Archives for the month of: March, 2016

servant 7

God is in charge whether we pay attention or not. God is in charge even when we’re not getting our way. God is in charge even when it seems that evil is winning and chaos is taking over.

Over and over in the Bible God refers to Nebuchadnezzar as “my servant”. Nebuchadnezzar was the pagan king of Babylon who enslaved much of the population of Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, including the Temple built by Solomon. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t love God; in fact, he required that the people of Babylon, including the Jewish refugees, worship a statue of him. But God used Nebuchadnezzar to teach his people that only Yahweh was God. God actually called one of his most famous prophets, Daniel, just to speak the word of God to Nebuchadnezzar and the succeeding rulers on the throne of Babylon and later Persia. God used his servant Nebuchadnezzar to teach the people of Judah the consequences of their sin. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t know that he was serving God; he didn’t realize that he was part of God’s plan; he didn’t understand that the God of his captives loved him until the end of his life.

When I studied the life and heart of Nebuchadnezzar in the first four chapters of the book of Daniel, I was struck at how much trouble God expended on Nebuchadnezzar’s behalf. God used Nebuchadnezzar as surely as he used Daniel, whether or not Nebuchadnezzar realized it. Even those who don’t honor or even acknowledge God are completely under God’s control. Daniel says, God “changes times and seasons; he sets up and deposes kings.” (Dan 2:21)

I am heartsick at the vitriol on both sides of this political campaign. I am desperately trying not to fear what I seeing happening in our country and pray daily for God’s mercy on us, not His judgment. I see the arrogant raving of all those seeking the office of president and see only rare evidence of a heart that seeks to honor God. I see people who praise themselves and denigrate those who oppose them. They declare that their presidency will save America from all that threatens us. But if I believe that God has all power, I have to acknowledge that He “sets up and deposes” presidents as well…even those who worship themselves, more than they worship God. They serve His purposes as surely as those of us who intentionally try to obey Him.

America will not be saved by any of these candidates. Our problems will not be solved by a new government program or a different leader or higher taxes or more regulation. Most likely, I will again be unable to vote “for” a candidate; I will just vote against the one with whom I disagree most. But God is in control no matter who occupies the Oval Office. November will come and this election will resolve itself. God may use the next four years to teach the people of America the consequences of their sin. He may use them to punish us or to bring us to repentance. God may use the next four years to teach those who take power that they serve Him, not themselves. He may even raise up a Daniel to speak for Him, to soften the heart of the one to whom He will raise up and give power in this country. Paul instructs Timothy to pray for all those in authority over him that he may live a life of godliness and holiness. (I Tim 2:1-2) If the people of American pray for a tender, contrite heart in the leader God gives us, we may become the Daniel God uses in our generation.

Rom 13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

runaway

 Jesus promised that in this world we will have trouble, and some days that trouble is just more than I have the strength or wisdom or patience or desire to deal with. When I consider the difficult or unpleasant situations and relationships of my life, running away seems like such an attractive option. The grass is always greener in someone else’s world; pretending that I don’t have problems is so much easier than actually dealing with them. And there are so many ways to run! Busyness and escapism can separate me from the situation or the relationship, and I can pretend it doesn’t affect me.

 But when I run away, the problem doesn’t follow suit. Sometimes it festers and becomes worse. Sometimes it just eats away at my joy and peace. But it never disappears.

 God does not allow his children to run away from Him or anything else; He insists that they confront their fears, their enemies, their failures, and their past. Over and over in the Bible you see various ones try (unsuccessfully) to run away. Over and over you see God lead them back to deal with what they tried so hard to escape from. Hagar ran away from a contentious relationship with Sarah; God saw her in the wilderness and told her to go back home. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing and ran away when Esau promised to kill him; twenty years later God led Jacob back home to make peace with Esau. Moses committed murder and ran away from Egypt; forty years later, God sent him right back to Egypt. Elijah successfully defeated the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, and then promptly ran away from Jezebel; God followed him until he stopped running, fed him, gave him rest, and then told him to get back to work. Jonah didn’t like the task God gave him, so he tried to run as far away as it was possible to go; God sent a fish to bring him back, and repeated his instructions for a fresh start.

 Running away is a sign of defeat, and God empowers his people to have victory. When I run away, people don’t see the power of my God; they see my weakness. When I run away, I can’t see how God is at work in that situation. When I run away, I prove that I don’t trust God to work in me or through me for victory; what oppresses me controls me.

 There are times when we need to intentionally withdraw from a situation to allow the heated emotions to settle. Jesus walked away from the crowd that wanted to stone him in Nazareth because it wasn’t yet time for his sacrifice. Withdrawing to wait for a more opportune time to stand firm can be a good thing. There may even be a time when we need to leave a relationship behind because the other person may not be receptive to God’s activity and healing. Jesus told the disciples that if a town didn’t accept them, they were to shake the dust of that place from their shoes and move on. Often, Jesus intentionally withdrew to a quiet place in order to be in his Father’s presence, to gain insight into his Father’s will for that situation on that day.

 But running away is not an option. We can intentionally leave, or we can intentionally stay. Whatever God calls us to do is the only option that will bring resolution and allow our circumstances to improve or to permanently leave our problems behind.

 

start-finish

 There is a difference between a starting line and a finish line. They may actually be the same line, but your goals as you cross it are different.

 Crossing a starting line requires that you completely focus on what is ahead of you. You may get off to a running start or a slow start. Whatever preparation you have made for that particular race must be intentionally applied to the path in front of you. Your energy and focus and effort is on what you are doing.

 Crossing a finish line means that race is over. You can’t go back and change your position in the starting blocks or your strategy for running that race. Whether you triumphantly cross the finish line in first place or just drag yourself to the end of the course, that race is over. You will be judged by what you have just done.

 But what happens if the race you’ve just completed is the preparation for what is to come next? How many of us come to what we decide is the end and stay there? We choose to be defined by our past, rather than allowing it to refine us for our future. I failed; therefore, God can’t use me. People have disappointed me; therefore, I won’t trust again. I’m not perfect or powerful; therefore, God should find someone else. And we set up camp on what we think is the finish line, when God intends us to make a new, different start.

 The mistakes and pain of your past are not an excuse to refuse to run. Refusing to try again is the easiest way to fail and the best way to be defined by your weakness. A good coach will use the mistakes and successes of past races as a teaching tool to run future races more successfully. Sometimes that new start is a brand new adventure based on the lessons we’ve learned in the past. Sometimes that new start looks like the same old race…but we learn to master the course, rather than allow it to defeat us.

 Sometimes all the “lines” look the same from where we stand. How different would the story of our lives be if we allowed God to determine whether we are at the beginning of something new, or at the end of something old? To use our beginnings and our endings to train us to depend on His plan and trust His power, rather than our own? There are some things you need to let go of and put behind you. There are some things you need to work toward and trust God with, even though you can’t foresee success.

 When you sit on the starting blocks, it hinders your ability to begin the next race. Allow your belief in what you do know about God to determine your choices for what you don’t know about your future. Trust that God can take all that is in your past and use it to prepare you for what is to come.