Category Archives: obedience

Keeping Our Heart Safe

 

 


Of Eagles’ Wings and High Walls

They 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.  Isaiah 40:31

Those who wait for the Lord.  What does it mean to wait for the Lord?  Have you ever run ahead of God?  Maybe you were too impatient to let Him work out His plan, so you took matters in your own hand, and you ended up with a mess.   If you did, how did it work out?

Waiting on God means that we apply Psalm 34:5, Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.  It is trusting God to direct your steps, praying to Him and waiting for an answer before you act.  It is also daily coming to God to ask His opinion on your day, not just going in your own energy and strength.

Shall renew their strength.  Paul said in Colossians 1 that his goal was to teach and admonish everyone with all wisdom so that everyone would be mature in Christ.  In verse 29 he gives away a little secret, “struggling with all of His energy, which works so powerfully within me.”  This meant that Paul had to put a lot of time and his own energy into reaching others for Jesus, but He did it with Jesus’ strength and energy.

That is a big secret.  The only way we can live the Christian life successfully is to let God live it through us via the Holy Spirit.  Usually we don’t figure this out until we come to the end of ourselves, like through some sort of disabling injury or disease, or loss of a job or some situation where we are in over our heads.

Save yourself a lot of trouble and figure it out now! Philippians 4:13 reads I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, not I can do all things because I have so much strength. Come to God daily and ask for Him to give you His strength and wisdom for the day. Don’t rest in your own strength, wisdom and resources. They will quickly fail. If they don’t, you’re just full of your own pride, and that’s another issue.

They shall mount up with wings like eagles. The Holy Spirit is a part of the trinity.  He is God’s personality and His job is to teach, convict, and guide us.  His job is also to empower us, according to Acts 1:8, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses… The Holy Spirit gives us the power not to sin, the power to set our mind on Heavenly things and not on ourselves, and He gives us the power to mount up with wings of eagles.

They shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Many days when I’m already worn out and I just got out of bed, I find myself praying these verses.   Psalm 18:29 says, For by You I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. Claim God’s strength to equip you to do what He has called you to do.  It’s funny that on those days when I’m driving to work with no energy and I’m calling out for it, when I’m driving home on those same roads, I’ll think: “I made it!”  I’ll marvel that God did it, not that I did it.  He’s that kind of a God.

receive His strength.jpgI pray that God would give you His energy and strength.  I pray that God would give you His power, wisdom, creativity and equipping for the day.  May you mount up with wings like eagles and may you run and not grow weary. In Jesus name today may you leap over a high wall.

 

 


Is that a shovel in your hand?

For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13

holes shovelsOne of my favorite kids’ movies is the movie “Holes” from the book by Louis Sachar.  The kids at the juvenile detention camp, “Camp Green Lake” have to dig holes in the desert day in and day out.  The warden  is in search of a generations old treasure and the teens are the forced labor.  The song that plays as they dig has the line of “Keep digging those holes, diggin’.”

As we hew cisterns for ourselves that are broken and can hold no water, that song might has well be playing in the background.  “But wait a minute,” you cry, “I’m a Jesus lover.  I have not forsaken Him, nor have I dug my own well that can hold no water.”  Really?

I am reading a challenging book by Brad Bigney called, Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel With Hidden Idols (P&R Publishing).  In it he talks about how we can give our hearts and our affections, our first love, over to something else.  That thing becomes our driving force to what we do.  Then we become idolaters.

I often read through the Old Testament and wonder how they could have altars to Baal or Asherah poles in their back yards or high hills and not connect the dots.  Like someone should have said: “Wake up!  How did we fall so far?  Get rid of these idols!”  Yet when someone looks back on our culture, they might see the things that we’ve allowed and  there will be certain idols that will be so clear to them that aren’t clear to us.

If we move away from the Bible, from Jesus, from what Romans 1:21 describes as essential: knowing God, honoring Him as God and giving thanks to Him–then we engage in the ‘Great Exchange.’  The ‘Great Exchange’ of Romans 1 is exchanging the truth of God for a lie, worshiping the created things instead of God the creator, exchanging  natural pleasures for unnatural ones.  Turn on the television or the computer and you see it and hear it.  Again, that’s not us!  Or is it?

I don’t have a shovel in my hands.   Or do I?  When the Israelites fashioned the golden calf at Mt. Sinai, again, I judge.  How could they?  God had just parted the Red Sea.  Do they have amnesia?  God was too slow–Moses was up on that mountain too long.  How often do I turn to something I can control, instead of waiting on God, even though it serves me poorly?  It’s a broken cistern, an idol, sin, rebellion–whatever you want to call it.  I’ve got a shovel in my hand and gold dust on my clothes.

My broken cisterns cost me.  They might be more predictable than God is, and they might keep me in the driver’s seat, but they cannot hold water.  They don’t deliver.  I might have pride if I succeeded in some plan, but there is fear lurking around the next corner about ‘what happens if I blow it next time?’ Or if I don’t get what I want and can’t conjure it up, there are things like depression and defeat to contend with.

I’m pretty good at spotting other people’s golden calves.  I can see them running around with their kids to all kinds of sporting events, or their preoccupation with keeping up with cultural norms.  I’m not so good at spotting my own.  Even if I am, I’m not so good at calling them what they are.    When I first set out in my 20’s after college, I was determined not to own any more things than what I could fit in my car.  I thought people who were tied down to mortgages, jobs and responsibilities were “sell out’s.”  It kept them from being all-in for the Kingdom.

Well, now I’m one of those sell out’s.  I stand on the edge of breaking away from it, contemplating an early retirement to go back to my radical lifestyle of my 20’s.  I didn’t know how God was going to provide then, but I knew He was.  I was ‘about my Father’s business,’ and I loved it.  Now I have much more to give up, but so much more to gain.  Is my job and  my position my broken cistern?  Is money my golden calf?  Is the control that the good salary offers, the self sufficiency, the power, and the me-time, standing in the way?

Brad Bigney:  “When you’re craving something other than God, even something good, God takes it very seriously.  In that moment, He’s coming after you.  He’s coming after you for His glory and your own good, because life for us is better without idols.  Life for us is better when we’re delighting in the gospel and living Christ as our highest treasure.  Life for us is better when we’re focused on God and free from idols.” p. 26

Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!  Psalm 139: 23-24


A Gospel Ambition

I endeavor to bring the Gentiles to obedience of the faith, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God…so that I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and this I make it my ambition to preach the gospel not where Christ has already been named.  Romans 15:18-20

That was Paul’s gospel ambition, to go where ‘no man has gone before’ to preach about hands upJesus.  He had dreams and he was fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit.  A Gospel Ambition.  That sounds so lofty, reserved for heavy hitters like Paul, or pastors and missionaries.

Maybe the rest of us get ‘life ambitions.’  Now we call them ‘bucket lists,’ after the Morgan Freeman movie.  It doesn’t have to be spiritual, at least that’s what we think.  So our bucket lists include things like: seeing the Grand Canyon, or running a half marathon, or getting on Jeopardy (that’s mine).

**But does God put spiritual bucket lists on our hearts?  Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “We are HIs workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  The NIV words it “that God has prepared in advance for us to do.”  He’s given us a mission just like He gave Paul.  It might not be as sweeping and far reaching as his, but my point is that God gives us all a ‘Gospel ambition’ a life purpose, and He burns it on our hearts.

That means we don’t have to look hard to find it.  We know what it is.  And God gives us the Holy Spirit to give us the power and the boldness to carry it out.  That’s what Acts 1:8; 4:31 and Colossians 1:27-29 say.  It wasn’t just for guys back then, it’s for us too.  Jesus lives in us and gives us His power, energy and boldness.

I occasionally get dreams that I know have spiritual significance.  I had  one this week.  I knew that there was something to the people and events in the dream, so I sought out a friend that is a pretty good interpreter and encourager.  One thing he has taught me is that if I have a dream about somebody else, I need to tell that dream to the person because God has a message for them.  God has been speaking to me about several things since that dream, including not letting me back pedal from my Gospel ambition.

In my dream I was walking a co-worker’s father home.  It was a snowy evening, and I was walking him home on a trail to his daughter and son-in-law’s cabin.  They had the fire going and they welcomed him in.  The father and I didn’t talk, nor did the couple invite me in.  My concern was that he got ‘home’ safely and I was successful.  I have never had a personal connection with this father until about three weeks ago when I rode with him and several others to a sporting event.  He is almost 80, so no spring chicken.

As I turned to head back down the snowy trail, the sun was going down almost completely and I saw that I had a head lamp.  My co-worker, who is not a Christian, called out, “Don’t you love those head lamps?  I have one every where I go.”  But within a few steps it dimmed.  I looked down the path and about 30 yards ahead there were four or five bears in my path.  I saw them, they didn’t see me.  My head flashlight went out completely and I laid down on the ground and back pedaled up hill and woke up.

The father that I walked home is not a Christian.  One of his daughters is, and I felt led to call her and ask about his spiritual state.  The night before my dream they had just had a family meeting to say that her mother had breast cancer and they were talking about where their burial plots were.  He is a skeptic and a debater.  She said, “I won’t be in that grave long.”  He said, “I’ll be in that hole for a long time.”  He needs Jesus.

As she told me this, the Michael W. Smith song played strongly in my head, “I’ll Lead You Home.”  Some of the words: “It won’t be long before your sun goes down, just leave it to Me, I’ll lead you home;  A troubled mind and a doubter’s heart; You wonder how you ever got this far; Leave it to Me, I’ll lead you home.  Hear Me calling, Hear Me calling…”

I had just watched the movie, “A Case for Christ.”  It’s about Lee Strobel, the big skeptic who tried to disprove Christianity and ended up becoming a Christian in the process.  The father was a lawyer and reads a lot.  I ordered the book and am going to give it to the Christian daughter to give to him this next week when they get back from a trip.  We’ll see where it leads from there.

The bears in the path are/could be resistance, nay sayers, overbearing people who would cause me to back pedal and to not be bold–hence, my light for the Lord dims and goes out.  It doesn’t shine and doesn’t do it’s work.  That so hits the nail on the head.  It is so easy to back pedal and avoid confrontation.  It took boldness just to call the Christian daughter out of the blue and tell her that I had this dream and to ask her about her dad.

When I read these verses about the Holy Spirit being the one who gives us the boldness, as well as the  ambition to be used by God in the first place, it gives me the confidence that God will do a work in this father’s heart before He dies.  He will lead Jim home.  I just get to walk with him down the path.

 

 


A pretty good Easter message

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, training us to renounce all ungodliness…and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in our present lives.  When the goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared He saved us…by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.  Titus 2:11-12; 3:4-5

When Jesus showed up, that’s when His grace came.  That’s what gave us the ability to “Just say no” as the old anti-drug slogan said.  It’s His grace that trains us to be better people.  Coupled with the Holy Spirit, we can change from being selfish jerks to something much better than that.

Well then, why did I launch off on the Sirius XM customer service person on the phone because of their hidden charges fee that I found on my bank statement the other day?  Aren’t I supposed to be better than that?  I hung up, shaking my head at myself.  Who was that on the phone?

I was just reading these verses: “Fools show their annoyance at once,” Proverbs 12:16.  And “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools,” angrywomanfrom Ecclesiastes 7:9.  I don’t need to let things like hidden taxes set me off and I roll out the welcome mat to anger.  Forgive me God.  I’m sorry phone person.

I am not going to let anger take up residence in my heart.  God’s grace is at work in me, training me away from a life of being irritated easily, being grumpy, prone to resentment, self pity or moodiness.  That’s not who I am.  Romans 5:20-21 says that where sin increases, that where grace abounds all the more. As sin reigns in death, grace might also reign through righteousness leading to eternal life.

In other words, when I sin, God pours out His grace so that righteousness triumphs instead of sin.  When Jesus came, He brought goodness and kindness with Him.  He brought grace and mercy with Him.  He’s pouring it on on me so I can pour it out on others.

That’s a pretty good Easter message.  Grace is what showed up when Jesus came and the the training away from ungodliness was made possible because He rose from the dead.

*Image from Google images

 


Whatever it Takes

count it as loss

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  Philippians 3:7-8

I’m back to the white spaces again.  We talked about this in our women’s Sunday school class.  One younger woman seemed particularly bothered by why God would leave questions unanswered for long gaps of time, or why in my case, He would seem to lead overseas and then head me in a total opposite direction and not tell me why for so long.

Three years ago I would have jumped on that question and argued with God on her side and yelled, “Yeah, WHY GOD?”  I’m so much more mature now 🙂  Not really.  It’s just that He’s tipped His hand a little more since then.  And I’m thankful.  Thirty years ago I did think that God was calling me to be an overseas missionary and instead I’ve been stationed instead just south of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.  I’ve not been labeled as a missionary, and for parts of the time I’ve not had many friends, a healthy church to attend, or have I been overjoyed to be posted here.  I’ve tried to relocate, only to feel pulled back by the hand of God.  Rats.

I do know that God had me learn things in the 80’s that I needed to know for life in this spiritually tough area:

  1.  I learned that the Bible really is the power of God for salvation.  I had been a part of several camps and youth ministries where I was able to lead hundreds of people to the Lord, or to be a part of God’s process.  I learned that if I taught with a Bible in my hand, things would happen.  I saw hearts changed radically and visibly.  I needed to know that so when I got to this area, two different places in NWest Wisconsin, where the spiritual climate was drastically colder and harder, I wouldn’t give up.  I learned not to resort to emotionalism, manipulation, or slick tricks to get numbers.  Today, I still teach with the Bible in my hand, trusting that God will do His work.  The visible results aren’t there like they used to be, but it’s still true.
  2. I  learned that the Holy Spirit is real and is alive.  I had been taught in my youth that all of the work of the Holy Spirit ended with the apostles.  God did some amazing things to show me this was not the case.  He wanted me to have the Holy Spirit as my close friend and power to stand and to keep standing.  It’s a good thing, because there have many spiritual warfare battles and I have learned in the trenches how to chase demons away.  I even had a graduate professor astral project into my bedroom a couple of times when I lived alone in the woods.  But that’s a story for another day.
  3. I learned that God still had purging and refining to do in me.  I had claimed a song as a life song in the 80’s, “Whatever it Takes.”  Some of the lyrics are:                       There’s a voice calling me from an old rugged tree, saying ‘Christian, draw closer to Me.  Leave this world far behind, there are new heights to climb; and in Me a new life you will find’…For whatever it takes to draw closer to You Lord, that’s what I’ll be willing to do.  I’ll trade sunshine for rain, comfort for rain–that’s what I’ll be willing to do.  For whatever it takes, for my will to break, that’s what I’ll be willing to do.  When you say, ‘Whatever it takes’ to God, then you better mean it.  You’re giving God the license to purify, purge and sanctify.  I needed and still need junk hosed out of me.  The time here has done that, and it hasn’t been fun.  Some of the time just about killed me.  But it has been good (kind of like a root canal).
  4. I learned that God is writing a story in me, in all of us, that He wants to use.  A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a third grader in my principal’s office.  She and another girl had gone on a stealing spree, going through classmates’ lockers that they thought would have cool things to take.  The biggest problem was that they took and lost a girl’s retainer, worth hundreds of dollars.  And they seemed unfazed by it.  Something in me snapped, and I said to the one in my office that day a speech something like this, What do you want in your life?  Do you want to be in jail like your mom?  I know she just got out.  I know that wasn’t fun for you or her.  I know where you live.  Not really–I don’t know where your house is.  What I mean is, I grew up like you did.  I lived your life.  We didn’t have plumbing half of the time.  Our lawn mower didn’t work most of the time so the grass was over our waist and I slunk down in the bus seat because I was ashamed for my classmates to see it.  And my clothes were all hand me down’s because I had two older sisters.  Then our house burnt down and so we got the whole neighborhoods’ hand me down’s, so my clothes were really bad then.  I could have stolen things because I thought I was a victim.  But I did something instead.  When I was in third grade, your age, I read every book in my school.  It might have been a little smaller school than this, but the point is that I used my brain.  And that’s what got me out.  Find something that you’re good at and run with it.  Make something out of your life!  She sat there frozen, just staring at me.  My words probably went over her head, but they didn’t go over mine.  Maybe she helped me find a little more of my voice that day.  God has written my story and He wants me to tell it.
  5. God isn’t finished with me yet.  Caleb was 85 when he went to Joshua (in Joshua 14:10-12) and said, “I am 85 and I am just as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me…so now give me this mountain!”  Caleb still had dreams and plans until the end, and that’s a great role model.  I’ll never arrive until I get to see Jesus.

I don’t remember when I quit singing that song, but I do know what God did take me at my word.  He has made me more like Him, not to be mean, but to make me useful and to lovingly make me who He made me for my good and for His glory.  And He’s not done yet.


The Heart of Darkness (My thoughts on school shootings as an Elementary Principal)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (wicked KJV); who can understand it?  Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

This is a big topic.  It has so many facets with no easy answers, otherwise we would have come up with them soon after the Columbine shootings in 1999.  This hits close to home for me as a school principal.  Sandy Hook was especially unraveling, since it was an elementary school and the principal and school psychologist were two of the victims on that dark day.  Each time there is a tragedy, school safety procedures change, and Parkland, Florida’s will bring more changes.

Our staff met for over an hour this last Friday talking through our procedures and there will be more drills in the coming weeks with students as young as four years old.  What I have been thinking about is that it seems that we have a much deeper problem than just too easy of access to guns.   I’ve been working with youth since I was one myself, so that’s almost 40 years now.  We are products of our culture, which has certainly taken a turn south in those 40 years.  I am disturbed by many things.

One is the disintegration of the family structure.   When I first began to work as a school counselor, I would have students draw out their families as a beginning point.  It showed me who they were, who was important to them, who lived in their home with them…It became such a point of confusion that I soon abandoned it.  So did our culture.  You can say it doesn’t matter if you get married or not, if you get divorced or not, who you marry, how many times, etc. but it fragments kids in a million different pieces.  And then you wonder why their mental health suffers.

Which leads to the next issue, which is mental health.  If I began to really talk about the dire mental health conditions that I really see on a daily basis in my small elementary school, you would push the red button.  I went with a group of teachers to a conference on setting a school wide behavior system a few years back.  There were probably thirty schools there from across Wisconsin.  Every school said they were there because they didn’t know what to do with their out of control mental health needs.  It is a national crisis.

We have consciously taken God out of our country in our drive toward total secular humanism, or whatever you want to call it.  Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” meaning that nature requires every space to filled with something.  If you take God out, that means evil takes its place.  In our area, which is not unique, drugs have taken over.  We are inundated with meth and heroine.  Alcohol seems like child’s play, a relief if that’s all that people do is to drink themselves to death.

Families, that aren’t families anymore, stop going to church, and they start going to bars. I can’t tell you how many funerals I have attended in bars over the last few years.  Fifteen to twenty years ago that would have been unthinkable.   The other place they go on Sundays instead of to church is to sporting events.  The number of youth tournaments on Sundays has taken over.  Sunday is just another day.  ‘Sport’ is the new religion.

The parents’ spiritual health, calling it what it is, is not good, so the child’s spiritual health is totally spinning.  They have suffered the affects of abuse, trauma, neglect and have added in video games that are just waiting to fill that hole in their heart.  Along comes games that are created to addict people from an early age.  “Five Nights of Freddy”  “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto” are not games that seven year olds should be addicted to, but they are.

The topic I’m supposed to be on is school shootings, so I’ll get back to it.  Suppose you have a child who is: a) from a fragmented family, b) whose parent may or may not be addicted to some sort of drug and c) has either the child or the parent has mental health issues because of it,  d) the child has been addicted to some violent video game that programs his muscle memory and goes for “high kill” numbers, and e) they haven’t ever been to church (so no moral compass).  Where do you think that child is headed?

Not every family fits into this category.  But if you look at the profiles of the individuals that have been involved in shootings over the years, they usually have those above mentioned indicators in common.

What is the real solution?  Certainly not allowing automatic weapons into the hands of someone who fits that description is a beginning point, but it doesn’t end there.  How do we even begin to go “Back to the Future” on restoring our families, getting a moral compass from the absolute truth that comes from the Bible and God, and stopping the insanity of violent video games that program minds at an early age?  Revival comes to mind.

As you read through the book of Judges in the Old Testament, there are some pretty crazy things that take place.  There is a phrase that is repeated several times:  “In those days, everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  It was the explanation to why everything was off kilter.  What will our explanation be?

We all have a heart of darkness without Jesus.  The heart if deceitful and desperately wicked.  “We all like sheep have gone astray, and have gone our own way,” as Isaiah 53:6 states.  The only answer that I know is Jesus.  My only hope is Jesus.  Your only hope is Jesus.  “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  That is the rest of Isaiah 53:6.

 


White Spaces

You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know.  Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Have you ever noticed that God isn’t in a hurry?  If I were to create or work out a story of mankind, I don’t think I would include 400 year gaps of time, like where the Israelites stayed in Egypt between Joseph’s death and Moses’ exodus.  Nor would I have another 400 year time of silence where no prophet spoke between Malachi and John the Baptist.  The wilderness wanderings of Moses and the children of Israel might get shortened to maybe five years, and Jesus would have gotten to Bethany before Lazarus before he died, not after.

But I’m not God, and as Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us, our ways are not His ways and they are as white spacefar apart as the Heavens are above the earth.  He works slowly and deliberately for a reason.  Deuteronomy 8 lets us know it is a part of our growth process: to humble us, to let us know what is lacking in our character, to get us to learn to keep God’s commandments, and to cause us to hunger for God and God alone.

In JD Greear’s book Jesus Continued (Zondervan 2014), our women’s Sunday School class is on the chapter of “When You Can’t Feel God.”  He calls the gaps of time that you experience silence from God “white space.”  It’s the space in the Bible between one part of the story to the next.  It’s the space between the call of God and the fulfillment of the dream.  It’s also the white space of singleness; the white space of sickness; the white space of finishing out a prison sentence; the white space of unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations.

A Biblical example would be the time between when David was anointed king and the time he actually took over as king.  There were a few years in-between, and quite a bit of drama.  It’s easy to lose hope in the interim and doubt yourself or doubt God.

This white space time can be terribly confusing and the hardest part of life to endure.  Greear’s encouragement is not to waste the white space.  It reminds me of the story of Gracia Burnham.  Gracia and her husband Martin were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf rebels while on an anniversary trip in the Philippines in 2001.  They were in captivity for over a year.  On an episode of “Locked Up Abroad” Gracia told of this harrowing time.  The interviewer asked if it had changed her in any way.  She stopped and said something to this effect: “It has made me kinder and more forgiving.  I hope it has changed me.  Otherwise I have wasted 375 days in the jungle.”  I don’t want to waste my jungles either.

It was while I was reading Jesus Continued the first time through in the summer of 2015 that God showed me the meaning behind a big white space in my life.  Up to that point it was terribly confusing and just a dangling question mark for me.  I had felt a yearning or a “call” of God for missions when I was in college.  I certainly had a heart for ministry, if not missions.  I went to this big missions convention at the University of Illinois at Urbana twice with 20,000 other students.  Whatever capacity God would lead me to, I knew I needed to finish college, get some experience and Bible training, and then go.

Once I finished my second year of graduate school with a Bible degree I thought, “this is finally it.”  I had pursued different missions boards and landed on one to apply for a three year stint overseas.  I was accepted and went to their candidate school in Wheaton, Illinois.  In the middle of this three week missionary and pre-missionary gathering, the green light shifted to a flashing red light with no advanced notice.

Part of it had to do with the leadership.  They really didn’t communicate with me as they said they would and any time line that they set up where they said they would talk, they didn’t.  I waited patiently at first, less patiently as time went on and as the weeks and then months went on from there, until  I gave up.  My attempts to figure things out weren’t met with solid answers and I went into an emotional spin for at least three months, if not longer.

As I tried to get a word from God, He was putting things on my heart about returning to my home state of Wisconsin, to a small town, working in a church full time, in the denomination I last was a part of in through college.  I was living in South Carolina, on Hilton Head Island, and from there God moved me to the south shore of Lake Superior, in the middle of the winter–a very brutal winter.  But it was with an old friend from college who was a pastor of a smaller church who needed a youth director.

That was over thirty years ago.  I went from working in that church for five years, to feeling led to working in a school setting, which I have been doing full time for 26 years.  The “call to missions” that has continued to ring in my heart has been that white space, with a few other details surrounding it.  In the middle of most of that time, I was single and wondering what God was up to.

While reading the chapter in Jesus Continued, God helped me connect the dots, in an act of grace.  Check out this passage in Ezekiel 3:5-9: For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel–not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand.  Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you.  But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to Me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.  Behold I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads.  Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead.  Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.

It was like He spoke it straight into my heart.  This was the great “ah hah” for me, the answer to my white space.  I was fulfilling my call to missions by being right where I am.  God didn’t send me to a people with a foreign speech and a hard language.  If He did, they would have listened to me.  Instead, He sent me to my own people in my own home state.  And they aren’t willing to listen because they have a stubborn and rebellious heart.  I can vouch for that.  It has been a time of much spiritual warfare and little fruit, many hard hearts and little response.  In response to this, God has given me a face as hard as their faces and a forehead like flint.  I can take what they dish out, and more.

Why the white space and the difficult assignment?  Just as Deuteronomy 8 says: to humble me, and to show me what is in my heart so that I know I need God and I dare not trust in myself.  It is also that I might learn to obey God and to hunger for Him as my true daily bread over and above anything else.

May God fill in the blanks on your white spaces and may you learn the same lessons of humble dependence.  

 

 


Am I ‘mentally ill’?

John 10-27 My Sheep Hear My Voice green

I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not part of My flock.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  John 10:25-27

I don’t know if you have followed the flap in the media this week regarding the comments made on the ABC show “The View” about Vice President Mike Pence.  Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman said that the most dangerous person, the one that we should really be afraid of, is the Vice President.    She said that he not only talks to Jesus, but Pence also says things because he believes that Jesus talks to him and tells him to say them.

Joy Behar then said, “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus.  It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you…that’s called mental illness.”  John 10 makes it pretty clear that there is a division between those who will hear Jesus’ voice and those who won’t.  Those who don’t are not a part of His flock.  The group of Jews around Jesus had been arguing with Him and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  He answered, “I told you, and you do not believe.  You don’t believe because you aren’t a part of My flock.”

In John 15:18-23 Jesus went on to warn His followers that ‘the world’ was going to hate them.  They hated Him, they were going to hate them.  The same thing applies to us.  The same spirit of the world is here today.  It drives the media, politics, and just about everything around us.  And it hates Jesus and it hates followers of Jesus.

And for sure, if we start talking about hearing Jesus talking to us, they aren’t going to get it.  Not even most believers get it.  I’m not even I understand His voice most days.  The voice of Jesus is one of the most wonderful, most precious and most confusing things in my Christian life.  If I were to start my sentences with things like, “Jesus told me to give you this money,” or “Jesus told me to quit my job, so I’m quitting,” the words ‘mentally ill’ would soon trail behind me as well.

I like what JD Greear writes in his book, Jesus Continued: “Such experiences (like God throwing us a curveball, or God moving in our spirit is not on the time table we thought it was) should teach us to hold our perception of what the Holy Spirit is ‘telling us’ loosely,” on pg. 166.  I can sense that God is telling me something, or leading me to make certain decisions, or pressing something on my heart.  All of these have happened to me in varying degrees of intensity.

There are times when I know from the Holy Spirit pressing inside of me that I need to say with boldness that it wasn’t just a coincidence that I knew to give somebody something specific, or to call at the right time, etc. but that God led me to do it.  To tell that to a nonChristian at work takes a risk.  And there are times when I know that God is speaking that I can’t deny that it could be Him and I need to act on it.

I am i the middle of sensing that God is moving me through His Holy Spirit to uproot me from my current full time job to a possible ministry position.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  It is not just a debate for “The View” between scoffers or those who genuinely can’t understand this talk about hearing from God.  It is about my husband and I listening to God and obeying Him.

In Hebrews 11 it says that Abraham left without knowing where he was going.  I’d like it to be a little more clear than that.  I am trusting Psalm 32:8-9 that promises (and warns), I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.  Do not be like a horse or mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.  

And no, I am not mentally ill.  I am one of Jesus’ sheep.

 


You don’t just wake up one day in a 10′ by 10′ shack

In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:6

In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory...Ephesians 1:11-12

That is a promise from God.  I have often drawn out a tangled path drawing showing what happens when we do things our way, as contrasted by the much straighter line when we do things God’s way.  As the mathematical theorem states: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  God directs us more in a straight line fashion.

In Sunday school I was sharing about how several years ago there was a gal who hadflirted a bit with following God.  She and her family ended up in a ten by ten hunting shack with an extension cord strung from the next lot’s RV line.  There were five people jammed in a little shed, and it wasn’t insulated in a cold oncoming winter.  They were determined to stay there, so some men at church had tried to help build on an extra addition and put in some insulation so they could endure the winter.

shackA friend at work was saying that no one should live in those conditions, which I agreed with, but I said, “you don’t just wake up one day in a ten by ten shack.”  My meaning was that it was a series of choices that got them there.  For them it was drugs and alcohol.  It was also a lot of manipulating and not working steady jobs when given the opportunities.  It has become my “go to” thought about being responsible for your choices.  You can think that you’re a victim, but one day you have to examine your own choices to see what you did to get you in that shack.

Life is always a series of choices and we have to own our choices.

In Sunday school one lady got angered at the Proverbs straight line illustration and she said something to the effect that I was making it sound like a prosperity gospel where no one ends up in shacks.  She has not had a straight line path, but a broken road.  It has been at the hands of others: the brokenness of rape, an abusive x husband, a grandchild who died…I mentioned Joseph, who faced his brothers, slavery, false accusations, prison and was still able to say, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

He was also able to say in Genesis 39: 9, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” when Potiphar’s wife called out to him to lay with her.  He could have reasoned in his heart, “I am a victim.  No one knows I am here.  I deserve this.  I had a bad childhood.  I’ll sleep with her…”  But no.  He acknowledged and obeyed God still.  Though his path looked like a crooked one to him, it was a straight one to God.  And it was a path with a purpose and plan for the Kingdom.  Joseph didn’t know that, but he stayed obedient.  But once Joseph saw his brothers and his father with him in Egypt, suddenly the crooked paths became straight.  They made sense.

He could be glad that he didn’t compromise and cave to the call of the world that says, “It’s not your fault if you live a morally corrupt life because that was the ground work that was laid for you…You were a victim…Keep the script going.  Sleep with her.”  My thoughts are about being obedient in the midst of the seemingly crooked paths.  I didn’t have a fairy tale beginning, but by God’s heavy hand on me, His work of grace on my life, He kept me from buying that victim script.  He kept me from falling.  He gave me the grit to say ‘no’ when everyone else around me was diving in.

I can say with Joseph, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” and not make my path more tangled.  It is so easy to make compromising choices and justify them saying, “I had to because…” and not be obedient, and then complain about the 10′ x 10′ shack.

Later, as the Sunday school thoughts were tumbling around in my mind, processing the questions of the seemingly crooked paths at the hands of others and the promise of Proverbs 3:6 about straight paths, God spoke Ephesians 1 to my heart.  It was as if He were giving me an answer.  He works all things according to the counsel of His will in order that we might be to the praise of His glory.

In other words, whether our crooked paths are because of others’ abuse or because of our sinful choices, or because of God’s sovereign hand that takes us to Egypt ahead of our brothers Joseph style–He has His hand on it all, working it out according to His sovereign plan.  Just like Romans 8:28 promises, He is working it out for my good because I love Him and I am called according to His purpose.

There are three ‘according’s’:

  • Ephesians 1:11 ‘according to the purpose of Him who works all things
  • Ephesians 1:11 ‘according to the purpose of His will’
  • Romans 8:28 ‘to those who are called according to His purpose’

The upshot of all of this is that I don’t have to be bitter at God, wondering why my path was crooked.  Joseph wasn’t.  He didn’t spew bitterness at his brothers and get revenge once his father Jacob was dead, which is what his brothers all feared might happen.  The other thing Joseph didn’t do that we all must copy is that he didn’t use his harsh treatment at the hand of his brothers as an excuse to sin.

Joseph kept being obedient even when he had every right to do otherwise.  Don’t use anything as an excuse to sin.  Your choices matter in this life and they matter to God.

Finally, we can say that God will take our crooked paths and strange circumstances and weave them together for good because we love Him.  We are His, and we are called according to his purposes.  God works all things according to the counsel of His will, or according to His plan, so His glory will be worked out in our lives.