I heard a sermon this weekend on a whirlwind 72-hour round-trip drive from home to Mobile, AL and back. Steve DeNeff of College Wesleyan Church made a simple statement. It, along with a steady variety of highly emotional stimulants, seems to have struck a nerve which is still resonating. His comment was something like this, “We are at odds with God as long as what we desire is not what our Father desires for us.” He went on to say, “We remain at odds with God as long as we pursue our desires in ignorance of God’s best.”
I don’t know exactly where to place this thought.
Dawn and I were binge-listening to the Christianity Today Podcast, "The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill" on the visit to Alabama. It chronicles the meteoric rise to becoming the largest church in the United States and the church’s pastor’s subsequent fall from common grace. My opinion about what went wrong or who failed is much less important than the fact that it and they did.
As I listened to the trek from what clearly was a God-ordained movement to a leadership structure that is tagged as abusive, I saw a failure of nuance. Big things did not bring down a ministry. Rather, it was little foxes, a wide variety of unwise alliances, power plays and, most importantly, division, and mistrust.
I have said all-to-often in recent years, Satan’s job does not need to be destruction. He simply needs to create doubt and subtle misdirection and in turn, he will have what he wants- division. We’ll do the heavy lifting of destruction on our own.
There is a Christian phenomenon these days. While we critique the world for its cancel culture, we are busy making sure that flawed leaders and spiritual mentors are beaten in the town square and then run out of our Christian world on a proverbial rail. Nobody is better at cancelling opposite or contrary beliefs and believers than us.
This is because we are missing three pieces of truth.
On Sunday night, as I was experiencing worship at CRF South Central’s Shed, I couldn’t stop crying. I was pretty glad I was in the very back of the room or I would have lost “tough guy” points. I’ll admit I was overtired, emotionally conflicted, plagued by TMI and off my game, but when I came into the presence of God’s worship, I was broken by one question: “What do you really want, Doug?”
I answered pretty easily. “I want this, God. I want you to keep me close enough from nuancing you. I want you to bless me still. Keep me protected by your grace. Make me dilute of grace for others. Do not let me disqualify myself from being your mouthpiece.”
As I wrestled with God, I realized that Luke Marshall, our CRF Harrison Ministry Director, was speaking about Jacob and his iconic match against the heavenly visitor. Hanging on to God’s blessing is a matter of walking in lockstep with God’s will.
What I want, every time, is to be walking with Jesus. Everything else places me as king. I’ve read the Old Testament. There were 39 combined kings between Israel and Judah. There were only eight that walked with God. I don’t need that kind of conflict.
What do you really want?
For the last couple weeks Dawn, my wife, and I have been resting in the seclusion of Michigan’s upper peninsula. There is a lake there called Piatt. It sits three miles (as the crow flies) south of the shores of Lake Superior. It has no cell phone connectivity. It has no internet availability, and if we sneak in very quietly and very late under cover of darkness, even the mosquitoes take three days to find us.
We sleep until we are finished. We eat until we have to stop, and we make no plans. Some evenings, I throw a line or twelve out from my dock. Occasionally, a bluegill eats the worm, and we add fried fish tacos to the menu. We read and walk and pray and talk, but we do not work. We sequester, sabbath, and indulge in the quiet. It is our place of soul rest.
I know many people who regard our vacation plans as boredom. I believe I can honestly say that I cannot ever recall being bored. I don’t function like this. My mind drifts and rests and absorbs. We think of the days at Piatt as breathing in life.
Today was my second day back in the office, and I am committed to allow God to work into all the slow lulls. I am working to see the empty spaces as “God-ordained” along with the hectic, busy, and frenetic times.
One of the books Dawn and I read, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, introduced me to a thought, a nuance into which I think most believers fall. We tend to think that God’s main objective in our lives is somewhere over the top of the hill. We are getting where God eventually wants us to be, but right now I need to endeavor. I have many friends who regard the work that God wants to do in them as after the accomplishment. I need to finish the book, make the team, pass this test, or lose the next pound. It essentially moves God out of the equation for the moment I am in right now. God does not function like that.
So many of us have been waiting for the next thing to move us out of our current troubles. Maybe for you, it was a return to live, in-person services, an upgrade in your company’s internet capacity, a chance to see your grandchildren, or a return to the stadium in order to cheer on your team. For so many of us the principle of coming back is as much about what we have been waiting for God to do… hopefully, sometime soon. We may be missing something here. Don’t feel too bad. Elijah missed it, too. God has been here… with us… doing a new thing in us.
Here’s the twist. As I finished the last sentence, I went home to enjoy a quiet evening. The romantic commitment to peace and resting in Jesus was interrupted at 2:30 a.m. by a frantic daughter informing us of a bat in her bedroom. Solving the bat issue took a half an hour. I slumped back into bed only to be woken again at 4:30 by a storm that shook our home. Thursday early morning the power went out and stayed out for the next four days. Life was slammed with a new reality. Survival.
Our home gets its water from a well. No electricity, no water. Here’s the kicker. We have cows, cats, dogs, and chickens. Together they must drink somewhere around 35 gallons of water… each day. I spent hours trying to get our generator to fire and stay working. You see, our food supply for the entire year is stored in four large freezers. It is not about lights and air conditioning for those of us in the country. It is about eating. Finally, the generator sparked to life.
My daughter was scheduled to leave for Mobile, Alabama on Friday. Are you feeling the rising of the need to hurry? I was. But wait! It got better. We quickly booked a hotel room in Detroit by the airport. They had electricity despite the half a million customers who were without. As we happily travelled to our hotel room, complete with a shower, we felt the hurry subside. When we realized the hotel was booked for the next week, in the lobby, by the way, hurry was replaced with chaos! We desperately began to call friends we had in the Detroit area. Finally, after 20 minutes of panic we reached a friend who allowed us to stay in their home. We felt like Goldilocks since our friends were on vacation. We showered and crashed for the night. Rest returned.
Over the last 56 hours, rest has come and gone, largely on the heels of a sketchy generator. Finally, on Sunday morning, rest returned. It was the spirit of God helping me settle into a difficult but doable rhythm of survival. It was the voice of God, despite a throbbing arthritic neck, saying, “I am in this moment you know.”
I had forgotten. I have come to expect that God’s best moments are when the sun is shining.
My epiphany is simple.
God doesn’t have, “best moments.” He is always at his best. He is best. The moment I am in right now is the moment God waits to show me his best. Every moment is ordained. Every moment is His.
I realize that these last (few) days have not been THE Tribulation, but they certainly have been a tribulation of sorts. The truths regarding Christ’s appearing during tribulation have implications today. Read these words carefully.
Matthew 24: 26-30
“So if they tell you, ‘There He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days: ‘The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven,”
The next tough stretch, when you are tempted to believe that God is in the peace after the storm, remember Scripture promises Christ is putting His sign on the darkness. God is here, now, doing his best work because quiet or tribulation have no bearing on God being God.
2 Timothy 2:1-2 “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
I remember hearing about the confrontation…One side accusing the other of being Satan. Jesus being accused. Religious leaders of the day, who could not replicate Jesus’ effect, popularity or message simply tagging him as “cancelable” by stating that Jesus was working for the enemy.
That ought to do it.
In order to cancel another person’s validity, all I have to do is throw shade on their motives. An accused person cannot defend their motives against a person who already questions them. The accusation requires no proof. It merely has to find a listener who will entertain it, and in so doing, it creates the end of dialogue, unity and rhetoric.
The goal of these religious leaders was to keep people from engaging in Jesus’ conversations. Slanderous clergy made the case- the only reason Jesus was able to bring healing was “he controlled evil.” Therefore, they proposed Jesus was clearly evil as well. This scenario sounds to me, a lot like the confrontations of today. The problem, in a day of conjecture and skepticism, is one cannot defend or attack another’s motives, because one does not know them.
It dawned on me that Jesus’ response to the motive accusers was truth. He shared that in order to take away what belongs to the Strongman, to whom Christ was referring to Satan, you must tie him up first.
Truth is truth. If an opponent wants to inflict evil, they have to tie up the Lord of the manor. The flip side of this truth is where strength rules, but evil can be, and still is driven back. Bear up! We need to take action in the strengths we have through Christ, not in the fear that God has been sidelined!
I am contending and have witnessed believers acting as if Christ is tied up. According to the way we respond to today’s struggles, it would appear Christ must have been detained; Satan, by appearances of Christians family infighting, must have clear and free reign. We as Christ followers are fearful in the pulpit. We are timid in our prayer and have acted as though we are interlopers in God’s house. We are, instead, free to roam around His house. We are heirs to the true “Strongest One.”
God is not tied up. Satan has neither the authority nor the strength to bring about his kingdom.
Here is my response in truth to these recent things that have made us weak, divided and cannibalized. By the way, these truths are not political. They are not aimed at those who have chosen to accept regulations, mandates and recommendations or those who have chosen lesser measures. These are not truths aimed at a social response movement or those at which the movement has been aimed. This is the profound beauty of truth; it isn’t aimed. It holds accusations accountable. It holds my opinion accountable. It holds my reactions and my measured responses accountable. It holds.
God has written so much clarity into our lives. Many of the discussions, arguments and disagreements come from believers living outside of the authority of scripture. It is as if these contentions, thieves intent to steal our peace, power and faith, have come to our door and announced their objectives. In response, it feels to me that many of us have said, “Hold on. I need to lock Father in the back room. He would not abide your stealing from us.”
God’s Word has spoken to people like us, in places like these during times worse than ours. It needs to be an entry point for our discussions.
Even in the face of continued disagreement, we must never call motive into question. That is the consensus killer. By understanding scripture in our contexts, we are engaging in body life. We are practicing the ‘One Another’s,” like, unite, defer, submit, accept, bear up, pray for, and you can take any of the 53 others. Where the Bible makes common sense, it makes no sense to seek any other sense.
Here is my list of conversational fences. Interestingly, none are about being heard.
I am sitting in an office as over 45 CRF staff are praying to their Father. The unity has been nearly palpable in this building tonight. In a room of heirs, God roams free. He is writing his words of hope, peace, strength and truth across our lives and with our words. Try saying this out loud, “There is no place where Satan’s destruction shouts louder than God’s Presence.”
Be committed to answers we find clearly marked in God’s timeless word. Pray for the rest- the rest of the answers, the rest in the disagreement, the rest of the peace, and the rest of the world disagreeing with me.
Movies are something that should never fool us. I was just fooled by one the other night. The title is Sole Survivor. Sole. As in only. In spite of this title spoiler, by around one hour and ten minutes into the film, choppers come to the rescue of the two men caught by the Taliban. Two. Guys. About to be rescued. With 50 minutes left in the film, I let my emotions celebrate for a second and BAM! the movie crushed my happy moment. It's my bad.
If you go to a horror movie about a deserted house, you can count on it not ending with the cute couple buying the house and fixing it up for their kids. Everybody but one is GOING TO DIE! Don't be fooled by the happy bonding moment or the love story. BTW... no one falls in love in a deserted house by being trapped in a closet together.
“Chick flicks,” set you up to cry. Superhero movies are designed for you to cheer. Sports films make you rout for the hero and war movies manipulate you to sadness. Don't get fooled.
Faith is like movies. There are formulas God has established and highlighted. I believe that we could potentially rename the book of Proverbs, “If You Do Stupid Things, You Can Expect Horrible Results.”
In life, if a person pets the dog, baring its teeth on a chain, or dates the girl with the rep, or tries to live their life independently of God, they should expect surprisingly consistent results. It is what it is. Don't be surprised.
Movies are guided tours through the highlights of a story. So is jealousy. I have found myself becoming jealous before, only to realize I have a sense of entitlement when it comes to your results. I am never jealous of your process, and in fact, I do not even ask what your path was. I want the good life without the sacrifice, struggle or opposition- the very pieces which created the fiber it took to succeed. I determine, based on a limited knowledge, that the life of the one I envy is more important than the life for which God has given and equipped me. Jealousy is a criticism of God himself.
We have been walking through many of 59 “One Another’s” in scripture at CRF this year. Recently, we have been spending time on the ways that we are torn apart. Envy and jealousy are one of the easiest tools Satan has in his bag.
The very second I take my eyes off of Jesus is the same moment that I find envy… waiting… lurking… causing dissatisfaction.
Galations 5:26 “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
I don’t need to watch your life with jealousy. I’m living the greater story that God has given only to me. When my life movie is played, I hope that it will be a part comedy, part feel-good, part epic and part documentary. It will only show me for a brief second, because I am not the star. All cameras should be focused on Christ. We’ll call it, “Faithful!” This way, no one will be surprised by the ending.
I was driving along I-94 heading west when I saw the sign. Actually, what I saw was the overpass with the sign on it.
The bridge itself was fairly new, constructed out of yellow brick. It felt as if someone had transplanted the structure from TCU’s beautiful campus and plopped it over the grey concrete tarmac of the Michigan highway. The sign was equally impressive. It said in beautiful, all right, attractive lettering, “Jackson, Michigan.”
Someone new to the area may have looked at the placard and thought, “I bet that’s a great town to visit.” They would have thought that until the next sign, which was one of those blue marques showing available accommodations. One hotel. Best Inn…which is doubtful.
The second told me about the restaurants at which I could dine- all fast food. Then came the second exit, which was also the last exit to Jackson, this one with another sign and another slough of fast food restaurants. McDonalds had a restaurant off both exits, exactly one mile apart. As I drove between the McDonalds, I drove past a golf pro shop that looked closed, a mall that most definitely was shuttered, and a giant beer mug announcing a casino just a few miles further down the road. I wondered if the diet coke also came in 20-foot glasses. How big were the jumbo shrimp there? What about Little Debbie’s?
Then I started thinking about the church. Aside from the fact that almost anything begins a segued trail through my mind to food, this was now the opposite. I again imagined the optimistic traveler who drove past the overstated demarcation of Jackson and its attractions. It would be a fair assumption that there was very little promise in this town.
They would drive through. They may stop at the McDonalds… but exploration, commitment and residing there for even one night would be a non-consideration.
The revelation is that I know Jackson. The signs advertise the wrong things. The town has quite a few really great reasons to stop… even frequent. There are two fantastic sushi places, a quaint coffee shop with live music, some authentic Mexican bistros, a Chicago style pizza sports bar, the Cascade Falls, a hidden bike trail, bicycle shops, a prison museum, some vibrant churches and a public park which is, frankly, surprising. There is an ice rink which happens to be a rarity in this part of Michigan. There are even more hotels, but you would have to be on a different road to see their advertisements. The first sign may be accurate after all. The second set of signs undersell and simplify what’s available. Jackson is more than two McDonalds, side by side.
Sometimes, we as followers of Jesus advertise our faith with the grandest sign, but when our friends see our lives, they think we are something they can have at any life stop. They are wrong of course, because they have never driven off the one road to see what it is about. Believers claim happiness and heaven and freedom as if it’s a Happy Meal. The truth is that some things do exist 0.1 miles off of the exit, but almost never the best things. If I am interested in the richer things, the things that really make me want to stay in Believersville are somewhat further in. This doesn’t mean we can’t gain things 0.1 miles off my straight-line approach to getting somewhere fast. It simply means that our best signs should point to the deeper, richer things. These things make me stay. They help me commit. They deepen my experience, because it’s not about making my trip go faster as it is knowing the value of the investment.
In other words, the fruits of the Spirit are not a list of things added on the dollar menu to my bathroom stop. They are instead a revelation of the person I am becoming when I choose to live here in the Jesus tribe. I commit to the person I am becoming. I commit to Jesus’ vision for my life, for sometimes a filet-o-fish is great, but it is never better than sushi.