"Yahweh" by Acacia

Gaze, I want to Gaze at You...Soak, soak in all You do
Sit so simply at Your feet...Listen to Your voice so sweet
So let time pass away as I simply praise

Chorus:
Yahweh, my Lord I cry
Jehovah Elyon, the Lord Most High
And with my hands I raise, my knees, they fall
As I simply praise, Jehovah

Cry as I see Your blood stains, overwhelmed as I see Your pain
And I'll dance, dance, dance because I am set free
You are my conqueror, Jehovah Nissi
And let time pass away as I simply praise

Bridge: 
Do I believe that You're my God?
That You're all I need, that you're all I need?
Do I believe that You'll sit down and be crowned my king for eternity?

 

Dr. Arthur Gonsalves: A Calling for Community

In the past two years, Dr. Arthur “Chip” Gonsalves has bought a church for an evolving community organization, rehabilitated a 50,000 square foot building in downtown Lowell, purchased a Belmont Avenue home known as the “castle,” and with wife Crystal, adopted two children. Additionally, as a vascular surgeon, he maintains a full medical practice and is on call every other day and weekend.

How To Be Grateful

In II Corinthians 4 Paul is explaining to a group of people who he knows well and loves his heart for the gospel, his ministry and for them. He walks them through why he does what he does and what he has gone through up until then to live his life of ministry. Then, in verse 15 he says “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” The great thing about this verse, and the thing that I find so powerful is the relationship between the words “grace” and “giving of thanks”. Those words/ phrases are “charis” and “eucharistian” respectively. Notice how the word for “giving thanks” or perhaps more accurately “gratitude” is built around the word for “grace”. There is no gratitude without grace.

Let’s say you have a part-time job where you sell widgets. Let’s say you make $12 an hour selling widgets. After working 10 hours and selling lots of widgets you are owed (before taxes) exactly $120 (yes, I excel at math). When you get your check for $120 are you overwhelmed by a striking sense of gratitude that you can’t get over? No. Of course not. You earned every dollar. You sold lots of widgets and you were owed that money. There is no grace involved there. When a child is given a video game are they forever marked by a lifestyle of deep abiding gratitude? No again. The average child has a certain sense that their parents will give them things, so while they do appreciate said video game, the game probably won’t change their entire outlook on life. Why? There is no grace there. 

Allow me to (re)introduce you to a character in a play named Jean Valjean. He is the main character for the beginning of Les Miserable. He, though living in a broken system is undeniably a criminal. Perhaps you would say the socio-economic system Jean finds himself in during the early 1800’s in France is the most criminal thing and as the storyline plays out most would agree with you, however Jean is a criminal none the less. After spending many years in prison he is released and he finds solace in a church and from a Bishop. After the Bishop extends kindness to Jean via a meal and a place to sleep Jean leaves in the middle of the night, but not before stealing much of the church’s valuables. As Jean was fleeing the town with his loot he is stopped by a group of soldiers and questioned. They return him to the church in the morning just as the nuns are bemoans the bishops kindness and perceived naivety. After the soldiers drag him through the front door, opposite the door in the back of the church he left through the night before, the bishop, in front of the soldiers scolds Jean for forgetting the silver candlesticks and encourages him to enter and exit through the front door from now on as it will never be locked. Jean Valjean’s life is never the same again. He is a changed man. Why? There is grace there.

God’s grace is breathtaking. It is awe-inspiring and inexplicable. Yet, we get used to it. Let me say that one more time, and this time really process it. We are used to God’s grace. The fact that God, in all his infinite wisdom and omnipotence looks down at us and lovingly extends grace should leave us all feeling a deep abiding sense of gratitude. God gives “charis” and our response should be a life marked by “eucharistian”, because where there is grace, there should be gratitude.

Download The "How To Be Grateful Journal

Holy Spirit

Before I met my wife in person, we had a long distance relationship for quite a while. The long emails, daily text messages, and late night talks over the phone was all we had–until we finally met in person. I remember seeing her for the first time and I was almost speechless (which says a lot for my temperament). But what if our relationship stayed in email, text, and phone call form? Our beautiful daughter wouldn’t exist and neither would our son on the way. In fact, there wouldn’t be any real intimacy between us. It would just be a limited and lifeless relationship. We’d miss out on so much of each other and definitely wouldn’t be as close as we are. When I hear someone say, “relationship with God,” it can be even more of a struggle to wonder how that would work out. Is Jesus going to pick me up for dinner and a movie or something? Is he going to sit and have tea with me… or does he like coffee instead? How does God have a “relationship with us?” Does He even want to be close? Being that He sees all and knows all, He has to know how much of a mess I am… and I don't think He wants anything to do with someone like me. Truth is, He wants closeness with us–yes, in all of our mess. This relationship God desires with us is much like that of a husband and wife. In fact, marriage is but a divine metaphor for us to have a glimpse into the kind of thing God wants with us.

Unmistakably, the most famous verse in the whole bible is found in the gospel of John. In John 3:16, it strongly says that God is so in love with people that He sent His only Son, to rescue us from death itself, and give us eternal life. The next verse is not as popular, but just as powerful. It says that God didn’t send His Son to condemn the world, but to save it. I would personally think that the God who created this world, would show up in a different way… maybe like the landlord who visits his tenants to find they trashed his place…. aaaaannnnddddd the eviction notice follows. But God does something much different. In John 3:1-21, Jesus has a conversation with a Jewish leader, an authority on God’s word at the time, named Nicodemus.

Impressed with Jesus’ teaching and living example, Nicodemus comes to him at night (perhaps to be discreet) acknowledging and affirming that Jesus is a “teacher from God.” He tells Jesus, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God, because no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” And Jesus replies, “No one can even see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Nicodemus struggled with this phrase “born again” and asked “how can a grown man crawl in his mothers belly and be born another time?” Which Jesus then tells him that isn’t the case. He further explains this is a spiritual birth he’s describing, made possible by The Spirit of God, bringing someone into The Kingdom of God. This phrase Jesus uses, “The Kingdom of God,” is speaking of the governing rule of God as King over His domain. It’s the reign of God as rightful King of our hearts–so our lives reflect His essence, greatness, and goodness. No one comes under this governing rule unless they are spiritually reborn. After Jesus further attempts to explain these things, Nicodemus seems to have even more trouble and says “how can these things be?” And Jesus, asks him “how are you a teacher in Israel and not understand this?”

God had made so many promises to His people that describe this, and Nicodemus would have known them all. One of them is in Ezekiel 36:26-27. Here, God is promising to give His people “a new heart and a new spirit” (like a building “under new management”). He vowed to actually put His Spirit inside of them; that they would know and respect His ways–and actually keep them. This promise is pretty radical in contrast of the condition his people were in. They had totally rebelled against God, and ripped apart the beautiful masterpiece–His beautiful creation. They had wasted their God shaped affections on other things, attempting to replace God with stuff that could never compare to Him… they just wouldn’t seem to be candidates of this kind of Divine endearment (like us). Yet God wants to be near them (like us). So close that He wants total union. A union that He describes will turn their course and put their lives right side up. These kinds of affections from God, The faithful lover of the unfaithful lover, are seen all throughout the law and prophets Nicodemus knew so well. What Jesus was pointing to shouldn’t have been completely unfamiliar to him. After all, as a jew, and a Pharisee at that, he probably memorized Gods word by the time he was 12 years old.

But Nicodemus had trouble with it. So Jesus continues on to explain that God was in love with the world and sent His son, not to reprimand it, but to rescue it. In this, is a beautiful mystery; God is calling us closer. He’s not a God that is far away, He is a God within reach. He wants to be closer to us than anything else and He will pay any price needed to do so. He will not hold back on anything that would bring us together. He wants to be a part of every moment of every day of our lives. Not to be a critique or criticize our every word thought and deed and make us feel crumby. Not to be a party pooper and ruin our fun and our lives. But to be our all and all and the greatest joy we have ever known–giving us life in it’s fullest measure. To give us Himself in full measure. He want’s to be close. He wants His Spirit to be inside of us. To be there, in person, in our enjoyment of a meal. To walk with us through the park on a fall afternoon enjoying foliage. To be there with us at school, helping us though a test. To be with us at our jobs, helping us through a hard day at work. To with us watching a movie (and maybe to lead us away from watching that other movie).

There is so much to say about all the Holy Spirit does. But we first must know that He is a person. He is God; the person of God making a union with God possible. He makes a relationship with God tangible. He is a person with feelings, emotions, and desires. In the book “The Person and Work of The Holy Spirit,” R.A. Torrey well says:

“Before one can correctly understand the work of the Holy Spirit, he must first of all know the Spirit Himself. A frequent source of error and fanaticism about the work of the Holy Spirit is the attempt to study and understand His work without first of all coming to know Him as a Person.

It is of the highest importance from the standpoint of worship that we decide whether the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person, worthy to receive our adoration, our faith, our love, and our entire surrender to Himself, or whether it is simply an influence emanating from God or a power or an illumination that God imparts to us. If the Holy Spirit is a person, and a Divine Person, and we do not know Him as such, then we are robbing a Divine Being of the worship and the faith and the love and the surrender to Himself which are His due.

“It is also of the highest importance from the practical standpoint that we decide whether the Holy Spirit is merely some mysterious and wonderful power that we in our weakness and ignorance are somehow to get hold of and use, or whether the Holy Spirit is a real Person, infinitely holy, infinitely wise, infinitely mighty and infinitely tender who is to get hold of and use us.”

(Download this book for free on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/-toEE.l)

And as its put in James 4:5, “…do you think the scripture means nothing when it says that the Spirit that God caused to live in us jealously yearns for us?” This is something heavy to consider: God is very jealous for us. He sent His Spirit to live in us. He wants us close. May we remember His presence more and more and grow in our relationship with The Holy Spirit.

Be Like Children

Can you remember when you were a child? Can you remember what it was like to not have a care in the world? When everyone was your friend? When it was so easy to forgive? When the world was completely unknown, and you were able to believe and trust like you would never be let down or hurt? I believe this is the innocence that Jesus points to when He says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

This is not a call to be “childish” but “childlike.” To be childlike is to have trust and teachableness. It’s to believe our Father God is always good and He will never leave us or forsake us. To also know that in the midst of the worst situation, He will work it all to our good. I was reminded of this innocence recently while reading “The Jesus Storybook Bible” written by Sally-Lloyd Jones and illustrated by Jago (one I highly recommend to any child or parent). While reading one of the stories in this book to my 21 month old (who loves this book and requests it all the time), it began to illustrate how God wants us to “be like children trusting in Him” and receive His love like the gift it is. It’s not earned or deserved, but just received and relished. And I thought to myself; “wow, my little daughter isn’t the one who needs to know this, but I am.” There I was trying to “teach her” how to be like me, when really I should be more like her.

The past couple of weeks have been very challenging and I’ve been guilty of worry and anxiety–as if in some way God would not be the faithful loving Father He has always been and always will be. It was very convicting to read this story to my little one, when she indeed is the picture of what Jesus was pointing to for me to become. To be like a child. Although the week had worries to bring me, they somehow all escaped my daughter. Even teething and sick with a virus, she was joyful, playful, and wanted to just cuddle and watch home videos together. It’s funny how she can be worry free about bills, or where we will live, or what she will eat. And she definitely doesn't ever seem to be concerned or consumed by what people think of her. She is just free. She loves like no one will ever hurt her. She trusts like she won’t be disappointed. And when she senses need, she doesn’t try to just solve it herself; she cries out for help. A thing I find even more convicting (and also I’d think odd for a one year old), is that she always says “thank you daddy” for any little thing I do–even changing her diaper! It really melts my heart.

How our Father God is always there, listening to our every cry! Oh how He knows our every need, even before we call on Him! How he must love our thank you’s (no matter how small it may be). In a study conducted a while ago, adults and children were asked what they would do if Jesus walked in the room right now. The adults all said they would worship, or fall on their faces. The children all said they would run up and hug Him, kiss Him, or hold Him tight. This is what God is after; a relationship. He’s not just looking to just be esteemed and revered; but enjoyed in receiving His love. May we run to Him and let Him pick us up, hug us, kiss us, and put us on His lap to hear all the crazy things we have to say. He’s always listening and never wants to turn us away; but embrace us like a loving Father.

 

Here’s a great song to enjoy as you remember “When You Were a Child:”

Waiting on My World to Change

I don’t have a problem waiting. Actually, I’m pretty good at it. Waiting really isn’t a problem for me. I usually just settle for something not as good as the original thing I wanted along the way and never make it long enough to suffer through waiting.

On second thought… maybe I’m not so good at waiting.

 There are so many stories in the Bible of people waiting, which is great because we don’t have to wait to see how their situations ended up. We can flip to the end of their chapter, or story and read the end. No waiting! This isn’t how our experiences work obviously. We have to drink in every bitter tasting moment of our unresolved waiting.

Joseph in Genesis chapter 40 has at this point spent what probably felt like a lifetime waiting. He was given a clear picture of his life’s calling at a very young age in a dream. He then spent decades doing just about everything other than what he knew his life would eventually entail. He was at this point in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Two fellow inmates, both former residents of the pharaoh’s palace were there with him. One was the royal baker and one was the royal cup bearer. Both of them had dreams that Joseph interpreted for them. One was destined to be reinstated three days later, while the other was three days from the wrong end of an executioner’s pole. The reinstated one promised he wouldn’t forget about Joseph. He promptly and immediately forgot about Joseph. Until, Genesis 41:1 says “Two full years later, the Pharaoh had a dream…”

The story ends happily with Joseph interpreting the dream for the Pharaoh and enabling an entire country to survive a famine and in so doing, fulfilling his calling he learned so long ago. I want to draw your attention to that two year period. Why would he have to go through that? Wasn’t the stage completely set for him to finally fulfill his calling? What more could he have possibly during that time? He was in prison after all. I don’t believe the point was what he was supposed to do. I believe the issue at hand was less about what he was or wasn’t doing and more about who he was or wasn’t. I don’t believe he was waiting on God in the way we would assume he was. He was on hold because he wasn’t yet who he had to be for what was next. He was in the process of being formed into the man required for the journey at hand. What needs to be taken into account is Joseph really couldn’t do anything about his formation. As much as we think otherwise, we don’t control our own formation. I Thessalonians 5:23  is pretty clear about who does the forming. It says “Now may the God of peace sanctify you wholly”. Think back on when you last went through a period of real growth in your life for second, chances are you felt like you were on a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Often times God uses life’s challenges to form us, mold us and purify us. We can’t simply try harder and be better, holier, whatever. It doesn’t work that way. God molds us. So, in that was Joseph was waiting on God, but he wasn’t waiting to get out of prison, he was waiting to be formed into the man God had him to be, so that he could get out of prison, so that he could save thousands of lives.

I remember having a conversation with a young man once about how much he wished he could just have a girlfriend. Trust me when I tell you he was ALWAYS on the prowl. He was trying so hard any girl who wasn’t scared off from him should have scared him off. I told him to worry less about when God would give him a girlfriend and be more cognizant of being the type of man who God could entrust one of His beloved young ladies to. I told him to spend more time praying that God would reveal to him his own areas where he needed to grow and spend less time asking for a girlfriend. I would have to agree with God on this one… the young man was not ready.

It is easier to see where others are being impatient than it is to see this in ourselves. We feel like our wait is at this point a cruel and unusual waiting. But let me ask you a question.

Are you where you need to be to live out that calling you are tired of waiting on?

Spend less time complaining about the wait and more time asking God where you lack formation. He wants to mold you for what’s next. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the formation. Know that God is kneading you into what you need to be.

The Leap - Week 3

Have you ever experienced a “So, have you heard…”?

This looks like someone showing an interest in getting to know you and/or your family. They invite you over to hang out and after thirty minutes of small talk they come out with the real reason they invited you over in the first place. “So, have you heard about the great things they’re doing with energy gels”, or “So, have you heard about how great the knives for so-and-so are?” or my favorite, “So, have you heard that you can own your own business just like me”.  When this happens we are so disillusioned and disappointed because we were a “prospect in this person’s sales pipeline” the whole time, and not a burgeoning friend.

Motives matter. Someone’s motives are a far better indicator of a potential relationship than their actions. With this in mind, it shouldn’t surprise us that for God, our motives are far more important than our choices.

I Samuel 14 contrasts perfectly the choices and motives of two men: King Saul, and his son and general of his army Jonathan.  This chapter starts with Jonathan and his armor bearer attacking head-on an army whose numbers were like the “sands of the sea”. After 20 or so soldier of the Philistine army were cut down, they begin to scatter. In that very moment God causes an earthquake that even more confuses the Philistine army. When Saul sees the Philistine’s inexplicably retreating even though his army is only 600 men and they aren’t even currently engaging the much larger army in battle he does what any of us would do. He calls for the Ephod (I Kings 14:18). Two notes are needed here. First, most Bible translations, even good ones translate this verse “ark” instead of “ephod”, but the oldest translation and historians of the day record him calling for the ephod. You are probably saying “What the heck is an ephod?” An ephod is the ceremonial outfit a priest would wear. What I love about this is Saul doesn’t call the priest by name, or even call for a priest in general. He calls for the outfit. He calls for everyone to see him next to a priest. When the priest takes too long getting into position Saul throws his hands into the air and like a petulant child yells “TOOOO LOOOOONNNGGGGG”. Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but you get the point. This is one of many examples of a man who had far more invested in appearing to seek after God, than actually seeking after God in his heart. Saul does a worse and worse job covering up his real heart until eventually he is trying to murder David and since God is silent towards him he eventually tries going to a witch.

When it comes to our motives I picture it like a picture drawn and gifted to their parent. The parent doesn’t critique the quality of the picture. Usually the parent sees talent where there isn’t any. My son drew me a picture of a tall stick man with spikey hair (me) and a short stick man with an afro (him). The tall stick man was looking down at the short stick man and they each had word bubbles that respectively said “I love you son” and “I love you too”. As a father I don’t love that picture because he is some sort of artiste, rather I love that picture because of what that picture means. Tim Keller says “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope”. We can’t earn God’s love because He’s too busy giving it to us unconditionally.  All we can do is paint an ugly picture with love. Where the father says “I love you son/daughter” and the shorter stick figure says “I love you too”.