Posts Tagged With: pain

Your God-Given Prayer Language

As you will hear in this PODCAST, I stand in awe of our ancestors in the faith, the very first community of Christ-followers ever to walk this planet.

By way of introduction, do you remember when, so very long ago, we studied the Sermon on the Mount?

Let me remind you that Jesus introduced His signature sermon with 8 pronouncements of God’s blessing—We call them the Beatitudes. The most enigmatic of the 8 being Beatitude #3 that goes like this:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

You are about to see in full color, in High Definition, exactly what meek looks like, courtesy of our earliest brothers and sisters in the faith.

Before we get to that, there is one additional Beatitude to which I want to direct your attention. It happens to be Beatitude #8, the last of Jesus’ pronouncements of God’s blessing. It reads:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10).

Did you know that the words persecute/persecution/persecuted occur in the Bible a combined 142 times? In the minds of the biblical writers, it was a foregone conclusion that they and all of God’s people would be persecuted for our faith.

Jesus certainly understood this, He being the ultimate example of someone who was continuously hounded, hunted, and finally executed—persecuted—for His faith.

Persecution, Jesus repeatedly reminded His disciples, was the price tag for becoming one of His followers.

Perscute—to pursue in a hostile manner, to harass, to trouble, to molest, to mistreat.

Well, Jesus’ many warnings were now coming true for these very first committed Christ-followers. Indeed, what we are about to learn here in Acts 4 was only the beginning.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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“Even Though He was One of the Twelve” (An Encore Podcast)

judas-pouch_200No matter how you cut it, this man was an enigma.

As you will hear in this PODCAST, this man — handpicked by Jesus and elevated to the rarified air of the apostles — repaid Jesus’ generosity by betraying Him to His executioners.

Is there any human emotion more painful than that of betrayal? 

Ever felt it? Betrayal?

That midnight darkness of the soul that enshrouds us like an impenetrable fog when we have dared to trust someone — with our deepest feelings, our most hidden secrets, as if we have just entrusted to the person our very hearts, perhaps our very lives — only to have him or her shatter our hearts and break our trust by their soul-crushing betrayal.

Jesus sure felt it. The pangs of betrayal. Boy, did He ever!

That moment frozen in time when for the first time you see with crystal-clarity that you have been played.

Well, for 3½ years Jesus had been played. 

Where did this man — Judas Iscariot — come from? What causes a man to make the fateful plunge from believer to betrayer? What do we really know about him?

You are about to find out.

But even more importantly, you are about to see the heart of Jesus in action as He responds in real time to this real threat posed by this very real con-man, the Apostle Judas Iscariot. 

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

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Judas the Betrayer

judas-brought-again-the-thirty-pieces-of-silver-to-the-chief-priests-and-eldersIt’s getting real. Real fast.

As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, something in the last few days of Jesus’ final week triggered Judas to do the unthinkable.

You talk about someone selling their soul to the devil, literally or figuratively? Well, Judas did both. Judas sold his soul to the devil, literally and figuratively.

“Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.”

Why here? Why now? Why this?

In order to answer these and additional questions, let’s meet Judas the Betrayer up close and personal.

A fitting title because the very first time we encounter this tragic individual, we are introduced to him with these telling words: “Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).”

How would you like that as your moniker?

Who was this guy? And what does it all mean for us today?

Allow me to set up this discussion in this way: It’s one of the most precious passages in all of the Bible. That is no exaggeration or overstatement. Yet, it gets relatively scant attention because in most of our English translations it’s rendered rather clumsily. The words of Hebrews 4:15-16 don’t exactly roll effortlessly off our tongues, with its double negatives and cultural references with which we might not be familiar. But since this is such a precious picture of exactly who Jesus is, and how Jesus relates to our lives, I’ll read it to you in the NKJV, and then paraphrase it for you so that you can hear it as original readers heard it.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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God, Why Won’t You Answer My Prayer? (An Encore Podcast)

prayerKey word for this PODCAST? Expectations.

There is nothing more toxic to our faith than when we base our faith on misinformed expectations. More precisely, holding God to expectations that He never intended for us to form; expectations God never committed Himself to fulfill.

They say that “confession is good for the soul.” OK, here’s my confession to you: Every week, when I open the Bible and begin to teach, I keenly, keenly feel my inadequacy. That’s not a me-trying-to-sound-humble statement; that’s a me-being-brutally-honest statement. A true statement, an honest admission, because I know that each and every person who listens to my voice and hears my words is experiencing their own challenges, asking their own questions, working through their own difficulties.

Consequently, there is so much that I would like to tell you, but literally so little time. How much can we accomplish in less than an hour together each week?

I am certainly not alone in my frustration. I take great comfort that Jesus felt it too, keenly so. Which is precisely what He told His disciples in one of the landmark chapters in all of the Bible. Yet, ironically, it’s a chapter that is so often overlooked as to its significance and importance.

If I were to ask you to tell me your favorite chapter in the Bible, or the one that brings you the greatest level of comfort, I doubt you’d say John 16. But for me, without a doubt, I’d say John 16. And it’s in this chapter that Jesus expressed my same exact frustration.

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.

The scene was the Upper Room. The night was His last night before the crucifixion. Jesus knew what the next 24 hours would be like. Consequently, Jesus had to recalibrate His disciples’ expectations. And so on this night, Jesus huddled with His disciples at what should have been the singular celebration of the year: a Passover Seder.

A beautiful night that would soon turn ugly.

These men had left everything to follow Jesus. They had literally put their lives on the line to become committed Christ-followers.

Jesus had warned them repeatedly that this night was coming — the night of His betrayal and arrest.

But you know, it’s amazing to me what we hear, and what we don’t allow ourselves to hear.

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Right-Stage Thinking in a Left-Stage World

more-wilderness-of-zin-neve-zoharYou are about to hear an amazing story about a remarkable man, AND about an encounter with Jesus that includes one of the most important and practical biblical principles that you will find anywhere in the pages of the Bible.

Quite a claim, I know. One that I will absolutely prove in this PODCAST.

A principle that I will be presumptuous enough to suggest that you and I need to hear, and of which we need to be reminded, perhaps often.

This is on the surface a story about a man born blind (which would be remarkable enough), but it is also a story about sheep, about a sheepfold, about the door of the sheepfold, about Jesus who identified Himself as the “door of the sheep,” and about life in the desert in which the sheep and shepherds in Israel lived and continue to live.

Before we get to the story itself, I need very briefly to remind you of something we talked about way back on February 2, 2013, nearly 3 years ago. When God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush, He made a most remarkable statement:

I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Interesting phrase, “milk and honey.”

Honey (a jam made of figs and dates) refers to the land of the farmer, and the bounty of the fruit of the land that is grown by the farmers.

Milk refers to the land of the shepherd, and that which is produced by the flocks that are raised and cared for by the shepherds.

In Israel, both lands — milk and honey — come together in a breathtaking variety of geography and climate that (NOW GET THIS) puts into its proper perspective EXACTLY the kind of lives that we are living today. More specifically, HOW and WHY we think the way we do today.

We have SO MUCH to learn from this story.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play. Words worth waiting for, I assure you.

God bless you as you listen.

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Straight Talk About Spiritual Abuse — What it is, Why it happens, and What we can do to guard ourselves and our loved ones from it

Stop-spiritual-abuseSpiritual Abuse is a much-neglected, but all-too-common condition in our Christian circles. So let the conversation begin!

What Spiritual Abuse is, why it happens, and how we can guard ourselves and our friends from its devastation. I don’t often beg. But I am begging you now: PLEASE Listen, and then PLEASE “Share” this message with your friends.

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Breaking News

My beloved little Safe Haven family is really going through it right now. In a word, we are being broken.

To focus that just a bit, let me say that I am amazed at the significant struggles and overwhelming challenges that some of our precious people are experiencing — painful loses; seemingly senseless disappointments; literally excruciating physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges that defy explanation. Storm clouds are billowing. I cannot help but to imagine the reasons why.

In talking to each of these individuals on multiple occasions, they are understandably wrestling with it all, yet all the while demonstrating a firm-if-sometimes-faltering faith in God’s good plans that leaves me in awe.

I know, I know, I know that God never breaks His people without some amazing purposes behind His breaking. Some of our dear Safe Haven family members are being broken — No doubt about that! — but to what good purposes only time will tell. (Emphasis upon that hope-filled word, “will.”) The stories are just now unfolding. Stories that will be told. Stories of God’s abiding grace and peace. Stories of God’s sustaining strength and power. Stories of how God will profoundly touch the world through the profound pain of my friends. Stories that will illustrate the unbreakable law of nature: We can’t enjoy a shimmering rainbow without some falling rain.

rainbow

I also know that as God breaks my friends individually, He is also breaking Safe Haven collectively. He is breaking us as we share in these burdens together. A safe haven indeed — an unpretentious cadre of committed Christ-followers who desperately love Him and relentlessly love each other despite the unexpected trials and tribulations that life throws our way. It will be amazing, in the days and weeks ahead, to see not only what purposes lie behind God breaking certain individuals, but what purposes lie behind His breaking our family as a whole.

In the mean time, I have the unspeakable privilege of walking through these storms with some pretty special people whom I love with all my heart. It’s times like these that I am so incredibly thankful that God gave me the priceless privilege of being their pastor. But more than that, to be their friend.

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Mary, Did You Know???

mangerMary’s was NOT an easy life. 

Consequently, she is a woman whom I greatly admire. As should we all.

Just imagine what it must have been like to walk in her sandals, or to ride on her donkey.

At the time of the angelic visitation announcing her miraculous pregnancy, Mary was assured that her baby was the vital part of God’s plan of salvation. Not only for her, but for the whole world.

Yet we know that very late in her pregnancy, Joseph and Mary were forced to make the arduous journey from Nazareth-Bethlehem,60 miles as the crow flies. A harrowing 3 to 5 day journey under the best of conditions into what was for all intents and purposes a different country far removed from Nazareth geographically, culturally, and demographically. More like 5 to 7 days considering Mary’s condition, walking or on camelback, through treacherous terrain, exposed to the elements and the ever-present threat of bandits, all to register for yet another Roman tax.

This poor couple living, as we learn a little later in the Gospel accounts, barely above the poverty line, having even what little they had plundered by their corrupted government officials.

Mothers, think back to what it was like when you gave birth to your firstborn child – the fears, the insecurities, the feelings of inadequacy. Now imagine that when you did give birth, it was not in the clinical cleanliness of a hospital room or birthing center. Imagine you were in a cave, dark and alone, unsanitary to the extreme, no nurse, doctor, or midwife to help you, and you are all of 13 or 15 years old, in what was essentially a foreign country, away from your family, with only your fiancé to help you.

Add to all of that the political climate of the world Mary was living in – a world of crushing oppression and a brutal and barbaric military occupation. One that would soon force the holy family to flee to Egypt in the wake of Herod’s maniacal and murderous attempt to kill the baby Jesus in His crib.

Mary was completely obedient to and submissive to the will of God for her life, whatever that might be. She stepped out in obedience to God, and yet everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Which begs this question:

Why do we expect that if we are indeed obedient to the will of God, everything should go right for us, go good for us? That our obedience buys us a trouble-free existence?

Mary would beg to differ. So would Abraham.

As the OT begins, Abraham obediently followed God’s call to leave his country, his extended family, his friends, and his home, everything to travel to a Promised Land that he had never even seen before.

While en route, his beloved dad died. No sooner had he settled in that land, a severe famine hit the land and down to Egypt he was forced to go. Welcome to the Holy Land, Abraham.

Abraham did everything right, and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It happened to Abraham.

And as the NT begins, the exact same thing happened to Mary. 

Maybe, just maybe, it has happened to us. Or will happen to us. Unexpected, uninvited, and unwanted trials and tribulations may well be proof-positive that you and I are right smack dab in the middle of God’s will. Unexpected, uninvited, and unwanted trials and tribulations may well be the precursors to God’s richest blessings.

So don’t despair, no matter how rough your road. God never abandoned Abraham; He surely never abandoned Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. And we can be sure that He will never abandon us.

The pathway to God’s blessing is often strewn with boulders. Speed-bumps abound. But as we learn from this Christmas story, with Mother Mary showing us the way, God’s blessings always win out in the end.

Just one of the snapshots of Christmas from last Saturday night’s Safe Haven Christmas celebration. The podcast of the full five of these snapshots can be heard by clicking HERE.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

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On the Outside Looking In

dogEver feel like you are on the outside, looking in? You don’t need to.

I am SO excited about this PODCAST. Excited because so much is about to become so clear as we look at this together.

If you took the entire Sermon on the Mount, and boiled it all down to one singular soundbite, the over-arching theme, its one takeaway…

It would be Matthew 5:20, “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”

OK. But… What in the world did Jesus mean by that?

We are about to find out. 

And I promise you this. When we do find out, we will be so incredibly encouraged.

Please note that depending upon your web browser, it may take up to 60 seconds for the podcast to begin to play.

HAPPY LISTENING!!!

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Rejection: What Should I Do When It Happens to Me?

rejectionIt’s one of the saddest verses in all of the Bible, and yet (ironically) one of the most encouraging. Especially for one very special junior high student.

The verse to which I refer is John 1:11, which reads in the New Living Translation,

Jesus came to his own people, and EVEN THEY rejected him (emphasis added).

In other words, Jesus wasn’t only rejected by His own people. Jesus was rejected by nearly everyone.

A sad verse indeed. Yet a verse that means the world to at least one junior higher who shared with me that if he was given the chance to ask God any question, he would ask Him this:

How did you feel when you were all alone, when your friends left you?  What should I do when this happens to me?

Imagine those heart-wrenching words coming from a twelve year old. Far too young to feel the torment of rejection. But feel it, he did. He does. And truth be told, throughout his life, he will feel it again and again and again.

Just like us.

And I can tell you from personal experience spanning now some six decades, and having felt the rejection of more people than I can count, reeling from rejection never gets any easier. Especially when the person who rejects us is someone whose approval and acceptance we desperately seek, want, or need.

How would Jesus have answered this student’s question?

Before I attempt to answer on His behalf (something I am always hesitant to do), let me first frame the answer by pointing out the following:

The rejection of Jesus became for Him a fact of His troubled life, His entire life. From birth to death.

His own mother was ostracized by her community because the word was whispered around that she got pregnant outside of marriage. Knowing that Joseph was not Jesus’ father, some concluded that Mary had been raped by a Roman soldier. Others merely concluded that Mary had violated her engagement by cheating on her husband-to-be.

Jesus carried that stigma throughout his adult life. His enemies even used it to cheap-shot Jesus when they mocked Him by asking Him (John 8:19, Amplified Bible),

Where is this father of Yours?

They took another shot at Him in John 8:41,

We are not illegitimate children and born out of fornication.

Implication: We’re not illegitimate children, like you!

What a hateful and hurtful thing to say.

Next, imagine this: When Herod heard that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, he immediately ordered every Jewish baby boy two years of age and under to be barbarically butchered in a vain attempt to kill the baby Jesus in His crib. You talk about rejection. Just imagine what it would be like a) to be hunted by the government as an enemy of the state, and b) to have on your conscience the deaths of dozens of baby boys, all because the authorities were trying to kill you!

We know that Jesus’ own brothers rejected Him (John 7:5).

The Romans, of course, eventually killed Him.

But what about the crowds? The masses of people who dogged His every step? Study the story carefully and you will discover that every single time a crowd formed to follow Him, they eventually walked away. As soon as Jesus failed to give them what they wanted, they turned tail and left Him all alone.

Perhaps the most poignant scene is in John 6, just after Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves and the fishes. The thousands came back the next day in order to receive their next free meal. When Jesus basically told them that His purpose was not to be seen as some sanctified Meals on Wheels provider of free lunches, they walked. In the wake of the rejection of these thousands of freeloaders, Jesus sullenly turned to His twelve disciples and asked what must have been a gut-twisting question,

Will you also go away? And do you too desire to leave Me? (John 6:67, Amplified Bible)

I’ll give you just one more. Did you know that Jesus was even rejected by His Heavenly Father?

It’s true. When Jesus voluntarily took upon Himself our sins while hanging on the cross, in that terrible moment Jesus paid in our place the penalty that you and I deserve. God the Father, being so absolutely holy that He cannot even look upon sin, turned His back on His Son and abandoned Him to the white-hot fury of His wrath, as Jesus essentially went to Hell so that we wouldn’t have to. 

In that moment of absolute agony, Jesus cried out from the cross these words that ought to send chills down our spines:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (Matthew 27:46, New Living Translation)

Put that all together, and let me ask you: How would Jesus answer a junior high student when asked this all-consuming question,

How did you feel when you were all alone, when your friends left you?

He would probably say something like this:

It hurt. It hurt me deeply. In fact, the pain I felt every time someone rejected me was by far the worst pain that I ever felt.

And that pain hasn’t stopped. Every day, all around the world, there are people who hear about me only to reject me.

Every day, all around the world, there are people who once claimed to love me, to worship me, to pray to me, who for whatever reason abandon me and walk away.

There is no greater pain in all the world than to love someone, only to have that love rejected. There is no greater pain in all the world than to have created someone, and blessed them with this miracle that we call life, only to have them reject their Creator.

So believe me when I say that I hear your question, and I “get it.” I know up close and all-too-personal the pain behind your question.

I never wanted the people I created to reject me. And I certainly never wanted them to reject each other. And I definitely never wanted them to reject you.

I can only promise you that I will never reject you. It’s a promise that I made to you, and a promise that I will keep forever. My promise goes like this: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake (or abandon) you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Let me ask you: How would Jesus answer a junior high student when asked this all-consuming question,

What should I do when this happens to me?

I believe that Jesus would answer that question something like this:

You are my friend. You will always be my friend. And as your friend, I am going to answer your question as honestly as I can.

I know that you are hurting. Pain is never pleasant. But your negative pain can be turned into a positive purpose if you’ll consider these few ideas:

First, allow the pain of your rejection to remind you of the pain you can cause others when you reject them. 

The neat thing about pain is that pain keeps us sensitive to the feelings of others around us. Our pain can help us to be a little more patient, a little more understanding, a little more compassionate, and quite a bit more gentle in our responses to others. 

So the next time you treat someone else in an insensitive, unkind, hurtful sort of way, you may be causing them to feel the same hurt that you are feeling now.

Second, allow the pain of your rejection to remind you of the pain that I feel each and every day. Your pain is a window into my soul. You will now be able to relate to me on a much deeper personal level than you ever could if you never felt the pain of rejection. You and I now share something in common. I know all about your pain, and now you know about mine. In a sense, you and I now share an intimately personal experience. The bond that we can now build between your heart and my heart is worth the pain of rejection.

And third, please, please, please allow the pain of your rejection to become a power motivation in your life never, never, never to reject me.

There will be times when you will be tempted to think that I have failed you, or let you down. Maybe there will be a prayer that I don’t answer, a relationship that I don’t fix, a problem that I don’t solve. You may be tempted to get mad at me, or fear that I am mad at you. You might even be tempted to think that I have rejected you. But know this: I haven’t!!! It’s just that my plans for you and my thoughts about you are so great that there will be times when it’s hard for you to understand them, or you will feel the need to question them. I get that. It’s OK. You have my permission to question all of those things, and to tell me exactly how you feel. But I promise you that I will never, ever reject you.

Please don’t make the fatal mistake of rejecting me. When times get tough, let’s hold onto each other like never before. And I promise you that together, we’ll get through it just fine.

Wow. Quite the question from a junior higher to God. Thank you for being brave enough to ask it. I only hope and pray that my answer gives you some measure of the comfort of God’s grace and peace in your life.

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