Quiet You with Love

Not long ago I watched a video about a young girl, maybe six or seven years old. At one point she got upset. Really upset. She stomped and ran and yelled. Her dad ran after her. It took a few moments, but he finally caught her. He picked the little girl up and held her tightly. But his grip didn’t deter her. She continued her tantrum, shouting and kicking, pushing against him.

Through it all, though, he held tight. Finally, she settled down. Her body went limp for just a second. And then he whispered, “I love you,” into her ear. She broke into an ear-to-ear smile, reached her arms around his neck and squeezed him hard.

In the Old Testament book of Zephaniah, we read that God “will quiet you with His love.” (Zephaniah 3:17) He will quiet you with His love. What a great statement!

Do you ever feel as though sometimes He has to do that like the dad I just described?

I’m sure there have been times that God has held me close during my own temper tantrums. I kicked and fought, but He held on. And all the while He whispered, “I love you.”

Let Him quiet you with His love today.

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Anne, Abraham, and You

I am a big fan of Anne of Green Gables. My wife got me hooked on it years ago. In part, I’m so fascinated by Anne because she is such a memorable character. Her wide range of emotions – from “the depths of despair” to her giddy wonder at practically everything – reminds me immensely of someone I know well. Her never-say-die attitude is compelling.

One of the attributes that seems so much a part of Anne is her knack for naming – or should I say, renaming – things. On the way to Green Gables for the very first time, she renamed a lake to be “The Lake of Shining Waters” and a blossom-covered section of road as “The White Way of Delight.”

As I read Genesis 22 this morning, I thought of Anne. Abraham named something. It was right after God had provided a ram – stuck in the nearby thicket – in place of Abraham sacrificing his son. I’m sure that must have been a major relief for Abraham.

“So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide.’” (Genesis 22:14) Abraham knew that, indeed, God had provided. But I found this interesting because it was Abraham who named the place. Sometimes in Scripture God names things. But this time it was a person naming something – a place that may well have already had a name – to memorialize his encounter with God.

And think about this: Just because Abraham named it, that doesn’t mean that everyone for all time would use or even remember that name. Although in this case Scripture indicates that the name stuck, it is possible that it could have been just for the benefit of Abraham and his son.

Maybe there is something or someplace that you need to rename – if only for yourself – as a memorial of an event or an encounter with God in your own life.

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True Humility

I recently preached a sermon about humility at our congregation. More than one person has now told me that something specific I said was helpful for them.

What I said was simple: Humility is not thinking poorly of yourself. Real humility is thinking accurately about yourself.

See, most of us have the perception of being greater than we are. Numerous surveys indicate that the vast majority of people think they are above average. They have above average intelligence. They are above average in kindness. They are better than average drivers. On and on.

But, obviously, the majority of people cannot be above average, right?

Yet, that’s our perception. It’s what we think. We tend to think we’re better than we are.

So if that’s true, then the obvious answer is to think lowly of ourselves. And, although that might be good for many of us, that’s not really the answer.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)

The real answer is to think accurately about ourselves.  Not too highly, but also not too lowly. Accurately.

The Apostle Paul, writing to Titus, said, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior…” (Titus 1:1-3)

If you don’t know Paul – or anything about Paul – this could sound haughty.

First, he calls himself an apostle. But then he goes on to say “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” In other words, he’s not just an apostle, he’s an apostle for your sake. He’s going to help you in your faith. Doesn’t that sound at least a bit … arrogant?

And then he goes on to say that the hope of eternal life manifested through his preaching is something he was entrusted with by God.

Again, if you don’t know Paul or anything about Paul, this could sound like, “I’m God’s great man of faith and power. I got something goin’ on here.”

But Paul isn’t being haughty and arrogant. He’s thinking accurately about himself. He knows what God has called and gifted him to do. He knows who he is in Christ.

See, if Paul denies those things – if he would say, “Don’t really think of me as an apostle, or that my preaching is going to make a difference in your life, or even that God entrusted me with the gift of preaching” – if he did that, that wouldn’t be humility. That would be lying. That would be an inaccurate assessment of how the Lord has called and wired and gifted him.

True humility is not thinking lowly of yourself. It’s thinking accurately about yourself.

(I should add that getting outside help with that is a REALLY good idea. Otherwise, we tend to think we’re far better than we are. Others who know us well can often give us a more accurate assessment than we can recognize on our own.)

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The Heavens Declare…

With the solar eclipse happening this coming Monday, I came across an interesting statistic.

Let me start by saying that it has seemed weird to me that the little tiny moon – relatively speaking – can completely (and nearly exactly!) obscure the sun.

The reason that the moon can cover the sun is because even though the sun is roughly 400 times bigger than the moon – in diameter – the moon is roughly 400 times closer to us than the sun. That’s why the eclipse can happen in such a spectacular fashion. It’s because those two numbers just happen to coincide so perfectly.

If the size or distance varied much from what they are, then the beautiful ring of fire wouldn’t appear around the moon during the eclipse.

But, of course, many people today would say that was just an odd and coincidental quirk of nature. It was all an accident.

How sad.

I began reading the book of Genesis this morning. The creation story is amazing. And, by the way, it wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t randomness. It was planned and calculated by the Creator Who loves us more than we will ever fully realize.

“The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

We happen to live in what is being called “the path of totality” – the very best spot for seeing the eclipse. I’m looking forward to having a great view of God’s handiwork.

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Road Striping … and Your Sins

Recently the county road-striping crew was at work near our home. They re-striped one of the roads close to us, and, well, it’s … interesting.

Now to be fair, I guess it’s possible that the guys that normally do that job were on vacation. So, perhaps, these folks were just fill-ins. I don’t know.

But, anyway, they didn’t clean up anything first. They just painted. Right over top of weeds that were growing, small branches that had fallen, even an aluminum can. White paint marking the side of the road obliterated leaves and insects. But when the first rain came afterward, those twigs and leaves were washed away, leaving a silhouette of their shape surrounded by white paint.

Like I said, it’s interesting.

Aren’t you glad that’s not what the Lord does with your sins? He doesn’t just cover them with some pretty paint. They’re not hidden beneath a veneer of make-up. No, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, they’re gone!

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

They’re not just hiding. They’re erased. Wiped out. Taken away. They’re gone!

(By the way, after finding the raccoon photo above, I don’t feel quite so bad about the job our local guys and gals did.) 

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Leaders, Do Your Whole Job

Leaders in the Church have an obligation to push people toward the truth.

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul says, “Preach the Good News. Be ready at all times, and tell people what they need to do. Tell them when they are wrong. Encourage them with great patience and careful teaching, because the time will come when people will not listen to the true teaching but will find many more teachers who please them by saying the things they want to hear. They will stop listening to the truth and will begin to follow false stories.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4, NCV)

Let’s be clear that Paul first says we should “Preach the Good News.” The gospel – there is a God who loves us so much that even though our sin separated us from Him, He sent His own Son to die and take the punishment that we deserved so that we can now be in right relationship with Him – that Good News should be the foundation for everything that happens in the Church. But if we just stop there, then we miss the rest of what this passage says. We also need to “tell people what they need to do. Tell them when they are wrong.” If we don’t, then it is conceivable that they “will stop listening to the truth and will begin to follow false stories.”

My pastor made a statement years ago that has stayed with me: “The gospel has a catch – it’s only for the guilty.” He’s right. Which is why leaders must “tell people when they are wrong.” We have a mandate to call sin sin.

Of course, we must still love people in the midst of their sin, but we dare not overlook or ignore the sin. As leaders, we’re to keep watch over their souls. (Hebrews 13:17)

Suppose someone comes to me and tells me how much he absolutely loves eating. Food is clearly a gift from God, he explains, and he thoroughly enjoys indulging in that gift. Well, if he weighs 450 pounds – and doesn’t have any medical issues that would cause him to be overweight – I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that gluttony is a sin. Yes, food – with all its different flavors and textures – is a gift from God. But that doesn’t mean we should partake of as much as we can at every opportunity possible. Overeating – overindulging the flesh – is a sin.

If I explain this to the man and he understands and repents, he may still have eating issues that he will need to deal with, but at least he’s on the right track. On the other hand, if he refuses to acknowledge that his behavior is sinful, then there is a problem. At that point he is willingly and willfully walking in rebellion against the Lord.

Church leaders have an obligation to depict sin as the thing that separates people from God. Why did Jesus say that if we forgive peoples’ sins they are forgiven, but if we retain peoples’ sins they are retained? (John 20:23) If people are unwilling to repent, we can’t offer forgiveness as the Church. Why were Ananias and Sapphira struck dead? Sin is clearly not to be trifled with.

And please recognize that I am not saying this in any sort of condemning way. The point is that when people repent, there is ALWAYS forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) But if we refuse to acknowledge our sin, then we’re in trouble (1 John 1:10).

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Gangs, the Church … and Family

Francis Chan tells the story of something that happened in his previous church – a congregation of more than 5000 people in southern California. One morning he baptized a young man. The guy had been a gang member but came into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus. He got involved in the congregation, but later ended up leaving the church. And when someone asked him why he left, he responded, “I didn’t understand church. When I was baptized, I thought that was going to be like being jumped into the gang where it’s like 24/7 they’re my family. I didn’t know it was just somewhere where we just attend on Sundays.”

Chan seemed close to tears as he continued, “That makes me so sick that the gangs are a better picture of family than the Church of Jesus Christ.”

What a sad story. But he’s right. If we really saw ourselves as family – not just a place to go on Sunday mornings, but actually family – it would change how we live and interact with one another.

Think about how frequently the New Testament refers to Christian believers as “brothers.” Jesus said we should call God “Father.” Galatians 6:10 says that we are the “family of believers.”

We are family. Not just a collection of folks who get together occasionally, but true family.

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