Our Good Father

17 08 2015

I didn’t have kids just so I could make them follow my rules. I wanted someone with which to share life and love.

In the absence of father-love, as it was during my childhood, all that remained were the rules. I had to keep them “or else.” Oh, I had a ‘dad’ – but never a dad’s heart.

God’s life-long (mine, not His) transformation goal for me has been to unwind this mindset from my thought processes. It’s very hard to let go of my early training.

For instance, it’s hard to trust His invitation to come boldly. Boldness got my face slapped when I was young.

It’s hard to believe in His genuine love and good plans for me. “Love” was phony and manipulative – and usually cost me plenty.

It’s hard to believe that God really wants me. I was unwelcome in my home and spent most of my years in my room where it was safe.

It’s hard to trust that I can come to Him with my struggles, or to ask Him for help. I was taught that I had to figure things out on my own. Requests for counsel were usually met with contempt for my stupidity and inability to handle my own problems.

My function, as far as ‘dad’ was concerned, was to serve him, keep him happy, and stay out from in front of the TV. The thought of being welcomed into relationship with him was given up as a lost cause.

The end result was that I became a self-reliant, people-pleasing loner.

{Not everyone had this kind of experience, thus your relationship with God is healthy and thriving. I am genuinely happy for you, and so thankful that you’ve not had to struggle to believe that He really loves you. Perhaps you’re reading this help you better understand those of us for whom this is a challenge.}

It is for these reasons, and many more, that God has been hard at work releasing me from the belief that His love is also performance-based.

One important lesson I’ve learned is that He created me – then later adopted me – because He wants to share life and love with me.

Perception is everything.

What some call ‘rules’, others see as boundaries. These are invisible fences put in place for my protection. My good Father knows what will bring pain, guilt, shame, and a host of other undesirable emotions. He would like to spare me the turmoil, and so He says, “Thou shalt not…”

He also knows that He is much wiser than I will ever be. He sees the end from the beginning and thus can rightly judge a thing as good or evil.

To the extent that we do not trust God, we do not ask Him to define the issue at hand.

Father, please talk to me about this. What’s Your perspective? What do I need to know or learn here? Where are You in this?

From Scripture we discover that our natural definitions of good and evil must be set aside, and we must learn to discern what is truly good and truly evil.

These were treasures waiting to be unearthed for me. I’m onto something, and so excited:

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:14

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil… 1 Kings 3:9

In other words, not lean on our own understanding.

This is vitally important, for:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12

From my own life, I could give countless examples of times when I did what I thought was the *right* thing to do – only to have it end in the death of something – most often the end of relationships, dreams, and my integrity.

No, I don’t believe that my Father created me so I could follow rules. He’s not an egomaniac on another control kick. His rules are for my protection, for He knows best what works well for me.

I’m fairly certain that I’ll be happier if I don’t murder someone, steal their stuff, or break up their marriage.

God is the best Father ever. He loves us with the same love He has for Jesus. His desire is for us to know Him – not just know His rules and how to ‘stay off His radar.’

I leave you with this:

“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’

That’s a lot of ‘doing.’ These weren’t bench warmers in the synagogue; they were active members.

But listen to the Lord’s response:

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7:21-23

Relationship – not religion. This will make all the difference in the end.

Our good Father wants children, not hirelings.





The Dancing Bear

2 12 2013

Anxiety, strife, guilt, shame, anger, pride, addiction, and legalism have, at their core, the problem of trying to please people and/or God.

How well do love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control fit together with these?

Not very well.

We live in a world where appearances are everything. Deviate from societal norms, and we find ourselves labeled. Few risk being different – and not care that they’re considered an oddity.

Striving to be accepted takes continual effort. We must monitor our behavior and adjust what we do and say to suit whomever we are with.

We live for acceptance, rather than from a position of acceptance. We can be like dancing bears whose performance is geared toward the audience, and intended to be and do things that make them happy and gain their approval.

The problem with this kind of living is that God will NOT co-operate with us so as to make us better actors. He is not moved by our performance – good or bad.

If you don’t have this verse memorized, I would recommend that you add it to your mental library:

“Do I now persuade men or God? Or do I still seek to please men? For if I pleased men, I cannot be a bondservant of Christ.”  (Galatians 1:10)

When our aim is to keep others happy, we have placed them on the throne of our lives. They are the ones we live for. They are the ones who make – or break – our self-worth.

This is basic idolatry.

On the other hand, when we find ourselves continually performing for God, we are only looking for His approval (most often expecting His disapproval), and thus are unable to feel close or connected.

We are always braced for judgment.

God is watching me. I’d better get this right. 

We strive and strain to earn His approval. When we fall short (and we will fall short!), we are filled with shame, guilt, and condemnation.

Can I let you in on a little secret?

God knows all about you…

…and loves you with an everlasting love!

Psalm 103:12-14 is incredibly good news for us:

As far as the east is from the west, so far He has removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

For He Himself knows what we are made of;

He is mindful that we are but dust!

When we went to Israel a few years ago, I collected various things – rocks from the Valley of Elah (David & Goliath), shells from Gallilee’s shore, rocks that “would have cried out” at Christ’s Triumphal Entry had the people been silent, an olive leaf from Gethsemane, etc. Among these treasures is a jar of dirt. I value this soil above any other, for one day it will be my homeland.

Holy Land dirt, wow! What do I expect from it?

Nothing!

Get the picture?

Let’s wrap this up with a quote by Oswald Chambers:

It is a snare to imagine that God wants to make us perfect specimens of what He can do;

God’s purpose is to make us one with Himself. 

(From My Utmost for His Highest, December 2)

Seek His help to get out of the performance trap; seek God Himself for Himself (not merely for what He can do for you), and watch this relationship blossom!

Don’t miss Reilly’s excellent post on this subject today. He said all I should have…and failed to. You’ll find it here: Where Did the Gospel Go?

*****

You’ve dropped in on the series Intimacy with God. It begins here: C’mon In…

This section is about obstacles to intimacy. It begins here: A Clogged Conduit





A Clogged Conduit

25 11 2013

(Note: This is a two-part post. If the first bit doesn’t pertain to you, the second half will…don’t miss it.)

When it comes to intimacy with God, it must be made clear that first we must have a relationship with Him.

Being merely “religious” doesn’t count: faithful church attendance…charitable acts…being nice.

These are all good things, but without ever coming face to face with our need for a Savior, they profit us nothing.

Sin – our inability to be perfect – is a very big problem when it comes to having a relationship with God. It was one we couldn’t fix. It took Jesus, who came to earth as a baby, lived a perfect life, and was put to death on the cross to bring reconciliation.

While on the cross He stated, “It is finished.”

Nothing more is needed on God’s part in order for us to commune with Him.

It didn’t end there, though. He rose from the grave, having overcome death. A few weeks later, He lifted off the planet and returned to heaven where He lives today.

The Bible calls Him the “prototokis” among many brethren…the “prototype,” or model of what is available to all who choose to follow Him. It is His life after death that gives us hope. He is, for those who have accepted His pardon, the true “Fountain of Youth.”

If there was another way for mankind to be reunited with God, then Jesus’ death was for nothing.

To those who have not made this important first step, very little that is written about “life with Christ” will makes sense. It sounds like a fairy tale, and those who “buy into it” will seem deluded to the extreme!

The Bible is like a true hologram. It was created by a unique Light. To the naked eye, it appears to be nothing more than a bit of gray film. Illuminated by any other light, it remains a bit of plastic – and nothing of the image can be seen.

However, when it is illuminated by the Light that created it, the Book comes to visible and understandable.

If the Bible is nothing but a dusty old book, full of ancient history, then ask God to shed His Light on it…to reveal what can’t be understood apart from His illumination.

Go ahead, take a risk and ask God to reveal Himself. If He truly does not exist, then nothing will come of it; Christians can be written off as a bunch of nuts, and time (of which there is a limited quantity if there really is no God) can be spent doing happier things than having frustrating arguments with the “deluded” about their beliefs!

*****

For the child of God, sin is not an obstacle to our walk with the Lord, but…

unconfessed sin is a major barrier. 

When Jesus called out, “It is finished,” He used an accounting term. You’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating. Translated to English, His words were:

“Paid In Full!”

It is this statement that makes all our efforts to “earn” the right to come close to God ludicrous. Jesus bought an “All Access Pass” for those who will accept it. We are free to come boldly to His throne for grace and mercy…and a whole lot more!

The purpose of the cross is to provide intimacy with God.

However, when we regard iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not hear us (Psalm 66:18). Think of it this way:

Good parents love their children. Affection flows freely, and there is peace between parent and child…

Until the the child disobeys or rebels.

This causes a rift in their relationship that remains so long as little Johnny refuses to “come clean.” He still wants the cuddles, the laughter, the uninhibited communion with his parents, but instead hides in his room.

Love does not cease, but closeness is affected.

Until he is willing to admit his fault, this break in their relationship will continue.

In the same way, we – God’s children – do the same thing. We judge (with an intent to condemn), we lie, cheat, steal, hate, or gossip.

Then we sense distance between our Father and us. We may have chosen to distance ourselves so He can’t “see” what we’re doing. (Really??!)

When we finally “come clean” – by which I mean agree with God that what we did was wrong – we are instantly forgiven, and the relationship is restored.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)

Note that great acts of charitable deeds are NOT demanded for penance. A simple, “I’m sorry I did ___________ (fill in the blank)” is sufficient. There is no punishment to endure…Jesus was punished on our behalf.

There may be consequences of the choice we made to sin…and we may have to live with those consequences for many years. The principle of “sowing and reaping” is not always suspended. I’ve lived with the unpleasant results of choices I made thirty years ago…and so have my (now) grown children. 😦

In some cases, like divorce and remarriage, God could not remove the consequences of our actions without wiping out our ex’s entire family, for they didn’t cease to exist the day the divorce was final (no matter how much we wish they had).

It wasn’t just the former spouse and our children that were affected, but another entire family as well. Divorce may be the end of one set of problems, but it’s the beginning of a whole new set!

There is no “undo” for this choice. This is discipline enough. (Note that this is training – not a beating!)

Simple confession is enough to clear the air between God and us.

Father, is there anything I need to confess in order for our relationship to grow?

Search me, O God, and know my heart

Try me and know my thoughts

See if there be any hurtful way in me

And lead me in the everlasting way.

Psalm 139:23-24

*****

We’re discussing obstacles to intimacy with God. It begins with: C’mon In…

Week two begins with: Where Image Is Everything





Choked Out

15 11 2013

As children of God, we have the high honor of being free to barge into Abba’s “office” any time and interrupt Him. This was yesterday’s topic. Today we’re going outside to the garden to see what’s happening there.

Isaiah 61:1,2 is the passage Jesus used to introduce His ministry to the world. Verse 3 ends with this:

“That they may be called trees of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord,

that He may be glorified.

Now you know what we’re doing in the garden. 😉

Gardening terminology as it pertains to the believer is not an isolated topic here and there. The Bible uses it quite a bit. A couple of examples would be “I am the Vine, you are the branches,” and “He shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water…”

Or this one:

What after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned each his task.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.

So neither he who plants or he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7)

There you have it. You’re a plant!

The day the seed of the Holy Spirit was placed in your heart, you received all the DNA of your spiritual maturity. It’s all there, waiting to be fully developed.

Now, a farmer can’t put life into a seed. He can only plant it. However, he must actively water it and weed if anything is to come of that initial act. If he fails to do these things, he will starve and go bankrupt!

The farmer who thinks he is the source of life is foolish. 

He can neither cause the seed to grow…or determine the kind of plant it will become. If he plants a watermelon seed, that’s what he will get…watermelons, and not tomatoes.

The seed that was planted in you is the Holy Spirit. That means you will, in time, develop the Fruit of the Spirit.

God is responsible for the type of seed,

but we have some responsibility as well.

In fact, there are two things we must do if we are going to grow and develop properly: Water/fertilize and weed.

We know that the Word is referred to as water (“Washing with the water of the Word” from Ephesians 5). Therefore, we understand that the Word is a vital part of our regular regime.

There are other things we need to apply as well: people, places, disciplines, and things that nurture our relationship with God.

We need godly friends and mentors.

We need to gather together for fellowship in a congregation of some sort. If not an organized church, then a home church. Not just for yourself, by the way – you are needed by the body.

We must develop the disciplines of spending time with the Lord, soaking in His Word, communicating with Him; and one thing we certainly need is a Bible!

All these things will help us mature in our faith. Without these elements, our growth will be slow and stunted.

Not good!

We also have an active part in removing weeds. These are people, places, disciplines, and things that choke out relationship with God.

There may be friends who consistently lead us away from God and into sin. These will definitely hinder spiritual growth. It may be time to begin weeding out some of them.

Are there places we frequent that cause us to stumble or hinder growth? They won’t all be strip clubs and bars. For some it may be the mall – where covetousness is stirred up. For others it could be the beach.

Are there any disciplines that choke the life out of us? Again, they aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, but if they crowd in around us, it may be necessary to weed some out. It could be our choice of TV programs (or amount of time spent watching it), the use of that those lovely witty sarcastic phrases on loved ones that are picked up from TV viewing. Perhaps reading material, or activities that leave no time for the Lord.

Are there any “things” that stand between us and the Lord? I’ve learned that the more “stuff” I have, the more my time is required to be a good steward of what I have. Whatever we value more than our relationship with Jesus needs to be carefully considered. After all, we won’t take any of it with us!

Today, take a walk through the garden of your life with a discerning eye. What needs to be done for growth? What needs to be pulled out by the roots?

Unwanted weeds will choke out our relationship with our Father.

“He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water

that brings forth its fruit in its season

whose leaf also shall not wither

and whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:3

This series began with C’mon In…

and continues with Feed Me





I Offered the Wrong Sacrifice!

26 04 2013

“What you believe about God is the most important thing about you.” – A.W. Tozer

This is true because we filter everything we experience through our belief system – whether we “believe” in God or not, and what we believe to be true about Him.

For me this had some serious repercussions. I’ll tell you about one of them here.

The story of Abraham and Isaac always bugged me. Why on earth would God finally give Abraham and Sarah a child when he was 100, and she was 90 – only to demand that this son be taken to a hill and killed by his father. Since when has God been big on human sacrifice?

Now, I get the “foreshadowing” thing. I understand that on another day in the distant future, God would sacrifice His own Son on that very mountain – a substitute for us (which is why a ram was provided for Abraham). I get that. On the other hand, this story made no sense to me whatsoever.

It didn’t help that in my youth, a preacher taught on this topic and used it to demonstrate that Abraham was required to do this so he would get his priorities straight. He “loved” Isaac more than the Lord, and that was “bad.” This little exercise was to divorce Abraham from his “idolatrous” attachment to his son.

This well-meaning preacher went on to say that if there was something in our lives that we loved more than God, that we must also sacrifice it, thereby “getting our hearts right” with God.

I was young, impressionable, and eager to please the god I “knew.”

Back then, I imagined Him to be (as most people do) very similar to my earthly father. (If you knew what he was like, you’d know that wasn’t going to go very well for God.) I didn’t know any better, and unfortunately attended a church that was big on religion and very short on relationship with God. It was all about the rules, baby, and you’d better keep them or God’s gonna’ get you real good.

Here’s an example of what I believed to be true about Him:

God would “invite” me to sit down and play a game with Him.

“Ooh! I like to play games. How do we begin?”

“I’m not going to tell you. Just do whatever you think is right. Let’s play. It will be fun,” he said with a grin.

I glanced at the board and game pieces – then spotted some dice. That looks likely, I thought. I picked them up, shook them, and dropped them onto the game board.

Anger filled his face. Reaching across the board, he slapped me hard – knocking me to the floor.

“That wasn’t right,” he said through gritted teeth.

All sunshine and smiles, he said brightly, “Try something else. This will be fun.”

*****

Yes. That was the “god” I knew and did my best to love. Love Him or go to hell. What else could I do?

[As a result, when someone tells me they don’t believe in God, I ask, “Tell me about him; I probably don’t believe in that god either!” ]

*****

Back to the Abraham story: I meditated on that message for several years. I “knew” what God wanted me to sacrifice, and it took time to be willing to obey.

Music has been my greatest passion since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. By the time I was 12 I was writing songs to sing to Jesus. By the time I graduated high school, I sang, wrote music, and played 10 instruments. I was “First Chair” in most of them. I’d only ever had lessons in clarinet, so I’d have to say that God gave me this beautiful gift.

It was this I had to sacrifice. Feeling like part of me died, I gave it up.

– And I hated Him for it.

– For almost 30 years.

God is so patient with us, His adopted children, who don’t trust Him – who believe Him to be like the fathers or authority figures they’ve known. Really patient.

Knowing when the time is right for “teachable moments,” He slowly transforms us by renewing our minds. He wants to teach us the truth about what He is like. He promises that this will make us free. My Lord did this for me just this morning.

The reason God called Abe to sacrifice his son is this: Abraham’s culture worshiped gods that demanded the sacrifice of one’s children. Isaac was no little tyke though – he was old enough and big enough to refuse: “Old man, you’re whacked. I’m out of here.” But he didn’t.

Why was that?

Religion. That’s how it “worked.”

The beauty of the story is that Abraham obeyed God and took Isaac up the mountain. Abe went against what his religious beliefs, though and put down the knife when the angel told him not to harm his son.  He believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

Had Abe been a religious fanatic, he would have believed that voice to be from the devil – and killed his son, despite the command to stop…

…then lived out his life as a heartbroken, miserable wretch – all the while he would have blamed God and believed Him to be a cruel deity – no different from any other.

This is my story.

Unfortunately, I didn’t hear the voice of the angel, and “killed” my heart’s desire – music. I did it to “prove” my love to God.

I believe He cried that day.

Happily,  He resurrected my “Isaac” this morning – gave him back. Although I began singing again seven years ago, I secretly believed that God was not pleased – that something terrible was going to happen if I got “good” at music again (which is why I’ve been merely mediocre). I was so wrong – and maligned Him terribly in my ignorance. Thank You, Lord, for Your mercy that is new every day!

He has promised to give back the years the locusts have eaten. I can’t wait to see what this is going to look like in my life.

Our “Isaacs” are meant to correct our beliefs about God. They are NOT to be “murdered” in the name of God.  God never wanted me to sacrifice music, never asked this of me. Music was His gift to me…and His gifts are without repentance.

*****

“You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17