Category Archives: Mike

Guest posts from Mike

Imitate God

“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”
 
As a dad I look back on years when I was keenly aware that my son was watching me.  Watching to see how I did something, learning how by watching me.  When I realized he was imitating me as he learned how to be a man it made me profoundly panicked.  Suddenly I realized I was modeling for this boy how to live, how to be a man.  It made me look for someone to imitate in my own life so my son would have a good model to follow.
 
That’s when I really understood the words of Paul, “Imitate God.”  It’s an invitation to follow him around, to learn how he does things and do the same things.  It’s an invitation to mold your life to be like his.

But where do I see him to follow him, to imitate him, where do I find those examples?   I realized, quite to my own surprise, that the gospels gave me the pictures I needed.  All I had to do was follow Jesus around in the gospels and imitate him!
 
And that is what Paul is inviting us to do…follow Jesus, imitate him, be like him…do what he did…in other words, be his disciple.  
 
The key thing Paul noted for us to watch for was this- “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.”  In every story of the gospels I see Jesus loving well.  He loved everyone in such a way that they were drawn to him.  Or, they were convicted by him.  His love draws all eyes to God.
 
His love and how he lived it out draws me to follow him.  I don’t do it well, but I’m working on it.  I don’t always say the right thing, do the right thing but I want to…I want to look like Jesus.
 
And, it’s possible as Paul invites us to do it, to “Imitate God” and do it first of all by loving well.
 
Of all the religions ever to touch human life only this one tells of a god who is first of all a lover of men. This God has invited us to imitate him and as we do others will be drawn to him too.
 
Imitate God=loving well.
 
Lord, help me to imitate you well as I encounter others each day. Help me to love them well and show them how much you care for them too.
 
Let my life, my love for others, be a pleasing aroma to you and draw others to seek this God who loves them through me.
Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

The Smell Of Smoke

Have you ever sat by a campfire and found, that even hours later, the smell of smoke had permeated your clothes?  It lingers, it clings and others can smell it too.

Often, as I live in a world that reminds me of Sodom and Gomorrah, I’m aware that the smell of the culture has clung to me, that I’ve sat by their campfires too long.

I know, having experienced it, that by simply walking by a campfire the smoke of it easily and quickly permeates your clothing and the smell goes with you.  Some of that is unavoidable as we live in a world walking away from God, but it’s not the aroma I want others to smell in my life.

Paul writes of another aroma, another smell that permeates a Christian, that’s what I long to smell like,

 “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” 2 Corinthians 2 

I live in a world that smells of smoke, the smoke of rebellion against God, but in the midst of that aroma God has given us a new fragrance, the smell of Christ, the aroma of life.

Lord, help me to live in the world, but not smell like it.  Let me smell like you, having walked by the fires of your Spirit burning in the lives of others, and may that aroma linger with me, the smell of Christ, and might it be a sweet aroma that draws men to you.

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

The Most High God

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;

    wisdom and power are his.

He changes times and seasons;

    he deposes kings and raises up others.

He gives wisdom to the wise

    and knowledge to the discerning.

He reveals deep and hidden things;

    he knows what lies in darkness,

    and light dwells with him.”

Daniel 2

Believe it or not there is a King in heaven in charge of everything.  He rules the kingdoms of this earth.  He raises up one leader and removes another.  HE is in charge, he rules the Universe…every molecule of it.

HE is King.

Then why are we afraid?  Why are we fighting over this politician or that one?  None of them can help us.  None of them can fix our problems.  They are just men placed there by God.

Why are we so angry, so afraid?  Why all the frustration, the name calling?

Is there a God in heaven or not?

If there is a God who rules then trust him.

If there isn’t then you aren’t fearful enough!

I’m saddened by what I see in the Christian world as “Christians” verbalize their fears in the public forums as if a man will be our solution.  Why do we trust in man?  Even David wrote of the foolishness of trusting in the strength of men.

Like Daniel, I’m so glad there is a sovereign and he does not rule from Washington or any other city.  He rules from heaven!

One of the worst kings of all time said this about that God, words that came after God humbled him,

King Nebuchadnezzar,

To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth:

May you prosper greatly!

It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.

How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
his dominion endures from generation to generation.

“The Most High God”

There is a ruler over the affairs of man.

Oh that we would trust him and rest in his care.

He is in charge of everything, even who rules this little nation of ours.

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Suicide

This morning a friend asked me to address suicide and my thoughts on this topic.

It’s a very personal topic for me.

My niece took her life several years ago and the thoughts of her are still near to all of us.  Suicide leaves questions for those have chosen it and for us left behind.

Why did they do it?  Was their life that bad?  How could they leave us like that?  And for us left behind, will the pain ever diminish?

As one author described it “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  If only they had asked for help, if only they had waited till morning, if only…..but all we have are unanswered questions that leave us empty and hurting.

And, in the area of faith and eternity these questions arise,

Is suicide a sin?

Can someone who commits suicide be forgiven?

Many have written that this is an unforgivable sin because we don’t have an opportunity to repent of it.  It’s a final choice, taking our lives into our own hands, leaving us no opportunity to repent.

One wrote that this situation leaves the person without forgiveness…doomed.

But let me address this topic in light of what Jesus did on the cross.
(Let me make clear that I’m speaking in reference to a Christian who would take their life.  If we are speaking of a person who hasn’t trusted Christ we have a completely different discussion to work on.)

Here are a series of questions that will help us get to some basic answers, are you ready?  (If you want all the scripture references do ask, but I’m leaving them out for the sake of brevity.)

1. When Jesus died on the cross how many of our sins did he die for?  If you know the bible the answer has to be “all of them”.  (Do you remember his last words? “It is finished.”  The total price was paid….it’s called “grace”.)

Hebrews tells us Christ died “once for all.”  (7:27, 10:10, 12, 14) What that means is that he made one sacrifice for all men, for all time, for all sins.

2. Now, if he died for all sins, when he died how many of your sins were still future?  If you’re thinking you have to respond, “all of them!”

3. So, when you trusted him as savior how many of your sins did he forgive?  You can see where I’m going, can’t you?  Again, you will have to reply, “all of them!”

I’m sure you are asking what does this have to do with suicide?  But be patient, we will get there….you can’t deal with such a difficult issue so easily.

One person wrote that when you commit suicide you don’t have a chance to repent and they are right, but based on what I have asked you already, what does repentance have to do with forgiveness?

Did you understand the implications of what I just asked?  IF you have trusted Christ then all your sins, past, present and future are forgiven already.  All of them!  Even my last choice of taking my own life.

Some will quote 1 John 1:9 in this discussion.  I’ve heard it many times as a response to grace, but read this verse in context and you will see it’s a once for all verse-  “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from ALL unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9 fits perfectly with what we have discussed already.

Repentance is important, but it’s a response to forgiveness, not a way of getting it.  Forgiveness was done at the moment you trusted Christ.  Repentance is the right response on my part to sin and deals with my relationship with God, not my forgiveness.

Am I giving approval to those thinking about suicide? Not at all!

God forbid!

It’s a sad, terrible, painful choice that scars those left behind….but for the one who has chosen, in that dark moment, to take their own life and not trust God with the days ahead, they will still find themselves with the Lord, forgiven of sin, regretting their final choice to not trust God with the situation they faced.

Is a Christian who commits suicide forgiven and in heaven? YES!

Do they regret their choice? YES!  Because, in light of eternity, they realize they didn’t wait to see what God could do with their terrible situation.

I’m sure my niece wishes she could undo her choice, but she can’t and we live with the pain….missing her daily.

Are you thinking about taking your own life?  Please don’t!  Get help, tell someone, wait till morning…you will never regret the choice to trust God, but for the dear saint who is so broken that they sin and commit suicide you will see them in heaven.  And we will rejoice at a wonderful savior who provides all we need, even when our last choice is the worse one of all.

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

The Key To Everything

Christ is the key that unlocks the mystery of history.

Poetic, isn’t it? The quote above, in part, is from a German theologian.  After writing more than 17,000 pages on the Bible and Christ these are his concluding thoughts.

The key to everything is Jesus Christ.  If you leave him out the box remains locked, the mystery still a mystery, the reason for our existence still uncertain.

Jesus himself told the religious leaders, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;” That’s either the most arrogant thing ever said or the most profound truth ever revealed.

Your response to Christ is the most important decision you will ever make.

Years ago I spent some time with the great Major Ian Thomas.  He was a wonderful man of God, crusty to be sure, but he loved the Lord.  Once, before he spoke, I made the mistake of asking him, “What are you going to talk about tonight?”

He replied, with a bit of irritation, “I’m going to talk about Jesus, what else is there to talk about?”

And he’s right.

In the last book of the bible these words begin the text, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.”  In five words we get a hint to the theme of this last book, to the entire bible, and in this book revelations about Jesus are in nearly every chapter.  It’s about him.  He’s the key to everything!

Without Christ, without knowing him, life remains a mystery. Without him we have no purpose, no meaning, no reason for being.

Jesus Christ is the key to everything. Do you know him?

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

What Will We Do?

Panic.

You’ve felt it, haven’t you?

That sudden sense that everything is out of control…

…that the world and the problems you face are overwhelming, too big, too much!

You may have actually said it at one time, “What will I do?!”

It was a question one man asked one morning when he realized what had happened in the night.  Here is the short story from 2 Kings 6,

15 When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha.

16 “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.

When all we see is what we know we miss what God is doing around us.

This servant was in a complete panic because of what he saw, but

Elisha was sipping his coffee quite calmly.

He saw something completely different.

He saw what God was doing.

When panic comes, when fears rise, when the situations you see are overwhelming don’t forget that what you see is not all there is.

Unseen is a sovereign God guiding, protecting, watching.

And around us are heavens armies watching over his people.

As God said to the prophet Isaiah he says to us,

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

And Others….

Faith is an essential part of the Christian life.  We came to God by faith, we live by faith, all we have is the result of faith.

Faith in God is at the very heart of the Christian experience.

There is a chapter in the bible that speaks exclusively of men and women who lived by faith, trusted God, made choices, built boats…all by faith.  They believed God, acted and saw the results of their faith in their lives.

But others (and this is where we struggle with the passage) lived by faith and died, lost everything, struggled, were tortured and seemed to fail.

We have a problem with that because we have adopted the belief that if we have faith good things will happen, prosperity will come, prayers will be answered, mountains will move.

But not for everyone, not all the time.

Some will live by faith and have nothing,

be hungry,

struggle to live at all

and others will lose their lives.

All these things will happen in the lives of people of faith!

How can this be?

Doesn’t faith do things?

Doesn’t it have good results?

Here are the words from this chapter on faith that we try to ignore,

“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—  the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,”

These were men and women of faith and it appears their faith “didn’t work!”  But faith is not a gum ball machine…put in your coin and get your prize…it’s trust in God with no idea of what will happen next.

It’s living with eyes on God regardless of the outcome.

Faith is trust in God.  It’s not a magic lamp I can use for my desires, but it’s a decision to trust in the God who loves me no matter what happens!

So what if I’m one of the “others”, those who don’t see their faith “work?”  What if I trust God and lose everything?  I still win!  I’m trusting God, even if I have nothing at all, even if I’m tortured, even if I lose my life…I still win and my faith in God will take me into eternity!

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

The Captain’s Face

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to go sailing with a good friend of mine. Ray was an oil man who had literally gone from struggling to pay the bills to millionaire overnight. In the 80’s it happened to a number of guys, but Ray was a Christian and a friend, so we talked about our faith, God’s provision and his blessings often.

After his new fortune Ray bought a boat he had always wanted, it was a 38′ sailboat. He had it delivered to Grand lake in eastern Oklahoma. It’s a large lake and a great place to sail.

There was a day one spring when we both had some time and Ray asked me to go sailing with him. I was thrilled to join him. I had never sailed before and looked forward to the experience. We met at the lake and got on the boat to get underway. Slowly we motored out of the inlet into the lake and then put up the sails. It was a great experience! I loved the sounds of the wind in the sails, the waves on the boat and the experience of sailing by wind power alone. We had a great time and a wonderful visit.

Then it happened.

Suddenly, and really without warning, a storm came up. It was a big one. 50-60 mile per hour winds and gusts, 3-4 foot waves, black clouds moving overhead. Quickly the lake cleared of other boats. Within minutes we were in a storm I can imagine the disciples experienced on the sea of Galilee when they woke Jesus and declared, “Don’t you care that we are drowning?” I think I understood the fear they experienced.

Our boat was leaning with the storm winds at 50 degrees or more. The waves were washing over the deck. The skies were black. The rain was intense. I WAS AFRAID!

But then I turned around and looked at Ray as he steered the boat across the lake. HE WAS SMILING!

I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t he see what I saw? Didn’t he know this was bad? In my amazement I yelled through the storm, “How can you smile in this storm? Don’t you see the wind and the waves?” I heard the disciples in my own voice as I said, “Don’t you care that we might drown?”

Ray smiled back and said, “You don’t understand. I know my boat. It has a 9,000 pound keel. This boat was built for the oceans. This storm is nothing! We are fine! Relax, enjoy the ride.”

Suddenly, my fear subsided. I had looked at the captain’s face. He knew things about our boat that I didn’t. He knew we were fine.

Within a few moments my fear turned to calm. Because I trusted the captain I began to enjoy the ride. Nothing had changed….the wind still blew, the rains still came, the waves still washed over the deck, but something was different….I had seen the captain’s face.

The Christian life is much like this little adventure of mine. We are often caught in the storms of life and fear for our lives, our finances, our health. This life is often overcome by a storm when we least expect it. Fears overwhelm us. Death feels close. Panic is in our voices…..but then, with fear growing, we look at Jesus and discover that he is smiling! How can he smile in this storm? Doesn’t he know we are about to go down? And he replies, “You don’t understand. I know this boat. I know what I have planned for you. We are fine. I’ll bring you safely home. Enjoy the ride.” It’s funny how a glance at the face of our captain, Jesus, can change a fearful storm into an exciting adventure. A look at the captain’s face makes all the difference! …

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

The Terrible Sin

We are becoming a world with its fist in the air to God.

The anger, resentment, rebellion of our world is growing.  We see it in the wars, the riots of our cities, the parade to demonstrate this or that.

All around us our world is coming apart at the seams.  At the core of it all is one terrible sin.  It’s the #1 sin, the worst sin.  Although all sin (a word we rarely use anymore) has the same outcome there is one that is the cause of all others.  The one sin that is #1 on the list and is the cause of most of what we see in the world is pride.

Pride was the cause of satan’s rebellion.  It was at the heart of Adam’s sin.  It’s the driving force for much of what gets me in trouble.

It’s my #1 problem!  Pride makes me jealous of someone else’s success, envious of what another has, resentful of what another does. At the heart of it all is pride.

Pride’s symbol is “I”.  I am the master of my fate, I make my own decisions, it’s my right to do this, go there, believe that.  Pride is me trying to be god.

But it doesn’t work….because all around me are other proud little creatures trying to be god as well…and so we fight, squabble, kill, steal and a hundred other things to validate what pride has made me believe about myself.

The number #1 sin?  Pride.  It’s the first sin and my biggest enemy.

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Friends

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. 

Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. 
Wouldn’t you like to get away? 
Sometimes you want to go 
Where everybody knows your name, 
and they’re always glad you came. 
You wanna be where you can see, 
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.
You wanna go where people know, 

people are all the same, 

You wanna go where everybody knows 
your name.

source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/tvthemes/cheerslyrics.html

Those are the lyrics to the theme song from the T.V. show “Cheers”.  The lyrics speak to our common longing. We want to be known, we want someone to know who we are.  We all want friends.  And yet, in our culture today friends, real friends, are hard to find and even harder to define.

Today I had lunch with one of the guys from our church.  He welcomed me with this question and a troubled frown, “Do you consider us friends or just acquaintances?”  That beginning didn’t bode well for the visit to follow.  The reason for his question was the awareness that he really doesn’t have many friends and was I one of them?

Friends are rare.  Real friends that is.  It takes years to get to know someone and often longer to really trust them.  Chuck Swindoll said, “If you have eight men at your funeral who don’t look at their watches you had a good life.”  Isn’t it sad that most of us have so few we connect with, even fewer who know us and care about us.

In the last two weeks I have visited with several of our men and in the visit asked them, “So, do  you have any friends?”  Both answered, to my amazement, “No”.  How sad that we live in a culture surrounded by others and no one knows us, no one cares.  How have we let this happen?  Why are we so fearful of the emotional intimacy a friend would offer?

It’s even worse for our young adults.  They have grown up with electronics between themselves and others.  Many have thousands as “friends” on Facebook, but know no one personally!  It’s a tragedy that is beginning to reveal itself in the suicides of lonely people with thousands of “friends” who have never met them.

So how do we move from this loneliness to relationship? How do we connect in a way that bridges the chasm we feel between us and others?  And, even more important, what is a “friend” anyway?  That question was one we asked our waiter today as my friend and I discussed our relationship.  Even our young waiter didn’t really know.

Here’s a project for you to work on, an assignment if you wish:  Write down on a piece of paper five names of people you consider friends.  Then, call them. Talk to them. Tell them how important their friendship is in your life.  No, you can’t text them or send them a note on Facebook.  That’s missing the point entirely.  You have to talk to them. Really talk to them…and even better…meet them for a meal.  It will make a difference in your life you never imagined.  It will refresh your soul and brighten your day!

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Mundane Faithfulness

 Lately I’ve been following the last journals of Kara Tippetts and her husband, Jason, at Mundane Faithfulness.  It’s a blessing, a grief, a joy, a sorrow….even though I don’t know them personally they have opened their hearts and lives as she has neared her own death from cancer.
The reality of death and its heavy hand on each of us makes us focus on what is really important.  Kara and Jason are doing that.  There is nothing that sobers and focuses our lives like the end of it.  I know thousands have been encouraged by Kara and Jason’s words and faith.Her life and death models what a walk with God should look like….trusting him even in the hard days.  If you haven’t followed her story I encourage you to do so.  It will help you in your own walk with God.  You can find her story here.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well for more.

Insulting Muhammad

I’m a Christian.

I believe that Jesus is God in flesh, the only savior, the only provision of God for man’s sin.

Islam would tell me I have committed shirk.  It’s the unpardonable sin of associating anyone with God.

I get that.  But I truly believe the bible teaches that Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity.

On many theological issues I disagree with Islam dramatically.  I know the issues.  I have taught courses on Islam.  I have read much of the Quran and studied it to know what Islam teaches.

I really love the Muslim people.  They are, for the most part, sincere passionate people of faith.  To the best of their ability they are living for and obeying the God they know.

So why would I, a Christian, insult Muhammad?  Why would I say something negative about a man my Muslim friend considers a prophet of God?  How would those statements help me relate to another person I believe God really loves?

I wouldn’t!  I couldn’t insult their prophet.  It serves no helpful purpose except to inflame and divide even more.  I truly believe that God loves the Muslim people and many millions are finding Christ as savior each year.  God is working with these sincere God seekers…he’s drawing them to him.

For me, a Christian, to insult a man they revere would only grieve the God I serve.  Instead, can I tell you more about my wonderful savior, Jesus Christ?

He is so amazing, so wonderful, he loves you and cares more for you than you will ever know.  And, as the Quran says, one day he is coming back to judge the world.

Can I tell you more about my wonderful Jesus?

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Peace, Peace….Oh For Peace

The world we live in is filled with anger, rage, violence and pain.

We look for peace, long for peace, but fail to find it.  

We call for tolerance, but it eludes us. 

How can we find that one thing we all want, desire and need….peace?

As I’ve watched the events in my own country in the last weeks I grieve over lost lives, broken hearts and bitterness of soul that has made peace, forgiveness and love more elusive than ever.

But, there is a passage of scripture that offers the solution to all of this.  It’s a difficult passage, in fact it’s impossible.  It means we have to set our own desires, our own wishes aside and put others ahead of ourselves.  It’s impossible without the help of God.  

It’s impossible unless we humble ourselves and put others first.  

Here’s how Jesus described this life that can change everything,

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  

If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.  

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.  

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Can you imagine how our world would change if we treated each other in this way?  But it goes against all that is in us.  We each put ourselves first, we each want “our rights”…we all want what’s fair, but this  is an invitation to a way of life that sets all that aside and says that you are more important than I am.  

Without God’s help that’s impossible,  but imagine a world where this is the way everyone lives…..

…..I think you might call it heaven.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Thoughts On The Life Of Brittany

Brittany Maynard just took her own life as she faced a painful end of life from brain cancer.  I’m sure there will be many things said about this.  Many of those who write about it will be critical of Brittany’s choice.  I will not.  The whole situation is a sad one.  I feel a deep sadness for her, her husband and family.  There is no need for moralism at the moment, only grieving.

Was it the right choice?  Should she have waited for “life to take its course?”  Was there a right choice in this?  Opinions will all be voiced on the Internet.  Many will be harsh and hurtful.  The only emotion I give to this is grief.  I’m sad that this disease has taken such a young life.  I know many others suffer in the same way, but her choice to end her life in this way only magnifies the grief and sadness of her death.

We all face death.  Whatever the vehicle we will all be driven from this life to the next.  The debate over her choice is not the real issue we each must face.  Whatever we face that will one day take our lives are we ready for the life ahead?

Some will tell you that death is the end….when you’re dead, you’re dead.  Others believe eternity lies ahead.  I believe this life is only the beginning of life…eternal life.  We grieve over the death of someone we love in this life, but we rarely talk about the grief of losing eternal life.  100% of us will die physically, but it isn’t the end.  Ahead is eternity and for some a fate much worse than a painful death here.  For others eternity means real life and a walk with God that never ends.

I grieve over Brittany’s loss.  I pray she did not lose real life as well.  Sometimes I fear we argue and fret over the wrong things and focus too much on the temporal and not enough on the eternal.  I hope and pray that as Brittany made a choice about this life she had also made a choice about real life.

As you read the news and the debate about her choice remember that this choice was not the most important one….for her or for you.

Visit Mike at FinishingWell.

Fearsome Days

These are scary days we live in.  ISIS/ISIL beheadings weekly, wars breaking out on every continent, earthquakes, floods, plane crashes, Ebola, zombies, politicians (or are those last two the same thing?), and the fear inspiring news!  If you are tempted to fear, our culture and the news will help you.

These are fearsome days.  Every day we are given new reasons to be afraid and yet the bible invites us to a different focus, a different direction for our vision and emotions.  These words from the last book of the bible invite a different look, a look up, a look away from fearsome things in dreadful places to a person…but not just any person….here is the invitation to a different look,

“Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”

Don’t be afraid.  Why? Because there is one who is the A to Z, the living one who died and lives forever, the one who holds the keys to everything.  In those few words following the command, “Don’t be afraid” are all the reasons you need to not fear anything ahead even as the fearsome days get worse.  

This person, as John discovers, is Jesus Christ, risen King, eternal Lord, God of everything.  

In the fearsome day Jesus’ invitation is this, trust me.  I have all of this under control, I’m Lord of it all.  Nothing happens without my permission.  I’m fully in charge and I will take care of you.  Will you let go of your fears and look to me?  Will you change your focus from a fallen world to a risen Lord?  

Don’t be afraid!  The King of Glory, Jesus Christ, is alive and Lord of all.  Relax, enjoy your day, pray for the suffering, love the lost, help the poor, let go of your fears and know that God is sovereign even when it appears “all hell has broken loose.”  Don’t be afraid.  The King is king of even this, even now, relax and rest in him.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Failure

I don’t know if you have ever felt it, that feeling of complete and total failure.  It’s one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced.

Many struggle with it.  Jobs lost, marriages ruined, relationships destroyed, children alienated.  All of these make us aware of our weakness and failure to do those things well, to be a success at something…at anything.

There is a partner to failure, it’s depression.  It may be, at times, that the depression arrives first and failures are then unavoidable, but that’s just a thought I’ve been dwelling on for a while.  I’ve noticed as well that I find myself feeling an overwhelming sense of failure when there is really nothing wrong at all.  It’s a terrible cloud, but one that plagues us all at times if we are honest.

We each struggle with failure.  We don’t think we are pretty enough, happy enough, successful enough, good enough, that we don’t have enough friends, enough money, that we don’t do anything “important”.  On the list goes, but in the midst of whatever we do many of us feel the tug of failure pulling us down constantly whispering in our ears…”you’re not good enough, you won’t make it, you don’t fit in, you won’t get that job.”

Knowing that this cloud hangs over us all at times makes it clear why we so desperately need God.  Our expectations and goals are far above our abilities and so we live with the high jump bar at 20′ knowing the highest we have ever jumped is 5′.  Failure is sure. Doom is near.

At least that’s the way it feels.

Then comes Jesus to deal with all of this in the gospels.   In those amazing encounters with failures he embraces them, loves them, forgives them.  He tells them he really likes them!  He loved eating with “sinners” and they loved him.  Why?  Because as bad as the world considered them to be and as bad as they felt about themselves there was one person who loved them and really liked them….Jesus.

The rich young ruler, the woman caught in adultery, the leper begging for help, the tax collectors, the foreign mother with a sick child and so many more.  All of them, if they could tell us their stories, would admit they felt like failures, but there was one who didn’t see them that way.  He really loved them….even in their mess.  He enjoyed their company…even when the “religious people” wouldn’t even look at them.

Jesus loves failures because failures know they need Jesus!

I’m really glad that the story of Jesus is the story of God loving broken, struggling, failing people.  People like you and me.

Here’s what God says about people like us, the failures of the world,

1 Cor. 1:26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. 27 Instead, God chose those the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose people that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.28 God chose the ones who are despised by the world, some of us considered as nothing at all, and used us all to bring to nothing people the world considers important. 29 As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.30 God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. 31 Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”

So, if you find yourself struggling with self-doubt, the cloud of failure, failing at everything, failing at anything….know there is a God who loves people like you and me.  Isn’t that great?

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

The Dark Clouds Of Depression

The choices this week of a dearly loved comedian, Robin Williams, bring to light a struggle many people live with and battle most of their lives. It’s far too common.  Just last year my niece, Dez, committed suicide in a similar way to Robin.  It’s sad, tragic, and shocking for many of us who know them and don’t often see the dark clouds they live with, the depression they can’t seem to escape.
Like many of you, I have struggled with depression most of my life.  It’s a family burden and one my mother deals with as well so I’m not simply writing thoughts as a casual observer, but as an unwilling participant.  Over the years my own struggles have made me aware of how difficult depression is to battle.  There are days that begin with the dread of what’s ahead.  It demands, for me, an ongoing battle against the darkness.

As my wife wrote recently, “depression brings a hopelessness that makes life feel like a dirty trick.”  I get that and if you have battled depression you understand it as well.

Some would say that if you are a Christian you shouldn’t have problems with depression. They would then try to help by giving you some bible verses and tell you to “just get over it!”  But it’s really more insidious than that.  It weaves its dark shadows through a life and shows up at the most unexpected times.  For my sweet niece it was the middle of the night and she could no longer live with her dark moments.  She made a permanent choice for a temporary problem and we, her family, are left devastated.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, you need to know it’s a common human malady we all battle at times. You are not alone even in the dark moments when you think no one cares. The morning sun will come and the dark clouds will lift.
Some may struggle with depression on a regular basis and come to a point where they just don’t think they can go on another day.  If that is you, don’t give up.  Talk to someone. Get help. See a doctor. Call a friend. Talk to your pastor.  The dark clouds of the moment will pass. The sun will shine again.  There are people who love you, you are not alone.
When you see someone going through a time of depression pray for them, listen to them and be there for them.  If they threaten suicide call for help immediately! Don’t wait!!  Any threat of suicide should be taken seriously.
Years ago, in my first church, one of our dear members took his own life in the bedroom of his five year old daughter on her birthday.  It was a tragedy magnified by the situation and the day.  But once he made the choice the lives of everyone around him were changed forever!
For those of you living with depression get help, tell someone, ask God for his help.  He is there and he will come to your rescue in that dark place.  There is help!  Ann Voscamp wrote about depression in her recent blog.  Her words are helpful on this topic. I encourage you to read her August 12th post at http://www.aholyexperience.com/.
One of my favorite bible authors is David, a man who battled depression in his own life.  In one of his journals (Psalms 40) he talked about being in a miry pit of despair and unable to get out.  It was a dark place for him, a time of real depression.  What he describes in these words is what everyone battling depression needs- HOPE!  There is hope and it comes from God. These are encouraging words from someone who struggled with depression and found help in God,
“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.
Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord.”
Visit Mike at FinishingWell.

Little Things

Proverbs 11:1 The Lord detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.

Have you ever wondered why a verse like this is in the bible?  Have you ever read something and really didn’t know what to do with it? 
 
This is a short verse, a pragmatically simple one, that reveals God’s concern for even the little things.  In biblical days they would measure grain and other products on the scale to determine price.  Often a dishonest merchant would “tip the scale” by making the weights that counter balance the product inaccurate…thereby making a bit extra on each sale and cheating his customer.  The customer may have thought he was getting a pound and walked away with only 15 ounces.
 
Over time the merchant made a lot of extra money, but what this verse highlights is that God hates the dishonesty that would cheat a trusting neighbor in a purchase.  It’s really just a little thing, but it reveals the heart of God.  He wants us to treat each other right, to be fair, to be honest and loving in our affairs….even in how we measure what we sell to others.
 
These short words not only speak to God’s hatred of dishonesty and cheating, but they tell me how far he goes with this….even down to the weight on the scale!  And, to be honest, this isn’t about the weight of the product, it’s all about how we treat each other.  God hates it when we value stuff more than we do the people around us.  At the core, it’s a heart issue, isn’t it?  What do I value more?  The stuff I can get from you or YOU?
When I deal with you fairly I’m saying you are more important that the material goods we trade.  That’s the issue- what’s most important to us?  God’s concerned about these things even down to the last ounce of our interactions with others.
Even the little things are important to God because they speak to what is most important to us- the stuff or the people?
Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Slavery vs Trust

You would think, after reading the bible as many times as I have, that I wouldn’t see much new, but every day I see something I had never noticed before.  It constantly amazes me.  How does God do this?  How does he put so many insights about life and faith in the stories of the bible?  And yet he does it over and over again.  Here is a portion of the confessions of Nehemiah and some insights into our nature,

Neh. 9:16 “But our ancestors were proud and stubborn, and they paid no attention to your commands. 17 They refused to obey and did not remember the miracles you had done for them. Instead, they became stubborn and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt! But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them, 18 even when they made an idol shaped like a calf and said, ‘This is your god who brought you out of Egypt!’ They committed terrible blasphemies.
19 “But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud still led them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night. 20 You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst.
 

Did you notice the portion of the text I underlined?  Instead of trusting God they chose a leader to take them back to slavery!  I read that over several times with my mouth open.  They did what???  They chose a leader to take them back to slavery rather than trusting God to provide for them.

And then, embarrassed at how similar my life is to this, I realized I often choose slavery over trust.  I choose the bondage of the past rather than trusting God for his goodness and provision for the future.  I worry.  I fret.  I look for someone who can lead me back to bondage and slavery to the old ways instead of trusting God for the unknown promises ahead.  

As the Jewish people told Moses, “at least in Egypt we had our pots of meat and onions…but out here we don’t know where our next meal is coming from.”  And rather that trusting God for his care and provision in our wilderness we look for someone to help us become slaves again.  How amazingly stupid we are!!

At least in slavery we know what to expect. We are “taken care of”, we are told what to do, we don’t have to trust…..but when we follow God we have to trust the unseen one for the unknown.  Sadly, for us, slavery seems easier.  How amazingly stupid we are!

Trusting God means I can’t see where I’m going, where my food comes from, where I will stay.  I have to trust an unseen God for his unseen provision and yet he always provides….if we will trust him.

But for us slavery seems easier so we look for a leader to take us back.  I wondered, who would volunteer to take them back to Egypt?  Who would want that rather than freedom?  Apparently they all did!  And, sadly, given the choice of the slaveries of the past vs. trusting God for the future we all seem to choose slavery.

Lord, help me to quiet my fears and follow you into the unknown rather than returning to the slavery of the past.  Help us all to trust.  Give us the boldness to desire you and where you are leading rather than the slavery of our past, the bondage of our former masters.  Open our eyes to see the joy of beings sons and daughters walking into the unknown rather than slaves to the known.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

On Being Nobody

I live in a time and place in history when fame and popularity are important.  In fact, if we can’t find fame from the media we create it through Facebook.  With enough friends reading all about us and our lives we have a sense of value, significance, a feeling that we are somebody.

Often I have fallen into this trap as well.  I have had the goals and desires for success, fame in my field, the desire to be “known”.  With the years of life I am realizing how fickle and worthless all of this really is.  Quickly people weary of any one person and move on to the next “celebrity” who will provoke their interest and attention.  Fame is fickle!


In my world of Christianity I have desired to “make a difference”, to be known, recognized, speak in front of large crowds, to “be somebody”!  But I am at a place where I’m honestly thrilled to be nobody.  If God does anything with who I am, where I am and what I do that’s up to him.  As for me, I’m finally content with anonymity.  What a great place to be.


Suddenly I find that I can engage people without an agenda, without watching my watch.  Time, status, position and fame don’t matter.  What matters is a walk with God….all the rest is God’s problem.  Aaaaaaahhhh……finally, I pull over to the slow lane and enjoy the scenery, really listen to those around me, think, experience the world God has made, “smell the roses”.  


Finally, for me to live is simply knowing Christ and when it’s over I get to be with him!  How great is that?  


All the rest is smoke and mirrors.  


Everything else is a waste of time.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Verses To Struggle Over

Often, as I read the Bible, I come to passages that cause me problems.  Statements made that challenge me, make me struggle.  Here is one that has haunted me for decades,

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Phil. 1:21

As I read Paul’s words it’s clear he has a level of understanding, a relationship with God that I have yet to achieve.  Yes, like Paul, I want my life to be all about Christ, but it’s not.  I get busy and forget about him.  Sorry, but I really do.  Here I am, doing “God’s work” and so busy about it that I forget about him.  I’m not sure how in the world I can do that, but I must be honest….it happens often.

What does it look like to say and live out, “For me to live is Christ”?  This is what has bothered me, challenges me and caused struggles for me for decades.  I want to walk with him, and for a few minutes at a time I find I can, but then the world attacks and I forget, I get busy and off I go…”serving God”.

For a long time I told people this was my life verse, but as I grew in faith it soon became clear I had no idea what it meant. For me to live is Christ….those words challenge me, convict me and leave me without words.

I hope, one day before I’m done with this life, I will understand just a bit of what Paul means when he says, “For me to live is Christ.”  I long for that, want that, desire that to be true in me, but I know that I don’t even understand what that means yet.

And never mind the rest of the verse….to die is gain!  That will be another visit.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Whales, Worthless Idols and Grace (Revised)

I wrote these words a few years ago.  Today they ring even clearer as our world chases worthless idols.  All around us is the quest for the idols of the world…fame, success, money…and yet in the quest for those things we forfeit the most important thing. Your choice (and mine) is simple…worthless idols or grace.  You can’t have both.

I came to Jonah chapter two this morning and as I read I stopped at verse 8. Rather, verse 8 stopped me! I read it over at least 10 times as I thought about Jonah’s words,

Jonah 2:8- “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”
These words were part of Jonah’s prayer when he finally gave in to God’s will as he sat in the belly of the big fish. At the end of this prayer God instructs the fish to spit him out and Jonah finally obeys God’s commands to him.
But let me camp for a minute on this verse…”Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”
I honestly had never seen this verse before. It had to be there for the first time today. I know I have read this passage hundreds of times before, but I never saw this. It’s profound! It’s life changing to me. When we cling to the worthless idols of our lives we forfeit (miss, give up) the grace that COULD BE OURS. You can’t hold onto your idols and grasp grace as well. You have to let go of one to find the other.
I looked up the definition of forfeit for this discussion and here’s what it means: “something to which the right is lost, as for commission of a crime or misdeed, neglect of duty, or violation of a contract.” Another way of saying this is, “Those who cling to worthless idols lose the right to the grace that could be theirs.”
What idols are you clinging to that make you forfeit the grace that could be yours?
What benefits of grace have we given up to have something worthless instead?
Let me invite you to meditate on this verse for a bit and share your thoughts…in the belly of the big fish Jonah has shared with us an amazing truth to help us contrast the grace of God and any other option. It is, ultimately, the choice between the Christian faith and any other- grace or worthless idols. Cling to one and you will forfeit the other.
Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Barren

God does his best work with barren things.Barren Blog

He built nations from barren wombs.
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was barren and yet from her God built a nation of millions!
Elizabeth was barren and from her came John the Baptist.
In Exodus 17 God led his people into a barren desert and in a place where there was no water he made a river for them to drink.
God does his best work with barren things.
He works with barren lives, lives ravaged by failure, sin, loss, and wasted years.
He works with barren things so the world will see his glory and greatness.
Have you felt like a failure?  Have you wasted your years?  Do you think you’re not good enough, not smart enough, have nothing to offer?  Then you are just the person God can use.  He loves working with barren things, broken lives,  and failures, because through what the world considers “barren” God works miracles!
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.””
Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

God’s Plans…

In the last week our family has been praying for something very specific….sunset_sailing….it didn’t happen.Now comes the normal responses of all of us as we seek to know what God is doing…

I prayed, why didn’t he answer?

This was really important to me, how could he not do it?

Is there really a God at all if he doesn’t answer prayers like this?

How can I trust him when he knew how important this was?

Why pray at all if he doesn’t answer anyway?

I’m sure you could add a dozen other questions to this list that you have asked as the plans and prayers you hoped for didn’t come true, didn’t materialize.

What is God doing? What’s his plans for us?  How do we navigate this topic of prayer when often the things we ask for are very important to us?  Now what?  Can we trust him?  Should I even pray for things again since he didn’t answer this prayer?  Doesn’t he know how important this was to me?

The emotions of unanswered prayer are intense.  The hoped for expectations that are crushed by a prayer unanswered are confusing.  Now what? Where do we go from here?

There are often no words for the emotions that follow an unanswered prayer.  For me, after many years of knowing God, I realized that often my dreams and visions are not the best thing for me…and so I trust God for his plans, his directions….but it’s hard, isn’t it?  It’s hard when we asked, we wanted, we hoped…and he replies with silence.  Is he there at all?  Is he, as many say, the God of the deist…making it all and then walking away?  Unanswered prayers make us ask those questions…especially when he has invited us to ask!

The bottom line for all of this is simply this-  God loves us. God is sovereign and his love, his plans, and his wisdom direct our lives for his glory and our good.  It doesn’t mean we always get what we want…and that confuses us because we “know” that what we want is the very best thing….if only God would give us what we prayed for.

But often he doesn’t.  Now what?

Solomon wrote these words,

“The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”
 
When God says “no” I come back to this…God loves me,He has my best in mind,

He has a plan for my life,

and he’s sovereign.

I can trust him to accomplish the best for me…..even when he says “no”.

In moments like this, when I don’t understand his “no” I go back to the verses that direct me when I don’t have answers…the verses that calm my confused and disheartened mind,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
  and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.”

Seeking God

mountains

“Seek the Lord while you can find him.

Call on him now while he is near.”

-Isaiah 55

This morning, just after sunrise, I went for a long walk in the woods. If you are ever in a place like this you have to walk out into the woods and be still, listen, pray and praise.  That was my goal this morning…and I hoped to see a bear…but back to my topic.  I walked about a mile back into the forest and just stood still…waiting…waiting for God.  I prayed, I sang (badly), I quieted my mind and listened….
….I listened for God, but at times he feels as elusive as that bear I never saw today.  At times I wait, I listen and I hear nothing…..I want to hear from him, I want to follow him, I want to be aware of his presence, but often…..silence.
I know many struggle when this happens.  I have.  Is this a game of “hide-and-seek”?  Why is this so hard?  But there is much more going on than you know when you sense God is not there.  He’s teaching us to be still.  God said to David, “Be still (shut up) and know that I am God.”  God is there and he is not silent, but often I’m deaf to his voice.  How do I fix that?  What do I do?
I have to be still….be quiet, quiet my mind, my heart, my voice and wait on him.  This morning I stood in the deep forest for more than 30 minutes.  I know, that’s not very long, but as I stood there praying, listening, silent before God, I waited for his voice.  He knows I want to follow, he knows I desire his will, he knows me better than I know me….and yet he makes me wait.  He says nothing.
What is going on?  What’s wrong?  Nothing at all….God is working on things I’m completely unaware of.  He’s dealing with things in my life I have never dealt with.  For me the first task is stillness….God has the response…I will know that HE is God.
I’m seeking God.  He’s not like that old bear who avoided me this morning…he’s always with me, working in my life…even when I don’t see him, even when I don’t hear him.  In these times I wait.  He always works in my life in ways that surprise me.  I look forward to his surprise today.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.