Finding Peace in our Time with God this Week

Why do we never seem to find the right time to meet with God?

It was Saturday morning, and I was excited to get some writing done. My wife had a work shift over lunch, so I headed to a coffee shop to write.

The first coffee shop I came to was busier than normal. Most of the seating was taken, and a long line stretched from the register. I decided to turn my car around and go to another shop half a mile down the road. As I approached, I saw all of their parking spots were full. This coffee shop was even smaller than the last, which didn’t bode well.

Turning around one more time, I traveled a mile in the opposite direction to a third coffee shop. Again I was met with a completely full lot. I voiced my complaint with the Almighty. C’mon, Lord! What’s the deal?

Preparing to meet with God

Sometimes when it comes to spending time with God, I feel the same way. Lord, I really want to spend time with you, I tell Him. So I look or wait for the perfect moment—not too busy, not too loud, not too inconvenient.

If we wait for the perfect moment to spend time with God, we’ll be waiting forever.

Our desire for peace in God’s presence is good, but we often believe the lie that we need to create peace rather than God. Let me ask: Do you believe you have to prepare yourself to be with God, or do you believe that He’s already prepared Himself to be with you?

That’s really what the incarnation is all about—God breaking the rules so He could relate to us face-to-face. The Law that once kept people from God was important for a time because it taught us that God is holy and we are not. But when Christ came, God showed His plan from all time to meet a broken people in our stressed, busy, noisy lives.

God isn’t asking you to have it all together before you come to Him. He’s not waiting for the perfect moment to meet with you. He’s just waiting to meet with you.

If we wait for the perfect moment to spend time with God, we’ll be waiting forever.

Finding peace with God this week

I parked on the street and came into the coffee shop. There was a line, and most spots were taken. But I started writing. I had to surrender my idea of a perfect day so I could spend time actually writing.

The question is this: Are we more devoted to our idyllic idea of time with God than we are to God? Are we willing to come to God in the middle of our fractured lives?

At multiple times in the Gospel accounts, Jesus either speaks peace to a storm or steps into the boat and the storm ceases. For us to wait for the storm to calm before Jesus steps into our boat is to misunderstand Christ. The storm ceases not because He gives peace but because “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14).

So invite God into your noisy, messy life. Maybe it means you don’t get to spend as much time with God as you’d like before the next responsibility comes. Maybe it means you have to sit with God in the middle of the noise. Don’t find time for God; make time for Him.

I invite you to trade your expectations for expectancy. Lay down the idea of a perfect time with God and begin to expect God to meet you where you are. Invite the Prince of Peace into your life, and watch the storm in your heart subside.

The Beauty, the Beast, and the Gospel

Why should we watch—even enjoy—modern-day movies like Beauty and the Beast? These stories carry redemptive elements that point us back to the Gospel.

Beauty and the Beast

When an artist is telling the story consistent with the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, consummation, or some aspect of it—and it could be anything—then we can enjoy that beauty because it’s telling the story truthfully.
–Steve DeWitt, author of Eyes Wide Open

I’m a big fan of Disney. There’s something beautiful about a story well told. Of all the classic Disney movies, my favorite would have to be Beauty and the Beast, which is why I was so excited to see the updated release of the movie on opening night.

Certainly the nostalgia trip was part of the reason this film broke spring box office records. But as the title song says so clearly, this story is a tale as old as time. And true beauty is timeless.

Call it extreme fandom or over-theologizing, but I believe there are many ways Beauty and the Beast reflects the Gospel story, the truest and most beautiful story of all time. Consider these parallels:

The story begins with a prince, one made to rule the land, falling from his place of honor because of pride. Because of his sin, a curse is placed on the land.

Adam and Eve sinned and brought a curse upon all people.

The only way to break the curse is for the Beast to find love before his enchanted flower withers, and the question is asked, “Who could ever learn to love a beast?”

There is nothing lovely about us in our sin; we should be despised and rejected by God. How could He love us?

Belle is the hero of the story, and she’s presented as an outsider in two senses. First, she’s perceived as different than the other villagers and generally rejected. Second, she enters into the Beast’s domain and lives as the only person unaffected by the curse.

Jesus entered into our world as one of us, unaffected by the curse of sin yet rejected by men.

The story is saturated with self-giving love. Belle gives herself in place of her father, who is both victim and perpetrator.

Jesus takes our place as sinners and slaves to sin.

An act of redemptive love breaks the curse, and the dead Beast is literally transformed to new life.

Christ died for us to raise us to new life in His renewed image.

Contrasted with these similarities are many stark differences to the Gospel story—and that’s okay. Recognizing the differences make the Gospel far more attractive than a Disney movie. Consider, for example:

  • Belle didn’t know what she was getting herself into—Jesus did.
  • Belle fell in love with the Beast—Jesus loved us unconditionally from before the dawn of time.
  • It took death for Belle to realize how much she loved the Beast—It took Jesus dying for us before we could realize how much He loved us.

The True Nature of Beauty

I would pair beauty with what we call the “general revelation” of God—we identify beauty in a sunset, a landscape, a dance, a sculpture, or a story. Whether natural or created, they echo the work of God in the world and in us, and they evoke an emotional response.

But if God is the creator of beauty, then nothing can be more beautiful than God. God certainly can’t create a rock so large He can’t lift it—which means He also can’t create anything more beautiful than Himself.

The perfect, unhindered expression of God’s beauty is Jesus Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is the perfect revelation of God’s beauty because He is the perfect revelation of God. And at the culmination of Jesus’ beauty is the cross. Therefore the cross, while being a bloody and gruesome scene, is the greatest beauty in the universe.

The self-giving love of Jesus for sin-stained beasts like us is what makes the Gospel so amazing. As Tim Keller says, Jesus didn’t stay on the cross because we were attractive to Him. “He loved us,” Keller said, “not because we were lovely to Him, but to make us lovely.”

At the end of watching Beauty and the Beast, there was a joy and contentedness in my heart. I realized I had just watched an incredible, redemptive story. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize the truth in what C.S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

If God is the creator of beauty, then nothing can be more beautiful than God.

Every good and pure pleasure we feel in this world is only a dim reflection of the “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11) we are meant to experience in the presence of Jesus. God cannot make a pleasure greater than He can give in Himself. Therefore every good pleasure is not a reflection of heaven but merely a dim, jaded foretaste.

So watch Beauty and the Beast. Enjoy a story well told that rings with redemptive themes. But always remember the greatest story—a true, living story—about a fallen, beastly people who were saved by the most beautiful One of all.

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Is There Persecution in America?

Last month I shared hard facts about the persecution of Christians around the world. But in the back of my mind lingers a question maybe you’ve wondered at, too. If America is so Christian, where’s our persecution?

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Often we think of persecution as people being driven out of their home or ostracized by their community. These are real examples of persecution—but they’re not the only examples.

Persecution in All Shades

Recently I completed the book God’s Smuggler, a story about Brother Andrew, a missionary who smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. (It was written by the same authors who wrote the popular books The Hiding Place and The Cross and the Switchblade.)

In the book, Brother Andrew describes his experiences in different Communist countries. In one country, he may not have been allowed to preach, but he could share “greetings from the Lord.” In another country, the church leaders may talk about not having any need for outside assistance, but often what they didn’t say revealed more than what they did say.

Brother Andrew saw persecution manifest itself in many ways over his years of ministry. But even he was surprised when he crossed the Berlin Wall into East Berlin.

Below is an enlightening excerpt from the book:

[bluebox]“Well I’m glad you’ve come,” [the pastor] said. He stopped to cough—a deep, dry cough that wracked his whole frame. “We need all the encouragement we can find.”

“Do you need Bibles, for instance?” I asked him. “I have some German Bibles with me.”

“Oh, we have plenty of Bibles.” I had heard this before and was waiting for the slow admission that there were in fact very few Bibles. He took me into the little study, and I felt as though I could have been at the study at home. There were a dozen Bibles on the shelves. I picked one up and looked at the East German imprint.

“Let me tell you about some other freedoms,” he said. “We have seminaries here that do not turn out politicians; they turn out Christians. We have evangelical campaigns that draw thousands. We have a move within the Lutheran church that is as forceful, I would venture, as anything you can find in Holland.”

“But—you said you needed encouragement?”

Suddenly his fists clenched. I saw the knuckles go white. “We’re fighting one of the most important battles in Europe. Here in Germany, the Communists are trying out a new kind of persuasion, in my mind far more dangerous than outright persecution….

In the car he went back to his subject. “It would be we Germans who caught on first,” he said. “You can’t use strong arm tactics against the Church without strengthening it. It’s always been that way. Under persecution a man looks at his faith to see if it’s worth fighting for, and this is a scrutiny Christianity can always withstand. The real danger comes with an indirect attack, when a person is lured away from the church before he has a chance to become strong.”[/bluebox]

“The Real Danger Comes with an Indirect Attack.”

“Wow.” The word fell out of my mouth as I listened to these words via audiobook in my car. A light had turned on, and persecution stopped being something only experienced by Christians in hostile nations.

Christianity can always withstand the scrutiny brought on by direct persecution. What it can’t stand is never getting a chance to prove its worth. “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting,” G.K. Chesterton said, “it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Let me ask you: How do we see indirect persecution manifested in America (and much of the West) today? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, but here are a few of my thoughts:

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1. We see it in failure to equip young adults with a self-sustaining relationship with God before the independence of adulthood (which is ultimately a lie we’re believing about what’s most important). As a result, as many as 59% of Millennials raised in church drop out at some point (some come back; others don’t).

2. We see it when churches rely more on marketing techniques than on the Word of God to compel people to follow Christ. If you try to compete with every major brand for the attention of a generation, you will fail. The message of Christ is compelling enough to be our focus.

3. We see it in modern day half-truths, ideas that sound good but compromise God’s Word for the sake of social relevance. If you follow Jesus, know that He made it pretty clear that at some point you’ll be met with opposition.

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(I share five more ways I believe we miss the countercultural life in the American church in this post.)

In the land of wealth and opportunity, why would Satan waste his time to promote direct attacks against the church when he can draw us away from God slowly, before our faith has a chance to take root?

If there was any doubt before, put it to rest.

Persecution is real here, too.

Our response to subtle persecution

So what do we do about it? What is our response to modern day, indirect attacks on Christianity in the West?

RelevantTruthFirst, recognize the attack. I hope the examples here alert you to persecution around you.

Second, strive for substance over relevance. This might sound wrong, but hear me out. Nothing is more relevant than truth. It seems to me that every time I try being relevant, I end up with a weaker message. But every time I strive to be true, I come closer to an eternally relevant nerve in others.

Third, don’t wait to get serious about God. If the devil’s tactic is to draw us away before we have a chance to experience the goodness of God, then fight him by doing everything you can to delight yourself in God now. Test Jesus. Find Him to be the Rock of Ages.

Persecution is real in America, but we don’t have to be afraid. We must be awake and alert, but never afraid.

Psalm 46:1-2
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear….

The Tragedy of Our Forgotten Family

About a month ago I was scrolling through Twitter when a headline caught my eye. “90,000 Christians were killed globally in 2016.” Abruptly, I stopped myself. This is my family.

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So Much More Than News

Just a week ago, my cousins-in-law moved their family from Minnesota to be missionaries in Papua New Guinea. Do you think—when the rest of the family gets together at Easter or Thanksgiving or Christmas—their family will come up in conversation? Of course! We’re family, and family keeps one another updated, even from the other side of the world.

I wish the same could be said of the Church. We’re a family, united by the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Yet so often do we forget one another. Why does this happen? And how can we begin to truly believe we are a family?

3 Reasons We Forget Our Family

1. Persecuted Christians don’t spend much time on social media.

Think about it. Where do we go for news on friends, family, and (increasingly) the world? For most of us, it’s Twitter or Facebook.

Our social media is saturated with people we know and understand—people like us. One of the inherent qualities of the church, on the contrary, is that it’s made up of people who are quite different than us. They’re very much like us, but also quite different.

Just like family.

2. Our understanding of “Church” is worlds different.

The Babylon Bee (my favorite Christian satire site) published an article last year called “Unsatisfied Persecuted Church Member To Try Out Other Church Just Across Minefield.”

The satire was clear. While we jump from church to church looking for something that “ministers to us,” those on the other side of the world are fortunate just to find a handful of other believers.

Our lack of visible persecution often creates a lack of prayer. I am sure believers in persecuted countries pray for the Church in America more than we pray for them—and that breaks my heart.

3. We tend to only notice widespread tragedy.

The truth is, it usually takes a shocking statistic to get our attention. You probably didn’t hear about the 90,000 Christians killed in 2016 for the same reason you also didn’t hear about the 35,092 motor vehicle deaths in America in 2015. When a school bus in Chattanooga crashes, leaving six elementary school students dead, the world takes note. But when one person dies in a car crash, only the victim’s family mourns.

Church, this is our family.

Remember My Chains

Our mindfulness of our family in Jesus is all but a biblical command. Paul tells the church to “remember my chains” and to “pray also for us” (Colossians 4:3, 18).

I’m not going to belabor this point. We need to remember our family. An immediate and active step is to download the VOM “Pray Today” app. You can set a daily reminder to pray for your family around the world (and you can also learn a little more about the countries represented in each prayer request).

Another step is to increase awareness. I don’t care if it’s sharing this article or just telling others, but let’s keep each other updated on the Family.

If your church doesn’t regularly pray for the persecuted church—why not? A church that doesn’t remember the rest of the family is like a renegade child living in isolation.

What binds [the Church] together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. . . . In light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another.

-D. A. Carson

Why Do Awkward Bible Stories Exist?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are some pretty awkward Bible stories.

AwkwardBible900

In January I started a new Bible reading plan that will take me through the Bible in a year (You can check out the app Read Scripture here). But right out of the gate we find a weird passage in Genesis 9 about Noah.

In this story, Noah plants a vineyard after coming off of the ark. He then gets wildly drunk off the wine from this vineyard and falls asleep naked in his tent. Then, to make matters worse, one of his son goes and tattles to the other brothers about their father. Noah awakens later, embarrassed and ashamed.

I told you this was a weird passage.

Here’s the “awkward Bible story” dilemma: Either we ignore this passage and apologize to anyone who stumbles across it, or we look for a deeper meaning. I challenge you to face the awkwardness.

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3 Simple Questions to Untangle a Biblical Mess

If we’re going to face it, we have to ask the obvious question: What’s the deal, God? If the Bible is inspired, why’d You go and include awkward Bible stories? Actually, there’s a lot we can learn here, and we can learn it by asking three simple questions:

1. What does this passage tell me about humanity?

2. What does this passage tell me about God?

3. What does this passage tell me about myself?

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3 Things We Learn from an Incredibly Awkward Passage

1. Noah was fallen like everyone else.

When we ask the question, “What does this tell me about humanity,” we see that even a man called “righteous,” “blameless,” and “faithful” still messed up (Genesis 6:9). Noah had a chance to correct what Adam first messed up, yet in this passage we find Noah just like Adam, naked and ashamed in a garden.

This theme is seen all over the Bible. You see people do crazy or stupid things, and your first question is, “Why is THAT included in the Bible?” One answer is to remind us that people are fallen and sinful, and we need a Savior.

2. God shows us grace and promises a Savior.

What does Noah’s failure tell me about God? As you read the Old Testament, you’ll see God raising up good people who still make terrible mistakes (think Abraham, Moses, David).

All of these people are called by God, and sustained by God, but ultimately they aren’t the Savior they need. All these flawed heroes in the Bible point us to one man who will perfectly love and follow God—Jesus.

3. “I’m a good person” has never been a good argument.

God didn’t save Noah from the flood because he was perfect; He saved him to make a point. Noah had no power to save himself from the flood; he was completely dependent on God’s love.

Way too many people today are banking their eternities on the argument, “I’m a good person, so I’ll go to heaven.” Noah was a good person, but he still needed God’s salvation.

This is good news, because it means you don’t have to be a “good person” to receive God’s love. God is in the business of working His perfect plan through imperfect people. Our rescue comes when we turn to Jesus and admit that we can’t face eternity alone.

Don’t Be Afraid of Awkward Bible Stories

A lot of people in the church resolve to read more of their Bible each New Year. But awkward or confusing passages often cause us to hit the breaks. We don’t see God in awkward Bible stories, so we stop reading.

Instead of stopping, I want to encourage you to slow down and think. I’m not saying you’ll find the perfect answer for every awkward story, but if you process what a passage tells you about humanity, God, and yourself, you’ll have a solid framework.

Ultimately, remember this: Every word in the Bible was put there on purpose. There are no mistakes or misprints. God paints a picture of redemption through the Bible that is long and wide and deep. The countercultural life doesn’t shy away, but it presses in to look deeper, see clearer, and run harder after knowing God.