Hurts So Good

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy." Proverbs 27:6

What do we need most in life? I'd say tops is Jesus transforming us from the inside out. Right behind that is spiritual allies. Allies are those unusual friends who help, prod, encourage us and wound us - wait...what?! Yes, wound us. Allies are mutually honest even if it causes pain.

I both hate it and love it! My bride is my friend, lover and a wounder. Yes, Junanne loves me enough to tell me the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. There have been a few critical moments inI've benefitted from several friends who knew the need to speak the truth in love and run the risk of wounding me. You need this as well.

Wise people know those true friends don't sign off on everything. If you’re asking your friends to sign off on your decisions, wink at sin in your life, or not talk with you about an area that is “off limits”…you’re asking your allies to become your enemies!

If you allow no one to speak truth to your life where it’s needed most, you might find a few fans but you have no friends, let alone allies. 

Fans kisses leave us sick. Allies wounds make us well. It hurts so good!

"Ornamental Fringe"

This weekend I read a 1863 message from the "prince of preachers". Old London is not much different from today. I can say for myself, that it's easy to live on the "ornamental fringe" and miss the reality, and yes the joy, of remembering God's power and grace.

This week I had a chance to hear a man share his brutal and beautiful story of life-change. Three times he asked me "are you sure you want to hear this". I am richer for having spent an hour listening to his story of God's power and grace to change a man.

And then this morning God allows me to read what's below. A reminder to never forget what lives behind the "ornamental fringe". May God allow us to always remember the spiritual "back streets" and "blind alleys" he's pulled us from.

"Some of you ride through our fine wide streets, which are a sort of ornamental fringe upon the skirts of poverty, and you know nothing about those narrow back streets, those blind alleys, and those courts inside of courts, where poverty is huddled together, and where too often sin, lust, and disease become its natural consequences."

Spurgeon, C. H. (1863). The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit

God Can Use That

The path to victory is rarely a straight line and God designed it that way!  We have to get this next truth etched in our soul or we'll bail out right before any goal is achieved–or any victory is won. Ask God to tattoo this on the wall of your mind: Any REAL victory doesn't happen in spite of happens BECAUSE of adversity! That mind-blowing reality must find a home in our heart. At the moment when all of hell (and half of earth) is screaming "give up", perseverance is paramount!

Now, not every soul jarring event or crazy season of life is from God's hand, but God wastes absolutely nothing. He's cooking up a custom recipe for your next victory. Your life is filled with personal failure, random miss steps, blindside betrayal and it's seasoned with unwanted/unwarranted heartache. But God still sees your quiet desire to go His way. God loves your broken and yet undivided heart. And then the craziest thing the moment when most people have said "to hell with it", you say, "all I have left is this little muscle of faith God, can you do something with it", and God miraculously moves that mountain that you're facing today! This isn't spiritual smoke and mirrors. You'll have a story of victory that builds strength for tomorrow and someone in this world is desperate to hear your story of perseverance.  

Resistance is the only way to get physically buff and resistance is the only way to get spiritually buff. But there is one huge difference. Spiritual strength is never for show, it's for personal, subtle, daily victories that build on one another and encourages the soul of another until we find ourselves "mature and complete, lacking nothing".  Maybe you're drained from the battle and calculating the cost of shame–"should I quit". It could be you already turned back, embraced defeat, because the challenges were just too huge and too long. Here's the great news: God can give you a ride back to the front lines today. It's never too late to start over. You've never given up for too long. As you're moving out of the valley of death and through the kingdom of darkness, capture a mental image of a train or large public wall and tag it with this God graffiti ..."you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." Listen, mountains makes us strong, valleys keep us humble and pain deepens our need for God. Reject the voices that whisper an invitation to quit or compromise. And when the need for relief seems unbearable, stop/wait for a time at the streams of living water and renew your strength. Perseverance is possible and God can use that!

James 1, Luke 17, Gen. 50:20, Rom.5:1-5, John 7

Pain or Pleasure

I watched John Piper's message to inmates at Angola prison this morning. Amazing! In the middle of the Q&A Dr. Piper was asked about getting out of prison and if that would basically be the proof of God's love. Piper responded that "Satan uses two things to kill our faith, pain and pleasure, and pleasure is far more destructive". It led me to think about the pain in our lives. Pain is real, but why would God allow it and what is it's purpose? 

So I want to encourage you. The most wonderful blessing that is most overlooked is the grace of pain. No one has ever been so thoroughly humbled, more completely loved, or dramatically changed, than through valleys of pain. Period. The goal of life is not pain avoidance. When we aim to avoid pain we can miss coming to grips with our own brokenness and sin, become proud, and never dive into the pool of God's grace and power.

The pain we feel today, or will feel in the future, may be the result of personal sin or lack of judgment, but it is ALWAYS an invitation to be cleansed, encouraged, and changed by God. Never let pain go to waste. Never!

Romans 5:1-5

Good Grief

Life is full of emotional pot-holes. Any substantive conversation between two authentic people will inevitably touch on the pains of grief. But can that grief ever fade or be used for something good? Well as much as the memory of missed opportunities and bad decisions is troubling, it's the only vehicle to true life. Bad things happen, sin will leave it's scars, but the grace of God can cause our grief to vanish. When we stare grief in the face we have a choice to make. We can learn from grief, but we must never live in grief. We can be transformed by grief, but we never have to die with it.

Grief holds the potential to transform us. And all future moments of grief have the potential to be a brick of gold that God uses to build us up. Grief responded to rightly, is the stuff that makes us spiritually rich and strong. The choice is so clear that one of Christ's earliest followers captured the essence of it in one sentence. "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." When the choice is between life and death, there's only one real question. How do we live?

So here we go: Pin point one area of grief in your life. Now we have a choice. Will we sift the grief through a "worldly" screen or a "godly" screen?

The worldly screen is characterized by blame. It's unwilling to consider what there is to own personally. The worldly grid paints us as a victim with no need to consider how we're missing the mark. Worldly grief walks away from the grace of God convinced of it's rightness, even as it walks to its death.

But as long as you have breath, you watch grief do something amazing. Godly grief is willing to face the truth of both what's out there and what's in here. It can handle both receiving ugly stuff from others and acknowledging the ugly things in our own life. Godly grief humbly turns in repentance to the grace of God and walks firmly on the path of life. There is a good grief with no regrets. It's from a good God with a lot of grace.

II Corinthians 7:10

Sick and tired...but loved and cared for by God!

God loves to make people whole, but it may require a certain level of sickness. You can hear it everywhere, "God wants you to be free of sickness", "Illness is not of God". Now while sickness is one of the ugliest elements of a fallen world, God is famous for leveraging sickness for his glory and our good. There's a whole other topic about not putting junk into our bodies, but for now let's just look at the role of sickness in making us into the people God longs for us to be. 

An early Jesus follower, named Paul, had authentic faith, and rock solid commitment to Jesus. Yet in his spiritual journey he found himself to be afflicted with, what most theologians believe to be, a persistent illness or sickness of some kind. Three times Paul asked God to give him relief and take it away. Paul wrote that God responded in the following way, "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." The sickness would persist in Paul and we find no evidence that it ever lifted while he was on this earth.

The reasons God allowed Paul to sit in affliction are simple but powerful. 1. The favor of God goes far beyond physical health. To measure God's favor by our comfort is settling for far too little. 2. God's power can only be fully unleashed in the hotbed of weakness. This is so crazily different than what we assume that it seems impossible. But our weakness is the means God uses to drive us to a point of utter dependency. 

So let's look at sickness differently. Yes, ask God for relief and even release but don't measure his love and grace by whether you receive either. God has a bigger vision for our lives and a much broader view of what it will take to get us there. Do a "180 Now", ask God to use today's sickness or the one that will inevitably come our way, to be a moment in time when you trust God as never before and go his way, even if his way makes no sense in the moment. You can do this, God will help!

II Corinthians 12:9

Deep And Wide...God's Love Is Mind Blowing

God's love is so comprehensive, it's just plain tough to comprehend! Jesus is so unlike us, that without faith it's impossible to please God or even get our minds around God. It's easy to believe that God's love is extended to others, but we question whether it can truly touch us. The song many of us learned as little kids is right - God's love is "deep and wide". But many still stand of the shores of this river of love - it's a concept but not a living reality.

People stand in a couple different camps when is comes to missing out on God's love: 1. Some stand shaking a fist and rejecting the love of God. Some of us can't stop loving ourselves and the life we're building (no matter how pitiful it may be). BTW, we can be both active religiously and actively rebellious at the same time. 2. Some of us stand shaking in our pain and rejecting God's love because of shame. We just don't believe. Getting our mind around the fact that God really wants to wrap his love around us is almost unbelievable. 

But the thing that made Jesus legit to his earliest followers was the depth and width of his love! Imagine how thrilled John the Baptist was to learn (just before his beheading) that this Jesus was for real. Jesus had street cred. His reputation then, lives on today. Here's just a sliver God's mind blowing love...and it's for you:

  • Don't know where you're really going? God's love pries open eyes.
  • Feel like you can't keep up with life? God's love helps you to walk strong.
  • Is your past sin making you feel untouchable? God's love can clean everything.
  • Having a hard time hearing anything but condemnation? God's love is a voice of hope.
  • Believe you're lifeless and a totally lost cause? God's love blows life into dead things.
  • Do you think you're too low to touch the best? Gods love reaches with riches to the poor.

Right now! Ask God to give you courage to believe him for ALL of his mind blowing's deep and wide.

Matt. 11:2-6