Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sick of Waiting

2 Peter 3:9
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

I am not a very patient person.  When my wife and I start watching a new TV series on Netflix I will go to Wikipedia and read up on all the plot line developments well before we actually watch it.  Waiting to find out can sometimes make it not enjoyable to me.  This is probably not entirely healthy.  And it annoys my wife.

We all struggle with waiting on things.  So much of life seems stuck in that endless purgatory of waiting.  Waiting for someone else to get back to us, waiting to be a bit older, or waiting to look a bit younger, waiting for a raise, or waiting for the end of the day so you can finally get some sleep.  Whatever it is, we don't like it.  We want what we want and we want it now!

The hardest things to wait for are those things that are most important to us.  And the longer life goes on, the more stressful and heart wrenching the waiting can be.  One good friend of mine is a career military man with a beautiful wife and two precious daughters.  He has been sent overseas for many months at a time, away from his family.  I cannot imagine the toll of that sort of waiting.

When we observe the condition of the world around us, and the hearts and lives of so many of the people who inhabit it, we can often find ourselves wondering how much longer we have to wait on God to finally make an appearance.  For Him to swoop in and fix all this crap up, to answer all those difficult questions, to set things RIGHT.

If you want to know why God seems slow in keeping His promise, Peter has a pretty powerful insight for us.  God is not ready to close the book on you yet.

When we look at this broken world we cry out for justice, and rightfully so, our hearts should cry out against the sins we see.  But here is what we never admit to ourselves.  Justice is coming for us as well.  What we refuse to accept is that God is not going to just deal with those things that we do not like, He is going to deal with us as well. 

Us: God, why don't you stop, and PUNISH, those human traffickers who kidnap and sell children.
God: So you want me to come and deal with sexual sin and bring down the hammer?
Us:  Yes what is taking you so long!
God:  Ok, well, I guess you need to line up for judgement then
US:  Whoa whoa whoa.  I am talking about those really bad people, who take advantage of other people, who rob their innocence, who treat people like objects.
God:  So am I.  Line up with them

See, we don't know what we are calling for.  God is a righteous and just God.  And he desperately loves you and me.  He is crying out to each of us.  Crying out for us to run to the cross, to repent and turn to Him.  And so many are yet shuttering our ears to that call.  He loves this world too much to close the book before He has given each of us every single chance.

God is not slow because He has forgotten you.  He is "slow" because He can't stop thinking about you.


Friday, November 29, 2013

I Ain't Scurred

Proverbs 29:25
"Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe"

This morning I heard Lady Gaga's song, "Applause" and found myself singing along.  Catchy pop tunes have a tendency to do that to me.  I am pretty sure that I missed my calling as member of One Direction. 

The song is her singing all about fame and living for the Applause and approval of someone(anyone?).  While it is in vogue to mock the shallow lives of pop stars and celebrities, we all do exactly what she is singing about.

We live for approval.  From friends, bosses, loved ones, culture, etc.  The message we have been taught is that it is important that people like you.  And, if that means changing who we are, that just goes with the territory. 

I knew a girl who dated 4 different men over the course of 2 years.  Each guy was a completely different personality than the ones before.  And with each new boyfriend, her personality radically changed.  Date a boy into sports and rap, that was what she was into.  Start seeing a goofy guy who listens to jazz, amazingly that was her personality too.....all of a sudden.  To be completely honest I am not sure who she ever really was.

But, "That's not me", you protest.  Really???  Bet it is.  Even if it is something small.  We all find ourselves prisoners of the fear of not being accepted. 

When we begin to fear the opinions of men, we begin to lose ourselves.  The person God has made you to be.  And, it becomes a snare, a trap, a destructive force that will lead us to one day waking up and wondering what happened to the person we once knew.

Fear of man is rooted deeply in performance and status.  It is exhausting.  It is works based.  We will never reach a moment where we have "done enough" and we can finally relax.  Once we have started on that path and allowed it to dictate how we feel and act, it becomes a cycle that keeps repeating itself.

Jesus calls us just as we are.  Our value to Him is not based on what we bring to the table, or how we "make" Him feel. We are told that even while we were still His enemies, He died for us!  There is never a moment where you can cause Him to regret loving you and choosing you.  When we begin to rest in His love for us, fear begins to subside. 

When we no longer buy the lie that performance equals our value, the freedom to walk confidently and boldly towards what God has made for you exponentially increases.

Stop living for the applause.  You will never get it.  Start living in light of the truth that in Christ, you can never be loved more, or, less.

So how about you?  What fears of man have been ensnaring you this week?  How can trusting in God's love for you give you freedom from that fear? can be afraid of this.....

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quit Hiding

Proverbs 28:13
"He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy"
The very first Thesis for Martin Luther's 95 thesis is, "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance".  After a few hundred years, nothing has changed.
Sin is destructive.
Not always immediately, but always deadly.
The challenge as a Christian is to live a life in the tension of the truth of New Life and the practical weight of current brokenness.  The "All Ready/Not Yet" nature of Christ's kingdom is a reminder to us that though our hope is secure, our journey is just beginning.
To be a disciple of Christ is rooted in the daily process of picking up ones cross and coming to the mount.  How often we refuse to confront that which burdens us and pick up the yoke of Christ. 
You will carry something.  Either your own sins that weigh you down to the grave, or, the Cross that Christ has given you.
Have you ever finally come "clean" about something?  It was difficult, but, I bet it was amazingly freeing at the same time.  Not that the simple act of coming clean suddenly makes it all better, but now you finally have a way forward. 
Hope is lost when we become consumed by our secrets and controlled by our sins.  The life of a Christian should be marked by repentance and confession.  To avoid it is like never changing the oil in your car.  You can keep going past the recommended dates for changing it, but every mile and month and year that goes by your car starts to work less and less optimally.  Long enough without new and fresh oil and the whole engine will break down on you. 
Are you heading for a breakdown?
Steps to confession and repentance:
1.  Be honest with yourself, what are those things that you are too afraid to deal with and be honest about? 
2.  Who is a mature Christian in your life who you trust to speak words of grace and encouragement to you?  Not just someone who will listen, but one who will lovingly walk with you through healing and change.  Talk to them!
3.  Rinse and repeat for the rest of your life!
You are made for so much more than you are experiencing now.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made and God has great plans for you, plans to prosper you and give you a future.  Get out the old oil and start living in freedom.
Make sure you actually get help from someone who
knows what they are doing!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Don't Wake Me Up

Proverbs 27:14
"If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse"

Who likes being woken up in the morning before you are ready?  If you are one of those odd morning people....I hate you and you ruin life for the rest of us.....For the rest of us normal people, it doesn't really matter why we are being woken up, it is terrible.

This fictional man blessing his neighbor is doing it in the most obnoxious way possible....LOUDLY!  Maybe he wants to say nice things about his friend.  But in my head I envision him standing outside at 5 in the morning shouting by the bedroom window wonderful and encouraging things.  And with each syllable his neighbor(and probably his wife) are disliking him more and more.

Hopefully no one reading this is shouting encouragement in their friends windows before the sun comes up.  You know what we do though?  We do nice things, or, try to "bless" people at inappropriate times.

Perhaps you have something true and important that someone needs to know, but have you thought about the timing of your words/actions.  Sometimes instead of just listening to people and walking through something with them we want to "preach at them".  You can ask people who know me well(my wife) I tend to fall into that camp a bit more than I should.

And here is the thing.  What you or I may be saying at that particular moment is likely correct.  It is just incorrectly timed. 

We have to put as much effort into the how and when of our "interaction" with people as we put into the truth of what we are going to actually be saying.  When we are oblivious and callous towards the reality of their situation, at THAT moment, our thoughtful blessing will be taken as a curse.

Sometimes waiting to "help" is as important as the help itself.

How about you?  What blessing do you want to speak to someone that you should probably just swallow and hold onto until the right time?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hurting Yourself

"If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it;
if a man rolls a stone, it will roll back on him"
Proverbs 26:27
Who is harmed when you harm others?  Well, obviously them, but, less obviously, you.  Whether intentional or not, callous, uncaring and harmful behavior always returns to us. 
Have you ever wanted to tell someone off, or maybe even pop them in the mouth?  It is pretty satisfying.....initially.  How many times have you done something like that to have consequences later to deal with?  Telling your boss to "take a hike"(or something like that...) might be great.  But not having a job is low on the list of things I like.  Hitting that jerk who made someone you love cry makes you feel like a hero, until you end up with police charges.
Of course those are extreme examples.  But if we are honest, everything we do that harms someone else in some capacity leads to harm for ourselves. 
The most damaging way this occurs is through plain old oblivious self-centeredness.  One of the great lies that we tend to believe is that my life is my life and I can do whatever I want.  It is impossible to count the ways in which we are interconnected with people within our families and communities.  The things we do and say can have profound effects on so many people.  And when we hurt them, it will turn around to damage us in some way.
James 1:19 says, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry".  Where are you being hasty in words and deeds?  Where can you slow down and think, "Is this ultimately helpful or hurtful?"
Everything we do should be through the lens of being a blessing.  And it is hard to think that way when we only think of ourselves. 
At our core, we are made to honor and glorify God through loving those who bear His image.  And, hurting those same people will always lead to repercussions.
So what can you do this week to slow down and think slowly about what you will say or do?  What can you do to be a blessing to those who you sometimes would rather be a curse?
Don't be Jabba the Hut.  The Pit you dig
for others will be your own!

Monday, November 25, 2013

You Are Not Sherlock Holmes

Proverbs 25:8-10
    8do not bring hastily to court,
for what will you do in the end
    if your neighbor puts you to shame?
If you take your neighbor to court,
    do not betray another’s confidence,
10 or the one who hears it may shame you
    and the charge against you will stand
Have you ever heard of the internet?  Perhaps you have if you are reading this.  Have you ever followed politics?  If you answered yes to the first question, you are probably answering yes to the second.
The internet is great.  We have access to so much information and media that even 20 years ago we wouldn't have imagined it would be this pervasive. 
The internet is also terrible.  Everyone who can hit copy/paste can now put together their "researched" 10 point blog/status update proving how some politician(or celebrity, or church leader) is a 2 bit hack(or Communist/Nazi).
99% of the time(generous estimate) you are wrong.  And for those rare 1% of times you most likely look foolish because you don't actually make the point as air tight as you thought when you were reading that one website from Peru at 3 in the morning......
I am totally guilty of this many times over.  What does God say about this attitude of barely being able to contain yourself from the having the "Big Reveal" and the "Gotcha" moment?  Don't be an idiot(my paraphrase).
Here is a key thought though.  It doesn't say you were wrong in your assumption.  It just says, don't go showing you cards and publicizing what you think you know hastily.  You very may well be spot on, but being unable to actually prove it is as damaging as bringing false accusations.  And practically speaking, you just created "Double Jeopardy".  The ability to deal with the issue just got blown up even if later you can prove it.

As you read this you are probably saying, "Well, I don't really ever say anything about Politics, so I'm good, no assumptions and jumping to conclusions here".  Guess what.  You ARE guilty of this.  Unless you are a perfect person.  Bet you're not though.
How many conclusions have you had about people in your life?  How many times were you just convinced that someone did, "this" or said, "that", or you are sure their motivation for whatever it is you think they did was "this"?  Have you ever confronted someone with something you are mad about, to then feel really foolish about what actually was going on?  Bet you did some real damage to the relationship that was difficult to deal with because of it.
1 Corinthians 4:5 says, "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God."
When we get ahead of ourselves and try to solve all our problems with incomplete answers, whether political OR personal, we are acting out of a profound mistrust in God.  Sure, God is in charge, but I am pretty sure He is running late, so let me take care of my way....on my time schedule.....
Maybe everything you think is right.  But are you trusting God?  Do you believe that God is indeed Sovereign and working all things to the good of those who love Him?  Or are you going to exhaust yourself trying to fix all the worlds problems with a google search and/or incomplete accusations? 
This week, let go of being right, and hold on to the Righteous Judge who WILL  reveal what needs to be revealed WHEN it needs to be revealed.  Stop looking foolish......Adam....
Tony Smykowski--Jumping to Conclusions since 1999

Sunday, November 24, 2013

They Are Not Your Enemy; Proverbs 24:17-18

"Do not gloat when your enemy falls, when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, of the Lord will see and disapprove and turn His wrath from him"

Have you ever been hurt by someone?  Has anyone, in straight up sin, become your enemy?

It is so easy to want to see them "get theirs".  When the famed atheist, Christopher Hitchens, passed away a year or so ago, there was a part of me that wanted to stand in the courtroom of God and see Him have to finally face the Holy God he mocked for so long.  There have been times in my life that people have acted towards me with such disdain and "evil intent" that a part of me wanted God to just swoop in and put the smack down.

Scripture tells us that God is a righteous and just God who will deal with evil.  But lest we confuse the point, it isn't about justice for "us", it is about justice for a Holy God.  And so, in our own sinful heart, we want justice for our own reasons. 

Jonah was like me.  When asked to participate in saving Ninevah(the Jews enemies) he wanted to run from the assignment, to let them reap their "reward".  But God had another plan. 

What we forget when we seek man-centered justice for the evil we observe is that God's righteousness is a terrible thing for those who stand in unrepentant rebellion.  When we begin to celebrate evil mens "punishment" we are forgetting that the great promise that we have is that WE were enemies of the Lord, saved by Grace.

We need to stop taking joy in others experiencing consequences for their actions.  If someone has hurt you, deliberately or not, out of a sinful heart, don't gleefully await their rude awakening.  Seek a Christ centered heart; one that is broken for even your enemies.

Pray for those who hurt you, seek their good.  Desire in your deepest place their changed and renewed heart. 

Who today do you have to start feeling heartbroken for, and not angry at?  Who needs you to pray for saving instead of punishment?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Proverbs 23:1-8- Being Happy Right Where You Are

Proverbs 23-1 When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, 2 and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. 3 Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive. 4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. 5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. 6 Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies; 7 for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. "Eat and drink," he says to you, but his heart is not with you. 8 You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments.

This passage has two extreme sides painted of the same issue; lack of contentment  with where you are right now.  First we are told that we need to be careful of desiring the "delicacies" of rulers(contextually--those who have more than you) because it is actually deceiving.  And when you have it, it is not what you had hoped for, and, you have exhausted yourself to try to obtain it.

On the other hand, we have avoiding the table of a "stingy man".  The picture painted here is someone who is so overly concerned with being "frugal" that they are incapable of enjoying that which they do have. 

These two extremes are at the heart of our personal frustration with the "Now" in our life.  Either we are desiring for more than we currently have and it consumes us.  Or, we are so concerned with losing what we already have, that we don't enjoy it.  We covet and we hoard.  They are the same heart issue. 

God's promise is that He is the source of our happiness.  And what you have at this very moment is a source of hope and blessing in your life.  The kind that He knows you need for this very moment.  When we covet and hoard we live in the discontent of a lack of trust and hope. 

God's perfect plan for our future is beyond our utmost abilities to conceptualize.  To try to "imagine" or "day dream" things that we want(or don't want to lose), and to dwell on them causes us to lose focus on God Himself and become dissatisfied with who we are(and what we have) right now.

Finding happiness is not about changing our situation, but celebrating where God has us at this very moment.  When we move from envy and worry to gratitude and faithfulness, we will discover that happiness was there all along. 

To read more similar thoughts check out my earlier post here.  Also, a good a sermon on coveting is here.

Update:  Link to a recent sermon I preached on this topic is here

Friday, November 22, 2013

Our Problem with Miracles

Do you ever wish God would do a miracle in your life?  A knock your socks off, blow your mind, kind of miracle?  Then, He doesn’t?  We have a problem with miracles today.  Not that they aren’t happening.  But that we don’t actually know what we are asking for.

The first thought that comes to mind about miracles is something stupendous happening to something around us.  When you are broke and don’t know where to turn, you pray for a miracle of money to fall in your lap.  When someone is sick or dying, we pray for a miraculous healing.

There is nothing wrong with that.  And God does do some pretty fantastic things regarding those problems in our lives. 

But our problem with miracles is that we rarely are looking for and asking for the best type(and the one you can have today) of miracle.

Our first inclination is to run from problems and scream for help.  And when we don’t get it, we are angry, and sad, and disappointed with God.

 God isn’t in the business of giving stuff and making life “better”.  He is in the heart transplant field.

We are made for much more than paying your bills, or not being sick, or not dying.  We are made for the radical transformation that makes us something we weren’t before.  His.

Every moment of every day we have the opportunity to be changed in ways that will astound us.  This change will alter the way you view those trials in your life.  No longer will they be obstacles that destroy, but opportunities to see you learn more of what it means to be His. 

The miracle will be that you don’t need the miracle you wished for.  Because if you are in Christ, the miracle has already happened that covers all.
So, start praying and seeking the miracle of letting God change your heart, not your stuff.


Proverbs 22:12--- Frustrating Your Words

"The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge, but He frustrates the words of the unfaithful"

Have you ever said something you regret?  Done something you are embarrassed about?  I know I have.  And when I am honest with myself, every time that happens(and it is often) it is rooted in self-reliance.  I say and do what I think is right.  And it is always wrong.

True knowledge and wisdom belongs to the Lord.  When He goes before us in speech and action the power and effectiveness of what we are communicating is without compare. 

What does it mean to be unfaithful in such a way that leads to "frustrated words"?  Are you in God's word, are you in prayer?  Are you vetting your conversations and life through a lens that is God's truth?  When Christ is your center, it will define the type of words you will use, and how and when you use them!

Steps this week to speak more wisely:

1)  Get in the word.  When you expose yourself to Scripture consistently it begins to shape the way you think and talk.  Start each morning in the word and let it be the guide to your words.

2)  As you have conversations this week, have a running thought going through your head;  "God, what should I say in this moment?"  And here is the key to that, the one I forget, actually listen!

What are some ways that you seek to have more God centered wisdom in your life?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Proverbs 21:30

"There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord"

Anxiety can be a ruthless master.  It is so easy for us to be controlled by the emotional battering ram that is anxiety.  What will happen?  Will it work?  Will it fail? 

Here is the trick.  Who is going before you in your life?  If it is you, good chance you do fail.  If it is God, nothing will stop Him from completing what it is He has started in motion.

How often we practically say we are living for God, but live really through our own strength.  As we learn to give more and more to Him, allow Him to be the driving force and designer of what we are doing, the more we can have peace and a true and lasting hope that nothing will "mess it up".

So how about you?  Who is leading your steps?  Want to get rid of anxiety about "tomorrow"?  Start trusting Him and following hard after Him today!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Proverbs 20:30 Thoughts

"Blows and Wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being"

How we view trials shapes the way they will effect us.  If we have a resistant attitude towards the "blows" we take and begin with the "why me?" syndrome it WILL be pain for no reason.

If instead we embrace these trials as an opportunity to grow the experience shifts from one of pain and pain alone to being one of great blessing. 

Not that God gives us pain, but that His Glory is Sovereign, and even "this" will be turned to good. 

So how are you facing your wounds and blows?  Are you running from them and afraid of them?  Or, are you embracing them as an opportunity to finally address the issues of your own heart that have been exposed and can be healed?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sin and Satisfaction

Sin and Satisfaction

The trouble with Christians today is not that they aren’t saved, but that they aren’t satisfied.  This perpetual lack of satisfaction is the fertile soil in which sin springs up.  Why aren’t we satisfied?  Because we have taken our fill on the junk of the world and have left no room for what we really need.

Have you ever tried to eat healthier?  It is the worst.  When all you want is a bacon double cheeseburger and a large fry from Wendy’s, broccoli and salad sound downright horrific.  Personally I have struggled with weight for all of my adult life.  About 5 years ago I decided to change my habits when I found out I was going to be a father.  I didn’t want to be a fat dad who couldn’t play with his kids.  Cutting out all the food that I was used to was painful.  Literally.  For the first month on a strict dietary lifestyle change I went through what can only be described as withdrawal.  Headaches, body aches, all-consuming cravings.  And to make matters worse all these leafy green vegetables that I was now eating tasted like vomit.

After one year I had lost close to 80 pounds and felt better in nearly every way possible.  Here is the most shocking part, I really really liked vegetables.  My whole life I rarely ate vegetables and avoided them whenever possible(unless they were on a pizza or cheeseburger) and now I was finding myself filling half my plate with some sort of fresh vegetable or salad.  I said to my wife that my biggest regret looking back is that it took me so many years to make this change.

An amazingly simple thing happened during that first year.  When I stopped allowing myself to eat food that wasn’t good for me and only ate things that were good for me my taste buds actually changed.  Instead of craving ice cream, I craved a good grilled chicken salad.  Instead of needing a pop I looked forward to a big glass of fresh water with a splash of lemon juice. 

Physiologically the truth of how we are wired is that we teach ourselves to crave that which we feed ourselves.  The problem with most people who try to go from eating terribly to eating good, is that they just try to add some vegetables to their bad diet.  And the vegetables always lose out in the end because our addictions to that which harms us is so immediately and powerfully satisfying.  We know intellectually that we eat things that are just plain bad for us, but when that choice is staring us right in the face, the addictions nearly always win.  That’s why we have to break its back.

In an immediate momentary sense I will admit that a milk shake sounds better than a plate of broccoli.  That will probably never change.  But here is what I have learned.  My overall happiness and joy is significantly better because of the broccoli.  I no longer want to be a child who only thinks about “Right Now”, I want to live a fully integrated life that is balanced by “Tomorrow”.  And living beyond the moment leads to a more consistently happy life.  The milk shake makes me feel good at the moment it is consumed, the broccoli makes me feel good continually.

We have spiritually become addicted to crap.  Our hearts and minds are filled with so much junk that we feel as if the taste of real satisfaction, one for always, not just now, is objectionable to our souls palate.   Living for our self-centered satisfaction is always immediately and powerfully enjoyable.  Learning to be healthier is hard.  We may experience withdrawal.  But we can get through to the other side.

So here are my tips for breaking your souls addictions and beginning on the path to finding a lasting and powerful satisfaction in Christ.

1)      Break the addiction cycle.  What are the behaviors and choices that you make to find satisfaction that lead you away from God.  If you go out sinning on Saturday and show up to Church on Sunday, don’t expect it to suddenly make a difference.  You already got your fill.  A stomach full of milkshake isn’t going to like adding a vegetable.  As long as you maintain the same patterns, don’t expect to feel differently. 

2)      Don’t just starve yourself, that will only make it worse.  Start filling up on God and His word.  Guess what?  It won’t be as enjoyable as what you are used to….at first.  But if you stick to it, you will one day wonder why it took you so long to do it.

3)      Surround yourself with like-minded people.   Have you ever noticed that fat people have fat friends, and skinny people have skinny friends(generally speaking).  You are influenced by those you interact with.  If you spend the majority of your time at the early stages of change with people who do what you know you no longer should do, you will keep doing it. 

4)      Choose to stick to it.  My first month of changing my eating habits was physically painful.  Breaking patterns of spiritual bondage can feel worse…and take longer to break.  Make the decision to bare through no matter what it takes.  It’s worth it.  On the other side you will feel silly for waiting so long.

Stop living for a moment that leaves you desperate for more and unhealthier than ever.  Start embracing true satisfaction.