Sunday, February 7, 2016

Are You Taking Initiative or Just Being Impatient?

By Allen White

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?"

 The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "What I did must have become known."

 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. Exodus 2:11-15 (NIV)

Most of us haven’t killed a guy. (If you have, please don’t raise your hand.) Moses actions weren’t premeditated. It was the rage of the moment. His zeal for the oppression of God’s people got the best of him. He took matters into his own hands.

While most of us haven’t killed, we’re certainly taken matters into our own hands at one time or another. Maybe it was even for a good cause. Maybe God has given us a heart to see wrongs righted or the innocent protected. Maybe we have a passion to see people use their God-given gifts and talents and discover their purposes.

It’s one thing to follow God’s call on your life as a believer. It’s another if you must argue, fuss and fight to get there. Often when things aren’t moving according to plan (our plan), we take matters into our own hands and make things happen. Don’t we applaud those who take initiative? But, sometimes our initiative is really impatience.

Jesus said: I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, NIV). Nothing? Really? Those of us with Type A personalities struggle with this verse. (Type B’s can just chill at this point. Okay, you already are.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. Jesus wasn’t advocating that we do nothing. The reverse of this passage is also true: “If you do nothing, it will be apart from Jesus.” God has things for us to do. Often those things don’t follow our timing, our initiative, or our desired outcome. And, that’s okay.

The goal of this life is not to right every wrong. Our goal is not to singlehandedly change the world. Those jobs belong to Jesus. Our job is to surrender ourselves entirely to God. As we move closer to Him, we will be amazed at what He can accomplish through us.

What situation is eating at you these days? How have you prayed about it? Are you sure that the action you want to take is going to help or are you about to get in God’s way? He will give you clarity.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Believe. Doubt. Believe. Doubt. (Repeat)

By Allen White

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. James 2:23 (NIV)

Abraham believed God, but it sure took a lot of work to get there. He believed enough to leave what he had known to enter into the unknown based on God’s direction (Genesis 12). But the slogan about “God said it; I believe it; and that settles it” didn’t work for Abraham. Why? Abraham didn’t know God very well.

It would be easy to think “Gee whiz, Abraham had direct conversations with God. Why did he struggle with doubt? If I had those conversations with God, I would act immediately and wouldn’t doubt at all.” Well, don’t become so self-righteous so fast. We haven’t walked in his shoes.

Abraham did things for God that no one had ever done. Abraham also gave us an understanding of God that no one before had ever had. We have a greater understanding of God based on the understanding that Abraham pioneered about God’s nature and character. With the knowledge we have of God, you might wonder what Abraham would think of our faith.

Here’s the bottom line: the truth of God had to become familiar to Abraham. The process involved wrestling with doubts. God’s promise was great in theory, but the practical implementation was a whole other deal. Abraham is not so different from us.

There are many things that we understand in principle, but we don’t yet understand in our experience. If we could just read words on a page and have it instantly sink in, that would be something. But, there are those events in our lives that cause us to question everything. That doesn’t mean that we put on a “Bad Christian” name tag. The correct label would be “God’s Work in Progress.”

How are you challenged to fully believe God today? Do you wonder if His Word is true? Do you question God’s reality? Do you feel that God has forgotten you? Press into that and work it all of the way through. God will prove Himself to you. You will develop a fuller understanding of Him. Your faith will grow.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Are You Suffering from the –Ites?

By Allen White

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates- the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites." Genesis 15:17-21 (NIV)

 That’s a lot of –ites. Now, the land promised to Abram wasn’t the former home of all of these –ites. It was their present home. You would think that if God gave the land, He would just hand it over. All of the –ites would get some sort of eviction notice. Maybe they would leave with an apology, “We’re sorry we were living on your land. We’ve packed up and will leave it in good shape for you. We didn’t realize that this was your land.”

God was very clear about the obstacles that Abram would face: childlessness, opposition, slavery, and then more opposition. You wonder why God gave Abram so much advance warning. Was God outlining a clear path through the murkiness of Abram’s thinking? Was God’s direction such a new thing for Abram that God simply didn’t want to leave any room for misunderstanding? Considering that the last time God communicated with humans was at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11), Abram definitely needed to grow in his understanding of a relationship with God.

God didn’t paint a rosy picture for Abram. We don’t always have as much information in God’s leading, but what we do understand is the difficulties are not necessarily counter to God’s leading. We enter a “spin cycle of success: Change, Conflict, then Growth” as Ed Young, Jr. puts it. The challenge is not so much in the difficulties as it is in our persistence. Our success comes when we complete the process. Failure comes if we stop.

Where is God leading you today? While we shouldn’t be surprised by problems, they are never comfortable. God is not intentionally trying to frustration you. He is causing you to grow. If it feels like too much, God provides the ability to continue. Just ask Him.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Too Much Information?

By Allen White

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." Genesis 15:12-16 (NIV)

You have to wonder if Abram ended up with more than he bargained for. Out of his uncertainty, God leads him into a worship experience. Then, Abram falls into a deep sleep and receives maybe more information than he might have wanted.

In Abram’s quest for assurance, God reveals about the next 500 or so years of plan for Abram’s family. And, God doesn’t pad the future at all. Abram will have descendents who will become slaves for 400 years. The end result is that Abram’s descendents will have great possessions; the captors will be punished; and Abram will die in peace.

Just when circumstances were indicating that Abram’s “heir” would be Eliezer of Damascus, his servant (Genesis 15:2), God says, “Oh, I have a plan. Let me give you some details.” God wasn’t kidding, when the Bible says, “he chose us in him before the creation of the world” and that “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4, 11; NIV). There was a big plan, and it started with Abram.

Do you feel like maybe God has forgotten you? Be assured that He has a plan for your life. When you can’t trust your circumstances, you can trust in God’s character. He doesn’t waver. He never changes.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

How Worship Can Bypass Our Fears

By Allen White

So the LORD said to him, "Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon."

 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. Genesis 15:9-11 (NIV)

I hope that didn’t just spoil your breakfast. This passage seems a bit unusual at first. From yesterday’s reading, we see Abram questioning how God will fulfill the promise. Abram even tells God what will happen if God doesn’t deliver on the promise: Abram’s servant will inherit everything. Abram needed to make sure that God understood the consequences of His inaction.

Isn’t it great that God is so patient with us? We can freely talk to God about anything. He won’t get angry. He won’t strike us dead. He’s a patient, loving Father.

In response to Abram’s doubts and fears, God instructs Abram to offer a sacrifice in worship to Him. There’s a principle here (and it’s not be careful that the financial vultures of the world don’t steal your tithe). The principle is that when we struggle with doubt and fear, it’s time to connect with God.

The great thing about worship, especially singing, is that worship can bypass all of the things our brains are stuck on and connect our hearts directly to God. Whether it’s psalms, hymns or spiritual songs, sung or recited, worship is the vehicle God can use to bring us to a more peaceful place.

Often I find myself reaching back to the old songs I learned as a child. Maybe that was a safer time. Maybe they’ve just been with me longer.

When you are anxious and afraid, get in your car, turn up some praise music, and make a joyful noise. Other drivers might think you’re insane. If you don’t sing, then open the Bible’s songbook, the Psalms, and read them aloud to yourself (not while you’re driving though).

As we worship God, we connect with Him. Our doubts and fears can melt away. “Peace, peace, wonderful peace, coming down from the Father above, Sweep over my spirit forever I pray, In fathomless bellows of love…”

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

The One Thing Better Than Certainty

By Allen White

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:  "Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward. "

But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir."

 Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."

 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it."

But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?"
Genesis 15:1-8 (NIV)

One of the few constants in life is uncertainty. Let’s examine what we pray about. We pray for certainty that a job interview goes well. We pray for certainty about our family’s future. We pray that things will go well on our vacation. We pray that the prognosis will be good. We pray that life will be less difficult or that we could at least see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Don’t get me wrong. The Bible instructs us to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6-7). But, there is one thing better than certainty: God Himself. He doesn’t give us complete instructions. He might only give the next step. He doesn’t promise comfort and ease. He doesn’t offer to make us healthy and wealthy. He does promise that He will never leave us and never forsake us.

The issue rests on getting to the place where God’s presence with us is enough. It’s not an academic exercise. It’s not a willful decision. God becomes enough for us when we can surrender to Him in this current round of problems knowing that the next round might be right around the corner.

Abram wrestled with uncertainty. Think about this: Abram is having an actual conversation with God. We don’t know if Abram heard an audible voice, but Abram did understand that he was communicating with the Almighty. Many of us have longed to hear God speak so directly to us. If we could just hear God say it, then we would have clarity. Then, we would be certain.

Abram in direct conversation with God Himself confesses, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?" Seriously? How can you use the word Sovereign and ask “how can I know” in the same sentence? Abram isn’t so different from us.

God took Abram outside and asked him to look up. Abram looked at all of the stars, and then God reassured him.

When do you feel uncertain? When do you wonder if God will deliver on what He has promised? Tonight, step outside and look up at the stars. If God can take care of all of that, He certainly will be there for you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When No Faith is Required

By Allen White

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

We live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NIV)

Abraham had faith based on God’s promises to him in Genesis 12:1-3. Abraham didn’t have “sight.” God gave the promise of making Abraham into a great nation, but at the time Abraham didn’t have any children. God gave Abraham a promise of making his name great and of being a blessing to all peoples. Abraham didn’t even have a square foot of land or a place to park his camel. Abraham started his journey with plenty of faith, but absolutely no “sight.”

Faith and Sight relate like light and darkness. When we enter a dark room and flip on the light, darkness is quickly overcome by light. When we have sight, whether we call it proof, evidence, miracle or fulfillment, we no longer need faith for that thing to happen. If we believe that God will provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19) and our needs are met, then we don’t need faith for that. We don’t need faith for something we can actually see.

We hear people talk about the great faith that produces miracles (sight). The reality is that “Sight” doesn’t come from great faith. When we gain “sight,” we no longer need faith. It’s when we lack sight, when we’re unsure, when we reach our wit’s end (or as John of the Cross calls it “the Wall”), that is when we need faith.

What is faith? Faith is not believing something so strongly that it comes into reality. I could work myself up into an emotional froth believing that my car was red, but at the end of the day, it will still be black.

Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 12:9). Faith is assurance and certainty when we lack sight (Hebrews 11:1). Faith doesn’t make anything less real.  Faith shows that God and all that He promises is real.

What do you need faith for today? Ask God. He will give you the faith you need (Romans 12:3).

Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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