Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to Have Intimacy with God – Jon Bloom

Intimacy with God is available to you. It is as accessible to you as God’s promises. And God’s invitation to you to enjoy intimate fellowship with him is that thing that is putting your faith to the test more than anything else (James 1:2–4).
The Heart of Intimacy
Intimacy is what we call the experience of really knowing and being known by another person. We frequently use spatial language when describing this experience. An intimate friend is someone we feel very close to; they know us at a deep level. If something happens that damages the intimacy with our friend, they feel distant from us. Or a person who doesn’t know us intimately knows us at a superficial level.
But of course intimacy is not spatial but relational. We all know what it’s like to be sitting right next to a person with whom we feel distant and we can feel close to a person who is four thousand miles away.
What makes us feel intimate with another person? While there are many ingredients to intimacy and each intimate relationship we have has a different recipe, common to all of them is trust. We cannot be intimate with a person we don’t trust.
Trust is at the heart of intimacy. The more we trust someone, the closer we let them get to us. The degree to which trust is compromised in a relationship is the degree to which intimacy evaporates.
The Heart of Intimacy with God
This is as true in our relationship with God as it is in our relationships with other human beings. Our experience of God’s nearness or distance is not a description of his actual proximity to us but of our experience of intimacy with him. Scripture shows us that God is intimate with those who trust him. The more we trust God, the more intimately we come to know him. A felt distance from God is often due to a disruption in trust, such as a sin or disappointment.
This reality is vitally important to understand. As Christians, we want to experience intimacy with God. With the psalmist we say, “for me it is good to be near God” (Psalm 73:28). And we want to heed James’s exhortation and realize its promise: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). But we can seek that nearness in ways that don’t produce it.
Intimacy Is More Than Knowledge
One common mistake is thinking that nearness to God can be achieved through knowledge accumulation. Now, of course to intimately know God we must know crucial things about God. Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) and he pointed out that many worship what they do not know (John 4:22).
But never in the history of the Christian church has so much theological knowledge been available to so many people as it is today. The American church enjoys perhaps the greatest amount of this abundance. We are awash in Bible translations, good books, insightful articles, recorded sermons, interviews, movies, documentaries, music, and more. And much of it very good. It is right for us to be very thankful.
But America is not abounding in Enochs (or finding them frequently disappearing), saints who walk with God in a profoundly intimate way (Genesis 5:24Hebrews 11:5). Why? Because knowledge is not synonymous with trust. That’s why Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, some who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40)
Biblical knowledge is far better than gold when it fuels our trust in God, because it fuels our intimacy with God (Psalm 19:10). But when biblical knowledge replaces our trust in God, it only fuels our pride (1 Corinthians 8:1).
Why Aesthetic Experiences Fail
Another common mistake is trying to achieve intimacy with God through subjective aesthetic experiences. We might call it a “Field of Dreams” approach: If we build the right environment, God will “come.”
Some pursue this in high liturgical environments designed to inspire an experience of transcendence and mystery. Others pursue it in contemporary worship events designed to inspire an experience of immanence. Others chase revivals, thinking that proximity to God’s power will result in proximity to God. If we truly trust God, such environments can encourage our intimacy with God. But none of them inherently possesses the power to conjure God’s nearness to us.
Think of it like this: A candle-lit dinner with romantic music may encourage a sweet moment of relational intimacy between a husband and wife, but only to the degree that the environment encourages and deepens their mutual trust and love. If there’s relational distance between them due to a lack of trust, the aesthetics themselves have no power to bridge the distance. Only restoring the trust will do that.
How We Draw Near to God
The secret to drawing near to God and having him draw near to us is revealed clearly in the Bible: we draw near to God through faith in Christ who alone gives us access to him (Hebrews 4:14–167:25Philippians 3:9), and we put our trust in all of his “precious and very great promises” which find their yes to us in Christ (2 Peter 1:42 Corinthians 1:20).
God is impressed with our faith, not our feats. Where faith is lacking, he is not pleased with the quantity of our knowledge or the quality of our aesthetic events.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
When God sees a man or woman whose heart fully trusts his promises and lives by them, God comes to strongly support that saint (2 Chronicles 16:9) and manifests himself to him or her:
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)
God’s Invitation to Intimacy
God wants intimacy with you. Christ has done all the hard work in the cross to make it possible. All he requires is that you believe in him (John 14:1). He wants you to trust him with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5).
Which means his invitation to you to enjoy intimacy with him is the providences in your life that are testing your faith more than anything else. What you must trust God most for right now is where he means for you to draw closer to him.
It is likely an invitation that your flesh wants to decline. But as you read your Bible, do not the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) all agree with James and Peter that the greatest testing of faith is the path to the greatest joy (James 1:2–41 Peter 1:8–9)? And do they not agree with Paul that it is not worth comparing to the joy of knowing Christ and the coming glory (Philippians 3:8Romans 8:18)?
Intimacy with God often occurs in the places where we must trust him most. Heaven on earth is the inexpressible joy and the peace that surpasses understanding that comes from trusting God wholly (Philippians 4:6–7). For, as the old hymn writer said, “they who trust him wholly find him wholly true.

Seeking God Through Grace

Hebrews 4:14-16                   January 31, 2016                   Link for audio/video/manuscript

To be chosen by God is an empowerment of God’s grace that is a blessing beyond compare. We experience the blessings of God his saving grace and his sanctifying grace and his suffering grace. T0he heart of the meaning of God's grace culminates in the cross of Jesus Christ. In one single act of violent grace, Jesus sacrificed his life so that we might keep ours forever. The picture of a dying Savior pleading for mercy and forgiveness for his murderers reveals to us the true depth of God's grace. In the midst of our deepest struggles, when all seems lost in despair, Jesus is there pleading our case. The power of the cross has no equal; the grace of God IS Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Any Given Sunday - David Mathis

Our Father is glad when the family gathers. He is eager to work, ready to pour out his favor and give fresh fillings of his Spirit, when his people assemble to worship his Son.
No matter what kind of week you’ve had — no matter how depleted your tank, how distracted your mind, or how disquieted your heart — God may be pleased to turn it all around on any given Sunday.
Come to the Waters
Corporate worship may be the single most important means of God’s grace in the Christian life because it brings together all three essential principles of his ongoing kindness: hearing his voice (in his word), having his ear (in prayer), and belonging to his body (in the fellowship of the church).
When God’s people gather to worship Jesus together — with the Scriptures open and songs of praise, confession, and thanksgiving in our mouths — the Holy Spirit hovers over our assembly, standing ready to rejuvenate dull hearts and restore languishing souls.
The great invitation of Isaiah 55, crafted some seven centuries before Christ, is a fitting call to the banquet of corporate worship in the new covenant.
   Come, everyone who thirsts,
      come to the waters;
   and he who has no money,
      come, buy and eat!
   Come, buy wine and milk
      without money and without price.
   Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
      and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
   Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
      and delight yourselves in rich food.
   Incline your ear, and come to me;
      hear, that your soul may live. (Isaiah 55:1–3)
Come Thirsty
Jesus is the true bread who came down from heaven (John 6:5058), and he is the true drink (John 6:55), the only drink, who will satisfy our thirsty souls forever.
You were not only made for God, but for the God-man. God himself designed your human soul to be satisfied forever in the personal union of full deity and full humanity in the one utterly unique God-man, in the company of a worshiping throng. You were made for Jesus.
In corporate worship, we taste together what we were made for. Together we sample the feast of the coming new heavens and new earth.
This doesn’t mean every Sunday is pure bliss. Far from it. Fallen humans in a fallen world are only rarely at their spiritual and emotional best. Our bodies are tired, and our spirits are lethargic. Miscues up front, energetic children in the pew, off-key singers in our ear, and unfinished work at home threaten to distract us from the sweetness of singing praises together with God’s people in the beauty of our grace-covered brokenness.
But in the chaos, there are tastes. Thirsty souls sample the life-giving water, the soul-nourishing substance of milk, the heart-gladdening sips of wine, in the experience of truth-inspired praise of the one who is the Truth.
So we can come thirsty, and come expectant by faith, to have our soul’s thirst quenched together in some satisfying measure in the family gathering.
Come Empty-Handed
But to this marvelous banquet, we bring not only empty stomachs, but also empty hands. The bill is taken care of. Jesus paid it all.
Not only do we come to drink, but we come without deeds as payment. The great invitation of his grace is to the one “who has no money.” We come for soul-satisfaction “without money and without price.”
The fuel of corporate worship is not the energy or preparation we bring, but the energy and preparation of God. The source is not our working for him, but the worship-inspiring truth that he works for those who wait for him. We wait; he works. Which makes him utterly unique among all other rivals for our praise.
   From of old no one has heard
       or perceived by the ear,
   no eye has seen a God besides you,
       who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)
Come Ready
His working and grace are original and ultimate, and yet he would woo us to take faith-filled steps of preparation to come ready. He works through means. He gives us the dignity of participation. His grace not only meets us despite our undeservedness, but goes the extra mile to engage our wills to prime our hearts for the joys of collective adoration.
Anticipating the assembly, and seeking to tune our hearts to sing his praise, prepares our appetites for the tastes of glory to come — a glory in the gathering that is sampled together, not in isolation.
Fellow worshipers encountered before, during, and after worship are not impediments to true worship, but inspirations. Corporate worship is, after all, corporate. We prepare our hearts for the joy of praising Jesus by greeting his people with open hearts, big smiles, and, when appropriate, shared tears.
Come as You Are
While a heart of worship is typically helped by our faithful efforts at preparation, our preparation is never ultimate. In fact, the Holy Spirit is often pleased to “show up” despite our lack, or total absence, of preparation. Which is no cause for abuse, but for adoration. The lesson for us in it is not that Monday to Saturday don’t matter in getting ready for Sunday, but rather that God is sovereign and free, not limited by our failures, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
On any given Sunday, God might be pleased to turn your world upside down, in all the best ways. Like the weary psalmist who came to worship, and finally the fog cleared (Psalm 73:16–17). Or like Martin Luther, who testified, “At home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.” Or as countless of us have learned, our Father simply loves to bless the family gathering.

Your sluggishness and lethargy are no reason to stay away from his waterfall of grace. No matter how far away from the Father you feel, there is perhaps nothing you need more this weekend than his bounty in corporate worship.  @ 2016 Desiring God

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Seeking God Through Honesty

Proverbs 28:13               January 17, 2016                Link for audio/video/manuscript

When we are honest before a holy God - the searchlight of His Word, His truth will shine in our hearts and reveal our rebellion and sin. It is then, brothers and sisters, by the sovereign grace of God, we can look to the crucified and risen Christ - because it’s in Jesus that God has concealed/covered your rebellion and sin by his blood, through his death on the cross as Calvary. In Jesus we find God’s heart, a heart that is fully aware of the rebellion and sin in our lives, a heart that seeks to restore us back to Himself through His mercy – by means of our confession and abandonment of those things that are rebellious and sinful and not of God.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Prayer - George Herbert

PRAYER, the church's banquet, angel's age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;

Engine against th' Almightie, sinner's towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six daies' world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the soul's bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Three Questions to Ask Before Listening to Any Sermon - Tony Reinke

It’s easy to become a passive sermon consumer. As a young Christian, I started to sense this tendency in my own sermon listening, so one Sunday I brought a notebook to church and devised a simple little practice to get my discernment juices flowing before listening to sermons. It was as simple as asking three little questions, and it stuck with me. Over time, I began to use this same technique when listening to sermon podcasts, when reading Christian blogs and books, and eventually while listening to Christian music.
The process points to an important fact we all know: all of us need to be saved by someone or something. But, as an active listener will quickly see, the world is full of variant gospels, and every preacher, writer, and artist has a message of salvation. We must examine the veracity of the gospel they share, and these three questions have simplified the process for me.
Three Questions
So before I listen to a sermon, turn on a Christian album, or open a Christian book, I ask myself these three questions:
  • How am I saved?
  • What am I saved from?
  • What am I saved for?
The questions are short, easy to remember, and could not be bigger. At first I wrote them on paper and filled in the answers by hand, and later it just became an intuitive mental exercise.
It also became apparent over time that these same questions are useful in many other contexts. They are gospel questions, helpful inside the church. But they also help shakedown any worldview to its core essence. They work on advertisements and the messaging of presidential hopefuls (yes, even Donald Trump — try it).
Four Common Answers
For the sake of this article, I will focus on sermons. Ask the three questions above, and the answers you hear will commonly fall into these four categories:
1. You will hear a therapeutic gospel:
  • We are saved by becoming self-authenticated and affirmed.
  • We are saved from self-destructive negativity.
  • We are saved for self-confidence.
2. You will hear a prosperity gospel:
  • We are saved by faith that produces health and wealth.
  • We are saved from poverty and financial heartache.
  • We are saved to enjoy financial abundance.
3. You will hear a brokenness gospel:
  • We are saved by releasing ourselves from the memory of old sins.
  • We are saved from feeling bad about ourselves.
  • We are saved to live whole again.
4. You will hear an attention gospel:
  • We are saved by remembering God more mindfully.
  • We are saved from ignoring that God exists.
  • We are saved to live more conscious of God.
Whether these messages contain hints of the gospel, or fragments of ultimate truth, or complete fabrications of a non-gospel, all of these messages will implicitly or explicitly find their way into Christian books, music, and sermons as ultimate messages and often pass as sufficient presentations of the gospel. They aren’t. In fact, they are far from it. And each of them, in their own way, render Christ secondary or optional.
The Biblical Answers
The true work of ministry is allowing Scripture to answer each of these three questions over and over again until the truth of the gospel works down into our bloodstream.
If we sketch out some of the contours of the biblical gospel, the answers to our questions become quite clear:
  • We are saved by grace through faith in the wrath-absorbing death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and justified in his resurrection as a substitute for us, the rebel law-breakers.
  • We are saved from a holy God, from his righteous wrath poured out eternally on every sinner who has disgraced his glory.
  • We are saved to have peace with God, to be holy, to be gathered among God’s people who live and love, and who magnify God by treasuring Christ and enjoying him above everything in this world and the next.
The gospel is profoundly beautiful and worthy of eternal study and celebration — but it’s also not complicated. The challenge we always face is gospel drift, a gospel that imperceptibly glides into language that makes the answer to these three vital questions clouded and obscure. It requires attentiveness so that we do not float into a “hunch gospel” that uses a bunch of Christian jargon, all aiming at self-actualizing goals and satisfying felt needs, but at the same time failing to explain the core themes of God’s wrath or the essential purpose of Christ’s substitutionary blood. In other words, the natural drift of our thoughts is always being “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
Pick Up the Pattern
Any preacher, artist, or writer needs to return often to these three simple litmus tests for ministry in order to self-evaluate our message and the hope we are offering. But equally important, every Christian needs to return to these questions over and over, until we ask them instinctively.
  • How am I saved?
  • What am I saved from?
  • What am I saved for?
I am not suggesting that every song, every sermon, and every book is going to answer each question in equal measure. But pay attention. As you listen and read, you will pick up what the apostle Paul called “the pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13). Every cohesive worldview has a pattern to it, a pattern you will see in the big picture and small details. For Christians, there’s a consistency and a pattern of sound gospel words that we should tune our ears to hear.
Discern to Cherish
What I am advocating is discernment. The skill of discernment is learning to reject what is false or flimsy, but more importantly, to eagerly embrace what is precious (Acts 17:11;Romans 12:91 Thessalonians 5:21). Gospel discernment helps us know the difference, in order to keep the truth pure so that we can earnestly embrace and celebrate it. Which means, by implication, we treasure the men and women who make the answers clear on the primary questions, because they are likely to be the very best way to help us make sense of all the other questions.
If you ask these three questions long enough, a pattern will emerge. This discernment will serve you well when life forces you to whittle down your podcast sermon subscriptions, your blogs, your music library, or your reading list.
I am convinced that the church will be healthier and happier as she becomes more and more skilled in discernment, more tuned into the gospel, and more skilled in knowing what to cherish. Discernment is a calling for us all. By asking these three questions, we are reasserting the importance of the answers. But we are not just listening for the right answers; we want the right answers so that we can again find our affections fed on the beauty of Jesus Christ.
And this is how it happens. Three big questions, the three biggest questions that we can ever ask in this life, remind us of the precious truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Give them a try. The next time you listen to a sermon, ask these three simple questions, and listen — with eagerness — for the familiar precious answers we need.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Seeking God through Humility

Luke 14:7-11                 January 10, 2016                     Link for audio/video/manuscript

While it may be appropriate for the best musician to get the "first chair" in a high school band or college orchestra – it is not in the kingdom of God. Where God reigns “the last will be first, and the first last" (Matthew 20:16). Yet this is so far from where we live. By nature we are a selfish prideful people. But humbleness is a character quality of the heart, which reflects the character of God’s heart we were created for – and it is in our Lord Jesus that we see the perfect revelation of the character of humility that God desires from us. It is in following Christ that we will know the Spirit-empowered humility that leads us down the path towards revival and renewal in our constant desperate need for a deeper relationship with God.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Don’t Live Strong, Live Wise - Jon Bloom

As I write this, I’m visiting my mother. On the desk in the guest bedroom is an antique case containing old greeting cards that my grandfather gave to my grandmother more than 80 years ago. These cards are carefully and affectionately preserved because they express a love that at the time felt and was very significant to Roland and Esther.
But that time is long past. There are few of us left who personally witnessed the preciousness of what this couple shared over 60 years of marriage. It won’t be long before their love will pass beyond living memory and these greeting cards will lose all personal significance and likely disappear.
And this is why I recommend that you memorize Psalm 90 this year. It’s only 17 verses long and you can commit it to memory in a week or two and recite the whole psalm in less than 2 minutes.
And the benefits you’ll reap are huge. This prayer of Moses will help you keep life — yourreal life, your really short life — in perspective. It will help you remember what is transient and what is eternal. It will help you live wisely.
Your Life Is Like Grass, Then Comes Eternity
We all suffer from time-confusion. We know our lives are short and yet we all find this hard to actually believe. That’s because God is eternal (Psalm 90:2), we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27), he has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and yet as fallen creatures he has placed us all under the judgment of our bodies returning to dust (Genesis 3:19Psalm 90:3). So we have both transiency and eternality at work in us — a spiritual dissonance. We will die, but after this there is judgment (Hebrews 9:27) leading either to eternal life (John 3:16) or eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
We also suffer from significance confusion. We intrinsically know that our lives are significant. God himself makes us, and he does so after his likeness, so how could we be anything but significant (Psalm 139:13–14Genesis 1:26)? Yet sinful pride causes us to want to measure our significance, not by God’s gracious endowment, but by other people’s admiration. Our sin natures are not satisfied by the humble, yet staggering knowledge that God made us in his image; we want people to venerate us. We are significant creatures, but we want to be significant gods.
Psalm 90:1–11 is soul medicine for our time-confusion and significance confusion. Moses reminds us what our earthly lives are really like: Grass that flourishes in the morning and fades in the evening (verses 5–6). To the Maker of such grass, it is significant. In that sense, we are more significant than we know. But we are not as significant as we think, in the sense that we most often want to think.
Live Wise
Lance Armstrong popularized the phrase “Live Strong.” That’s an inspiring motto for fallen humans who so badly want to be self-sufficient and self-determining. We want to live long and live strong. But the belief that we can really do that is a delusion.
Moses is under no such delusion. He knows that under any circumstances we won’t live long and he knows we certainly aren’t strong (Psalm 90:10). What Moses wants is to “Live Wise.” That’s why he prays, “so teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Living wise only comes from knowing who God is and who we are.
If God is eternal and our earthly lives are transient, then there is only one place the wise will choose to live: in God, our forever dwelling place (Psalm 90:1). If we are brought to an earthly end by the righteous wrath of God for our sins (Psalm 90:7–8), then there is only one thing the wise will seek during this brief terrestrial sojourn: God’s mercy and favor (Psalm 90:1317). And if our fleeting, grass-like lives are full of “toil and trouble” (Psalm 90:10), then there is only one satisfaction the wise will pursue: the steadfast love of the everlasting God (Psalm 90:14).
And daily numbering our days — recalling how increasingly few of them we have — is the way Moses knows will cultivate a heart of wisdom. Living wise is not resolving to increase our strength, but to increase our faith. Living wise is growing in dependence, not a growing independence.
Psalm 90 will help you live wise this year. Commit it to memory and make it part of your daily prayers. It’s a small investment that will yield you a large return. It will help you number your days, it will remind you that you are grass, it will help you trust all your toil and trouble to the providential righteous judgment of God and seek him as your refuge, and it will give you God’s words to pray for God’s mercy and for satisfaction in him alone.
Someday someone will sift through the few artifacts that remain of your life. So much of what seems so important to you now will have passed away into oblivion. Are you spending your short life on what really matters? Life is too short to waste. Live wise. @ 2016 Desiring God

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Who Needs Revival?

Hosea 10:12                        January 3, 2016                      Link for audio/video/manuscript

Because of the opposition we face within our own sinful hearts, and from the world and the devil - we are all in need of continuous spiritual renewal and revival. The struggle from both inside and outside of our hearts reveals an infinite spiritual abyss that power, possessions, position and prosperity can’t fill. That void can only be filled with God Himself. With the Holy Spirit living in us, we are empowered to walk in obedience to God and reap the blessings of God - in spite of our fallen, self-centered wandering away from God.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Gluten Free to the Glory of God - Benjamin Vrbicek

I used to think that people with food allergies were weird. I’m sorry, but I did. It’s not that you were evil, just strange, and for some people, probably also a little culpable.
But now I have a food allergy. Now, I’m the guy at Panera who asks to see an ingredient list when he orders. I had to do this the other day and it caused a scene. The kind woman taking orders couldn’t find the book with all the info, and then she couldn’t find the manager, and then the manager was busy, and when he finally came to the rescue, he wasn’t sure where the book was either.
Conversations around me stopped. I could feel people roll their eyes at me. When another cash register was opened and a worker said, “I can take your order here,” people ran from my line like it was Black Friday and they were giving away TVs.
But this isn’t an article to raise awareness about microaggressions, inflicted or absorbed. Paul writes, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is a post to offer three ways to eat and drink to the glory of God or rather, because of food allergies, not eat and drink to the glory of God.
1. Cast your cares upon God when your health is unpredictable.
If you have a food allergy, you probably also have unpredictable heath and, at least at first, an unclear diagnosis. This is frustrating, painful, and sometimes scary.
Consider what happened to friends of mine. Their son, after his first birthday, stopped gaining weight. He was constantly ill. My friends were confused and so were their doctors. So, they put cameras inside their infant and sent his blood to laboratories. His health got worse, and the diagnosis remained elusive, so elusive in fact that the doctors began to insinuate that my friends were not feeding their son or possibly even doing something worse.
On the recommendation of a classmate, they made a diet change to avoid a certain allergen, and their son’s health improved. It turns out that my friends were poisoning their son, unknowingly of course, with normal food; three normal meals a day stunted his growth.
In the last year, I’ve also learned about the frustration and fear of living with unpredictable health and an unclear diagnosis. Despite similar camera probes and blood work, randomly I’ll end up sick on the floor of my living room in pain for a few days while my concerned children ask their mother, “Is Dad going to be okay?” And once, while preaching during the first service at our church, I started to feel sickness coming. Between services, I said a prayer, popped a pill, and then tried to preach my second sermon. I made it, but it was miserable.
You might not be a preacher, but likely you have moments that require extra concentration and effort; yet because of your allergy, randomly, you have neither.
If we only focus on intensifying our medical efforts to solve our problems, we’ll miss some of what God wants to teach us. Instead, let’s use these reminders of our frailty to cause us to cling tighter to our God who is not frail (Isaiah 40:26). Let’s remember that our health is only unpredictable and our diagnosis unclear to us. Not to God! When your anxiety abounds, cast it upon the God who cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
2. Value favor from God more than attention from people.
If you have a food allergy, you probably experience moments of social ostracism. That’s what most of my friends with severe allergies tell me; they’ve all noticed not being invited to gatherings nearly as often as before. And consider what happens at my daughter’s school cafeteria. Off in the far corner, there’s a tiny area labeled, “Peanut-Free Zone.” The kids who have to sit at that table might use the word ostracism; that is, if they weren’t in third grade.
Personally, I don’t feel ostracized. But I certainly hate being singled out. For example, a few months ago I was at a fundraiser. As I went through the buffet line, I slowly began to realize that although there were fifteen or twenty different things to eat, I was only going to be able to eat one of them: plain lettuce. Yummy. But it was not the meal that bothered me; it was the attention. While standing in line, four separate people made jokes about what I was eating (and not eating), and there were more when I went back to my table.
I’m sure that if I planned better, I could avoid this social attention (or inattention). But I also want to use experiences like this to examine my heart. I want to know: Why is it that my heart is so hungry for acceptance from others? The surface answer to this question will vary, but the root is likely always the same: I haven’t feasted on the favor I have with God through the gospel, and therefore, I’m starving for praise from others. What I need is to receive my food allergies as an invitation to feast on Jesus who always satisfies fully (John 6:55–57).
3. Trust the great Provider when daily bread becomes expensive.
Buying food free of certain allergens is expensive. Depending on how strategically you shop and how severe your allergy, your grocery expenses could increase significantly. Consider that gluten-free bread costs more than double the price of regular bread. The other day, my wife came home from the grocery store in tears. “How are we going to pay for this?” she asked. I gave her a hug and said, “I don’t know.”
I’m sure we will have enough money, and I’m sure we’ll learn to shop smarter; but that’s not the first place God wants us to focus. Instead, God wants our family to be praying, “Lord, give us our daily, gluten-free bread.” He wants us to consider the lilies and consider the birds. God clothes the lilies; he feeds the birds. And if he cares for these, our allergies can be a reminder to us of how much more he will care for us, his children (Matthew 6:25–34).