Conquered

“… You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The kingdom of God is not an amusement park seeking to distract me occasionally from the daily grind. His kingdom is not a self-improvement program, working to make me a superior person, and the world a better place.

No. It’s a kingdom arising from a battlefield.

In any KINGdom there can only be one King! Not two. To enter His kingdom means I have been defeated, captured, and owned. Won by love and grace, I have surrendered my little “kingdom” and laid down my arms, abandoning my role in the ancient, ongoing rebellion. Christ the Victor has taken my heart as His dwelling place.

Yes, He is “mine.” But, more significantly, it must be underscored that I AM HIS! Won as precious spoil in a bloody battle for souls.

Rest in Christ

The secret of resting in Christ — and experiencing the peace He wants to give me in every circumstance — lies in abandoning myself into His control and care.

I am not resting in Him if I am clinging to the illusion that I can manage my life, relegating Him to the role of a mere adviser. He is my loving and gracious Lord who intends to work actively in and through me.

He is not calling me to a life of self-sufficiency, but rather to a life of soul rest and simple obedience: a life of overflowing abundance received only when I surrender my meager alternative.

He does not sit on a distant throne waiting for my arrival in heaven. He lives in me at this very moment and is waiting for me to draw near, releasing my infantile grip on my needs for significance and survival, and falling helplessly into His infinite care and purposes for my life.

Jesus says…

Come to Me,
    all you who labor and are heavy laden,
    and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
    for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
    and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29

The Inner Vision

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” ~ Hebrews 12:2-3

When your heart is dry, and life seems to hold little promise of joy, and your passion is burning low, what is happening and what can you do?

The causes of your spiritual and emotional malaise may be complex, but the effect is the same… your inner world becomes a mess. The entire vision of your soul is filled with the immediate demands of the latest wave of distress. You see no way forward. You can’t see beyond this moment. Darkness settles in.

Jesus faced the very worst circumstances and people. He was criticized and betrayed. He was attacked and falsely accused. He was insulted and threatened.

Yet, even in the moments before His death, He had a way of looking past the hurt and pain. The writer of Hebrews says it this way: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” He preoccupied Himself with the joy that lay just ahead… a joy so great that it flooded his present existence with meaning. He kept on. Not out of duty or discipline, but from a controlling vision of reality — the truth about His life and identity and His relationship to the Father — that became a vast reservoir of hope in His soul.

What you “see” in your heart controls your inner thoughts and emotions. When the “eyes” of your heart are distracted from Jesus, you will “grow weary or fainthearted” within your soul (Heb. 12:3). That’s why the writer calls us to look to Jesus… to “consider Him.” The options are clear: look at everything but Jesus, and grow weary in soul, or look to Him only and gain a new vision.

He wants you to stop and turn to Him with your weary and overloaded  life. He invites you to come now… with your very real and imperfect self (Matthew 11:28-29; Psalm 27:8). He is not a set of religious beliefs and practices; He is a Person. And knowing Him personally is the only way that any life gets real and dense with meaning (John 17:3).

Where can you see Him? Pick up a New Testament and read the historical accounts of those who walked with Him (found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Rediscover the language of His heart by reading His Words. Watch how He moved among people then… He has not changed. Hear His words and place yourself into the stories. Lose yourself at His feet. Allow Him to invade every moment of this day. Discover the reality of His presence with you and in you. Abandon yourself to His authority and mission. Yield to the gentle pressure of His Spirit. Then you’ll see.

Seeing Him changes everything.

“Pray like this…”

2016-06-13 21.28.56 - CopyMy Father
Unseen, but always seeing me

Your name… let it be deeply revered by all

Your kingdom… let it come, Your ruling Presence

Your will… let it be fully expressed
on earth in my circumstances
as it is in heaven where Your will is unopposed

Today

Here are my needs, I leave them all with You
the One who cares for me

Oh…
cancel the mountain of wrongs inflicted by me
and with fear and trembling
I ask You to pour out Your mercy shown to me…
Your grace freely flowing through me…
drenching every person who owes me

As You walk before me into every moment, I am at rest in You
leaning in and listening
as You shelter me in Your shadow
during the enemy’s vicious attempts to destroy me

You are the glorious King… and I am so privileged
to be Your child!

Amen.

(one expression of His outline for prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 ~ DP)

The Coasting Christian

Drifting-boat“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” ~ Hebrews 2:1

You and I need to beware of “coasting” as a Christian… like a ship without an anchor, a Christian can “drift away” from a life lived by faith. Why?

  1. Coasting is effortless. Coasting happens to you (“drift” = passive voice) – not because of anything you have done, but because of your inactivity.
  2. Coasting is inevitable. The inactivity that makes coasting effortless also makes it inevitable. It will happen if you consistently do nothing to exercise faith and engage Jesus in your daily life and decisions. Secular and irreligious forces in the world are constantly demanding your attention and response. If you are not yielding to the influence of the Holy Spirit, you will tend to do life according to the popular consensus and worldview of your culture.
  3. Coasting is a threat to every believer. The author includes himself in the warning “lest WE drift away.” No one is immune to coasting.
  4. Coasting is rarely done alone. The writer addresses the recipients collectively (2PPL), suggesting they were prone to coasting as a group. Not only will a casual Christian negatively influence other Christians, other casual Christians will also negatively influence him. Together, they will lull themselves into thinking all is well in their relationship with God.
  5. Coasting is always away from Jesus. We don’t “drift” into greater intimacy and obedience with God – we drift away from Him.

What can we do to combat this natural tendency? Growing as a mature follower of Jesus requires intentionality: a continuous steering and a conscious submission of the heart towards the indwelling Master! Will you pause and turn to Him right now and do that? At age 22, Robert Robinson was battling coasting in his own life when he penned these words in 1757…

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
~ Robert Robinson (1735 – 1790)

Relationships Matter

audience-828584_960_720A pastor challenged me recently on whether it was true that new churches tended to engage more unchurched people than did older, established churches. In a study published two months ago, in fact, nearly half of the people attending new churches were non-attenders in the past.

What was the most common pathway into the church? Relationships.

Of course if the gospel and the transformation He brings are not central to what is happening, then nothing else the church does matters. But if the church forgets why they exist, the gospel rarely gets shared. In new churches and Bible study groups, most of the members understand that reaching out and welcoming new people is part of their “job description.”

Research is no substitute for the truth of God’s Word, but it is important for church leaders to discern their circumstances (Prov. 25:2). Here’s the most recent research that supports the value of starting new groups and churches (or helping established churches rethink why they exist)…

New Churches Draw Those Who Previously Didn’t Attend

Marry Me!

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13

Each year on December 30, my wife and I celebrate the anniversary of our engagement in 1981, when I proposed marriage after dating her for six months. I was fearless in that moment, but had agonized for months leading up to that evening. I didn’t want to make a mistake. There was too much at stake.

Gail and I first met in August 1980 in the foyer of Lowrey Memorial Baptist Church in Blue Mountain, Mississippi. Following an evening church service as people were chatting in the aisles, a mutual friend introduced me to her and her parents. I remember the moment: she was a short, pretty blonde girl with a dimpled smile. I immediately liked her and we became friends. Just friends. It was the beginning of our sophomore year of college and I was engaged to marry someone else – one of Gail’s friends.

By the end of that semester, the engagement was over. It was a deeply disorienting and confusing time for me. I felt that I had made an irreparable mess of two lives. In the three years since trusting Christ to forgive my sins and change me, I saw nothing but failure. Powerful emotions clouded my thoughts and colored my decisions. I didn’t trust anything about me, and I didn’t know how to depend on Him to lead me. Yet.

Confusion

Gail and I began meeting and talking together following the recent breakup. I had entered Blue Mountain College believing God was calling me to be a pastor. Since she was a little girl, Gail believed she was called to be a minister’s wife. We spent hours together, laughing and enjoying a very different kind of relationship than any I had known. It was centered on Christ and a shared sense of calling. We shared scriptures with one another. We encouraged each other. We prayed together.

Gail & Don ~ Blue Mountain College 1981

She already knew what was coming. She had prayed and had several confirmations from the Lord that I was going to be her husband one day. She was sure. But I wasn’t.

It was all too soon and too fast for me. I was enjoying our sharing, but I still had no clue what I was doing. I was definitely infatuated with her. I thought she was beautiful. I knew she would always love me. But did I really love her? Did I even know what true love is? I didn’t want to make the same mistakes in another relationship. So I stopped everything that was happening with Gail. I broke it off. I stopped seeing her and tried to be “single” for a while.

She was hurt. She avoided me. And I didn’t blame her. It was my fault.

My “Single” Life

During the next five months, I continued to struggle relationally. It was an emotional roller coaster. But I studied hard. And with God’s grace, I was speaking regularly in churches scattered across north Mississippi.

As summer approached, I had to choose between two ministry job opportunities: a summer intern position at a nationally-recognized megachurch, or a summer youth pastor position in a small town. At the time I sensed that this was a turning point for me. This was an important decision and I wanted to do God’s will. I prayed. I sought counsel from my parents. I discussed it with my Bible professors. I never received a direct, intuitive word from God, but I did strongly sense He was directing me to the small town assignment based on my conversations with the “counselors” He had placed in my life.

So I went to work at First Baptist Church of Fulton, Mississippi, which also happened to be Gail’s hometown. We had barely spoken since our brief “dating” relationship had ended.

I had begun to greatly distrust my feelings – especially romantic feelings. I determined that any decision I would make in the future would be rooted in an objective, unclouded choice to do the will of God. So discerning and knowing His will in major life decisions became a paralyzing experience for me. I didn’t know what I was doing much of the time, but I knew this: I wanted to pursue His wisdom in all of my relationships with others.

A New Beginning

I loved being a youth pastor and I loved the students. As they came to me with questions about life and dating relationships, I found myself driven repeatedly to the scriptures and to my knees seeking the truth. Helping them grow was helping me to grow. I began studying what the Bible says about relationships between men and women. I uncovered a range of interactions in the text: family, friendship, engagement, and marriage.

In particular, I was seeing that marriage was not ultimately founded on romantic feelings, but on a promise. When I married, I realized I would be making a promise to be there for my wife for the rest of her life. That kind of love is a choice, not a feeling… and I drank that biblical understanding into my mind and heart like a thirsty man stepping out from a dark, deadly, and dry place.

Gail spent that summer serving as a children’s ministry intern at a church four hours away from Fulton. On her way home to see her family for a couple of days, she struggled over whether to make contact with me. The Lord spoke to her: “If there were any other classmates in Fulton for the summer serving a church in your hometown you would call them.” She called me. I dropped by to visit.

Awkward at first, we sat across from each other in her parents’ living room and talked about the things we had learned in the months since our brief relationship had ended. Being “single” was a good thing we decided. Then we began to talk easily and naturally together, in much the way we had in the beginning, but I was listening and watching her with fewer “clouds” in my mind. It was a new beginning.

We lost interest in being “single” as we gained a new interest in one another. We talked on the phone regularly. We wrote letters (an ancient form of “texting” for you younger souls). I made a couple of trips to see her, leaving after work, driving four hours, talking till midnight, driving back to Fulton, and grabbing a shower before going back into the office.

As we headed back to college for our junior year, we were dating exclusively. I continued my work as a youth pastor in Fulton on weekends. She would often travel with me. I stayed with a family in the church, while she stayed in her home. I grew to love her family. She grew to love mine.

But as the relationship progressed, I had a nagging set of questions that circled incessantly around in my mind. Is she the one? How are you going to know? When are you going to know? How is God going to make this clear to you?

This went on for six months. She had given up any hope that I was going to propose marriage anytime soon.

The Angels Stood

Just before noon on December 30, 1981, I was walking out of the mall in Tupelo when some of my kids from the church youth group saw me – they also saw the jewelry story bag I was carrying. They knew what I had in there. After they begged to see the engagement ring– and I showed it to them – I knew I couldn’t take Gail with me to church on that Wednesday night. The news would travel faster than my actual marriage proposal – even without the social media channels of today!

How did I get to the point of asking her to marry me?

I had spent months denying what I wanted, afraid to trust my heart. At the same time, God was shaping my desires, drawing me to want what He wanted. In my longing to do His will, He was re‑forming and re‑building my thoughts and my emotions. I was reading His Word and seeking counsel from professors and parents, but it was the words of an older married couple that God used to help me acquire a better and biblical understanding of the desires of my heart.

What if God is making His will for you known through the very means you are not paying attention to: your desires? In Philippians 2:13, Paul says that when God is at work inside you, He is creating new desires (to will) and the ability to carry out everything He wants (to do). He knows you want to please Him, now what is in your heart to do next?

And in that truth, I found peace and freedom. In this great turning point, I did not hear His voice as a flowing collection‑of‑thoughts, as I would hear Him sometimes years later. I was not drawn to a particular Bible verse that would serve as directional anchor point in the decision process. I was not struck with a confirmation in the midst of listening to a sermon or a Bible study.

I just knew that He had created this desire inside of me for Gail. I missed her when she was away from me. Not in a silly, emotionally dependent sort of way, but in the sense that part of me was now incomplete when she was away. The part called “us” – something mysterious and wonderful and that had His fingerprints all over it. Something that was not a fantasy, but a powerful reality that would carry my devotion to her through decades.

It was Him…

leading me…

to choose her!

Gail and her parents had been away for a few days. We had not exchanged Christmas gifts, so my plan was to await their arrival, speak privately to her parents, and take her out to dinner. They were late coming in… I went out to their house and waited in their driveway… and waited… and waited. After the long uncertainty, and now knowing, I was living in a new world with a new future that I had not let myself imagine. I could hardly contain my excitement.

When they finally arrived, Gail went to her room to change clothes, and I asked her Dad and Mom for permission to marry their daughter. Martha looked at George and I think she breathed under her breath something like, “It’s about time.” George smiled and quietly asked me to step outside. I still remember the first time I met George. He intimidated me. With powerful shoulders and massive hands, the ex-Marine with the chiseled face was a little scary to me, but I grew to love him as a gentle, wise man, who loved his family and his God.

When we got outside and walked in silence, I was a little anxious. Then he began asking me some practical questions about our financial readiness to do this. He seemed satisfied. After a few minutes, he uttered one of the great lines in our family lore, “Well Don, if you marry her and take her away, you can’t bring her back. You understand?” He laughed. I agreed. It was a great moment.

At a seafood restaurant operating in an old Victorian era home, we were seated at a table near a fireplace. It was raining outside. As we waited for our meal to come, I gave her the Christmas gifts I had. Then I pulled out the ring box in my pocket.

Gail and Don ~ 2014

I handed it to her and leaned over whispering in her ear, “Marry me.” So technically I never asked her to marry me… but she was stunned and thrilled. She nodded her head “yes” and she could barely speak.

She told me later she had given up hope that a proposal would come that Christmas. But she kept praying and trusting God to speak to me. She had always known, almost from the first time we met.

It was the moment when the angels stood and looked down on two college students who met in a little Baptist church one evening… and the mighty ones peered over the bannisters of heaven and said, “It’s happening! The two greatest lovers who will ever live… they’re meeting for the first time.” Or something like that.

So now my 54-year old self is telling my 20-year old self that it didn’t have to be that hard. Unfortunately, my 54-year old self was not around to offer that advice to the 20-year old self!

So if you identify with the 20-year old in this story, I hope you saw some of these things:

  • He was dissatisfied with the way he had been living.
  • He was fearful of missing the life God had in mind for him.
  • He was persistent in his human efforts to know God’s will.
  • He discovered that knowing God grew out of studying His Word.
  • He discovered God was ordering conversations and circumstances to bring the 20-year old closer to Him.
  • He discovered God’s activity in his own soul.
  • He discerned what God wanted Him to do next.

Tonight, Gail and I will go out and celebrate our proposal anniversary again. Not only does the evening mark the beginning of our walk together, but it was a turning point in my journey to hear, understand, and know the heart of God.

[Author’s Note: This post was originally published December 30, 2015 at DonPucik.com and migrated to EquippingSaints.com]