Random Thoughts May Not Be So Random

Have you ever had a random thought like, “I wonder how my friend, _________ (fill in the name) is doing.” “I should give her a call.” “I should text him.” “I should write her a personal note and mail it to her.” “I should send him an email just to say hello and see how he’s doing.” “I should post something encouraging on her Facebook page.”

Random thoughts. We all get them from time to time. Sometimes, however, those random thoughts may not be so random. They may be impressions from the Lord because someone we know is in need of being loved, connected with, and cared for.

I was that person on June 18th. It was Father’s Day. A day when my kids reach out to let me know what a great dad (at least in my mind) I’ve been, and when my wife tells me how thankful she is that I’ve been a good Dad for our kids. It’s a day when I feel especially loved, appreciated, and valued. At least that’s the way Father’s Day usually feels to me. Not so this year. This year I woke up to find myself in the pit of despair.

The pit of despair can be a place of frustration and hopelessness. I won’t go into all the reasons why I found myself there on a day that’s supposed to be “my day” to do whatever fun thing I wanted to do—go eat at a restaurant of my choosing, go to a movie I want to see, and even receive accolades for my amazing parenting. But I was there in that place of despair. I was in such a dark place that I did not even go to church. I just didn’t want to try to fake it when people came up to me to say hello and ask how I was doing.

So I stayed home while Debi went to church. But I was not alone. God was with me. And he saw me. He saw the place I was in emotionally. And he loved me. No, I mean it. Really. Experientially. He loved me. In fact, he sent me three messengers through whom I experienced his love for me.

The first was my wife, Debi. She was just with me that day. She knew I was in the pit, but she did not try to fix me. Deb was just willing to be with me. She did not try to reason me out of the pit of despair. She was just there loving me, listening to me, and being patient with me. She practiced the ministry of presence, and the ministry of her presence with me, and of God’s presence flowing in and through her to me, was powerful and had effect on my heart.

Then, a mutual friend, Tara Mabry, sent me an unanticipated note on Facebook thanking me for my friendship with she and her husband, my good friend, Bob. She thanked me for my ministry through the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARC) network and reminded me what a blessing that network had been in there lives.

Finally, the third messenger, Michelle King, sent me an unexpected text. She thanked me for how I loved she and her husband, my dear friend, Jeremey, and their two children. She reminded me what a blessing I was to them.

The ministry of presence and two unexpected, unanticipated notes from friends who had had a “random thought” to reach out to me on Father’s Day had a significant impact on my hurting heart. I wasn’t their father. There was no reason for them to reach out to me on Father’s Day. But they did. And because they did I experienced God’s love for me that day. And I needed that. I needed an experience of God’s love, not just an intellectual or theological reminder that he loves me.

Random thoughts—they may not be so random after all. Listen more closely to the random thoughts you have this week, next week, and in the weeks to come. Take a risk and act on those thoughts that are in line with God’s nature and God’s will. They may just be random thoughts, but then again, they might not.

By the way, do you find it as interesting as I do that on Father’s Day 2018 when I was in the pit of despair, God sent three women to be the ones through whom I experienced his encouraging and healing love? You’re funny, Father! Thanks ladies for acting on those random thoughts. It made a huge difference for me just when I needed one.

 

Like Thirsty Ground

Recently, I was meeting with the Lord in his Word in a passage that spoke about water disappearing into thirsty ground.

The water does not disappear into the ground here in Phoenix, or in many other places in the Southwest. In Minnesota, where Debi and I lived previously, a good rain would soak into the ground, producing a lush, green lawn and beautiful flowers and plants in our back yard. Not here in Phoenix.

Instead, when it rains here the water collects on the surface and creates ponds where there was a soccer field or baseball diamond. Why? Because we have a layer below the surface of our soil called Caliche. Caliche is a layer in which the soil particles have been cemented together by lime (calcium carbonate, CaCO3).

Caliche presents two problems for soil. First, it can be so tight that roots cannot penetrate through it. The result is that plants and trees only have the soil above the Caliche to use as a source for stability, nutrients, and water. The second problem is that Caliche reduces the movement and penetration of water more deeply into the soil.

It struck me this morning that our hearts and our minds can be like Caliche. A heart or mind can be hardened that they do not allow the cool, refreshing water that is truth, particularly truth as revealed in the Word of the Lord to seep deeply into our lives.

Instead, the Word of the Lord simply washes over and off of us. We may intellectually acknowledge it and perhaps, even thank someone who has just preached a sermon or taught a bible study or shared a testimony for the great job they did. All the while, walking away with an unchanged life.

So, here’s my prayer this morning. Perhaps you want to join me in praying it for your life too, or, for someone near and dear to your heart.

“Lord, in your grace and mercy, make my heart and my mind like thirsty ground for the cool, refreshing water of your presence, and for truth as revealed in your Word. Break up any Caliche, any hardness, in my heart and in my mind that hinders me from being like thirsty ground that easily receives refreshing water. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Suddenly

I’fullsizerender1m meeting with the Lord in John 20:19-23 this morning. Verse 19 says, “Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them.” God’s “suddenly” seems to happen just when we need it to. It seems that suddenly we are aware of his presence. Suddenly, his power and provision impact our life. Suddenly, he intervenes in our life or the life of someone we love. Suddenly. The Lord’s suddenly may seem like a long time in coming, but it seems to come at just the right time.

Suddenly, Jesus is present with the disciples, but he is not only present, he has a word for them; a word that imparts hope and peace, a word that they can hang on to. Jesus is with them, he has a word for them, and he also has a presence and power to give them. “Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (v. 22). And thus Jesus sends them out into the world, even as the Father sent him into the world.

May God’s “suddenly” be yours and mine today, and if not today, at just the right time that he knows we will need it. May God bless us with a tangible sense of his presence; bless us with a word of hope and encouragement, of direction and discernment. And may he fill us, and release in and through us, Holy Spirit’s empowering presence.

Lord, do whatever you need to do in us today so that you can do whatever you want to do through us. Fill our mouths with words of wisdom, authority, and blessing. Use our hearts to impart your Father-heart oh God. Make our hands, hands of fire for Kingdom purposes. Suddenly, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen!

Focus Like Jesus

People persist in wanting to know who to blame. We go on and on about whose fault it is, talking endlefullsizerender1ssly, often foolishly. Jesus brushes such talk aside (see the story of the man born blind in John 9). Instead, he focuses on what needs to be done, what can be done. He points to the work God can do in and through us for good, even in a situation that may seem hopeless, even impossible to some.

Father God, may this be the case in my country this year. Please set us free from this obsession to assign blame and fuel our passion and direct our strengths and giftedness to work together to effect change that releases your love and kindness, your provision and healing to all in need. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Recasting Repentance

“Repentance from the beginning of time to the present hour has been, and remains, the most positive word from the heart of God!”

– Henry T. Blackaby,

What do you feel when you hear the word repentance? Not what do you think, but what do you feel? Many people feel an immediate resistance, others an oppressive weight. Most feel 375944_4627012278560_203917556_nsomething negative. The call to repent is not heard as a loving invitation, but rather as an angry and judgmental summons. When this is what people feel or hear, is it any wonder they refuse and resist any call to repent? Is it any wonder they rationalize and justify continuing to live a life that settles for less rather than exercising a gift that could help turn their lives around for the good?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can recast and retool how we think of this biblical truth in such a way that it becomes something we actually hunger for, and ask God to give us.

Rather than continuing to stubbornly call for repentance in a negative, heavy-handed manner, a safe-place people will attempt to find new ways to communicate what repentance is in order to help people not only hear and receive that word, but to willingly respond to it. Following are a few thoughts on how we might recast our understanding of repentance and walk in the refreshing and restoration it offers to us all.

Spiritual Air Cleaner or Plow?

I’m not certain which word picture for repentance I prefer most: air cleaner or plow. It may be the former because an air cleaner cleanses the air and that is of particular importance to me as one whose family suffers from a genetic disease that affects the lungs. An air cleaner removes toxins that harm our bodies and prevent us from breathing as deeply and easily as we otherwise might. Repentance can do the same thing for us emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. On the other hand, my heart can be really hard sometimes and needs to be plowed up so I can more easily receive the seed of truth God wants to plant there, truth that will enable me to experience and live life to its fullest. Air cleaner or plow. Both speak to needs in my life.

My wife and I run an air cleaner in our bedroom at night. It provides some white noise that we like while we’re sleeping but more importantly it cleanses the air. The primary benefit of running it is an increased ability to breathe more easily. Various reports estimate that indoor air pollutants directly cause or worsen nearly half of all major health problems. Removal of harmful materials in the air can prevent colds, asthma, headaches and allergic irritation of the nose and eyes, among other maladies.

In the same way, just as an air cleaner cleanses the air, repentance can cleanse the atmosphere in which we live. Just as what’s in the air can affect us physically, there is an emotional, relational, and spiritual atmosphere that can impact us as well—for the good or not. There is an atmosphere we breathe in that can help us thrive and flourish as followers of Christ, and there is an atmosphere that can weaken and eventually quench our passion and faith. The latter is polluted air, air filled with particles that are harmful to us, ways of thinking, speaking, and behaving that hinder a life of growing in faith. When that’s the case we need a spiritual air cleaner, we need God’s gift of repentance. We need his grace and enabling power to turn away from those things and turn to the Lord.

God’s gift of repentance is not only something to be experienced and applied in our own lives, but also in our relationships with others. Unfortunately there are times when relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ are tested and may even come to a point where they are torn apart. This can happen between churches also. This has to grieve Father God doesn’t it? I hate it when my own kids are not getting along. It breaks my heart. If this is true for me, how much must it be for our Heavenly Father? When this is the case, the tension, mistrust, accusations, and tearing apart between Christian brothers and sisters needs to be cleansed so that reconciliation and restoration of those broken relationships can be experienced wherever and whenever possible. Repentance can enable both removal of relational toxins from the air, and reconciliation between people and churches to take place.

A few years ago I was privileged to speak and minister at a theological conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was preaching the message “What’s In the Air Makes a Difference.” At one point I shared a word picture of how God can cleanse the air even when we’ve polluted it through sins of gossip, false accusations, pride, jealousy, and miscommunication between one another, and how exercising the Lord’s gift of repentance, along with confession and forgiveness, can affect what’s in the air for the good. Before I knew it someone got up and went over to another person. Then another. Then more. People were going to one another, confessing their sin to each other and in prayer were repenting of their sin against one another. As this was happening one of the leaders of the Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church of Ethiopia approached me with a big grin on his face and said, “Now brother, Michael, the air is clean!”

A spiritual air cleaner is one way to picture the helpful affects of repentance in our lives. A plow is another. Hosea 10:12 says, “I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (NLT). The Hebrew word shub is used over one hundred times in the book of Jeremiah alone and dominates the language of repentance in the Old Testament. It means to change a course of action, to turn away, turn back, or to make a complete about-turn (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Grace of Repentance).

There are times in life when that is just what we need, a complete about-face. Our lives are headed for a cliff and we need to turn around. It’s in moments such as those that repentance is the best gift God could give to us—if we will only receive it and act on it. The gift of repentance can plow up the heart made hard by stubborn willfulness, unbelief, cynicism, skepticism, and pain. Repentance is a good gift from God. It purifies the air we breathe and plows up our hard hearts so we can live fully into the purposes of God for our lives (see John 10:10). Without repentance we will live lives that settle for less.

The Doorway to Your Future

The doorway to your future: This may be the most effective word picture for me personally in regards to what repentance it is. The thought that there is a doorway I can step through into a life of purpose, significance, and love is really appealing to me. It draws me, woos me. It paints a different picture of what repentance is and what its affects on my life can be. It makes me want to repent.

Graeme Sellers speaks to this in his book The Dangerous Kind, as he looks at the role of repentance in the life of the prophet Isaiah. In chapter six of the book of Isaiah we read the story of his becoming conscious of the presence of sin in his life. Isaiah’s response to this revelation is not to run or hide or deny. He does not attempt to rationalize or justify his sin with spiritual-sounding language. Instead of stubbornly standing his ground, he gives ground and kneels before the living God. As Sellers notes “Repentance proves to be the antidote for the lethal venom of Isaiah’s sin. Isaiah’s first move is the best move; it sets him up for the future God has appointed for him. What makes him so dangerous is not that he was the last man standing but that he was the first man kneeling.” And he continues “The one who kneels first wins because repentance is the entryway to God’s rest, where the best of who he is and what he has for us can be tasted and experienced.”

Reading that, and viewing repentance as the doorway to a future full of purpose, significance, and love makes me want to repent. It stirs a desire within me rather than placing a burden on me. It compels me to ask God to bring to the surface any secret sin hidden deep within me so I can confess it and repent from it. I am at a point in life where I yearn to get rid of anything that stands in the way of me experiencing a future full of hope and life (see Jeremiah 29:11–13). My heart-cry to the Lord is: God, in your mercy, please grant me the gift of repentance that I might step through its doorway into your preferred future for my life.

Praying for the Gift of Repentance

In closing, let’s not merely talk or read about repentance, let’s do it. Let’s repent. Why not take some time right now to pray and to repent before the Lord as needed? Perhaps the following thoughts can help you turn to the Lord and away from anything hindering you from stepping through the doorway of your future.

“Dear Heavenly Father, I do not want to settle for anything less than all you have for me. I want you to do whatever you need to do in me so that you can do whatever you want to do through me. God, in your mercy, please grant me the gift of repentance. Stir in me a desire to acknowledge and repent of any thought, word, or deed that separates me from anyone, most especially from you. Bring to the surface anything and everything in me that grieves your heart and is toxic for my life. Plow up the hardness of my heart. Purify the atmosphere of my life. Lord, I long to receive your gift of repentance that I might step through its doorway into your preferred future for my life. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen!”

After praying something like this, just be silent for a few moments. Be silent and listen. Listen for whatever God may bring to mind and as he does then simply pray and pray simply: “Lord, I repent of _____________________________________ (fill in the blank).” After you do this, be aware that what God says is the truest thing in our lives. And what he has said is that, “If we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Based on this word of truth and promise from God, thank him for his forgiveness and cleansing work in your life.

Repentance is something good. It is not negative, heavy-handed, or legalistic—unless we foolishly present it that way. As Sellers writes, “Repentance is release and it is God’s word of hope set against all destroying words of our enemy. When Satan’s sly, savage whispers assault our hearts with accusations of being disqualified and a disappointment to God, the Word over all words declares these dark words null and void.”

Any individual or church who longs to be a safe place will seek God’s help to recast, retool, and communicate repentance as a gift from God to be welcomed and received, a gift that is an essential element in his transforming work in our lives. A safe-place people love to repent and love to invite others to repent as well so that together we can step through the doorway into God’s future for our lives.