Monthly Archives: May 2008

The Deep Yes


Martin Luther once said, “We must sense the deep yes beneath the no.”

He was talking about God’s responses to our prayers, because he recognized that God often says “no” when He means “yes.”

Before you think I’m accusing God of being fickle, let me explain. Many times throughout Scripture, there are examples of men and women praying to God or making a request of Jesus only to be turned down or ignored. If they had given up their request after the first “no,” we probably wouldn’t know anything about it, but the Scriptures we have illustrate that these people were not satisfied with a “no.”

They didn’t stop with one “ask” or one “seek” or one “knock;” they continued to ask, seek and knock until they were rewarded with the desires of their heart. When Jesus gives us this Word, He’s using a form of the verbs that means to keep doing these things. Literally, He’s saying “Keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking, for those who ask receive, those who seek will find and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)

Notice that the door is closed in the metaphor. You wouldn’t knock on an open door. God leaves it closed until someone is persistent enough to keep knocking on it. He wants to test you to find out if you are desperate enough to continue to seek His grace. Consider these “closed doors” in Scripture:

The Syrophoenician Woman – Mark 7:24-30

Jesus stops by a house in Tyre hoping to get some rest and time alone, but word about His presence spread quickly. A Greek woman heard and went immediately to beg Jesus to cast out the demon in her daughter. Paraphrased, Jesus’ answer was, “No, I came to help the Jews first. Wait your turn. It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs.”

Can you believe it! Jesus called her a dog! What happened to the loving, smiling, golden-haired Jesus we have in the paintings on the church wall? It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t care about this woman or her daughter. He cared immensely, but He was testing her to see how desperate she was.

The woman had her priorities straight. Daughter first, pride last. She replied, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

I love her for that reply! She was willing to be a dog if it meant that her daughter could be delivered from the demon. And Jesus said, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” The deep yes beneath the no.

Jacob Wrestles with God – Genesis 32:22-32

Jacob was headed home with family and with all the wealth that he had acquired during his years of exile, but he was terrified of the unavoidable reunion with his brother, Esau. Having tricked Esau out of both his blessing and his birthright when they were younger, Jacob had to flee to a distant land to avoid his brother’s revenge. Now, he was coming back. The next day, the two would meet.

Separating himself from his family and servants, Jacob spent the entire evening wrestling with God. And not just in his mind. He actually wrestled God all night long. (This is where we get the expression.) Apparently God (in human form) tried to free Himself from Jacob, but Jacob refused to let Him go. Nearing daybreak, God touched Jacob’s hip to cripple him and said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

Jacob was having none of it, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

But God wouldn’t bless Jacob until he passed a test, “What is your name?”

God knew Jacob’s name, but He asked him because the last time Jacob had been asked to give his name (when his earthly father was about to give him his brother’s blessing), he had said, “Esau.” God wanted to see if Jacob was ready to admit who he really was. “Jacob” means “usurper” or “deceiver,” and it aptly described Jacob’s greedy and deceitful behaviors up to this point in his life.

Jacob passed the test, and in return, God gave him a new name that would describe who he would become. His new name was Israel, “Prince with God.” And while Israel didn’t always live up to it, he learned to walk with God rather than by himself. God left him with a limp from his crippled hip as a reminder of his need for the Lord. The deep yes beneath the no.

Four Determined Friends – Mark 2:1-12

The four men heard that Jesus, the healer and miracle worker, was teaching nearby. They couldn’t pass up this opportunity to bless their good friend, who was paralyzed. The friends enthusiastically carried the man to the house where Jesus was teaching, but when they arrived, they saw a huge crowd assembled to hear the Teacher speak. A quick assessment confirmed that there was absolutely no way through the crowd, which filled the house and extended outside.

Fighting discouragement, they tried to think of another way to get their friend before Jesus. And then it hit them, if the door was blocked, they would knock on the ceiling. Carefully, they hoisted him up. Once he was secured, they began to remove the tiles from the roof above Jesus’ head. Unconcerned about the mess they had made below, they lowered their friend through the hole until he was lying on his mat directly in front of Jesus.

Jesus, probably amused and encouraged by the men’s determination, said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

I wonder if the man or his friends were disappointed. After all, they came for a healing. They wanted to see a miracle. This left something to be desired. What they may not have realized is that a miracle had just occurred, and it was one far better than what they were expecting. A man’s sins had been erased, and he had been given admission into heaven. Nothing more incredible than that has ever happened.

And I wonder how often we are disappointed with God’s response to our prayers, not realizing that we asked for too little a thing and that God was interested in doing something much more wonderful than we can appreciate this side of heaven.

But they didn’t need to worry. Jesus wasn’t done. He forgave the man of his sins out loud and in public to stir the stew that was boiling in the hearts of the teachers of the law who were present. “Did he just…? Everyone knows that only God can forgive sins. Is he saying…?” Jesus knew their thoughts, so with expert showmanship, He let the other shoe drop.

“Why are you so upset? All I did was say that his sins were forgiven, and I can’t even prove that it happened. But what would be really impressive is if I said…(turning toward the paralyzed man)…Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man did. The deep yes beneath the no.

Jesus passes by the “self-sufficient.” In almost all the healings he performed during His time on earth, Jesus waited for those in need to initiate. (The only examples I could find of Jesus initiating a physical healing all came on the Sabbath and were intended, it seems, to provoke the religious leaders). Sometimes we’ve got to be so desperate enough for His touch that we don’t take the initial “no” for an answer. It’s just a test. Beneath it lies a deep yes.

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Don’t Quarrel on the Way!


In the book of Genesis, there is the incredible story of Joseph. His father’s favorite child, Joseph was hated by his ten older brothers. One day, they threw him in a pit and then sold him into slavery. Joseph was sold to a man in Egypt, who later threw him into prison on the trumped-up charge that Joseph had tried to rape his wife. In a miraculous turn of events, Joseph was plucked out of prison and made prime minister of Egypt. (I’m not doing the story justice; read it for yourself in Genesis 37-50.)

In a beautiful twist of the storyline, Joseph’s brothers have to come to Egypt for food during a time of famine. They have no idea that they are purchasing food from Joseph because of his unlikely position and because of his Egyptian dress. Eventually, he reveals his true identity and tells them that he has forgiven them for selling him into slavery. Showing the incredible work God has done in his heart, he tells them that God allowed his many trials so that he could save many lives during this time of famine.

The story is fantastic, but I want to focus on just a small part of it, a single quote. Once he has revealed his true identity to his brothers, Joseph calls his brothers to come live with him in the best part of Egypt under his reign. When he sends them back to Canaan to get their father, he gives them one piece of advice: “Don’t quarrel on the way!” (Genesis 45:24)

It seems funny that God would think to put this part of the dialog in Scripture. It’s a detail that seems extraneous to the story. Besides, are the brothers really likely to get into quarrels with each other? They just received the shock of their lives and were forgiven of their sins against their brother, who they thought was dead. Wouldn’t this unify them and put all squabbles in perspective?

It would be an unnecessary detail if this story was just a story, but it’s not. The story of Joseph and his brothers is the story of Christ and the Church. It is a foreshadowing so that those who lived before Christ could look ahead to the Messiah, and it’s confirmation for those who live after Christ so that we can look back and realize that Jesus’ life and death was God’s plan from the very beginning.

I believe there are over thirty parallels between Joseph and Jesus, but let me just highlight a few. Joseph was his father’s favorite and hated by his brothers, because he told them they would all bow before him one day. His father sent him after his brothers, but they weren’t where they were supposed to be. When he found them, they abused him and sold him for a few pieces of silver. He was later accused of a crime he didn’t commit and placed in the earth (i.e., in the dungeon). Though his brothers thought he was dead, he was miraculously raised out of the dungeon and given the second-highest leadership position in Egypt. There, he had all the authority of Pharaoh and was responsible for the saving of many lives. See the parallels?

Joseph represents Jesus. His brothers represent the Church. Like Joseph, Jesus sends us back to get the others, and His message to us is “Don’t quarrel on the way!”

He knew! He knew what we would do. He knew that as soon as He was gone, we would start to divide and would argue about “who is the greatest” and would be at each others’ throats. And He knew that our squabbling would keep us from doing what He left us here to do. As long as we are focused on what’s wrong with each other, we aren’t doing the work of the Great Commission.

I’m not talking about salvation issues. Obviously, we should speak against those who proclaim a different Gospel than the one Jesus proclaimed. But most of what we fight about as the Church has nothing to do with salvation. Things like how we baptize, whether or not we should raise our hands in worship, which spiritual gifts are still around today, do we drink alcohol or not drink alcohol, are we pre-trib or post-trib…

Sure, these are important issues that we should wrestle with, but we shouldn’t divide over them. Our fighting distracts non-believers from our message. Worse, it hurts our credibility. Our message is a message of love. How can we bring love to those outside the Church if we can’t even love each other? Jesus said:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

We’ve neglected our most powerful evangelism tool. Jesus gave us the formula. If we love each other (our brothers and sisters within the Church), people will know we are Christ’s disciples. Unconditional love is a magnet that draws the discouraged, the disillusioned, the disappointed, the disconnected and the defeated, but we’ve got to walk it before we talk it.

We’re all headed in the same direction, and we’ve all got the same ultimate goal in mind, so we should hear and heed Joseph’s words.  What was important for his brothers is even more so for us. If we want to win the lost, “don’t quarrel on the way.”

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The Pressure of Perfect


Have you ever seen an unbeaten sports team go out and lose to the worst team in the league? Sometimes this happens because of the pressure of perfect. It’s hard to be good all the time. The pressure builds as we expect to mess up at any time. The odds are against us, right? “No one can be perfect. Who am I to think I can be?” When we finally do mess up, it relieves an enormous amount of pressure. “Now, I’m just like everyone else.” Or… “Now, that’s the me I’m used to!”

Our self-image is so difficult to escape. It’s like a rubber band that can be stretched but snaps back time after time. If you have a self-image that views yourself as a sinful person, getting away from habitual sin is going to be difficult. You will find yourself walking in the center of God’s will for a period of time and getting more and more uncomfortable. “How long can I keep this up?” your subconscious mind may wonder. “It’s so unlike me.”

If the disparity between our self-image and our behaviors becomes too great, we have ways of snapping the rubber band back into place. We sabotage ourselves by sinning – sometimes purposefully but often under some strange and unidentifiable compulsion. Afterward, we wonder why we did it. It wasn’t enjoyable; it made us feel terribly guilty; we knew we shouldn’t do it before we did it…But this sin releases the pressure on the rubber band. It snaps back to its original shape, the shape that is most comfortable to us, because it’s where we’ve been living for years.

There are several lies of the Enemy behind the pressure of perfect.

  1. “You are approaching perfection.” – No matter how good you get, you’ll never be perfect, so relax. There’s still plenty of sin in your life to keep you from being too good.
  2. “You can’t keep this up forever.” – Sure you can! You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. It’s possible (though not very imaginable) to never sin another day in your life.
  3. “The costs outweigh the benefits.” – Yes, you might lose some friends, feel uncomfortable, enjoy less titillation, have to bite your tongue once in awhile…but God will give you back more than you lose (every time).

Instead of thinking of ourselves as trying to be perfect, we should just settle for trying to be better than we were yesterday. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard. Mile by mile, it’s a trial. A little bit of progress each day makes us more and more like Jesus, and our small successes will stretch that rubber band so that it holds its shape.

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I Thirst!


There are thousands of beverages on the market today. You can quench your thirst with colas and sports drinks, coffee products and tea products, fruit mixes and vegetable mixes, cocktails and hard liquor, beers and near-beers, energy drinks and soothing drinks, hot drinks and frozen drinks…the list goes on. But despite the vast variety of choices, nothing is as satisfying or as good for you as plain, old H2O.

No one has ever improved on simple water for dealing with thirst. The alternatives make you fat, raise your blood pressure, alter your mood (I know, many of you think that’s a good thing), get you addicted or leave you thirsty for more. Water, on the other hand, will do none of these. While it may not tempt like the other options, it satisfies.

And no wonder, our body composition is 60% water. As we use it up or sweat it out, we’ve got to replace it. So, we thirst.

Throughout the Bible, thirst in the physical sense is used to help us understand thirst in the spiritual sense. When Jesus met the woman at the well, she was there because of her physical thirst, but Jesus quickly turned the conversation to one about her spiritual thirst.

“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” (John 4:13-14)

Jesus is talking about “living water.” It is a spiritual water that satisfies a spiritual thirst. Scripture later tells us that living water is the Holy Spirit (John 7:39) who gives us the Word. Whoever has this water will have eternal life and will never thirst (spiritually) again.

We were created to thirst for God. The Lord didn’t want us to be satisfied living apart from Him, so He created in us a deep need that only He can fill. Several Scriptures remind us of this need:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2)

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 )

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38 )

Unfortunately, we try to satisfy our thirst with anything but living water. We go after the fattening sweetness of money and entertainment, the extra energy kick of power and fame, the mind-numbingness of drugs and alcohol or the near-beer substitutions of fake gods. None satisfy for long. They just fill us up and dull our spiritual sense so that we can’t tell where the original thirst is coming from. These are our man-made cisterns (i.e., reservoirs for holding water).

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

We are digging our own cisterns out of inferior materials when we’ve got the spring of living water available to us for free!

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)

If only we would hear His call and respond like the woman at the well! She came carrying a water jar so that she could draw water from Jacob’s well. But having encountered The Lord and having heard of the living water, which only He could provide, she dropped her physical water jar and drew deeply from the spiritual well of Jesus.

How long has it been since you visited the Well? It’s open to all who thirst, and it’s the only thing that satisfies. Open your Bible today, and take a sip.

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Marco….Polo!


My wife and I have a funny (funny-strange, not funny-ha ha) game that we play. Whenever I seem distant, distracted or irritable, she’ll come by and say, “I love you.” It sounds like a statement, but it’s really a question. She’s not expressing tender feelings so much as she’s trying to find out where I’m at emotionally. Her question is intended to elicit an echoing response, much like the children’s game of “Marco Polo” that celebrates the famous Venetian’s worldwide travels. “I love you…” asks, “Where are you?” “Do you still love me?” “How are you feeling about us?”

If, as so often is the case, my response doesn’t echo hers but comes back surly and impatient, she realizes that I’m far away. At this point, the game changes to “Twenty Questions” as she tries to figure out what’s wrong. Unfortunately, her sincere attempts to close the distance between us are usually met with more surliness and impatience. The truth is, when I’m in a bad place, I don’t usually want to be found. I prefer the isolation of my cave, where I can grunt and draw stick figures on the walls.

Because I don’t want her to find my hiding place, I send back responses to throw her off my trail, often lying to prevent discovery. “Nothing’s wrong.” “I’m fine.” “I’m just tired.” She doesn’t buy it. Twenty years of reading my body language and tone of voice have given her a sincerity sensor. If she continues to come after me, I feel like a cornered animal and sometimes say things we both regret later.

While I’m dealing with my issues, it’s hard for her to wait for me to come out of my cave. She worries. She assumes I’m in the cave because of her. She imagines all the things I could be upset about. She’s frustrated waiting for me to come back so that I can reveal the mystery of what led me into my Neanderthal period.

Meanwhile, I may have emerged from the cave, having dealt with the problem and my feelings in my isolation (or just stuffed them in one of the cave’s many hiding places).  Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much of a shadow in my wife’s mood to send me running back into my cave, and then we’ve got six more weeks of winter.

I’ve found that the best solution is actually a combination of our approaches. My isolation serves a purpose. It gives me time to process my emotions and thoughts. By the time I share them, they are often more considered and considerate. Many times, I realize in my cave that I’m over-reacting or that I was the one in the wrong. It’s not always necessary to rehearse the thought process out loud with my wife, and some things are better left unsaid.

However, my wife’s game of “Marco-Polo” is important, too. It keeps me from isolating too much. Even though I don’t always want to be found, I need to be found. She initiates to heal the relationship. If she allows me some time to process without allowing me to wander too far, she helps me to find my way back.

What can I say…it ain’t pretty, but it’s me.

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Man and the Moon


I was taking a walk the other day, and I noticed how bright the moon was. (“How bright was it?”) It was so bright that it had a giant ring of reflected light around it. It was pumping some serious wattage.

My son’s favorite t-shirt says, “Be the moon” on the front and on the back, “Reflect the Son.” It’s a great picture of our role within the world. The moon, we know, emits no light of its own. In fact, it’s really a big, dead, gray rock. But on clear nights, the moon can sometimes be so bright that you can see clearly by the light it reflects.

Our role as believers is just like the moon’s as a satellite. We have no light of our own, but it’s our job to shine light into dark places. We live in bodies that are dead with sin, but our spirits are alive in Christ. When we walk with Him, His light reflects off of us in a way that the whole world can see. They don’t always know where the light is coming from, but it at least makes them curious.

Sometimes we make the mistake of confusing our ability to reflect light with an ability to emit light. We think the impact we are having on others for Christ actually originated with us, and we get proud of the number of people we’ve led to Christ or the inspiration someone got from something we said. But without Christ, we’ve got nothing. Without Him, we are just a dark, dead piece of orbiting green cheese.

We all run the risk of allowing the World to get between us and the Son. If it does, our ability to reflect His light is diminished. The more we allow the World to come between us and Jesus, the less light we will reflect, and if we continue to live like the World, there will be a total eclipse of the Son’s reflection in our lives.  Even worse for us, we won’t be able to see the Son any longer, because the things of the World will block Him out.

If we understand where the moon gets its light, then we know that the moon serves as a reminder.  When the sun goes away at night, the moon reminds us that the sun is only gone for a little while before it returns. And isn’t that really what we are supposed to be about?  The Church didn’t exist until Jesus rose again.  He left us here to remind the World that He is coming back.  But we can’t let the things of this World block our light.

In Genesis 1:16, it says, “God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.”  How are we doing?

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Pygmalion Effect


In the tenth book of Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid wrote of Pygmalion, the sculptor of the island of Cyprus. Pygmalion had resolved never to marry, but one of his works was a beautiful woman, and the sculpture won his heart. He fell in love with his own creation and prayed to Venus (goddess of love) to send him a maiden like the statue. Instead, Venus gave the statue life, and the two married and had a son.

In 1971, Robert Rosenthal, a professor of social psychology at Harvard, borrowed Pygmalion’s name to describe a self-fulfilling prophesy phenomenon. He had done studies with elementary school children to show that what we think about someone can have a profound impact on how they behave and even how they feel about themselves. Simply put, people often live up to or down to our expectations of them.

Key Principles

The concept of this self-fulfilling prophecy can be summarized in four key principles:

1. Based on our experience and information we gather from other sources, we form certain expectations of the people we come in contact with.

2. We communicate those expectations with a variety of cues, some intentionally and some unintentionally.

3. People tend to respond to these cues by adjusting their behavior to match them. (They live up to or down to our expectations.)

4. The original expectation is then confirmed in our minds and provides us with justification for holding that opinion of the other person.

The process then repeats itself over and over in either a downward or upward cycle. It’s such a powerful cycle that we tend to discount any information that might disagree with our expectations of that person. We say things to ourselves like:

  • “That was a fluke.”
  • “It couldn’t have been her. It must have been (someone else’s) fault.”
  • “That was certainly out of character.”
  • “He’s just having an off-day.”
  • “He got lucky that time.”

Unless a significant event causes us to reconsider our opinions of the other person, it’s likely that the person will never be able to change how we see them and that the cycle will continue to spiral as long as the relationship lasts.

Over four hundred studies have confirmed the existence and impact of the Pygmalion Effect in classrooms, work environments, homes and laboratories. This should cause leaders in any environment to think carefully about the opinions they hold for the people they lead. Are these opinions fair? Do they allow our followers every opportunity to succeed, or do they create a self-fulfilling prophecy of low expectations?

If you are a leader (and almost all of us are in some context), it’s not enough to try harder not to show your low opinion of someone you lead. You’ve got to change your opinion. You can do this by focusing on a person’s strengths and inherent value. God made that person unique, and He never makes garbage. What is redeeming about them?

When your opinion changes, your expectations will change. When your expectations for an individual change, so will your behaviors toward that person. And if you just can’t bring yourself to have a higher opinion of someone, let someone else lead him.

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