The Destructiveness of Sinful Anger

It is helpful to understand that anger is not intrinsically evil. Exodus 34:6 describes God as compassionate and gracious and slow to anger. God abounds in love and he is not quick to wrath, but He does get angry. Jesus is said to have been angry and grieved by hard-hearted religious leaders in Mark 3:5. Anger is an emotion that arises when good is threatened by evil, and for God it is always a righteous emotion. But for us anger can quickly turn sinful. Our fallen human nature distorts why we get angry, how we process that anger, and ultimately how we act out of it.

The human heart tends toward hostility without the ongoing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. But even those in Christ are not immune from the temptation of sinful anger, which presents itself in various ways. For some, rage is displayed through screaming, grumbling, biting sarcasm, or even violence. But for others, rage is quietly displayed through a sulking that withdraws affection and shuts down from others emotionally. Regardless of how sinful anger presents itself, it ultimately produces works such as envy, gossip, hate, division, and even murder. These works have lasting and deep impact on individuals, families, and churches.

3 Ways Sinful Anger is Harmful

  1. It does harm to our intimacy with God. Jesus teaches that abiding in His love is what produces fruitfulness in the life of His followers; and that the pathway to their abiding is obedience to His commands (John 15). Sinful anger, however, produces much transgression (Proverbs 29:22). So when we constantly give in to anger, it is producing out of us the very works which prevent our abiding with Christ.
  2. It does harm to our personal relationships. By experience we know that sinful anger hurts families, friendships, churches, and workplaces. Volatile people create volatile environments (Proverbs 15:18) which leave lasting wounds.
  3. It does harm to our physical health. The bible teaches that a wholesome or composed heart is good for our health (Proverbs 14:29-30). While science shows prolonged anger can create physical problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, and anxiety issues.

Sinful Anger is Completely Futile

As destructive as our distorted anger can be, it is absolutely useless in helping make right that which is wrong. James 1:20 teaches that the anger (literally violent passions) of man does not produce the righteousness of God (in this context, right behaviors). When faced with injustice, misunderstanding, attacks, or sin – our greatest need is that God will produce his righteous works in the situation. The resolution we need is not the one we can produce, but the one God provides. And no matter how angry we may get, we cannot produce this righteousness. Sinful anger is not helpful. It feeds our flesh momentarily, but then leaves in its wake frustration and bitterness.

James indicates that the opposite of relying on our anger to bring about change, is to humbly receive the words of Christ (1:21). We begin the process of putting away destructive and pointless anger – whether violent rage or silent withdraw – by looking to Jesus. Only He can repair people and restore where life has went wrong. Let us display our trust in Jesus, by asking for His help to avoid sinful anger and obey his helpful commands.

5 Truths About Responding to Betrayal

Betrayal is a dreadful act that can cause profound and lasting damage. It is one thing to suffer harm, but it is quite another to suffer harm from someone you trusted. When we are brought to anguish by those we considered loyal friends, the deep emotional and psychological wounds are often slow to heal.

Jesus Suffered Betrayal

Scripture teaches that Jesus suffered as we do, and so he sympathizes with us in our affliction. Most of us know that before his murder, Jesus was delivered to Jewish officials by one of his own disciples. Judas is a name synonymous with shattered trust. But we may not realize the great affection Jesus had for his wayward follower and the way he agonized over his betrayal. Even though He knew from the beginning what Judas would do (John 6:64), Jesus loved and served him until the very moment that he left. John 13 testifies the betrayal troubled Jesus in His spirit; which in the original language implies: revulsion, horror, and anxiety. Just like us, Jesus felt deep and complex emotions because of the unfaithfulness of his companion.

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
John 13:21 (ESV)

5 Truths About Responding to Betrayal as a Christian

God worked for our good, even as we sinned against Him (Romans 5:10). This is our motivation to care for those who have hurt us. Here are 5 biblical truths to help guide our response to personal betrayal:

  1. You are accountable to God for your response to those who hurt you. You have no control over what others do. But you are liable for your reaction to them. Proverbs 24:17-18 warns that rejoicing over the downfall of an enemy can invite God’s displeasure. He cares greatly about the heart of His people.
  2. God alone has the right to bring justice to sinners. This will help you understand the command of Proverbs 24 better. Practicing forgiveness is not overlooking justice, but rather placing it in God’s hands. Romans 12:18-21 teaches you to entrust vengeance to God and to overcome evil by doing good to your enemies. (We must note Romans 13, which describes civil authorities as God’s instruments of punishment against wrongdoers. Personal forgiveness does not require you to refuse to report heinous crimes).
  3. Blessing your enemy is not a sign of your weakness or of your approval. Rather, it is proof of your heritage as a child of God. Doing good to someone who has harmed you does not mean you are a push-over, nor that you are saying what they did was ok. Rather, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:43-48 that blessing your enemy shows that you are conducting yourself in the pattern of your Heavenly Father.
  4. Unforgiveness is not protection against further harm. It will result in bitterness that will impact far more people than just your offender. Hebrews 12:14-15 warns that a root of bitterness in your heart will grow and defile many. You may feel that withholding forgiveness protects you from getting hurt again. But in reality it will only bring destruction and difficulty to you and those close to you.
  5. God will equip you to desire that which you would naturally hate and accomplish that which you would naturally find impossible. If you read the first 4 truths and feel overwhelmed, let the Gospel comfort you. Through Christ, God promises to equip you with everything needed to do His will. His Spirit will work in you that which is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:20-21). Whatever is required by God, is provided in Christ. And that includes the desire and ability to forgive and love your betrayer.

Taking the Next Steps

Working through the pain of betrayal is often a long journey, but one that cannot end until it begins. So let me encourage you with these first steps: Confess to God your current mental and emotional state toward your offender. Agree with God on what His word teaches about where you need to be. Rely on the power of Christ to help you walk out love and forgiveness. And seek counsel from a pastor or wise godly friend who can help you with practical actions toward this end.

The Throne of Grace: A Meditation on Hebrews 4:16

In a recent post we considered the value of scripture meditation. One goal of meditation is to slow down and prayerfully consider key words in order to draw out riches from the text. Let’s try this together in Hebrews 4, with a focus on verse 16:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

  • With confidence draw near: Come with boldness, openly; Come without hesitation, doubts, or fears. God is calling us to the privilege of a personal relationship. He is calling us to come without pretense or hiding, yet with absolute assurance that He will receive us.
  • Throne of grace: First, we are approaching a throne: God is a holy, sovereign King. We are not His equal. He is our almighty creator who has all power and dominion. Secondly, the throne is described as being of the essence of grace: God is benevolent and loving. He does not treat us as we deserve. He grants favor, approval, and provision.
  • That we may receive: To take in hand. He is calling us to come expectantly; without fear of rejection or leaving His presence empty handed.
  • Mercy to help: Benefits that result from compassion. God does not just pity us and send us on our way. From his great compassion we will receive assistance, divine aid, relief and safety.
  • In time of need: Literally in season or timely. The verse is not simply calling us to run to God when in affliction (although certainly we should). But here is a call to continually draw near to God and He will ensure you lack nothing; you will have all that you need, often before you realize you need it.

I was encouraged by one of our church members who shared how they were walking through feelings of condemnation over a recent struggle. Yet God used this passage to remind them that He understood their battle and that they did not have to be afraid to seek Him in the midst of their discouragement; that in His presence they would not find further condemnation, but rather the help they needed.

Of course the foundation of these precious promises is the active, ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ as our advocate. Verses 14-15 teach us that we can only take hold of the hope in verse 16 if Christ has first taken hold of us. As John Gill once wrote:

To Christ the saints come for pardon and cleansing, for a justifying righteousness, for the acceptance of their persons, the presentation of their services, and for every supply of grace. From Him they may expect to receive mercy, since it is kept with him and is only dispensed through him.

So will you and I take God at his word and flee to Christ – through practices like worship, prayer, community, and scripture meditation – that we may boldly draw near to His throne and find the help we all so desperately need?

Confronting Sin with Calmness

 In a class my wife and I lead for a local ministry, we teach parent’s about a concept called learned behaviors. In my words, these behaviors are ones that you acquire in your lifetime through interaction with your environment, or by being taught. Often these are not taught through sit down lessons, but rather by being immersed in an environment where a behavior unfolded consistently and frequently. Eventually, it becomes a normal way to conduct yourself. We may even recognize family patterns of learned behaviors- actions that have been passed down from parent to child for several generations. Of course, some learned behaviors are negative and it is important for us to identify those so that we can make changes. This is especially critical to us as parents, because we are now the ones creating the environment where OUR children are being developed.

One of the best places to have your learned behaviors challenged, is the bible. Just this week I came across a couple of passages that confronted not only my own conduct, but a generational pattern that exists in my family. The first was Ecclesiastes 10:4 [ESV], which says in part ‘Calmness will lay great offenses to rest’. Very similar to this is Proverbs 25:15 [NIV], ‘Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone’. Now honestly, growing up in my home – if a great offense took place, the typical response was not calmness. And likewise, a gentle tongue was not viewed as a choice weapon by which a battle could be won. Misconduct provoked a quick response, complete with quickly elevated voices and stinging words. Arguments were typically marked by increasingly harsh tones of voice, discouraging observations, and carried along by a determination to talk over each other as loudly as possible. Today, I have an understanding that this way of exercising parental discipline and working through marital disagreements had existed in both of my parents’ families to varying degrees. And truthfully, I was not immune. I had learned, at least in part, some of these same traits. They worked themselves into my own parental discipline and relationship with my wife. I had learned through my environment that a loud voice and stinging words would win the day. And without a course correction on my part, my children will grow up to learn the same.

Of course, I do not think the bible forbids righteous anger or frustration against sin. Nor do I think a stern voice is always out of place. If a child consistently misbehaves – there should be a strong response. The bible teaches that it is out of love and a desire for good that a parent disciplines their children [Hebrews 12:9-10]. But the bible also teaches us that the heart is the wellspring of life, and ‘everything you do flows from it’ [Proverbs 4:23]. And no combination of volume and vocabulary have the ability to change someone’s heart. Our frustration – James teaches [James 1:20] – will never create right attitudes and beliefs in our children, or in our spouse. So the conclusion James reaches, in light of this, is that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak; and we should control our anger and the actions that proceed from it. Because in the final analysis, our humanity will never yield spiritual health in others.

The word calmness in Ecclesiastes 10:4, can also be translated healing. So it could be said that, ‘healing will lay great offenses to rest’. And yes, this is so true! Every offense, every conflict, every misbehavior, every wrong attitude in us, in our spouse and in our children, is a byproduct of the sin of our first father and mother in Genesis 3. That event created in us a flesh that craves self-satisfaction, which often requires rebellion against authority. And every human on earth is clothed in this flesh. And it is only by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the son of God, on the cross that this flesh can be overcome. ‘By HIS wounds, we are healed’ [Isaiah 53:5], because He has laid all of our offenses to rest. And it is a trust in HIS work, that frees us from the need to respond to sin with more sin. That trust will work itself out in prayer for our own hearts, and the hearts of our children and our spouse. And that trust will free us to confront misconduct in those closest to us with calmness, patience and with a gentle tongue. For the parent, this will be a tongue that while at times stern, will also speak healing through the gospel.

Whether our children or our spouse, their greatest need is the same as ours: to look to Jesus for healing. And it is by our own calmness that we demonstrate a recognition that the power of heart change belongs only to God.

Living God-Centered, in a Self-Centered World

In the beginning, God created…everything. And at the height of His creative work, he chose to make mankind in His image (Genesis 1:26). God plans to make a human race, patterned after his own being, to oversee the rest of creation, and to enjoy Him forever. As the first humans, Adam and Eve lived in God’s likeness, in perfect harmony. They lived in a magnificent garden, where God himself walked. There was no divide between creator and creation. And there were no divides between the human race either- specified by scripture with the phrase found in Gen 2:25, ‘They were both naked, and they felt no shame’. This was unity. Nothing clothed them, because there was nothing to hide. No barriers at all.

And at the center of this unity, was the human purpose: To live for the glory of God. His glory was the purpose of mankind’s creation (Isaiah 43:7). God had existed for all of eternity as Father, Son and Spirit, in perfect love. And out of His kindness, he invited mankind to share in His joy. Humans, living and working side by side, for God’s glory. Increasing in number, filling all of the earth with God’s image. Enjoying God, together. Adam and Eve were without dissension, because they were God-centric, as all of creation was made to be.

big dealOf course we know that the world we live in today – is not the world described in Genesis 1-2. The human race is not in unity; we are far from it. And the origin of every division and conflict we can imagine is found in Genesis 3. The enemy of God arrived in the picture with a singular temptation for the human race: to trade in their God-centric lives for ones that focused on themselves. God had given Adam and Eve all things to enjoy, except for one tree. That tree, God said, was not for them. And for a human race living to enjoy God and to find His glory precious – this was not a harsh prohibition. But Satan’s tactic was to shift their focus: Why must YOU not eat of these trees? Why should YOU be deprived? God knows YOU will be like him if you eat from it – because YOU will then have a knowledge of good and evil. And with that, the human race forsook God to place themselves at the center of their own affections. And immediately, division came. Barriers were put up as Adam and Eve clothed themselves with fig leaves, hiding from each other out of shame. Harmony was lost, not just between the human race – but also between humans and God. He came to walk in the garden, and the human race ran to hide. And the conflict grows as Adam and Eve began to blame each other, along with God, for their rebellion. Adam says, ‘I did this because of the WOMAN, YOU put here with me’. Eve responds, blaming the serpent that God had made. Mankind was now a self-centric, distorted image of God, divided and in conflict. And this bitter root of self-centeredness, would be passed to every human generation. People who love themselves, and so become boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unforgiving, slanderous and without self-control (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

I often tell the moms and dads going through the Families Count program, that parenting is the toughest challenge you will ever be given. And what makes the task so hard, is that we must live through the complications intrinsic to a self-centric world. And to compound this problem, both we AND our children are dealing with the nature we have inherited; a nature that is bent toward self. The good news – and there is good news in all of this – is that Jesus Christ has come to ‘destroy the devil’s work’ (1 John 3:8). God the Son stepped into His creation in order to reverse the effects of our rebellion. His work would make way for the human race to be restored to the Image of God and the harmony of living in His likeness. The night Christ was born, the Angels praised the Heavenly Father in song, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’. This PEACE is the good news to a world filled with hostility; people drowning in conflict with themselves and with God.

Jesus is our only hope to live as God-centric people, reflecting His glory and enjoying Him forever. While our families must live in a self-centric world, we take heart at the words of Christ, ‘I have overcome the world!’ (John 16:33). Our hope and peace is found only in the centrality of Jesus! Look to Him and Seek Him with all of your strength!

The Church: Navigating Diversity

Minolta DSCTwo weeks ago I wrote to argue that the word of God compels the local church to seek to be diverse. When the surrounding community is able to see an uncommon group of people in deep fellowship, serving together in love & unity – it speaks to a greater reality than human engineering. While our flesh often leads us to relationships with people who best suit our personality and preferences, our good Father leads us to relationships with ALL people, regardless of exterior traits. Jesus is most glorified when He is seen as the common bond among an uncommon group; And when the local church is a beautiful picture of diversity, it is best reflecting the eternal picture of the church to come (Revelation 7).

This week we are speaking about how to navigate diversity. I think it is important for me to say first that I am not calling for diversity on issues that the bible clearly gives us a stance. In those cases, we must simply obey. Secondly, I am not just thinking of race, which is where a lot of our minds may go. Racial diversity is certainly a key component for us to best reflect the eternal church. But I am also thinking about diversity in backgrounds, economic classes, personalities, preferences and ages. Any of these issues can be used as a dividing line in a church, the exact opposite of what we are calling for in this article. A church that is building diversity must learn how to embrace and celebrate their differences. And this is often a hard task, choppy waters, at least at the outset. So how do we navigate diversity? Let’s consider a few scriptural principles in contemplation. We will not unpack these very much, but pray that the Spirit will teach us about each one:

First, let us desire to glorify God in obedience to His will more than we desire to be comfortable. Diversity is hard and we often find it much more comfortable to be around others like us. But God has appointed His church to exist in a certain form, which Paul argues is like a body with equal, yet different parts. The body – in order to function – needs the unique parts to operate in unison. The body of Christ – likewise – is designed by the Father to have no divisions, and for each unique part to compliment the others, so the whole body functions as He has chosen. (Please read 1 Cor 12:14-26)

Second, let us remember that God intends for us to learn from one another. Scripture calls for the church to be made up of people willingly ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ‘. Mutual submission should lead us to gentle interactions even on points of disagreement. Living together in the wisdom of the Father, we will see that every person has something to teach us. We do not have everything figured out, and the possibility exists that someone else’s way is equally as valid as ours. Unique preferences and views on life do not have to be points of argument. The beauty of a garden in bloom is intensified with a variety of colors. (Please read Ephesians 5:15-21)

Finally, let us be willing to remain in relationship with each other, in loving toleration. How quickly could diversity be built (and how many church splits could be avoided) if we simply listened and obeyed scripture?  May God’s word, wash over our souls: ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another,forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive‘ (Colossians 3:12-13).

Grace and Peace

David

 

The Church: Intentional in Diversity

country churchWhat should the church look like? Of course, I do not mean the building where you worship and in this instance I am not focusing on polity (the way we do church).  Rather, for today the question is more of a second commandment meditation – the way we relate to one another. Who should we seek out to make up our local church? To what backgrounds, ages, races, classes, and sociocultural groups should we focus our outreach efforts? I believe the word of God compels us to this answer: Be Diverse. Yes, I think a local fellowship should seek to reach the people in their community, and I would be shocked if that group alone is not ripe with diversity on many levels. But I, perhaps somewhat controversially, would maintain that a church should SEEK to be diverse, as an intentional part of their outreach efforts.

If I may paint with a broad brush, I believe many churches have fallen into a bit of a pit when attempting to answer this question. For the most part, people tend to make intentional relationship choices based on their personal preferences. We all have our own ideas and views on the world; along with our own way of doing life. In general, we gravitate toward people who share at least some of our main inclinations. We find it easier, if not more enjoyable, to be around like-minded individuals. The reasons for this, I think, are both practical and spiritual. My dad loved motorcycles. Riding and working on bikes took up a huge portion of his free time. So, very practically, most of his friends came from circles of people who shared his interest. Those were just the people he was around the most; the ones he met at the bike shop and those he could take weekend rides with. So, very practical. But, I also think this can be spiritual. We tend to elevate our preferences to an idolatrous level. Because we think so highly of our views, our person and our way of doing things, we consequently run with those who ‘get it’ like we do; people who are most like us. And conversely we steer clear from – even vilify – those who are different. What is the pit I think the church has fallen into? Rather than work against this paradigm, I think the church often attempts to take advantage of it in order to grow. After all, people will come to where they are most comfortable, correct? So the church works to make it easy. We separate the body of Christ into small groups, worship services and events – all based on preferences. We seek to be labeled as young or old, contemporary or traditional, family, liturgical, free-spirit, black or white, home-school or public-school, liberal or conservative – the list could go on and on. Rather than work against the dynamic, the church is tempted to use it as a strategy for numeric increase.

When it comes to our local fellowships, I do think there is a higher, better foundation than preference. And while this way represents something that is harder and perhaps creates growth at a slower rate – I believe it is the Jesus way. The very team Jesus put together when he walked among us shows this. He chose the small group of guys who would run with him, spend time with him, learn from him and then go change the world when He returned to the Father. Jesus’ team was quite a picture of diversity. These men differed vastly from their professions, to their upbringings, their political views, and their personalities. This is NOT a group that would have ran together on their own. BUT among this uncommon group was a common bond: Jesus. And it is that same diversity that will encircle the throne one day, and bring all glory to Him:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7)

My call for us to intentionally seek diversity in our fellowships is so that we reflect the intentional way Jesus is building His church. Man-centered development is fueled by taking advantage of our internal desire to elevate our preferences and be around people who share them. The Jesus way, I believe, is to intentionally seek out those who are different, join with them in fellowship and mission, and allow Him to be our common bond. This will not come easy and it will require that we are obedient to his commands on how we relate to one another; on how we treat one another. More on that next week, Lord willing…

Grace and Peace

David

 

In Every Church: Warts and Grace

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge…so that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 1:4-7

Those of us who have spent any amount of time reading the New Testament are probably familiar with the church in Corinth and have probably formed some sort of opinion about them. Chances are, that opinion may not be favorable. Many of the warts or problems of the Corinthian church are well detailed in the pastoral letters that Paul penned and that we have read. The church was struggling with many issues such as divisions, lawsuits, purity, idolatry and even some level of disorder in their corporate gatheringsBut did you know that the church in Corinth was also filled with the grace of God? Did you know that the church there had been enriched, full of good speech and knowledge about Christ? Did you know that spiritual gifts were alive and active among the people? Paul opens up his letter to the church with just such a reminder and commendation. As a matter of fact, if you only judged the Corinthian church by the first lines of Paul’s letter, you might have the impression that the church was problem free. It is possible, if not probable, that visitors or occasional attenders to the church were unaware of its issues. The warts may have only been visible to those who were closely connected and taking part in deep fellowship with the community.

The fact is, that there are no perfect churches. Every church that belongs to Jesus will have its share of warts; problems will exist. The reason is because the church is made up of imperfect people, who are hopefully striving for Christ-likeness, but of course not yet realizing that goal in full. These problems are not always visible from a distance or even right away among newcomers. Sometimes it takes weeks or months of investment in fellowship and community before some of the warts rear their head. But eventually, they will come to the surface. They always do. At the same time we must also know this: Every church that belongs to Jesus will be filled with His grace. Christ has promised to be with His people, making His presence known when they gather in His name for His glory. So it is safe to say that every church that has an abundance of warts, also has an abundance of gifts. Just as our flesh will inevitably stir up conflicts, struggles and problems of various kinds; the Spirit of Christ is there to stir up peace, love, righteousness and an abundance of good works.

So what is our application? First, we realize that all of us – imperfect people – are ‘being joined and built together’ into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:21-22). There will always be problems inside of any faith community, but we are in this together. God is doing a work on us and in us – not just as individuals, but as a collective group of His people who are in need of His grace. Second, we must ‘put on love, which binds us all together’ (Colossians 3:14). There is a reason that the bible instructs us over and over again to love one another. As we are being built together in the grace of Christ, our love for each other will help overcome the problems that our flesh causes. When a church is filled with love for the Father and a love for each other, the warts will not divide them. ‘Love is patient and kind..it does not insist on its own way…it is not irritable or resentful…it bears all things’ (1 Cor 13). And so if we have put on this kind of love for each other, then the effects of that love among a church will keep the people together as they go. Finally, ‘take delight in honoring each other’ (Romans 12:10). If indeed the grace of Christ abounds in His church, then set your mind to focus on the good gifts of a church, rather than just the problems. One great way to do that is to intentionally honor each other. Take time and effort to show people in your community how valuable they are; how much you love them, how much they mean to you; in what ways they have helped you. It is very difficult to focus on a person’s shortcomings, while at the same time genuinely honoring them from your heart. Of course this is not meant to be a formula, or an all encompassing list. But let us be reminded that the church exists on earth – in part – to display the glory of God to a watching people. So may they see that the problems that seek to divide a church, are not as great as the grace that has brought it together.

 

Praying for Miracles: Good Gifts from a Good Father

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:11

As many of you know, my family is praying for a miracle. We have been waiting for about 4 weeks for a judge in Hong Kong to sign a paper, giving us legal custody of our son, Jack. When the paper is signed, we can book a flight and go get him. The miracle we need, is all about the timingSince last January we have prayed to have Jack by his birthday. God has knitted our hearts to his, and the thought of not being with him on this day is gut wrenching. We have known, all these months, that this would take a move of God. The time table we were given showed that this would be improbable if not impossible. Which is why we have prayed so hard; as a family in our living room, in the van on the way to church, at the altar and around the table. And we have involved many of you in those prayers – through email, blogs, texts and fundraisers – many of you have lifted up your voices to the Father on our behalf. Even as we have entered this week, a critical week for us if we are going to receive this blessing, we have had people let us know they were praying, even fasting on our behalf. Thank You!! The time table for this part of this process is 8 to 10 weeks. We are 4 weeks in. The problem is that his birthday is before then. Very soon. Thus, the miracle.

As we have prayed for these many months, I have reflected on different verses – including this one above from Matthew 7. The verse is intriguing to me, because essentially Jesus tells parents that they can learn about their relationship with God the Father, by thinking about the relationship they have with their own children. In other words, yes we love our kids! And we know how to give good gifts out of our love for them. But we are fallen and fallible and prone to error. So as good as we can be to our kids, how much greater is the perfect, infallible Father that we have in Heaven? Meditating on this today, I thought of 3 ‘good gifts’ that I give my kids:

1) I plan and guide their lives.

My kids are all young (under 12) and right now I plan and guide their days and nights. No, they are no robots. I do not dictate to them every decision they make. They can choose to do good things, and receive rewards and blessings. They can choose to do bad things, and receive discipline and troubled circumstances. But still, as their father, I stand as the guiding force in their lives. I make plans for them – plans that will benefit them, plans that will train them, plans that will bring them good and enjoyment – and I see to it that those plans come to fruition. They don’t have to ask me to do this – I just do it; because I love them and they are mine. So – how much more does the Father do this for Hischildren?

2) I sometimes tell them no.

My kids ask me for a lot of things. Many of their requests, I grant; I grant them because I love them and I delight in giving them the desires of their heart. If they didn’t ask, they might not get it. But because they ask – I answer. But sometimes, I do tell them no. Sometimes what they ask for is not the best, it is not for their ultimate good; although it might seem best to them, I understand it is not. And when I tell them no, my hope is that they trust me; that they love me and that they know they can be confident that I am seeking their ultimate good. So – how much more does the Father do this for His children?

3) I sometimes hide gifts from my kids, and bring delays, so at the right time I can surprise them.

I love giving my kids gifts. I delight in the delight I see in them when they receive from me a good gift. Sometimes I get them a gift, but I delay in giving it right then. I save it, hidden away. And I do that so at just the right moment I can spring it on them. Sometimes I literally mold their circumstances, so that when I give the gift, it has the greatest impact on their hearts. My purpose is not to be mean – I do it to maximize their joy. So – how much more does the Father do this for His children?

We are continuing to pursue our miracle through prayer. Thank you if you are willing to pray on our behalf. This week is critical for us.We rest in the words of Jesus, even at this late hour, that ‘All things are possible for those who believe’. It is my personal hope that our good Father has been molding our circumstances, allowing delays, in order to give us this gift at this time, right on time, for our maximum joy and His deserving glory. Many of you are also pursuing a miracle. As you do, meditate on the goodness of your Father – who knows exactly when and how to give you good gifts.