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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)

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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)

Becoming Great Again

I just can’t figure out what the Lord is up to. I have tried to come up with scenarios with this political season. I mean, there has to be a reason why we have these two particular candidates. But what is God up to? I have heard some speak of a great revival coming with this political season. I have heard many say that there is disaster just around the corner for our nation. I have heard of tsunamis and earthquakes that will destroy the east and/or the west coast; economic collapse; a number of things that would cause us to seek God once again.

Right after 9/11, there was a surge of people who came back to church seeking God. But it didn’t last. The numbers fell off again after a few weeks. Some stayed, but the majority went right back to doing what they had always done. In this country, we have been blessed with success. With success though, we don’t need God. We don’t really depend on Him for anything anymore. We have grown so independent that we have removed Him from our public places. I have heard of this separation of church and state all my life, but I didn’t understand what that really meant. It’s gradually become something that was not intended by our forefathers.

Our forefathers came from places where church was dictated by the government. The church in England was run by the King of England. He was considered the head of the church. Many countries today have that mandate that if you live there, then this is what you will practice as a religion. That’s not how we run things in this country. The separation of church and state was to keep the state from running our religious practices. We have a freedom to choose what we believe and what we practice.

I think we have forgotten where we came from and what freedom really means. The church was instrumental in developing this country – whether we like to admit it or not. But slowly through time, we have lost our footing. The further we’re away from the foundation, the further we have fallen away from the principles that made this nation great and the freedoms we enjoy. Many around the world hate us because of our arrogance that comes from our greatness. But let one thing happen, and they are begging us to come to the rescue. And we go, because that’s who we are. We have been blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. God’s hand has been on this nation from the start.

On that first day of office, George Washington dedicated our nation to the Lord. He understood the importance of keeping God at the forefront of the government. The Lord has worked through our leaders as He used us for His plan. I believe His main use for this nation was to be a light to the other nations. I think one of our main blessings was to help Israel as a nation, first to become a nation, then eventually to become the greatest light of the world. Israel is the epicenter and will be instrumental in future events to play out in God’s plan.

The leadership that we chose in this political season is pivotal for the future of our nation – whether we will remain as a nation who blesses or a nation who continues to fall away from our foundation. These next few months will be interesting to see what God has in mind for us. The plan may mean that we have to decrease so that Israel can increase. It may be that we have to decrease so that we will once again get back to our foundation of relying on God instead of our success.

I don’t know what’s coming. God hasn’t given me a vision. I just know that God has a plan, and we are a part of it. He raised us up for a purpose. Has our purpose been fulfilled? Only God knows. God is up to something. I just can’t figure it out, and it drives me crazy not knowing the outcome before it happens. I hear that’s what faith is all about. Faith means we believe God is still on His throne no matter what happens here. I trust God to work it out for His greatness not ours!

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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

Right Now

Last Saturday, my friend and I sat chatting about our current job situations. She made this comment: you need to be content where you are before the next thing will come. My friend had gone through a layoff situation and gained new understanding about contentment. Enjoy the moment; relax even while facing the fear of the unknown. I had my own desert season to gain understanding. As I was contemplating these things, I realized I haven’t relaxed and enjoyed the moments. I get frustrated more times than not when I contemplate the future. My financial picture is not matching my future spending habits. And I don’t know how things are going to come together – God’s plan and my future well-being. I realized I am not as content as I thought I was.

Beth Moore recently spoke on “Wednesdays in the Word” (Life Today.org) about the “God who sees.” Beth spoke about Hagar and two questions God asked of her. “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?” We are usually caught in the “right now” between these two questions. I tend to get frustrated in the right now because I want to know the answer of the where I’m going. I want the vision that God has for me. I want to know that the right now moments will come together even when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I want to know that I am not stuck in the right now – there’s a plan to move me to the future “going.” I would like to rush ahead to the fulfillment of the plan without going through the prep work.

God gave Abraham a promise that took years to fulfill. The promise was not given with the timeline. However, when things didn’t come together on Abraham’s time schedule, Sarah and Abraham made other arrangements. The couple decided Sarah was too old. They thought since the child didn’t happen right away, then God must have left out a few instructions so they needed to improvise to help God out. Note to self: our plans are not the best plans.

The promise must have included another party, and Hagar (Sarah’s maidservant) seemed to be the obvious choice. Hagar had Abraham’s son Ishmael. Jealousy arose in Abraham’s camp and words were said. Hagar took off to parts unknown. Hagar wasn’t privy to the promise God made to Abraham. God promised Abraham He would make Abraham into many nations and kings will come through his line of descendants. Sarah’s son, Isaac, was the blessing of the promise (covenant). But Ishmael would also receive a blessing – “he would be fruitful and will greatly increase his number. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:20). God always fulfills His promises. But it is always done His way and not ours.

After a disagreement with Sarah, Hagar took her son and left the camp. God found Hagar in distress. She was in the midst of her right now moment when the future looked very bleak. God came to Hagar and revealed part of the plan. God instructed Hagar to go back to where you came from and wait. Wait for the fulfillment of the plan.

Drats. We’re supposed to wait for God’s timing and not ours. We have to surrender and wait. Be content in the right now. There’s always a reason in the wait time – the moments in between. God has to do the preparation in us and in His ultimate plan. The landscape needs to be arranged for the fulfillment to move God’s plan forward.

Hagar encountered the God who sees. Hagar was sent back to receive the blessing. The blessing is in the “right now” moment. God opened Hagar’s eyes a second time when she came to another desert place. God gave her a well to quench her thirst and reminded her of the promise to make her son into a great nation.

We all have a dry, desert place in our lives where the promises seem to be a long way off. God always sees where we are and knows where we are going. He knows we grow impatient in the waiting time. But if we surrender, be content while we wait; we will see God’s provision at His appointed time. Contentment truly is the way to the richer blessings of tomorrow even if we don’t see how it will come right now. Abraham is our example of God’s faithfulness. Right now, God is in the preparation phase and He is faithful to complete the work He started. It’s a guarantee!

By faith Abraham, even though he was past age – and Sarah herself was barren – was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. Hebrews 11:11-12

The Helmet

My study group is in the last week of the “Armor of God” study (by Priscilla Shirer). We are studying the helmet of salvation. Paul writes about the Armor of God in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul was very familiar with Roman body armor. He would have had ample time to study each piece while he was sitting in a prison cell being guarded by Roman soldiers. He saw the different pieces and linked certain spiritual weapons with those pieces.

We are to “gird our loins” with the belt of truth; much like a soldier would have used a belt to help secure his weapons around his waist. We have the breastplate of righteousness to guard our hearts just as a breastplate was used to protect the vital organs of the soldier in battle. We are to put on the shoes of peace as a soldier put on specific shoes to help him stand firm while fighting. Then lastly, we have the helmet of salvation to protect our minds like the Roman soldier had for comprehensive coverage to withstand a direct blow to the head. Each piece builds upon the next piece until we are completely covered for battle and able to take a stand against the spiritual forces of evil.

The armor is more than just protection though. We need additional weapons for offense and defense. We are given two important pieces that give us victory against the enemy. We have a shield of faith and the sword of the spirit. Both weapons cause Satan to flee from us because of the power these weapons provide. He cannot stand against God’s word or the faith of the people who live by it. These weapons are then ignited in power by the Holy Spirit through prayer – activating their usefulness in the battle.

I didn’t realize these weapons were found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. I thought Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to come up with these spiritual attributes. He was inspired to write; but Paul being the scholar that he was, would have known about Isaiah’s word to his ancestors. Priscilla pointed out these weapons were introduced back in Isaiah 59. Speaking of the future King Jesus, God tells Isaiah to tell the people:

He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Is 59:17)

These weapons are the same ones we have for our own battles. We have the same power through the Holy Spirit to wield against the enemy. Isaiah wrote in chapter 54 that no weapon formed against us can prevail. Paul writes in Second Corinthians 10:4-5: The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

The purpose of our helmet of salvation is to protect the mind. Salvation is not just a onetime event. However, Priscilla points out; we have salvation through Jesus, but we also are to live out our salvation daily. We are supposed to die to our self and live through Christ – daily. Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13 (NLT): 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.

One of the primary targets for Satan is our minds. Insecurity, fear, depression, confusion, etc can cripple our lives. We give in to stinking thinking and will cause us to shrink back from living the abundant life found in Jesus. We have to be able to think clearly and apply God’s word to our lives in order not to be deceived by the enemy’s schemes. God gives us this armor as part of our inheritance as His children. The trouble is we never unpack the gifts that He gives. We think we have to wait until heaven to experience God’s true salvation. But salvation is lived out here on earth to give God glory. He leaves us here after receiving the gifts so that we can be the light to others and draw them to His glory.

Priscilla summed it up for me in this thought (pg 162): “Your lifestyle should reflect your true inheritance which will enable you to live a spiritual life of lavish abundance and grace.” We have a “lavish inheritance” through Jesus. It’s time we live up to the potential Jesus gives to us through His death and resurrection. Put on the helmet and live abundantly!

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. Romans 5:5-8 (NLT)

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