Following Jesus: What Really Shapes Our Decision and Desire?

Is it a question of God empowering our reason and will, or is something more fundamental at work?

Godsight labelYou are praying for your children/siblings/spouse and suddenly you find yourself no longer praying but “writing the book” on how their challenges will sweep them away. The book ends in court or the hospital or the cemetery. Your stomach knots up. Will you give way to fear?

How do you picture that decision-making process between choosing fear or choosing to trust Jesus? Do you see it as I have often seen it—a daily taffy-pull between what our hearts fear here and what God promises over there? Between what the culture rewards over here and what God wants over there, leaving our souls feeling thin and stringy in the middle?

If you’re like me you’ve been taught to view our decisions to love and follow Jesus in three stages:
Perception:
We perceive a threat: I may lose my job, my husband, or in today’s culture, my child. Our candidate may not win. America will go in the wrong direction. We face a choice: Will we give way to fear?
We perceive a temptation: More time dialed in to our phones. Eating fat instead of healthy. An attraction to someone besides our spouse. Will we indulge our desires?
Reason:
I submit what I perceive to logical reflection. Will my desire/choice honor the Lord Jesus? Does it line up with Scripture? Is it loving to others? Will it help me move toward the long-term joy Jesus has for me?
Will:
Life is a contest between a torrent of sinful desire and the way of God. My heart wants this, but my will chooses that. On a good day, my will is stronger than my sinful desires. But not always. (See Romans 7 (“what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”)

We focus and teach our kids so much about surrendering our will to Jesus. Logically processing our decisions through the grid of God’s Word.

But what if our battle is not primarily fought at the level of our will, or even our reason? What if our greatest battle is fought at the level of our perception?

Mad as hell…or mad as heaven?

Getting mad like Jesus did.

It feels like we are living in the 1976 award-winning film Network. I feel surrounded by people throwing open their windows, leaning out and yelling, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  (Caution for a bit of R-rated language in the clip)

Although the movie came out forty years ago in the midst of gas lines, recession and spiraling inflation, it feels even more relevant today, when we are living more from emotions than ever before.

People want good jobs–meaningful work that leaves them time for life with their families, churches and communities. We want health care premiums that don’t break the bank. Safety from terrorists. We want institutions–government, schools and businesses–that hear our voices and respond to our needs. In this political season the candidates cast a vision of the way the future could be, stirring and heating up our desires to a fever pitch. That is their job. It’s our job to keep our eyes on Jesus. Get mad like he gets mad.

We want, we want, we want…we have so many desires–the soil out of which our expectations grow. Unfulfilled, they can set us up for disappointment and anger. How should we deal with them?

Managing Our 2016 expectations

Back in the saddle of weekly activities,  2016 is already barreling along, the stock market and the weather jerking around like a bull in the Houston Rodeo. (Or…maybe that should be a bear?)

bull rider

Whether we write down our goals and vision for the year ahead or not, we all have this picture of the way we’d like things to be. And then life happens. Here are some reminders to think about, pray about, as we try to live on purpose when life starts bucking around:

We hold our expectations with open, God-trusting hands. Like Nehemiah, we may long to see certain outcomes and ready strategic plans for the moment when doors of opportunity swing open, but our God is a God of shock and awe, disruptions and surprises.

He fulfills his promise to be Emmanuel, God with us, by means of the incarnation and a virgin birth. He fulfills his promise to deliver us from sin and death by means of crucifixion. If we weren’t so used to it we would find it utterly amazing. God thinks and acts completely out of the box.

As I look back over the last twelve months of my own life I see so many totally unexpected, disrupting developments: two deaths and a cancer diagnosis on the parent front, five last-minute plane tickets, stepping into the vacated leadership of women’s ministries at our church, surgery avoided and several as-good-as-winning-on-Jeopardy! gifts.

When we look back over the last twelve months in our culture, we see the threat of ISIS, the rise of Trump, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the exposure of Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood, and in my own state of South Carolina, heart-breaking flooding and church shootings.

All of which reminds us that our strategic plans rest on a sure, but unpredictable foundation: “If the Lord wills.” Control is in the hands of a God who is always, always doing something new, far beyond our imagining, even (especially) n the midst of tragedy.

Did Gabriel sugarcoat the truth to Mary? The beauty of how God deals with us

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation by Ossawa Tanner, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

I’ve often wondered if Mary was disappointed with God. It’s clear from the way she sings her famous Magnificat that her buoyant expectations do not match the unfolding reality of life as Jesus’ mother. Face to face with Mary, Gabriel made some astonishing promises. Did God deliver?

Ten Faith and Culture Gifts to give or enjoy

Books, art, music and online subscriptions to enrich the year ahead

Seventy-Five Masterpieces coverWhat do all the following resources and activities have in common? Whether you give them as gifts or enjoy them for yourself, these iron-sharpening-iron books, art works, websites, culture makers and commentators will inspire and equip you to live with the truth and grace of Jesus in today’s culture.

In the election-year culture war ahead they will keep you grounded in orthodoxy without being shrill and focus your heart and mind on the good, the true and the beautiful. In today’s postmodern culture the arts open so many doors for bridging the cultural divide. These resources will help you connect with outsiders as well as the under-40’s. To order or subscribe click on the titles. Don’t miss my little Christmas present to you in #5.

1. Seventy-five Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:
From the Book of Kells and Gregorian Chant to U-2’s Joshua Tree and Terrence Malick’s film Tree of Life, this new book by Terry Glaspey offers you fiveish-page overviews of memorable works of art. Think of it as a “quirky” ensemble of “movie trailers,” Glaspey writes in the intro, a “fist full of invitations” to begin your own personal exploration of art and artists that explore truth from a spiritual perspective.

A Christmas Lament

The overlooked dark side of Christmas resonates with the pain and loss of San Bernardino, yet brings us more deeply into the true hope and comfort of Advent

Massacre of the Innocents-Rubens

O Come Emmanuel, Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine Advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

In the midst of joy to the world and hark the herald angels sing
In the midst of employee seminar/Christmas lunch, taking pictures by the tree, ten minute break
Shots rip flesh and fourteen families apart

Six ways to reach for more life, meaning and joy this Christmas

Merry Christmas! Tis the season we celebrate when the Author of meaning, Creator of beauty and Heart of love at the center of our Universe came for us in human flesh. The more we lean into that meaning, beauty and love this season, the more joy will fill our daily moments and special events.

poinsettias

In an update of one of my most read Bible.org posts, here are ideas and resources to help you reflect more deeply on the incarnation, feast on the beauty of Christmas, plan a mini advent retreat, host a “True Meaning of Christmas” tea or meal, mix the fun with the meaningful at parties, and serve “the least of these.” 

Another Dad is Gone. Giving thanks in sorrow.

Jim wout glassesMy Dad died in June. Jack’s Dad died last Tuesday. Monday evening we receive a call: He’s been feeling bad for three days and finally consented to go to the hospital. Monday night we receive another call: He’s in ICU. At 4:30 am we receive another call: He’s gone. Just like that. Irrevocably. Permanently.

We will fly to Dallas for the funeral. We will walk in the door, but there will be no hearty hello hug. No booming voice asking, “What’s up, hoss?” No great presence filling the room, enthroned in his recliner, a book in his hands and one eye on the TV. No one will want to sit in that empty chair.

Jack’s Dad was a fair minded, honest, no nonsense type of man. We will always remember him for his many Dadisms, such as, “You are the only one who can ruin your day.” You can read his obituary and see the visitation slide show here.

As Jack and I processed the news on that still-dark Tuesday morning we were overwhelmed with gratitude. God had given us a priceless gift: time together. Although we lived 1,800 miles away, we had spent the previous Tuesday with his folks. And the Wednesday before that.

ISIS: Is there a path to victory? Safety?

Paris attacks2When bloody horror erupts on our TVs and phones we mourn with those who mourn. We pray for the gospel to “speed ahead and be honored” and for God to comfort all those who have suffered loss because of ISIS’s rampage through Paris.

We are also hard-wired from the factory to grasp for the “Why?” In the West’s war with ISIS this much is certain: Like the Republicans and Democrats, we don’t even agree on what the issues are.

The secular West thinks ISIS is morally bankrupt because they subvert freedom. They murder and rape as an act of worship to Allah. They think the West is spiritually and morally bankrupt because we do not acknowledge Allah and we pervert sexuality.

Al Queda, the Taliban, now ISIS…We have been at war with radical Islamic terrorists for over 15 years now. Is there an end in sight? Will we ever be safe again?

How Change Happens

Guest Post from Sue Bohlin, Probe Ministries

Today’s post is by my friend Sue Bohlin, a speaker with Probe Ministries who has long worked with ministries to the LGBT community.

close up of a butterfly

On my 2010 trip to Australia, one of the topics I was asked to address at a conference featuring a redemptive view of homosexuality was “Is Change Possible?” This is a controversial question because there are some loud, insistent voices in the culture who say, “Unless you never again have a homosexual thought or feeling, you haven’t changed. And since no one admits to that, any claim of change is an illusion.”

No one would apply that strict a standard to any other issue! Former alcoholics living sober and free from the chaos of their drinking for decades still would like a cold beer on a hot day, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t changed!

Is change possible? Change is part of life! But transformation is also part of what it means to be a Christ-follower. Understanding how change happens, on the other hand, is another matter. So I have been thinking about the process for a long time as I prepared for my message.

Princeton Professor Robby George champions Life, Liberty and Law

Coming to Columbia this Monday, Nov 16th

Hobby Lobby Robby GeorgeThe New York Times calls Princeton Professor Robby George “the country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” He is a champion of the sanctity of life, the institutions of marriage and family, and the freedoms of conscience and religion. He helps us articulate solid reasons for what we believe about these things, whether we rely on Scripture or not.

God is pleased to use the foolish, the weak and lowly of this world. He also uses men and women of great learning, like the apostle Paul and Dr. George. His official ivory tower title is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Founder and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.

He holds degrees in law and theology from Harvard and a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford. He is the prime thinker behind the Manhattan Declaration and Glen Beck hails him as “one of the biggest brains in America.” You can see his books here.

Dr. George will speak at a free forum in Columbia, SC this Mon, Nov 16 (details here). Here are 3 ways he can equip and inspire you right now:

First, he clarifies the challenges to life, liberty and law and helps us respond. Take 5 minutes to watch this video on “Why We’re Losing Liberty.”

Why it matters that Hillary lied

Watergate's Chuck Colson on the dangers of believing the greatest good is getting the "right" person elected

Hillary swearing inImagine for a moment…you’ve received word that your son/nephew/friend was killed on September 11th while defending American personnel in Benghazi, Libya. You quickly pack, get on a plane and make the long, sad journey to Andrews Air Force Base to receive his body.

All the while your mind reels with questions…How did this happen? Why did it happen? Why was my loved one in harm’s way not rescued by US Troops?

On September 14th you are sitting with the other families in view of the closed, flag-draped caskets which will not be opened. You will never see your loved one again.

One by one the President, the Vice-president, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense offer you their condolences. Empathy washes over you from hands, faces and voices that embody the power and prestige of the United States. Empathy and promises of justice.

Hillary Clinton tells Charles Woods, father of Tyrone Woods, a retired Navy Seal killed in the attack, “We are going to have the filmmaker arrested who was responsible for the death of your son.”

Makoto Fujimura inspires us to create living art out of love

On 9-11 artist Makoto Fujimura had to evacuate his home and studio located a scarce three blocks from the smoking rubble of the World Trade Center. When he was allowed to return he opened his studio doors to be a place of community, consolation and healing for local “ground zero” artists.

On Wednesday, Nov 4th you are invited to an Evening Conversation with Makoto Fujimura at the Columbia Museum of Art. Free admission. Reservation required. Presented by The Trinity Forum. Details here.

Mako CharisKairos

Charis Kairos (The Tears of Christ) from The Four Holy Gospels, courtesy of Crossway

Just weeks after severe flooding, in the midst of our rebuilding, Mako will speak in Columbia, SC. Out of his post-9-11 conversations Mako brings a timely and timeless message of hope: “In the midst of fear, in the midst of material and emotional scarcity, in the midst of the world’s collapsing idols, we can draw on the Giver / Artist, and let His creative Spirit spill over into a hurting world.”

Mako’s work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. From 2003-2009 he served as a Presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts.

Schooled in the ancient Japanese art of “Nihonga,” he creates his paints out of ground minerals and applies them on the canvass in layers of translucent washes. The richness of ground malachite, lapiz, vermillian as well as gold and silver, both in powder and foil, offer tribute to the richness of his subjects.

In this painting, Charis Kairos: The Tears of Christ, Mako begins with a black background representing the sorrow and brokenness of existence. Two large pillared washes of gold and sprinkles of vermillion evoke the splendor of the presence of God and the shed blood of his Son.

Across the entire width of the canvas the azurite-washed tears of Christ flow and spill down into the black and, with generative power,  the green malachite wash below. Here “love and sorrow meet,” sacrificial blood is spilled and new life grows.

Reflecting on this work, Mako writes,

Fighting for Love in Columbia, SC

It rained over twenty inches in our fair city last weekend. This weird radar-red and yellow arm reached way up out of Hurricane Joaquin , pinned Columbia down and kept pouring water on our heads. Coming on the heels of over a week of soaking rains, this final unrelenting round of Joaquin waterboarding threatened to drown us. We spluttered and coughed, but thankfully, we survived.

flood Justin

Creeks and streams filled to overflowing Saturday night. Dams on neighborhood lakes liquified and began to breach. On Sunday morning our friend Justin launched his fishing boat down a nearby street in his subdivision and began rescuing people whose homes were quickly filling with water—one family huddled together on top of their kitchen table. Where else do you go when your car is already under three feet of rising water and there is no dry land in sight?

Gun to Your Head. “Are you a Christian?” What would you say?

We can never know how we would respond to the ultimate threat. But a thoughtful heart check sheds light on what we treasure most.

Pray for RoseburgWhile our choices matter to God, he tells us our motives matter even more. God is always looking at our hearts.

Thinking of what I would say to a shooter pointing a gun at my head was not nearly as revealing for me as pondering why I would say it. As you read these wildly different responses from the candid crew over on Reddit how does it clarify your motives?

Life Is Becoming Entertainment: The 2016 Great Race Survivor Reality Show

If you locked all the Hollywood reality TV writers in a room until they came up with a script that would compare to our nightly news episodes they’d never be seen again. Each evening we tune in to discover what our crazy cast of characters has been up to today. And we are not disappointed.

P1000468

Just in the last few days…over at the Values Voter Summit the billionaire with the uniquely crafted hair was waving his Bible in the air. Back in July, when asked whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions, Mr. Trump responded, “…if I do something wrong, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

But on Saturday he was all about reading the inscription in his “favorite book” and in his closing remarks held it aloft once more, reminding the evangelical voters, “This is the key.” Except maybe for the forgiveness part?

In New Hampshire a 74-year old socialist, Bernie Sanders, leads Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton 46% to 30%. One of two very smart women in the Great Race made some very curious decisions to take her government email off the grid and wipe her server. (Inquiring minds will be lining up at the October Benghazi hearings to find out why.)

Meanwhile the other very smart woman, Carly Fiorina, was bombarded with condoms at an Iowa tailgate party by supporters of Planned Parenthood. (Really, you could not make this stuff up. But wait, there’s more!)

Captive the Movie: WOW

A serial killer and his hostage grapple with God's purpose in their crashing lives

On March 11, 2005 the Atlanta police locked the city down in a massive manhunt for Brian Nichols, an escaped convict who had bludgeoned his police escort, burst into the courtroom, murdered his judge and, before the day was over, gunned down three others.

Across town a meth addict widow, Ashley Smith, makes yet another promise to her recovery group and her daughter that she will show up clean. Hours later she holds a packet of crystal meth over the toilet…then rolls up a dollar bill and inhales it.

Of all the women Nichols could have captured that that day and forced to hide him, he chose Ashley. Of all the books Ashley could have been reading, the one on her kitchen table was Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

“Read it to me,” Brian orders. The words change both their lives.

90 minutes in Heaven: Is it credible? My movie review

90 minutes“I died on January 18, 1989. Immediately after I died I went straight to heaven. While I was in heaven a Baptist preacher rushed to my lifeless body and prayed for me. At least 90 minutes after the EMT’s pronounced me dead, God answered that man’s prayers. I returned to earth. This is my story.”—Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven, 2004

Maybe you’ve read one of the Christian leaders advising others NOT to go see the new 90 Minutes in Heaven book-based movie, released Thursday. “You dishonor God and the Bible if you need this kind of outside verification.” “Bad theology.”

I don’t think so.

My many reasons why began Friday, March 22nd 2003. I was in the “bullpen” at the Mt. Hermon Christian writer’s conference in California. At break time a handful of us news junkies were watching the US military unleash its “shock and awe” campaign on downtown Baghdad. “I can’t help but notice your limp,” I eventually said to one of the guys. “After twenty-three years of rheumatoid arthritis I limp sometimes too, so my antennae are fairly sensitive to that.”

“Yes,” he replied, “I was in a car wreck.”

Is the Gospel Mainly about Going to Heaven?

New jerusalem JPGWith this week’s release of the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven, heaven is all over social media and the news. I’ll review the movie Tuesday, but today I want to ask you a more important question: Do you think that the “main point” of the Bible and salvation is escaping hell and going to heaven?

I grew up with the Wordless Book—one page black for sin, one red for Christ’s blood, one white for being cleansed of sin, one gold for going to heaven, one green for growing. It is a strategy often used in children’s ministry to explain the salvation message. It has no doubt been helpful to bring many to Christ.

But I think in my own life that gospel message and the children’s ministry I was a part of nurtured a “Salvation is a ticket to heaven” mentality. The main thing was to get rid of my sin, escape hell and get to heaven. I think there were some adults in my life who were trying to cast a vision of being reconciled to God so I could know him, so I could love and enjoy him more. But all the heaven talk kind of drowned it out.

Being a Christian became primarily about the destination, and then learning God’s word, and then obeying– black, red, white, gold and green. And somewhere after that, the relationship and intimacy. Anyone else growing up in a Christian home or church have that experience?

When I was twenty-nine I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. As I tried to live in a world of shattered dreams, chronic pain and limited mobility I lived`more and more from duty and resignation. In his mercy, God met me right where I was, as he always does, and drew me into the intimacy and joy that I was missing. I chronicled that journey in my book Godsight: Renewing the Eyes of Our Heart.

I discovered that there was a name for what I had experienced: “Destination Theology.” I decided to re-read the book of Acts with careful attention to the way Jesus’ disciples presented the gospel. What I found there surprised me.

Jesus Calling: More Thinkers Needed in Today’s Culture

Feeler needs to thinkThe more the world changes from modern to postmodern the more thinkers (and thinking) are needed. In today’s culture it’s going to take more and more courage to stand against the feelings and experiences of other people. If we rely mainly on our own feelings and experiences to base our faith on, how will we have the courage to sacrifice? To go against the cultural flow? How can we grow as thinkers?

We find ourselves in a culture saturated with images–videos, games, selfies, Pinterest, movies, Instagram, TV, even notable quotes are embedded in pictures for heightened impact. And while images capture our attention, we don’t process them the same way we do words.