Category Archives: God

a new identity

The story of Jesus and the bleeding woman has always intrigued me. At face value, it’s another account of Jesus healing someone from a life-hindering ailment. Which, in itself, is an amazing miracle. It’s crazy how our God can heal. He heals with his words, with his touch, and even from a distance. When people have a healing encounter with Jesus, they are never the same. That’s amazing!

But whenever I read this story, something else strikes me as amazing.

Jesus restores this woman’s identity. 

This woman had been bleeding for years. She was probably known as the “unclean one.” The woman was avoided on the street by others out of a fear of becoming unclean themselves. She wasn’t able to have normal relationship with people or God because of her condition. And when she touches Jesus’ coat, that all changes.

When she touched him, Jesus knew the healing took place, but he took the opportunity to take this healing one step further. He called her out in the middle of a large crowd and declared her healed. She was publicly declared clean. And this woman, who’s entire identity in life was probably “the unclean one,” was given a new name for all to hear. Daughter. Clean.

When we encounter Jesus, when we allow him to transform our hearts and minds into his likeness, we are given a new identity. We are no longer defined by our past mistakes, failures, and short-comings. We are no longer defined by what we do or how we look. We are defined by Christ. Because of his love for us, we are called his sons and daughters. Amazing.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1, NIV)

Check out the healing story – Mark 5:24-34.

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#GardnersGoPA

Wait, we live on the EAST COAST?!

I have always strived to prioritize my life in this way: (1) God, (2) family, (3) ministry. Based on these priorities, my wife and I have longed to be closer to family. And for this reason, we began looking at the possibility of moving away from Coeur d’Alene and closer to family, which currently reside in New York and California (the two extremes!).

Once we began looking, God made it quite clear that He was moving us on. Doors opened, conversations happened, and the house sold. Fast. In fact, we had two offers on the table almost before the “For Sale” sign went up. So now I’m one week away from starting as the High School Pastor at Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a short drive from Emily’s parents in Burlington Flats, New York.

GardnersGoPA

This past month has been crazy. Like I said, the house sold faster than anyone (other than God) could have imagined. We also sold a car and appliances like they were the last on earth. At the end of this week, we’re going to move into a beautiful townhouse in a great neighborhood. And I doubted God every step of the way.

Apparently, I have a memory problem. I know God is faithful. He has always been faithful, and I trust that He will continue to be faithful. And yet, my anxiety and fearfulness of the unknown creeps in, probably thanks to the fact that I am human, and I worry about what’s going to happen.

 

ME: What if we can’t sell the house? We can’t afford a rent and a mortgage at the same time!

GOD: Don’t worry.

ME: What if we don’t break even with the house? We don’t have money to pay the bank!

GOD: Do not fear.

ME: Ok, the house sold. But what if the inspection doesn’t pass? This is an old house!

GOD: Be still and know that I am God. 

ME: Ok, the inspection passed, but there’s still a lot that can go wrong! Ahhh!!!

GOD: I work all things together for your good according to My purpose.

ME: What if what You see as good doesn’t match up with what I see as good?

GOD: Trust Me.

 

Why do we do that? Why do we constantly forget that God is good and He works ALL things together for good according to His purpose. If I’ve learned anything from this adventure called following Jesus, I have learned this: God is faithful, and I mess up. God is perfect, and I have flaws. God is good, and I need to remember to rest in His grace.

This new adventure is exciting and scary. And I am so glad that I get to follow my Savior through it all!

hear him: where is god?

You forgot to do your homework. That worksheet you needed to do for english class is blank because when you got it the day before, you placed in the middle of the book. Because it was out of sight, you totally forgot about it until you got to class today. Now you’re frantically trying to finish it before the teacher needs to collect it.

It wasn’t in front of you, you didn’t notice it, so you forgot it was there. 

Just like forgetting about your homework, it’s easy to go through life and live in the moment, not remembering God or paying any attention to his presence. Because how are we supposed to notice God’s presence, anyway? If God isn’t actively speaking to us throughout our day, it’s easy to forget that he’s there.

So where is God…?

Let’s start at the beginning… God creates the heavens and the earth. He creates all things, plants, animals, light, dark, and everything else. And then God places man and woman in a special place, a garden.

And God, man, and woman lived together in perfect community in that garden. They hung out, played games, laughed together. It was perfect!

Hear Him 1

And then sin entered the picture.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” (GENESIS 3:8-9 NIV)

“Where are you?” — For the first time in all of creation, God felt a separation between himself and his creation. And because of sin, humans could no longer be in a right relationship, in perfect community with God.

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And the entirety of the Old Testament is humans trying to regain a right relationship with God. But then Jesus enters the scene.

Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel (meaning, God is with us). (MATTHEW 1:23 NIV)

Hear Him 3

God in human form lived in community with humans for the first time since the beginning. We walked, talked, and cried with the people he was with. And he loved them more than they could know. But Jesus couldn’t say around forever, but there was a plan.

Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (MATTHEW 28:20, NIV)

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (JOHN 16:7)

Hear Him 4

From the beginning, the plan was always to make sure God was with us. The bottom line is this: God is not absent, although he may feel absent. He never says, “I’ve got a universe to run, I get to you when I’m done… and what was your name? Never mind, I’ve got things to do.”

This is called God’s OMNIPRESENCE— God is everywhere. That means that no matter where we find ourselves or how difficult our circumstances, we can be certain that we are never alone.

And really, the reason I know that God is not absent is because he poured out his anger on his son so that we can be with him. Because John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the WOLRD that he GAVE…”

If God is simply a cosmic ruler who doesn’t have time for us, not really caring who we are or what we do, who isn’t present in our lives, I don’t believe he would have gone through the physical and emotional pain of sending Jesus to the cross. It wouldn’t make any sense. His sacrifice would be for nothing.

God is present and wants to have a conversation with us.

But in order to have a conversational relationship with God, where we can talk to God and we know how God talks to us, we have to understand God’s presence. God. Is. Present. And he’s ready to have a conversation with you. 

For further study:

  • Genesis 28:16 (It says that Jacob was in a “certain place,” a place so not important, it’s not worth mentioning. What does that say about God’s presence?)
  • Job 42:5 (Thinking about who Job is and what he’s gone through, what is the significance of his statement?)
  • Psalm 46

hear him – developing a conversational relationship with god

Hear Him TITLE

In 1 Kings, which is a book in the Old Testament, just after 1 and 2 Samuel, we find the story of a prophet, a messenger from God, named Elijah. Elijah is this guy who was called by God to do amazing things.

One day, he challenged false prophets to a showdown on Mount Carmel. You may have heard this story: the false prophets sacrificed a bull and tried to get their God Baal to light the altar on fire, but nothing happened. Elijah rebuilt the altar, sacrificed a bull, and poured water all over it. It was soaked. And when Elijah called on God, fire fell from heaven, consuming everything on and around the altar. And then Elijah had all 850 false prophets killed.

Word got back to someone who followed one of the false gods, and she sent Elijah a death threat. So Elijah ran for his life. He ran for 40 days until he reached Horeb, which was known as the mountain of God, where God dwells.

There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

Like God doesn’t know what Elijah was doing there…? I think it’s cool that when we approach God in prayer, he doesn’t stop us from sharing what’s on our heart since he knows already. He welcomes us to pour out our hearts to him, and he loves it when we invite him in to our lives that way.

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

Did you catch what Elijah is saying here? I have been zealous (or passionate, devoted) to you, God. But look at the rest of Israel… yeah, they rejected your covenant, they messed up, and I’m the only one left who loves you. In fact, everyone is trying to kill me. What am I supposed to do?!

Elijah had been a hard working prophet, dedicated to God and God’s people. But now Elijah has had enough. It seems as though everyone now hates him and wants to kill him. And he comes to God for help, not knowing what to do. He wants to hear God’s voice and receive guidance.

And check out how God responds…

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” [STOP!]

Ok, weird sentence. God says, go stand on the mountain in the presence of God, because God is going to pass by…?

Whether or not it made sense to him, Elijah went.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Elijah walks up the mountain, and there’s natural disasters left and right. But Elijah didn’t find God in any of those powerful forces of nature. Elijah notices God’s presence in a gentle whisper, or a light breeze, the kind that you feel coming off the lake on a hot day and all you can say is, “ah…”

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

It’s interesting that God wasn’t in the strong wind, earthquake or fire. He wasn’t in the things that Elijah probably expected God to be in.

Elijah had just poured his heart out to God — and he wanted God to take action! To defeat Israel and all of her wickedness with the force of a strong wind, the devastation of a powerful earthquake or fire. But God’s presence was actually in the gentle, refreshing, life-giving breeze.

I wonder if God was trying to tell Elijah something — that he was not interested in destroying Israel, but of being gentle with grace and compassion. Elijah obviously doesn’t get it, because he says the EXACT same thing as before: I’ve been good, they’ve been bad, what are you going to do?!

The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” 

It’s only after Elijah spends time in the presence of God that God gives him an answer.

I wonder if God was trying to say to Elijah — “Before we talk, get to know me. Know my character. Know my heart. Spend time in my presence.”

I’m in the middle of a book called Hearing God by Dallas Willard. He was a professor of philosophy at USC, and he wrote a lot about God and how we relate to God. In this book, he wrote “Only our communion with God (only our relationship with God) provides the appropriate context for communications between us and him.”

Hear Him CONTENT 1

Elijah needed to experience God’s presence and spend time getting to know his character before God was willing to give Elijah an answer.

We have to develop a conversational relationship with God, where we can talk to God and know how God is talking to us. And this begins with spending time with God, getting to know his character, and understanding his presence in our lives.

THINK ABOUT IT

  • Why do you think it’s important to develop a conversational relationship with God?
  • What does a conversational relationship with God look like in our daily lives?
  • How are we going to spend time getting to know God this week?
  • All things considered, do you want to hear God’s voice? Why or why not?

 

Bold text is taken from 1 Kings 19:9-18 (NIV). 

god threw a stone

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 8:10-11 (ESV)

You’ve probably heard this story before. It’s the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. CAUGHT IN THE ACT. Yikes. Can you imagine what might have been going through her head in the moment? She probably expected Jesus to be the first to throw the stone, the first to make sure she knew that she was going to die alone… but that’s not what happened.

First, Jesus tells the woman that he does not condemn her, which doesn’t mean he condones or approves of her sin, but he doesn’t condemn her. He, being the only one able to stone her to death according to his proclamation of the ones without sin able to throw stones, doesn’t do it.

Instead, Jesus extends grace. Through this one-on-one experience with Jesus, this woman is forgiven. And only then, only after she has already been forgiven, does he instruct her to sin no more.

This is huge.

He does not make his love conditional on her behavior. He does not say, “Go, sin no more, and check back with me in six months. If you’ve been good, I won’t condemn you to die.” No, Jesus creates new life in the woman by loving her unconditionally, with no-strings-attached.

And by refusing to condemn her, he sets her free to do what she has probably already pledged to do on her own: leave her old life behind. She has been set free, as Paul puts it, to live a life free of the yoke of slavery. And because of this interaction with Jesus, she CAN live free.

God gives us the power to live a life free from slavery to the law and free from the shackles of sin through the Holy Spirit. When David wrote Psalm 40, he knew this truth: He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2). We have a firm place to stand in the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

But, unfortunately, it comes at a price. You see, for the woman, for you, and for me, there is a penalty for sin. A clean, holy God cannot be in relationship with unclean, broken people. But God loves each and every one of us so much that He wasn’t okay with that reality. 

And while no one on earth can throw the first stone, God can.

stone

You see, a stone was thrown, but it didn’t hit the woman, it didn’t hit me, and it didn’t hit you. It hit Jesus on the cross, with all of the sin and the shame of the world upon him. He was the sacrifice for our brokenness so that we can be forgiven.

This woman had an encounter with God through the person of Jesus that resulted in grace and forgiveness. And our God wants so desperately to have an encounter with you. 

It doesn’t start with getting your own life in order so you can be good enough and go to church every week and sing the right songs to be acceptable in God’s sight.

No, grace is not something we can earn. It comes from simply coming to God, having a heart-to-heart, agreeing with God that you need Him. And from there, like with the woman in this story, He will transform your heart, your desires, your actions, to align with Him.

The best thing that can happen to us is to stand naked in front of Jesus. No hiding, no pretending everything is ok. It’s just you and him. And Jesus will look at you with his perfect love, with perfect compassion, with the ability to forgive and make you clean.

NOTE: This post was taken from my sermon on John 8:2-11. Feel free to watch the sermon sometime!

i’m tired

Tomorrow is the final day of preparation for our high school mission trip to Seattle. It is the final day to rest before seven days of early mornings, late nights, manual labor, and exceedingly long stints of extroversion.

And I’m already tired.

tired.jpgCaffeine has been one of my closest friends the past few weeks. It’s always been there for me during the long days of preparing for this trip and maintaining other daily tasks. But there is only so much this legal drug can do. Only so much energy it can fake before the inevitable crash. And while caffeine will continue to be there for me through the thick and thin of this next week, it, too, has it’s limits.

So entering into this mission trip, there are two things I know for sure: (1) I’m tired, and (2) whatever success, whatever building of the kingdom, whatever individual growth happens on this trip has to be because of God, not me.

I’m reminded of Mike Erre’s thoughts in Astonished, “This is the paradox of strength and weakness: that I am strongest when I am weakest; I am most usable when I am in over my head; Jesus is most present when I am at the end of my rope.”

I’m thankful that I worship a God who is strong in my weakness. Who uses me in my weakness to be strong. And who will be present always. I’m starting this week with the realization that God is going to show up. God will continue to be present. God will work.

And I wonder if God is chuckling with Himself at my tiredness, knowing that if I was well-rested, it would be too easy to point to me in successes; but because I’m already so tired, it will be much easier to point to Him.

Again, I’m so glad that God is in control.