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.

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.

OUT OF THE DEPTHS

Many of the Psalms are attributed to David, but they could be my Psalms too.  And yours. They tell my story, and echo the resonating cries that fill the chambers of my heart.  

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!” Psalm 130:1

Been there.  And it has felt deep because it was deep.  That’s where sin drags you–to the depths of its dark ocean.  Sin doesn’t allow you to float on the surface; it is like a whirlpool, or a tumultuous undertow, that you can’t withstand.  And that’s where David was at times; it’s where we all find ourselves on occasion.  Lest we think it’s the “big” sins that drag us under, don’t forget it was six relatively small holes that filled six compartments of the Titanic’s hull that led to its sinking in just over two hours.  All sin leads to sinking, which is why we all need rescue because we all have sinned. (Romans 3:23)

When we find ourselves sinking, our only hope is to cry out for rescue.

“O Lord, hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” Psalm 130:2

There’s desperation in David’s cry.  But that makes sense, right?  There’s always a desperate cry when a person recognizes they are in a hopeless situation.

When I was in college, a group of friends and I were doing a concert in northern Arkansas.  We had some free time prior to our rehearsal and sound check so we decided to go canoeing on a creek that emptied into the White River.  The float was uneventful; no rapids and nothing difficult.  It was just an easy trip with some good friends.  

After finishing the float, and while we were waiting on someone to pick us up, we saw three whirlpools formed by fast flowing water feeding into some large ribbed pipes that went under a wide-concrete road that went across the creek.  There was ankle-deep water covering the road, but the creek water fed through the pipes coming out the other side and continued on, eventually connecting with the White River.  For some reason we were fascinated by these whirlpools, and began to throw things in them and watched them be taken under.  Stupid fun, until I got to close to the edge of the moss-laden road and slipped into the creek.  I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but remember the three large ribbed pipes where all the fast flowing water was converging?  As soon as I fell in, I was immediately swept into one of the pipes and instinctively wrapped my arms around the top of the exposed ribbed pipe, clinging for life.  The water was fairly deep, but what made this so treacherous was the water flowing through the concentrated area of the pipe.  The water was so powerful that I couldn’t move.  I had already taken off the life-jacket, so my chest was pressed up against the pipe, cutting my chest and making it hard for me to breath.  From mid-chest down, I was in the pipe.  Because of the pressure against my chest, I couldn’t even cry out for help.  Slipping into the creek happened so quickly that none of my friends saw me, until one turned around and saw me sucked three-quarters of the way into a drainage pipe.  Fortunately he screamed to the others, and as they came over to help I finally had managed to get one leg from the pipe (I’m convinced that I had a guardian angel with scuba gear on that did some stellar work).  While they were grabbing the back of my swimsuit (which gave me the worst wedgie I’ve ever sustained . . .and didn’t mind at the time), and my arms and pulling me up, someone had called a park ranger.  After being rescued, and shaking from fear and exhaustion, the ranger came over to see if I needed any medical attention.  It was then that he informed us that if I had gone into the pipe, I would not have come out on the other side due to a welded metal grate inside the pipe.  It was a desperate situation; even more than I knew at the time. I was trying to cry out for help and fortunately, by God’s grace, my friends saw my dire circumstance and came to my rescue.

Only those who recognize their situation as desperate, cry out desperately to God for help.  Just ask the children of Israel when they were enslaved by Egypt.  Or Jonah. Or a multitude of others we read about in the Scriptures.  

God’s ears are always attentive, and His response is always full of mercy, to those who cry out to Him.  Many a person have allowed the pride of their life be the death-weights that led to the sinking death of their soul.  Crying out for mercy is not a weak thing to do, it’s the wise thing to do when you recognize the weight of sin and the dire consequences that ensue.  

The great news is that God’s mercy is not a one-time offer.  His mercies are new every morning.  “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23

Not only is God merciful, but He offers forgiveness of sin and full redemption to all who cry out to Him and turn from sin.  Against God’s righteous and Holy standard, not one of us could stand because of our sinfulness.  

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130:3

But because He is good and gracious, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. (Romans 8:1)  In other words, Jesus took the weight of all our sin so that we could, by placing our full trust in Him for salvation, be set free from the death-penalty of sin.  Such is grace to all who cry out to God.   

“For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him there is plentiful redemption.” Psalm 130:7

His steadfast love and plentiful redemption are more than enough, and all I, as well as you, will ever need.  

KICK THE CAN

diy-can-for-kick-the-can-gameWhen I was a kid, summer afternoons and evenings were when our neighborhood came to life.  It was a day when the only time spent inside the house was to eat a meal.  There were no smart phones to waste time on, no video games (outside a pixelated Pac-Man or Frogger on the Atari 2600), and no Netflix.  From morning until dark there was always something to do:  ride bikes; play football or baseball in the field just down the street; for my Fort Worth friends, it may have been intense games of two-square; or, wait for it . . . a game of Kick the Can.  Best game ever.  We would play that, literally, for hours.

If you don’t know about the epic game of Kick the Can, you seriously were deprived as a kid.  But for those of you who have played it, I’m guessing there is a sense of nostalgia stirring at even the mention.

It’s a lot like hide and seek, but with a twist.  You have a person who is “It” (not the clown, by the way), who is supposed to guard the empty Folger’s coffee can.  (Just a side note if you decide to play: make sure that the coffee can is empty before you use it.  Not saying that I would know anything about that though). The person who is “it” would count to 50, and all who were playing (the more people, the better) would go and hide—behind trees, cars, bushes, the neighbor’s St. Bernard, wherever.  The point of the game was to try and kick the can before the person who was “it” could run back to the can and say, “1-2-3 I see (your name goes here).”  And if you were caught, you were captured until someone kicked the can to free you.  There were a couple of rules:  1) if you were “it,” you couldn’t be closer than 10’ to the can.  2) if you broke rule #1, we kicked you instead of the can.

I’m kidding.  But rule #1 was legit.

Over time, we had to modify the rules a bit because of . . . Alan.  Alan didn’t play fair.  He was notorious for staying too close to the can, which made it virtually impossible for us to run from our hiding place to kick the can.  So, I came up with some strategies that were specifically implemented whenever Alan was “it.”

• Strategy #1:  Get several people with you to hide in the same place, and then rush the can in a group.  Alan never had a chance.

• Strategy #2:  Have several people rush from different directions at the same time.  Alan cried one time because of this.  I feel bad about it now.

• Strategy #3:  Have the friend who came over to stay the night, and who Alan didn’t know, rush the can.  You can’t get a person out, if you can’t call their name.  Brilliant.

After using all my strategies, we had to modify the rules again.  But it was fun while it lasted.

To kick the can was a big deal, because there were always people who were captured and needed to be set free.  In order to be successful you had to have good timing.  You had to be fast, which always helped if you had new tennis shoes.  We all run faster with new tennis shoes.  You had to be strategic (see above).  And you had to take risks.  Rushing the can in order to free the captives was not for the faint of heart.

The reward for kicking the can?  There was a lot of celebration by those set free.

Looking back, though, Kick the Can reminds me of something bigger.  The truth is that all of humanity was once held captive because of sin. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He (Jesus) Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Hebrews 2:14-15.

All of us were once held captive, because of sin, by our enemy, the devil.  He guarded the “can” of sin and death.  There was no hope for release from our bondage.  But God being rich in mercy sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly laid down His life by dying on the cross to set us free from sin and death.  Jesus has kicked the can of sin and death, by way of His crucifixion and resurrection, and has made a way for those bound by sin to be set free.  The prophet Isaiah said that Jesus would set captives free, and open the prison to those who were bound in sin.  The apostle Paul wrote, “He (God) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.”  Colossians 1:13

Some of you who are reading this are still captive because of your sin.  The great news, though, is that Jesus has made a way for you to be set free.  You can’t free yourself.  You need a Savior; One who has kicked the can of sin and death.  And the way that you find true life and freedom is by turning from sin and turning to Jesus.  I’d love to talk with you about that if you’d like to know more.

Here’s why this is so important:  this is not a game.  This is reality that is affecting your life now, and will for all eternity.

For those who have trusted Jesus as Savior, and are following Him faithfully, we are called to go to those who are held captive still.  We need to realize that there are those around us who need to hear the great news of Jesus, and how He has made a way for us to have life, be forgiven, and set free.   We need to have a sense of urgency in telling our family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and others because life is like a vapor.  We need to be strategic.  And we need to take risks.  You might risk your reputation; you might risk a job promotion; you might risk being criticized or mocked.  Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are risking their very lives.  And some have lost them for the sake of this gospel hope.  This is a hostile culture when it comes to making much of Jesus and what He has done for us.  But the risk is far less than the reward.

The enemy is still trying to keep captive those who do not yet know Jesus.  I hope you’ll join me in taking risks to go and kick the can, but it’s not for the faint of heart.    

      

CULTURE IN CHAOS: LIVING IN A POST-TRUTH WORLD

post truth imageThis afternoon I came across this video on an NBC news site, and although not shocking it did greatly grieve my heart. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfzL8BrNSLQ) A similar story of Drag Queen Story Hour at a New York City is equally disturbing. (https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/drag-queen-story-hour-at-nyc-library) It is sad. It is foolish. And even though it seems utopic, it is destructive. I truly do feel sad for these children, and the parents of these kids. Sadly, we don’t need to wait to determine how this will turn out. Time will tell the same tale of those who have suppressed the truth because they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened: it will be chaotic, not utopic.

A person’s worth and identity is not determined by the acceptance of others. All who are seeking gender neutrality so as to find common ground, equality, and dignity are creating a false reality. Our bodies attest to this, which is why some are choosing not to reveal their biological gender to their children because to do so would be an admission of that which is absolutely true. To deny who we are by God’s sovereign design is to reject true dignity, worth, value and identity. Because we are a fallen humanity, marred by sin, there will never be a place where everyone is fully accepted, with no stereotypes or prejudices this side of heaven. That sounds so insensitive and fatalistic, but thus is the result of the curse of sin; which all the more makes the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ so incredibly life-giving and full of grace and hope.

In Romans 1:18, the apostle Paul mentions those who “suppress the truth.” A people who suppress the truth will become a people who are unbridled in their sin. By suppressing truth, Paul is referring to those who refuse to acknowledge God and His ways. When a person refuses to acknowledge God, it is to numb the conscience of their mind and ignore the longing of their soul so that they might live as if there is no God. To live as if there is no God, is to live with no sense of accountability to the truth of God. Regardless, a person’s choice to not believe in God or to not follow the ways of God does not negate the truth that God does exist and His ways are true. The truth does not hinge on our opinion.

But again, it is no surprise that truth has become relative. In 2016, Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year was “post-truth.” It is defined as this: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In other words, regardless of the facts, biological realities, common sense, or anything else that may be empirically evident, our culture would say truth is determined by how a person feels or what a person wants to believe. Incidentally, there are some who profess to be Christians who are walking lock-step with culture regarding this flawed definition of truth, as opposed to clinging to the timeless truth of Scripture as the reference point from which our worldview should be shaped.

So what is our response as followers of Jesus? How should the Church respond to a “post-truth” culture?

As the Church, our desire should be that we become a people who, transformed by the grace and hope of the gospel in Christ Jesus, love all people regardless of their choices. It does not mean we condone or celebrate their choices. As the apostle Paul would say, “May it never be!” Rosaria Butterfield said it well when she wrote in her book “The Gospel Comes with A House Key,” that as believers we are called to sit with sinners but not sin with sinners. What that means is that we are willing to step into uncomfortable situations and engage in meaningful conversations for the purpose of making much of Jesus and the hope that is found in Him. If we as the body of Christ, those who are true believers and not “cultural Christians,” do not press into what is taking place in our culture, we will be like those who pave roads over a treacherous cliff. Our burden for those who reject the truth of God should be as heavy as that described by Charles Spurgeon: “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

May we, as followers of Jesus, pray instead of criticize; speak words of truth in love and immersed in grace; be uncompromising, yet engaging. And may all we do point to Christ and the hope of His gospel. It is our only hope, and the only hope for this world.

Expectant Hope

hopeEveryone needs hope. As a matter of fact, hope is essential for the human condition. It is as much needed for the soul as air is for the body.

There’s hope, though, and then there is expectant hope. You may be asking, “What’s the difference? Isn’t hope, hope?” When you have a sense of hope, you’re holding out that something could happen, but it may not. It reminds of the scene from “Dumb and Dumber,” where Lloyd asks Mary, “What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?” Mary’s answer is “one in a million.” To which Lloyd responds, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!” That’s hope.

But for those who truly put their faith in God, there is expectant hope which means that it is without a doubt, one-hundred percent, absolutely certain to be fulfilled. We can expect that the hope we have in God will never disappoint.

Read what King David said in Psalm 40:1-3: “I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.” There is a sense of expectant hope from David and an unwavering trust in the One in whom his hope rests. David waited patiently for the Lord, which implies that he knew that God would show up and rescue him from his place of deep need.

He is the God who bends His knee to listen with understanding the cries of His children. These aren’t selfish cries of “why me!?!,” but cries of humble dependence upon the only One who can save us from that which surrounds us on all sides. For David, it was the pit of destruction and miry bog.

While in this circumstance of life that felt like a deep pit that offered no hope of life; a place where David felt as though he was stuck with no hope of getting out; he cried and he waited because he was certain of two things: God hears and God rescues. So David cried, and God listened. David waited, and God rescued.

I’ve found that my tendency is to cry out to things that cannot hear, and wait for a rescuer who never comes. It’s as though the deep cries of my heart echo off the walls of the pit I’ve often dug, resonating with hopelessness. I become exhausted at the futile attempts to free myself from the miry bog that holds me captive. Instead of crying out to God and waiting patiently for Him to bend His knee, I just cry. Or complain. Or call out to those who have good intentions but are not God. Or I just try to figure it out myself and end up exhausted and deeper in a miry pit … Stuck.  Maybe you can relate.

What this Psalm speaks is the truth that our hope in God never disappoints. When David puts pen to papyrus he is often unfiltered and raw. But as he process his pain through the unwavering truth of who God is, he always comes to the hopeful resolve that God is a good God who hears, rescues, and if that weren’t enough, He restores.

“(God) set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:2b-3

Here is the deep grace of God that we may never fully understand this side of heaven, but with great joy can receive in humility: the God who upholds the universe by the word of His power; who has shaped us in His image and breathed His life into us; who has loved us so much that He would hear our cry and rescue us from the pit; He displays His grace by giving us security. He puts a song worth singing in our hearts that resounds His glory, and He gives us a captivating story that makes His Son, our rescuer, the focus.

This is the expectant hope for all who place their hope in Christ.