The Father Ran

hugging-571076_1280How do you picture God the Father? Long white hair, golden crown, sitting on a heavenly throne? Calm, in control? Do you picture Him running? The Bible does not describe the Father as being in a hurry at any time except once: The Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the father sees his son at a distance, he can’t wait to embrace him so he runs. That was very undignified for a family patriarch to hitch up his robes and run down the street, yet that is the picture Jesus gives us of the emotion of our heavenly Father in welcoming us back. God meets us more than half way. He is not holding a grudge for all the dumb things I have done. Coming to God does not mean condemnation but rather celebration.

When our children were small we took them camping frequently. Once when our youngest daughter was about 5, she went to the restroom and came out a different door than she had gone in. She became disoriented and couldn’t find her way back to our campsite. After half an hour we became concerned. We started searching and soon had other campers and the park rangers involved in the search. Do you think after 15 minutes, I would turn to my wife and say, “Don’t you think we’ve looked long enough?” Imagine a child getting lost in the mall while Christmas shopping. Even if her parents had to search for hours and hours, would they give up on trying to find her?

I’ve messed up big time. I’ve failed over and over and over. So God is really angry with me, right? Wrong. My failure is not bigger than God’s grace. Romans 8:31 (NIV) says: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Isn’t that something to get excited about?

Despite my failures, God invites me into relationship. Who am I in Christ? I am forgiven, loved, righteous and chosen. Being right on the inside empowers me to be right on the outside. I am a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17) but with the same thinking I will not see the newness in my spirit express itself in my life.

Winston Churchill said in the darkest days of World War II, “Never, never, never give up.” It’s easy to give up. That takes no anointing or empowerment by the Holy Spirit. John 10:10 tells us Jesus came to give abundant life. What is stealing that abundant life from me? I don’t have to be talented. I don’t have to be smart. I do have to not give up.

What is my level of obedience? “I know I shouldn’t watch that on TV but…” “I know I shouldn’t go there, but…” “I know those friends are bad for me but…” It’s not that I don’t hear from God.  I just want my own way and I will have to live with the consequence of that choice. I go to church, but what do I do the rest of the week? This is not about being weird. It’s about making choices that will bring good fruit in my life. God meets me where I am but He doesn’t leave me where I am. God loves me too much for that.

I have plenty of opportunities to feel sorry for myself, but where will that get me? I was laid off at 54. It is tough to find a good job at that age. God opened new doors for me. It is never too late to begin again. I count these as the best years of my life.

My future has no room for my past. Samuel anointed Saul as king, mentored him yet he was a failure as king. He became haughty and proud. God spoke to Samuel and told him not to mourn the failure but get a new vision for David as king. That choice was a historic success. God is never without a plan. That includes my future as long as I don’t adopt a bad attitude. How long will I live in regret? God is not the Great I Was or the Great I Will Be. He is the Great I Am, the God of now. Everything will change the moment I head in the right direction.

Philippians 3:14 tells us to forget what lies behind. Instead we are to be reaching, straining toward our future. I will not stroll into God’s destiny for me. I will not slide into it. Press! The past is trying to pull me back. It takes a strong effort to reach for that future that God has for me.

“I’m going through hell!” No you’re not. Sure there are hard times but this is not hell. And if you are going through difficult times, don’t pitch a tent and camp there. Get up and move forward.  I may wonder if this season will ever end. The answer is to keep moving forward.

When our son was killed, we faced a choice to focus on his death or move into a new beginning. When Moses died, the nation mourned his loss, but at the end of the mourning period God challenged Joshua to move forward. “I need a miracle, I need a miracle.” Get up and move forward. Too much of society today has a welfare mentality, dependent on the government, dependent on others. “Somebody feed me. Somebody house me. Somebody take care of me.” God says, “Get up and move forward.” That is when God will move.

Am I going to live cowering in the corner, hiding from the devil? “Oh, don’t talk about the devil. I don’t want him to notice me.” If I am a Christian he notices me, be assured.

A lion tamer uses a chair when he enters the cage with the big cats. Why is that? The four legs make it difficult for the lion to focus on one thing, particularly on the man. What is the devil waving in front of me? Sex, drugs, power, acceptance. I need to look at who is really behind those.

Is Satan putting a lot of temptations in front of you? That is a good sign. If I don’t come face to face with the devil, it means I’m going the same direction he is. The closer I get to God the more Satan will fight. Before I came to God I was doing a great job of messing up my own life, Satan didn’t need to help out. Now he is coming at me to trip me up. He wants to make an example of me. “You remember Joe, the guy who was always talking about God? He just got picked up for meth.” Satan has a victory.

The devil doesn’t want me to connect with God’s love because that is where my strength is. “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:17 NLT)

Years of hearing negative voices, and years of replaying negative events have placed deep in my mind a negative view of myself. My mind replays these voices and events without consciously thinking about them. It replays them automatically.

I have to cut the umbilical cord, cut ties with the old life. My father spoke negative words over me: “You just don’t follow through.” “You’re weak.” “You won’t follow instructions.” Will I still be a prisoner to those hurtful words? Just as the doctor cut the cord to my mother at birth, I also need to cut the cord to those hurtful words. Otherwise negative power will continue to flow into my life today.

In Papua New Guinea, monkey meat is a staple of their diet. When the natives hunt, they place a banana in a narrow mouthed jar. The monkey will reach into the jar and grab the banana, but he cannot get his hand back out while holding the banana. The hunter can come right up to the monkey and club him but he will not let go of the banana. Am I holding onto something from my past that is bringing me death?

The more I face struggles in this life, the more my perseverance, character, and hope grows. Like the baby learning to crawl, I must to move forward with the hope that God is using my challenges to prepare me for bigger things to come. Dissatisfaction is the first step for transformation. Difficult times have a purpose: they push me into my destiny, shape my character, move me out of my comfort zone, made me trust God.

1Corinthians 2:9 (NLT): “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” The blessing is already prepared. God has to prepare me so when I get there I am ready to handle it. I can ask for a good wife but if I am not ready to be a good husband, what happens? A blessing given too soon is not a blessing at all. Give car keys to a 10 year old and what happens? The prodigal son received his inheritance but he didn’t have the character to handle it. We need to stop being angry and instead give thanks in all things. In the challenges I learn what I could not learn any other way. I press through rejection, I press through fear, I press through loneliness. When the devil thinks he has me down, I press. The devil wants me to sit down and shut up, but I will press.

I might not be able to change my circumstances but I can change how I think about them. God is more interested in changing my mind than He is in changing my circumstances. Change my circumstances without changing my mind and I will soon find myself back in the same place with the same problems and the same defeat. With too many lottery winners its “Easy come, easy go.” 70 percent of them lose or spend all their money in five years or less. My thoughts control my life. A thought doesn’t have to be true to direct my life. The mind is the battleground. Romans 8:6 (NLT) tells us, “Letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

In Philippians 1:6 (NLT), Paul encourages us with: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” What God starts He finishes. I may feel discouraged and want to give up. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NIV)

The world has its value system promoted by advertisers that say life is all about me. The transformation we seek is from Self-centered to God-centered, from “Give me my stuff” to serving God and others. 2Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) describes it this way: “We are being transformed into His image with ever increasing glory.” It doesn’t happen overnight. Psalm 37:23 (NKJV) says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” “Steps” means it is a process.

Change is a process. Shortcuts are the devil trying to get me to take the easy way. What is the Lottery but a tempting shortcut to prosperity that is only an empty promise? Help a chick break through its shell and it will die. Why? The struggle strengthens him. A withdrawal first requires a deposit. Otherwise it is called bank robbery. The struggle is the deposit I make to qualify for the victory.

God hasn’t given up on me. I am not so far away that His arms can’t reach me. If I am willing to step away from the pigpen, to humbly seek Him, He will be running with His arms outstretched. I don’t have to run to God. I only need to turn toward Him and He will run to embrace me.

When The Going Gets Tough

“When the going gets tough…Kayak

…run to mama.” (It worked when we were kids.)

…go shopping, eat chocolate, do anything but the hard stuff.”

…it’s OK to quit. It’s probably too hard for you anyway.”

I like a quote by Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 70’s and 80’s: “When the going gets easy, watch out! You may be going downhill.”

Here is the most important one, “When the going gets tough…the Christian leans on God.” Psalms 18:2 (NIV) declares, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” God is my source of strength through the inevitable hard times.

Recently we were channel surfing and came across an old episode of Colombo. What caught my eye was that Jonny Cash was making a guest appearance. In the show he sang the Hank Williams classic from 1948 “I Saw the Light”. What struck me was the line, “Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight.” The problem with that is I think it is warped Christianity. It may get someone in the door of the church but it won’t keep them there. If I walk into the county jail and declare, “Give your heart to Jesus and tomorrow you will walk out a free man.” I might get quite a few takers, but what happens tomorrow when they are still locked up. I better not show my face in there for quite a while.

Jesus talked about it in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:20-21: “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” When trials come they fall away.

The whole notion that being a Christian means an easy life has only come forth in the last 200 years. Before that Christians generally recognized that life included trials and suffering. The pivotal moment in the Gospels is the suffering and death of Jesus. The balance of the New Testament is a chronicle of the suffering of the early church and encouragement to hang in there.

If you think you have it hard, read Hebrews 11. Early Christians were stoned, sawed in half, killed by the sword, destitute, oppressed. Paul described his life this way in 1Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Jesus warned us in John 16:33, in this world we will have tribulation, troubles, sorrows, suffering. (Are we having fun yet?) But He doesn’t just tell us, “Deal with it.” He gives us the good news at the end of that verse, “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (NLT)

I’ve had my share of problems: on the job, relational, financial, death of loved ones. But there is a joy, a peace, a sense of fulfillment and purpose that the world can’t offer. It’s not about the outside; it’s about the inside. C. S. Lewis once said “God whispers to us in our pleasures…, but shouts in our pain.” The more I look at Jesus the more the Spirit can mold me, because in the fire I am softened and more moldable.

Nowhere does the Bible promise an easy, comfortable life. Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT) warns us, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” General Dwight Eisenhower, commanding general of Allied forces in World War II, said, “There is no victory at bargain basement prices.”

Instead God promises strength for the inevitable battles that are part of life. Ephesians 6:10-19 describes the armor of God. It isn’t given to us so we can play dress up or just sit back in our Lazy-Boy. (That Lazy-Boy would probably be pretty uncomfortable with the breastplate shoving up against my chin and the hilt of the sword poking me in the ribs.) Armor is given to be used, because we face a battle.

Romans 8:37 says we are more than conquerors through Christ. “More than a conqueror” implies there will be a battle. We can’t be victorious without one. How do I live victorious?

  • Recognize the battle is in my mind. Lottery tickets are sold not based on the odds or the taxes that will be due or the ruined lives that can come with sudden wealth. No, they paint a picture of carefree luxury to lure people in. Romans 12:2 warns us that we must renew our mind, renew our thinking. Before 1954, sport authorities said the human body was incapable of running a 4 minute mile. They said the runner’s heart would explode. Yet on May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister ran a 3:59.4 mile, because he changed his thinking. Today the Olympics require a qualifying time of 3:55. When you know who you are in Christ, worldly obstacles won’t matter anymore. 2Corinthians 10:4-5 (NKJV) declares, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The battle is in my mind.
  • Recognize Jesus already won the victory. The cross looked like defeat; the tomb looked like the end. When Jesus stepped out of that tomb, it wasn’t just His victory. According to Ephesians 2:6, in Christ I was raised with Him. That was my victory too. God causes things to happen at exactly the right time! My job is not to figure out when, but to make up my mind that I won’t give up until I cross the finish line.
  • Recognize that we conquer through praise. In 2Chronicles 20, Jerusalem was faced with an impossible situation surrounded by a vast army. Under God’s guidance, Jehoshaphat sent out singers ahead of the army. The result was the enemy turned on itself and Jerusalem was victorious. Praise may not change the outward circumstances but it will change our inward attitude. Psalm 150:6 declares, “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!”
  • Recognize that the reward is worth it. I enjoy hiking not because the sweat and strain of climbing a steep trail is so much fun, but the view and the surroundings at the end are rewarding. No mother will tell you that she enjoys childbirth, but to hold that little one makes it all worth it. 1Corinthians 2:9 promises, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Think about that… and smile
  • Recognize we need each other. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Palm trees can withstand high winds and intense desert storms. Their secret is how they intertwine their roots. Alone a palm tree doesn’t stand much of a chance but together with other palm trees they gain strength from each other. We are no different in needing each other for the strength to stand.

James 1:2-4 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Skipping to verse 12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Perseverance is not being delivered from the storm but the ability to get to the other side.

Pain is inevitable but misery is optional. In 1873 Horatio Spafford had lost most of his property to the great Chicago fire. He had lost a son to scarlet fever. While he finished up some last minute business details, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him to Europe. The ship carrying his family sank with only his wife surviving. A short time later as his ship passed over the spot where his daughters had drowned, he wrote the hymn: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

When the going gets tough… remember where you’re going. When the going gets tough… lean on Jesus.