Category: Devotionals

Deeper reflections that focus on God and preview posts that link to devotional blogs,

On Opportunities

On Opportunities

On Opportunities: Don't Settle

When Ordell announced he accepted a new job in Virginia and we’d be leaving our home of ten years in southern Illinois not everyone was pleased with our decision to move. One person explained that we were not following God’s will because our house, which we had yet to list for sale, hadn’t sold. Moving without our house selling was proof God was telling us we should stay. Others told us we were selfish to move because it was in their best interest for us to stay put. Some expressed their displeasure by refusing to speak to us.

Others were delighted with our announcement. They expressed their joy by using the opportunity to publically express their true beliefs about minorities. Over the following months and years, I discovered we’d hosted people in our home who, generally choose demeaning language when speaking to minorities; people who look like my husband and children. These are the same people we studied the Bible and prayed with and sat beside in church. Knowing the true thoughts of people who once shared dinner at our table for the first time was startling. Even though we were now hundreds of miles away I found myself fighting a range of emotions including fear.

Very few considered that Ordell and I prayed about the opportunity God was placing in front of us or that our conversations with God might have led us to understand that our decision was an act of obedience. While many had opinions about our decision which they openly shared, it was rare we had the chance to share about the intentional, prayerful conversations that led up to this step of faith in our lives. When I had the chance to sit with someone and share the specific prayers we had spent the previous ten, five, and three years praying it would then become clear to the person listening that our decision was anything but impulsive and that we were fully aware that every step we were taking was a blind step of faith in partnership with God. 

When someone chose to pause, listen, hear our hearts, and believe our words they could see God’s hand in our journey the same way we could.

Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Change is difficult for many people to embrace. The lesson the experience moving to Virginia confirmed for me is that we should never shy away from an opportunity God is asking us to embrace because we’re concerned about letting someone else down. The truth is, some of the people I was heartbroken to leave behind began to express the good and evil stored in their hearts publically and the more that bubbled to the surface the clearer the reality of our previous surroundings became. People will often choose their personal preferences and comfort over what God says is best. This doesn’t mean you need to settle for a lesser opportunity.

Don’t Settle for Lesser Opportunities

Joshua and Caleb along with 10 other Israelites were sent into Caanan ahead of everyone else. Numbers 13:2 says, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.’”

Numbers 13:17-25 says:

When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country.  See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many.  What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified?  How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)  When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

Moses gave the leaders of the tribe specific things to look for as they observed the land God had promised to his chosen people. The spies were obedient. They only observed God was telling the truth and brought back visual proof for everyone to see. Numbers 13:27 says “They gave Moses this account: ‘We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.'”

Even though the spies saw exactly God told the truth they were also filled with fear. Numbers 13:28-33 says:

But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.

Click here for more information on the ACCURATE application of Nephilim

The Israelites were scared. They were still learning about the One True God and they were still learning to trust Moses. Similarly to every other human on the face of the earth they wrestled with the illusion of control versus surrender and obedience. In Numbers 14:5-12 the tribe leaders gather to decide if they should move forward and take the land God promised to them.

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?  I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

DID YOU CATCH THAT? They were sitting around talking and God appeared in the tent and started talking to Moses!! I don’t know about you, but since none of the other gods had spoken back to the Israelites up until this point I think this would have been enough for me to join Caleb and Joshua and saying we don’t need to settle here!!!

Unfortunately, the tribes fear and unwillingness to trust God caused them to wander in the desert for an additional forty years.

It’s Not a Promise of an Easy Life

Even when you know God is with you as you take a new leap of faith it doesn’t make things easy. Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem when she was pregnant at their own expense and when they arrived they had to sleep in a stable. After Jesus’ birth, Herod ordered the death of all males born. An angel woke Joseph up and sent them hustling to Egypt to wait for Herod’s death. (Matthew 1-2)

Rather than waiting around in Egypt, wallowing in self-pity, I believe Joseph began to earn a living and provide for his family. As a new husband and father, he had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. The angel told them to go to Egypt but didn’t say how long they would be there. They needed food and shelter and Egypt was an opportunity for this young couple to establish themselves away from the gossip that could have come from those who didn’t understand Joseph’s willingness to believe Mary’s story of an immaculate conception. It’s logical to expect that Joseph stepped up and provided for this family. Eventually, Herod died and the angel returned and told Joseph it was safe to return. Matthew 2:19-23 says:

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt  and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Every time Mary and Joseph said yes to God they were fulfilling a prophecy. Matthew notes prophecies from Micah, Isaiah, Hosea, and Jeremiah within the first two chapters of his gospel. As Mary and Josephy faithfully followed the instructions from God’s messengers their faith was strengthened each time they saw a promise fulfilled.

It’s our choice as to whether we settle or seize an opportunity God places in front of us. Further, we must take care to make sure our words and actions match. This is a lesson the Israelites learned the hard way. It cost them 40 additional years in the desert. We may not realize the impact of lack of faith as immediately as the Israelites, however that doesn’t ensure we won’t be seen hypocrites James 1:2-8 says:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

  • If you lack wisdom you should ASK God (action on your part) who GIVES generously (action on God’s part)
  • But WHEN you ASK (action on your part) you must believe (choice on your part)

So here’s my encouragement to you. Take the courageous next step. It’s worth it when you partner with God. When it comes to opportunities, don’t settle. It doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else. It’s between you and God.

What if the only thing holding you back from pursuing your calling is your unwillingness to step outside your comfort zone into the unknown?

This post was originally published on April 7, 2017 and has been updated for freshness and accuracy in August 2020.

Samson and the Fruit of the Spirit

Samson and the Fruit of the Spirit

Samson and the Fruit of the Spirit and Pursuing Your Calling
twitter screenshots

I came across a Twitter thread recently that made me chuckle. It was one of those times I was reminded that we may hear information many times, but until we experience it we won’t comprehend what we’ve heard.

Raymond Chang asked, “What if young people are leaving so called gospel-centered churches, NOT because they are drawn away by the world, but because they are not drawn in by the preaching of a diluted gospel message that has nothing meaningful to say to the brokenness we see in the world? Jesus shines when he not only heals us as individuals but also as communities and the whole world.”

To which David Kinneman, President of Barna Research Group replied, “We’ve done a decade’s worth of research and this, in essence, (is) the central finding of You Lost Me and especially Faith for Exiles.”

Both men are correct, which was affirmed by the thousands of tweets in response to Chang’s question as well as Barna Research Group’s decade of research. 

Yet centuries before Kinneman’s project launched, Christians growth was slowed by those in the Church who weren’t rooted in God’s truth.  In Galatians 5 Paul reminds a group of new believers that they need to filter who is influencing them. 

You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.  I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:7-26 NASB

Paul asks a direct question framed by three truths. The question is; Who hindered you from obeying the truth? The three truths are ones we can apply in any situation where we’ve veered off course ourselves.

Three Truths From Galatians 5:

  1. You were running well. The church was growing and faithfully following God
  2. This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. When they fell into legalism and found themselves clinging to man’s law above God’s law (read Galatians 5:1-6 for details) it wasn’t directed by God.
  3. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. This is a warning and a reminder. It only takes a small doubt or mistruth to cause a whole lot of trouble.

When it comes to these three truths there is an Old Testament story that stands out as a warning of what happens when we don’t pursue God with our whole heart. More than that, Samson also teaches us that our callings can take an unexpected twist and we can still fulfill them for God’s glory.

Samson’s Story

Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, so that the Lord gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years. There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’”

Judges 13:1-7

Laws for Nazarites

In Numbers we learn more about the Nazarites. These were people set apart for a special calling by God. They

Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the Lord, he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin. ‘All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long. ‘All the days of his separation to the Lord he shall not go near to a dead person. He shall not make himself unclean for his father or for his mother, for his brother or for his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord.

Numbers 6:1-8

These were very specific rules, and they may not make sense, but God had his reasons. What we know is that they were distinguishable physically because they didn’t cut their hair and internally in the that they ate differently than typical Israelites. Samson was a special man, set apart by God, for God’s glory.  We learn in Judges 13:24 his parents obeyed God, and the next time we read about Samson he is of marrying age and we learn he’s not interested following all the rules associated with being a Nazarite. 

Even though Samson breaks some of the laws associated with being a Nazarite such as eating honey from the carcass of an animal Samson doesn’t lose his strength. In Judges 14:5-6 it says, “Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done.” God protected Samson even though he was hanging out with woman he wasn’t supposed to be with, in a location he wasn’t supposed to be present.

That same strength comes after he eats the honey. Judges 14:19 says, “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle.” 

In his book, The Comeback Louie Giglio notes, “Outwardly, God’s favor is on Samson and God still uses him-this is a mysterious thing.  Internally, a hurricane is brewing. Both of the outward and inward scenes of Samsons’ life are happening at the same time.”

This is important for us to remember in light of Galatians 5. God gave Samson a special gift and a specific calling on his life for a reason. Even in Samson’s darker moments, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and protected him to keep him alive so he could fulfill his future calling. This isn’t an endorsement of Samson’s behavior.

I’m going to more through much of Samson’s story, however, I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself. Samson fell in love with Delilah and eventually, he tells her that his strength comes from his hair. She cuts off his hair while he sleeps and in Judges 16:20-24 we read of Samson’s fate. 

She said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.  Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison.  However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it was shaved off. Now the lords of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice, for they said,

“Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hands.”

 When the people saw him, they praised their god, for they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hands, Even the destroyer of our country, Who has slain many of us.”

Judges 16:20-24

This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you

Spiritual fruit contains the seeds required to reproduce even more fruit.  Man-made (seedless watermelon) or artificial fruit is lifeless and cannot reproduce.  However, for seeds to spread, the fruit must die.

Giglio writes “Samson was so focused on the external use of God’s power that he missed out on the internal exercise of God’s power. He was always thinking about what God would do to someone else.  He never stopped to think that he had an internal situation that could bring all his plans to a screeching halt.  He never said, “God, as much as I’ve needed your power to kill the Enemy, I need your power to fix me.  It’s not enough that power goes out from me; I need the power of God to work in me.”

He goes on to say, “Strangely, God was still using Samson even during Samson’s low points.  The man still operated in some of the gifting and empowering and calling that God had placed upon his life even while battling this internal hurricane.”

And here’s the thing…if this could happen with Samson, then it most certainly can happen with us. It’s possible that we are faking the fruit of the Spirit outwardly.  We might have everyone around us fooled…but we haven’t fooled God.

God has a bigger plan, and He will use any situation He pleases to for His glory. He will use any situation for his glory.

I think we need to consider with the fruit of the Spirit and abiding in Christ is that this is an active process that takes attention, surrender, and sometimes guidance.  As sisters in Christ, we need to encourage each other to further develop the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives and extend grace to each other along the way.  Growth doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires pruning and tending. Above all, we must remember that if we don’t stay focused on God’s truth we are all capable of allowing false influence to lead us astray. Jesus reminded the disciples of this just before his death.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.  Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

John 15:1-11

There are significant contrasts in how Samson and Jesus lived their lives on earth. Yet they both started out making intentional choices inwardly and outwardly to glorify God. Both sacrificed their lives in the end for those they loved. Both deaths fulfilled prophecies from angels, and both men lived out their specific callings from God.

Unfortunately, for much of Samson’s adult life, he used his gifts from God to get his own way, rather than to glorify God. We don’t need Nazarites anymore. Jesus’s death and resurrection created a path for us all to be equally able to be indwelt with the Holy Spirit and to use our gifts to glorify God through our individual callings.

Similarly to Samson though we have the choice to act in a way that outwardly shows one aspect of our character while inwardly a hurricane brews. We can choose to abide in God, seeking to allow our inward and outward characteristics match. We can choose to honor God in our life or in our death. When we do this we will find ourselves naturally reflecting the Fruit of the Spirit. We will also find that we’ll instinctually love our neighbor as ourselves because we will be reflecting the same sacrificial love Jesus and the disciples lived out daily.

Finally, we will be speaking truth to others and multiplying the Church rather than aiding to its rapid decline when we choose to align our inward and outward characteristics and to pursue our calling in a way that intentionally glorifies God rather than ourselves. Even if that calling seems like has nothing to do with the Church, when you partner with God, you have the opportunity to reflect the love of Christ everywhere you are in any situation.

Whether you’re considering the concept of what attracts people to the church for the first time today, ten years ago or at some other point, today, we have the gift of more than a hypothesis to build a conversation around. Kinneman’s data confirms the question Chang posted on Twitter. Together they are helping to amplify the truth. We can choose to believe the responses of those who are leaving the church or ignore their words and determine for ourselves why reality is what it is, it’s up to you.

If you aren’t sure which way to go, I encourage you to consider Galatians 5 and to read the story of Samson. Ultimately, whatever your calling is, as we partner with Jesus the best way to ensure we are speaking truthfully about him is to stay as close to him as possible. It’s also the best way to ensure we’re hearing him correctly.

This article was originally posted February 8, 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and freshness 7/2020

A Purposeful Life

A Purposeful Life

a purposeful life

Studying Beth Moore’s Bible Study on Esther I found myself wrestling with a challenging question. In Esther Chapter 4 Mordecai calls Esther to do more than sitting silently. Faced with the king’s edict drawing nearer Mordecai realizes that his niece is sitting in a position of influence. He sees the bigger picture and asks her to tell King Xerxes (her husband) the truth about Haman’s manipulation and what it will mean for Esther. 

Esther was afraid. Speaking up could cause conflict. It is against the law. It could cost her life and still not make a difference for the Jewish people.  She expresses her fear to Mordecai, and her uncle reminds her that fear shouldn’t be the dictator of her decisions for some very important reasons.

Esther 4:12-14 says:

“When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: ‘Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?’”

Beth Moore succinctly reminded us during the study  “We can refuse to walk in obedience to God or cower in fear from our calling and He will undoubtedly still accomplish His agenda. As for us, however, we will pass up the fulfillment of our own entire life, purpose, and we, and perhaps even ‘our father’s family’ will miss a mighty work.”

I’ve spent a lot of time studying the concept of how God creates us all with an intentional calling. It’s our choice as to whether we take steps to recognize that calling on our lives and how we can thrive the sweet spot of the unique opportunities God places in front of each of us.
 
In my book that releases later this summer, I spend several chapters exploring how to discover, develop, and live out your calling in practical ways. Calling can be defined in many ways. I define calling as the non-negotiable thing placed in you by God to glorify him. We begin to understand our calling by understanding and discovering the gifts given to us by God. These gifts are listed in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 and 28-30, and Ephesians 4:11.

When we understand that our calling is a gift from God we will live a purposeful life as we live in the sweet spot of our calling. This may mean that we pursue a career or we step up and speak out and raise awareness that leads to change and helps us develop new relationships and build authority and trust with people in our community. Investing in people, loving them well, and reflecting biblical values is always beneficial to God’s kingdom. But it isn’t always a natural first choice. 

Esther wasn’t thrilled with the path God placed her on, however, Mordecai was right. Her silence wasn’t a guarantee that King Xerxes would spare her life. Now, I know we are not all in a position (thankfully) where we are putting our lives at risk. However, I believe God calls us all to do something that will feel life-altering at some point. We will come against a wall, physical or metaphorical, and we may think the task is impossible, and really not fun.
 
Beth Moore reminds us, “Beloved, in the times of greatest struggle when you make the God-ward decision over convenience, earthly comfort, or carnal pleasure you too have come to a critical moment in the fulfillment of your destiny. A defining moment. A war is being waged over your head in the unseen realm, and a great cloud of witnesses is cheering you on. You have no idea what’s at stake.” 
 
We are not called to a life of comfort and ease as Christians. I think that most people understand that Christians shouldn’t expect a life of ease. We’re reminded all through Scripture that a life following Christ will have challenges, but that those trials have a purpose. Carol and Gene Kent are living out this challenge every day. They have turned beauty to ashes by looking at what could be considered divine disappointment into divine surprise.
 
 
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
 
When we live out our calling in partnership with God we will make an impact because we will be doing what our Creator intended for us to do when he created us. But it’s important to remember that God is bigger than our decisions. He doesn’t need us to complete his purposes. Acts17:24-25 says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
 
Just like Esther, we may be in a situation where we don’t like the choices in front of us, but that doesn’t mean that walking through a challenging obstacle int he short term won’t bring us long term joy and peace! More than that, when we embrace our calling we have the opportunity to flourish in partnership with God.
 
Have you ever stopped to consider that the purpose of your calling could have a generational impact? Could your choice to engage with the people in front of you in a meaningful way have a Kingdom impact? Could choosing God’s way may be more about living a purposeful life than we admit? What are some ways that you are intentionally living a purposeful life?
 
If your curious to learn more about how to God has uniquely created each of us I encourage you to preorder a copy of Lessons from the Sidelines (available soon!)
Divine Surprise or Divine Disappointment

Divine Surprise or Divine Disappointment

Divine Surprise or Divine Disappointment

I’ve incorporated Carol Kent’s teaching on mentoring for as long as I can remember. Her focus on the actions of Jesus, practical examples, and loving approach to relational mentoring is a natural fit for my personality. Before I first read Becoming a Woman of Influence relational mentoring, I’d understood Master Plan of Evangelism to be the modern day roadmap for loving people well. Both authors focus on studying the words and actions of Jesus and how he invested in his 12 disciples during the three years he spent with them, healing people, and preaching. Eleven of the men went on to have an exponential impact on the world as they intentionally invested in people the same way Jesus invested in them. Mentoring and discipleship remains one of the most effective ways to grow deeper in relationship with Christ today. When we understand these simple principles we can also impact present and future generations for God’s Kingdom.

Although I’ve never met Carol, her dedication to mentoring others well has had a significant influence on my life. Carol understood her calling included mentoring women. She lived out her calling investing in women, but Carol also saw that part of her ministry included writing and speaking. Her efforts afforded others the opportunity to learn from her and repeat what God was teaching her about discipleship.

I was sharing with a friend in 2004 how much I’d loved Carol’s book and the way I’d implemented her mentoring ideas. We were looking for something to read together and I wondered if she’d ever written anything else. A look of surprise crossed Peggy’s face. She encouraged me to look up Carol’s story and it’s then that I learned this woman I admire so much was walking through a deeply painful season.

On October 24, 1999, Gene and Carol Kent’s only child, Jason P. Kent, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Jason was an Annapolis Naval Academy graduate with an exemplary record, and a source of pride and joy to his parents, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Carol Kent wrote in her second book, When I Lay My Isaac Down. “It’s discovering that the cup of sorrow is also the cup of joy as we engage ourselves in understanding the upside-down nature of the cross. By sharing my story, I can give people the opportunity to find hope, and it’s a helpful way for me to process my own grief.”

I am fairly certain that when Carol began to pursue a ministry as a writer and speaker she didn’t envision that it would include taking out loans to pay for lawyers, uprooting her life, and moving to Florida to be near her son after his prison sentencing was finalized. Carol shares, “While God would never condone what my son did, His mercy and grace abound. Our eyes are open to a whole new world–the prison system. We now see needs we weren’t aware of before, and doors are opening to help some of the neediest people in our society.

As Carol and her husband Gene visited their son in prison they realized that God was calling them to establish Speak Up for Hope. Their non-profit is to provide hope to inmates and their families through encouragement, education, and counseling. The ministry goals for Speak Up for Hope are specific and focused on offering hope and healing for the whole family. This has allowed their son Jason to serve his fellow inmates as well.

While Carol’s story reveals a very specific 180-degree shift in her understanding of her calling, the truth is that her original calling never ended. Carol is still writing, speaking, and mentoring people. She now divides her time between two ministries with a similar calling. Carol spends time and energy on both Speak Up for Hope and Speak Up Conference. She also speaks at conferences on subjects such as faith, mercy, and divine surprises.

Carol didn’t shift from one ministry to the other without making intentional choices. Gene and Carol choose to face the future with hope, joy and faith. Carol says, “God can take a situation like ours and redeem it for His purposes. Our vision is to help inmates and their families adjust to their new normal.”

Carol isn’t the only person whose found themselves pursuing their calling only to be thrown a surprise in the middle of the path.

Ruth was happily married with her whole future ahead of her one day and before she knew it she was childless, and a young widow following her mother-in-law Naomi to an unknown land where she would spend her days picking extra wheat in the fields of Boaz.

Joseph was checking on his brothers at the request of his father (Genesis 37) and the next thing he knew he was being sold as a slave to Midianite merchants. It would be years before he would see the dream God gave him as a young boy where his brothers were bowing to him come to fruition. In between Joseph would be imprisoned, falsely accused, and then rise to power in the Egyptian government.

The disciples spent three years with Jesus learning from him and helping him to develop a ministry. They would see their calling to follow Jesus turn upside down with his death by crucifixion. And then again they would find themselves in awe of another miracle as Jesus stood before them alive.

Jesus understands that our callings aren’t easy. He invites us to step into the challenging spaces because it is in those seasons that we grow closer to him. But it’s always our choice. We can see the difficult situations we experience as divine surprises or divine disappointments. Either way, Jesus is present with us as we pursue our calling.

I hope you can see from the people I’ve highlighted today that by embracing the totality of our calling we have the opportunity to partner with Jesus in unexpected ways and flourish in our daily lives even when we encounter challenging situations.

Jesus Understand Loneliness

Jesus Understand Loneliness

I’m writing over at The Glorious Table today! Here’s a Preview

We’ve spent a lot of time alone these past weeks. As I’ve chatted over Zoom, Voxer, email, and text with friends and family, it’s clear everyone has felt a heaviness from the imposed social distancing. Even when we have family members surrounding us, we can still experience feelings of loneliness if we feel misunderstood, or in moments when we need a break from each other.

For the past several weeks, our church has met online, and our pastors continue to remind us that God is our comforter (2 Cor. 1:3-4). But when we’re in the middle of a stressful season, it can be hard to remember that our Creator also experienced loneliness.

In the hours before Jesus hung on the cross, willingly sacrificing his life for humanity’s sins, he went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:37-40 says, “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’”

I’ve always believed this last question from Jesus to the disciples must have been in a tone of disappointment. I hear Jesus say, essentially, “Come on, you guys! Don’t you see how stressed I look? Can’t you pray with me for an hour?” While I still think there may have been some disappointment mixed in, I think that in truth, the realization that the disciples fell asleep caused Jesus to feel isolated in his anguish, even though his closest companions were nearby. Read the rest here…

Pursuing a Biblical Worldview

Pursuing a Biblical Worldview

Pursing a Biblical Worldview

As I continue to implement my One Word 2020 which is Pursue I’ve found myself focusing on the contrast in those whose actions reflect Christ versus those who simply say they follow Jesus. Pursing the heart of Christ has created a deeper desire to ensure my life reflects how Jesus lived his.

Early in the Pandemic we are currently living through an article by David Brooks caught my eye. He published a column on March 12, 2020 in the New York Times titled “Pandemics Kill Compassion Too, You may not like who you’re about to become”. Brooks warned “Some disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, can bring people together, but if history is any judge, pandemics generally drive them apart. These are crises in which social distancing is a virtue. Dread overwhelms the normal bonds of human affection.

Brooks continues “Fear drives people in these moments, but so does shame, caused by the brutal things that have to be done to slow the spread of the disease. In all pandemics people are forced to make the decisions that doctors in Italy are now forced to make — withholding care from some of those who are suffering and leaving them to their fate.”

While I can’t say I’ve ever felt this country was necessarily unified, there has been a new tension and division since 2015 that I have felt has been driven by the Church. For Brooks to warn that a pandemic would test people’s character certainly raised a red flag for me, but it was certainly true as full-grown adults have thrown full-on temper tantrums over wearing masks. (Something that is culturally acceptable and extremely common in many other countries even when there isn’t a pandemic.) As adults began running up to strangers and licking them, spitting in their faces, and literally screaming while holding guns over masks…(oh you read that sentence correctly and it’s all true you can Google it) we took a collective gasp on Memorial Day when a video surfaced of one of the vilest crime imaginable committed a police officer.

Once again Generation Z rose up to cry out for justice. The Crisis Generation is used to their leaders letting them down whether it’s the failure to respond to the Parkland Shootings (or dozens of shootings before and after), climate change, a rising national debt, or endless other mounting concerns, Generation Z knows they need to speak out for this country and call leadership out. This time the crowds at Black Lives Matter rallies looked different than previous peaceful protests:

As protests decrying the killing of George Floyd have raged across the country, Burney wanted to show solidarity. He expected just a handful of people to show up to a protest he helped put together on Sunday near Olean’s major intersection. But Burney was shocked to see at least 300 people turn up in the small city, which is located more than five hours northwest of New York City and has a population of nearly 14,000, 90% of whom are white. Hundreds more people showed up to another protest on Wednesday evening.

“This is a new thing,” Burney, 23, tells TIME. “It was the first time we all came together for something like this. It’s important because we live in a small city. We have a right that we get to exercise.”

Protests Are Being Held in Small Cities and Towns Across the U.S.—And Young People Are Leading the Charge

While I’d love to say the Church is leading the charge, sadly, it seems that it is the ethics of Atheists and Religiously Unaffiliated are leading the call for morality.

Not much has changed in the church. George Barna reflected on a Barna Research study from 2003 saying,”A new research study from Barna Group suggests that a large share of the nation’s moral and spiritual challenges is directly attributable to the absence of a biblical worldview among Americans. Citing the findings from a just-completed national survey of 2033 adults that showed only 4% of adults have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision-making, researcher George Barna described the outcome. “If Jesus Christ came to this planet as a model of how we ought to live, then our goal should be to act like Jesus. Sadly, few people consistently demonstrate the love, obedience and priorities of Jesus. The primary reason that people do not act like Jesus is because they do not think like Jesus. Behavior stems from what we think – our attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions. Although most people own a Bible and know some of its content, our research found that most Americans have little idea how to integrate core biblical principles to form a unified and meaningful response to the challenges and opportunities of life. We’re often more concerned with survival amidst chaos than with experiencing truth and significance.”

As of May 2020, Barna Research has determined that 6% of American adults attending church hold a biblical worldview. This may sound like a positive uptick, but church attendance is plummeting.

“The diminished role of God in peoples’ lives highlights why just 6% of American adults possess a biblical worldview,” Barna added. “It’s one thing to lack theological clarity regarding biblical perspectives on immigration policy or the end times. It’s a much more serious condition when the general public outright rejects God as the source of truth, the Bible as the conveyance of truth, and the very importance of integrating a known, proven and stable source of truth into our daily decisionmaking and lifestyle.”

Barna Reports “Percentage points for all religious segments saw little to no shift over a decade, from 2003 to 2012—but by 2018, Christianity in the United States had witnessed a significant loss of followers, from 81 percent in 2003 to 72 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, the atheist / agnostic / none segment has seen the greatest increase of all groups analyzed, nearly doubling in size from 11 percent in 2003 to 21 percent in 2018.”

A Word of Caution

It’s tempting to start to point fingers and blame broken homes, “liberal thinking”, politics, even the removal of prayer from schools as the reason for the decline of the population who believe in absolute truth. But I think we need to pause to self reflect before we start pointing the finger elsewhere.

Since those who aren’t regular church attenders are some of the loudest voices calling for reform right now it’s vital to remember that those who haven’t had prayer in their school understand right from wrong very clearly while those who list themselves in surveys as regular church attenders and religiously affiliated have sat silently for decades.

Why is This Happening?

Munsil explained, “Like every generation before them, this next generation (Generation Z) is seeking guidance for how to live, how to understand truth and morality. They look to the older generation, to parents, mentors, their professors. But even these groups are rejecting absolute moral truth rooted in God.”

“Increasingly, they find themselves in a culture that, from top to bottom, rejects God’s truth and says to them, ‘you are free to determine your own morality. Look to yourselves, to science, to whatever you can find, for guidance on how to live your lives,” she explained.

This summary is confirmed by a LifeWay study from 2019 that reported only 1/3 of Americans who attend a Protestant church regularly (32%) say they read the Bible personally every day. Around a quarter (27%) say they read it a few times a week.

As of 2018 72% of Americans say they are Christians, and of that 72%, only 32% read the Bible for themselves every day.

How can you have a biblical worldview if you don’t know what the Bible says?

Self-Reflection Before Blame

1- How frequently are you reading the Bible for yourself?

2- How frequently is the church you choose to attend and your church leaders preaching and teaching directly from Scripture? Do they use full passages of Scripture or do they pull different verses from here or there? Do your church leaders find Scripture to support their opinions or do they let Scripture teach them as well as the congregation? (If you don’t know the difference there is a

3- How often are you applying what you learn at church or in your personal studies rather than cherry-picking the parts of the Bible you can box up into your personal version of Christianity that feels good and sit well with you?

These questions take challenging self-examination, however, a biblical world view requires those who say they are Christ-followers to continually re-examine our hearts as the Holy Spirit teaches us.

Paul identifies several Spiritual gifts in Romans 12 including preaching and teaching. If we didn’t need to constantly keep learning why would God ensure that the Body of Christ had clear teachers?

In 2003 George Barna said “Sadly, few people consistently demonstrate the love, obedience and priorities of Jesus. The primary reason that people do not act like Jesus is because they do not think like Jesus. Behavior stems from what we think – our attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions. Although most people own a Bible and know some of its content, our research found that most Americans have little idea how to integrate core biblical principles to form a unified and meaningful response to the challenges and opportunities of life.”

Now, in 2019 we have statistics that confirm those who read and apply the Scripture to their lives do reflect Jesus. The 2019 Barna Research Study on the State of the Bible reports that those who are studying the Bible have consistent responses; They live out their faith and act like Jesus.

“Half of monthly Bible users (49%) agree their engagement with the Bible has made them feel more willing to engage with their faith. Among adults who use the Bible at least three to four times a year, three in five (61%) express they always experience a greater awareness of how much they need God. Half agree they consistently feel a sense of connection with God (51%), and a similar proportion (50%) desires to know God better. Another 46 percent of Bible users say they show more loving behavior toward others, and one in three (34%) is more generous with their time, energy or financial resources. Results also show a positive influence on how they treat people of a different race than themselves (62%), their support for refugees (55%), their decisions at work or school (53%) and their decisions about sex and sexuality (49%).”

Thousands are actively living out Matthew 22:34-40 in a humble, raw, and teachable way.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

How Do We Purse a Biblical Worldview?

We have to first understand that this isn’t going to be achieved perfectly. We’re still sinners. However, rather than taking the position that you have an accurate Biblical worldview, why not start with a posture of humility and take a little time for some self-reflection?

  • Are you confident you’re communicating God’s truth correctly? Why?
  • Are you positive you are compassionately loving your neighbor the way Matthew 22 outlines? Why? How?
  • Are you confident that your convictions are rooted in biblical truth, not political bias? Why?

If you aren’t sure you can answer yes to these questions here’s a scenario to consider:

Have you ever sat in a church service or read something where a Scripture is used and you say to yourself “wait, that’s not right.” What do you do from there? What happens next?

  • Do you go to your Bible and you open it up and you read the Scripture for yourself?
  • Do you read the whole passage plus consider the historical context?
  • Do you look to see if there are other verses that will lend more insights? (For example, in Matthew 22 verses above recordings of Jesus discussing the Greatest Command are in Luke and John. Reading these sections could help give additional insights.)
  • Do you then pray for discernment and pause to ponder the verses?
  • Do you ask God how these verses should be applied in your life and lived out?
  • Do you except that the words written are true interpretations of the original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic?
  • Do you consider a few versions of Scripture since different words may offer different contexts? (NIV, NASB, ESV)
  • OR do you simply go along with whatever you’re told even if it’s inconsistent with what you’re reading with your own eyes?

Let’s flip the scenario!

Do you ever sit in a service and walk out feeling awesome because it seems as if every verse used was exactly right? Like God was confirming your personal convictions? Do you ever double-check to make sure the verses used were done so in the correct context?

There are a few other Spiritual Gifts we should consider that Paul lists besides preaching and teaching. Romans 12:6-8

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

1 Corinthians 12:7-11 & 26-31

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?  Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

There are many gifts such as discernment, knowledge, faith, interpretation, and prophecy that are unique, yet they work together for God’s glory. All these gifts as well as preaching and teaching are helpful for understanding God’s character and Scripture. The aid us as we pursue developing a biblical worldview. But we need to keep verse 26 in mind as well too. If one part suffers every part suffers.

When we don’t take the time to ensure the teaching and preaching we are sitting under (or that which we read and listen to online) is based on Scripture first and then interpretation rather than opinion first and then Scripture second, we weaken the whole Church body with our agreement. God gives us gifts for reasons. We must use them. But more than that, first, we must open our Bibles and read God’s word for ourselves and spend time learning about his character for ourselves.

Developing a Biblical Worldview is an intentional choice. Just like it’s an intentional choice to listen to the perspective of others who claim they are Christ followers with a discerning ear rather than simply trusting them because they seem to agree with your opinion. It starts with opening the Bible and reading Scripture for yourself.

We must stay in a posture of humility and keep our hearts teachable. We have to understand that the silence of the Church has allowed others to step in and step up. The Church who has stayed silent has lost its authority when it comes to speaking about morality in the eyes of the world. When you leave people alone to fight for the lives of their friends and family members you aren’t considered trustworthy or dependable.

The only way to earn back that trust is to reflect the love of Jesus because man’s love will never be enough. When we have a biblical worldview we will naturally reflect Jesus love because our actions will align with Scripture accurately.

Matthew 22:34-40 (NIV) Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


Are You Engaging an Active Faith?

Are You Engaging an Active Faith?

I’m writing over at The Glorious Table today. Here’s a Preview:

The disciples spent three years with Jesus watching him preach, heal people, and interact with the Pharisees. They also observed many memorable encounters, like the healing of the blind man.

John 9:1-7 says, “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means ‘Sent’). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (NIV).

It’s okay to acknowledge that this is weird. Jesus was powerful enough to heal the man with a word, but he smears mud on the blind man’s eyes and tells him to walk to the Pool of Siloam to wash.

We don’t know how far the group was standing from the pool, but archeologists recently uncovered the pool, discovering steep stairs to enter the water.

Photograph ©Bible Places with permission

I admit this image didn’t match the picture in my mind. The steps are steep and narrow. Even someone with clear vision could easily slip on the rocks.

I think there are as few reasons Jesus engaged the man as an active participant in his healing.

First, consider how John 9 begins. The disciples notice the blind man and ask Jesus who had sinned and thereby caused his blindness. This man had likely spent his entire life hearing people debate his sin status. Was he the sinner, his parents, or someone else in their family tree? The belief that an ailment such as blindness was a result of sin was justified through Scriptures such as Exodus 20:5 and Ezekiel 18:20.

But Jesus said the blind man wasn’t a sinner. His life had purpose, and his blindness was present “so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

The second reason I think Jesus had the blind man actively participate in his own healing is because he didn’t know who Jesus was before their encounter.

Read the rest over at The Glorious Table

Holding on for Dear Life

Holding on for Dear Life

I’m writing over at The Glorious Table today. Here’s a preview:

On February 3, 1989, apprentice jockey Nate Hubbard was having the race of his life. That is, until his horse, Sweetwater Oak, launched him from the saddle with only a hundred yards to go. He clung to the neck of his mount and crossed the finish line in second place. After finishing fifth in the race on Lystra, Ron Warren, a fellow jockey, helped to slow down Sweetwater Oak so that Hubbard could let go and land safely.

Much to everyone’s surprise, after examining the results of the race, the stewards declared that the placings were official. During the race, Hubbard’s feet never touched the ground, and Sweetwater Oak remained the second-place winner.

Interestingly, when he was asked about the event later, Nate Hubbard said he wasn’t focused on winning. He explained he looked at the alternatives and holding on was a better choice than getting trampled by the rest of the horses.

Have you ever had a Nate Hubbard moment? Maybe not a literal one, but a moment when you were at the starting line with everyone else, and before you knew it, you were hanging on for dear life? Forget finishing first; have you ever been in a season so challenging you’ve found yourself choosing between holding on and being trampled, forgetting all about moving forward?

Read the rest of today’s post over at The Glorious Table

Go, but Go in Christ

Go, but Go in Christ

One of the hardest parts about learning to recognize God’s voice is discerning when I’m hearing him say yes or no, stay or go or whether it’ s my preferences that are guiding my decisions.  I’ve learned I can’t always depend on whether a choice makes sense or seems logical. If I’m going to try to obey God every step I take I need to figure out how to live by faith, and that includes developing the discipline of discernment.

In Romans 4:13-18  Paul writes from house arrest to the citizens of Rome: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.  Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”

God established a covenant with Abraham because of Abraham’s faith.  But Abraham wasn’t perfect and his faith waivered causing many detours along the path that God directed him to walk.  Regardless, God counted him as an heir and followed through with his promises. 

Abraham’s missteps weren’t insignificant. In  Genesis 12:1-2 God begins to breakdown Abraham’s calling.

  • Go forth from your country
  • And from your relatives
  • And from your father’s house
  • To the land which I will show you
  • And I will make you a great nation
  • And I will bless you
  • And make your name great

Abraham (then Abram) took his wife and cousin Lot and went to Egypt obeying God’s directions. But he doesn’t trust that God will protect him from the Pharoah in Egypt, so he lies and says his wife (Sarah) is his sister. This is a situation Abraham encounters twice and both times he responds out of fear rather than faith. This process of taking a step of faith only to backtrack is one we see Abraham repeat multiple times throughout his life. It’s common for us as well, isn’t it?

We also see Abraham backtrack in faith when he moves forward with producing an heir with Haggar rather than trusting God to open Sarah’s womb. Abraham looks at the situation logically and makes a decision without pausing to inquire whether or not God is guiding him down this path. 

God didn’t say go have babies with whomever you want. He said go have a child with your wife.  God didn’t say go to a king and lie about who your wife is, he said go, I’ll protect you.  God’s grace covered these missteps along with all of Abraham’s other missteps as well.  His grace covers our sin as well.

Similarly to all that surrounded the births of Ishmael and Isaac, our missteps have consequences. God promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations and that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky.  Sarah didn’t think she was meant to be part of the promise because it wasn’t logical. Ishmael was not the son God intended to establish the nation of Israel through, that was Isacc. 

Abraham’s choice to do his own thing caused a lot of conflict and disharmony for his family. Even though Sarah originally suggested Abraham have a child with Haggar, it was still his personal decision to take action without inviting God into the decision.

In Genesis 17:18-20 God and Abraham have a conversation. Haggar had already given birth to Ishmael, but Sarah wasn’t pregnant with Isaac.

“And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before You!’ But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.  As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly.'” 

Abraham was imperfect, just as we are, yet God still called Abraham his heir. We all take missteps in our lives. We have moments of weak faith, but God’s grace is always waiting to cover us with forgiveness. 

Go in Christ

Go, but Go in Christ reminds us that when we partner with God we follow his direction even when we don’t understand the outcome. As we develop a sharper ear for God’s voice we’ll find ourselves confessing our fears rather than acting out of them. 

Sometimes “Go in Christ” will actually mean stay put!  God’s call to “Go” could mean going someplace far from your extended family, to a place they prefer you don’t move.  Go in Christ could mean speaking up on a subject you know others will push back against, or holding your tongue when all you want to do is defend yourself.

As we move forward in our relationship with God and choose to obey him, he will direct our path. It’s possible we’ll find earthly successes won’t satisfy us the same way they once did.  Our joy, confidence, and comfort should come from the knowledge that God delights in our obedience. The more our focus stays on God and we reflect him the more likely we will find contentment in reflecting Christ.  As we have “faith against hope” as Paul describes in Romans, God increases in our lives.  As we move toward God and with God, we take our place as an equal heir in his kingdom.

Moving Forward “in Christ”

So, how do we move forward “in Christ”?  I think it’s important to remember that the journey with Christ isn’t a burden for us or for him. God pursues relationships with us because he loves us and he wants to spend eternity with us.

Like Abraham, we’ll make mistakes throughout our lives and in our relationship with God. We’re human.  We can always trust that God will extend grace to us when we move toward him. But, we also have the benefit of reducing the frequency of our missteps the better we know God because, just like in any relationship, the more time we spend with someone the easier it becomes to know their preferences and intentions.

We will improve our discernment when we are disciplined about taking the time to read, study, and understand the Bible.  Scripture is one of the ways God presents his character to us and God never contradicts Himself.  God also never asks us to live our lives in a way that contradicts scripture.  When I remember this it helps me to focus on the consistency of God’s character and gives me additional courage to go with Christ even when I can’t see how the story ends. 

I’ve also discovered that I’m more likely to discern the ways God pursues me to follow him when I am consistent in my prayer time. Creating space for God to draw my attention to situations in recent days, revealing himself through nature, bringing people to mind to spend time praying for; these things all require life to pause so I can shift my attention from things around me to God. 

Obedience is never easy, but over time the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that God’s path is always more fulfilling because he knows me better than I know myself. As I walk through life WITH God life is filled with a calmness even in the hardest situations. Ultimately, to me, that’s the blessing of a life that encompasses “Go, but God in Christ.”

Being Still

Being Still

Glass Half Full Glass Half Empty on Being Still

As our country, really as a world really, we’ve experienced an unusual opportunity to slow down considerably in the last few weeks. Not surprisingly, when the first announcements about different athletic events, colleges, and conferences closing trickled out Americans didn’t handle things well. The lack of communication as to when things would end was disconcerting. 

Even before events were canceled there was a mad rush on toilet paper and other essentials to the point where grocery shelves were completely emptied multiple times over. In our home, we held our breaths hoping we’d be able to go on our spring break getaway (we didn’t) and that school wouldn’t be canceled (it was) and now we’re wondering if we will send the summer rushing to catch up before fall begins.

What was most surprising to me was the balking and defiance around us came largely from those who claim to value and prioritize the sanctity of life. No matter how many scientists, experts, mathematicians, doctors, nurses, and family members of the deceased spoke out and said the same consistent thing it didn’t matter. “Hoax, lies, overreaction!” came the cries. Most responses were filled with indignation. How dare American lives be inconvenienced even if it means saving thousands of other lives! The prioritizing of self above our brother and sister in Christ or even the action to love our neighbor flew out the window.

We’re weeks past the initial shock of the virus and we’re sheltering in place, shopping for groceries differently and longing for the days when we can sit in a restaurant again.

As I spoke with people individually and listened to their concerns what I’ve learned is that the overbuying, overreacting, and denial were often fear responses to the inability to do anything. People were feeling like their lives were lacking control and they were attempting to take back the illusion of control by telling other people how to live their lives or overbuying unnecessary items. 

When life is interrupted it’s never easy but it’s something that will continue to happen in small and large situations throughout our lives. It’s also something humanity can’t avoid.

We Control our Response

Several summers ago I read Life Interrupted by Priscilla Shirer with a group of coaches wives. We were all in different stages of life, but we learned a lot about responding to life transitions and the importance of our response to God.

One of the key takeaways Priscilla Shirer makes in Life Interrupted is that how we handle interruptions tells us a lot about ourselves. Throughout the book, Shirer tells the story of Jonah and she also tells about different interruptions in her life and different responses. 

Shirer asks, “Is He sending you to Ninevah? Then His presence is going with you -meaning, you have no need for shortcuts, regardless of how daunting a task this is.” 

There is something I know about Jonah’s response, and about my own instincts at times, it’s that they are similar. When the road ahead looks hard, sometimes we turn and run the other way. But that doesn’t help anything, does it? God knows where we’re running and he knows where we’re supposed to go.

As we read different stories in the Bible one thing is clear, God can move mightly without our intervention. He invites us into a relationship with him because he loves us. As we engage with our creator he reveals his character to us through different situations. He teaches us how strong we are, and he shows us how well we work as a team when we rely on him as our guide. Sometimes God asks us to step out further than we’d prefer to stretch us. As we do so, we have the opportunity to deepen our relationship and trust in him. 

God never needs us to defend him but he does ask us to reflect his love to the world so that everyone has the same opportunity for a relationship with him that we have. Sometimes that requires us to step out of our comfort zone and love people selflessly.

 

Have You Felt Like You’re Living in Ninevah?

In our town, we had several days where we couldn’t access schools other than to pick up meals for the kids. The library, restaurants, church, park district, and of course many goods at the grocery stores are sparse or closed.

We are reliant on the internet to continue to run so we can work, complete school, engage with the outside world and have many forms of entertainment. We have expected store trucks to continue to deliver food, and other supplies and they have come through. This sets us apart from living in other decades and from the access other countries have. Yet in true American fashion, many pout and complain. The inconvenience of canceled vacations and limited access to shopping is too much to accept. The entitled feel they should be allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want because they are the exception to the rule. Isn’t there someone they can pay to get their way? It worked for Operation Varsity Blues.

While generally, this perspective rears itself when discussing helicopter parenting and student-athletes, in truth this global pandemic has leveled the playing field on the depth of humanity’s willingness to serve themselves for the greatest good. To quote Bob Goff, “The way we deal with uncertainty lets us know whether Jesus is ahead of us leading, or behind us just carrying our stuff.”

When Jonah obeyed God and headed to Ninevah he fulfilled his job as a prophet and spoke truth to the Assyrians. The Assyrians understood their selfish ways. They turned their backs on their false gods, repented, and turned to worship the one true God. Their thoughts shifted from lies to truth once Jonah told them the ultimate truth. 

 

Why we Need to be Still 

In times of uncertainty, we can look at the situation with a glass half full or glass half empty view.  Because the impulse is occasionally to run or to look at things from a glass half empty point of view it’s important to make sure that we’re doing what we can to remind ourselves that God is bigger than any unknown concern in front of us. 

For some, including me, one way of being still before the Lord includes worship. The posture of worship turns by heart and thoughts away from me and points them where they belong. Toward the one who is able to actually handle whatever I’m facing. 

I also often read Scripture. One of my favorite sections is Exodus 14:13-16. God reminds Moses that he will take care of the Israelites as they are leaving captivity. They don’t need to do anything other than continue to follow him. 

Pursue Being Still

As you process the past month and consider your future responses I encourage you to purse taking time to be still before the Lord rather than impulsively running like Jonah or impulsively hoarding toilet paper as the situation may be, because neither response acknowledges God is in control. 

Rather, take some time to read Exodus 14, and listen to worship music. I love Still by Reuben Morgan. It’s an older song, but as you read the words I think you’ll see why it’s still a favorite. And finally, you can pursue being still by focusing on your thoughts. When your glass half empty thoughts start to fill your mind turn them to glass half full thoughts. 

Lyrics for Still by Ruben Morgan

Hide me now
Under your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hands

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You, above the storm
Father, You are king over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul, in Christ alone
Know His power, in quietness and trust (source)

note: this content was originally published 2/14/15 and has been updated for freshness

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