Keep Listening

“Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ And Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.’
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan…” (2 Samuel 7:1-4)

The best of intentions. We have all suffered the consequences of them at one point. With the best of intentions we say or do something. We offer to take on a new responsibility. We volunteer to help out in a particular ministry that’s in need. We offer advice to a friend or co-worker who appears to be struggling. We give a suggestion for fixing something we think could be better. And just when we think we will hear , “Well done,” we hear, “No. Don’t do that,” or “You shouldn’t have said that,” or “That wasn’t the best yes.” We hear that still small voice tell us to stop, to not go forward, or maybe even to turn around and go the opposite direction. We realize the direction we had begun moving in was not the one God had intended for us.

Often when this happens, human nature–also called pride–wants us to immediately take cover. When confronted with good intentions gone wrong,  we want to pick up the heavy garment of guilt and wear it.  We then don’t dare take the weight off until we feel we have somehow redeemed the error of our ways, until we feel we’ve shrunk back enough from our impulsivity or misdirection. We condemn ourselves for meaning well.

And although to jump ahead of God or act before thinking is not wise and can have disastrous results, we must also remember something important: God wants our hearts, not our perfection. We will never be perfect. What He desires, however, is a heart that seeks Him in the midst of our errors.

Look with me at the portion of Scripture detailing David’s desire to build God a temple. God showed me something important as I read it: when we act impulsively with good intentions and then realize we were mistaken, instead of immediately feeling ashamed we moved too fast, we should be thankful we were close enough to God to hear His voice tell us to slow down or to stop. We should be grateful when we know God well enough to hear His correction and rebuke.

Think about Peter–impulsive, outspoken Peter.  At one point as Jesus was sharing about His coming sacrifice, Peter pulled Jesus aside and tried to correct Him.  He tried to tell Jesus that there is no way God would allow such a thing.  Good intentions, yes; the right thing to do, no.   So how did Jesus respond?  “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on things of God, but on things of man” (Matthew 16:23).  Ouch.  That had to hurt.  Yet at the same time, Peter  had to love Jesus enough to be close enough to hear His rebuke.  If Peter hadn’t cared, he would have been silent; if Jesus hadn’t cared, He wouldn’t have turned around.

This same principle applies in the above passage from 2 Samuel. David had told Nathan he wanted to build God a house. Nathan immediately thought, “Great idea!” I mean, what would be wrong with building God a house? Nathan knew David was a man after God’s own heart, so he immediately assumed that any idea from David must be a God ordained idea. I’m sure we’ve all been there. We assume a good idea must be a God-ordained idea.

Wrong. The idea may have been good, but it was not God’s plan for David. Both Nathan and David had been mistaken. They were not mistaken because they wanted to do something evil; they were mistaken in their plans for good. They thought God needed and wanted a house, but they had not sought God about it. They had acted from a human perspective instead of seeking God’s perspective.

Again, we’ve all done this at least once, if not more. We mean well. We act on an idea because it appears to be a good one. And then God corrects us. Yet instead of immediately condemning ourselves for messing up, we need to be thankful. No, I’m not saying to be thankful we messed up. We need to be grateful we heard God’s correction. Both David and Nathan loved and sought God. So even though they missed it at first, they were close enough to be corrected.

Similarly, we must remember, a relationship with God doesn’t mean we always get it right, but it does mean we hear God when He corrects us. God loves His children. He wants what is best for us. When we start in a direction contrary to God’s will, He’s going to redirect us.

If we are listening.

This is key:  we listen.   If you continue to read in 2 Samuel, you will see both David and Nathan listened to God’s correction.  And you know what’s even better?  Even though David and Nathan at first got it wrong, once God corrected them, God’s promise and plan was far more awesome than simply building God a house.  God promised to build His kingdom through David; through David would come the Savior.

So I encourage you today. Did you start to say or do something then feel that tug of regret–that internal check from God telling you to stop or to wait?  Did you suggest an idea or give an opinion with best of intentions yet the worst of timing?  Don’t let it destroy you. Rather, let it grow you. Listen to that voice telling you which way to go. Ask for forgiveness, but don’t dwell in regret or condemnation. Dwell in Him. Draw near to Him.  Listen to His still small voice telling you, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21); all the while remembering that the way He leads is the way He wills. And God’s will is far better and far more glorifying than anyone’s best intentions–even yours.

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He Who Believes

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With people [as far as it depends on them] it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:26 AMP

The story of the rich young man–I’m sure many of us have heard it before.  A young rich man comes to Jesus asking how he may obtain eternal life.  He specifically asks what “good work” he could do to get to heaven.  When Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, the young man quickly lets Jesus know he’s kept them since he was little.   This young man was not only rich but also a good, moral person.  He just couldn’t understand what he lacked, so he asked Jesus, “What do I still lack?”

Jesus’ response?  “If you wish to be perfect [that is, have the spiritual maturity that accompanies godly character with no moral or ethical deficiencies], go and sell what you have and give [the money] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me [becoming My disciple, believing and trusting in Me and walking the same path of life that I walk].”  (Matthew 19:21 AMP).  

Unfortunately, this did not please the young man, who in turn went away sad.  Why was this so hard for him to hear, such a hard pill to swallow?  Well, this young man was depending on his good deeds and abundance of possessions to earn him eternal life. Yet Jesus effectively told the man that neither money nor being good would get him to heaven.  It will get none of us there.  Getting to heaven is not an outward position we can achieve; it is a spiritual condition we must receive.

It is in receiving Jesus that we may obtain eternal life in heaven.  It is in following Jesus we learn that it is not our status with man that saves us. It’s not the amount of money we have or don’t have.  It’s not how many followers we have on Twitter or Facebook.  It’s not even how many verses of the Bible we know or how many people think we’re good Christians.  Getting to heaven is a matter of the heart.  When the rich young ruler went away sad, he went away sad because his heart had not yet been transformed.  He was still trying to obtain salvation through external works.  He had not yet let go of his earthly god in order to cling to the one true God.

Who was the young man’s earthly god?  Money.  Status.  Morality.   In other words, the things of this world were the focus of this young man.  He equated earthly success with heavenly rewards.  Yet Jesus in essence told the young man, as He told many people, that God’s economy is different than ours.  Jesus told the young man he’d have to let go of earthly possessions and earthly position in order to grab hold of the true riches and true rewards.

To obtain eternal life, the young man had to let go of this one.

But he couldn’t do it. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t willing.

The people were at first shocked that a rich person would not be able to enter heaven. After all, they had been trained to equate wealth with God’s blessing.  If someone had money, then that person must be highly favored by God.  Yet Jesus came and turned that around.  He said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved. Why? Well,  I tend to believe it is a matter of where we put our trust.  The rich young ruler trusted his money and his good works and his status as means of achieving salvation. I don’t blame him; it’s human nature.  It is easy for us to want to place our trust in the good things in life. It is easier to trust in the tangible treasures of life. When things go well, we assume we must be doing something right. When things go wrong, we wonder what we did to deserve such atrocities.

Earthly wealth and prosperity, however, mean nothing in relation to salvation.  Money doesn’t transfer to heaven. Status doesn’t transfer to heaven. Jesus Himself often reminded His followers that many who put themselves first in this life will be last in the next.   There will be many rich, good people in Hell.

So what can we learn from this rich man’s encounter with Jesus? First, we must see the hope. Jesus Himself declares that what may appear impossible is indeed possible–with God.  God is the key. You see, the focus of our trust–the source of our security–is in essence our god.  In the above passage, the young man had placed his hope in wealth, morality, and status. These earthly treasures may have gotten him far in this life; but they earned him nothing in the next.  In other words, Jesus was effectively telling the young man and all His disciples that when it depends on man, salvation is impossible.

But with God.

I’ll say that again. But with God…all things–even the salvation of a rich man–are possible.

How?

When the rich man surrenders to the Savior.

This is how each of us obtains eternal life. It is the only way we obtain eternal life in heaven.

So I ask you now, in whom or what do you trust? Man? Money? Feelings? Work? Ministry? Where do you place your hopes, your dreams, your security? If someone were to ask you why you believe you will go to heaven when you die, what will your response be?  Let me tell you now that any answer other than Jesus indicates your heart is not where it needs to be.  If you place your heart in anything or anyone on this earth, you are placing your future in the wind. You are placing your future in something that will perish with the earth. Nothing and no one can save you. All the money, accolades, accomplishments, friends, and family in the world will never make you good enough to enter heaven. You could buy the whole world, yet lose your soul.  Even if the world adores you and considers you a saint, if you place your trust in anything but Jesus, your future is Hell. Morality doesn’t save you. Money doesn’t save you. Being in ministry doesn’t save you. Jesus saves you. You must be clothed in His righteousness–His alone–for your righteousness is as filthy rags.

Therefore I conclude with this today:  true righteousness is impossible with man. Obtaining heaven is impossible with man. Yet all things are possible with God.  Even the salvation of a rich man.  Even the salvation of YOU. So place your faith in Him today.  Let Him remove those filthy rags and clothe you with His robe of righteousness.  Let Him transform your heart and mind from the inside out.  Let Him be God in your life. And as you follow Him, you can go forth in joy knowing, “...nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

God’s Gifts

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
(Romans 12:6-8 NLT)

Gifts.  The sound of that word being spoken is enough to bring a smile to any eager child (or anybody, really).  If you mention gifts to my kids, you will immediately have their full attention.  And although I know in the above passage, the word “gifts” is synonymous with “ability”–we are to use the abilities God has given us–God also recently spoke to my heart the other aspect of gifts as it relates to the idea of using our talents.

Let me explain. The other meaning of “gift” is “present.”  We give presents to wish someone a happy birthday; we give presents to celebrate weddings and births; we give presents for holidays; and sometimes we give presents just to let people know we are thinking of them.  Regardless of the occasion, I personally enjoy giving gifts more than receiving them (although if you ever give me one, I certainly won’t refuse it!). When I am picking out a gift for somebody, I am very purposeful.  I typically pray for God to lead me to the right present. In my search, I consider the person’s personality, desires, likes, and dislikes. I want the person receiving my gift to see it as my heart sharing something with her heart.

I also, when I give a gift, do not expect anything back, for a true gift is one which is given freely, with no strings attached.  Yet while a gift is freely given without expectations, it is usually given with the purpose of being utilized and enjoyed.  We typically don’t give gifts to people so that the gifts remain unopened, unused, or hidden in a closet somewhere.  I’ve never thought to myself, “Wow! This is completely useless and meaningless! My friend will love it!” No. We give gifts so the recipient can use and enjoy them.

So how does this relate to the gifts and abilities God gives to us?  First of all, it is indeed  God who gives us our spiritual abilities.  He gives them to us freely; we don’t deserve nor earn them in any way.  I am not an encourager because I deserve it; I am an encourager because God, knowing how He made me, chose this  gift especially for me. Furthermore, God gives us the gifts in order for us to use them. God doesn’t give useless nor meaningless gifts. He also doesn’t give gifts so we can keep them hidden.

Furthermore, if God gives us abilities and wants us to use them, then it only makes sense we use them for His glory.  Actually, God’s desire is that we do use them for His glory. Paul doesn’t just write that God has given each of us different abilities; he then encourages us to use those gifts well as God has called us to do.  In 1 Peter 4:10-11, we read the following: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 P eter 4:10‭-‬11).

Both the passage in Romans and the one in 1 Peter exhort us to not only use the gifts given to us by God, but also to use them well.   We are to use them as God intended us to use them–“that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Yet how many of us would admit that sometimes we lose focus?  We use one of our spiritual gifts and then hope others notice–and not just notice but compliment us for it.  We want the glory for using a gift we did not deserve and did not earn.   Or if we avoid the sin of pride, we fall prey to being jealous of those who use their gifts as God intended or whose gifts differ from ours. We look with envy at the leader who leads with diligence. We question the motives behind the person who gives so selflessly and freely. We wonder why people don’t encourage us like we exhort them.  We sulk in our seat as we listen to the gifted teacher open up God’s Word and explain it in a way we never could.

Yet look again with me at the passages from Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4:10-11.  As you look back at them, I want you to pay attention to what is NOT said; for sometimes what is not said is just as important as what is said.

So what isn’t said?  What’s implied? By accepting and using the gifts God has given to us, we are also accepting and understanding that it is part of God’s plan that others do not have those same gifts nor display their gifts in the same capacity. In other words, our gifts and abilities are as unique as our individual personalities.

The above passage does not say encourage others then secretly hope for a thank you or a return in encouragement. It does not say lead and then wonder why others don’t lead like you. It doesn’t say prophecy and be proud that you hear from God differently than others.  It doesn’t say give and then hope others will give back to you as well.  No.  It says prophecy, serve, teach, encourage, give, lead, be kind because that is the gift God chose for you.  God chose our gifts; as the recipients, we are to be good stewards of God’s varied grace.  Being a good steward doesn’t mean we belittle or judge others who have different gifts.   Being a good steward doesn’t mean we envy those who possess different or more well-known gifts. Being a good steward means we use the gifts God has given to us as a means of worshiping Him. Period. What others think about our gifts or what others do with their gifts should not affect our willingness to serve God in accordance with how He uniquely created us to serve Him.

For me, I know God has gifted me with encouragement and the ability to use the written word to express encouragement.   But this doesn’t make me better than someone else who is not a natural writer or encourager.  If I encourage a friend, then I have done my part as God has called me to do.  I should not then expect that friend to return the same encouragement, especially when I know God has not gifted that friend with that particular gift.  It would be like someone gifted in speaking in front of masses expecting me to do the same.  Put me in front of a large crowd of adults and this prolific writer becomes a rambling idiot without a focused thought or rational argument.   Deer in headlights?  Yes, that would be me in front of large groups of people.

Yet my dislike of public speaking doesn’t make me less of a Christian.  I am not a public speaker.   But that doesn’t make me any less of a child of God than the one who is.   I am an encourager, but that doesn’t make me any better than the one who is not.  Sure, God calls us all to encourage one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, so to some extent, we are all designed to be encouragers, but I shouldn’t expect the same gift of encouragement to flow through others in abundance or in the same way as God designed it to flow through me.  Why?  Because God chose me to encourage others; He chose each of those around me for something else. And even if He did choose someone else to have the gift of encouragement, that individual will not necessarily display that ability in the same way I do. For in the same way each of us is created uniquely, so also we manifest God’s gifts in ways specific and unique to who we are in Him.

As I conclude, let me summarize what God spoke to me as I read Romans. What I read in the above passage is, yes, use the gifts God has given to you.  Even more, use them well and for His glory. Yet as you use those gifts, be diligent to keep your focus on the giver of all good things, not on the actual gifts.  Do what you were called to do; leave the rest in God’s hands.

So are you a leader? Lead! Are you a teacher? Teach! Are you a writer? Write! Are you an artist? Paint, draw, sculpt!  Whatever it is God has given you, use it, and use it in the way He calls you to use it.  When you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you what others thought of your gift. He’s not even going to ask you about what you thought of the gift He gave you. He’s going to ask you how you used the gift He gave you to draw people to Him. So make this your focus; make God your focus. Follow the encouragement God penned through Paul in his letter to the Colossians:

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him….Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” – Colossians 3:17‭, ‬23‭-‬24

 

To God Be The Glory

 And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.
(Romans 8:28 AMP)

A good friend e-mailed me this spring that she was praying for “God’s perfect plan in an imperfect world.”  I thought this such a beautiful picture of God’s ability to work out all things for good.   God has actually been instilling within me a deep knowing that when He works all things for good, He does not mean that all things will seem good to us at the time we experience them.  Rather, when He promises to work all things for good, He is promising to take every imperfect piece and mold it into His perfect plan.

Let me take a moment today to convey this principle–this principle of God’s goodness within everything.  As we began several months ago traveling the path of trying to sell our house and buy another, God continually showed His faithfulness in every detail, even the unexpected details.  We first began our search for a new home in the spring of this year.  Our desire:  a nice home with acreage for cattle.   Yet, as we began looking for that perfect property, we often came across a nice house with less than acceptable land, or a great piece of land with a house requiring extensive renovation. And then we also had to add into the search travel time and potential schools for the children.  Did I mention we had a budget?

Months into our search, we thought we found “the one” for us.  It was a nice house on nice land and close to everything.  The house was a little small, but it was definitely workable.  The catch was the house was owned by one person, and the land was owned by another.  We decided to attempt the purchase, and it seemed as if God was gifting us with something extraordinary.  Yet at the moment we thought we’d be getting the property, one of the landowners chose another offer. So we lost both.

I’d like to say we rolled with it, but honestly, we were quite disappointed.  What we thought would have been the most perfect story of God’s faithfulness had fizzled into nothing.  We were back to looking for a home.

And then a few weeks later we decided to re-look at the first house we ever liked.  Even though the house required extensive renovations, we loved the property and thought we’d go for it.  Yet the very weekend we were going to place an offer on it, God led me by a house we’d never seen.  When I drove by the house, I thought to myself how nice it was; it had a nice house AND nice land.  Of course, when I mentioned it to Matt, however, he said he’d seen it but that it was out of our price range.

Bummer, right?

Nope.  For the unexpected happened.

I repeat: the unexpected happened.

When Matt mentioned the house to our realtor, she quickly let us know it might just be in our price range.  So we stopped with the offer on the one house and decided to look more into this newest home.

One word regarding this new property:  wow.

The house was not only a well-maintained house, but the land was also beautiful. In addition, the location was great and the price apparently within our budget.  The perfect place.  Yes, even more perfect than the one we had been so disappointed in losing only a few weeks prior.  I still vividly remember the day we viewed the house and property; the phrase “exceedingly abundantly” echoed within my mind.  I knew God was doing “exceedingly and abundantly” above all I could have ever hoped or imagined (Ephesians 3:20).

And remember how I mentioned His working in the unexpected details?  Well, this particular home had my dream refrigerator in it.  I know, I know–who has a dream refrigerator?  Well, I did.  And this house had it!  And it was going to convey with the home!  I’m still super excited about this particular detail.  God cared enough about me to give me the fridge of my dreams.  Woohoo!

Now I’d like to say that once we found the home (and fridge!) of our dreams, things went smoothly and we were in it in no time at all.  But I can’t.  It wasn’t easy.  It was quite rough.  We had to muddle through negotiations with the sellers and with the bank.  Nevertheless, it eventually all worked for good as God had promised.  The financing issues were worked out in a way that suited us perfectly.   The underground oil tank that was apparently leaking was removed at little cost because of a grant. The closing date was delayed because of an appraiser issue, but the delay caused our first mortgage payment to be due almost a month later than what we had anticipated.  This was a good thing, because at the time of closing, we had not sold our old home yet.  The fewer months we’d have to pay two mortgages, the better.

And speaking of two mortgages, guess what happened soon after we closed on our new home?  You guessed it.  Someone placed an offer on our current home.  Now at first, I wasn’t sure about the offer since it didn’t fit my preconceived plan, but again, God had promised to work things for good.  The contract we now have in place on our old home not only will close BEFORE our new first mortgage is due (which means we won’t even have one month of two mortgages!), but also the contract pays off our old mortgage and supplies us with some extra income in the long term.   How cool is that?!  To God be the glory!

To God be the glory.

This is what God has been showing me. When He promises to work out all things for good, He works things out for His good pleasure.  He works things out in a way that gives Him the glory He deserves.  And He deserves all of it.

As I sit her typing this blog on my sofa in my dream home while my kids attend an amazing school, I can testify of God’s faithfulness.  I can testify that He works all things out for good–even the unpleasant things.

So how do we continue to keep our heads held high?  How do we, in the words of Annie, “stick up our chin and grin” during the gray and lonely days?

We remember God’s faithfulness–His faithfulness to work all things out for good.

Read with me the beginning of Psalm 105:

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he uttered…”
(Psalm 105:1-5)

If you continue reading Psalm 105, the psalmist declares the wondrous works God has done since Abraham.  The psalmist could keep his chin up and hopes alive because he not only sought God, but also he praised God for all the good things God had done.

In the same way, we also must remember God has been working since the beginning of time and will continue to work until the end. God hasn’t given up, and neither should we.

Let me give you an example of keeping on and continuing to trust even within the unpleasant circumstances of life.  Below is the portion regarding Joseph in Psalm 105:

When he summoned a famine on the land
    and broke all supply of bread,
17 he had sent a man ahead of them,
    Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 His feet were hurt with fetters;
    his neck was put in a collar of iron;
19 until what he had said came to pass,
    the word of the Lord tested him.
20 The king sent and released him;
    the ruler of the peoples set him free;
21 he made him lord of his house
    and ruler of all his possessions,
22 to bind his princes at his pleasure
    and to teach his elders wisdom.

“He had sent a man…”  Joseph was sent by God to protect and to preserve God’s people.  Yet the path Joseph traveled was one of rejection, slavery, and imprisonment.   I’m sure as Joseph sat in prison for something he didn’t do, things didn’t seem good.  There was no physical evidence backing up the promising dreams he had had as a teen.  Yet Joseph trusted God.  He continued to remain faithful in whatever God placed in his path.  And God honored Joseph for his faithfulness.  No, it didn’t come right away.  And it wasn’t a pretty path.  But in the end, all worked for good.  And God got the glory.

Now let me give you a personal example.  Last night I was missing some friends from our old home.  I missed the fellowship, the closeness, the connection.  I missed having friends and mentors within hugging distance.  Even though I knew God had called me to the place I am right now, I was a bit lonely for close fellowship.  I was again old-home sick.

Yet this morning God reminded me to look back at the great things He has done.   He brought to mind the above verse as well as all the details He has been taking care of before, during, and since our move.  And it is as I have recounted the purchase of this new home as well as the sale of our old that my hope has been renewed. If God can give me my dream fridge in my dream home and keep us from having to pay two mortgages, then He will certainly bring to me a local friend within hugging distance in His good time.  It may not be my timing; but as long as it is God’s timing, I know it will be perfect.

So this is where I encourage you today.   Are things going well with you?  If so, then praise Jesus!  Declare His wondrous works to the world so they too can rejoice in His faithfulness.  Make a list of all the amazing details God has taken care of in your life–even the ones that appeared unpleasant at the time. And then share it.  Share the list with friends. Share it with family. Share it with the world so that God can get even more glory for the great things He has done.

If things are not going well–if your days are cloudy and lonely and appear to be as far from good as one can get, then I encourage you as well to not only keep believing and keep seeking Him, but also to look back at what God has done for you in the past.  Write a list of all the amazing details God has taken care of in your life before.  You’ll soon learn that by declaring what He has done, you’ll be filled with a new hope in what He is going to do.

God is faithful, my friend. So keep believing. Keep seeking.  Keep moving forward.  Keep going forth with joy knowing that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.

 

Look To God

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2

With the upcoming  election, it seems everyone has an opinion about who should or should not be our next president.  I have one as well, but no worries, I do not plan on sharing it here.  I will, however, share what God wrote on my heart as I was praying for our country and for our future leaders the other day. God reminded me again I am to fear not.   I am to fear not because who the next president is going to be is no surprise to God.   How we got where we are is no surprise to God.  What our future will be is no surprise to God.   Because of God, we are to fear not the enemy, fear not the past, fear not the present, and fear not the future; really, we should fear not anything nor anyone on this earth.

We are to fear God.

Yet it seems instead of revering and trusting God, we often set our sights, our hopes, and in turn our fears, on everything and on everyone else.  Instead of focusing on the race set before us, we focus on the people, the world, and the distractions surrounding us. Instead of laying aside every weight and sin, we pick them up, inspect them, hold them, and are fain to keep them close at hand.

But consider the verse above.  What are we supposed to do as we run with endurance the race that is set before us?

In addition to laying aside every weight and sin (an action which implies a willingness to let go), we are to run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1)

The key phrase?  Looking to Jesus.

Yet what does it mean to look to Jesus?   I believe the key is found in the preposition “to.  For “to” is not the same as “at.”

What’s the difference? If I look at something, I’m assessing it; if I look to something, I’m seeking it.   To look at someone is to inspect that person for the purpose of passing judgment, good or bad. I look at the debates, and I shudder at the thought of who could be our next president.  I look at the television and cringe at the storylines once abhorred now labeled as “kid-friendly.”  I look at my children and feel the immense pressure and awesome responsibility I have as their parent.   I can look at someone with love or with hatred, but I do not  always know someone before I look at him and pass judgment.   The Pharisees certainly didn’t know Jesus when they looked at Him and accused Him of having a demon.

To look to someone, however, is to seek that person for the purpose of obtaining help, assistance, comfort, or encouragement.   To look to a friend is to seek companionship, support, and someone to do life with.  To look to a mentor is to  seek wisdom from someone who has already walked the path you are on.  To look to your parents for advice is to genuinely desire their input and feedback.  Those who looked to Jesus for healing instead of at Him in judgment were the ones who were made whole.

While  to look “at” someone is typically nothing more than an impersonal assessment, to look “to” someone requires a sincere desire for a personal relationship.

With this in mind, re-read with me Hebrews 12:1: let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

Looking to Jesus

We are to run to God.  He is waiting and ready and wanting us to seek Him as we run the race set before us.

Micah says it well in the Old Testament:

Put no trust in a neighbor;
    have no confidence in a friend;
guard the doors of your mouth
    from her who lies in your arms;
 for the son treats the father with contempt,
    the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
    a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me.
Micah 7:5-7

We are to look to God–to God alone–in all circumstances.  We are to wait on Him and for Him, trusting His faithfulness through it all.

But unfortunately we often look at and to the world instead of to God. We look at our neighbors, our friends, our families, and even strangers in order to assess what we have been doing or what we think we should be doing  We look at our bank accounts, our government, and our possessions in order to assess our sense of security.   We look at our apparent successes or failures to determine our worth and potential. We look to friends, family, and the government for the answers and solutions to our problems and struggles.  We seek people and things of this world before we seek God.

But nothing of this world is God.  People are not God. Possessions are not God. Power is not God. No one and nothing on this earth could ever come close to being God. The world–and all that is within it–is selfish, inconsistent, and will soon pass away.  God, however, is eternal.

So what should we do as we run the race set before us? Are we to look to the world? Are we to look at our bank accounts? Are we to look at the latest poll?  No. We are to look to God. We are not to look at circumstances, at people, at finances, at the future, at the past, at the present, or at anything else. We are to look to God. God alone knows everything that has, is, and will ever happen. Furthermore, He promises to take care of it all and be in control of it as well. God knows who our next president will be. God knows the fate of our freedom, our rights, and our nation. And no matter who it is sitting in the oval office come January 2017, God is on His throne. He was on it in the beginning, is on it now, and will be on it for eternity. So look to Him! Look to God alone to carry you through. He will lead you through, around, over, or under whatever circumstances may come your way. He is the Author and the Finisher of your faith. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Ancient of Days who doesn’t change.  Fix your eyes on Him today. Run that racing looking to Jesus. He promises to be there with open arms.  Even more, He promises to run it with you.

“To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Psalm 123:1

Vessel of Grace

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:13-16

As I was thinking about a friend yesterday, the statement “You are beautiful,” came to mind.  I shared this with her, yet God continued to bring that statement to mind today as well.  Today, however, it came in the form of a poem.  I am not much on poetry in general, but I do pray this encourages someone who may be questioning her beauty or her purpose.  You are not just a lump of clay cast aside without a purpose.  You are chosen.  You were planned.  You have been selected by God for His good pleasure.  When you were still yet unformed, He had a purpose for you.  And as He fashioned You, He formed you with His vision in mind.  You are here for a reason. You are the way you are for a reason.  So be encouraged today knowing you are beautiful, you are His, and you are loved.

“You are beautiful, My child,”
the Master whisperer to the clay
as He held the lump within His grip
and placed it on the potter’s wheel.

The lump didn’t appear like much
as the wheel began to turn.
Yet the Master had a vision–
a purpose Divinely planned–
as He bent over His masterpiece and
began fashioning it with His hands.

The process wasn’t easy.
It took much time and tender care
to transform the lump of clay into
a vessel suitable to serve.

Yet after careful molding,
and never fully letting go,
the Potter finished His masterpiece;
the clay now had a form

Where once there was a lump,
with no shape and no design,
now rested a glorious jar
with a purpose and plan Divine.

“You are beautiful, my child,”
the Master said again with pride.
“I formed you and I fashioned you;
you are perfect in My eyes.
You are not just a lump of useless clay
without purpose, shape, or form.
You are a vessel of My grace,
designed for My eternal plan.”

And with those words of encouragement
the Master lifted His beautiful jar.
He then placed it on His table
where He had purposed it to serve.

Fear Not…

So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.
John 7:30

Fear.  Everyone has experienced it at least once in her lifetime; most of us have experienced it multiple times.  Some of us are afraid to admit just how much we’ve been afraid.

Yet time and time again God reminds us in His Word to fear not.   Fear not, for He is with us.  Fear not, for He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.  Fear not, for He is faithful to do all He has promised. Fear not, for He will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory.

We as God’s children are to fear not–we are to be anxious for nothing.  We are to trust Him in all our ways, with all our thoughts, and whatever the circumstance.

Of course, I do admit this is easier said than done.  When your husband comes home and informs you he lost his job, human nature wants to fear.  When your daughter expresses interest in being a missionary overseas, you want to grab her, hold her tight, and keep her at home with you.  When God tells you to quit your current job to pursue something completely different, your mind immediately calculates the risks associated with such a move.  Or maybe you are in a situation like I once was:  you are offered a job doing something you feel unqualified and ill-equipped for, yet you sense God telling you to take it anyway.

Fear happens.  It comes on suddenly and attempts to keep us from proceeding down the path God has placed before us. Nevertheless, even though fear may come, we do not need to follow it.

As I have been reading the book of John, God has been showing me an important principle when it comes to walking out His plan for our lives:  we need not fear, for His timing is always perfect.

Prior to the above verse in John, Jesus had been going about His Father’s business.  Nevertheless, the business He was about confused and upset many.   The religious leaders especially wanted to do away with Jesus.  They despised him and felt threatened by him. Yet even though they wanted to arrest Jesus, they did not.  Why?  “Because His hour had not yet come.”   There was no rational reason why the religious leaders did not arrest Jesus at that time.  It just wasn’t Jesus’ time.

And I believe Jesus knew this.  He knew His time was coming, but He also knew it wasn’t yet.  So fear didn’t stop Him from going about His Father’s work.  He didn’t cower in the corner afraid He might do something that would cause His premature demise.  No.  He kept going.  He kept speaking.  He kept sharing.  He kept healing.  And time and time again, though the leaders wanted to do away with Him, they didn’t.   Further on in chapter 7 we read, “Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him (John 7:44).  Then in John 8, as Jesus continued to speak as the Father instructed Him, we once again read, “but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 8:20).   Even in John 10, when they actually attempted to seize Jesus, “he escaped from their hands” (John 10:39).  Why?   Because at the time of each of the above, Jesus had not yet accomplished what the Father had called Him to do.  Jesus could not be taken until God decided it was time for Jesus to willingly go.

Similarly, when God calls us to a specific place, we must trust that He will keep us safe until the job is done.  We need not fear what could possibly happen, for we can fully trust that God already knows what’s next; and if God calls us to what’s next, He will supply all that we need to get through it as well–even if what is next isn’t pretty.

Think about Esther for a moment.  She was a young Jewish lady suddenly made queen and just as suddenly faced with quite the decision:  to stay silent and possibly perish or to speak up and possibly perish.   She chose the latter, and because of her choice, her life was not only spared, but a nation was also saved.  I’m sure she must have felt that familiar feeling of fear rise up within her as the severity of the situation washed over her.  Yet instead of heeding fear’s ugly voice, she submitted to the voice of her God–a God who was more than able to surround her with the favor and fill her with the boldness necessary to accomplish the purpose He had set forth for her before the world began.

If God calls us to something, then we need not fear it. We need not fear “what might happen” or “what people may think” or “what people may do.” God spared Esther and used her to save a nation.  God spared Jesus over and over again until just the right time when He became the Passover Lamb.  And God will be with you in whatever circumstance you may find yourself.

God doesn’t promise us a rose garden.  He doesn’t promise us an easy path.  But He does promise to equip us physically, mentally, and spiritually for whatever path we may be on.

If we trust Him.

So is your husband without a job?  Don’t despair. This could be the very catalyst needed to springboard you into an amazing ministry.  Is your daughter driven to be a missionary?  Hug her tight, but let her go.  The eternal impact of her choice is worth the temporary pain of saying good-bye.  Is God calling you to leave your current job to pursue something else?  Trust Him in it; He promises to supply all your needs.  Or maybe you’re feeling ill-equipped for a position?  If God’s peace says take it, then take it–even if it doesn’t make sense.   Sixteen years ago God told me to take a job I was not particularly fond of, so with trepidation, I took it. Within a week of that decision, the job description changed–changed into something I absolutely loved.  Even more, a few short years later, I met my husband through that very place of employment.

Therefore I encourage you today: trust God.   Trust His timing.  Trust His sovereignty.  Trust in His ability to equip you for whatever task He places before you. He does have plans for you.  And if He has called you to something you think beyond your reach, beyond your ability, or beyond your comfort zone, then do not fear! If God could prevent Jesus from being stoned, arrested, and thrown over a cliff because “it wasn’t His time,”  then He can certainly keep you safe and equip you for such a time as this.

 

Expect God

Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.”
John 7:25-27

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised?  You expect something to turn out one way, but in the end, the results are completely different. You liked the results; they just weren’t what you had anticipated. Or maybe you’ve been strangely disappointed.  Again, you expected something to turn out one way, but in the end, the results were completely different. And you were not happy.

Well, to some degree, Jesus was an unexpected Savior.  He was not unanticipated, for the Jews had been waiting for Him for years. But He was definitely unexpected.  You see, the Jews in Jesus’ time were looking for a Savior, but when He actually appeared, they did not recognize Him. Why? Jesus did not fit their expectations–their preconceived notions; He did not match what they had envisioned their Savior would look and act like. He wasn’t rich. He wasn’t of noble birth. He wasn’t domineering. He was the son of a carpenter from the city of Nazareth. Even His hometown didn’t fit their expectations. At one point in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Nathanael, who would indeed become one of The Twelve, replied to Philip’s proclamation that they had “found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote,” with “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).  Nathanael wasn’t necessarily demeaning Nazareth; he was questioning God’s Anointed One being a Nazarene.   Nathanael was really asking, “Can the Messiah come from Nazareth?”

For if you think about it, everyone who had read the Scriptures had also assumed Jesus would come from Bethlehem; and indeed He was born there, thus fulfilling the Scriptures (see Matthew 2).   On the other hand, He was also a Nazarene.  For after being born in Bethlehem, he was raised in Galilee.  According to Matthew, the place Jesus was raised was indeed another prophecy fulfilled; it just happened to be one that many Jews had not considered since it had only been spoken, not written (see Matthew 2:23). Even more, His hometown of Nazareth was an area considered lesser than the other areas of Galilee.  This means the Savior of the world was raised in an overlooked, under-appreciated area.  He wasn’t popular.  He wasn’t privileged.  He was a carpenter’s son living life in a small town.

Nevertheless, this unexpected Savior fulfilled all the prophecies spoken and written about Him.  All of them. He did not, however, necessarily fulfill those prophecies in a way people anticipated or even wanted.  Jesus didn’t come wielding a golden scepter proclaiming His authority and overthrowing the government. Jesus came as a servant, humbly walking out His Father’s plan, even submitting to the government. He had authority, but He didn’t flaunt it. He knew the Word because He was The Word.

And the Jews just couldn’t grasp this.  They weren’t pleasantly surprised; they were utterly disappointed and very confused.   In John 6-7, the Jews continually questioned where Jesus was getting His authority.  In John 6:41-42, we read, “So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?'”  In John 7:15, the Jews “marveled, saying, ‘How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?'”  In John 7:41-42, some questioned, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?  Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and come from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” And of course in the passage at the beginning of this post, people assumed that since they knew Jesus’ physical hometown, then He must not be the Messiah.

Yet Jesus was indeed God in the Flesh.  He was indeed the fulfillment of the Scriptures. But the Jesus who came to seek and save the lost came differently than expected. And by doing so, He was overlooked, He was scorned, and He was doubted time and time again.  Ultimately, His unexpected ways led to His ultimate sacrifice; for if they had truly known who Jesus was, then they would not have killed him.  But they killed the One they did not understand; and in doing so, they killed the very answer to their prayers.

Looking back now, it is quite obvious to us His believers that Jesus was indeed the Messiah; we see clearly how Jesus fulfilled the prophesies.  We see clearly where He came from and His purpose for coming to earth the way He came.  Yet hindsight is often twenty-twenty, isn’t it?  If we are honest with ourselves, however, how many times have we missed the boat because God worked in a way we were not anticipating?  What we thought would happen didn’t happen, and we were left disappointed, confused, even angry.  Yet we must realize that sometimes those unrealized expectations might just mean we expected the wrong outcome.

Yes, we should always have hope; we should always look ahead and look forward to that plans God has for us. But instead of putting God in a box, we should allow Him room to be God.  Rather than expect specifics, we should expect God.

That’s it. Expect God.

Expect God to show up in every circumstance.  Expect God to be very present in every aspect of your life.  Expect God to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think(Ephesians 3:20).

For we must remember, we are not God, and our thoughts are not like His either.  We can expect God to keep His promises.  We can expect God to remain faithful.  Yet we should not expect God to follow our humanly devised plans, dreams, or expectations.  We must remember God Himself reminds us in Isaiah,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
1so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:8-11

God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and what God plans will come to pass; God will accomplish what He purposes to do.

So I ask you today.  What are you expecting?  Are you expecting an apology from someone who hurt you?  Are you expecting a response to that e-mail you sent?  Are you expecting a text, a phone call, a letter?  What are you expecting?

Let me encourage you in this.  Expect God.   Fix your eyes on Him, and seek Him first.  And in doing so, you’ll soon realize that when you expect God, you’ll never be disappointed.