Justifying Myself

One of my favorite prayers is recorded in Psalm 139. It is such an intimate prayer of how well God knows us. I‘m frequently struck by the two thoughts that seem to contradict themselves in the opening and closing verses.

David begins his prayer, “O Lord, You have searched me and You know me. … You perceive my thoughts from afar.” But then he ends his prayer with these words, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Now why would David ask God to search his heart and his thoughts after he said God had already searched him? I think it‘s because our natural tendency is to justify ourselves. It goes like this: God searches us → He shows us things that need to be changed → We justify why we don‘t need to change those things → We try to forget what God had pointed out to us and move on.

When the Holy Spirit points out an anxious thought or an offensive way, our natural response is to quickly say, “Yes, but…

  • …I know I shouldn‘t have said that to her, but you don‘t know how she pushes my buttons!”
  • …I know it‘s wrong of me to desire that, but having it won‘t really hurt anything.”
  • …I know I should make that change in my behavior, but it‘s just not realistic in my current situation.”
  • …I know I should have talked to him about Christ, but it wasn‘t the right time.”
  • …I know my I‘ve been battling anxiety over this, but I‘m scared to make any changes because things might get worse!”

I echo Augustine‘s prayer: “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.”

David sets an example for me that I‘m trying to make a consistent practice in my life: Regularly allowing the Holy Spirit to search me for any anxious thoughts or offensive ways, and then addressing those without trying to justify or vindicate myself (no “yes-but‘s”). Because if I justify myself, I‘m really saying I know better than God what’s best for my life.

And all the while, God is simply trying to lead me in the way everlasting. He‘s trying to occupy more of my life with His presence.

If thou couldst empty all thyself of self.
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the Ocean shelf,
And say, “This is not dead,”
And fill thee with Himself instead.
But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That, when He comes, He says, “This is enow
Unto itself—‘Twere better let it be:
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.“ —T.E. Brown

Are you making room for Him today? Or are you justifying the anxious thoughts and offensive ways the Holy Spirit is trying to reveal to you? 

Christ In The Passover

seder-meal

Last night Douglas Carmel (from Rock Of Israel ministries) led our congregation through a ceremonial Seder meal. It was absolutely fascinating!

First of all, to share in a meal that our Jewish brothers have been faithfully observing for thousands of years was very cool. I felt such a connection with my spiritual heritage.

Then to see how Jesus Christ can be seen as the once-for-all Passover Lamb was so eye-opening. As Douglas taught, images from Scripture came flooding back to my memory, but all in a new light: Like when John says, “Look! The Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.”

Finally, to see how Jesus instituted a new covenant for us by His broken body and spilt blood was humbling. He became everything the Seder meal had been pointing to for thousands of years. As we remember this in our Communion services, I will be thinking differently about the cup and the bread.

I’m looking forward to celebrating Christ’s passion, His death, and resurrection in just a couple of weeks, even more so now that I’ll be seeing these events and these Scriptures through different eyes. Thank you, Douglas, for making the Scriptures come alive for us!

Puppy Love

Three weeks ago I had come to the end of a particularly rough week, so when I got home I told my family I was declaring the next day to be “National Be Kind To Craig Owens Day.” I figured that was one way to get some love!

That day was so wonderful I decided to extend NBKTCO Day through the weekend, and I talked Betsy into letting us buy a puppy. And so Grace became a part of our family.

Since I didn’t want to leave her home alone, I started bringing Grace with me to my office. While I’ve been trying to potty train her, she has been training me in a few areas too. Here are some of the lessons I’m rediscovering—

  • Always greet people warmly. Even if they only left the room a couple of minutes ago. It always makes people smile when they are greeted so warmly.
  • Treat everyone like a friend. It doesn’t matter if they are the one who feeds you or a perfect stranger, everyone deserves to be treated like they are the nicest person alive.
  • Genuine puppy “kisses” makes anyone’s day!

The Apostle Paul had a friend like Grace—someone always so welcoming and encouraging to others. Paul wrote to Philemon, “Friend, you have no idea how good your love makes me feel, doubly so when I see your hospitality to fellow believers.” (Philemon 1:7, The Message).

Thanks, Grace, for the lessons. I’m learning how to show some puppy love to everyone.

Do I Know Too Much?

Thomas Huxley wrote, “I object to Christians: they know too much about God.”

When Job was going through his trials, his “friends” showed up with all kind of knowledge about God. They knew that God would never allow the innocent to go through difficulty. They knew Job had sinned somewhere along the way. They knew that God always answers a righteous man‘s prayers exactly as he had prayed it.

They knew too much about God.

They put God in their box, telling Him how to behave the way they knew He should.

They became their own god.

Job didn’t know all that God was doing, but he did know, “He does great things too marvelous to understand” (Job 9:10). The Apostle Paul echoed the same thought: “Oh, how great are God‘s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways!” (Romans 11:33).

As I go through my own trials, I‘m learning a little more about the depths of God‘s love for me everyday—“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love” (Romans 5:3-5).

How about you: Do you know too much about God? Or are you still open to learn more?

Getting Away With Evil?

I’ve had some particularly mean and untrue words fired at me recently. It hurts. Especially because so many of these barbs have no redemptive quality to them… there is no attempt at even trying to bring about restoration. So many of the statements are intended merely to harm me, not to help me.

During these times I’m especially drawn to the psalms; even more specifically to the psalms written by David.

Psalm 10 captures the emotion I sometimes struggle with when these unwarranted attacks come in. David asks, “Why do these people get away with evil? God, don’t You see what they’re doing? Don’t You hear what they’re saying? How can You let them spew such venom and not bring them to account for it?

My feelings exactly!

Psalm 10 ends with, “God hears, He is aware, He will defend.” But I find myself wanting more than that!

Then I noticed the footnote in my NIV Bible. It says that Psalm 9 and 10 form one psalm in the Septuagint (Greek) Bible; that they were originally written as a single poem.

Ah hah!

In Psalm 9 David tells us why he can praise God and rejoice in Him and sing praises to Him.
• God turns back David’s enemies.
• God upholds David’s cause.
• God judges righteously.
• God completely uproots the wicked.
• God is a refuge for the oppressed.
• God never forsakes those who seek Him.
• God avenges.
• God does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.
• God is known by His justice.
• God makes sure the hope of the afflicted never perishes.
• God lets men know He is God and they are just men.

The wicked may seem to gain the upper hand, but it’s only for a moment. God’s righteousness will always prevail. What a comfort to know God is my Defender!

Why do I need to go through these tough times? Because when (not if!) God delivers me, I can praise Him with even greater zeal! He is exalted even more highly when people see His justice and righteousness.

My friend, if you are going through a battle right now, run to God. Don’t attack your enemies. Let God be God and let Him deal with men in His righteous justice. Praise Him for He will prevail mightily!

Land Of Angels

My cousin ministers in Sudan — a country and a people ravaged by war and persecution. But there is hope for hopeless people! For when we pray, hope is boundless! This poem was recently written by my cousin:

Three angels stood before the throne
Two together, one alone
Each in turn petitions brought
Each a favor meekly sought

The first was young, was fair, was bright
With little hands, with gentle light
This angel pled for child and wife
Who bore the brunt of Darfur strife

The second angel, scarred but brave
Represented knight and knave
Who in Darfur did Gospel tell
Who gave out food, who dug up well

The third before the throne stood grim
Yet, O what love there was for him
He cried for rapist, victor, thug
He asked for them Mercy above

All angels knelt, all angels paused
All three had answers kindly caused
All three sped back with burning story
All of Darfur shall fill with glory

Please pray with me for God’s glory and God’s grace to flood Darfur and the devastated people there.

The Passion Of Pessimism

I’m reading Oswald Chamber‘s challenging book Baffled To Fight Better. In this book, Chambers is commenting on the life of Job as portrayed in the Bible. His thesis is that we can fight better when we‘re totally baffled on how to fight on our own—when we‘re baffled, we can only turn to God.

Today I read Chambers‘ statement, “Real suffering comes when a man‘s statement of his belief in God is divorced from his personal relationship to God.”

This reminded me of what this important principle: “The man with an experience is never at the mercy of the man with an argument.” Or I would paraphrase this, “The man with an intimate relationship with Jesus is never baffled when things don‘t turn out as he planned.”

I‘ve been going through some baffling times—circumstances aren‘t coming together the way I would have planned them. But during this trying time, my relationship with Jesus is growing more and more precious to me.

Where pessimism could reign I am finding greater passion.

What have you discovered in your baffling times?

The One Who Is To Come

the-one-who-is-to-come

Just started a new Bible study on Wednesday nights, and it’s revolutionizing my thinking about Jesus the Messiah.

In this series we’re looking at prophesies given in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and then looking at the New Testament to see how Jesus Christ fulfilled those prophesies 700 years later when He came to earth. Then we’re also looking even further ahead at the prophesies that Jesus will fulfill when He comes back to earth again.

The more I study the life of Jesus, the more deeply I fall in love with Him!

Rewards

The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness…. (1 Samuel 26:23)

The Lord—Not a man, not a system, not a church. They are fickle, short-sighted, limited. It is an All-Powerful, Unlimited, All-Loving God who rewards me.

Rewards—God keeps track and He pays back in-full. God doesn‘t use IOUs or promissory notes, but payment in-full.

Every man—Not the favored ones nor the super-spiritual. Everyone… even me!

Righteousness—The one who does the right thing. There is always—in every situation and circumstance—the right thing… God‘s thing. Do I have the faith to do it?

Faithfulness—Continually clinging to God through good times and bad.

God will reward me for doing things His way. And I‘m forever grateful!

The Sermon That Didn’t Happen

I planned, prayed, studied, prepared, tweaked, refined, practiced, and finalized my message for Sunday morning. We’re in a series called “Tell Me A Story,” where we’re looking at the great truths Jesus revealed in the amazingly-simple stories He told.

Yesterday we were going to look at a story that is so simple, it’s told in just one verse (Matthew 13:44). The kids drama team from The Rock had a very humorous skit ready to help me illustrate my message in a fun way. And I was fired up to share with our church the simple, yet profound, truths the Holy Spirit had spoken to my heart from this story.

Then something happened.

The Spirit of God moved into our service in such a powerful way that we couldn’t continue as planned.

At the close of our worship time, I felt like God was calling us to simply stay in His presence, so we continued to worship. Then God spoke to us through a prophetic word that was right on the mark. I encouraged the congregation to remain in an attitude of prayer as we just waited in God’s presence. Without hesitation, people came to the altars, kneeled at their seats, or stood in God’s presence.

No formal prayer. No stirring music. Just the sweet sound of spiritually-sensitive people sobbing in God’s presence. It was powerful! Another word was given – this one very challenging and exhorting.

Then I felt the Holy Spirit stir my heart. I opened my Bible to the one verse I had prepared to share. But when I opened my mouth, God gave me an entirely different message. I only spoke for a couple of minutes, and without a formal dismissal I simply called people back to prayer.

And our people prayed. And prayed. And prayed. For a long time members of our congregation simply waited in God’s presence.

The Holy Spirit did a deep and personal work in many people’s hearts yesterday… including mine! I cannot wait to see what changes come about as a result of our unplanned time with God yesterday. I’m so glad that my sermon didn’t happen!

%d bloggers like this: