Smoldering Wicks

Reposting this:

smoldering wickSeveral years ago, Max Lucado wrote a book entitled HE STILL MOVES STONES. Within that book, he mentioned Matthew 12:20, “ … a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench …” In that text Matthew is quoting the prophet Isaiah who is speaking of the Messiah, Jesus. The essence of that verse is simple: Jesus redeems and restores those who are bruised, battered, and bewildered by the trials of life, and breathes fresh wind to fan the dimming flame of those whose hearts are barely ignited and on the verge of losing hope, passion, and the joy of life.

Max Lucado writes, “And the smoldering wick on the candle. Is there anything closer to death than a smoldering wick? Once aflame, now flickering and failing. Still warm from yesterday’s passion, but no fire. Not yet cold but far from hot. Was it that long ago you blazed with faith? Remember how you illuminated the path? Then came the wind … the cold wind, the harsh wind. They said your ideas were foolish. They told you your dreams were too lofty. The scolded you for challenging the time-tested. The constant wind wore down upon you. Oh, you stood strong for a moment (or maybe a lifetime), but the endless blast whipped your flickering flame, leaving you one pinch away from darkness.” (He Still Moves Stones, p.16-17)

Maybe you are reading this and you’re saying to yourself, perhaps even screaming inside, “That’s me! That’s exactly how I feel.” Yet you wonder how you don’t become the wick that no longer burns. You want the flickering light at the end of a smoldering wick to be fanned into a strong and vibrant flame again.

The great news is that God loves to breath new life into that which is fading. He is the one who gives dreams and ignites vision in the heart of one who trusts Him and is willing to be used by Him. One thing that I’ve learned is that a smoldering wick can either be the result of the “cold, harsh wind” that Max writes about, or it could be due to a lack of oxygen that feeds the flame. It may just be that you’ve not been allowing God to breath new life into your dying dreams, or passions, or vision. Only in His presence will your smoldering wick be fueled by the oxygen of His grace; the grace you need to dream again and believe that He has something more for you that will burn for His glory and your good.

So to those of you who feel as though you are a smoldering wick, God is not done with you. Quite the contrary. You are in the perfect place for God to breath new life into you because “a smoldering wick He will not quench.”

GOD ONLY KNOWS

“Therefore, He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”  Hebrews 2:17-18

I needed to be reminded of this daily, and perhaps it might be a good reminder for you as well.

Jesus wasn’t made to become like us for His benefit but rather for ours.  He did not need to take on flesh so that He could understand our struggles and weaknesses.  He did not need to experience first-hand that day to day difficulties and trials that we go through in order for Him to say, “Oh, now I get it.”  He has perfect understanding.  He knows the power of sin and the slavery it brings.  He knows the destruction that sin’s wake leaves.  It is because He understands this that He came.  His coming displayed His mercy and faithfulness to a sin-separated humanity who could not satisfy the wrath of a just and holy God.  Jesus took on flesh and became like us, so that He might become the perfect, sinless sacrifice who, by laying down His life, might make all who trust in Him for the forgiveness of sin, fully alive and righteous before God.  

The writer of Romans, the apostle Paul, sums it up well regarding our condition and desperate need of a Savior when he said, “For while we were still weak (helpless and without hope), at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows His love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:6-8

Although His coming wasn’t for His benefit but ours, He did suffer what we suffer daily.  He experienced the fight and the struggle of temptation, yet without giving in to sin.  That’s the difference that made an eternal difference, and qualified Him as the acceptable sacrifice for our sin.  

When we struggle with temptation, we don’t have a God who doesn’t understand what we’re going through.  He’s not a distant or disconnected God.  He knows.  As a matter of fact, the writer of Hebrews says this:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Hebrews 4:15

The very fact that there is a God who understands and does not abandon us in our daily fight and struggle against the temptations we face, numerous and vast as they are, is beyond comforting.  The God of all heaven knows.  He gets it.  He knows your struggle with self-worth.  He knows your battle with loneliness, depression, anxiety, shame, anger, bitterness, lust, self-righteousness, greed, materialism, apathy . . . and you can list more, here: _________________.  But just as encouraging is knowing He provides us with all we need to not give in, and choose as Jesus did.  We can live like Christ, but not on our own strength.  Even Jesus, when tempted in the wilderness, was strengthened by the words of Scripture and the presence of the Holy Spirit (you can check that out in the gospel account of Luke 4).  In the same way, the promise God has given to all who place their faith in Christ is the indwelling of His Spirit, who leads us into all truth; strengthens us in our weakness; comforts us in affliction; provides a way of escape when tempted; convicts us of sin when we fall; and renews with rescuing and restoring grace. 

I pray you are encouraged today knowing that God understands where you are in your struggles, and He is more than able to help.

NO ONE BUT YOU . . .

There is nothing I need or want more than Jesus. He is the One who fills all the blanks, and gives clarity to all the questions that resonate in my heart.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:25-26

HOPE IN HURTING

As long as you are breathing, you are a candidate for being hurt and hurting.  I know because I have been hurt deeply, and I have hurt deeply.  There are moments where the hurt you bear, both what you’ve received and given, seems unbearable.  It is like a crushing weight that is suffocating, and a searing pain that doesn’t subside.

Hurting expresses itself in anger. It makes you tentative. It causes you to be untrusting. It can lead to isolation.  And hurting, unattended and not cared for well, will be wholly detrimental. 

So what do you do when you are hurting? 

1.  Admit it.  Hiding the fact that you are hurt doesn’t help heal the hurt.  You will never find healing in isolation.  Admit it to God.  Admit it to yourself.  But what I have found to be true is that there needs to be great caution with whom you share your hurt.  Brené Brown, in her book Imperfect Gifts, says there are those who can become “flying debris,” and do more harm than good.  I’ve found that to be true in my life.  But I’ve also found two or three men with whom I can share my hurts; those who have my best interest at heart and aren’t looking for something to gossip about.  They aren’t interested in the details of who has hurt me, or who I’ve hurt for that matter, but they are invested in my healing.  Healing doesn’t begin until you admit that you are hurting.  

2. Examine it.  It is important to identify why you are hurting and where you are hurting.  Ask God show you the places in your heart you may even be unaware of where hurt is hiding and growing.  It may be pain from a wound someone has caused you, or you have caused someone else, and have suppressed it deeply within the recesses of your heart.  A great book that has been extremely helpful to me is Emotionally Health Spirituality, by Peter Scazzerro.  Personally, I believe that every person should read this book.  It’s one I wish had been written 30 years earlier.  As well as reading, and working through the wisdom and practical help offered in that book, another helpful discipline I have established in my life is praying what David praying in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”  God is a much better examiner of my heart, and much more gracious in His findings, than I am.  And He knows exactly how to shepherd us through the valley of the shadow of death and into green pastures beside quiet waters.   

3. Care for it.  I can’t heal my hurt, but I know who can.  The Psalmist reminds us that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  Psalm 147:3  There is no greater care giver than God.  His heart is compassionate towards us, and His hands are skillful in bringing healing to our pain.  Charles Spurgeon said, “There are many sorts of broken hearts, and Christ is good at healing them all.” I’m finding that to be true.     

4. Release it.  Hurt that is held on to, is hurt that never heals.  There is a great quote that is often attributed to C.S. Lewis, although it is not certain that he said it.  Nonetheless, it is a great quote in which the words are absolutely true.  “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars–you have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” Moving forward doesn’t mean that you don’t feel.  But what it does mean is that you don’t allow the hurt to be a weight that pulls you down to the depths.  Forgiving those who have hurt you deeply, and asking forgiveness of those whom you have deeply hurt, is what frees you to move forward in healing and sustaining grace.

FULLY DEVOTED

Fully-DevotedI remember a time when I couldn’t wait to wake up and spend time with God in the morning.  The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school was a turning point in my relationship with God.  I had experienced the misery of fighting with and running from God much of my 9th grade year and it came to a climax in Glorieta, New Mexico.  Centerfuge camp was the last stand of my Armageddon campaign of self-rule against God.  The battle didn’t last long, and my surrender was unconditional.  God changed my life that night in Glorieta, and the days following were unlike any I had experienced before, spiritually.  I was at peace.  I was on fire.  I was fully devoted.  

But it didn’t take long before the devotion waned.  What started out as consistent reading of God’s word and spending time with God in prayer, became back-seat to other things.  My time with God was sporadic, and although not absent, it was not the priority of my life.    

It brings to mind what God told Jeremiah to tell the people of Jerusalem.  “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.  Israel was holy to the LORD, the first fruits of His harvest.  All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.”  (Jeremiah 2:2-3)

It’s as though God is saying, “I remember your devotion. You’re not devoted now, but I remember how you used to be devoted to Me before you allowed the cares of the world to overwhelm you and the idols of the world to become the pursuit of your life.  I remember how you used to love Me as a bride loves her husband; how you trusted Me in desert places where all you had was Me to lean into.   But that’s all changed now.  I’m wondering though, what did you need that I did not abundantly give you?  What of the priceless treasures found in Me, that were yours, was not enough that you felt you had to go and chase after worthless things?  What more did you think you would gain?  What pleasure did you believe you would find?  What caused you to forget all the way I led you in your dark moments, and loved you with an everlasting love?  What happened that you chose to forsake the Source of your joy and life, only to try and go it on your own; finding yourself empty, broken, and desperate?”

Maybe you’re there right now.  It could be that you are thinking, “I remember when I was devoted.  I remember when I was on fire for Christ, wanting nothing more than just to know Him and spend time with Him.  But now, in comparison to Christ, I am chasing after worthless things.  I’ve turned from the joy and life He gives, and I’m trying to go it on my own.”  But you don’t won’t to stay where you are.  So, what do you do?  

Return.  God told Israel, “Return, faithless Israel.”  In the same way, you need to return.  And here’s the promise of God for those who return to Him:  “I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful.”  (Jeremiah 3:12). That is so good!  God is merciful.  He is gracious.  He is loving.  He longs for you to return.  But returning doesn’t happen without confession and repentance.  Confessing that you have wandered and that your devotion has waned.  And repenting of sin, which is having a sincere broken heart over your sin, and in doing so turning back to Him.  

Although you may feel a thousand miles away from Him, it only takes on step of  turning back to lead you down the road of devotion.  After all, He is the Father who runs to embrace the prodigal who returns. 

At this time in my life, and only by God’s grace, I find myself devoted to Him and wanting to know Him even more.  I look forward to waking up just to spend time with Him; and not just in the morning, but experiencing His presence throughout the day.  Don’t get me wrong, the enemy fights with demonic zeal to lure my heart to chase after worthless things.  But devotion to Christ is worth fighting for, and deepening.  

So for those needing to return, turn around and take a step towards Christ.  He is gracious. He is merciful.  He is waiting.  And as you spend time with Him, trust Him, and follow after Him, you will find that your devotion will grow stronger.       

   

THE RIGHT TO BECOME CHILDREN OF GOD

child of GodIt is an act of grace that I am here on this earth. I had no say at the time I was conceived in my mother’s womb. My first breath of life was grace-induced by the goodness and sovereign grace of God, kindly revealed through my parents. I’m not here because I deserved it. I’m here because of grace.

To a much greater extent, the right to become children of God is not a right earned, it is a right given. Here’s how the gospel writer, John, speaks to this: “But to all who did receive Him (Jesus), who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12)

Each person has been created in the image of God. There is dignity and intrinsic worth, and value, in each image bearer that breathes the common grace of God. It’s common because all who have ever lived, are living, or ever will, have done nothing to give themselves the breath of life; it is an act of sovereign grace. Rosaria Butterfield, in her book The Gospel Comes With A House Key, writes, “Common grace is that kindness by God given to all of humanity—to the whole human race without distinction.” (The Gospel Comes With a House Key, p. 55)

But to become a child of God is a right that is given by God; it is an act of amazing, overwhelming, we’ve-done-nothing-to-deserve-it, incomprehensible grace that can only be received, not earned. The apostle Paul affirms this as well when he writes to the Ephesians “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

In our “rights driven” culture, there is a clear dichotomy. There are those who think everything they get must be earned (or worked for) and not received freely, and there are those who subscribe to a belief that they have a right to receive freely whatever they desire without working for it. Practically, there is high view of responsibility often expressed in an admirable work ethic (which I believe is biblical; just look at Adam’s responsibility before the Fall of mankind), but a low view of our admitting our need for community and willingly receiving with gratitude acts of grace in meeting our need. In other words, pride often gets in the way of admitting we cannot meet all our needs. With those who believe they have a right to freely receive without working for anything they desire, or even need, there is a high view of irresponsibility often manifested in laziness and entitlement, and a low view of personal responsibility. In the same way, pride gets in the way of failing to realize that we don’t deserve such grace, but rather we are entitled to all of God’s blessings with no sense of accountability for our sinfulness.

Both of these culture realities often frame a person’s view of salvation. There are some who believe that they can work for and earn their salvation, to become children of God, by simply going through the religious motions and rituals that have often been identified as being good enough to earn God’s favor. Truth is, there is nothing we can do to earn salvation or the right to be children of God. “For by grace you have been saved . . . and this is not your own doing.” Conversely, to think that salvation is automatic and your right, forfeiting any personal responsibility for your sin that separates you from a holy God, is equally false. The “God is a loving God who would not condemn anyone to Hell, therefore I’m good with God,” belief is one that denies justice. For God to be fully loving, He must be fully just. And there is nothing just about God overlooking the offense of our sins. The same is true for the hideous acts of injustice we see happening in our world. At the very core we cry for justice in this world, but expect exoneration regarding the guilt of our sin against the God who created us in His image.

So becoming a child of God is given by grace. We cannot earn our way, nor is it given apart from owning up to and confessing our sin. Only Jesus was able to do the work on the cross that could secure our salvation because only He was perfectly qualified. And only by grace do we even become aware of our fallenness due to sin, and by His grace do we respond with true repentance.

To be a child of God is a gracious gift initiated by God, and by His grace we come to receive Him and believe in Him as His adopted sons and daughters.