Category Archives: Doubting Your Vision?

Meanwhile, What We Don’t See…

God We Trust   Last year, on June 28th, my son in California broke his finger playing football (boys!). The problem was the health insurance at his new job didn’t kick in until July 1st, 60 days after he was hired. Given that, he had one of two bad choices: either pay hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket at the Urgent Care or tough it out and wait two days to get treatment—which is where he was leaning.

   The thing is, I’d taken him off of my insurance the previous year after he moved to California and got his first job, which provided insurance. Or, at least I thought I did. Turns out I hadn’t removed him from my insurance after all—but I didn’t realize that. It seems he’d been on my insurance for a whole extra year. Of course, we decided there was no reason to take him off until July 1st when his own insurance became official, although the odds of him getting sick or having some unfortunate accident were very slim… But still—there was the football. And we’re not stupid.

   Enter the broken finger.

Coincidence?

   While some would say it was a lucky coincidence I’d forgotten to remove him from my health insurance, I’d say not. Moreover, the timing of the revelation of my mistake was no coincidence either: If I’d realized the error sooner when he still had coverage at his old job, I would’ve removed him. But if I’d never discovered it, he still would’ve paid for the Urgent Care since he wouldn’t have told them he had insurance—because he didn’t even know it. So what happened?

   God happened.

   Somehow—I don’t know how—Aaron remained on the insurance and his treatment was covered (which is a good thing because he might need surgery). But how many times, when we have absolutely zero idea, is God working invisibly behind the scenes to work out some situation or prevent some problem that isn’t even on our radar yet? Or that never even happens at all because he is working behind the scenes?

It’s Happened Before…

   Time after time, we see this scenario unfold in the Bible. Take, for example, the Old Testament story of Hannah who wanted so badly to have a child but couldn’t. Still, she never stopped praying for a son and, in her desperation, promised God that if he’d give her one, she’d dedicate the child to the Lord. As a result, she became pregnant with Samuel, raised him till he was weaned and then, when he was only three, took him to Jerusalem and left him with the priest Eli to raise. Three years old! I can’t even imagine the grief she suffered in fulfilling her vow.

   But—the story doesn’t end there. The Bible tells us that Eli’s sons, who were also priests, were very wicked. They took the best cuts of meat offered to God, “treating the Lord’s offerings with contempt,” and they seduced the young women assisting at the  Temple entrance. And Eli did nothing about it.

  Meanwhile, the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men” (I Sam. 2:26).

   Eventually, a prophet came to Eli with a word from the Lord that because of his sons’ sins and his own failure to correct or remove them, they would die on the same day. Furthermore, his family would never again serve as priests, and every member of his family would die a violent death before their time.

   The Bible says that in those days, the word of the Lord was rare and visions uncommon, but meanwhile, the boy Samuel was serving the Lord by assisting Eli” (3:1).

   “Meanwhile” indicates God’s silent work in Samuel behind the scenes to prepare a powerful prophet in the midst of an evil and godless culture. No one knew God was busy doing that but, for the first time in a very long time, a prophet was being raised up to bring the word of the Lord to a people who’d been in a spiritual drought for decades. In other words, when it looked like nothing was happening and God had abandoned his people, he was really quietly working the circumstances for their good.

The Prince of Egypt

   Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob, is another example of God’s invisible hand. After being sold by his brothers, he ended up a slave in Potipher’s house where it looked as though he would spend the rest of his life in lonely servitude. But meanwhile, in the middle of that tragic situation, he was learning the Egyptian language, culture, politics, and the protocols of the Egyptian noble class—that is, until he was thrown into prison, accused of a crime he didn’t even commit. Once there, he was thrust into the midst of a dungeon full of Class A felons but what did he do? The same thing he’d done in Potipher’s house: operated in his administrative and leadership skills until he was eventually put in charge of all of those reprobate prisoners. And meanwhile, as he was busy organizing them, he was learning how the other half lived: the ways of the Egyptian commoners, their dialects, and their ideals as well as their problems and concerns—all things which were pretty handy to know once he was promoted to the second-in-command of all of Egypt

We Don’t Know It Until We Know It.

   The thing about the “meanwhiles” of life is that we don’t know they’re in motion behind the scenes until one day when suddenly something happens and it all becomes clear: God was always at work, even when we couldn’t see it.

   We never know…

   When it looks bleakest and it seems there’s nothing remotely on the horizon, what we don’t see is God all around us, doing what only he can do—working it all out. And he’s doing the same for you. Just believe.

   Your “meanwhile” is happening right now.

  

#God-Is-It-Really-You?

Exclamation symbol burning, fire

   How often have we thought maybe we’ve heard from God about moving in a particular direction but we’re just not really certain? Now that’s not really an issue if the question is what to have for dinner and you thought you heard “pulled pork”. However, if you’re minding your own business one day and you suddenly (think you) hear God say, “Go to Venezuela on a missions’ trip,” or “Open a café,” or “Give your vacation money to the single mom down the street,” then your response might be, “God is that really you??” And we probably should be asking that question. Even so, how do we really know whether we’re hearing from the Lord or there’s some other reason we might be thinking God is talking to us?

But is it okay to question God?

   You bet it’s okay—especially if the thing you feel perhaps God is directing you to do is at all risky.

Let me help you out: Most of the time, all God does is “risky.” In fact, much of what God directs us to do is downright impossible.

   So, we’d better make certain it really is him—especially since there isn’t much to eat in Venezuela these days, or there are already thirteen cafés in a two mile radius, or we’ve been looking forward to that vacation for a year. Or—and here’s the more probable truth—we just don’t want to.

   But, is the fact that we “don’t want to” an indicator that God really is speaking? Could be. Sometimes God has to speak to us to do the impossible because we’d never, in a million years, ever consider doing that thing on our own.

Testing God.

   Some people argue that questioning God is testing him and Jesus said not to do that. However, I don’t think God minds us questioning whether we’ve heard from him or not when he knows we’re doing that simply because we want to obey. Some pretty important people in the Bible have questioned whether it’s really God speaking to them or not.

   Take Peter for example. When he thought it was Jesus walking across the water to join him in the boat, he said, “’Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on the water’” (Matt. 14:28). Jesus’ response? “Come.” It wasn’t, “How dare you question me!”

   And then there’s Gideon. He not only asked the Lord prove himself once but three times. The first time, the Lord came and told him to go and save Israel from the Midianites. “’Am I not sending you?’”

   Gideon’s not so sure. After more protesting as to whether he was the right man for this impossible task, he asks for a sign and then goes off to get an offering for the Lord. After he returns, the Lord tells him to put the offering of bread and meat on a rock and pour broth over it. Then fire flares from the rock and consumes the offering.

   Fast forward some. Later, after the Spirit of the Lord falls upon Gideon, he calls his people to arms and they come. However, he begins to doubt again. He says to the Lord, “’If you’re really going to save Israel by my hand as you promised, prove it to me…’” He then makes his request that he place a fleece on the threshing floor and it be wet with dew in the morning but the rest of the ground dry. “’Then I will know that you are going to save Israel by my hand, as you have said.’” And that happened. However, Gideon still isn’t entirely certain that God will actually do this incomprehensibly impossible task through him, so he puts out another fleece, asking that it be dry in the morning and the ground wet. In the morning, that’s what he found. In other words, Gideon tested God.

   I could mention Abraham who questioned God after the Lord told Abraham that he would possess the Promised Land.

   “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?”

   God then does the same thing he did for Gideon—tells Abraham to bring a sacrifice and does a miracle by causing a smoking firepot and torch to float over the sacrifice and burn it up (with no one touching them!). This convinces Abraham. It would convince me, too. However, I’m not likely to find a smoking torch floating around my living room. Nor has the angel Gabriel ever stopped by.

So—what then?

   Then how do we know whether it’s God telling us to do that impossible thing? I suggest we do a couple of things.

   Thing 1: Listen. Of course, your response might be “Who doesn’t know that??” You’d be surprised. That often is not the first thing we do. But how can we hear from God if we’re not listening for God? And I mean really listening; go somewhere quiet, make your request to hear, and then sit and listen. After all, we do have “the mind of Christ” and the Holy Spirit really does “search the deep things of God”—and then he tells us.

   Thing 2: Ask for a confirmation—that’s okay. It’s good to get the counsel of a wise friend who hears from the Lord. However, let that not be the first thing we do. When we’re colluding with God, he wants to speak to the person he’s working with first, not second or third. In fact, if we go to someone else first, God may not say anything through them because he wants us to learn to listen to him, not first run to another to hear for us.

   Thing 3: Wait. That’s what “waiting on God” means. And sometimes he’ll test us with this to see whether we’re really willing to wait on him or whether it’s all lip service. Remember, kings have ladies and gentlemen-in-waiting and it’s their job (our job) to wait on the king. Granted, they are his confidants and above other servants, but the king is still the king and the ladies and gentlemen still wait on his pleasure.

   Will these things take some time? Perhaps. Probably. But it’s the people who are the most faithful in seeking God and waiting for his answer that he uses to accomplish the most impossible tasks. It’s not about where we come from; it’s about whether we’re willing to listen to him and really hear his voice.

   If you were God, would you do it any other way?

 

What Keeps You Up at Night?

Man Can't Sleep (2)

   Pastor Nick runs a mid-sized, evangelical church in a fair-sized city where, every Sunday, he preaches for approximately twenty-five minutes (after working on the sermon for four days) for two services in front of four hundred people a service. Every other day of the week, Pastor Nick makes emergency house calls (mostly involving teenagers), counsels with people (usually the same people), and runs a food pantry on Mondays, a Bible study on Wednesdays, and a coffee house on Fridays.

   Meanwhile Katrina, a 27-year-old woman living in the suburbs of Peoria, spends her days (and nights) caring for two one-year-olds, one two-year-old, and an almost four-year-old. Since she is not able to work outside of the home because she can’t afford the daycare, she has become the daycare. Every morning, three other women drop off their children at her house: another two-year-old, a five-year-old (on the kindergarten bus at 12:30pm), and three six to eight year-olds (on the bus at 8:30am). Everybody is back to Katrina’s house by 3:30, and moms arrive between 4:37 and 6:10 – not that Katrina’s tracking.

   Emma is all about deadlines. Her deadline for the Spencer article is at 10am, the deadline for the book revision – the entire 286-page book revision – is due tomorrow (and she’s only 202 pages in), and the deadline to pitch the new book proposal at the writers’ conference is Thursday at 3pm sharp. (She wants to bring a thriller but romance is in – although not Amish – and definitely not a YA dystopian about a heroine with a sword, a bow or a slingshot – even if the boyfriend is to die for.) In the meantime, there are tweets to write, Facebook posts to edit, and Instagram pics to update. Oh – and there’s the blog. Always the blog…

   So – what do all of these fine folks have in common?

   Pastor Nick, Katrina and Emma all worry about whether, in the end, any of their hard work will be successful. All of their endless days and sleepless nights – is it worth it? Will they achieve what they’ve set out to accomplish – or will they fail? And even if they do succeed, will it even matter?

In the long run, when it’s all said and done, when they stand before the Lord and give an account, will it be an account worth giving?

   Late in the evening, after everyone else has gone home from work, Pastor Nick sits at his desk and wonders about Sunday’s sermon – did it really touch anyone? Will anyone go home differently than they came in? And what about Ed and Sue? Did he get through to them? Will they even try to forgive each other? And the coffeehouse – will it help keep kids off the streets?

   Katrina lays awake at night wondering how her children will turn out. Will they be good people – kind, compassionate, responsible? Or will they fall in with the wrong kids when they’re older and end up doing – she doesn’t even want to think about what they might be doing. Then when they’re older, will they still believe in God? Or will they reject God and leave the church as so many kids eventually do? Katrina tries to teach them right from wrong but she barely has enough time to cook, do laundry and run errands much less spend time with each of them.

   What if she fails her children??

   Emma would like to sleep but that’s a luxury she doesn’t have. Sometimes – okay, lots of times – she wonders why she does it: the revisions, the deadlines, the rewrites, more deadlines– and for what? What if the books are never published? Or what if they are – and then nothing happens? She tries to write books that will mean something – books that will make a difference to people – but how can she really ever know whether they will? Will all the long years of work have been just a waste of time? Or a whole life . . . ?

   The fact is that it’s not up to us whether or not our work succeeds – because it’s not our work. It’s God’s. Jesus said that he’d come to do the work of the Father, the implication being that it was not his own work. There’s great comfort in that truth because if it’s not our work, then it’s not our responsibility to make it succeed. It’s God’s.

   When we plant a seed, we’re not responsible to make it grow. We are responsible to water and weed the plant as it grows, but we can’t make the seed or the plant grow; only God can do that. In the same way, we can’t do anything other than our best with what we’re called to do and then we simply have to leave it up to God to make it work. We’re just stewards of the work; God is the master.

   Nevertheless, recognizing that fact does not give us a license to slack off; we have our part to play and it’s our destiny to fulfill that part. The problem we make is that because it’s “our destiny,” we think it’s even in our power to make that destiny succeed. It’s not. God gave us our assignments – and only he can bring them to fruition.

   Pastor Nick can’t make people listen to or obey the word – all he can do is to be faithful to bring it.

   Katrina can’t make her children do what’s right when they’re older nor can she make them have a relationship with God – all she can do is to teach them the right way and then pray that they follow it.

   Emma can’t make publishers choose her books nor can she make the books best-sellers – all she can do is to write them and promote them.

   It’s up to God to do the rest.

   In the end, all we’re required to do is the best we can with what we have and then to pray that the Lord will bring success to our work. Period. We simply cannot do more than that.

      Now – feel better?

 

 

 

God Is Watching.

gods-eye-nasa
“God’s Eye In the Sky” (NASA photo)

   Click.    The backdoor lock sprang and imperceptibly, the doorknob turned. Flashlight off, the intruder paused, listening for the piercing scream of an alarm and hearing none, nudged the door open a tiny crack. In slow motion, he peered around the edge of the door and then crept forward, a stealthy shadow, into the house.

   “Jesus is watching.”

   The man froze in mid-step, bulging eyes straining to distinguish the source of the soft, croaky voice floating from the thick darkness.

   “Jesus is watching.”

   The burglar drew in a sharp breath and then sighed in relief.

   It’s just a bird! A stupid, freakin’ bird!

   The man clicked on his flashlight and aimed it in the direction of the voice.

“Birdie,” he whispered, “it’s hunting season.”

    His light beam danced around the room and then stopped, catching the reflection of a pair of red, glowing eyes and a set of very white bared fangs.

   The voice croaked again. “Meet Jesus.”

   God is always watching. Whether that thought brings any comfort or not is another story entirely. But it should. The knowledge that when things go from wrong to very wrong, from a  small mishap or a disappointed expectation to a long-term heartache or a sudden tragedy, God is not unaware.

   “‘I have seen the anguish of my people in Egypt and have heard their cries [and] I have come down to deliver them . . . for I know their sorrows’” (Acts 7:34, LB; Exodus 3:7, NKJV).

   If you remember, the Israelites suffered as slaves under the cruel oppression of the Egyptians for 400 long years. And in all that time, God was silent.

   But God was watching.

   God witnessed every whipping, every beating, every deprivation, every shameful violation, and every degrading humiliation wrought upon the Israelites by their slave masters. God heard every mournful, wailing prayer, every desperate, sobbing plea for help, and every heart-splintering scream for deliverance as His children begged to be freed from the vicious brutality of the Egyptians. He also listened as the Israelites shouted at, bargained with, cussed out, and  even forsook Him for other gods because of His silence. For silent God was – for centuries.

   But why?

   God does nothing arbitrarily. God had a plan for the birth of a new nation, a people of His own to proclaim His name throughout the whole world. But before that could happen, that  people would be required to suffer slavery for 400 years at the hands of the most powerful gods known to man at that time. Nevertheless, throughout all of those  excruciating years, God never missed a single moment of the suffering of His people; He saw it all – the shredded flesh, the indelible scars, and the tears as numerous as the grains of sand upon the earth.

   Perhaps, in the midst of the pursuit of the destiny that you were 1000% certain God had called you to, things have gone terribly, terribly wrong. Maybe you struggle to find the strength to make it through just one more day. Or perhaps circumstances in life – your hopes and dreams – have simply not happened the way you had hoped they would happen and every day you feel that you’re sinking deeper and deeper into the dark and formless void of hopelessness and nothingness.

   Maybe you’ve ceased to dream at all.

   That’s how the Israelites felt. And my guess is that’s precisely how Moses felt after squandering  his identity as an exalted Egyptian prince and ending up instead a forgotten fugitive on the backside of the desert with nothing to his name except the rags on his back and a crooked staff in his hand.

   Even so, God never relinquished His watch over the Israelites or over Moses; night after night, year after year, decade after decade, He never failed to see. And in the end, God delivered His people in a way far more miraculous than they could ever have  imagined and, in doing so, proved Himself to be the God above every other god on earth.

   If you’re in that place, that desert where dreams die and destiny is destroyed, then hold to the truth that, in order to rise from the ashes, we must first walk through the fire. And should you find yourself in the flames, don’t lose sight of one thing: It’s all part of the plan. Nothing can happen or is happening that God does not see.

   Our God is the god of the Resurrection – and He’s watching you.

The One Thing God Cannot Do.

gavel-in-motion-iii    “So it shall be written; so it shall be done!”

   Who can forget those immortal words spoken by Rameses in the classic The Ten Commandments? In the movie, Rameses is in competition with Moses for the throne of Pharaoh and so after Moses builds a city for Pharaoh, a jealous Rameses vows, “’The city that he builds shall bear my name. So it shall be written. So it shall be done.’”

   In ancient cultures, people understood that when a king put a command or decree into writing, then that word would forever stand; even the king himself could not revoke it at a later date. Moreover, a decree by a king was not simply a careless word spoken in a moment of passion and then later revoked, but even if it was spoken carelessly, the king’s word would nonetheless become law and stand for all time.

   And what does this have to do with us? Just this: If you’ve ever received a word or promise from the Lord concerning your destiny, it will come to pass.

   “’God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?’” (Num. 23;19)

   In Scripture, God gives us several examples of this principle in order to prove the gravity of the point. Despite even rash words uttered by kings, those kings were not able to revoke their words at a later date – even though they might want to.

   In the book of Esther, for example, we’re told that King Xerxes gave a seven-day banquet in Susa during which the men drank “as much as they pleased”. After several days of drinking, it is probably safe to conclude that Xerxes was “much in his cups” so he decides to send for Queen Vashti for a little entertainment. Xerxes orders that the queen appear, complete with the royal crown on her head, so that he could show off her beauty to all of the men gathered. However, Queen Vashti refuses to appear (1:11-12).

   Now while commentators offer various explanations for this refusal of hers – some rather interesting – we don’t really know why she didn’t show. Some say that the order by the king included instructions for Queen Vashti to appear wearing only the crown (which, admittedly, would show off all her beauty); others say that it was a grievous breach of custom for a woman to appear before an assembly of men; and still others say that Vashti was having the equivalent of a hissy fit and refused to be treated like a mindless Barbie doll.

   I doubt the latter.

   When she doesn’t appear – whatever the reason – Xerxes is angry and demands to know what penalty the law provides for a queen who refuses to obey the king’s orders. His officials, concerned that Vashti’s example would give the wives of the kingdom permission to disrespect their own husbands, counsel the king to issue a written decree that Queen Vashti should be forever banished from the king’s presence and a new queen should be chosen. Xerxes, thinking this suggestion makes good sense, sends letters to every province in his empire proclaiming that every husband should be the ruler of his home (1:19-22). In other words, he put it in writing.

   Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that “when Xerxes’ anger cooled,” he begins to think about Vashti and the decree he had made, the implication being that he regrets his decision to banish her. Still, he cannot revoke the decree so his officials suggest a beauty pageant to find another queen (2:1-4).

   Fast forward several months after Esther is chosen to be the new queen: Haman, who hated the Jews, talks Xerxes into issuing a written decree to have them all killed on a certain date. Xerxes, not realizing that Esther is Jewish, agrees and, once again, puts his decree into writing and sends it far and wide throughout the kingdom (3:8-15). Later, once he discovers that his beloved Esther is Jewish and, along with her people, will be slaughtered, he grieves because he can’t revoke any decree that he has put into writing. In order to solve the problem, he has to issue a new decree giving the Jews permission to defend themselves (chapter 8). The king specifically tells Esther and Mordecai, “’But remember that whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can never be revoked’” (8:8).

   Revoking his Word is the one thing God cannot do.

    “’For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it’” (Is. 55:10-11).  

   Has God made you a promise concerning your future? Do not take it lightly for God does not promise what he does not fulfill.

   “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay” (Hab. 2:3).

   Prepare for it.

  

Lessons From the Manger

mary-and-gabriel

     As we close out Christmas 2016, one more lesson from the manger: Even in the perfect will of God, things can go very wrong. At least – from our perspective. But just because it’s “going wrong” doesn’t mean it’s not God. Let’s break it down.

     The archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary with a message that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Son of God. Then he asked if she was willing. Many times I have written about Mary’s response: “’May it be done unto me as you have said.’” This essentially means that Mary was giving the okay to being a pregnant – and unmarried – woman in a society not at all warmhearted to such a situation.

     Mary’s response fascinates me – such faith in the midst of a very clear cost to her: we know what Mary must have foreseen before she agreed. No doubt she’d be branded a liar regarding the whole angel tale, plus she’d have a knock-down, drag-out fight with mom and dad. And that would be the best-case scenario. At worst, she’d be disowned by her parents and she’d no doubt lose Joseph after being branded an adulteress. (She was engaged to Joseph which, in the Jewish society, was as good as married.) Following that, her prospects for a husband would be less than zero, and she might also find herself ex-communicated from the village or even stoned to death after the birth of the baby.

     Her words humble me. Would I be able to trust God if He asked such a momentous thing of me? Of course, I would like to think so, but . . .

     With all of the potential for tragedy in this situation, I imagine no one believed Mary when she said her pregnancy was the will of God. Surely (we tend to think), God’s will would never be fraught with so much shame, disgrace and controversy! Right? Moreover (we also tend to think), God would never ask so much of one of His children. “Therefore,” (we conclude) “this can’t be God!” Hammer down.

     And yet . . .

     Fast forward several months: Mary visits Elizabeth. Now we don’t really know whether Mary would’ve visited Elizabeth anyway or whether Mary was “encouraged” to get out of Dodge. But bottom line: growing up, I’m certain that while Mary imagined, as all young girls do, what her future marriage and motherhood would be like, I’m fairly certain she never, in her wildest nightmares, ever imagined this little scenario. Nevertheless, in the midst of the shame and trauma, Joseph and Mary do get married. And the sigh of relief is heard throughout the land: certainly the worst is over . . .

     Well, maybe . . . not. Suddenly, Joseph is faced with a rather unexpected census requiring that he and Mary travel to Bethlehem – and Mary nine months pregnant and riding on a donkey and in winter. I can hear her mother now:“Are you sure this is God?? This can’t be God!”

     It was though. And while Mary and Joseph were no doubt wondering at the timing of things, they were certain that God would get them both to Bethlehem safely and provide a nice place for them to stay . . .

     However, God had different plans. And they didn’t involve a warm, clean, private hotel room or a competent mid-wife or even a relative or two to drop by with a congratulatory bouquet. No. Rather, Jesus was born unattended in the midst of winter in a cold, dark stable, surrounded, not by loving family, but by smelly cows, sheep, and maybe a chicken or two.

     Do you ever wonder whether Joseph may have had a moment of doubt? Certainly God’s plan to bring the Messiah into the world would be less complicated and – scary? Mary would, of course, reassure Joseph, and they would conclude that now that the baby had come, things would surely be easier. Right?

     Except for King Herod.

     The next thing Joseph and Mary know, they’re headed across the desert – on a donkey – fleeing a king who’d vowed to kill their baby.

     God – ?

     Joseph, Mary and Jesus stayed in Egypt for several years before returning to Israel after the death of Herod. In all that time, they lived far away from family and friends and from everything familiar to them. The people were foreign, the food was foreign, the customs were foreign – even the language must’ve been a challenge. Plus, Mary and Joseph would’ve had to find a whole new place to live and Joseph would’ve had to find a job to support his young family. Moreover, they were far from their temple and the free worship of the one true God, living in the middle of a pagan nation full of idol worshippers.

     Was this God-forsaken country any place to raise the Son of God??

     Would God really do that?

     Hindsight being what it is, we now know that all of that was God, and we can see His plan and purpose in the midst of all the seeming nonsensical circumstances that surrounded the birth of Jesus Christ. Is it possible, then, that God’s plans for our destinies might possibly be laced, here and there, with bits and pieces of unrest, trauma, drama, fear, conflict, danger – even tragedy?

     Yes.

     The fact is, chasing our God-given destiny is not for the faint of heart.

     But from that long-ago manger, we can receive the assurance of knowing that just because a situation is not problem-free doesn’t mean it’s not God.

     Mary’s situation makes me wonder: What happens when God presents us with a choice to pursue a destiny that will, no doubt, change our lives forever – no matter our response? If we agree to God’s request, will we be able to handle what is sure to come: the unforeseen circumstances, the hard challenges – even the scorching tests of faith? On the other hand, if we refuse, will we be able to live with the regret? We know the answer.

     “May it be done unto me as you have said.”

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Driving the Dream?

hamster-wheel

Ever felt like that little hamster on the wheel, going around and around and around and going – nowhere? You might have. At any given point in time, how many people are trying to:

  • Compete with 100 other people for that one job opening?
  • Win a once-in-a-lifetime part in that play, musical, TV show or movie?
  • Fight for that academic scholarship against hundreds of other students?
  • Write that #1 Billboard hit song – along with 5000 other songwriters?
  • Grab the market share against your competitors for – whatever you’re selling?
  • Captivate that literary agent that 600 other writers are trying to get to first?
  • Battle for that one spot on the team against the best of the best?
  • Earn that job promotion that a dozen other people also want?
  • Build that platform – just to get noticed?
  • Grow that church or ministry – because that’s what’s expected?

Sometimes chasing our dreams can run the emotional gamut from frustrating to disheartening to depressing – even to hopeless. We work and work and work, only to find that our best seems not to be good enough. We’re in constant competition, hustling, burning the candle at both ends, enduring the grind – day after day, month after month, even year after year. Then comes the day that we simply have to admit it: we just can’t cut it. So what then?

Surrender.

When we reach the point where we despair of ever “making it” (because that’s what our culture tells us we have to do), then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what it is we’re trying to do. Maybe we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves. Maybe we weren’t “meant to be” the next Bill Gates or Miss America or Stephen King or Paul Ryan or even Paul the Apostle. So then the question remains: If we don’t hit the pinnacle of whatever it is we do, does that mean we’ve “missed it” – “it” being our destiny? Just what were we meant to be anyway?

Faithful.

Over two thousand years ago, a young Jewish girl, a true “nobody”, was visited by the angel Gabrielle who gave her the choice of being the mother of the Messiah – or not. (It’s always about the choice.) Now, I’m certain that Mary counted the cost before she consented to become pregnant as a single woman – that never worked out well for unmarried Jewish girls. Unlike today, an unmarried pregnant woman in that culture was a huge scandal so it wasn’t difficult for Mary to imagine the disgrace and the consequences: at best, she would be shunned by everyone she knew, ridiculed by everyone she didn’t know, her betrothal to Joseph would be history, and she could look forward to life as an “old maid”. Worst case scenario: she would be stoned to death. Mary faced a capitol punishment for what was considered a very grievous crime in her day. Pretty sure that wasn’t her dream. Yet Mary’s response?

“’I am the Lord’s servant. May it be unto me as you have said’” (Luke 1:38).

If we can truly say those words, if we can accept whatever the scope of the destiny that the Lord has for us, then we’ll find peace in the midst of whatever happens with our dreams – or doesn’t happen. We’ll find perspective in the midst of the overwhelming odds of “making it”. We can let go of the competition, secure in the knowledge that, as long as we do our best, God will open the doors that need to be opened and light up the paths that we need to be on. We can get off the hamster wheel and stop pounding on closed doors. If we listen, we’ll hear the voice of the Lord give us one step at a time, one assignment at a time in their due seasons and, ultimately then, we’ll find that we have fulfilled the destiny assigned to us. It won’t be Stephen King’s destiny or Miss America’s or Bill Gates’, not even Paul the Apostle’s; those are their destinies, decreed from the beginning of time by the One who assigns destiny to each of us before we’re born.

Does this mean that we don’t work hard or that we give up because we’re not “the star” in our field? No. It means that we submit our desires and dreams and talents to the Lord and then watch what He does. If we’ll truly do that, then we’ll find that His dreams for us are far more fulfilling than our own visions could ever have been. Why? Because His destiny for us is filled with eternal purpose – purposes that, as Mary discovered, are way beyond anything we could ever come close to imagining.

And to be part of that eternal plan – isn’t that the truest dream come true?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Moon Still Sets.

soldier-on-battlefield

The sky shone turquoise after the storm, aquamarine like the ocean, translucent clouds of sea foam drifting across the heavens. A hawk soared, high above the ground, and circled back to the woods beneath. Sunbeams danced like spotlights on the tops of trees. Below, a forest of tall maples ringed a field on three sides, silver leaves glinting in the bright sunlight, a thousand shining swords waving in triumph.

On the ground, boot prints in a sea of muck ran with trickles of water mingled with streams of blood. Bodies lay strewn about the field, army green and mud brown and blood red. One figure, on his knees in the mud, blood dripping from his forehead, stared blindly, mind rejecting what eyes were seeing.

Somewhere in the distance, a songbird chirped.

In a multitude of corners of the earth, death descends in a multitude of forms, and life or hope or both come to a screeching halt – and yet, the sun still shines. Hearts shatter and dreams fade, and yet people sail by, unaware and laughing. The moon still sets and the sun still rises. Brides still walk the aisles, and grooms still stand, smiling. Wedding bells still ring.

Death stalks, tragedy calls, faith withers away, and still, mercilessly, the planet spins, the seconds tick by, and the heartbeat of life never falters.

It all seems so cruel.

When we suffer, our lives are interrupted and altered, sometimes permanently. And while others might notice and whisper words of comfort and even shed tears of sympathy at our pain, eventually they return to their own lives. But it’s hard to understand; the world will never be the same. How can people behave as though it will?? That’s the pain of it.

Eventually, after we’re crushed and broken, wounded and scarred by the demons and daggers of disappointment and death, we come to understand that no one really can bear the pain of it for us. Words like “heartbreak” and “grief” become empty expressions, clichés that are tossed like chips in a casino to describe our pain. And yet, they don’t. Moreover, when those words are coupled with that cruelest of all words – “loneliness” – we experience the reason that tragedy disfigures our souls forever: we have to bear it alone.

And yet we don’t.

There is one who can bear it with us – has already born it for us – Jesus Christ. Now I realize that some – maybe many of my followers perhaps don’t subscribe to Christ – and I get that. Yet I can’t disguise the hope that we have who do believe: that Christ has taken away the sting of death – and yes, of life, too. People demand to know why bad things happen to good people. Why not? It’s a reasonable question. And yet the answer seems not to satisfy many. Yet I can’t change the answer nor can I give you a better one. The fact is, and the answer is, that we live in a fallen world. Sin has made a way for pain and heartache and death. So – how is that fair? If there’s a God, just what kind of person is he that he would allow any of this? Where is he in all of this?

On the cross. Or – he was. He died to take away the pain of life and the finality of death. What more could he do? But then he rose. And when he did, he replaced death with everlasting joy and peace and yes, that most elusive of all pursuits – happiness.

I remember once going to the funeral of a woman who had taken her own life. I didn’t know her well but I cried until my eyes were swollen shut; I couldn’t stop. I cried that she had had so much pain and so little hope that she had had no other answer than to end her life to stop the pain. When my father died, I barely cried at all. I cried briefly because I’ll miss him, but I’ll see him again; of that I have no doubt. In the meantime, he’s “in a better place” – another cliché that we throw around. No, actually, he’s in a place that is so far beyond “better” that no human being can even comprehend it. If we can imagine a world not wrecked by sin, it’s a start. No anger, no sadness, no fear, no envy, no malice, no bigotry, no pain, no desperation, no hopeless, no depression, no self-hatred, no despair, no war, no disease, no crime, no perversion, no unimaginable atrocity – no tears, no heartbreak, no death of any kind.

Erase all of that – and then imagine a place of beauty beyond anything we’ve ever seen. People who’ve visited heaven, who’ve died and been revived, describe heaven as a place having colors we’ve never seen, sound beyond our spectrum, music we can’t produce, and light that is brighter than any sun. But the best thing of all – from my viewpoint anyway – is that heaven is a place of new beginnings, a place where the mistakes we’ve made are erased and the wrongs we’ve done to others are healed, a place where we can start all over – and get it right!

Heaven is a place of do-overs.

In the midst of heart-wrenching pain, what does it hurt to believe – especially when there are those of us who can testify that we’ve never been disappointed by believing? What’s the risk? When you think about it, there isn’t any.

Just believe. It’s okay.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Believe It.

God’s Eye in Space (NASA)

gods-eye-nasa

Have you ever gotten a promise from God – and then you’re not certain you’ve gotten a promise from God? Probably. You get a word somehow – from the Bible, a sermon, another person – and you know it’s for you. God is speaking the very thing to you that you’ve been praying about or that’s been your heart’s desire or that you wondered if, someday, you could do. But then that promise seems too good to be true – and you begin to wonder . . .

“Did I really hear that? Or did I imagine it?” It happens. We begin to doubt our ability to hear God. Then we become afraid to believe what we’ve heard because – well, what if we’re wrong??

Gideon certainly had this problem. God told him that he would be the one used to lead Israel into battle against its enemies and Gideon, who was the least likely in all of Israel to be chosen to lead anything, wasn’t quite sure he’d heard correctly. So, he initiated the “fleece” test. You’ve heard of that? A “fleece” is any test we throw out to God asking Him to prove Himself to us. Can you imagine?? (But we’ve all done it.) So Gideon put out a sheep’s fleece and asked God to make it dry despite the dew and then to do the opposite: wet and no dew. Gideon needed to be absolutely certain it was God who had said to go and fight. He was afraid he’d heard incorrectly. But, as it turns out, he had heard right; God did speak to him to lead Israel into battle and promised him he would win. Which then caused Gideon to say:

 “Who? Me? I don’t deserve a promise like that!” No one does – but that’s our perspective, not God’s. If you randomly open to any given page in the Bible, odds are you’re going to find God choosing someone inconsequential to do something quite consequential. Reference Abraham, Moses (after he’d been banished to the desert), Esther, Joseph, Gideon, David, Rahab, most prophets, Mary, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Matt the tax collector – you get the idea. Somebody has to do great things. Why not you? And if your promise has to do with receiving a heart’s desire – getting married, having a child, doing any specific thing – remember that God stands behind those promises, too. Both Sarah and Hannah desired to have a child and both did. In addition, Jesus healed many people whose desire was for wholeness or deliverance; He even answered prayers to raise the dead. God wants to give you your heart’s desire.

Nathan the prophet, speaking for God, told David, “’Go and do all that is in your heart.’”

“What if God changes His mind about what He promised me?” I don’t believe God does that – primarily based on what He says about changing His mind: “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Num. 23:19). Translation: If God has given you a promise, it will happen.

The Lord gives us an interesting illustration in the Word to make the point that His word is unchanging, trustworthy, and reliable. Both King Xerxes in the book of Esther and King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel gave commands they later regretted. Xerxes gave a command allowing the slaughter of all Jewish people (not knowing Esther was Jewish), and Nebuchadnezzar gave a command to put to death anyone who insisted on worshiping anyone other than himself (not knowing Daniel had done this). However, having given the commands, even the kings could not revoke their own word. So if the word of mere man was so invariable, how much more the Word of God? As the Lord says about His own word: “’As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’” (Is. 55: 10-11). Period.

“But what if I can’t do it??” Abraham expressed this fear right after God had promised him “the land,” saying, “’O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it [the land]?’” (Gen. 15:8). Abraham wasn’t questioning God’s faithfulness to His promise. Rather, Abraham was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to live up to the promise and “gain possession of it”. He didn’t understand that it wasn’t up to him to fulfill the promise – it was God’s work to do. In fact, the Lord goes on to tell Abraham that this possession of the land would happen long after he had died and that it would be His doing, not Abe’s. “’To your descendents I give this land . . .’” (vs. 18-19). If you’re worried about whether you “can do it,” remember God’s word to Zerubbabel: “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty’” (Zech 4:6).

If you’ve received a promise from God regarding a dream, a vision, a destiny, count on it because the thing is this: the fulfillment of that promise does not depend on you; it depends on God.

Your job?  Just believe it.

 

But- What If You Can??

mysterious“Potential.” It’s a word we both love and we hate, depending on our expectations. If we expect we’re good at something (meaning “great”), then to hear someone say we “have potential” can set off a firestorm. Potential?? What “potential”? I already rock!

Well, maybe not quite. But you could rock – without the attitude. (Did I say that . . .?)

On the other hand, if we don’t have any idea we’re good at something, then to hear someone say that we have potential is huge. “Really?? Me?? Potential?”  “I have potential . . .!”    

I remember when I was a kid, people always used to tell me two things: “You draw really well” and “You should take drawing lessons.” Now, I could not, for the life of me, figure out why I needed drawing lessons if I could already draw “really well”. (I was young.) What I didn’t understand is that I had a talent for drawing that needed to be developed. I had potential.

So, let’s fast forward through the years. Let’s say we were told we had potential and we did work it and now we’ve taken the plunge and “put it out there” – whatever it is. It could be a song, a biz plan, a sports tryout, a book, a proposal at work, whatever; we’ve put our heart and soul into it. And then let’s say it’s not received with the “Halleluiah, it’s here!” that we’d hoped to hear. What if, to our shock and amazement, we’re actually confronted with criticism about how to change/improve our work? When that happens, we will hear the critique one of two ways: we’ll either hear, “You can do this; just re-work this part or tweak that part.” Or we can hear, “That’s terrible! What were you thinking?? You’re horrible at that!”

But here’s what we need to hear: There’s a massive difference between being unable to do that thing and being uneducated about doing that thing.

In other words, not knowing how to do something is vastly different than not being able to do it.

I am certain that when receiving criticism, we often take it to mean that we’re being told we’re just not good enough and even that we’ll never be good enough. We end up believing that we “just don’t have what it takes” and sadly, sometimes, we quit. However, in reality, that’s not at all what’s being said.

Recently, this was brought home to me when I discovered the existence of a writing technique that editors love and expect to see – and which I knew nothing about. So I read up on it and then began to re-read my own fiction, looking for this technique. I discovered that I was weak in this area and that, while I’d “accidently” used it, I wasn’t using it deliberately or consistently enough. Did I feel stupid? Absolutely – the “how could I have missed that??” kind of stupid. For about five minutes. Then I had to get over it and get back to work. I had to learn about it and start practicing it.

Most fields are always changing and evolving – medicine, education, engineering, politics, the arts; there are always new theories, new truths, and new trends blowing up what’s “always worked”. But I’ve discovered that when we think our thing has hit a standstill, then we’re probably missing something. And when a new trend happens and we’re unaware it, we can mistakenly conclude that “I can’t do” when what we should be saying is, “I need to learn to do.”

“Potential” – talent, ability, aptitude, whatever we call it – never disappears. What might disappear is the mindset needed to keep it fresh, relevant and effective. The thing is, you’ve got the talent; just develop it.

Then work your magic.