Archives for the month of: September, 2014

What are you so afraid of that it threatens your ability to trust God? It is easy to trust God with things that don’t matter so much. But when we face the big crises, the events that can break our hearts or destroy our dreams, the things that can alter the course of our plans or impact the rest of our lives – those threats often make the size of our fear seem so much bigger than the power of our God. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, death of a loved one, loss of independence, loss of income, threat of physical harm – these are just a few of the things my Sunday School class listed as their biggest fears. How we respond to those big threats indicates what we believe about God.

 Your most powerful testimony will not come from the days where all goes well, when you consistently get your way, when happiness is easy. The strength of your faith is best displayed in how you handle adversity. Anyone can be nice when they are not challenged; God’s power is most evident when we depend on him and show his character and love, rather than default to our own anger, frustration, and fear.

 But the tricky part is to know what God wants us to do because “fight”, “flight” and “trust” are all examples of godly approaches to threat. To Gideon he said, “Go forth in the strength that you have.” (Jud 6:14) When the crowd threatened to throw Jesus over the cliff, Jesus left. (Luke 4:30) When the Hebrews were pinned between drowning in the Red Sea and certain destruction of the Egyptian army, God said, “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” (Ex 14:4)  

When Elijah heard Jezebel’s threat to kill him, he ran, a day’s journey into a wilderness 100 miles away. There is no evidence he prayed; his “field trip” was apparently his own idea. When he got there, God made sure he was fed and rested, but then God asked, “What are you doing here?” In I Kings 19 God sent a wind, an earthquake, and a fire to the mountain, but Elijah knew that God wasn’t in those. However, when Elijah heard the still small voice, he knew God was speaking.

 How did he know? How did he sort out the events he saw and the events he feared from God’s word? God didn’t change Elijah’s circumstances; he didn’t guarantee protection from Jezebel, and he didn’t reprimand him for his lack of faith in the face of his fear. God just gave him specific instructions for what was to come next.

 What does your obedience to God look like in regard to the things you fear right now? To take an unpopular, difficult stand? To withdraw or run away? To trust him to bring his will? Sincerely ask God to make your path clear, even (and especially) if it’s a path you don’t want to take. Ask him to give you the strength and courage to obey his will, rather than insisting that he adopt your plan. Be quiet enough to hear his still, small voice. Lean in to his presence and his word to see how your current circumstances can become your future testimony. Trust the one who knows the future to lead you forward in obedience.

name of God 2

Treat it with respect

Names matter to me. Some are so precious to me because they belong to people I love. Being called by name indicates recognition and relationship. Psychologists say that the most important sound we hear is the sound of our own name.

Names matter to God. The third of the 10 Commandments is God’s instruction on how we are to treat his name. We are not to take it “in vain”, which most surely includes incorporating into our list of phrases to be used in case of frustration, anger, or curses. God clearly states how we are to treat his name in the Bible:

We are to call on it (Zeph 3:9), proclaim it (Ex 9:16), acknowledge it (Ps 91:14), fear it (Mal 1:14) and praise it (Ps 13:2-3). It will protect us (Ps 20:7, Prov 18:10), help us (Ps 124:8), and save us (Acts 2:21). David chose to fight against Goliath in God’s name (I Sam 17:45), and demons fear God’s name (Mark 16:17, Luke 10:17). When we endure hardships for the sake of his name (Rev 2:3) or keep his word and not deny his name we will be blessed (Rev 3:8)

I have spent some time this week struggling with how our culture treats God’s name. The Washington Redskins press conference where Robert Griffin III was asked to turn his shirt inside out because it had Jesus name on it seems to me to be a sad commentary on our increasingly self-focused culture. When did God’s name become “offensive”? If God isn’t who he says he is, why are those who don’t believe in him so threatened by him? How can we expect blessing, protection, and mercy when we are offended by his name?

God knows your name. If you chose to belong to him, yours is recorded in his Book of Life. Honor God’s name yourself; require that those around you honor it as well. That honor that you show his name will give you power and protection…refusing to dishonor his name will give us blessing.

One day, at the end of time, everyone will agree about Jesus’ name. Until then, those of us who know him need to show his name the honor that it deserves.

Phil 2:10-11 … so that at the name of Jesus ever knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

what is your why

Lately, God has been walking me through some deep, difficult questions. The more I study the way biblical people answered those questions, the more I recognize that my answer to “why” I do what I do matters so much more than “what” I want to do.

I heard a fascinating interview with Simon Sineck. He has written a book called Start with Why. In the interview he said, “If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.” Sinek’s philosophy is not scripture based, but he has captured biblical truth in his philosophy. “Finding ourselves” is not about discovering what we want; we see ourselves most clearly when we begin to understand ourselves in connection to God.

God has given us the answer to “why”. We are intentionally created in his image to know him and be in relationship with him. Everything else about our lives is a “what”. He gifts each of us uniquely and individually that may make our “what” look different from others, but ultimately our “what” is less important than our “why”. Your gift may lead you to work with numbers or children, to teach or organize. Your faithfulness in using your gift will make all the difference to your joy and the needs of those around you. But that gift, in and of itself, is not your purpose. What you do with that gift, why you use it, is your purpose. A teacher whose purpose is to win an award or gain notoriety is very different from a teacher who seeks to educate his students. When we focus on the “what” of our gifts, we may very well lose sight of the “why”.

But when our gifts and our passion merge, there is a thrill and joy that makes whatever we sacrifice seem insignificant. I seriously doubt that Mozart’s mother had to bribe him to practice his harpsichord or that Leonardo da Vinci’s parents had to make him study. Pick any professional sports player today….chances are he was the last one to leave the field or court when practice was over. Mother Theresa didn’t resent the sick who needed her attention; Billy Graham isn’t bored by Bible study. The goal of each of those was never just to “do it one more time”; the goal was always to improve their “what” so that their “why” improved.

When I have a clear understanding of why I do what I do, my choices become much easier. So much of my wasted time and selfish behavior occurs when I focus on what, rather than why. If my home is about my family, my focus will be on their protection and blessing. When they spill something on my freshly scrubbed floor, my response shouldn’t be based on the floor; it should be based on my family. When my quiet time with God is about hearing from him and finding fresh understanding of his word, I move into my day knowing I’m loved and blessed beyond measure, regardless of my circumstances. When my quiet time is simply something I do because I feel I should, I move into my day with one more thing checked off my “to do” list.

How would our marriages be different if we were more focused on the health of the marriage than on what our spouse does that displeases us? How much more effective would our government leaders be if their goal was to serve and protect the people who elected them to office and focus less on their own reelection? If the church focused on making disciples and proclaiming the gospel, rather than dividing itself over issues that matter far more to us than they do to God? How would our lives be different if our energy was invested in learning to love and serve God, rather than demanding the love and service of those around us?

This day, choose to be defined by your why. Recognize that you are utterly loved by God. Let your choices and actions, your attitudes and behaviors be a reflection of his love in you. Joyfully invest your “what” in your “why”.

name

Names matter to God. In ancient cultures the name seemed to matter more than it does now. Nowadays, we are much more concerned about choosing a name for our children based on how it sounds with the last name or whether it might lead to unfortunate nicknames. In biblical culture names represented character and were often based on circumstance at the time of the birth. Isaac means laughter; Peter means rock; Jabez means one who was brought forth in pain. Knowing someone’s name often meant knowing his character. When Moses asked God what his name was, it was more than just “what should I call you?”; it was more like “who are you?”.

But it is also a question that God expects us to answer. Jacob struggled all night with God and refused to let go until God blessed him. God’s response to his demand for a blessing was “What is your name?”

This question demanded that Jacob identify and define who he actually was…by name and by behavior. In saying his name, Jacob describes his character. To his credit, Jacob didn’t dodge the answer. He didn’t say he was Isaac’s son or Rachel’s husband or Esau’s brother. He didn’t say that he was the owner of this property or threaten him. He told the truth. He said he was “cheater”. He tells the truth of who he has been. He has stolen his brother’s birth rite and blessing. His honest answer to God’s question brought him self-respect that he has never had before. God gives him a new name, Israel, that signifies new hope and a new start. Hos 12:3-4 says that the name Israel means “he who struggles with God”. This new name that will give him a heritage to grow into, not a curse that will hold him back. He will now be identified by his relationship with God, rather than his mistreatment of his brother.

It is common biblical practice for God to change the name of people who need a new start in life, who need to leave behind what they’ve been and become more of the people God created them to be, who need to be defined by what they can be, rather than what they have been.

God asks the same of us. And when we are honest about who we have been, he gives us a new identity. Some in the Bible got a new name here on earth: Abram, Sarai, Saul of Tarsus. But we will all receive a new name in heaven. The same God who sacrificed himself to rescue you from the consequences of your sin will give you a new name that defines who you can be, rather than who you have been.

Rev 2:17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

Let your name be associated with who you are becoming, rather than who you have been.