4 Reflections While You Wait

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No one likes to wait. But we wait in traffic, in carpool lines, in holding patterns, in grocery stores, for the foursome ahead of us, for the doctor, for a spouse, for a baby, for retirement, for sermons to get over.

Waiting may be the hardest single thing we are called to do.

Waiting is not passive loitering for something to happen that will allow us to escape our troubles. Those who wait are those who work because they know their work is not in vain. The farmer can wait all summer for his harvest because he has done his work of sowing the seed and watering the plants. Those who wait on God can go about their assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and conclusions to their lives and the harvest to their toil. Waiting is the confident, disciplined, expectant, active, and sometimes painful clinging to God. It knows that we will reap a reward.

While you wait, remember . . .

Waiting on the Lord requires patient trust.
We live by the adage: Don’t just stand there, do something. While God often says to us: Don’t just do something, stand there.

We forget that the work God is doing in us while we wait is as essential as for whatever we are waiting. Waiting means that we give God the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is doing.

Waiting is God’s way of seeing if we will trust him before we move forward. That trust is a patient trust. Whether it has to do with our relationships, our finances, our careers, our dreams, or our churches. We have to trust that God knows what he is doing.

Trapeze artists know that there is a special relationship between the flyer and catcher on the trapeze. As the flyer is swinging high above the crowd, the moment comes when he lets go of the trapeze, when he arcs out into the air. For that moment, which must feel like an eternity, the flyer is suspended in nothingness. It is too late to reach back for the trapeze. There is no going back now. However, it is too soon to be grasped by the one who will catch him. He cannot accelerate the catch. At that moment, his job is to be as still and motionless as he can.

The flyer must never try to catch the catcher. He must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will grasp him. But he must wait. His job is not to flail about in anxiety. In fact, if he does, it could kill him. His job is to be still. To wait.

Waiting on God is the in-between time, the time of panic when our lives seem frozen in midair for a month, a year, a decade. During those times we patiently trust in God.

Waiting on God reminds us that God is in control.
Sometimes people ask, “But what do I do while I’m waiting?” Good question. During those waiting times take on the active role of a watchman. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,” declared the Psalmist, “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psa. 130:5-6 NIV). In biblical times, watchmen vigilantly guarded the city. They watched for enemies who might attack at night, and they waited for the sun to come up. They were alert and obedient, ready to respond when needed. When called upon, they sprang into action. But on the other hand, watchmen didn’t make things happen. They didn’t control the rising of the sun. They couldn’t speed up the process of the dawning of a new day. A watchman knew the difference between his job and God’s job.

Waiting is good for people like me. It reminds me that I am not in charge. I’m the patient. I’m in the waiting room. In the real issues of life, I am not just waiting around—I am waiting on God. Therefore, I can trust his wisdom and his timing. The person who waits on God loses no time. I can wait with confidence. Because I am waiting for someone, and that someone is God.

Waiting on the Lord allows God the time to accomplish his work.
I understand that the father of the modern missionary movement, William Carey, waited seven years before his first convert in India. As did Adoniram Judson in Burma.

The Chinese bamboo tree is one of the most remarkable plants on earth. Once the gardener plants the seed, he will see nothing but a single shoot coming out of the bulb—for five full years! That little shoot, however, must have daily food and water. During all the time the gardener is caring for the plant, the exterior shoot will grow less than an inch.

At the end of five years, however, the Chinese bamboo will perform an incredible feat. It will grow an fantastic ninety feet tall in only ninety days! Now ask yourself this: When did the tree grow? During the first five years, or during those last ninety days?

The answer lies in the unseen part of the tree, the underground root system. During the first five years, the fibrous root structure spreads deep and wide in the earth, preparing to support the incredible heights the tree will eventually reach.

I want to believe that I am a lot like that Chinese bamboo tree. Maybe you are like it too. We are working and dreaming and persevering, yet we feel like God is taking forever to bring our plans into reality.

During those times, we wait patiently on the Lord. We know that deep down he is working—while it may be underneath, hidden deep in our character. In due time, God will reveal everything he’s grown in us.

From our perspective, waiting can seem useless and unproductive. Nothing appears to be happening. Spiritual growth seems to stand still. Personal advancement seems squelched. From God’s perspective, however, waiting deepens and widens our souls. It is often through these waiting times that God is preparing us and working in ways we do not see.

Waiting on God increases my strength.
Sometimes I struggle to remember that it’s good to wait for the Lord. It isn’t easy. It goes against the grain of our quick-fix society. But, there’s a hidden benefit in waiting. In times of waiting my soul is revived and my spirit is renewed. Isaiah wrote, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31 NRSV).

Ornithologists say birds have three methods of flight. Flapping, gliding, and soaring. Only a few birds, like eagles, are capable of soaring. Eagles’ wings are so strong that they are capable of catching rising currents of warm air—thermal winds that go straight up from the earth—and without moving a feather they can soar to great heights. Eagles have been clocked at up to 80 m.p.h. without flapping at all. They just soar on invisible columns of air.

Isaiah said that for those who wait on the Lord, times would come when they will soar. And when it comes. Hold on. We will be soaring.

In a dream, God told a man to go outside and push against a massive boulder in his front yard. So every morning for the next few weeks, the man went out and strained against the rock. He pushed and groaned and prodded and shoved, but the rock never budged.

Finally, in a fit of exasperation, the man fell to his knees and lifted his eyes to heaven. “What were you thinking, Lord? he cried, wiping sweat from his brow. “You told me to push this rock, and I’ve been pushing it for weeks, yet it has not moved an inch!”

A voice from heaven rumbled among the clouds, then whispered in the man’s ear. “I told you to push the stone,” God said, “I didn’t tell you to move it. I’m the only one who can move it, and when you’re ready, I will. By the way, look at your hands.”

The man looked at his hands. They had grown callused and tough with the work, and his arms bulged with muscles. Though his efforts seemed fruitless, he had grown strong; and now he was beginning to grow wise.

It helps to remember that God is the great mover. We are to push, to work. And if we wait, in confident trust, remembering that God is in control doing his work increasing our strength, we will experience the move of God on our lives.

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6 Ways to Plug into God’s Power

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If Jesus dwells within me, why do I feel so powerless? Have you ever asked that question? I have.

I read about a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the century. She was quite wealthy but also quite frugal. The people were surprised, then, when she decided to be among the first to have electricity in her home.

Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door. He asked if her electricity was working well, and she assured him it was. “I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said. “Your meter shows scarcely any usage. Are you using your power?”

“Certainly,” she answered. “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.”

She was tapped into the power but doesn’t use it. Her house was connected but not altered. Don’t we make the same mistake?

We, too—with our souls saved but our hearts unchanged—are connected but not altered. We trust Christ for salvation but do not release the Holy Spirit for transformation. We occasionally flip the switch, but most of the time we settle for shadows.

What would happen if we flipped the switch? What would happen if we released God’s Spirit in our lives? What would happen if we stopped living in the shadows of anticipation and began to live in the light of transformation? What would happen if we went from being full of the Holy Spirit to being useful for the Holy Spirit?

Don’t you want to get connected to the power of the Holy Spirit?

Whenever I call computer support, the first question they always ask is: “Is your computer plugged in?” If we want to see the power of God work in our lives, we must be plugged in.

Here’s how—
Pray for his power. We do not have because we do not ask.
Obey his instructions. The power of God’s Spirit comes in direct proportion to our obedience.
Worship his majesty. Worship is the pathway of connecting with God. Remember the early disciples were recognized as having been with Jesus.
Expect his blessings. We must believe that God will do what he has promised.
Rejoice in his service. Rejoicing in God in spite of our circumstances is a sure indication that we know that God is in control.

Plug into God to see him work in your life.

 

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4 Reasons to Pray Daily

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Prayer is the indispensable and vital function of a believer. No aspect of our Christian life is more essential and crucial to our personal growth and spiritual health than spending time with God. We are never taller than when we are on our knees. We are never stronger than when we are confessing our weaknesses. We are never bolder in public than when we are quiet before God in private.

Why does prayer make such a difference?

Prayer brings God to us.
Prayer reminds us that we need God more than he needs us. Prayer brings God to us. The essence of prayer is to join God, not God joining us. We ask what is on God’s heart rather than telling God what is on our hearts.

Prayer is the lifeline that saves the drowning soul. Prayer is the umbilical cord that provides nourishment to the starving spirit. Prayer is the channel by which God’s life-giving presence flows to us.

St. Augustine, the early church father and theologian, described prayer as like a man in a hapless boat who throws a rope at a rock. The rock provides the needed security and stability and life for the helpless man. When the rock is lassoed it’s not the man pulling the rock to the boat (though it may appear that way); it is the pulling of the boat to the rock. Jesus is the rock, and we throw the rope through prayer.

Through prayer God comes to us. The Scripture states, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you” (James 4:8a GN). Prayer provides the communication that puts us in contact with God.

Prayer changes us.
A well-known preacher began his message by stating thunderously, “Prayer doesn’t change God.” The audience fell to a hush with an eerie silence. “Prayer doesn’t change things,” he continued. “Prayer doesn’t change circumstances,” he bellowed. “Prayer changes us.”

The prayers of the early disciples changed them. They were once timid and afraid, hiding and secretive, embarrassed and ashamed. But now they were praying for boldness and power in public ministry. “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus Christ” (Acts 4:29-30 NIV). Through their prevailing prayers God continued to change them. He took wimps (weak, ineffectual, and insipid persons) and transformed them into warriors (bold, courageous, and powerful people).

Real prayer is not only soul satisfying; it is life changing. Richard Foster wrote, “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.”

The needed change occurs in the war with the enemy. As we grow more and more like him we move from the rear guard to the front lines. We move from weakness to power. We move from fearfulness to boldness. We move from the comfort of the sidelines to the action of the game.

Don’t pray unless you want to change. Don’t pray unless you want to be propelled to action. Don’t pray unless you want to move on the offensive. Don’t pray unless you want to go to war. And, when you go to war you need power.

Prayer unleashes the power of God.
Prayer is the most powerful weapon in the believer’s arsenal. Is it any wonder that the Evil One seeks valiantly to keep Christ followers from praying? When we don’t pray Satan has won the battle. But when we pray, the power of God is unleashed.

For those disciples in Jerusalem they experienced the power of God in a very tangible and real way. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken” (Acts 4:31 NIV). Perhaps the shaking was from thunder in the sky or a tremor of the earth or maybe it was the devil shaking in his boots. Whatever caused it, the shaking gave those early disciples a sense of God’s presence and power.

That power is unleashed on two fronts. The power is felt on the human front. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers.” The chief priests and elders knew that these early disciples were unschooled and ordinary men, but they recognized them as having been with Jesus.

Then the power is felt on the spiritual front. Samuel Chadwick said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

Prayer determines the difference between a warrior and a wimp.

The practice of prayer in a believer’s life is an incredible, virtually untapped power source. Prayer moves the hand of God. Prayer turns ordinary mortals into men and women of power. It is the key that unlocks the storehouse of God’s riches. It is the call that moves heaven to act on behalf of earth.

And when we join God, we are now ready for battle and guaranteed victory.

Prayer equips us for battle.
The battle is for the hearts of men and women. The war is waged as followers of Christ retake the territory of men and women’s souls that was once claimed by Satan. That’s where believers come in. God needs us on the front lines telling others about him. The war is won in the trenches of men and women’s will. We are enlisted to take the message to them. Prayer equips us for that engagement.

The early disciples were equipped and ready because they prayed. “After they prayed . . . they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31 NIV). This was not a second Pentecost. This was a fresh filling, a renewed awareness of the Spirit’s power and presence in their life and witness. This endowment of power for witness would continue as they prayed. Boldness was the outward sign of the Holy Spirit’s anointing.

How foolish one would be to go to battle without proper preparation, training, and equipment. How foolish are we to go to spiritual battles without prayer.

We are not outfitted for the battle against evil unless we pray. John Henry Jowett claimed that “it is in the field of prayer that life’s critical battles are won or lost.” As believers and as a church we will only be triumphant in storming the lines of evil for the souls of men and women when we pray.

What would God have us do? William Arthur Wade wrote, “God wants us to be victors, not victims; to grow, not grovel; to soar, not sink; to overcome, not to be overwhelmed.” To display those traits happens as we pray. Let’s not just talk about prayer, and have seminars on prayer, and read books about prayer, and listening to sermons on prayer. Let us pray. The souls of men and women hang in the balance.

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God Honors Radical Faith

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The following letter found in a baking powder can wired to the handle of an old pump offered the only hope of drinking water on a very long and seldom-used trail across the Amargosa Desert:

“This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer into it and it ought to last five years. But the washer dries out, and the pump has got to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a bottle of water, out of the sun and cork end up. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about one fourth and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour in the rest medium fast and pump like crazy. You’ll git water. The well has never run dry. Have faith. When you git watered up, fill the bottle and put it back like you found it for the next feller.”
Desert Pete
“P.S. Don’t go drinking up the water first. Prime the pump with it and you’ll get all you can hold.”

If you were a lonely traveler shuffling down that parched desert trail with your canteen bone dry, would you trust this guy, Desert Pete? For all you know he is a lunatic. What if it a mad hoax? There are no guarantees to what he claims is true. And what would motivate you to prime the pump with the water in the bottle, perhaps the only water available? But you understand the fact that old wells have to be primed. It’s a gamble. A risk. An adventure. What do you do?

The lonely traveler had to prime the pump before all the water flowed.
Similar actions occur every day: battles before victory; struggles before celebration; steps before arrivals; practice before perfection; preparation before completion; matriculation before graduation.

Over and over in Scripture, this pattern is repeated. The Israelites had to march to the Red Sea before God parted it. Naaman had to wash seven times in the water before God cured him of leprosy. Gideon had to reduce his army from 32,000 down to 300 before God would deliver them from the Midianites. The loaves and fishes were given before Jesus multiplied them.

Here’s how this truth applies to us.

Often, we have to wait before moving ahead with God.
No one likes to wait. Waiting is not a strong suit for most of us. We tend to be horn-honking, microwaving, Fed-Ex mailing, fast-food eating, express lane shopping people. Sometimes God says wait.

Waiting is the hardest part of trusting. We live by the adage: Don’t just stand there, do something. While God often says to us: Don’t just do something, stand there.

Too often we want God’s resources, but we do not want his timing. We forget that the work God is doing in us while we wait is as essential as for whatever we are waiting. Waiting means that we give God the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is doing.
Waiting is God’s way of seeing if we will trust him before we move forward. Waiting reminds me that I am not in charge.

When we get to the crossing moments of life we are not just waiting around; we are waiting for God. Therefore, we can trust his timing and his wisdom.

Always, we have to consecrate ourselves today before God sends blessings tomorrow.
God calls his people to holiness, purity, and separation. We are to flush our minds of the filth and dirt that has accumulated over the years. We are to approach God with pure hearts, clean hands and feet, and blameless minds. When God showed up in the Old Testament, people recognize that the place was holy. People took off their shoes. They prostrated in humility.

The need for holiness, purity, and separation comes before the blessings of tomorrow, not the other way around. We often believe that if God blesses, then we’ll get our lives right. God says that holiness precedes honor. Cleanliness comes before usefulness. Penance before power.

The promise that God would miraculously work tomorrow was contingent on the people’s willingness to consecrate themselves today.

Inevitably, we have to step out in faith before God acts.
God wants to do some fantastic things tomorrow but before he does—we have to trust today. We are required to demonstrate faith. Like an automatic-opening door, it will only open as we move toward it.

Faith is risky business. Kierkegaard wrote, “Without risk, there is no faith.” For faith to be faith, we venture out beyond our abilities and resources. We take the step before God acts.

Often God provides no solution to our problems until we trust him and move ahead. While he wants to supernaturally intervene in the difficulties and challenges of our everyday lives, he can’t until we first demonstrate faith by walking forward on the path of obedience. Compared to God’s part, our part is minuscule but necessary. We don’t have to do much, but we do have to do something.

This spiritual reality plays out in my life in the following manners:
• When I take the risk of giving generously, I discover that I really can trust God to take care of me.
• When I take the risk of asking forgiveness of another person, I discover that God really will honor my confession.
• When I risk using my spiritual gift, I can know the joy of being used by God.
• When I risk making a phone call or visit to encourage or show concern, I can know the satisfaction of touching another human being at their point of need.

The weary traveler reading Desert Pete’s letter was put to the test. Would he prime the pump? Are you being faced with an obstacle, a challenge that seems like an impossibility? Will you take the first step of faith?

God honors radical, risk-taking faith.

 

 

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God Chooses the Least Likely to Accomplish His Work

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She was the talk of the town, but nobody talked to her. Every square inch of her seductive body was lovely, but she was unloved. It was the price she paid for being the town whore. Her name was Rahab. She was a street-walking hooker living in the town of Jericho. Her home backed up to outside wall of the city. Convenient for men to shimmy down the back wall for a quick escape. Women despised her and shunned her. Men leered at her, joked about and used her.

She didn’t have much going for her. In fact, she had three strikes against her.

  1. She was a Canaanite, not a Jew. Canaanites were hated as a people by virtually every culture and nation that surrounded them.
  2. She was a woman. A Jewish prayer offered daily by rabbis said, “I thank my God that I was not born a woman.” Women were at best second-class citizens.
  3. She was a prostitute using her body to earn a living. And like prostitutes in all cultures, she was marginalized by society.

Living on the fringe of society and in a home, that backed up to the protective city wall, God used her to provide harbor and safety to the two spies. There were to gather military intelligence about Jericho before Joshua led the Hebrews into the Promised Land.

She would be the last person one would expect God to use in a significant way. God chooses to use her. God loves to turn things upside-down. He sometimes selects the most unexpected people to accomplish his work. He specializes in using the rejects of society. The broken and flawed. The down and out.

 

Rahab, while society marginalized her, and women shunned her, and men abused her, God loved her. God looked on her, not as the tramp of Jericho, but as a child in whom he cares and wants to rescue.

There is a wonder about Rahab, about me, and about you. Our identity is not found in our fallen and flawed status. Our past is not our destiny. We may be unlovely, but we are not unloved.

The story of God choosing an outcast like Rahab reminds me of another story. A boy went into a pet shop, looking for a puppy. The store owner showed him a litter in a box. The boy looked at the puppies. He picked each one up, examined it, and put it back into the box.

After several minutes, he walked back to the owner and said, “I picked one out. How much will it cost?”

The man gave him the price, and the boy promised to be back in a few days with the money. “Don’t take too long,” the owner cautioned. “Puppies like these sell quickly.”

The boy turned and smiled knowingly, “I’m not worried,” he said. “Mine will still be here.”

The boy went to work—weeding, washing windows, cleaning yards. He worked hard and saved his money. When he had enough for the puppy, he returned to the store.

He walked up to the counter and laid down a pocketful of wadded bills. The storeowner sorted and counted the cash. After verifying the amount, he smiled at the boy and said, “All right, son, you can go get your puppy.”

The boy reached into the back of the box, pulled out a skinny dog with a limp leg, and started to leave.

The owner stopped him.

“Don’t take that puppy,” he objected. “He’s crippled. He can’t play. He’ll never run with you. He can’t fetch. Get one of the healthy pups.”

“No, thank you, sir,” the boy replied. “This is exactly the kind of dog I’ve been looking for.”

As the boy turned to leave, the store owner started to speak but remained silent. Suddenly he understood. For extending from the bottom of the boy’s trousers was a brace—a brace for his crippled leg.

Why did the boy want the dog? He knew how it felt. And he knew it was special.

What did God know about Rahab, and you and me for that matter? He knows how we feel. He knows that even though we are flawed and fallen, we are usable and worthwhile in his kingdom work. We may be unlovely to society, but God loves us. We are special. We are precious to him. He chooses even the crippled of this world to accomplish his purpose.

I hope you never forget that.

Rahab is just one in a long line of ordinary, crippled folks who allowed God to use them. Scripture has quite a gallery of ordinary people who made themselves available to God. In fact, heaven may have a shrine to honor God’s uncommon use of everyday, unspectacular people. It’s a place you won’t want to miss. Stroll through, see Rahab offering her home as a refuge and her rope as an escape. View the people who assisted Paul to get in the bucket to flee from would-be assassins. See a picture of David in Goliath’s shadow with his sling encircling his head before launching the fatal blow. Take a gander at Samson picking up the jawbone to erase a whole group of discontents. Feel the staff that Moses used to split the sea and smote the rock. Sniff the ointment that Mary used to soothe Jesus’ skin. Touch the parchment that Paul used to write his letters.

Quite a fraternity, isn’t it?

God has always used the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. The common to perform the uncommon. The flawed to fulfill the phenomenal.

Rahab, a prostitute, helped change the world. A nobody that became a somebody. A washed up, discarded refuse that became a supporting cast in Joshua’s story of victory.

 

 

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God Uses Ordinary People–Like You

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For years, American novelist William Faulkner toiled as an unknown, un-respected writer in the rural Mississippi town of Oxford before he gained recognition. When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, his acclaim grew. Approached later about the literary people and authors he associated with, Faulkner shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know any bookish people. “The people I know are other farmers and horse people and hunters, and we talk about horses and dogs and guns and what to do about this hay crop or this cotton crop, not about literature.”

Faulkner befriended real people. Unpretentious people. Struggling people. People who had their share of problems and frustrations. He chose to surround himself with folks who got down in the dirt of life rather than those who merely talked about it or wrote about it.

God tends to have the same character trait.

God seems most interested in people who are unpretentious, hopeless, with their share of desperation and defeat. Those who are flawed and wounded. Those in whom most of the world has given up on. God seems most interested in people with nowhere to turn, who pray desperate prayers, who holds onto shattered dreams, trapped by wrong choices, estranged from society, often rejected.

God loves to turn things upside-down. He sometimes selects the most unexpected people to work with. He specializes in using the rejects of society. The broken and flawed. The down and out.

Think about it: God seldom makes his first movement through those people whom you and I would be inclined to call the movers and shakers of the world. Some of the most gifted and talented, prominent and prestigious people tend to use their gifts selfishly. God then has to look elsewhere for help. He ends up using people of more modest talents and even questionable reputations.

Consider the fact that God used Abraham, a liar. Moses, a murderer. David, an adulterer. Peter, the denier. Saul, a killer. The list goes on and on. God always seems to work through the most ordinary and unlikely people who are on the very edge of social respectability.

I could be on that list, too. I, also, have a story. I am flawed. I am a sinner. I am a fallen person. I am broken and bent. I am imperfect. A wretch. An outcast. My sinful condition is like a splash of ink in a glass of water; my flawed state permeates my whole being. I, too, live on the ragged edge, the fringe of respectability.

But, I’m loved. God knows my flawed condition. He knows my fallen state, and he loves me anyway. My tattered condition is no longer the most important thing about me. I was not created flawed. I was designed in such a way that God said to me just as he spoke of Adam “very good.”

Wonder exists in me, and you. Our identity is not centered on our fallen and flawed status. Our past is not our destiny. We may be unlovely, but we are not unloved.
This fact, while confusing, is reassuring. It gives me hope. It gives me possibility.

 

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What to Do in a Fire

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One fall afternoon when I was eight or nine years old, my twin brother, Micky, and I began piling up the dried cornstalks from our Daddy’s garden in back of our house. We had a pretty tall stack when Micky said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to see those things burn?” I had found a box of matches earlier in the day, so Micky said, “Why don’t you light the pile? Nothing will happen. Mother will never find out.”

I was old enough to know better, but my curiosity got the better of me. So, I lighted those dried leaves and in just a few minutes the pile was consumed by an inferno. Before we could think to douse it with water, it had spread. Now the entire garden was in flames. And the woods behind our house stood in the path of the ever-growing fire.

“Go get the water hose,” I yelled to Micky.

“You started it, you go get the hose,” he shouted back.

We stood wide-eyed in wonder just yards away, mesmerized by the dancing flames that crackled and popped as they were now spreading into the woods. We stood transfixed, nearly oblivious to the searing heat until Mother came rushing from the house, screaming for us to move back to safety.

Soon people from the town were coming to watch. I wanted to get lost for a week. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to call the volunteer fire department, and they put out the fire before burning down the woods.

After the fire was extinguished and the crowd had disbanded my mother asked who had started the fire. I did the brave and noble thing. I said, “Micky did.”

Eventually, I confessed. Later that year Daddy had a man come with his bulldozer and remove the small trees and underbrush from our woods. Daddy said it was because he wanted a bigger garden. I think it was because I almost burned to the ground our little town.

I learned some critical lessons from this experience. One, don’t play with matches. Two, don’t do everything your brother tells you to do. Three, mothers always find out. And, four, fire consumes, spreads, and attracts a whole lot of people.

Solomon’s Fire
I imagine that it was on a beautiful fall day that Solomon and the people of Israel came together to dedicate the temple. They had worked long and hard to build a permanent and magnificent structure to house the Ark of the Covenant. Finally, the day had arrived for the temple dedication. The people gathered, and Solomon prayed. “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chron. 7:1).

The thought of fire falling from the sky boggles my mind. I know what out of control fire can do to some cornstalks. In my wildest dreams, I cannot imagine what it would be like witnessing God’s igniting the sacrifices on an altar.

God has always used fire as a way of identifying his presence. When the fire fell in the Temple Solomon built, God was stating that this was a holy place. The consuming fire was God’s presence making something holy. Only God can do that.

Our Response
When the fire falls on our lives, be it personally or corporately, all we can do is fall to the ground and worship a holy and living God. We are mesmerized by the sight of his consuming glory and grace. That’s what the people of Israel did. “When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord” (2 Chron. 7:3). Worship is expressing our love to God for who he is, what he’s said, and what he’s doing. In genuine worship the warmth of God’s presence is felt, the cleansing of God’s pardon is offered, the burning of God’s purpose is revealed, and the flame of God’s power is displayed.

Worship is not a weekly pep talk to rally the troops to win the contest. Worship is not the Christian’s alternative to a Saturday night rock concert. Worship occurs when people who have fallen in love with the God of the universe meet him in his consuming glory. Worship is a meeting between God and his people. Worship does not lead to an encounter with God. It is an encounter with God.

As a young boy, I learned that fire consumes, spreads, and attracts a lot of people. May we all learn that the fire of God’s presence has the same effect.

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Are You Running Away from God?

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In the middle of the night a freight train speeds effortlessly along. As the locomotive rounds a turn, a bus transporting convicted criminals straddles the tracks. In one mad, climactic moment the train slams into the bus, pushing it a hundred yards down the steel tracks causing sparks to fly before the wreckage bursts into flames.

Could there be any survivors?

Authorities arrived to find a dazed correctional officer. Minutes later ankle and wrist irons are found—open. The Federal Marshal holds up the irons and announces, “We have a fugitive.”

Thus, begins the silver-screen remake of the 1960s television series The Fugitive. The suspenseful movie about Chicago surgeon Richard Kimball falsely accused and convicted of his wife’s murder.

God Found Jonah.
Jonah, too, was a fugitive. An escapee. A man on the run. As a Hebrew prophet, Jonah’s orders came from on high. He had been obedient before when instructions had come. But now, well, things were different now. This time he had been instructed to preach in Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire. Nineveh was the epitome of everything Jonah hated in the Gentile world; it stood for godless tyranny. Nothing was more repugnant to Jonah than the idea of traveling there to preach repentance.

So, when God said, “Go.” Jonah said, “No.” Jonah ran.

He’s not unlike us. We, too, run. We, also, are fugitives. We run from the haunts of our past, from the horrors of our fears, from the heaviness of our responsibilities, and even from our God. As the hymn writer Robert Robinson observed:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
Eventually, we’ll learn, as Jonah did, that you can run, but you cannot hide.

God Broke Jonah.
In the movie of Jonah’s life, we view a great city, a great wind, and a great fish, but the background of this picture is scattered with reminders of God’s great grace. Because of God’s grace, the underlying lesson is this: God often breaks us to remake us.

For almost anything right to be made, it first must be broken. A tree is broken, and a house is built. The soil is broken, and a crop is grown. Grain is broken, and bread is baked. People are broken, and caring, compassionate believers are reborn. Often it is out of our brokenness that our greatest influence comes. Often before God uses a man or woman greatly, he first breaks them severely.

When the prophet was overboard and overwhelmed, “the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). For three days and three nights, Jonah endured the harsh womb of God’s grace. Yes, grace. God did provide this great fish to swallow Jonah; he could have let him drown. Then God provided the great fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. That, too, was grace.

God’s grace sometimes comes in ways we would never expect.

God Changed Jonah.
Grace changed Jonah’s life. Before this experience, several adjectives could have been employed to describe Jonah: stiff-necked, resistant, stubborn, hard-hearted, rebellious. After this exposure, other words could be used to describe this changed man: broken, cleansed, contrite, new, and obedient. Grace has that effect on people.

Grace is the glue that takes the pieces of our broken lives and binds them into something new and beautiful. Grace is the welcome mat that says to the repentant prodigal, “Welcome home.” Grace is the sponge that cleans the blotched record of our sins so that they are remembered no more. Grace is the calling that God grants to a once wayward prophet, energizing him for useful service. Grace is the announcement that there is life after failure and hope for broken, rebellious people.

Jonah learned what we need to learn about God’s grace. As the old hymn writer relates, “Mercy there was great, and grace was free.” Jonah discovered God’s incredible mercy and his unmerited grace. They were free.

The gift of grace to a rebellious and disobedient person is a future after failure and hope after a rebellion. That is the surprise of the Cross and the empty tomb. And that is the surprise of God to Jonah—and to every rebellious child.

We often obsess on the life we want as obtaining certain possessions or higher status. But the life we want is much loftier than that. It hinges on undeniable traits, disciplines, and characteristics that define the soul and heart of a person. I write about this life in 21 Days to the Life You’ve Always Imagined. The book contains twenty-one daily readings to help you focus on what matters most for a life that matters. The daily assignments that follow each chapter will help you implement what is lacking in your life to discover and enjoy the life you’ve always imagined. Click here to claim your copy.

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Have You Wrestled with God?

 

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Three months before my daughter was born I made a statement at a party that I soon wished I could take back. In front of twenty-five friends (most of whom had reared children) I calmly remarked, “Having this baby will not change my life.” Momentary silence was followed by an eruption of deep belly laughter. A few people even began rolling on the floor. The smirks and giggles and hounding went on for what seemed an eternity. I wanted to crawl under the sofa.

 

Three months later I discovered the reasons for the laughter. This wonderful and beautiful child, whom I had had a part in conceiving, cried, experienced fits of rage and lacked proper etiquette. Because of her entrance into my world, watching a ballgame or my favorite television show uninterrupted became an impossibility. Discretionary money for golf games and dates with my wife almost disappeared. Going to the mall on a moment’s notice? Out of the question.

 

I had to eat my words, again and again. Having a baby does change one’s life.

 

The reality is, being alive changes one’s life. Change is the only constant in this world. And many of us need it.

 

Jacob

 

One such man was Jacob. He was born a twin, the second out of the womb. Upon entering this world, Jacob was clutching the heel of his brother Esau. From that moment on, he was forever gripping what was rightfully his brother’s. He eventually cheated Esau out of his birthright and then his blessing. 

 

If Jacob were alive today, many corporations would be delighted to employ him. A born competitor, he was determined to win. No matter the cost or the deception. He knew how to ascend the ladder of success. He was in control. No one could stop him from being on the top.

 

But the main event of Jacob’s life changed all of that. It was a wrestling match. It was not Greco-Roman, or Olympic Free Style, or Sumo, or WWF. This tug-of-war was a wrestling match with God. 

 

The story of Jacob surprises us with many twists. But the one that stands out is that our most significant fights are often with God, not the devil. God is the divine intruder in our lives. He sometimes invades our lives not to bring comfort but to wage war. As strange as it may sound, there are times when we fight with God. Please understand that I’m not implying that we don’t have fights with the devil or that spiritual warfare does not occur. The temptation is real. But often it is easier to say no to the devil than it is to say yes to God. 

 

Alone at night, Jacob wrestled with God. And of all the fights that Jacob had experienced in his life, of scheming and climbing and success, his most challenging fight was with the Almighty. 

 

Our Greatest Fight

 

And so, it will be with us. The most terrible bout you and I will face is not saying no to a profitable career but saying yes to a divine prompting. It is not saying no to happiness but saying yes to holiness. It is not saying no to temptation but saying yes to righteousness.  Please understand that God’s desire is not that we be miserable and unhappy; he does want to give us the desires of our hearts. But saying yes to God’s leadership can be the most challenging battle we will face.

 

A Winning Walk

 

I can picture Jacob shuffling toward Esau the morning after the wrestling match. His clothes were torn and dirty; his hair is messed up; he is walking with a limp. 

 

“What happened to you?” Esau asks. 

 

“I’ve been blessed,” Jacob says. (Not the exact picture of a victorious Christian that most often comes to our mind, but a fitting portrait of a man who has allowed God to shape and fashion his life.)

 

“But you are limping.”

 

“Yes. Isn’t it great?”

 

Jacob was a marked man. His limp was not just a sign for him; others would notice the way he walked. They probably concluded that he was a veteran of some battle. And he was. 

 

It was not a loser’s limp. It was the limp of a spiritually mature man who had come face to face with God and been changed.

 

Some people would have walked away from that experience with only a limp and never have changed. They would have named the place “this is where I got hurt,” “place of misfortune.” Jacob, instead, named this piece of real estate, “the place I met God face to face.”

 

What do we call the places where we have wrestled with God? God wants us to see those areas in a new light and put a marker at that point as the place we met God and were changed forever.

 

We often obsess on the life we want as obtaining certain possessions or higher status. But the life we want is much loftier than that. It hinges on undeniable traits, disciplines, and characteristics that define the soul and heart of a person. I write about this life in 21 Days to the Life You’ve Always Imagined. The book contains twenty-one daily readings to help you focus on what matters most for a life that matters. The daily assignments that follow each chapter will help you implement what is lacking in your life to discover and enjoy the life you’ve always imagined. Click here to claim your copy.

 

 

 

 

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Did You Get What You Wanted?

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As a preschooler, I was a Roy Rogers enthusiast. I wore a Roy Rogers cowboy hat, a Roy Rogers holster, a Roy Rogers belt. I even had Roy Rogers saddlebags for my bicycle. (I didn’t have a horse, but I had an active imagination.) I was so caught up with Roy Rogers that I was upset with my parents that our last name did not start with an “R.” Since my first name started with an “R” and if my last name started with an “R,” then the double “R’s” on my Roy Rogers paraphernalia could stand for my name as well. In fact, I had all the Roy Rogers’ stuff I wanted except for one item. To be a full-fledged cowboy, I needed Roy Rogers chaps.

When Christmas came around, I sent my letter off to Santa. It was different than my previous messages. They all contained a litany of gifts that I wanted. But not this year. “Dear Santa,” I wrote, “all I want this Christmas is a pair of Roy Rogers chaps. Love, Ricky.”

When I visited with Santa at the Sears store, he asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” I replied, “As my letter indicated, all I want for Christmas is a pair of Roy Rogers chaps.” He assured me that the chaps were in the bag.

When Christmas came, I was confident that the chaps were under the tree. But when I tore off the paper to open my present and stuck my hand in the box, I knew something was wrong. The gift wasn’t soft like chaps; it was hard and cold. I pulled out the item and, to my chagrin, discovered not Roy Rogers chaps but an electric guitar. I began to cry, “Where are my Roy Rogers chaps?”

There are times when the one thing you want is the one thing you never get. I never got Roy Rogers chaps. And I never learned to play the electric guitar.

The Christian life entails hoping and hurting, trying and failing, wanting but not always receiving. There are no guarantees for the fulfillment of our prayers, our dreams, or our goals. Sometimes God says no.

There are those times when God, having heard our appeals, says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” We don’t get the answer we want. Tell me, is God still a good God when he says no?

The Apostle Paul

The apostle Paul wrestled with that question. He knew what no from God sounded like. He testified, “There was given me a thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). But not the removal of the thorn. This thorn in the flesh defined his life.

This affliction is more than a thorn you might get while picking roses; it is a stake on which a man is tortured. This barb is more than the usual annoyances of life—more than a hangnail on the finger, more than a bad day with the kids, more than an unrelenting boss. A thorn is a tragedy, a broken dream, a sickness, an unshakable fear, a disability that dogs you for life. Theologically, thorn refers to some circumstance for which we didn’t ask, which we pray to have removed, by which we are given the grace to keep going, and behave in such a way that the Father will be glorified.

 

Paul did not get the answer he wanted, but the one God knew was best. Paul wrote, “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:9). Interestingly, these are the only words of the risen Christ found in Paul’s letters. Through them, God gives Paul a wonderful promise: “I’m all you need.” Paul wrote “He said” in the perfect tense, meaning that God said his grace was sufficient and ongoing.

Paul did not get the answer he wanted, but the one God knew was best. Paul wrote, “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:9). Interestingly, these are the only words of the risen Christ found in Paul’s letters. Through them, God gives Paul a wonderful promise: “I’m all you need.” Paul wrote “He said” in the perfect tense, meaning that God said his grace was sufficient and ongoing.

God’s gift to Paul was not the thorn; it was his grace. The courage to face tragedy, disappointments, sickness, and heartache.

My Aunt Evelyn

Granted, not everyone may experience a thorn in the flesh. Some may be so fortunate to live without knowing the pain and struggle that others face every day of their lives.

I wish my Aunt Evelyn had bee so favored. For years she taught first grade until crippling arthritis kept her from the classroom. But while this disease took the mobility in her hands and legs, it did not remove the joy from her heart. All the years I knew my aunt I never heard her complain even though I saw her grimace from the pain. Joy filled her spirit that enabled her to live above the discomfort and frustration. She and Uncle Otis took many trips and spent a lot of money to find a cure or at least relieve her pain, but to no avail. She lived the balance of her life with the thorn of arthritis. She never found a cure or relief.

I’ve often wondered why Aunt Evelyn was afflicted with such pain. She was kind, tender, and gracious. But while the healing grace never came to her, sustaining grace did. In spite of her crippled hands and broken body, her vibrant faith and enthralling love for life had a powerful impact on everyone she met. Like the apostle Paul, Aunt Evelyn discovered that God’s grace is indeed sufficient.

Sometimes God says no to us. Sometimes we don’t get the Roy Rogers’ chaps we ask for or the healing that we desire. But in God’s denial, he can still accomplish a great work in and through our lives. The grace that saves us also keeps us.

We often obsess on the life we want as obtaining certain possessions or higher status. But the life we want is much loftier than that. It hinges on undeniable traits, disciplines, and characteristics that define the soul and heart of a person. I write about this life in 21 Days to the Life You’ve Always Imagined. The book contains twenty-one daily readings to help you focus on what matters most for a life that matters. The daily assignments that follow each chapter will help you implement what is lacking in your life to discover and enjoy the life you’ve always imagined. Click here to claim your copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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