Sunday, February 28, 2010

God Is Faithful Even to the Faithless

Life. Interrupted. Week 7 Day 1

Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. Genesis 21:1-3 (NIV)

God could have easily said, “You know, Abraham and Sarah, I chose you and gave you my promise, but you doubted me, you laughed at me, and you sinned against me, so I’m going to find better people to fulfill this promise. I’m done.” But, that’s not the way God is. God is patient even when we’ve run out of patience for ourselves or for others.

Despite our doubts, fears and schemes, God is faithful. Even if we’ve given up on God, God never gives up on us. Now, there are times when it is hard to see much evidence of God’s presence or work in our lives. But, He is there and always will be.

God is not about to give up on you. Where are you today? Are you ready to give up on someone? God? Someone else? Yourself? God will give you all that He has promised, if you don’t give up (Galatians 6:9). God is faithful, even when we are faithless.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Paying the Price for Others’ Sins

Life. Interrupted. Week 6 Day 5

By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. Genesis 19:23-25

Everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah suffered that day: the good and the bad, the young and the old, the righteous and the wretched. We could smugly cross our arms and say, “Well, it was pretty bad. We’ve never done anything like that.” The Bible quickly reminds us that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10; Ecclesiastes 7:20).

To suffer for your own sins is bad. To suffer for the sins of another is far worse. We don’t deserve it. We didn’t ask for it. For some of us, someone sinned against us by taking from us or harming us. For others, we suffer the consequences of something that happened to someone close to us. Sometimes suffering comes in the form of receiving a stronger reaction from someone than what we deserve. The reaction might be coming from something that happen in the past, but it’s directed at us.

Suffering because of others is never pleasant, but it does make us more like Jesus. Jesus suffered for our sins. Jesus suffered for the sins of those who sinned against you. And, He suffered for everyone else’s sins too. “The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Now, no one is going to jump up from reading this and say, “Woohoo, I get to suffer because of someone else today and be more like Jesus.” But, we can find comfort in knowing that Jesus has been there. He understands. He is with us.

BLOGGERS NOTE: This blog was inadvertantly deleted today. I apologize if you received two copies of this devotional.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When God Says, “No”

Life. Interrupted. Week 6 Day 4

Going a little farther, [Jesus] fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Matthew 26:39

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

There are many reasons why God might not answer our prayers. Some of those reasons might be our own fault.

Unconfessed sin: Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 1:15; Proverbs 28:9. Solution: Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; 2:1-2; Ephesians 6:18

Unclear conscience: Matthew 5:23. Solution: Matthew 5:24; 18:21-35; James 5:16.

Wrong motives and selfishness: James 4:3. Solution: Psalm 19:14; 37:4-7; 139:23-24

Doubt: James 1:6-7. Solution: Hebrews 11:6; Ephesians 6:16; Isaiah 26:3-4; Matthew 21:22.

Satanic hindrances: Daniel 10:10-13; Ephesians 6:12. Solution: Ephesians 6:13-18; 1 John 4:4; Revelation 12:9-11.

Unresolved marital conflicts: 1 Peter 3:7. Solution: Romans 12:9-13; Ephesians 4:26-27, 29-32.

Lack of faith: Hebrews 11:6. Solution: Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24.

Lack of compassion: Proverbs 21:13. Solution: Psalm 41:1.

Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered because God is the cause.

It’s not God’s will: Matthew 26:39; James 4:15; 1 John 5:14-15.

God wants to teach us lessons: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

What answers are you waiting for today? God always hears us and answers our prayers. The answer may be Yes. It may be No. I could be Wait. We don’t understand God’s plan, but we know it’s a good plan.

Taken from Abraham: The Friend of God by Charles Swindoll (Insight for Living, p. 168-9).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

God is Far Away and Very Near

Life. Interrupted. Week 6 Day 3

Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know." Genesis 18:16-21

Why did God have to “go down” to Sodom and Gomorrah? Isn’t God present everywhere all of the time? It doesn’t seem that God would have to go in order to know.

God didn’t need to go, but Abraham did not understand that God was omnipresent (present everywhere all of the time). God revealed Himself to humans in stages. Theologians call this “progressive revelation.”

In Abraham’s mind, the only way that God or anybody else would know what was going on in Sodom was to go and see. Rather than blow Abraham’s mind with a lecture of the Non-Moral Attributes of God (see Bible Doctrines 1 at BrookwoodU), God spoke to Abraham in a way that Abraham would understand.

By virtue of when and where we live, we know more about God than Abraham did. The great thing about God is that He is omnipresent. He is over everything. But, God is also close and personal. He lives in those who believe.

Isaiah said it best: “For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).

God is big enough to handle everything that we face, and He is personal enough to care about everything we face. He can handle what you’re facing today. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

You Can’t Lie to God (And You Don’t Need to)

Life. Interrupted. Week 6 Day 2

Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son."

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not laugh."

But he said, "Yes, you did laugh."
Genesis 18:13-15

The Lord was actually a guest in Abraham and Sarah’s home (Genesis 18:1-10). She had prepared a meal for him. But, they did understand that this was no ordinary guest (Genesis 18:3). The Lord knew that Sarah would have a child, and He knew that she had laughed.

Maybe she was embarrassed. Maybe she felt that her laughter betrayed a lack of faith. So, Sarah lied to God, “I did not laugh.” But, God knew better.

There is nothing that we can reveal to God about ourselves that God doesn’t already know. God is never going to stop and say, “Oh, Myself, I can’t believe you did that.” He knows. We can never surprise Him.

God asks a great question in this passage: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Of course, the answer is “no.” The impossible things, the things we would regard as incredulous or laughable, these things are not too hard for God.

What seems too hard today? Guess Who can take care of that? It just might make you laugh.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

Life. Interrupted. Week 6 Day 1

Then the LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"
Genesis 18:10-12

After over two decades of waiting, Sarah hears that in just a year, she will have a son. It’s hard to believe. Sarah is well beyond child-bearing years. She might have thought that her scheming with Hagar had tarnished the promise somehow. But, God was making good on the promise. Sarah couldn’t believe it. She just had to laugh.

Have you ever felt like you were in an impossible situation? Maybe you’ve recently had one of those days when you thought you were just going to pull your hair out. Sometimes life throws such ridiculous things at us that we just have to laugh. It’s good medicine (Proverbs 17:22).

Today’s Prescription: Have a good laugh. If you can’t laugh on your own, rent a comedy. Sometimes you just have to laugh. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who Gets Credit for Faith?

Life. Interrupted. Week 5 Day 5

By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. Hebrews 11:11 (NIV)

Have you ever watched someone take credit for something that they didn’t do? In a meeting yesterday, someone credited me with reducing the fee for hosting the upcoming Beth Moore simulcast (on Saturday, April 24. Tickets go on sale March 28). And, in fact, we paid less than half of what other churches paid.

Everyone at the table looked and me and asked how I did it. I replied, “Well, it was due to my keen negotiating skills, of course.” But, I couldn’t leave it there. The truth is that I had called the rep for the simulcast to express interest, and then I put the decision off for a while. Before I knew it, I had a voice mail saying that they would cut the price way down. It was negotiation by procrastination. Maybe I should write something about that (maybe I just did).

Whether you want to call it a blessing or just dumb luck, the whole thing had very little to do with me. While someone had to take the initiative, the result really wasn’t up to me.

God chose Abraham. Why? Was Abraham the best human alive? Was Abraham a seeker in an age before the seeker church? We don’t really know. What we do know is that God chose Abraham and in that choosing God gave Abraham a promise accompanied by a precious gift, faith. Abraham didn’t produce the faith. It was a gift, just like faith is a gift from God to you and me.

Now, please understand, we play a significant part. The biggest part we play is perseverance. Look at how much God’s Word encourages us not to give up. It took a lot for Abraham to feel comfortable in his newfound faith.

He believed God, but then there was moving ahead to possess the land, but living as a foreigner in a tent. There was the promise of being the father of many nations, but then there weren’t any children. There was a plan to help the promise along by having a child with Hagar, but then there was much disappointment at the result. There was resignation that Eliezer would be the heir, but then the promise wouldn’t be fulfilled.

Abraham’s experience is a truly human struggle with adjusting to the gift of faith. God’s promise wasn’t fulfilled based solely on Abraham, though Abraham was necessary. If we recall, Abraham’s schemes led to trouble. It was God’s faithfulness that produced the result.

Despite doubts, fears, schemes, and inadequacies, God is faithful. We don’t have to have it all figured out. We don’t have to be perfect. We just need to learn to depend on God’s faithfulness.

Now, some of us are wired for action. We’re ready to make things happen. Well, God wired us that way. But, activity isn’t the same as effectiveness. So, before we waste God’s time and ours, we need to seek God for His direction. Once we’ve heard from God, then we take action.

We don’t need to talk God into the work He wants to accomplish. We just need to hear from God and cooperate with His plan. That’s easier said than done at times.

What is God’s gift of faith producing in your life today? If you’re not sure, spend some time with Him. He’ll let you know.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Our Tug of War with God

Life. Interrupted. Week 5 Day 4

Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.”

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised.
Genesis 17:9-11, 23-24

I’m not going to spend this devotional examining the particulars of circumcision. But, you have to ask, “Why circumcision? Why not a tattoo, or a shaved head, or a secret handshake?” What we can say about circumcision is that it is personal and painful. While this sign of the covenant doesn’t carry over to the new covenant (
Romans 2:27-29), we can all relate to the aspects of our relationship with God that are both personal and at times painful.

When we think about something as massive as God’s covenant with His people, it can seem well beyond us. Either we choose to be part of that covenant or we don’t. Take it or leave it, right? It’s a great deal, but we’re free to pursue other deals if we choose. But, God doesn’t merely relate to a mass of people.

God relates to individuals. God wants a relationship with you and me, and He will ruthlessly pursue us. God is interested in you and me. God wants to be personal with each of us. He doesn’t just want us to know about Him, He wants us to know Him. He wants to hear our prayers, and He wants us to listen to Him. He wants us to serve, and He wants us to stop to be with Him. God is far more interested in us than anything that we could ever do for Him. As St. Augustine said, “God thirsts to be thirsted after.”

At times our relationship with God is painful. The pain is not necessarily punishment for sin. It’s painful to watch as the things we depend on are stripped away to the point that we only depend on God. Sometimes it’s painful to forsake short-term pleasure for long-term character development. It’s painful to release our control and realize that we were never really in control in the first place. It’s painful to surrender our right to be the master and creator of our universe. That’s God’s job too.

What is the tug of war between you and God these days? What are you fighting to hold on to? What would happen if you let go? I’m not asking you to abandon the struggle. I encourage you to work it all of the way through. Don’t put it on the back burner. Figure out what’s going on. Then, take the next step.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

God’s Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Life. Interrupted. Week 5 Day 3

"I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." Genesis 17:7-8 (NIV)

God showed Abraham that His plan extended far beyond Abraham’s life. The covenant God established is everlasting. Not only was there no end in sight, there is no end period.

The covenant involved an everlasting relationship and an everlasting possession. God pledged to “be your God and the God of your descendents after you…and I will be their God.” God will never give up on His people whether they are the biological descendents of Abraham or his spiritual descendents.

God called Abraham to something that was much bigger than Abraham. Jim Collins, author of
Good to Great, talks about successful organizations taking on “Big Hairy Audacious Goals.” “BHAG’s” are goals that take more than what one person or organization to accomplish and require more than a single lifetime to fulfill. Abraham was given the BHAG of all BHAG’s. Beyond the impossibility of just having a son, Abraham was the steward of a blessing and a vision that has extended for thousands of years to billions of people. With that blessing came the covenant that God would be with them.

You and I are a part of the largest organization in the world: the Church. The Church operates in every country and includes about a third of the people on the planet. But, how can you and I extend God’s love and His blessing to the whole world?

We simply need to do two things: (1) Lean into God who is always with us and (2) Do the thing that is right in front of us. Serving a neighbor or helping a co-worker times 2 billion Christians produces exponential results. As I am writing this devotional the Church is serving the nation of Haiti, including a great team from Brookwood Church. While it takes a bit of courage to travel to such a broken country, the requirements were simple: a heart to help and skills to serve.

What has God given you that you can share with others today? God has given us the BHAG of all BHAG’s. We don’t need to be intimidated by that. We just need to be available, and then God will use us.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Little Name Calling

Life. Interrupted. Week 5 Day 2

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. Genesis 17:3-6 (NIV)

Abram’s encounter with God changed his identity. He would no longer be called Abram meaning “exalted father.” God gave him a new name, Abraham meaning “father of a great multitude.” What a difference adding two little letters can make.

Abram literally had been called “father” all of his life. You wonder if that was a label of shame or expectation for him. Considering that Abram’s father Terah didn’t start a family until age 70 (
Genesis 11:26), Abram very well could have been on the expectation side.

But, at 99 years of age, the human possibilities were being erased. At this point, God gave Abram a new identity. God called Abraham to something that only God could accomplish.

What labels have you borne in your life? Selfish, Insecure, Addicted, Angry, Greedy or Sinful? The Bible is full identity changes. The best examples are among the Corinthians: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Paul does some name calling here. First, he calls the Corinthians out for what they used to be. Then, he reminds them of who they are now: people with a second chance; people with a clear conscience and a clean heart; people with a new lease on life.

An encounter with God radically alters our reality. Once we get a glimpse of how God sees us, He enables those things to be accomplished in our lives.
What label is dogging you these days? What has God spoken to you today about what He thinks of you? Right now, peel off that old label and ask God for a new one.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Year was 1986…

Life. Interrupted. Week 5 Day 1

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers." Genesis 17:1-2 (NIV)

The Lord appeared to Abram 24 years after the original promise was given (Genesis 12:1-5). What were you doing 24 years ago, which was 1986?

Ronald Reagan was president. The Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch. Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled Haiti. Out of Africa won best picture. Geraldo opened Al Capone’s secret vault discovering only a bottle of moonshine. Hands Across America reached from New York City to Long Beach, CA. Best New Artist went to Bruce Hornsby and the Range.

How would you feel if God’s plan for you had been on hold for 24 years? Would you continue to believe? Would you be tempted to write it off to indigestion?

God’s plan for Abram involved far more than the birth of a son. Abram was tested time and again. Abram struggled with fear and faith. Abram was a person just like you and me. Abram’s life is an example for us. His life was not a perfect life. Abram had flaws just like anybody else.

Abram’s life is an example of learning to depend on God rather than relying on oneself. That’s a lesson we continue to learn every day.

What parts of your life do you feel are well within your control? Should they be? What parts seem completely out of control? What do you need to surrender to God and trust Him for?

What have you been waiting for that hasn’t been delivered? What might have started 24 or more years ago for you? Do you still trust God to help you see it through?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Playing the Movie Forward

Life. Interrupted. Week 4 Day 5

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him. Luke 14:28-29 (NIV)

In the book,
9 Things You Simply Must Do, Dr. Henry Cloud presents a principle called “Play the Movie.” The idea is that when we think about doing anything, we should stop to consider what might result from our actions.

Everything that has ever been constructed, written, created or devised started with a thought. Everyone who ever does anything puts some thought into it, whether a lot or very little to none.

Counting the cost means to examine a thought and carry it forward to its logical conclusion. Let’s say that today I think, “It sure would be nice to have a new car.” Then, I play the movie forward. I drive to the car dealer. I wheel and deal on the car. I sign the paperwork. I slip in behind the wheel. I inhale the new car small. I drive it home. I notice the admiring gazes of people that I will never meet. I explain the car purchase to my wife. (How will that go?) My insurance premium goes up, but so does my self-esteem. Then, I receive the first of 1000 easy monthly payments. Now, I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s a feeling of hunger and regret. I have a new car, but we can’t afford groceries. Well, maybe we will look even better being ever so lean in the new car.

After playing the movie forward, I begin to admire my current car. No payment. Low insurance costs. Kids can eat. A shot of Febreeze mimics the new car smell. Whew, I dodged a bullet. (Please understand that I’m being facetious. No complaints here.)
What ideas are you having today? Take a couple of minutes to play the movie forward. If you don’t resolve the conflict you face, what will happen? If you walk out of this relationship, what will happen next? If you move forward on the decision in front of you, who will it affect? Be honest. Count the cost.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Worthy Life Isn’t a Perfect Life

Life. Interrupted. Week 4 Day 4

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:10-11 (NIV)

Endurance, patience, and joyful thanks seem like the products of much hard work. At times, they also seem like an uphill climb. But, remember the Bible is not meant to beat us up, but rather to show us
God’s vision for our lives.

These three (endurance, patience, and joyful thanks) are the products of God’s work in our lives. Paul clearly states that God’s work in us starts with rescue and redemption made possible by “being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might.” And, that’s just the start.

Then we encounter a measuring stick that strikes fear into the hearts of those of us who were raised in a performance-based or legalistic setting: “live a life worthy of the Lord and…please him in every way.” Okay, time to cash in our chips (except that we’re not allowed to gamble.) I can’t live a life like that. You can’t either. Nobody can. But, where did we get the idea that a “worthy” life is a perfect life?

Paul goes on to give us the steps to a worthy life: “bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might…” How do we bear fruit? We bear fruit by being connected to the vine (John 15). How do we grow in the knowledge of God? How do you grow in the knowledge of any person? Sure you can google their name, but don’t we get to know people more deeply by spending time with them. God is everywhere. It’s very easy to get with God. Then, there’s the strength that comes from His glorious power again.

The result of bearing fruit, growing in knowledge and being strengthened is endurance, patience and joyful thanks.

For those of us who have been driven to perform, we have simply been working too hard at the wrong things. We have been inventing godly behavior apart from God’s power. No wonder we run out of steam.

Try something today. Choose two five minute appointments with God today. Start with two minutes of silence and focus on God. Then, read this Scripture passage again. End with two more minutes of silence. I started this practice about 60 days ago. It’s not a lot of time, but just stopping what I’m doing and acknowledging that my life and my work depend on God Himself is a transforming experience.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Problem with Impossibility

Life. Interrupted. Week 4 Day 3

Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, "The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her." Genesis 16:1-2 (NIV)

Eleven years into the promise, Abram had moved as God had directed. While he “possessed” the land on the outskirts of Canaan living in a tent, the thought of starting “a great nation” was inconceivable (sorry). How could Abram father a great nation when he hadn’t fathered a child? Hope was growing dimmer with each passing day.

Sarai decided to take initiative. Maybe she saw God’s plan making her husband miserable. Maybe she realized that the problem was hers. Sarai took matters into her own hands and proposed an unconventional (read: “sinful”) way to fulfill God’s promise. Abram consented without much resistance. What followed was much anguish and regret. The act brought punishment in itself, and still fell short of fulfilling God’s plan.

The problem with impossibility is that it just doesn’t seem possible. The beauty of it is that nothing is impossible with God.

When our son, Samuel, was a baby, he spent much of his first five months in intensive care. What started out as a “quick” repair of his esophagus was met by complications and infection. We prayed that God would heal our baby through the doctors’ care. Samuel continued to get worse. Why wasn’t God answering our prayers? It was agonizing.

We believed that God is good. We believed that God was all-powerful. We believed that God could heal. We believed that God answered prayer. Our theology was impeccable. Our God just wasn’t cooperating.

Finally, after several weeks, as Samuel proceeded to get sicker, the doctors weren’t giving us much hope. They were going to attempt one more surgery and weren’t sure he would survive that.

The night before the surgery, a woman from our church named Carol was awakened in the night. Carol began to pray for Samuel.

The next day, when Samuel returned from surgery, the hospital personnel marveled. The frequent comment was “he came back an entirely different baby.” If God had answered our first prayers for healing, the comment might have been, “well, that antibiotic worked well.” But, bringing our little guy back from the brink, well, that took more than just great medicine. And, everybody knew it.

What seems impossible to you today? How might you be tempted to take matters into your own hands? Wait. Use this experience to draw closer to God.

(Now, if you are truly in a life threatening situation, please use your God-given common sense and get out of it. If you’re not sure, then give me a call at the church: 864-688-8244).

Monday, February 8, 2010

I Pity the Fool…

Life. Interrupted. Week 4 Day 2

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul's men began to scatter. So he said, "Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. " And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

"What have you done?" asked Samuel.

Saul replied, "When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD's favor.' So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering."

"You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command."
1 Samuel 13:7-14 (NIV)

As a boy, I enjoyed building model cars. I even had a model of the lunar module with the lunar rover. (Readers born after about 1979 have no idea what that is. It’s not the space shuttle). I enjoyed working on the models, but I wasn’t very good at it.

Assembling models required more patience than was available to me at the time. I always wanted to finish the work in one sitting. As I charged through the steps, I soon found that pieces basically “melted” due to the over application of model glue. I ended up with a headache by the end of it. The car was a mess, and the model glue didn’t have a warning label back then.

Now, I could be spiritual and say that I was “compelled” to finish the entire model car right then and there. I would sound dignified and justified like Saul did in this passage. Saul ended up with a headache all his own.

Saul’s compulsion was driven by fear. Morale among his troops was at an all time low. The enemy was preparing for battle. Samuel was, well, tardy. Saul was compelled to break the rules and approach God on his own terms.

Samuel congratulates Saul’s efforts with a harsh word: foolish. It was foolish to presume that God wouldn’t act in due time. It was foolish to take matters into his own hands. It was foolish to assume that the offering of incense was more significant than his obedience. The whole thing just melted into a big mess.

When are we tempted to approach God on our own terms? Whether we feel that we’ve performed well as a Christian and deserve for God to act or whether we’ve entered into bargaining with God, these approaches fall into the same category as Saul and his incense.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You and I should never feel inhibited to boldly approach God. We live in a much different time than Saul. But, how are we approaching God? Are we coming with demands or asking for directions? Much of our frustration is over our unmet expectations. The closer that we can align our expectations with God’s will, the less frustrated we will become.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Are You Taking Initiative or Just Being Impatient?

Life. Interrupted. Week 4 Day 1

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.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Believe. Doubt. Believe. Doubt. (Repeat)

Life. Interrupted. Week 3 Day 5

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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Are You Suffering from the –Ites?

Life. Interrupted. Week 3 Day 4

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 frustrate you. He is causing you to grow. If it feels like too much, God provides the ability to continue. Just ask Him.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Too Much Information?

Life. Interrupted. Week 3 Day 3

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.

Monday, February 1, 2010

God Is Faithful Even to the Faithless

Life. Interrupted. Week 7 Day 1

Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. Genesis 21:1-3 (NIV)

God could have easily said, “You know, Abraham and Sarah, I chose you and gave you my promise, but you doubted me, you laughed at me, and you sinned against me, so I’m going to find better people to fulfill this promise. I’m done.” But, that’s not the way God is. God is patient even when we’ve run out of patience for ourselves or for others.

Despite our doubts, fears and schemes, God is faithful. Even if we’ve given up on God, God never gives up on us. Now, there are times when it is hard to see much evidence of God’s presence or work in our lives. But, He is there and always will be.

God is not about to give up on you. Where are you today? Are you ready to give up on someone? God? Someone else? Yourself? God will give you all that He has promised, if you don’t give up (Galatians 6:9). God is faithful, even when we are faithless.

How Worship Can Bypass Our Fears

Life. Interrupted. Week 3 Day 2

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…”