Can’t Do It All – And That’s the Way It’s Supposed to Be

OverwhelmedLately I have been convicted about the fact that I can’t do it all. The details of this will be somewhat different for each of us; nevertheless, the truth of the principle remains the same. In today’s fast-paced world, there are more opportunities to do and to see than ever before. We are surrounded with technology that begs our time and attention and we have no shortage of ways to get around by plane, train and automobile to places that would have been far out of range for past generations. As I type this I am uploading a video, checking Facebook and about to pick up some supplies at Lowes. Then I plan on coming back home to eat, play briefly with the girls, tuck them in bed, and pay some bills. All this after getting up at 5:00 a.m. to go to a bible study and then going to work all day. Oh yeah, I just watered some plants and cleaned up the yard too. Whew!

There is nothing unusual by today’s standards about my schedule except that it is perhaps not even as full as some of yours. But in addition to the activities, my head all too frequently spins round as I worry about my family, friends and acquaintances who all have things they need help with, things that I wish I could change or get them to accept or act on, etc. I’d like to fix their problems, fix the world’s problems, and somehow have time to take care of my own problems too. Of course we all like to have fun and feel like we’re really missing something if we don’t and so we frequently add in a bunch of movies, TV, ballgames, parties and 1001 other ways to occupy our time…time that is so precious and time that we complain we don’t have enough of. Just thinking about all of this is exhausting. Living it is…well, not good.

Gods HandJesus told us that His yolk is easy and His burden is light. We don’t have to carry the world’s burdens on our shoulders. He said that there was no need to worry.  We can trust in Him and He will never leave us or forsake us. He said that apart from Him we can do nothing. We can’t do anything of any lasting value without His guidance and strength. He said we should seek first the Kingdom of God. We can and should make that the first thing we do, even if some other things get left undone. He said that we are to love one another. We can love others without feeling like we have to change them. He came to save the world and He is able to keep those who are His. We don’t have to save the world all by ourselves. He said that we need Him and He showed us in many ways that we need each other. But wait, I thought it was all up to me. Wrong.

God has the world in His hands, not mine. I have responsibilities as a child of God, but how many extra burdens have I knowingly or unknowingly placed upon myself—things He never asked me to do and things He’d probably just as soon I not do. We’re busy, and going a thousand different directions at once thinking far too often that it’s supposed to be that way. It’s normal. It’s common. And in some ways it probably boosts our ego at times. But I see my Savior pulling away from the crowds and spending time alone in prayer with God. I hear the Spirit whispering something about being still. I vaguely recall a time when a day of rest was the norm. I dare to think that I don’t have to do all things and be all things. I have a secret that I almost want to hide and yet I feel compelled to tell it, “I can’t do it all…and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

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Is God Enough?

Is God EnoughFor almost everyone who is a professing Christian, the answer to the question posed in the title will undoubtedly be a resounding “Yes, of course He’s enough!” Perhaps this is how you would respond too and if so I’m thankful for it. However, I would like to ask you to consider the question again and perhaps internalize it a little more. It may need unwrapping just a bit.

God is everything in that He is the One Who created all things and in Whom all things have their life. Were it not for God, none of us would be breathing right now. Is He enough? Of course He is since He is the Substance and the Provider and the Maker and the Savior, etc. We must not underestimate these wonderful truths. But we’re still talking in theological and doctrinal terms. We need to look at the details of our lives. Do our actions, thoughts, desires and emotions all truly reflect that God is enough?

CongratulationsLately God has been asking me whether or not He is really enough for my life…. Is He enough or do I also need the approval of my friends and family? Is He enough or do I also need to get this person to like me and love me? Is He enough or do I also need to be successful in business? Is He enough or do I really need to have a particular type of career? Is He enough or do I also need to make a name for myself?

Here’s one that might escape our examination if we’re not careful: Is He enough or do I also need to have a particular ministry or position within the Body of Christ? Wow, is it possible to have an inordinate desire to want to be in some type of ministry and still miss God and not have Him in His rightful place? Is it possible to feel like we’re just not ever going to be happy unless we can do this or that “thing” for Him? Yes. Is this what He wants? I don’t think so.

At the end of the day, God has to be enough. This is the only way to find contentment and peace regardless of our circumstances. It is the only way to appropriate the infinite love, grace and mercy that’s been shown to us. It doesn’t matter what the other “thing” is we feel we must have. if we feel that we just can’t be happy without God plus something, then we’re ultimately saying that He is not enough.

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Be Filled with the Spirit of God – Like Water in a Glass

Water Into GlassD.L. Moody used to give an illustration that speaks volumes about how we should seek to live our lives as Christians.

It is said that he held an empty glass up and asked the audience how it would be possible to get the air out of the glass. One man suggested putting a lid on it and sucking the air out with a pump. Mr. Moody said doing that would create a vacuum which would actually break the glass so that wouldn’t work. Stumped, the audience looked to him for the answer. Mr. Moody smiled and then took out a pitcher of water, filled the glass to the top and said, “There, it’s done.”

Now I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of a more simple and yet profound illustration as this. You see, he was illustrating the fact that living a holy and Christ-like life is not a matter of trying to pick, pluck or suck all of the sin out. Instead, it is a matter of being filled with the Spirit of God.

Filled with the SpiritWant to make yourself holy by following a list of 1001 rules of dos and don’ts? Trying to cleanse and purify yourself by attempting to remove every vice and every sin, yourself, one by one? Good luck. I’ve tried it and failed miserably. The Pharisees tried it too and were described by Christ as being white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. This method doesn’t work because its focus is all wrong.

If we are going to be clean, the real key is not so much what we are taking out but what we are putting in. Continually be filled with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:18) and, by default, He will fill the “glass” of your life forcing out everything that’s not of Him.

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Who (or What) Are You?

What Are YouJesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded by saying that He was Christ, the Son of the living God. If you asked people the same question about yourself (in a spiritual sense), what would they say about you? Flip the question around and consider how you would respond if someone asked you (again, spiritually speaking) who–or what–you were.

Many people, if they are a Christian, would instinctively respond by saying that they were a Baptist, a Church of Christ member, a Pentecostal, etc. Now there is a benefit at times, and certainly a rational, for describing oneself in this way. But Who are you really following? Who are you really identifying with? Who are you really representing?

What Are You2I’ve been fortunate to be around people from many different denominations and non-denominations within evangelical Christianity, but one of the things that breaks my heart is how quickly one group can isolate themselves from other parts of the Body of Christ. We desperately need each other friends and I am convinced that no matter where we sit on a particular day or night, if we are putting up walls between us and another group of Christians that have a different sign hanging in front of their building…we’re missing it.

Christ followers are Christians. There are lots of statistics that all point to there being thousands of denominations and non-denominations of Christians in the world today (the article here claims over 30,000). But for some reason, I can’t find any of them in the bible. There was one Church which consisted of people meeting in many different places–and if you asked any one of them who they were I believe they would have said, “I am a Christian.”

What Are You3Perhaps I’m making too much of this, but I do believe who we say we are matters. Most of us meet at a place that has a particular sign, history and tradition; however, we must never forget that ultimately we are Christians. It is He who we follow and rally around. It is His Word that we hold as our creed and our guidebook. And it is His Church and the Body of Christ of which we are a part. He is Christ. I am a Christian.

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Are You Weak Enough to Be Used by God?

When I am WeakMost of us like to be thought of as being a “strong” person. Physical strength, mental strength, emotional strength, etc. are the topics of many a best-seller. We do our best to hide our weaknesses and we play to our strengths. If we are looking for something to do, we tend to gravitate towards those things we are good at. This is all quite natural.

The Christian life, however, is not about our strengths at all. Rather, it is about our weaknesses.  We have to come to the point where we realize we have nothing and can do nothing apart from God. He is our One and Only source of strength and He shows Himself strongest when and where His children are the weakest. Because of this, far from trying to hide his weaknesses, the apostle Paul actually boasted in them (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

It is counterintuitive to be sure and counter-cultural too, even within the church. Nevertheless, God is not looking for people who boast of their strength. He does not need our talents, least of all when we think them to be quite special. No, He is looking instead for the one who is weak, who knows she is weak and who comes to the foot of the cross naked and empty-handed with nothing but a broken and contrite heart. Ah yes, now that is someone God can use!

Are you weak enough to be used of God? Do you know that apart from Christ you can do nothing (John 15:5)? Have you laid aside your talents and your abilities and come humbly before your King? If so, you are primed to see God show Himself strong through you and your weaknesses. It is another fabulous paradox of the Christian life.

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Dry Spells – Thirsty in the Sea of Christianity

“Water, water everywhere and not one drop to drink!” is a popular saying taken from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” While it is describing a perilous time at sea when the crew members (surrounded by sea water) were literally dying of thirst, it is also descriptive of what one can sometimes feel like in the sea of Christianity.

Now I’m not suggesting one has to feel this way or that one should feel this way; rather, I’m simply making an observation that many people do feel this way from time to time. All around us there are signs of Living Water: bibles galore, Christian radio and TV broadcasts and churches on every corner. We see professing Christians scurrying to and fro. Stories of local ministry and foreign missions abound. Yet all the while you feel somewhat dry and no matter how hard you try, all that “water” around you just doesn’t satisfy–if anything, it only increases your thirst.

Bird at Water SpoutThis is what can only be described as a “dry spell.” God seems to be working all around you and others apparently are drinking their fill. Meanwhile, you are seeking and searching and it feels like you are getting…well…nothing.

It’s easy to be faithful when there is excitement in the air and everything appears to be going great. When God is using you, when you know your place and when you just feel good. But what do you do if you don’t feel like God is using you, when you aren’t sure of your place and when frankly it just does not “feel” good in any sense of the word? What do you do then? You hang on.

I do not know all the reasons why God allows some of His children to go through times like this but I know it happens. Perhaps it is a testing of our faith. Perhaps it is something else. But whatever the case, it is in times like these that we have to stand on the promises of God and not on our feelings. We have to ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking. Be persistent!

Know that this too shall pass and that one day you will once again find yourself swimming in the streams of Living Water. It will happen, and in that moment you will forget all about your dry spell as you drink and drink till your heart’s content.

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Who Do You Believe – Parent, Teacher, Friend, Jesus?

In John chapter four we see a very interesting exchange between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Afterwards she went and told the people in her town all about Him. There is a great lesson to be learned from what happens next.

Samaritan WomanNow many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of what He said. And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-42 HCSB)

Who have you believed? Have you believed Jesus, or someone who talks about Jesus? It is a distinction and a question worth our consideration. Often we build our beliefs on what someone else says. We read books, browse websites or listen to sermons and then base our beliefs on that.

I am thankful for teachers and preachers who faithfully expound on the Word of God. Books and curriculums which help us walk through the bible and through life are a blessing too. However, even they are no substitute for hearing God’s voice directly and for knowing Him yourself. Remember what happened when the Samaritan woman went and told people about Jesus–it drove people to Him, which is what all preaching,teaching and witnessing to others should do.

Shaky FoundationIf we base our beliefs on what other people tell us, we will always be getting their particular bent. They may be sincere and loving and have our best interest at heart, but they are only going to be able to tell you what they know in the way they understand it and through the lens of their own personal interpretations and experiences. It is a shaky foundation to be sure, even if everything they tell you is right, because what happens if you see them fall into sin? If they let you down? If you get upset with them? The beliefs you got from them may stand or fall with them.

For our beliefs to be secure and built on a firm foundation, we need to hear directly from God Himself. How do we do this? By the study of His word and by prayer. Get into the bible directly. Open it up and read and study it without laying someone else’s book or curriculum on top of it. Ask God to reveal His truth to you through the Holy Spirit Who was sent to lead us into all truth. Spend time in prayer and in silence, talking to God and listening to Him.

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I’m Not Really Too Busy

Busy2Everyone is busy. I’m busy, my children are busy, my relatives are busy, my friends are busy, and my cat is busy. In a world made up of fast lanes and automated everything, we are busier than ever. It’s really ironic when you consider all of the technological advances in the last 50 years that were supposed to help us all do more in less time than ever before.

Of course, we all think we are busier than the next person. I remember being told as a kid, “Just wait till you’re grown up and married, then you’ll really be busy.” When I was grown up and married I heard, “Just wait till you have kids.” When I had kids it was, “You think you’re busy now, try having 5 kids!” When we were married with multiple kids my wife stayed home and the rap was, “Yeah, you’re wife stays home though and doesn’t have to work.” Now that I’m divorced and a single dad it’s, “You must have a lot of free time.”

The thing is, I felt pretty busy at all of those stages of life and everyone else does too. I’ve seen kids who have nothing they actually have to do other than go to school sign up for all kinds of sports, work full time so they can have a new car, go to 20 different youth group activities a month, and have sleepovers left and right, etc. Then they proudly proclaim, “I’m just SO busy!”

Youth learn their “always-stay-busy” ways honestly though. I’ve seen adult singles fill every moment of every day with extra-curricular activities and then whine about how they never get a break. Newly married couples will cram in all sorts of stuff that they say they won’t be able to do once they have kids so, “Gotta do it while we can!”

Busy3Married with children often turns into married with children who are signed up for football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, boy scouts, girl scouts, gymnastics, music lessons, dance, every church activity in a 30-mile radius, and water polo. (Ok, I’m just joking about water polo.)

Empty nesters take all that new found time and immediately fill it with more responsibility at work, more church and community responsibility, and more projects at home like converting a garage into a dance hall or a barn into a hunting lodge.

Men have their hobbies like hunting, fishing, watching football and playing golf. And women have their hobbies too like scrap-booking, painting, sewing, and Facebook stalking—not to mention complaining about all the hunting, fishing, watching football and playing golf that their husbands do.

Lest you think I’m just being sarcastic about this whole thing, consider your own lives. How many times have you either said or heard something like the following:

  • I’m so busy all the time!
  • We’re just too busy.
  • I never really get to take a break.
  • Things will slow down one of these days.
  • I can’t get a moment’s peace!
  • Once _____ happens, things will settle down.
  • I can’t, I’m busy this week (or month).
  • The kids just have so much going on right now.
  • Wish I could, but I’m too busy.

Busy4We all have the same 24 hours in a day though, and the only things we actually have to do are those basic necessities of life like working, eating, and sleeping. A lot of what we do is optional. Let me say that again, “A lot of what we do is optional.” This fact somehow sinks down deep and gets lost in the sea of busyness we’re all swimming in. Maybe it’s because in one way or another most of us have been taught by our peers, parents, pastors, and other peeps that if we have free time we need to fill it with something. Or, maybe it’s because a lot of us have a conscience or unconscious fear of being alone with time on our hands. We might not like the thoughts and realities we’d have to face. So, we stay busy.

Then a son asks a father if they can play and the dad says he’s too busy. A daughter asks a mom if she can help and the mom says not right now. A friend wants to see another friend but one or both of them are just too busy. Children can’t visit with their parents because they can’t fit it into their schedule. Neighbors pass each other on their way to their busy lives which unfortunately rarely include time to get to know the ones who live next door. People who work together or go to church together have to plan months in advance to even so much as share a meal—even though they have time to go to all of those church meetings and community events they keep seeing each other at. Something’s amiss here.

busy5All of our Christian beliefs and decrees can be summed up in this: That we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and love our neighbor as ourself. It’s difficult to love without getting to know. And it’s difficult to know without slowing down long enough to spend time together.

No one ever says, “I’m not really too busy to spend time with you, I’ve just decided to do a bunch of other stuff instead.” But it might be a little more accurate than the oft-heard, “I’m too busy.” Again, this perpetual busyness a lot of us appear to be plagued with just might be (and probably is) largely self-inflicted.

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Tee-Totalism Teaching – Right, Wrong or Something Worse?

tee-totalism3Every unique group of Christians has its own pet doctrines (“pet” doctrine is here defined as being a teaching or belief that finds its way into the conversation an inordinate amount of times as compared with other Christian groups). For Pentecostals it’s speaking in tongues. For Charismatics it’s the greater spiritual gifts. For Church of Christ it’s water baptism and no instruments in worship. For Seventh-day Adventists it’s Saturday being the Sabbath. For Calvinistic/Reformed churches it’s predestination. For Arminian churches it’s free will. And for Southern Baptists it’s tee-totalism.

Tee-totalism is the principle or practice of complete abstinence from alcoholic drinks. Surely we could all agree that if a person were to make this choice it would be a fine choice and there would be nothing wrong with it. Furthermore, it would most likely be a healthier choice for most people (although the risk of heart disease is said to be reduced if one drinks some wine on a regular basis) and it would surely prevent anyone from drinking too much and therefore becoming drunk. Complete abstinence from alcohol is like abstinence from sex, or red meat, or tobacco, or marriage in the sense that it can be proven to be a much better option for some.

But just because something can be good for some (or even most) people, that doesn’t mean it’s harmless when it’s taught as a rule or law that should be applied to all. Two things happen at that point which are very serious indeed: 1) People will often go to great lengths to try to explain and support their belief in order to make others believe the same which often leads them to make erroneous and outright false claims. 2) It can become a “doctrine of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1-3) which is to say that any law or doctrine laid on the backs of God’s people that He himself didn’t put there is bad–really, really bad.

Preachers and teachers will say the craziest things when trying to support something that is not taught and supported by scripture but that is taught and supported by them, their local church authority, their denomination, etc. For instance, when trying to support tee-totalism I’ve heard it said many times that when you read about wine in the New Testament, it isn’t really wine but rather grape juice–unfermented grape juice. Another slightly different slant is, “Ok, it was wine, but wine back then wasn’t nearly as strong as it is today.”

tee-totalism2If the whole wine wasn’t wine but grape juice theory doesn’t work to convince you then they may go down the road of asking what other people would think if they saw you buying some sort of alcohol in which case I suppose it would depend on whether or not the person seeing you was a Baptist or not. And what about all of the drunkards and alcoholics? If they never drank in the first place then they wouldn’t have a problem (which is the point at which they begin to make a great point). This is true. Yet that still doesn’t justify teaching it as a doctrine.

Here are some questions for anyone teaching that to drink alcohol of any kind is wrong, that Christians should abstain from it, or that to drink it is some sort of sin:

  • Why would Jesus turn water into wine for people to drink if it was a sin or somehow wrong for them to do it? God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13) so why would Jesus do that if it was in fact giving people a temptation to sin?
  • How could it be grape juice and not actual fermented wine if the master said most people put the good wine out first then after people have drunk freely (too drunk to know the difference) they put out the poor wine (John 2:9-10)?
  • The 37 times the word “wine” is used in the NT it is derived of the same Greek word so how could it be grape juice and not real, fermented wine when it is several times used to say don’t be drunk with it (e.g. Ephesians 5:18) and don’t drink it in excess (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:8)?
  • Why would the instructions to deacons (1 Timothy 3:8) and older women (Titus 2:3) be not to drink too much wine or an excess of it if in fact it was wrong to drink it at all? Wouldn’t the instruction have been to not drink it at all if it were wrong?
  • Paul told Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). Would Paul lead Timothy into some kind of sin or temptation? Would he really do that as if the end justified the means if in fact it was wrong?
  • If we were to say that we shouldn’t drink wine because the bible tells us not to be a drunkard, wouldn’t that same logic dictate that we should not eat steak or any of our favorite foods because the bible also tells us not to be a glutton?

tee-totalism4The biggest problem with tee-totalism being taught as a rule or doctrine is that there is scriptural warning against forbidding people to do things that God himself has not forbidden in the New Covenant under which we live. Consider the following:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

Don’t miss the irony of the preceding text. Paul is the one who tells us that it is better to stay single if we can (without giving ourselves over to sexual impurity 1 Corinthians 7:8-9), and we know from the Garden of Eden, the Old Testament, and as a matter of medical fact that some foods are definitely better for us than others. Yet Paul says in latter days some will teach “doctrines of demons” forbidding people to marry and to abstain from certain kinds of foods–the very things the bible tells us we would at times be better off doing!

It would appear that God has a big problem with people teaching doctrines as if they should be applied to everyone when He has not commanded it to be so. Personally I have no particular desire to drink alcohol which is what a lot of people who read this would probably assume. I’m not trying to say you should drink, and I don’t care if you choose not to. Fortunately, the bible tells us exactly how we should handle this issue in Romans 14. So let your convictions fall where they may, and do nothing to cause your brother or sister to stumble–including teaching tee-totalism as if it were the gospel.

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An Unusual Love Story

Unusual-love-story1My son Tim recently married his fiancée Randi and it was a glorious day. There they were, standing at the wedding altar in front of the friends and family who had gathered, exchanging vows and committing their lives to one another. The moment was both joyful and sacred. Here you had a bride promising love and loyalty to a groom; and a groom promising to always care for and cherish his bride.

Now imagine if, immediately after the preacher pronounced them man and wife, Randi went back to her house and continued living life basically the same as she always had before. Then, whenever she remembered her commitment and new relationship with Tim, she went to the local bookstore and bought a new book (or two) about him so she could read it to get to know him better.

unusual-love-story2As part of her new marriage to Tim, since she was never around him personally and rarely even talked to him, she sought out teachers who were experts on Tim so she could ask them questions about him—what was he like, where did he come from, how could she please him, etc., etc.  These teachers recommended she come to a series of classes during the week that they were offering to learn more.

For some reason though, Randi still didn’t feel like she was really connecting with Tim so she decided to talk to even more people who she thought had known Tim longer than she had and she hung around them hoping to learn something but the funny thing was they rarely talked about Tim. When they did, it was usually to ask her to attend more meetings and classes where various Tim teachers were teaching.

unusual-love-story3Over the years Randi discovered Tim music stations where people sang about him, Tim talk radio stations where people taught about him, Tim-focused conventions and retreats that she could go to, and Women’s conference’s where different people spoke about their experiences with Tim. But even after all this Randi still didn’t feel she really knew Tim. What could possibly be the problem?

Fortunately Tim and Randi’s relationship is not at all as I described, but what a shame it would be if it were. It would be a most unusual love story. Ironically, it’s precisely what many of us do in our relationships with God. Think it through carefully and I believe you will find the allegory above matches perfectly with the typical conversion of the typical Christian and the life that follows.

We are the bride of Christ and He is our Groom. Throughout the bible the relationship between God and us is described primarily in two ways—that of a parent and child, and that of a groom and his bride. God chose to use these real life examples because they illustrate how things are positionally as well as how they should be relationally. A right relationship with God starts with: time with Him.

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