Archives for posts with tag: God

wolves

I’ve been very troubled lately by the animosity in America. We are utterly polarized in our beliefs and expectations. We are far more likely to despise those who disagree with us than to find a way to work with them for the common good. We began as a nation that respected all people, but we’ve become a nation that demonizes all who disagree with us. We have more access to facts and information now than ever in history, but we have less understanding because we claim only the facts that support what we want to believe. The media is more interested in keeping our attention than in reporting the truth, and we are more interested in furthering our political agenda, than in right and wrong.

This whole mess we’ve made for ourselves reminds me of what might have been an Indian parable.

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear. The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.

 America is feeding the wrong wolf. We are quick to blame and slow to take responsibility. We are enthralled with violence in our games and movies and lament that crime is increasing. We immerse ourselves in materialism and can’t understand the rise of entitlement and greed. We entertain ourselves with immorality and bemoan the lack of integrity. We praise those who tolerate everything, and we malign those who are defined by their convictions. We honor our enemies more than we honor God, and we can’t understand why a good God would allow so many bad things to happen. We are feeding the wrong wolf.

God gives us the ability to choose which “wolf” to feed. He has been clear about the consequences and blessings that will result from that choice. The briefest assessment of American history indicates that what He said is absolutely true. When we ignore God, individually and corporately, we suffer.

My daily prayer for my country is that God will give us “eyes that see and ears that hear” the truth, and that the truth will help us intentionally choose to feed the things in ourselves and in our society that bring about good. He is God; we are not. Ignoring God and trusting ourselves will ultimately bring about our destruction. God allowed judgment on his people when they refused to honor Him; America will be no different. I beg you to join me in praying for our country. Here is the promise God makes to those who do:

II Chron 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

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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.

 

risen

It never occurred to me to consider the Easter story from the perspective of the soldiers who were commanded to find Jesus’ body and kill the notion that “the Nazarene” was resurrected. I never considered that God could use the commands of a Roman governor to change the heart of a Roman soldier. While it is a new perspective for me, it is so like God to allow those who seek the truth to find it in His story.

 I wonder how many stories we don’t know. I wonder what post resurrection appearances or miracles are unknown to us because God chose to make those personal, rather than eternal. I wonder what would happen today if we pursued the truth, rather than trying to prove ourselves right. I wonder what the Church would look like if we were as interested in being in God’s presence as we are in achieving our self-prescribed goals.

 Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie is when the soldier goes to sit on a rock with Jesus at dawn. The soldier says, “I was there when you died.” It’s not profound or deeply philosophical. It’s not a great statement of faith. It has far more to do with his doubt than his belief. But his honesty led him to God. May it be so for us.

 Go see the movie. Allow yourself to celebrate the miracle of Easter and the privilege of knowing God.

 

promised land 2

What if the “Promised Land” is literally the territory that becomes Israel in the Bible…AND figuratively the blessings of God on the obedience of His people? What if our study of Old Testament history is meant to lead us to deeper understanding of both God’s will for all his people, and God’s will for us individually? I believe God set aside a geographic place, but I also believe God prepares a “promised land” that is unique for each of His children. It may be a geographic place. It may be a relationship or a ministry or a front row seat to see God at work…it was all those for the ancient Hebrews. There are some things that were true about the promised land God gave to his people back then that are also true for each of us as we seek God’s will for us right now.

 We have to separate themselves from what has been and allow God to do a new thing. God required that Abraham leave Ur and that the Hebrews leave Egypt in order to inhabit a different place. They could not have become the people God intended them to be if they had refused to obey God’s instructions. For us, that may not necessarily mean physical relocation, but it will mean that we have to let go of things that keep us bound to the past, or prevent us from seeing new things about ourselves and about God.

 Getting from where we are to the promised land God calls us to is not a magic miracle; it is a journey. There will be times in the wilderness. The journey to possess our promised lands may be fraught with tests and tribulations intended to make us strong enough to overcome the “giants” that already live there. Dwelling in our promised land will require that we trust God more than we fear those who oppose us, that we want what God chooses for us more than we want what we’ve chosen for ourselves.

 Promised lands are not a one-time gift; they have to be defended. Satan is threatened by those who obey God’s call on their lives and inhabit the promised lands God gives them. But when we stand firm in what we know is God’s call on our lives, God fights the battles for us, just as He fought for the ancient Hebrews as they moved forward into Canaan to possess their land.

 God led those ancient peoples each step of the way. They walked across the Red Sea on dry land as they left Egypt; they walked across the Jordan River on dry land as they arrived in their promised land. And in between, they saw some of the most magnificent miracles recorded in the Bible.

 God still leads those who will follow. May we let go of the things that prevent us from knowing the full measure of His blessing on our lives, and may that process let us see His glory and allow us to fully trust Him for our next step forward.

 

success 2Life is messy. We define “success” up front and then don’t know what to call it when the end result doesn’t match our plans. Our best intentions are sometimes sidetracked by pitfalls and interruptions that we don’t see coming and can’t control. The pristine “happily ever after” we envisioned seldom works out as neatly as we planned. But what if your current circumstances are the God ordained preparation for what is to come? What if your plans lead only to more of the same or worse, and God’s plans lead to victory and adventure? What if your ultimate success is based on your response to your current circumstances?

Successful people don’t waste time bemoaning what isn’t or complaining about what should have happened; they make the most of whatever circumstances they find themselves in. Mark Batterson has a book In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day (which I HIGHY recommend). In it he shares his life philosophy which is also his admonition to his church.

Do the best you can You were never intended to be the best at everything. You may not like what you are doing; you may not be as qualified as someone else for what you are doing; you may feel like you are wasting your time. But for now, your circumstances are yours. Going through the motions may get you to the end, but it will never feed your soul. Half-hearted efforts usually deliver lackluster results. What if God is waiting for you to invest your best so that He can multiply it into something great or something different?

With what you have Life would be so much easier if we had more money, more talent, more time, more opportunity. I suspect that what we “don’t have” may be intended to help us be dependent on Him. God doesn’t call you to be someone else. He created you on purpose, just as you are. If we trust God with what we have, he can make it enough, even when it doesn’t look like much. Moses gave God his staff, and God defeated Pharaoh and the Egyptian army; David offered God his slingshot, and God gave victory to the army of Israel; a boy offered Jesus his 5 loaves and 2 fish, and Jesus fed the hearts and minds of 5000. What if God wants you to trust Him with what you have so that you can see his power at work in your circumstances?

Where you are Sometimes we waste our lives aiming for what we want and miss the blessing of where we actually are. You could have been born into a different set of circumstances in a different place…but you weren’t. There are people and opportunities where you are that are God ordained. What does God want you to learn from them? What do you have that God wants to use to impact those around you right now?

 Do the best YOU can with what YOU have where YOU are. We don’t get to be someone else. We don’t get to live someone else’s story. For right now, we are who we are, where we are. Perhaps doing the best we can will change us. It might even change our circumstances. God intends that we use what we have wherever we are to the best of our ability to bring our good and His glory. What do you have? Where are you? How big is the gap between what you are doing and your best?

new years resolution 2

Many will begin their New Year with resolutions to change their behavior: stop smoking, start exercising, eat fewer carbs and more fiber, decrease debt, increase savings, lose weight, improve health. Setting goals for our behavior can change our future. But what would happen if we focused on changing our perspective, rather than our habits? How would our lives change if we were as focused on our spiritual growth as we are on our physical health and financial stability?

How different would your 2016 be:

If you lived as though you believed your God was more powerful than your enemies?

If you made up your mind to find joy and be thankful every day?

If you started being defined by the possibilities of God’s power within you, rather than by your limitations, your past, and your weaknesses?

If you believed that doing the right thing was more important than blending in with the crowd?

If you focused as much on being holy as you do on being heard?

If you refused to allow those who wronged you in the past to continue to make you angry?

Improving your health and your habits can honor God. But becoming who God created you to be involves more than your weight, your habits, or your bank account.

As you make plans for your new year, what will you do to:

increase your holiness?

know the Word made flesh and to know His presence in His written word?

be kinder to the people around you?

make your prayers more of a conversation and less of a monologue?

May the changes you choose to make in your new year allow you to become more of who God created you to be. May you know the pleasure of your Father who created you for fellowship with Him because you have made Him your priority.

drummer boy

Of all the beautiful Christmas carols, Little Drummer Boy has always been my least favorite. I find the repetition of “pa rum pa pum pum” irritating. But today as I listened to it, I discovered profound truth in its words.

In the story of this song, the little boy with a drum is taken to the manger where he is told the baby is a king. He recognizes the significance of that moment. The baby’s parents are clearly not rich, but the little boy senses the holiness of that place where God has come to earth. The boy wants to give something to the baby, but feels he has nothing of value to offer.

Isn’t that true for most of us? We want to serve others; we want to show God how much we love him, but we feel inept. Other people’s capabilities and talents look far more glamorous and impressive. Others can inspire with their words or touch deep places in our hearts with music or art. Others are so confident or so gifted. We want to be significant and appreciated; we want to do the right thing and have it work out well. But too often, our best efforts look more clumsy and unprofessional than impressive. So we come to the manger again this Christmas, with patches on our disappointments, hiding our brokenness and frustration, desperately seeking to see the face of God in the midst of the mess and strife of this earth.

The drummer boy had nothing tangible to offer this holy family. But the God who created all the earth and has all power and majesty…didn’t want a gift that man values. What this God values is His people. The boy took what he had in his hands and used it the best he knew how. And the innocence and effort of the child brought a smile to the face of the King of Heaven. This was not about the best drum solo ever; it was about a pure heart offering its best to God.

Does your Christmas include seeking the face of God, or have you allowed our culture to devalue this holiday into frenetic activity? Do you withhold what God has given you because you disdain it or dismiss it as insignificant? Or will you offer what you hold in your hand, trusting that God will see the desires of your heart and transform your best effort into what brings your good and His glory?

What is your drum? The finest gift you have may not earn awards or praise from men, but it can bring a smile to the face of God if you offer it to bring Him pleasure. This Christmas, may you find yourself in the presence of the one who desperately loves you, who left heaven to come and be where you are. With all of your heart and soul, offer him whatever is in your hand…that is what he values most.

Come they told me, A new born king to see

Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the king.

So to honor him, when we come.

Little baby, I am a poor boy too.

I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give our king.

Shall I play for you on my drum?

Mary nodded; The ox and lamb kept time.

I played my drum for him I played my best for him.

Then he smiled at me and my drum.

stars and angelsUneducated shepherds were doing a menial job and were interrupted by angels. They found God in the middle of the night in a manger in their hometown. The Wise Men didn’t hear from angels; they saw a star. They felt compelled to travel hundreds of miles in a time when travel was dangerous and difficult. Their education and curiosity led them to leave where they were and follow a hunch to see where it led them. They found God at the end of a long, tedious, intentional journey.

Every once in a while, we see evidence of God in our world. Our awareness can come as an unplanned event that takes us by surprise, or it may be an intentional choice to pursue our faith in God, rather than focusing on our circumstances. Sometimes we “find” God when we’re not looking for Him. We are going through the motions of our lives, doing what must be done as best we can, when God interrupts our schedule and unmistakably calls us to Himself.

But sometimes finding God involves our commitment to keep looking. It may be a long journey from where we are and what we know to the place where we understand and see Him face to face. We may have to keep our focus on what we believe as we journey through all that will lead us from where we are to where He is.

The shepherds could have decided that a decent night’s sleep was more important than traipsing off into town. The Wise Men could have easily justified simply recording the appearance of an unusual star, rather than sacrificing a substantial amount of time and money on what could very likely be a wild good chase. But they didn’t. Their hearts were unmistakably stirred, and they ignored common sense and beheld the face of God.

We don’t know what happened after they left the Christ child and went home. Were they permanently changed by their encounter with God come to earth, or was the thrill temporary? Did they spend the rest of their lives telling the story of the moment they saw God, or did their circumstances and schedules retake control of their expectations? Was Christmas a one-time event for them or was it a turning point in their lives?

Our culture has tried to reinvent Christmas into something less than God intended it to be. Receiving the gift of the presence of God is too often eclipsed by the frantic search for presents to buy. Anticipation of His presence and blessing gets lost in the preparation and parties. We’ve made Christmas into something we do, rather than a celebration of the God who never forgets a promise, whose incredible love continually calls us into His presence, the one who left Heaven to come live with us.

Whether your invitation looks like an angelic interruption or the nagging hope of a star that draws you to seek Him, follow your heart into His presence. Find Him amid the to-do lists and demands of your Christmas. Immanuel, God with us, wants relationship with you. Let that bring you hope and joy that transforms the event of Christmas Day into a turning point in your journey with God.

RE_Words“Do it again”. As small children my boys would repeat these words to recapture the thrill of some moment or activity they loved. TV sports have been changed by the instant replay, and we mark the passing of time with repeated family rituals on holidays. Repetition is how we learn, how we find comfort, and how we establish tradition.

A significant portion of our lives is consumed by doing the same things day after day. We often drive the same way to the same job, looking for “our” spot in the parking lot. We go to church and want to sit in “our” pew. We repair things that don’t work, or we replace them with things that do work. We shop to replenish the groceries in our pantry, re-mow the same yard, and “reclean” the same house…over and over and over.

We repeat a request that is ignored, rewrite a paper, or reheat leftovers. Adding the prefix “re” to the beginning of a word indicates the idea of doing that action again. Have you ever noticed how many of the words that describe God’s activity in the life of man begin with the prefix “re”?

When God created Adam, He formed man’s body with his hands and breathed his spirit into that body and gave it life. Thousands of years later, in response to the prayers of His people, God recreated himself as a human baby. That baby grew into the one who would sacrifice his own life to redeem his people and restore their relationship with God so that they could receive eternal life. His body was resurrected from the grave so that we could repent and renew our hope in the future without fear of death.

I suspect that part of what we are supposed to be doing during Advent is refocusing our attention from what usually happens to what God is continuing to do. When we intentionally look for God’s activity in our world, we find that He is still working for good in the hearts of those who love Him. We discover that He is still seeking relationship with His people. We are delighted by the presence of the one who has never stopped loving and saving and speaking to His people…and He will do it again, over and over, until He calls us to a new life that we can barely imagine now.

God doesn’t require our perfection before we are welcome in His presence. He is patient with our flaws and our fears. But He wants us to stop repeating the sins of our past, repent, and return to a deeper relationship with Him. He wants to give us a fresh sense of His power and presence so that our faith is renewed and our joy is rekindled. Perhaps the best way to celebrate Advent is to stop going through the motions of what you’re used to doing, and look for God to interrupt your expectations with new perspective on who He is and on who He is recreating you to be.

Advent is the anticipation of His coming into our world. As you look back over your relationship with God, consider the most holy moments you’ve had in His presence and ask Him to “Do it again”.