wear point others to Him.

Monday Musings: stuck in a rut or in a groove?

Rut or groove?

It’s hard to tell the difference between the two at some levels.

But, when you dig a little deeper, you find out just how different they really are.

I mean…would you rather feel like you’re stuck in a rut or in a groove?

Exactly…

You don’t want to be stuck in a rut.

A “rut” by definition is “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.”

The truth is we can get stuck in all sorts of ruts…in our relationships, our careers, and yes, even our faith (more on that later).

We’d much rather be in a groove when it comes to all of these things. But, the interesting thing is that a “groove” is not that much different than a “rut” (at least by definition).

A “groove” is simply defined as “an established routine or habit.”

So, what does this have to do with our faith?

When it comes to our faith, it’s easy to go back and forth between a rut and a groove. We can be stuck in a rut for days or weeks (or even years) at a time. But, we can also get in a groove…and that’s a pretty sweet place to be.

You might be stuck in a “faith rut” if deep down your relationship with God has become dull and unproductive.

On the surface, you might be “doing all the right religious things” (going to church, reading your Bible, etc.), but your faith is stagnant.

Your spiritual life is not producing any fruit (in your life or anyone else’s).

You’re going through the motions.

Or spinning your wheels.

Or shadowboxing.

If that’s how you’re feeling right now, I have good news for you…

You don’t have to stay stuck in that spiritual rut you’re in.

You can get in a spiritual groove…you just gotta get your heart right.

The Bible is full of examples of God’s people doing religious things while their hearts are far from Him (see Isaiah 29:13 for one example).

So, how do you move from a place of spiritual dullness to a place of life-giving, spiritual fruitfulness?

I’m not going to give you a simple formula or a 5-step process for that…because it might just turn into another rut for you.

But, I will say this…

If you find yourself stuck in a spiritual rut right now, the only way that you’re going to get out of it is if you really want to.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27…

24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

This spiritual race that you’re in is life-long, and it’s full of ruts and grooves.

So, run to win…with purpose in every step.

Get yourself in a good, spiritual groove…

And stop shadowboxing.

Monday Musings from Psalm 37

March 2020.

A month and a year that won’t be forgotten any time soon…or ever.

March 2020 started like any other “normal” month, but halfway through everything went sideways.

It started in the United States with the NBA shutting down its season on a Wednesday.

By Friday, schools were closing their buildings.

That Sunday, it was churches.

And the dominoes continued to fall with theaters and restaurants and parks and pretty much any “non-essential” public space closed or heavily restricted by the end of the month.

Fast forward six months and September is starting like a new “normal” month.

The NBA season is back…playing games in a bubble.

Schools are starting back up again…online (at least for now).

And churches are slowly starting to gather again indoors with guidelines for social distancing.

Same with many businesses and public spaces.

Welcome to the new normal.

As many of us go kicking and screaming into the final stretch of 2020, we need to stop and listen to the wise words of King David in Psalm 37.

Beginning in verse 7, he writes…

“Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper-it only leads to harm. For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the LORD will possess the land.”

In a country that is becoming increasingly louder and more polarized may we all as Christians daily choose to…

Be still in the presence of the LORD.

Wait patiently for him to act.

Stop worrying about evil people.

Stop being angry.

And trust in the LORD.

Perhaps if we all choose to live these last days of 2020 like this, we’ll be in a better place to receive whatever God has for us in 2021.

And in a better place to point people to the only One who can bring lasting hope and peace and healing to this broken world.