This is really all I have after today (specifically, verse 2):
For centuries, artists have been painting pictures of Jesus. Jesus with children surrounding Him. Jesus praying in a garden. Jesus eating the Last Supper with His disciples. It is from these pictures that most people form their opinions of Jesus. He was gentle, meek, mild and He smiled a lot. But in his book, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, John MacArthur paints another picture of Jesus: The Jesus who tells it like it is, even when the truth hurts.
In an age of tolerance, it’s so easy for our own faith to get watered down. We don’t want to offend, and we don’t want to turn people off to the Gospel. While those are noble goals, we often achieve them at the expense of the Truth. MacArthur puts it this way: “It’s…acceptable to voice your disagreements – as long as you pillow each criticism between positive comments about whatever you are critiquing”.
In his book, MacArthur explores the ways Jesus turned the idea of religious tolerance on its head. Throughout His life on Earth, Jesus constantly came into conflict with the religious leaders, but unlike the meek and mild Jesus seen patting small children on the head, we see in these confrontations a Jesus who has a zero-tolerance policy toward false teachers and religious pride.
As is typical of a book written by MacArthur, the tone is academic, rather than entertaining. At times, the language is higher-level and may even occasionally require the use of a dictionary. But the message of the book is well-presented and thoroughly backed up with Scripture, which is also typical of MacArthur. The book is an excellent source of “devil’s advocate” thinking, and is a refreshing change for those who are tired of seeing Jesus presented only as a pacifist, a good teacher and a tender healer. Yes, Jesus is certainly all of those things. But when we choose to only see those parts of Him, we fail to see the complete picture, and we dilute not only the reality of who He is, but also our own Faith.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
I had no doubt that my favorite show would be picked up for a third season. (News Flash: White Collar’s been picked up for a third season!) I had no doubt that it would be rainy and cold this morning when I woke up. I had no doubt that the cat would throw up on something porous while I was at work today. I had no doubt that my alarm would go off this morning and that the lights would turn on and my car would start.
Every day, I demonstrate faith. And usually, that faith is placed in completely inconsequential things. So why do I pray the way I do?
“Wait, what? How did you make the leap from the weather and cat throw-up to prayer?” you ask. Oh, just making sure you’re with me.
James 1:6-8 says:
But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
Confession time: For a long time now, I have been that double-minded, unstable person. My prayers, I realized, have been a study in contradiction: “God, please give me X.” And then a minute or so later, “Please help me deal correctly with the disappointment when I don’t get X.” No wonder I haven’t seen positive answers to my prayers! Basically, I’m saying to God, “I’d like You to please do this for me, but I seriously doubt You’re going to.”
And as a result, I’m also saying, “All that stuff You say in the Bible about how much You love me, and how You have a plan for me and how You give me good gifts? I don’t believe any of it.” I have to believe that one of the reasons I’ve experienced so much disappointment in the last couple of years is because of how I’ve been praying.
Do you pray like that sometimes? Do you ask God for something while at the very same time bracing for disappointment? Do you wonder why you experience disappointment more often than you do the joy of an affirmative answer to prayer?
If so, proof-read your prayers. It may very well be that the first half of your prayer is contradicted by the second half. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with asking God to help you keep your attitude in check, and there’s nothing wrong with asking that His will, and only His will be done in your life. But when we approach God expecting Him to not do what we want, we not only set ourselves up for frustration, we strip prayer of some of its power.
God is not easily confused. In fact, God is not ever confused. He knows what we want before we even ask it. And God can answer any prayer. But do you think you’d be willing to grant a friend’s request if she said, “Would you please do this for me? I know you won’t though. I really wish you would, but I’m expecting you to say no”? (I believe the old-fashioned term for this type of person is “wishy-washy”.)
Not only would you most likely not grant the request (if you could even find it in there anywhere), I bet you’d be a little insulted too. Does your friend think you care that little for her? Does she think you’re that powerless to help her? Does she think you’re even friends?
I haven’t asked Him, but I’m guessing God feels the same way when we pray for something, but expect nothing. It’s no wonder we have so many “unanswered” prayers! Or, maybe it’s just me…
About 10 years ago, I went to Maine with my family for vacation. It was incredibly beautiful, as you can probably imagine. The first couple of nights, we stayed in Yarmouth and when we woke up the first morning, a dense fog covered the town, shrouding everything in an eerie mist. We went for a walk in it and it was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had.
From there, we went to Bar Harbor. Now when people hear you’re going to Maine for the first time, one if the first things they tell you is “dress warm”. So we packed jeans and sweatshirts and jackets. The day we went to Bar Harbor, it was 96F.
Finally, we made our way to Acadia State Park. If you’ve never been there, do yourself a huge favor and add it to the list of places to see before you die. It’s incredible! You stand at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean on gigantic boulders, high above the surface of the water, and on a clear day, I swear you could see Ireland if you squinted hard enough. The water is a deep, navy blue and when the waves crash on the rocks, the foam is such a pure white against the dark water. It really is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. (And I got some amazing pictures that week!)
There have been many times in the past few years when I’ve felt like I’m standing on the edge of one of those boulders. Behind me is the rocky path I’ve taken, full of hard climbs, tree roots, and wild flowers. Ahead of me is the edge. I’ve come to the end of the trail and there I stand, looking out at my future. In my mind, it’s beautiful, but full of mystery and potential danger. I can’t take another step toward it yet, but I can look out over it and wonder what it contains.
And I wait. I wait for a bridge to be built so I can cross over into my next adventure. I wait for a boat to show up that will take me out into the ocean of “what’s next?” I stand and I wonder – will it be good? Will I like what’s coming next? Or will it be hard? Will it make me struggle and hurt?
We don’t know what our futures hold, but there are a few things we do know for sure:
- God planned out our next step ages ago and He’s already in our next moment. (Isaiah 25:1)
- Our faith will continue to be stretched and made stronger. (James 1:3-4)
- Whatever God has next for us is good and perfect and will be just the right thing for us. (Romans 12:2)
Our Father loves us so much and He always wants what’s best for us. Sometimes, what’s best for us makes us happy. Sometimes, what’s best for us confuses us because we don’t know our whole story yet. Sometimes, what’s best for us feels like the worst possible thing. Regardless of how it feels, though, what God allows into our lives is, in fact, the absolute best.
If you’re on the verge, on the edge of what you know, looking out into what you don’t know, ask God to help you let go of your security, your assumptions, your expectations and your fears. Ask Him to strengthen your faith. And then trust Him completely, without reservation. Trust that the One who formed you in your mother’s womb and who planned out every last one of your days knows every step you need to take to end up exactly where He wants you to be: the center of His will.
Are you standing at the edge of what you know, ready for what’s next? If you’ve already taken the next step, how are you seeing God at work in your life?
For this week’s Midweek Mental Health Break, I submit to you the following clip:
And now I’d like to tell you the story of a town very close to my own. In this town, lives a certain type of salamander and these salamanders have been known to find themselves flattened on a main road in the town. Some people in the town got together and devised a great plan to save the salamanders from a pancake-like fate. They spent quite a bit of money and built tunnels under the road for the poor salamanders to use for their passage. The only problem? No one told the salamanders that the tunnels were there for their use. So if you were to travel down this road today, you would still encounter flattened salamanders. Sad, but true.
When was the last time you were jealous of someone? For me, it was this morning. I was reading about people who are going to a convention this weekend and I got jealous that they got to go and I didn’t. Eventually, my more mature self took charge and asked this question: “If you could go, would you?” My less mature self thought about that for a few minutes and grudgingly admitted that no, given the opportunity, I wouldn’t go. “But,” she argued (with a bit of a pout), “I’d like to at least have the option.”
A few minutes later, after mulling over this “conversation”, I had to admit that I have a coveting problem. I want what other people have, even if it’s not something I would actually want, given the chance to get it. (Wow! Have fun dissecting that sentence, English teachers!) And what is at the heart of my coveting? Unthankfulness. (Is that a word? Well, it is now…)
Few people have trouble being thankful for the good things in life. But do we really have to be thankful for the things we don’t like quite so much? I’m afraid so. Do a search on the word “thankful” in a concordance and try to find one instance where the Bible says, “Be thankful for everything – except those things you don’t like.” Let me save you some trouble – you won’t find it. There are no qualifications or exemptions to true thankfulness. There are no loopholes, so don’t bother looking.
So what do you do when you find yourself in a less-than-pleasant situation? What do you do when the answer you get to your prayer isn’t the answer you wanted? Well, be thankful. Easier said than done, right? Ok, then let me tell you what I’ve been doing today. All day long, I’ve been asking God to show me something, anything I can be thankful about with regard to a place I am in that I’d rather not be in.
All day – “God please show me something to be thankful for here.” I’m still looking for something, but I’ll be asking the same thing tomorrow, and the next day until something comes to mind. This is having a surprising effect on me. While I’m actively looking for things to be thankful about, I’m noticing the negative things about my situation less and less. Sure, they’re still there and sure, I’m still not happy about them, but they’re having a smaller and smaller impact on me.
I don’t know how I’ll feel about all of this in the morning, but for now, I think I’m taking just one step closer to where God really wants my heart to be. You can take that step too. If you’re stuck somewhere you don’t want to be, ask God to change your heart and to show you how He’s blessing you where you are. I’m pretty sure that’s a request He will honor.
How do you deal with unpleasant situations? What are you thankful for today?
This morning, I came to a realization that I summed up in the following tweet:
Last year this time, all I cared about was fall TV premiers. This year, it’s youth group, small group, etc. What a difference a year makes! I attribute the change to one simple fact: I love my church!
(Ok, for those of you in the know, yes, technically, it was two tweets, but whatever…)
To which Alissa Graham responded:
Wow! What a blessing the church is 🙂 God definitely uses it to sanctify us and teach us to make his priorities ours!
And I couldn’t agree more! I spent 5 years looking for a church after moving to a new part of the country. Those were a turbulent, lonely, angry, sad, bitter, resentful, rebellious 5 years. I spent a lot of time arguing with God about my lack of a church. After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us that we’re supposed to belong to a church? (Yup, it kind of does – see Hebrews 10:23-25.)
I have no idea why it took so long for me to end up in my church, but I can tell you this: I am so different because I’m there. I’m happier, more thankful, less stressed, my faith is stronger and yes, my priorities are different, at least in part because I am part of a local church. Yes, some of the change could be attributed to other things like God drawing me to Himself, but I have to wonder if I would have been as sensitive to His drawing if I were still trying to do life on my own.
There are three big advantages to regularly attending – and actively participating in – a well-functioning, Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church that I think may have had the biggest impact on me in the last year or so: Friendships with those of like faith, accountability with regard to attendance and regular instruction in the Word. Without those three things, I don’t think I would have made it through some pretty tough times recently.
I’m not writing all of this just to brag about my fantastic church (although, it does feel nice to finally be able to do that). I’m writing to encourage you:
- If you also love your church, make sure you let some people in it know that from time to time.
- If you’re in a church that just doesn’t feel right, ask God to make you sensitive to His leading, then go (or stay) where He wants you.
- If you’re not in a church at all, and you’re not actively looking for one, you’re missing out on some tremendous blessings that can only be found there. Start today!
- If you are actively looking for a church, keep it up! God will put you where He wants you when you’re ready to be there.
The church is the Body of Christ. The church needs us. And we need the church.
If you love your church, use today’s comments section to brag on it! If you’re looking for a church, let us know so we can pray with you!
Remember this? A week or so after it happened, my director sent out his usual post-concert e-mail. In it, he listed all the things that had gone wrong that day – a pipe burst in the building next door, a bathroom flooded in the concert hall, the police were called to escort someone from the building, the principle violinist showed up 5 minutes before the concert thinking she was an hour early. “By the time our uninvited guest arrived,” he said, “I thought ‘Of course there’s a dog!’.”
That’s kind of how I’m feeling right now. You know those times when the bad news just keeps coming and the only verses you can find that apply to your situation are in Job? I’m there. In fact, I thought I was there a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t. It’s possible I’m not even there now, I just think I am. Only God knows.
And only God knows where this is all heading. So all I can do is throw up my hands and say, “Whatever You want, God. If You need me to do anything, just let me know. In the meantime, I’ll just let You do whatever it is You’re doing.” Some may see an attitude like that as fatalistic. I choose to see it as surrender, as admission that I’m not in control, and as an act of faith.
There’s a guy named Aaron Shust – I’ve featured a couple of his songs in posts before (and he’s a Steelers fan!). Right now, he’s out on tour. And right now, his 2-year-old son is in the hospital while doctors try to figure out why he can’t swallow and keep food down. Tonight, this is what he had to say:
Instead of worrying I’m gonna trust God’s plan and sing His praises in New Mexico tonight! Lift Him Up!!!
That’s exactly the kind of faith that we need when we’re in a dog-on-stage situation. It’s the kind of faith that says, “Of course there’s a God!”
Please pray for Aaron, his wife Sarah, the doctors and Nicky.
Are you in a dog-on-stage situation right now? How can we pray for you?