buildingbodies4christ

building on the foundation of Jesus Christ

Learning Lessons

When I was in high school, I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do when I graduated. I knew I would go to college, but that was the extent of my grand ideas for the future. I had no idea what I really liked to do since I really hadn’t pursued anything other than sports. I took an accounting class my senior year. I was in horticulture for two years. I actually really loved working with plants. I liked to see things grow.

When I got to college, I still hadn’t a clue as to what I should pursue as a career. I took the advice of my Dad who said to go into business – “you could never go wrong in business.” So I did. And for twenty-five years, I struggled to find contentment in that field. At one point early on, I contemplated other avenues but nothing stood out to me. Also, it would mean I might have to go back to school to learn another trade, and I just didn’t know if I could do it. You see, I hate to study. So, year after year, I stayed in something that I was good at but felt drained day after day.

God provided through the jobs, so it was not all bad. I met some really good people in those places. I enjoyed life outside of work. I did what I had to do in order to live. God provided the opportunities each and every time. I would get restless and start looking for the next place. God would provide the next place. I figured out in hindsight, it was never about the job. God had lessons in each place where He placed me.

God used the circumstance to train me up; to become more spiritually mature. I am still a work in progress. I am still learning and hopefully growing. I wrote a few weeks ago, that I really didn’t see much growth over the past year. Maybe it was there, but it wasn’t significant for me to see. There were subtle shifts in my thinking. Some of my struggle is over financial concerns. God has been at work in this season of my life.

When I begin to be anxious about the future, God sends me a reminder that my future is in His hands. I saw this just yesterday. I have been praying for direction on what I should do next. Sell my house or stay? Look for another job? Where do I go, what do I do? I asked God to take my hand and lead me to the next place.

I opened one of the books I have been reading on a daily basis called The Seeking Heart by Fenelon. On this day, I just happen to read the chapter “Depend on God.” Okay; not a coincidence. The first sentence read “The best place to be is where God puts you.” And more statements about the future: “Do not think too much about the future. Worrying about things that haven’t happened yet is unhealthy for you. God Himself will help you, day by day.”

I was reminded of Elijah while he was by the brook during the drought. God sent ravens to feed him until the brook dried up; then God sent him to a widow lady in Sidon. God provided for Elijah through this woman’s meager supplies. The supplies never ran out as long as the drought persisted.

Elijah believed God would provide. He didn’t seem to have any trust issues like I do. I have always been self-sufficient. I have lived independently – or so I thought at the time. It was God who provided through the job opportunities. Before I left my last job, I would not have imagined the future of living without a fixed income. God has provided for the last six years. It’s all come from God. The ravens may have not been instructed to feed me, but others have come along at just the right time.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, except to trust God more and me less. I want to be where God wants me, doing what He wants me to do for the Kingdom. I still like to see things grow, but today it’s more than plants. As part of the Body of Christ, we are all meant to grow. We all struggle in different areas of our lives. Mine is financial, yours maybe something completely different. God will put us in a place where we can learn best the lessons He wants to teach us. I will sit by the brook, until I am instructed to go to the next place – all in God’s time, not mine. Let’s be faithful where He plants us and grow to be the men and women of God He wants us to be.

But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. Psalms 1:2-3 (NLT)

Proper Understanding

Question: “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” I read that in a book by John Piper (Let the Nations Be Glad) yesterday morning. I have heard this saying some time ago but it hit me fresh again as I began to read in chapter one. In the first chapter, John Piper gives the case of God’s glory as the foundation for our worship. Scripture after scripture, he reminds the reader that throughout the Bible it’s about God’s glory. He said that God’s goal is “to uphold and display the glory of his name.” I think we’ve forgotten how to truly be in awe of God.

In generations past, they had a different view of God. I think it’s been just a century of prosperity that we have displaced God’s glory with our own. We worship the wrong things and the wrong people. We truly don’t worship God in the manner we should. I witness the subdued attitude when we gather together to worship and notice the difference at a basketball or football game. I’m no better at worship either. There may be a time or two of hand-raising and a few tears, but are our hearts truly worshipping God in the right manner?

In our prosperity, we’ve lost something fundamental in our view of God. Most of us can get by without God. We don’t need Him as society once did. Our needs are met without much thought to how we get what we have – we’ve earned it ourselves. We’ve done it all ourselves or at least that’s the perception. That was the way I thought for many of my early career years. Everything though comes from God. We get nothing on our own. It’s all by the grace of God.

There is an identity crisis in this land. We don’t know who we are, and we have no idea who God truly is. First, if Jesus is our Lord and Savior; then we have a new identity. We have been adopted into God’s family. We are heirs with Christ. We have His righteousness. Jesus traded our filthy rags for His cloak of righteousness. We have been set free from the bondage of sin. We are secure in our knowledge of our eternal home. Jesus provided our new identity by His death and resurrection. Not because of our goodness, but because of His.

There isn’t anything that we could have done to make our place secure; it’s a gift. We have a position in God’s family based on Jesus and not our performance. There is nothing we can do to earn His favor. And in this gift of salvation, we are complete; we lack nothing. Complete but unfinished. There is work that still needs to be done in us. Every now and then, I get a thought of what I could have been if not for the fact that Jesus pursued me and changed my life. Those are the times when I truly worship God.

Every now and then, I also get a glimpse of the greatness and glory of God. Louie Giglio has a message on YouTube called Indescribable. I found it last week and watched the different pictures of the universe – the vastness, the beautiful images of the known universe – flash on the screen. He said that we should remember that God holds all of it in His hands. We are this one little speck on this one little planet in the vastness of what God has made. Pastor Louie said that he wasn’t trying to make us feel small, but to remind us that we are small. And yet, God watches over us with the love of a Father. His eye is on us.

Paul wrote out a prayer for the saints in Ephesus to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ; to know this love that surpasses knowledge and be filled with the measure of the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18,19). I think we miss this understanding. Maybe its head knowledge, but I don’t think we have grasped the heart knowledge of how true this really is. When we finally have a proper understanding of who God is and what He has done, then I think we will truly worship Him in the proper manner. God is Creator – the known universe testifies to His glory. God has created us for a personal relationship with Him that we may glorify Him and worship Him – the one true God. We are made in His likeness so that we can glorify Him through our lives.

Do you understand who you are and your purpose? I think I am finally coming to my own revelation. I hope you do as well. Let it be said of us – we know how to worship God because of our love for Him.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. Ephesians 1:4-6 (NLT)

Road Maps

Remember road maps? Before GPS systems, there were those ancient paper maps that once you open them, it was hard to fold them back in the right manner. I loved to read maps. When I moved into a new city, I always got a map of the city. I studied it for months to find the best routes to all the places I wanted to go. I would take it everywhere I went, just in case I found myself in an unfamiliar place.

Not too long ago, I was making my way home on a few of the back streets to avoid rush hour traffic. My sister was following me closely because she didn’t know the way I was going. She made the remark that I knew these roads well. My comment back was that I had lived in my city for 17 years so I should know it pretty well. However, it wasn’t because of my longevity here. It was because I studied the city map for months when I first arrived and became familiar with the roads I needed to take to get me from point A to B.

I have heard that the Bible is our road map. It helps us navigate this life’s path. Yes, it is very helpful to our way of life as a follower of Jesus. However, it’s so much more than that. The Bible is not about us; it’s about God. It’s His story. It’s the story of redemption and glory – our redemption for His glory. The Bible is not just one book. It is 66 books and letters; written by approximately 40 authors over 1600 years that tells one story. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the story flows through the different books and letters to give us a revelation of Jesus and God’s ultimate plan for humanity. It’s there for us in black and white and a few red letters too (if you have Jesus’ words in red). It is all there – from beginning to end. We know how the story ends.

I have heard also that you can’t trust the Bible. There are contradictions or errors or it was written for a different time. But God’s word will never go out of style. It will stand forever. These ancient documents have stood the test of time. There are approximately 32,000 known ancient transcripts of this book; more than any other book in history. What we have today is verified as accurate through all these transcripts. That’s pretty amazing.

But God’s word isn’t very popular. Oh, it’s the most sold book in the world. However, it is not the most read book in the world. It’s difficult to understand. For the longest time, I didn’t read it. I had multiple copies of it but they all sat in my nightstand or on the book shelf. But one day, I began to read. I ask God to give me a hunger and thirst for His word. He answered that prayer and I haven’t laid it aside since. The difficulty of reading it turned to a love of it through the Holy Spirit’s teaching. The Bible makes no sense to those who are not under the teaching of the Holy Spirit. But as the Spirit leads, we are taught from its pages.

The Bible is a relationship. It is God’s Word to us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is said to be God’s Word in the flesh. Prayer is our voice in communication with God, but His Word is the communication back. To be in relationship means, we need to have more than just our voice in the communication pattern. We have to listen to God’s voice too. For those who call themselves Christians and do not read God’s Word, I just don’t see how there is much of a relationship. Someone is probably arguing with me right now. Maybe there is a way to know God without reading, maybe there is the experience portion of knowing Him. But experience must also be undergirded with reading. How are you to know if you are experiencing God unless you know His Word?

Someone may argue that they get all the teaching they need through Sunday morning church service. But if one is married; if you only communicated once a week, how long will the marriage last? The message in the Bible is hard. I get it. There are things I don’t like to read. But that doesn’t mean I discount God’s Word. It just means I truly don’t understand God’s ways or His thoughts. Francis Chan said in a message “When we disagree with the Bible, we assume the Bible is wrong; something is wrong with us not the Bible.” We have stinking thinking going on. The only way to correct our thinking is to get into God’s Word. God’s Word is the road map to God.

It’s time to invest some time into the relationship with God. There is no other answer for the craziness we are experiencing in this world today. We have to know the Truth. Get out God’s road map and start studying it so that you may know the right way to go, and you will not be lead astray by someone else’s stinking thinking!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

The Tree

In my small group time this week, we were challenged to tell our story. First, to write it down. Second to share it with someone. Statistics tell us that the majority of believers in Jesus Christ will not share with non-believers the story that changes everything. They will not share how they came to faith or what a difference Jesus has made in their lives. They will not lead others to the foot of the cross where Jesus died for everyone’s sin. It’s uncomfortable to share something that others might reject us because of it. However, rejection is all a part of the story. It’s all about the tree. The first tree, in the Garden of Eden, is where the story begins.

You might have heard the story of Adam and Eve and bite that changed everything for humankind. Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit off the tree of good and evil. The bite was not the sin that was introduced to the world; it was taking the word of the serpent over the word of God. The tree of good and evil brought death. It brought spiritual death. Spiritual death was brought on by the broken relationship between God and Adam and Eve. When the “fruit” of sin became part of Adam and Eve, they passed it along through their DNA to each generation. It’s a natural part of us. And in our natural states, we are far from God. We are clothed in nakedness with guilt and shame; with no hope of a relationship with God. The fruit of sin does that to us. It makes us offensive to God.

However, God didn’t leave the story of humankind to that one bite or that one tree. He had another tree in mind. God created another tree that would one day become the place of death that would bring spiritual life. At God’s appointed time, and through His way, He brought the answer to our brokenness. Jesus. Jesus became the only way to right the relationship between God and us. Jesus is the bridge of hope for us all. It is by God’s design through Jesus’ death on a tree (also known as a cross). Jesus died so that we could have eternal life. This tree brings life – spiritual life.

I have heard Jesus’ story all my life. I was raised in a Christian home. So I knew about Jesus early. On Easter Sunday, 1973, on the front row of my small Baptist church, I heard a word to “Go” when the invitation was offered. I moved out of that seat to walk the small distance to the preacher who asked me if I wanted Jesus to be my Savior. I said yes. This wasn’t a life altering decision for me. I was almost eleven years old on that fateful day and had no clue that I was naked and covered in shame and guilt because of my sinful ways. I just heard the word go and I did.

I believe on that day, I had the covering of Jesus’ blood. I believe on that day, I became protected and His. My faith journey resembles the faith journey of Jesus’ disciples. They walked three years with Him to get to know Him but it wasn’t until the death and resurrection of Jesus when their eyes were truly opened. My faith walk took more like twenty years. It wasn’t until the death of my friend in 1993 when my eyes were truly opened to Jesus’ death and resurrection and what that meant for me. I recognized my sinful nature as it truly was; a broken relationship with God and no way out of my mess except through Jesus.

It has been a long process to come to the place where I can totally confess with my heart that Jesus is Lord of my life. I had already confessed that He was my Savior; but when He became my Lord, everything changed for me. I liked to think of my faith journey as a fishing analogy. Jesus is the fisherman. He caught me on His line in 73; He gave me a little line to wear me out so that He could finally reel me in. I fought the process for twenty plus years, but eventually He reeled me in. He got me in His boat, cleaned me up, and released me back into the waters. I was released to bring others to Jesus’ line, not to go back and live a life of sin. Like the disciple Philip where he finds Nathanael and tells him about Jesus; we are told that we are to testify about Jesus – to be a witness of Jesus’ work. Philip said to Nathanael “Come and see.” This is the purpose of our stories.

My story isn’t really that exciting. It’s the process of learning about Jesus, knowing Him fully as Savior and Lord, then experiencing His transforming work in me as He leads me each and every day. Two trees changed everything for all of us. The first tree took everything from us; the second tree restored it all through Jesus. It’s with this thought I leave with you – have you been changed by the second tree?

It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” Romans 9-10 (MSG)

God’s Pursuit

Did you know that I am a certified health nut? Well, it’s officially called a health coach certification. It’s a long story of how I got to the school to attain the certification, but let’s just say God got my attention a few years before that time. You see, I haven’t been very healthy most of my life. I have been fighting battles with sickness since my early years. The catalyst to change was in 2006 when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I have a gluten trigger that will cause my body to attack my thyroid mistaking it for a foreign object. Everything changed when I learned of this disease and how I could heal by changing my life.

Sickness has been a theme throughout my life. In 1985, I came down with Rocky Mountain Spotted-Fever (RMSF). At that time of my life, I was living in the far lands; living with the pigs (reference Luke 15). My life back then was filled with wasted living – just looking for a good time, laughing about the hangovers after a night out with my friends. You would think after almost dying from RMSF, I would have woken up to the fact that this wasn’t God’s plan for me. But it took a couple more years before a revelation came that I needed to change my ways.

I struggled on and off with female troubles for a few years after the RMSF diagnosis. By the time the female issues were a full-blown sickness, I was living back at home with Mom and Dad. I lost my job and had nowhere else to go but back home. God gave me the opportunity to start over. I started back to church regularly and found out God was more interesting than I remembered from my childhood. However, I still wasn’t quite convinced that I needed to give Him everything. I still tried to live my life on my terms.

Everything changed in 1993 when I lost a close friend to an accidental free fall from a plane. Oh, she jumped with a parachute; but failed to open it at the proper time. She loved Jesus and all was good for her eternal place. But it rocked my world because I didn’t know that death could come so quickly to one so young. I understood in theory, but that was a wake-up call to me. It opened my eyes to death in a new way. I could have easily been the one in an accident and lost my life only to discover I wasn’t too sure of my eternal dwelling place. So I went all in to find out what it actually took to be assured that I was in God’s hands forever. I took steps to resolve the conflict that was warring in me but still couldn’t let Him have everything – yet.

It took another ten years or so before the female troubles were completely removed (surgery is a good thing for that). All that time, I was growing in the knowledge of God but failed to understand my body was the temple for the Holy Spirit. I was not respecting His temple. I didn’t know all that I know today. It took the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s to get my attention to give it all to God. Every part of my body is His and I should respect and honor Him by the way I treat His temple. When I finally understood that piece of His message, I started taking the steps to completely overhaul my health and define who God wants me to be: whole and healthy – mind, body and soul. And I gave it all to Him. (We’re still working on the body part. One day, the perishable will be replaced.)

I am grateful God has given me these chances to change. He has pursued me and never let me go. He could have easily chosen to let me continue to go downhill or stay in the pit of despair. But He didn’t. I have been told this past week that God is a personal God. I believe it because I have experienced His personal touch too many times to ignore that fact. He knows me and my struggles. Yet, He loves me personally – uniquely because I am His creation. He formed me with all my frailties in my mother’s womb. He thought of me before I was born. He actually had a secret me before He revealed me to my Mom. That’s pretty cool.

God thought of us all before we took our first breaths. He knows our hearts and our struggles within. And loves us anyway. He pursues us individually and uniquely. He is our personal God. And He is pursuing you today to find Him in your circumstance. He has used sickness to get my attention. How is He pursuing you?

If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. 2 Timothy 2:21-22 (NLT)

Eyes Open

Tomorrow things will change once again. A new president will be sitting in the oval office. With new leadership always brings a change. Each man has brought their own agenda into that office. It’s inevitable. Change happens with increasing frequency. It is undetermined at this point whether it’s going to be a good change or a bad change, and it will depend upon our own perspective – we have an agenda as well. Does the change meet our approval based on what we perceive is right in our own eyes?

After this past year, I don’t know what to expect from this point on. The one constant in all the years previously, is God. He is still on the throne, and He is still in charge. I do believe God’s hand has been all over this election cycle. It has to be since there has been no other explanation as to why this election has been so radically different from all the others previously and who we have coming into office tomorrow. God has His own agenda – and it’s the one that will be ultimately fulfilled. He causes the rise and fall of every nation. It’s to be determined which will be the case for us over the next few years.

Judgment is coming at some point. It has to be. God cannot let disobedience stand. We have some things in our past (and our present) that will have to be called into account. The one thing that keeps us in God’s favor is our stand with Israel. However, even that has been shaky for the last few years. God said He will bless those who stand with Israel and curse those who don’t. Every action we take against Israel has been shown as our detriment. The latest stand was abstaining from a critical vote against Israel. We did not vote against the United Nations agenda against Israel. We let it pass.

The agenda is to pass a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine to live in peace together. However, Israel will have to give up some land in order for this to happen. I will not attempt to go into the details because I don’t know the full story. I just know that giving up land has never been a good thing for the people of Israel. This is God’s land. This was His promised land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; to Moses; to Joshua; and to the future of the world. All eyes are on Israel; the epicenter of events to come. God has an agenda that will be fulfilled, and it all comes to that little spit of land hanging on the side of the Middle East. Everybody wants a piece of it.

God is moving each piece into place for the events to come. Our nation’s part is still to be seen. However, I think God’s move with this presidency will determine our future. Judgment or blessing will be determined by how we look toward the future with Israel. Trump has said he will stand with Israel, but has the cards already been played that will tie our hands to the future? Will we see the link between our standing against Israel in the latest vote and what happens next for us as a nation? Or will we blame it all on Trump? Will he be our scapegoat? Time will tell.

I really don’t know what’s going to happen next. My feeling is something is already in the works. I feel a shaken is inevitable. There has to be. We cannot continue on this same path without some major foundation shifting that will open our eyes and stir our hearts. I believe that is on God’s agenda as well. Change is coming whether we like it or not. We are not supposed to stay the same. Sameness is boring. Change can be exciting. It’s our perspective that will give us anxiety or excitement. I choose excitement because I believe God is at work; and He is in control bringing about His purpose, and it will be to our good. My eyes are open for His glory to be revealed. Stand with me and watch Him work – it’s going to be amazing to see.

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NLT)

When Confidence Fails

Can I just tell you? This week, I am just frustrated. One message has been hammering me for the longest time. And every first of the year, it seems to come back around. Find my purpose. I thought I found it when I discovered the health coach training. I thought this was my purpose – to help others get healthy. I spent many hours learning about coaching and about healthy ideas for living well in this toxic world. I thought God had a plan that involved this new training, but it has not come to fruition as I expected.

However, one thing I did discover in that time of training was that I had a voice that God could use. I began to write because of it. The writing has never been my thing. You can probably tell, I was not an English major. I am a bit challenged in the grammar and punctuation departments. However, I think God opened this door at the right time for me and for His purpose. (And maybe I inherited a little of my maternal grandmother’s writing ability.) Yet, I doubt. My confidence has hit a snag with this writing gig.

My thing was sports; I loved sports. I believe I was pretty good at most sports in those early years. I had and still have good eye to hand coordination. I can catch most anything – drop a spoon and I’ll catch it on the way down. I learned to be careful in my “catching” abilities when I caught a glass that had fallen; but as I caught it, it broke. The lesson learned through a trip to the doctor and four stitches to repair the damage.

When I was in college, I became the manager for the women’s basketball team. When I asked the coach if I could do something for the team, she asked me first if I could play. If that question had come up seven years before that time, I would have said yes. After all, I did play junior high ball. The year after that, we moved from my hometown to a city; and in that move, everything changed. I lost all my confidence in my abilities when I saw the new kids playing at what I conceived a much tougher level. In my freshman year of high school, the women’s basketball coach told me to go out for the team; but at that point the mental games had already begun.

Christine Caine said in a recent message “do not throw away your confidence” – wish I had heard that message forty years ago! But as I listened over the last week to different speakers pretty much saying the same thing, it becomes more frustrating to me. It’s not about learning these things anymore; I just need revelation of why I’m here! Henry Cloud reminded his listeners at a recent conference, we need to discover our end games. We are not to just drift along, but set a sail and go in the right direction (his message was to regularly prune our lives in order to make our lives what we want them to be).

Andy Andrews said in a podcast recently that God doesn’t teach us to swim only to let us drown. If God has given a vision, then He will not change His mind about it. Believe that He will bring it to completion. So the clarity comes through a vision of what God has in mind for each of us. To be useful, yes. To be faithful, yes. To be available, yes. And sometimes it means getting out of the house so that we can be useful in the right place at the right time. Finding purpose is about developing into the man or woman God has designed us to be. We have to discover that vision God has for us and set the sails toward that direction. I get it.

I was comforted in my time with the Streams in the Desert devotional on January 10. In it, this stood out to me: “Beloved, whenever you are doubtful as to your course, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God and ask Him to shut against you every door but the right one.” Again I gained confidence in this: “In the meanwhile, continue along the path which you have already been treading. Abide in the calling in which you are called, unless you are clearly told to do something else.”

Sometimes God interrupts our plans to take us on another path. But in the meantime, I will continue to write until I am told that season is over. As for the future, I know I need an end game. He has a purpose in mind for me and for you. We should trust God’s plan to get us there. Every small step is part of the path. As Christine Caine said in her message, “do not despise small beginnings.” We got to start somewhere; might as well be faithful to the here and now until the next step is revealed.

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! Hebrews 12:1-3 (MSG)

Chasing It!

The start of a new year brings a fresh perspective. After taking stock of what happened last year, I am deeply concerned with my state of affairs. I cannot recall any growth opportunities that caused me to stretch my faith muscles. That’s not good. I never want to be the same at the end of a year as I was at the beginning. For this year, I want opportunities for growth. But do I really understand what I am asking?

The Passion Conference happened over the last few days. Levi Lesko was the closing speaker this year. His message for the young ones gathered at the Georgia Dome was to chase their destinies. He said that we are all destined for impact; we are to shake the gates of hell! He talked about endurance and fragrance. Endurance means to stay under. Fragrance only happens when something is pressed down. The only way to destiny is through pain and struggle.

Pastor Levi reminded the group that the apostle Paul thought it was an honor to be trusted with pain. God used Paul’s pain to bring a greater message. God never wastes painful trials. He is always glorified when we come through the trial. However, Satan also uses pain to turn us away from God. He will start to suggest that God doesn’t see our pain; that God has forgotten us. He will lie to us and tell us all kinds of things to destroy our faith. It’s our choice who we believe.

John Piper started Tuesday morning with the message on the essence of evil. He said that the only way to understand the glory of God; understand the price Jesus paid and the glory of our lives is to understand the essence of evil. We have to see the total picture of who God is and who we are without Him. Thanks to Adam and Eve, we are born with this sin nature. But it wasn’t the eating of the fruit that caused the sin, but they desired something more than God. Dr. Piper took us to Jeremiah 2:10-13 to show us how we exchange God for worthless things (idols). Israel had forsaken God to run after other gods and we do the same thing.

We desire things that are good and pleasing to the eye; we will not be denied even if it denies God. I was reminded in a teaching by Randy Frazee that God is a jealous God. He doesn’t like to share. I believe we have brought God down to our level. We no longer have a reverent fear of God. We casually toss out His name as “Oh, my God” or “Jesus Christ” as ways of expressing surprise or a curse depending on the circumstances. But do we realize what we are actually saying? The Israelites trembled at the sound of His thunderous voice. They knew that God could strike them dead because of their great sins, and they wanted all communication to go through Moses.

At Passion, Francis Chan began his message with an opening prayer, which found him on his knees in great wonder about coming into the presence of the God of the universe. We should not take His presence lightly. He should not bring God down to our level. I know God is full of love, grace and mercy. But He also has the right to judge us; His wrath is saved for the day of total destruction. He deserves our reverence. He is the One who spoke everything into existence. He is the One who formed us in our mother’s womb and breathed life into us. He knows us intimately. Our desire should be to know Him as well.

What delights God is our desire for Him. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37) – your total being should desire God above all things. Faith in Him pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). Satan’s number one goal is to go after our faith. Dr. Piper reminded us that the ultimate triumph of the cross was to bring us back to God. Because of Adam, the relationship with God was broken. But Jesus restored the relationship by the way of the cross.

As I contemplate these messages and my desire for this year ahead, I am reminded that I need to embrace the cross. Jesus paid for my sins so that I can have a deeper relationship with the God of the universe; the great I AM. If it takes pain and suffering to know God intimately then I need to embrace whatever cross I need to bear in order to deepen my love for Him. If I want to grow, reading books isn’t going to do the trick. It’s living out of faith. It’s taking the next step wherever it leads. It’s trusting God’s Word over what I think. Although I am no longer 25, there is still a destiny I need to chase. It’s still out there waiting on me to discover and pursue with abandon. If you are still breathing, yours is out there too. Let’s make this the best year ever – chasing God’s desires – no matter what!

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:12-13 (NLT)

Squeal of Delight

Well Christmas is over. Memories were made. And sweet memories were shared as we gathered together and remembered ages long past. My brother-in-law captures the family news worthy events from the year in his “Twas the Night before Christmas” poem, which is always one of amusement for all except the one who made it into the poem. He had a lot of material this past year to work with.

At a recent gathering, I observed some children enjoying Christmas festivities. One two-year old squealed with delight as she opened a gift to find a new baby doll. A three-year old opened a little golf club set; although no squealing, an exclamation of complete joy was the reaction. A one-year old actually enjoyed the wrapping paper more than the gifts.

As I continued to observe the children, I noticed the three-year old press the limits of obedience. We all know when we do wrong, but we all test the limits to see what we can get away with. Sometimes the obedience is no big deal. As the child tested obedience with a sip from a forbidden drink, often do we find ourselves in the same circumstances? We know there are things we shouldn’t do, but just a little bit won’t hurt us. The child kept coming back for more until the drink was all gone. No one stopped him, even though he was told not to drink from it; he kept going back for more.

Temptation is just hard to avoid if it’s really something we want. Even as adults, we find ourselves doing the same thing. Just a little won’t hurt – I’m not hurting anyone. But even when we know we’re doing wrong, we still do it. We rationalize our disobedience. I do it quite often. I do the thing I know I shouldn’t do, but I am just drawn to it.

There are consequences to our disobedience. We think we’re getting away with something, but God’s eyes are always on us. He does not watch us to “catch” us in the act of disobedience. His eyes are on us because He delights in us. He loves us and wants the best for us. But He cannot allow us to “get away with” something that will eventually harm us. Boundaries are there for our protection – even when it feels like we are being denied from something we really want. Our desires take us in the wrong direction when our desires are not surrendered to God. I think this can be said of us personally and nationally. As a nation, we have been gaining the things we have desired as a nation; and it’s taking us in the wrong direction.

Over the last few years, I have become a reader of history. It will be interesting to see how 2016 will be recorded in the history books. I don’t think we have had a good year nationally. I must say we have struggled throughout the years from many different directions. Trump talks about “becoming great again” and I don’t know when we were all that great to begin with. Yes, we have had significant blessings, but that was all God. That had nothing to do with our greatness but His. He has blessed us more than we deserve. We deserve His wrath, but He chooses to delight us with His blessings instead.

I would rather squeal in delight than find myself in an awful hurt because of my disobedience. God would much rather give us the delight of our hearts, if we our hearts are properly aligned with His. It’s our choice. As we begin a new year ahead, we have some choices to make. It’s time to acknowledge our behavior; acknowledge our disobedience and come back to God’s delightful ways. The best is yet to come. Only time will tell which we have chosen for ourselves. Let’s make this a great year ahead!

Trust in the Lord and do good.

Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires. Psalm 37:4-5 (NLT)

The Fulfillment

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 

When I began my college career, I started at a Christian college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My parents were thrilled with my choice. I signed up for chorus; again to the delight of my parents. They thought I would follow in their footsteps singing in church choirs in my future life. Both of my parents loved singing. When they moved to new towns, they chose churches based on choirs first; preachers second (or at least that was my perception).

I didn’t really want to fall into their footsteps. I really wasn’t musical at all. I could hold a tune, but to sing in such a formal arrangement really held no interest, yet I did it anyway; maybe to please them. However, it was an easy grade. But I hated the black gown that I had to wear in our choral recitals. I didn’t like all the time spent going over the same song until every syllable was emphasized correctly on the right beat. It just seemed tedious. Some love singing in that manner. To me, I endured it.

Every Christmas season, when I hear Handel’s Messiah; I am brought back to that time in the college choir singing the choral presentation. “For unto us a child is born… unto us… a Son is given.” Can you hear it? Being a part of the choral presentation still brings me goose bumps when thinking about it. One hundred plus voices blending together in perfect harmony with such a beautiful arrangement of Scripture. For that alone was a good enough reason to have gone through the tedious practices and putting on that black gown. I lasted one year at that college and in that choir. That was the extent of my choir duties for the rest of my life. I’m done with it unless Jesus calls me to the heavenly choir as a background singer.

As I contemplate Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus’ birth, I look at the names Jesus is given. Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua meaning He came to save us. The name Emmanuel tells us that He is with us; He will never leave us or forsake us. Wonderful Counselor means He is personal with us; we can go to Him with anything. Mighty God means He’s everything to us; nothing is beyond Him. Everlasting Father means He is more than just God to us but shows His loving nature as a wonderful Father who loves us unconditionally. Prince of Peace means He is destined to be King of the Kingdom; the Kingdom that will never end and will be one of peace and love.

God promised a miraculous birth a few centuries before its fulfillment. He put into place everything that needed to happen at the right time. He chose Mary. She would carry the child; give birth in an unexpected place by her understanding but was perfect in God’s prophecy. Can you imagine Joseph having to make the decision to take his very pregnant wife on such a long journey? But he had to go because of the Roman law to go to one’s ancestral home. Joseph was a descendant of King David as was Mary. It just so happens this was foretold as well. Jesus would come through the line of David; be born in David’s hometown of Bethlehem. God chose a Roman government to issue a decree at the time of the Savior’s birth to get them in the right place at the right time. Nothings impossible for God.

We can go all the way back to Abraham and Sarah to see how God planted a seed that would be fulfilled many centuries later. God promised and it happened just as it was foretold. Genesis 17:6 God tells Abraham the promise that would change history. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. God became personal and brought forth the promised son who would bring forth the nation of Israel and eventually bring about Jesus through this ancestral line.

From Abraham to Jesus was written in God’s Word long before Mary had a clue that she was the one chosen for this blessing. The Gospel of Matthew records this genealogy. The Gospel of Luke goes even further back in time to the first man – Adam – from Adam to Jesus. God’s plan was established from the very foundations of the world. Jesus was sent to redeem what Adam had done. It just took a couple of thousand years to bring it about to make the conditions right for the Good News to spread.

If we can see this far back, we can see into the future because it’s all right there in black and white and read all over. God’s future promises will be fulfilled; we just don’t know the timing of it all. But at the right time, it will happen. We can believe it because of Jesus – He was promised, and He fulfilled it all. Birth. Death. Resurrection. Ascension to Heaven. Redemption for all who believe. The promised Spirit to come and be with us until Jesus’ return.

It happened just like He said it would. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). For us a child is born, a Son is given and His government will rule forever. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her (Luke 1:38). And it was done.

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