"God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the midst of loss, not prosperity." --John Piper

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Long Journey (Part 18) A message from God?

One of the struggles that I faced as we divorced was what to do about finalizing everything. Even though we had only been married 3 years, we had bought a home and because her retirement was better than mine, we had put a fair amount of money in her retirement. Altogether, depending on what the house was valued at, we were talking between 20-35K, just for my half. But I also know that she was angry and would not let go of anything easily.

That was when I kept getting this continued message. It was not an audilble one, but non-the-less, it was very clear. The message was "walk away." I struggled with that. How could I walk away with nothing? How could I start all over with nothing but half the credit card debt? I contacted a lawyer, but I pretty much knew my options. Walk away and be done with it, or spend years and probably a good portion of any money I might get fighting. Yet still, it was not an easy decision. But I followed the voice inside me, and I do believe it was what God wanted me to do. Its not that God was saying "get divorced," but I believe he was saying, "If you are going to do this, this is how I want you to do it."

So I did it. And I am thankful that I did. 20K is a small price to pay for 2-3 years of freedom, and that is what I had by not consuming myself with chasing the money. I lived frugally for the next few years, paid off my debts and even managed to save some. I have not seen my second wife since I left that night. I tried to call once because of a bill we needed to discuss, and I got hung up on. Maybe that was a bit of confirmation for me, that I had done hte best thing under the circumstances. Life in a fallen world is not easy.

A Long Journey (Part 17) Deciding What to Do...

I had previously started blogging about my journey (my life). I stopped doing that about a year ago. I left off where I was struggling in a second marriage. So much to consider. As I read a couple of the posts I had written, it struck me how far God has moved me in the past year. I think about some of the decisions I have made, and wonder if I should have made different ones. But I have to dismiss those thoughts, because this is where I am. Not that I can't learn from them, but I cannot let myself second guess the past and let it slow down my present.

My second marriage ended when my wife refused to return to any more counseling sessions. It was a tough decision, but one that was made easier by my son from my first marriage. I felt that he should not be subjected to abuse by a person who had no desire to face their issues. If I had to choose between a child and an adult who would not face their problems, I would choose the child.

Prior to attending counseling at all, I had made an ultimatum, we continue in counseling or I would have to leave. When she stated that she would no longer attend counseling, joint or otherwise, I had a tough choice to make. But I left that night.

I was in a different place then. I was attending church, but not really involved, being too busy with work and family issues. I wonder if it would have been different if I had been in a better place. Perhaps if I had, I never would have entered into a second marriage. I think now that what I really wanted was to give my son a sense of normalcy, and, well, that did not work out quite the way I had thought it would.

Only God knows how my mistakes echo inside of me. But they have also shaped me. They have taught me. They have drawn me closer to Him, for who else could I cling to?

I recall taking to a friend once. We were discussing our lives, and after I had shared quite a bit of mine, she remarked, "It's a wonder you have any faith left, after all you have been through." But I recall responding, "No. Without a faith in God, I don't know how else I could have gotten through all of it." I view faith not as something to hold on to because God is treating me good, but rather something that binds me to God that takes me through all things good and bad. How do you view faith?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tanks and bombs and mortars and torpedoes

Ephesians 6:10-20

 10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

There is a lot of stuff in these verses, but I want to focus on one major thought. That thought is that the battles that we fight in this world are Spiritual ones. I think Paul is using these words here because of all that he has said prior. It would be so easy to take Paul's words and then just try to go out and do it on our own. Try to be that good Christian. Try to live up to being a good wife or mother or husband or father or child or slave or master. But that is not enough!

When we go to war, whether it be with another, our own sin, or whatever, we must do it in the Lord and in His strength (vs. 10). Look at the weapons we use. Most are defensive, the only offensive one being the sword of the Spirit.

Wouldn't we rather that God had told us to use tanks and bombs and mortars and torpedoes and flame-throwers and so on? Don't we want God to tell us to attack! But what I see mostly here is this, protect yourself. Guard your heart. Make sure that you stand firm.

Perhaps a part of the picture here is God saying, stay close to me. When you go out, make sure I am in the lead. We are only the foot-soldiers, not the general. So when Paul says that he is an ambassador in chains, perhaps he is speaking of the prison chains that bind him. Perhaps he is also speaking of the chains that bind him in service to the Lord.

Keep me close Lord, and help me to follow you always, and never take the lead.

Friday, May 27, 2011

To slave or not to slave?

Ephesians 6:5-9

 5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. 9Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

I had a preacher recently tell me that he thought the best way to honor God in his preaching was by preaching the disciplines of the New Testament. So how does that work itself out on a passage like this? How do we discipline ourselves to be mistreated without first understanding the Gospel and loving the Lord who is represents?

Maybe it is a non-issue, since we don’t have any slavery problems in our town. At least not that I am aware of. But look at this passage. It was written for people who were really dealing with this. And look at Paul’s advice, “obey your earthly masters.” Wouldn’t that be a hard message to hear? Doesn’t the concept of slavery go against the principles of Jesus? Shouldn't Paul tell them to seek their freedom?

It all goes back to a heart issue. The changed life because of the gospel issue. Not “do this discipline because by doing this discipline you glorify God and will enter into His kingdom.” But treating your master as if he were Christ himself, so that by the shining of your changed heart, you bring glory to God. Maybe your master will see that change and be changed himself, and maybe he won’t. But you did not do it for that reason, you did if for the Lord and for Him alone. You are not concerned about results or praise from men or winning a soul, you desire is to worship God thorugh your life and shine His light in all that you do.

They were told to do it “as to the Lord and not to man.” Any obedience that we perform must be birthed out of an understanding that mere obedience is meaningless. Without tying our heart into that obedience, it is nothing, a mere filthy rag before God. Without seeing Christ as Lord and Master of our lives, it is nothing.

And there are words for masters too. Not words that tell them to set their slaves free, but words that tell them to “stop threatening.” (No, I do not see this as making any type of slavery acceptable.) Again, it is a heart matter, because now as a master, your desire should be to see that your slaves are won to Christ. Setting them free won't do that, they will probably just end up as someone else's slave.

I don’t think you discipline yourself to submit to a master, nor do you discipline yourself to treat your slaves better. I think that is why Paul did not command them to set the slaves free. Perhaps as a result of a changed life, the Holy Spirit would lead them to that decision if it were appropriate, but it doesn't have to be.

Look back at Deuteronomy 15. There was a choice a slave could make to remain a slave forever. I doubt that the slaves who made this choice were treated badly. Slavery is not a bad thing if the master is good. And God is good.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


My son lives about a half-mile from where the tornado touched down in Joplin. I am thankful that he is safe. He volunteered with the clean-up the next day. I cannot imagine the devastation he saw. He said they passed a car that had been in the twister. It had a body in it.

I just listened to Brian Williams report on the tragedy. He stated that "it was not fair." I find that an interesting statement, and wonder what that is based on. Is it not fair that these people suffered, as opposed to others? Or is suffering like this not fair for anyone? If so, what is that based on? Is there a limit to the suffering we should have to endure? If so, what are those limits?

I think this intrigues me because I do not know where he stands in his belief system. If he does not believe in God, this statement makes no sense to me. If there is no God, there is no fairness, everything is random. If there is no God, there is no deserving, because there is no sin or lack of sin. In order to deserve something, don't you have to be able to earn it from someone or something? So no matter how good a person might be, he can't deserve a particular kind of death just based on his morality, especially since without a supreme being, morality at best is subjective.

If he does believe in God, the statement still does not make sense. For the truth of it is that some people do deserve a horrible death. Some people will even get a much more horrible eternity. But we don't like to think about that, unless you are Rob Bell, and then you just make it disappear. So maybe you can tell me, Mr. Bell, if God is so loving that He would not send anyone to hell, why make people suffer like this?

My thoughts go to my son. If he were 4 blocks closer, I would be suffering right now. But that would not change my view of God. God is not my God only when He does not give me pain. Whatever I have to endure in this life, surely I deserve it. And then some. What I don't deserve is His grace and mercy.

I pray for you, Joplin. And even as I write this, there is news of more killer tornadoes in Kansas and Oklahoma. That is a part of the broken world that we live in. Along with war, hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, etc. And through it all, God is God. He is sovereign, and worthy of our praise and worship. But you won't hear that on the news tonight.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why is it?

Ephesians 6:1-4

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." Fathers' do not provoke your children to ander, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Why is it that my parents only quoted the first part of this to me, and never the last? I find that exasperating.

So Paul has first laid out a gospel message, and is now getting into what that looks like. We have already discussed husbands and wives, so now to the kids. Obey your parents. I wonder what age group Paul was targeting with this. Was it pre-teens? Teens? Twenty-somethings? Any age that has parents? Because in Jewish culture, you were always to show respect to your parents.

But I love that he adds the piece about Fathers. Because how easy would it be, once someone has achieved Fatherhood, to glory in that role. And Paul basically says, don't do it! Don't let it go to your head. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Thanks, Dad, I think you got it right. I miss you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In hindsight

The last post hurt to write.

The reason is simple, it is written in hindsight. When I grew up, Mom was Catholic and Dad was Lutheran. Church was a non-issue, although we did attend Mass until I was in 4th grade. That was the year of my confirmation. It was also the year my grandmother died. She was planning to come from Germany for the confirmation in May. She had a stroke in January of that year, so neither happened.

In 7th grade I got involved in a typical evangelical church. I was baptized probably as a sophomore. I went to youth group and on youth trips. A year out of high school, I attended Bible College. My intention was to go for a year and then get a real job. I ended up going 4 years, getting married, and going into youth ministry.

Church life was tough. Bible College does little to prepare you for the realities of ministry. A strong personal faith is assumed. I poured myself into what I thought I should be doing. Everyone always had different opinions. So I worked harder. We both were going with the flow of life. I was doing what I was taught. I was using the right techniques. Our group was growing. Life was good.

Things started to change. My wife was unhappy. She started pulling away. I was too busy to deal with it. Too many God things to do. She was a preacher's kid, so I figured she knew what she got herself into. I think she did, but in our evangelical, God wants me to be happy way of thinking, she had had enough. She filed for divorce. I was stunned. Not much you can do about it these days. No fault divorce doesn't mean no one is at fault. It just means the state doesn't care and will let the divorce go through as long as one party wants out.

In hindsight, I now see that I didn't really know that much at all. I knew facts and programs and methods. And perhaps God used that as I went along the way. But I thank HIm that He also cared for me as a person, and was willing to take all of that away from me so I could see Him.

I wish I could say that was the turning point in my life. I was, I just didn't make a 180 degree turn all at once.

So I look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33 differently now. It is not a formula or a plan. It is a way of doing things for those who are sold out to God. My current wife and I have been married over 10 years now. It is not always smooth sailing because we are both human. But we both know where we stand in Christ. Our commitment to Him is what enables us to go to bed each night with a kiss and "I love you" because nothing is stronger than our bond of 3 cords.

So it hurts to write things like the last post, because in it I see my failures. But in it I also see the grace of God. Giving me a change to experience His love in new ways. Seeing His forgiveness. Growing.

It is all part of my journey. One I would never have imagined, but one that I am more thankful for each day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mirror, mirror

Ephesians 5:22-33

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

What is this picture all about? Is it about being the submissive wife, or is it about modeling God's grace? I have to go with the latter.

I know that people like to pick this verse apart, and then add, "What if the husband is abusive?" To which I think Paul would say, "Use your heads here, folks!" Or perhaps he would pull out the line, "To live is Christ, to die is gain."

Setting aside the extreme situations, lets just look at "the norm." By the norm, I just mean where one side is unhappy with the other. The marriage has grown lackluster. If you are in Christ, it is not about your happiness, it is about your joy. Not the joy you get from your mate, but the joy you get from honoring and serving God. If you don't have that joy, perhaps that is a problem surfacing in your lack of joy in your marriage.

 25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Notice how many more verses we get, men? But the message is still the same. Love your wives as a mirror of your love for Christ. Perhaps that is a problem in our society today. We all want to be saved and so we wear the name Christian, but do we really love God and His Son?

Paul is not saying this is what you must do, he is saying, this is what real Christianity looks like. Real Christians, who love the Lord, honor one another even when there are differences. Real Christians live up to their covenants, even when their partner is not a believer.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ephesians 5:15

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,

Paul has just finished telling us to not partner with those who walk in darkness. We are to walk in the light, for the light exposes the darkness.

But we live in a world of darkness. Sometimes the darkness is think all around us, even in our churches. So this verse becomes important, because it reminds us to beware of how we walk. Don't get caught up in the games of those around you, but stay grounded in the light of God's word. Verse 16 goes on to say,

making the best use of time, because the days are evil.

I think it is easy to get caught up in the ways of those around us. Their avoidance, paranoia, fear, etc. We live in an evil age. No, not just the 21st century, but the age of mankind since the fall.

The Bible's message is clear, I am a sinner in need of a Savior. There are those who do not like this, don't think it will sell well, and who will water it down or even change it. Sometimes they do it out of fear, other times out of selfish motives. Either way, it is a part of the evil days we live in. Verse 17 continues,

Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Stay grounded. Stay in the word. Live the gospel. God's will is not that I save anyone, and that is a good thing, because I can't save anyone, only God can do that. Understand what God's will is. Understand that His will is for me to love Him, and to serve Him out of that love. If I can focus on that, I will be doing well.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I am going to suggest that you leave now...

Ephesians 5:6-10

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as chidren of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

I listen to so many sermons, and hear so many empty words. Words that depend on me and my works, words that make God sound desperate for my soul. Why would God want my dark and dirty soul? Only because He loves me, not because He is desperate. God is not interested in numbers. And because of these words, the wrath of God will come.

I struggle even at the church I attend. God is so dishonored through some of the things that are taught and said, and yet I cannot exist apart from the church. Truly there are weeds among us. And their fruit exposes them to the discerning, but not to their own blind eyes. They run, they hide, they shiver in their insecurity. They do not address or discuss.

So I must struggle with the phrase that says, "do not become partners with them." And my answer is to not partner with their hypocrisy, but to stand firm in what I believe.

They haven't thrown me out yet! (Although it has been suggested that I might be more comfortable somewhere else.) Since when did Jesus promise us comfort? If he wanted us to be comfortable, he would not let the weeds among us, would he?