Archives For God

Ever feel like you’re further from God now than you were a few months ago? Maybe you had that deep sense of awe before God in every aspect of life…and now it is as if that moment in time was just a whisper.
As the theologians “The Righteous Brothers” penned

You’ve lost that loving feeling
Whoa that loving feeling
You’ve lost that loving feeling
Now it’s gone…gone…gone…who-oh-oh-oh-oh

Though they may not have directly been speaking to their spiritual lives, it seems an apt description of our relationship with God in different seasons. We felt close to God…then we wonder where that closeness has gone, gobbled up by life, kids, careers, hobbies, “religion,” and even by our spiritual disciplines.

Now it’s gone.

image via Tim Pirfalt, Creation Swap. Edits and quote mine.

image via Tim Pirfalt, Creation Swap. Edits and quote mine.

And the answer to getting it back isn’t found in trying harder. Because the harder you try, the further you’ll find yourself from the presence of God. A lack of feeling isn’t fixed by a mere flurry of doing. 

My friend Jamin Goggin, with Kyle Strobel, has written a book that addresses just this issue. It’s called Beloved Dust: Drawing close to God by discovering the truth about yourself. It’s really good, striking a hard-to-find balance between being rich, full, thoughtful, deep…and being accessible and helpful and readable. Many books aim at, but few find that balance.

I asked Jamin a few questions about the book, and I think you’ll find his answers helpful.

Ben: What are some of the most common ways you see people try to get closer to God? What’s so empty about those pursuits?

Jamin: In Beloved DustKyle and I explore common ways that Christians seek to grow in their relationship with God. We argue that some of them actually lead us down the wrong path. Ultimately, they are the result of very sneaky idolatries. One of these idolatries for example is “experience.” What we have found in our own journey is that it is incredibly easy to worship an experience from God rather than God himself. Often times we hit seasons in our spiritual life that feel dry. Worship feels boring, the Bible is uninteresting to us or maybe we just feel bored in prayer. We don’t like this feeling of disconnect from God and malaise in our spiritual life, so we look for solutions. We want to feel the way we used to feel in prayer or at church. This may lead us to try a new technique in prayer or maybe we will find ourselves looking for a new church that can make our spiritual life feel exciting again. Whatever it may be we are on the hunt to get back those old feeling we used to have. We want excitement. We want a “mountain top high”. We want an “aha moment”. The problem of course is that we don’t truly want God himself, but rather a felt experience. We want God for how he makes us feel. Thus, rather than going on the hunt for those old feelings or trying to generate an experience for ourselves, the call of God is to be honest with him about how we feel. Quite often God leads us into these kind of desert seasons precisely to show us our idolatry for experience. He is inviting us into a mature love, which does not love for what we get, but for who God is.

Ben: What’s something that a person could do right now to begin actually growing deeper in their relationship with God?

Jamin: What we are seeking to emphasize in Beloved Dust is that all of life is to be lived with God. We seek to dispel the notion that there are some activities that are “spiritual”, while most of our lives are lived on our own. Rather, our hope is to cast a vision of life with God that points people into communion with him in their work, their play and their home. The Christian life is about being with God who is always with you. As a result, the primary way we grow in intimacy with God is prayer. Prayer is our means of being with God at all times. Prayer is not merely another spiritual discipline, but is the very heartbeat of the Christian life. That being said, let me take a stab at actually answering your specific question. As we cultivate the habit of praying (being with God) in our everyday lives there are certain habits of heart that we can practice in prayer to grow in our relationship with God. Habits of heart are relational postures we embrace while we are praying. For example, one habit of heart is honesty. If we desire to grow in our relationship with God then we need to cultivate the practice of being honest with God; inviting him in to the truth of our heart amidst the vicissitudes of our everyday life.

Ben: There’s a tension between “doing” and “being.” Is it possible to find “being” in the “doing”? How?

Jamin: Great question. I actually prefer the language of “being with.” This denotes communion with God. Not just “being”, but “being with.” I think when we use the dichotomy of “being” vs. “doing” we often tend to be imagining very polarizing opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side is the person who is constantly self-reflecting or contemplating. While on the other side is the person who is constantly getting things done and is active for the kingdom so to speak. I think this is a false dichotomy. Jesus makes this clear as he talks about the importance of abiding in relationship with him in John 15. What is clear is that “being with” does proceed “doing for”. The heart of the gospel is not activity for God, but communion with God. However, what is also made clear in John 15 is that if we truly are abiding in Christ then we will indeed be active for the kingdom. Our “doing” so to speak is the fruit of our “being with.” As we participate in the love of Christ we share the love of Christ.

Ben: Is it possible to have a fully-realized prayer life on our own? What part does community play in our closeness with God through prayer?

Jamin: Community is unquestionably crucial in the Christian life. Often I hear the language of “context” when talking about Christian community. It is the “context” in which we grow in Christ. I think this is fine, but I think it misses the depth of what Christian community truly is. Participation in the love of God in Christ by the Spirit is not merely an individual endeavor. As those who are in Christ, the Holy Spirit now lives within us, pointing us on to Jesus and inviting us into God’s life of love from within. However, the Holy Spirit continues to pull us into God’s life of love not just from within, but from without. For he is working in and through our fellow saints. His gifts of love are being poured out uniquely through the body of Christ. You see, being “in Christ” is essentially a communal reality, for it is the church that is his “body.”

So, community is not only the right “context” for growth, it is the place of growth. It is the place which the Holy Spirit is at work.

[Tweet “‘Being ‘in Christ’ is a communal reality, for it is the Church that is his body.’ – @JaminGoggin [via @BenReed]“]

Ben: You’ve got a companion small group guide that goes along with the book. And I love it! Can you tell us what makes this small group study different than others?

Jamin: Yes, thanks for asking. I am really excited about this small group guide. I think what is most unique about is its invitation into prayer. What you will find is that there is work to be done in-between the weekly meeting session. Part of this is reading the book. However, the other part of this is a prayer exercise we call “Being With God.” We invite folks who are going through the study to spend 30 minutes each week opening their heart to the Lord in prayer regarding the specific area they are exploring in their walk with him that week. These prayer exercises include prompts inviting folks to consider reflection questions that invite them into honesty with God in prayer. It is this time of prayer each week that we then invite the groups to share as they begin their weekly meeting. The hope is that this will engender a depth of sharing and intimacy that is uncommon in the small group setting. In other words, each member of the group will take the time to share what came up for them during their individual prayer time.

Lastly, there is one more element that I am excited about in this study guide. If folks choose to they can take a 3-4 our self-guided spiritual retreat when they finish the study. The idea behind the retreat is that it provides an opportunity for folks to pause and reflect over the previous 6 weeks focusing on what God was doing in their lives, and then in turn provides space for them to discern next steps in their journey.


This really is a rich, soul-stirring work. Pick up a copy, or have everyone in your small group pick up a copy, and work through it together.

You can pick up the book HERE and the small group study kit HERE.

If you’d like, here’s a video you can share with your small group that helps them know what the study is about:

 

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Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 8.51.16 AM

image credit: CreationSwap user David Sunnock

I’d finished getting ready for work one early morning, ready to walk out the door, when I heard a little cry from my newborn. So I set my bag down and walked back into the room to make sure she was okay. She seemed fine, so I gave her one last hug and kiss. I was ready to put her back in her crib when it happened.

Vomit.

Not just a little dribble of a spit-up. I mean full-on, projectile vomit all over me. Which, if you were wondering, is a great way to start your day. It’s delightful, really.

Then the whole situation get even better.

Because she didn’t just throw up on me. She threw up on herself.

She started wailing, crying big ole alligator tears while simultaneously pushing out her bottom lip, which started shaking in frustration and sadness and discomfort. You’d have felt sorry for her, like I did. I’m sure of it.

As I was working to clean her up, her crying woke up the rest of the house. Lovely.

I finally got her cleaned up, snuggled back in her sleeper, and nestled back in her crib.

At which point I realized that the vomit all over me was unnaturally cold.

I love my baby girl, but that was disgusting. Warm vomit is bad enough. But to have it on you so long that it actually gets cold? That’s another level gross. If you haven’t experienced it, just trust me. I won’t wish it on you.

Love may be found in the happy, pleasant moments. But I believe it’s realized in the vomit.

The hook

We are the vomit-y little newborn. Our lives are a mess. We have broken marriages, broken relationships, and a streak of pride we’re embarrassed to admit because we’re too prideful.

We’ve got a past we want to hide. A present we try to sensationalize. And a future we’re entirely uncertain of.

We’re addicted to attention. To positive reinforcement. To the “perfect” image of ourselves we think we have to live up to.

We are too lazy. Too disciplined. Too hidden. Too open.

We eat too much. Too little.

We enjoy life too much. Or not enough.

Even on our good days, our righteousness is sprinkled with, “What’s in this for me?” or “I wonder what others will think of me?” or “Will I get paid for this?” or “These people need me because I’m so awesome.”

Our generosity has an edge of hesitating, momentary greed at best. At worst it’s mixed with a self-serving, looking-down-your-nose pride.

We’re not perfect. Not at all.

And Love acknowledges that. It doesn’t look at the vomit and say, “Mmmm…yummy.” Love acknowledges our nastiness and loves anyway.

Love recognizes the nasty and dives in.

Love doesn’t act like you’re perfect. It acknowledges how gross you are, yet loves you still.

Love doesn’t act like it’s not hurt. Like it doesn’t smell the stink. It sees the vomit on you. On it. On the floor. And in the fibers of the carpet.

And whispers hope as it wipes our dirty face.

God is Love. (1 John 4:8)

We look at our lives and wonder why, if God truly does see all of our junk, He’d still love us. We’re sitting in our own filth. Helpless. Hopeless. And afraid. It’s as if God looks at us in that moment and says,

Go to work now? And miss out on an opportunity to show you love once again? To let you see your dirt, and show you that I still love you? Miss out on an opportunity to wipe your face clean, put new clothes on you, and tuck you back in? Not. A. Chance. I’m your dad, and I love you no matter what.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – The Apostle Paul, Romans 5:6-8

Love may be found in the happy, pleasant moments. But I believe it’s also found in the vomit.

 

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Feigning exhaustion

Ben Reed —  September 5, 2013 — 2 Comments

I love to run. That’s no secret. I’m among the <.03% of people that actually looks forward to long runs in oppressingly hot, humid weather. I look forward to my feet pounding the pavement, the the breeze (or lack thereof) whipping through the low spots, and the feeling at the end that, though I’m lying on the ground in a pool of my own sweat, I’ve done something significant. Though, in ultimate irony, I arrive at the same place I started.

My son’s developing this love as well. When he sees me getting ready for a run, he gets ready, too. He ties his shoes on extra tightly. Gets his bottle of water squared away. And queues up the songs he wants to hear as we run.

It’s simultaneously cute and manly.

He runs in ~.5 mile stretches. He’ll run ahead of me for a bit, taunting me as he looks back. Or he’ll run right beside me, talking about how much he loves being outside.

Then .5 mile hits, and he gets bored.

So he starts feigning exhaustion. Breathing hard. Retching his shoulders. Slowing down his words as if to catch his breath.

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 9.27.54 AM

Rex’s “I’m tired, but not really…” face

“I think…*big inhale, big exhale*…I want to ride in the stroller a while. I’m…*big inhale, big exhale*…getting…*pause for dramatic effect*…a little tired.”

So I strap him in the stroller as we trudge out a few more miles as he jabbers on about monsters, soccer practice, and one of his new-found friends at church.

He wasn’t tired at all! He wasn’t gassed. Wasn’t sore. Wasn’t out of energy.

He just wanted to quit for a while, and he knew what it looked like when daddy was tired. So he did that.

I wonder if we do the same thing in life?

We give up because we get bored. We want something new. Different. Shiny. And what we’ve been doing…well, we’re going to feign exhaustion so we can jump back in the jogging stroller.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. – Paul, Galatians 6:9-10

You see what God’s called you to do. You’ve see it more clearly than you ever have.

  • The ministry he’s called you to start.
  • The small group he’s called you to launch.
  • The book He’s led you to write.
  • The person He’s called you to love.
  • The place He’s called you to go.
  • The job He’s told you to take.

Your “personal best” is way, way better than your perceived “best.” What you can do, who you can become, and the potential that you can accomplish is massively bigger than the expectations culture places on you. Or what your boss thinks you can do. Or who your spouse thinks you can become.

Because you serve a God that’s bigger than others’ expectations.

You have caught a vision for who God wants you to be. You’ve seen where that idea could lead. You’ve realized who it could impact.

But it’s not shiny anymore. It’s actually kind of boring, and the new smell has worn off. It used to give us energy, but now it feels more like a job.

Don’t. Quit. Now.

You’ll reap nothing if you quit now. They’ll reap nothing if you quit now.

Obedience is found in doing the right thing, even when it doesn’t feel right. Even when it feels boring, mundane, and work-like.

It’s time to keep running.

No jogging strollers allowed.

 

 

 

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You’ve had a dream that flopped. An idea that didn’t get off the ground. A passion that didn’t come to fulfillment.

I know you have.

  • You wanted to write a book.
  • You wanted to go to work for a non-profit.
  • You wanted to start a non-profit.
  • You wanted to read through the Bible in a year.
  • You wanted to pray every day.
  • You wanted to save enough money to go on a mission trip.
  • You wanted to audition for a part in a play.
  • You wanted to open your own business.
  • You wanted to start, and maintain, a blog.
  • You wanted to launch a small group.
  • You wanted to learn a new language.

You started the process. And somewhere along the way, it lost its cool factor. Someone challenged you. Someone laughed at you. Something didn’t go exactly as you thought it would go. Things grew difficult, and hairy, and life happened.

Dinner still had to be served. Bills still had to be paid. Deadlines still had to be met. And dreaming took a back seat.

So you stopped. You walked away. And your dream, your idea, and that thing that God called you to do is disappearing in your rear-view mirror.

You tried. Got embarrassed. Then walked away.

What does that look like, in real life? Boiled down to 7 seconds? Something like this.

This is my son, Rex. He was dancing in front of the mirror. Dancing like nobody’s watchin. Then he realizes that someone is watching, and gets embarrassed. Then walks away, glancing back as he goes.

It’s funny to watch, but kinda sad, too.

Who cares what other people think? Who cares if they laugh? Who cares if you fall flat on your face? Who cares if things don’t go exactly as you hoped they’d go?

If God’s called you to do something, do it. Ignore the haters. Ignore the cameras. Ignore the failed attempts.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

What’s God calling you to do? Be brave. Share it with us.

 

 

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Stupid, Crazy Faith

Ben Reed —  April 17, 2013 — 4 Comments
17827

CreationSwap user Thomas Roberts

Me: How many days did it take God to create everything?

Rex (my 4 year old son): 3?

Me: No, 6.

Rex: Oh. That’s a lot of days.

See, my son fully believed that the God he’s been learning about could’ve made everything in 3 days. That God was big enough and powerful enough and quick enough to make everything his eyes have ever come in contact with…in just 3 days. Why would He need 6? Why would it take Him a whole 6 days to make the earth, the animals, the trees, and the water?

He’s so awesome, He could do it in 3 if He wanted.

I’m so encouraged by Rex’s faith. He believes that God is bigger than even I say He is.

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. – Matthew 18:1-4

The faith of an adult

Our faith, the faith of a rational, college-educated, enlightened adult is much less, isn’t it? It’s not quite as quick to believe. Not quite as quick to take that step of faith. A little more sluggish to accept the unacceptable, and grasp the miracles.

We’re a little slower than our kids are.

We struggle to believe

  • God can save our marriage
  • God can really change our dad’s heart
  • We will ever have a good relationship with our kids
  • We will ever be where we need to be spiritually
  • We can ever beat this addiction
  • She could ever forgive me
  • Our daughter could ever love me
  • Our life could ever count for something
  • God could actually be in control of our crazy lives
  • God could ever use him to minister Truth and Grace.
  • God could ever use me.
We rationalize our way out of miracles. We look for what we can see, touch, taste, feel…and base our belief on that. Rather than on the unchanging truth of who God has claimed to be, and what He has promised to us.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. – Ephesians 3:19-20

Faith is believing in what we can’t see. It’s trusting God for what He’s promised rather than what we’ve seen come true.

God can change your marriage. God can use you. God can use her. He can forgive you. He can use your addiction, and the victory you’re going to enjoy, to serve others.

It’s time you stopped believing lies. Stop believing the haters in your life. Stop listening to the voices that beat you up.

Start trusting in the promises given to you in the Bible. Start trusting in the One who loves you on your worst days. (Romans 5:6) Start believing the One who wants to give you life. (John 10:10) Star believing the One who loved you first. (1 John 4:19)

Start having the faith of a child, instead of the faith of an adult.

 

 

 

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Keep fighting

Ben Reed —  March 27, 2013 — 1 Comment
wilderness-running

image credit: iStock Photo user amygdala_imagery

I try not to check my distance too often while I jog, because running is often as much in my head as it is in my feet. I tell my legs what to do…they don’t tell me.

On this particular day, however, I was listening to a podcast, not paying attention at all to how far I’d gone. Turns out I hadn’t even made it out of the neighborhood on my trek to 7 miles.

As I glanced down to see my distance, I realized where I was.

I was at the most depressing part of a jog. The part where I realized I’d just left the house, but I still had a long, long ways to go. I was at the point where you look down to see how far you’ve gone, only to realize that on your ensuing 7 mile jog, you’ve only traveled .5 mile.

The rest of the jog, which took nearly an hour, felt like it took 4 days. Every hill was tougher. Every burst of sun more blinding. Every corner with shade was too chilly. Every puddle deeper.

It was depressing. I felt unproductive. I felt like the journey ahead was too far to go. I felt like I’d never make it.

Which is why it’s never good to measure success on the first half-mile.

Don’t measure the success of your recovery from addiction on the 2nd week, when you feel like you might break.

Don’t measure the success of your small group on the 3rd meeting, when the group still hasn’t gelled.

Don’t measure the success of your new idea on the first person you pitch it to, who tells you it’s dumb.

Don’t measure the success of your spiritual goals at week 4, when you’re still struggling with wanting to want God.

Don’t measure the success of your marriage in month 3 during a fight, when you’re tempted to walk away from it all.

Don’t measure the success of the church you’re visiting on the first visit, when you were frustrated.

Don’t measure the success of your career on your first job, which you struggled to find any satisfaction in.

Success isn’t measure .5 mile from the starting line.

Success is measured at the end of the race.

Whatever race you’re running right now, keep fighting. Keep running. Keep clawing. And don’t give up.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. – Paul, 2 Timothy 4:7

 

 

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I originally posted this 2 years ago. My wife and I are coming up on the 2-year mark for this portion of our stories, but with the massive changes in our lives recently (I’m now on staff at Long Hollow), I wanted to share this again. Just so you know, this was, and is, a painful part of our story.

 

It wasn’t just a miscarriage. It didn’t feel like we were “losing a pregnancy.” It felt like we were losing a baby.

Those are the words I’ve uttered countless times to countless people. As the news eked in through little spurts of information from multiple ultrasounds and blood tests, what we feared became a reality. “It’s not a viable pregnancy” didn’t make the pain or reality disappear. It didn’t make the baby growing inside my wife any less of a human.

Earlier this year, my wife experienced the most pain we’ve experienced in our marriage. My wife processed it out loud on my blog HERE.

Though the pain wasn’t as visceral for me, it was no less real. Through the process, I learned some valuable lessons.

Lessons I learned through a miscarriage

Every life is a gift.

I value my own life, and especially the life of my won, so much more now. It’s so much more valuable.

Every life is miracle.

Seeing that this whole pregnancy/birthing process doesn’t just happen automatically has really helped me see how each and every birth is a great miracle.

Experiencing a miscarriage is a real loss.

Not that I didn’t understand this from a theological, academic standpoint. But going through it myself, experiencing that loss, has given me a greater understanding of how to minister to people who are experiencing this. We had talked about the difficulty of miscarriages in seminary. But it was all theory. And I know that someone doesn’t have to go through every difficulty before they can help someone else. But there’s a different weight, a different level of help, that you give once you’ve experienced the exact pain that another person is experiencing.

There’s no “getting over” this.

I dont’ think it’s possible to really “get over” this loss. You can move on. You can grow. But to think that you can “get over” this as if it never really happened is foolish. Anytime you experience significant pain, the answer in coping is learning how to deal with life differently, because life has been altered.

My wife and I are doing well. We’ve grown because of this. Grown in ways we probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

We’ve still not had the joy of getting pregnant again. Maybe God will see fit for us to head back down that path. But maybe not.

Regardless, we’re trusting Him.

*photo credit Creation Swap user: Joe Cavazos

 

 

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Why we love the underdog

Ben Reed —  February 18, 2013 — 5 Comments

I’m a Cincinnati Reds fan. And I’m a Tennessee Titans Fan. And I root for the UT Vols. Which means I’m always a fan of the underdog.

My team tends to be the one that Vegas says, “Bet against.”

As a Reds fan, I grew up in “The Nasty Boys” era: Norm Charlton, Randy Myers, and Rob Dibble, the three-headed closing pitching monster that did the heavy lifting in the late innings for the Reds in the late 80s/early 90s. Throw in a little offensive power like Erik Davis, Chris Sabo, and Paul O’Neill, and you’ve got a lovable losers team worth rooting for.

Even with all of that, they were the underdog in the 1990 World Series against the A’s. Which made their sweep of the A’s even that much sweeter.

I love rooting for the underdog. The guys that everybody counts on losing. The guys that are counted out before the game begins. The team that nobody gives a chance.

And don’t we all love rooting for the underdog? It’s no secret that our culture loves movies like Remember the Titans, The Bad News Bears, and Rudy. We love shows like The Biggest Loser. Because there’s a part of us that wants the “unlovable” guy to win. That wants the big bully to lose.

But why do we really love the underdog so much?

Because we are the underdog.

gty_bully_jef_121022_wg

image credit: abcnews.com

In life, we feel like we’re the guy at the bottom.

We are the underdog

  • We were the one who was picked on at school.
  • We were the one who picked on others because we were insecure in ourselves.
  • We were the one whose marriage was doomed to fail.
  • We weren’t the one “most likely to succeed.”
  • We were the ones that nobody thought would be a good parent.
  • We were the ones that almost failed out of shop class.
  • We were the ones that never could get the girl.
  • We were the ones that were made fun of.
  • We were the nerds.
  • The goof-ups.
  • The forgetful.
  • The lazy.
  • The cheap.
  • The funny-looking.
  • The ugly one.
  • The one with the broken family.
  • The one with the addiction.
  • The one that was slow.
  • The overweight one.
  • The one with the lisp.
  • The dumb one.
  • The one who couldn’t dance.
We’re not any different spiritually, either.

Spiritual underdogs

Spiritually speaking, we’re the underdog, too. The Bible says that we are

  • dead (Romans 5:12, 19)
  • disobedient (Romans 11:32)
  • dumb sheep (Isaiah 53:6)
  • Like a thorn (Micah 7:2-4)
  • worthless (Romans 3:10)
  • Not good (Luke 18:19)
  • Evil (Ecclesiastes 9:3)
  • dumb (Jeremiah 10:14)
  • unable to save ourselves (Colossians 2:13)
The Bible paints a picture of us not of ones who are on top of the heap, righteously fighting for the good of our souls. We’re made out exactly the opposite. And if we’re honest with ourselves, doesn’t life feel like this? As much as we try, we feel further from God. As hard as we work, life still doesn’t make sense. As much as we want to do the right thing, we stumble into the wrong thing. We’ve never drifted into doing the right thing. We continuously drift into that thing that we don’t want to do. (Romans 7:19)
The Bible doesn’t paint a picture of us that we haven’t seen before. We look at it in the mirror each and every day.
We love to root for the underdog because we are the underdog.
Which makes the grace of God that much more beautiful.

I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:18-24

It’s time we embrace our weaknesses. And turn back to the God who saves the weak, the dead, the dumb, the blind, the maimed, the bleeding, the wicked, and the wanderers. And find He’s running towards us with open arms.

 

 

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5 ways to not be like Gollum

Ben Reed —  January 10, 2013 — 3 Comments

You’ve heard of Gollum, from The Lord of the Rings, right? That weasely, sneaky, under-handed nasty thief whose sole focus in life was the Ring. He didn’t start out that way. He started out as a curious, “quiet-footed” hobbit. Check out a bit of his backstory.

Evernote Camera Roll 20121124 093438

Gollum’s downward gaze shaped who he became. Instead of letting his curiosity help him explore the beauties of God, he let it drive him into the dark places. Smeagol became Gollum because he didn’t “look up.”

Curiosity is a gift from God…until you let it lead you to dark places. Instead of your curiosity looking for shadows of hope and grace scattered throughout the earth, it can lead you to search in dark corners of self-pity, self-hate and loneliness. Curiosity can lead you to your sin, your “dark places.”

When your gaze is always “downward,” you’re setting yourself up for a life where you’ll be dominated by your shame, guilt, and failures. Gollum is the prototypical person who is fully aware of their “thing,” their addiction, their “thorn in the flesh,” and who has made their life, and everyone else’s, revolve around that addiction. Gollum is so marked by his addiction that his whole existence revolves around it, and like a vortex he has sucked other people into his pain.

Time to look up.

26 Look up into the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

How do you take positive steps away from your sin, and help ensure that your addiction and recovery don’t become your identity? How do you make sure you don’t consume others in your road to health? How do you ensure you’re not dominated by your guilt, shame, and fear?

6 Ways to Not Be Like Gollum

  1. Get outside. Enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. As you do, you’ll find the dark places of your heart a bit brighter. (Isaiah 40:26)
  2. Get outside. Remind yourself that there is a God…and that it’s not you. He’s all-powerful, you’re not. He knows all things…you don’t. He created the stars. You didn’t. (Isaiah 40:26-27)
  3. Exercise. There’s something healing about working strenuous, physical activity into your routine. Growing physically weak reminds us that God’s strength is perfect. (Isaiah 40:29)
  4. Serve someone else. Gollum served, and only thought about, himself. If you want to get out of your rut, do something for someone else, in a way that your favor can’t be “returned” back to you. Make life not about you.
  5. Remind yourself of the times that God has loved you and breathed hope into your story. (Isaiah 40:27)
  6. Trust in the Lord. (Isaiah 40:31) Easier said than done, though. Which is why you can’t do this on your own. Everything else can be done, just between you and God. But trusting in the Lord is too difficult to try to do by yourself. Bring someone else into your journey, and give them the freedom to speak hard, life-giving Truth into your story. 
Ready to grow in your faith? Time to look up.
 

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It was the last inning of the final game of the 14-year-old travel team tournament I was playing in. We were in Murray, KY, squaring off against the home town heroes. The two guys in front of me struck out looking, frozen by the ace that the other team had brought in to close out the tournament.

I remember the look from my coach as I walked up to the plate with two outs. The look that said, “Dang it. Reed is up. I guess this tournament is over for us.” That look just made me mad. So mad that I whiffed on the first two heaters he painted on the outside corner. 0-2 count. Nobody knew it right then, not even the pitcher, but I had this guy’s number. I had him dialed in. He came in on me with a low fastball, and when he did, it was like the whole world slowed down for a moment. I felt like I could see the ball like I’d never seen it before. Instead of throwing me a heater on the inside corner, it was like he was lobbing me a softball. The buzz of the crowd went away, the fielders disappeared, and it was just me and the ball. It was like I was in the matrix for a moment. I turned on it, ripping it to the left field wall, knocking in the tying run.

Boom. Take that, coach. And other team.

Have you ever had those kinds of moments, where everything around you is going crazy, but you are so laser focused that time seems to slow?

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image credit: CreationSwap user Amber Sprung, edits mine

The leadership zone

The best leaders work like that, navigating stressful and crushing situations with ease. They have a calming sense about them, too, bringing other people into their zone and helping them calm down.

Helping crazy moments seem a little less crazy.

Helping chaos seem like a smooth Sunday afternoon ride.

Helping confusion seem like an evening in the recliner.

Here is the reality: even in these “zone” moments, things aren’t calm. They aren’t clear. But great leaders help others feel that way, as they constantly, through their words and actions in the heat of the moment, cast the vision that says,

“We’re going to be just fine. Hang on. Here’s where we’re going.”

They paint a picture that isn’t satisfied with the reality in front of them, but is looking forward to that day when things will be calm.

Ron Edmondson is especially adept at this. I can’t tell you how many times I stepped into his office at Grace, stressed and confused, only to walk out thinking, “Why in the world did I ever doubt?”

Here’s the trick that the best leaders do:

Act calm.

Even if you aren’t. Even if you don’t know which direction you should go next. Even if you are frustrated, up-tight, and confused. Take a deep breath, and help others to do the same. If you lose your cool complaining and crying, you only exacerbate an already stress-inducing environment.

As the old adage goes, fake it until you make it.

But that’s just lying, Ben!

Maybe.

Or maybe your words and actions can be deeply rooted in a faith that trusts that no matter what happens, God’s not shaken. God’s in control. He calls the shots, not us. And even if we fail, God works out all things for our good. Stress tends to bring out the best, and the worst, in people. Let it bring out your deep trust in a good King.

Next time chaos and confusion strikes a meeting, an event, or a relationship, act calm. Remind people who’s really in control. Take a deep breath. And move forward.

 

 

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