In the early church, there was a lot of rejection and relational conflict going on as believers began to transition into the newly forming sub-culture we now know as Christianity.  Ethnic and familiar allegiances were taking second place to a new found devotion to the person of Christ and to the local church.  This was especially true of the church in Rome.  At that time, the climate in the Roman community of believers was often marked by discord and strife and therefore proved to be a fertile breeding ground for the delving out of many overly harsh judgments.  Those who not so long ago were considered friends and family, now were viewed as opposing factions.  In the midst of all the mud slinging, Paul challenges the young church to “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom 11:22)

If we’re honest, most of us are much more in touch with God’s sternness (some translations “severity”) than we are his kindness.  Of course there are many reasons why we might have this kind of imbalanced perspective, but none more suspect than the abundance of legalistic doctrine that has been allowed to freely flow from so many of our pulpits.  And to make matters worse, we’ve unknowingly heaped condemnation on ourselves and others for not adhering to all the dogmatic BS we’ve been subjected to.  As a result, many of us have been led to believe that God is somehow fundamentally disappointed in us.  This is just plain sad.  What we believe about the nature of our Heavenly Father will drastically affect the quality of our life.  If we believe that God is usually mad at us, or that our performance is always falling short of what’s expected, then it will be tough for us to enjoy even the best parts of our life.  On the other hand, when we are hanging on to the revelation that God’s unconditional love and acceptance is based solely on our relationship to his Son, then even our difficulties can be seen to have redeeming eternal purpose.

Receiving and relying on the grace of God is both simple and profoundly necessary. Considering the kindness of God begins with a decision to believe that he is gracious and kind by nature, and not the divine drill sargent that we’ve been led to believe.  Of course, like any good father he has to be stern with his children at times.  He will never wink at our disobedience as if it were cute.  But this is precisely why we must “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Heb 12:15)  Can you see the principle here?  If we somehow “miss” God’s grace, then we will become bitter… toward him, others, and even ourselves.  Have you ever felt that God was just waiting for you to fail so that he could smack you back into line?  Trust me on this my friend, maybe your earthly father gave you that impression, or maybe some other authority figure in your life operated that way, but that is not the way God is!  Malice is just not a part of his make-up.

When we struggle with bitterness, it is because we need a deeper revelation of God’s love for us.  If we receive his grace, then we have it to give to ourselves and others.  If we often feel like he’s angry at us, or disappointed in us, then we’ll just as readily pass that negative emotion on to those around us.  If we allow a “bitter root to grow up” within us, it will invariably “cause trouble” for usand in turn “defile many.” Again, we’re only able to give what we’ve already received.  But that blade cuts both ways.  When we begin to truly rely on the kindness and grace of the Lord, then we’ll have an abundance of it to give away.

Let’s face it, our flesh is always going to be prone to weakness.  “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Ro 7:18)  But keep in mind that all that human frailty is there by design.  If you’re spending much time wrestling with feelings of anger, or you know someone who can’t seem to get over their bitterness, it’s time to apply some grace.  Receive the Father’s forgiveness and then release that forgiveness in every possible direction.  Whether we’re feeling the shame of  someone else’s unrighteous judgment, or we’re the one passing it out, the application of this truth is the same.  “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Why?  Because we all need it desperately.  No exceptions. “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (Jas 2:13)

Lord, you know we need help with this one.  Please grant us a deeper revelation of how much you love us.  Forgive us for our harsh judgments toward ourselves and others.  Forgive us for believing that you’re mad and disappointed with us.  You are a loving Heavenly Father and want nothing more than to bless us and to grant us favor in all that we do.  You are good and kind and so faithful to us.  Thank you for being such a great Dad.  We love you.

In Part 1  of The Good Life, I briefly shared about a couple of the lessons learned during a five year period of my life in which God seemed to be a million miles away.  After functioning for many years with what I thought was a relatively significant sphere of influence, my faith journey suddenly took an abrupt turn down a treacherous road that led me to a very dry place on the backside of nowhere.   Like most American males, my identity was closely tied to my job and my perceived status in the proverbial pecking order.  I went from overseeing a gifted ministry staff and weekly having the attention and esteem of hundreds of people, to being the lowest man on the totem pole in a dead end job.   Any inflated impressions I may have once had of my self quickly became little more than a distant memory.  Now that I was no longer “The Pastor” I began to question my place in the world and what purpose my life might have apart from my calling and ministry abilities.  More importantly, what value was I to the Lord if I could not even hold onto the position of “full-time” Christian servant?  The answer to that question came as a result of an elongated wrestling match with God that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.  But hopefully, by learning from my boneheaded stubbornness, you can fore go a few of the painful face plants and mat burns that accompany any form of confrontation with an omnipotent being.

OK, so you don’t feel like you’re fulfilling what you know the Lord has called you to do.  Or maybe he’s made promises to you about your future that don’t seem to be getting any closer to being realized.  Perhaps  you’re currently experiencing an unprecedented level of  situational difficulty.  Money problems?  Broken relationship?  Shattered dreams?  Poor health?  For the overcoming Christian, it all eventually leads to the same outcome…  an unconditional surrender of our will, followed by a decision to trust in the kind and gentle nature of our Heavenly Father.  One of the most crucial truths I learned in the wilderness is this; never put your hope in an outcome, instead, put your hope in the Lord. We often hear the fist half of Proverbs 13:12 quoted; “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  But that’s not the end of the verse.  It continues with “a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  If we find ourselves sick at heart, it might be because our hope has been misplaced.  Real life begins, and our deepest longings are fulfilled when we can authentically breathe the ultimate prayer of surrender, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Please trust me on this my friend, God will do what he wants, when he wants, however he wants to do it.   In fact, if experience has taught me anything, the what, when, and how of God’s plan for us often ends up looking completely different from what we might have envisioned or hoped for at first.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isa 55:9) If we can’t be happy unless God does what we want him to, or we somehow withhold our affection unless he does it the way we think he should, then we might as well prepare ourselves for an extended stay in the Heartbreak Hotel because we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.  Simply put, man plans and God laughs.  We might as well get used to it because that’s not gonna change.  Lordship ultimately requires us to give even the good things he’s given us (words, promises, dreams, callings) back to him.  God allows in his wisdom what he could easily prevent by his power.

Now here’s the good news.  Those promises we have from the Lord don’t lose any of their potency or potential with the passing of time.  I don’t care how long it’s been, he will do what he said he would do.  He is completely faithful to his word and worthy of any amount of blind trust we can muster.  Our job is to live in obedience one day at a time.  Each day God will give us the grace to do what he asks us to do.  If we ever find ourselves being anxious about our future, then in essence we’re trying to borrow from tomorrow’s grace.  Learning to live by faith is a lot like collecting manna.  If you try to get enough both for today and tomorrow you’ll end up with something rotten.  “Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.”

After a long wander through the desert, I am slowly learning to enjoy my life in whatever form it takes.  Many times this begins with little more than a quick acknowledgement of the Lord’s goodness.  Sometimes it’s more of a conscious decision to be grateful.  All in all, the quality of our life has everything to do with our demeanor toward God. If we stay mad at him, or question his goodness for too long, we’ll find our selves stuck in the dry places. When we choose to believe that he loves us and wants nothing more than to bless us, then the good things he has for us begin to flow again.  Truth be known, my situation hasn’t changed all that much since I entered the wilderness.  I’m still working the same job for the same pay.  My sphere of influence and ministry remains small in comparison to what it used to be.  I’m not really in a place where I can do some of the things I know I’ll eventually get to do for the kingdom, but for the first time in my life, I’m starting to find peace and fulfillment in a way I’ve never experienced.  Little by little, I’ve been getting the revelation that I don’t really have to do or be anything to earn the Lord’s approval or affection.  I’m his beloved son and he likes me just the way I am.  I like to hunt, collect stuff, hang out with friends and eat really good food.  That’s the way God made me… and that’s enough.

Lord please help us to submit to your will for our lives.  Please forgive us for holding back our affection when things don’t turn out the way we want them to.  You are so kind and patient with us.  Help us to keep our eyes on you and on all the good things you have given us to enjoy.  Forgive us for comparing ourselves to others and help us to accept who you have made us to be.  You are good and your mercies endure forever.  Amen

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