Category Archives: Trusting God

On the Other Side of the Lake

A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been freed from the demons.  He was sitting at Jesus’ feet, fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid.  Then those who had seen what happened told the others how the demon-possessed man had been healed.  And all the people in the region of the Gerasenes begged Jesus to go away and leave them alone, for a great wave of fear swept them…

On the other side of the lake the crowds welcomed Jesus, because they had been waiting for Him.  Then a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, plead with Him to come home with Him.  Luke 8:35-41 NLT

I am struck by this contrast on the two different sides of the lake.  On one side, Jesus did something huge, setting a man free from a legion of demons.  Everyone in town knew him as the crazy man in the caves, who probably screamed out at night and scared the kids.  Now he’s clothed and in his right mind and Jesus did it.  Yet they begged Him to leave because they were afraid.

Hebrews 3:12-15 warns us about not having the same reaction: Take care lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin…Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.

Waiting for Jesus on the other side of the lake were people who needed healing, people with faith, with a welcoming heart and open arms.  One lady knew if she could just get through the crowd and touch his robe she’d be healed.  Jesus told her that her faith had healed her.  The opposite of faith is fear.  The thing that made the people drive Jesus away was fear across the lake.

One of the things that makes us drive Jesus away today is fear.  When we say that Jesus doesn’t do miracles like that today, or that He can’t fix this or fix that…or whatever it is that makes us not come to Him in prayer believing that He can impact a situation–part of our unbelief is mixed with fear.  When the disciples called out to Jesus in the boat and said, “Don’t you care if we drown?” it was fear.  He rebuked them for their lack of faith.

In 2 Timothy 3 when it says that we will have a from of godliness but deny God’s power, is it fear that makes us comfortable with a lack of power?  We are comfortable with our own power, rather than relying on the Holy Spirit, because maybe we’re afraid of where God is going to take us, or what He’s going to demand of us, or who He’s going to ask us to love…So we stick to a less-than power out of fear.  woman-at lake.jpg

Or, as Hebrews 3 calls it, “an unbelieving heart–an evil, unbelieving heart.”  And that heart condition causes us to fall away from the living God.

Which side of the lake do you live on?

This link if my graphic.  It is an infographic and it can’t be loaded on this page.  Please click it, and then pray about the answer to my question.

On the Other Side of the Lake


Oh The Places He’ll Take Us

That day when evening came, Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’  Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat.  There were also other boats with Him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat,so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern sleeping on a cushion.  The disciples woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to His disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?’  They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey Him!’  Mark 4:35-41

“We’re going to the other side,” Jesus announced with a grin; He knew there was a storm ahead, as He told them to get in.  He promptly went to sleep just to see if they would choke; and sure enough the boat looked like it would go up in smoke.

“Wake up Jesus! Don’t you care if we drown?  What kind of prophet are you?  We’re all going down!”  “Relax you ninnies–have you no faith?  I’m the God of these storm clouds, the wind and the waves.”

“Be not afraid!  So please stop your big whines.  I’ve got places to take you that have no confines.  Your faith now is small, but grow it you must.  Place it not on the storm, but in Me and you’ll bust–

stick people motion.pngRight out of your boxes and fears and small boats, and soon you will be preaching to thousands, and you’ll host–all kinds of events and church gatherings, you’ll see.  That there’s no end to what I can do in you through your faith in Me.

 

Don’t tell Me to wake up–it’s you that needs awakened.  I want to do things that will shake you and keep shaking.  I have places to take you so wrap your heart around it; give Me your faith and I’ll equip you–now let’s get it started!”

*Photo from Pixabay

 


Your Fifteen Minutes of Fame

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end…I perceived that whatever God does endures forever, nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.  God has done it, so that people fear before Him.  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.  Ecclesiastes 3:11,14,18

There are three ‘so that’s’ or ‘that’s’ in these verses.  The first one is: God has put eternity in our hearts yet so that we can’t find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.  In other words, God has put a longing in our hearts for the infinite, or the eternal, but He has rigged it so that we can really only know the finite.

We have a longing for eternity but yet we can’t figure it all out because we’re limited in time and space.  We  have a yearning for something more, because we have souls that are eternal.  We are really made for a relationship with God almighty.  We all have a God sized hole in our hearts that is only filled with Him.  Some people figure it out, some never do.  Those that don’t spin around in all different sorts of directions, filling that hole with a variety of things.

The second ‘so that’ is that God is eternal and His works last forever.  God has made it that way so that we would fear Him.  Solomon doesn’t embellish this fact much, he just states it.  God is infinite, and we’re not, so we ought to fear Him.

The final ‘that’ is in verse 18: I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they are but beasts.  In other words, God is God and we are not.  He wants us to know how much we need Him.  The thing we all have in common is that in a hundred years we’ll all be dead.  In that way, we are like the beasts of the fields.  There has to be a meaning to the life we are given, because one day we will die.

There is a classic little book, A Confession, by Leo Tolstoy.  He wrote it in 1882.  It’s an Tolstoyinteresting read, not very long, and although he was a Russian intellectual, it’s very easy to follow his logic and his journey toward God.  I highly recommend it.  In his search for God, he read Ecclesiastes, as well as Buddha and Schopenhauer (a German philosopher).

Tolstoy’s real faith was in himself and in his own perfect will, to be better in the eyes of other people.  But he found it all meaningless.  He realized that he was paid well to be a teacher, but he really didn’t know much of anything.  By the age of 50 he was obsessed with suicide, keeping loose ropes away from himself lest he hang himself on a beam.

His question was, “Why do I live?”  His answer up that point was, “In infinite space, in infinite time, infinitely small particles change their forms in infinite complexity, and when you understood the laws of those mutations of form you will understand why you live on the earth.”  ( From Chapter 5)

Another way of saying it: “You are an accidentally united little lump of something that ferments and become life.  Then one day it disintegrates and there will be an end of the fermenting and of all the questions.”  If that’s true, then why do we cry out for our ’15 minutes of fame,’ as Andy Warhol first tagged it?  Or, as Dallas Willard puts it in The Divine Conspiracy, (pg. 9) why did ever people want to be ‘The Oscar Meyer Wiener’ where everyone will be in love with me?

Tolstoy eventually moved from having faith in himself and in only the rational knowledge, which brought futility to having a faith in irrational knowledge which was found in admitting that there was a God.  He didn’t find this faith by being with the other rich intellectuals.  In his search for meaning, he found it by spending time with the peasants.  They worked in heavy labor but were content in life.  He spent the rest of his days living a simple life with them, sorting out a faith in God.

Tolstoy discovered in his late fifties what Solomon wrote about.  Our hunger for meaning in life and significance is a signal of what God planted in us.  It’s who we are and why we are here.  We were made by an infinite, eternal God.  We bear His image.  We were meant to count, just like water is made to run downhill.  God has placed eternity in our hearts, with souls that live on after we die.  That’s what makes us different than animals.  One day we will all stand and give an account to our Creator.

So if you get an urge to try out for ‘American Idol’ or to  do something to make a mark, know it is because God has placed eternity in your heart.  You were made to count because you’re more than just an accidental lump of something that evolved from some primordial goo.  You were made by a God who loves you, knows you by name, and has a plan for your life.  You don’t have to worry about having loose ropes laying around, and that’s good news.

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Great Exchange

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God…but they became futile in their thinking…Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for stuff (me)…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.  Romans 1:21-25

I used to think this was the progression that idol worshipers in places like Papua New Guinea followed–some remote island.  But not me.  I’m not an idol worshiper!  I don’t have carved images in my backyard or on my mantel.  And I’m not like the pagans in my community who go golfing on Sunday mornings while I’m up early for prayer meeting, Sunday school and church.  They have idols, but not me.

Think again.  I’ve been slowly working through Brad Bigney’s  book, Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols with a great group of women.  We’re just in the second chapter, so the best is yet to come in this archaeological dig of the heart.  I’m just in the first layer of unearthing my own heart.  I’m seeing that, though I might cloak my idols in a different veneer, they are there.

Anything I exchange for the one true God is an idol.  I can exchange the glory of God for stuff, materialistic things that I can hold on to.  And I can exchange the truth of God for any lie that I cling to that I think is easier to hold on to than to really believe what He has promised.  That’s my great exchange.

idol-7Back in Exodus when the Israelites were waiting for Moses to come back down from the mountain they had Aaron make a golden calf.  That seemed so silly to me.  They had just seen God part the Red Sea and drown the Egyptian army and all.  Now they have to wait 40 days and it’s too long?  But God has given us front row seats to His glory too and when He’s not on our timetable we go running off to something or someone else all too easily.  We turn to something we can control because we lose the faith or patience or the toughness that it takes to wait it out just a little longer until God delivers.

I remember working at an all girls’ camp and being over a dozen counselors and about 50 teenage girls.  The tricky part was that there was a boys camp across the lake and around the bend.  So my sleep was disrupted regularly by trying to catch the occasional interlopers.  The one that sticks in my mind was a twenty something counselor that was busted hooking up with a guy counselor at chapel point, (of all places) to have sex.  Her justification was, “in case she never gets a chance again.”  Really?  So like the golden calf crowd.

We get jumpy and stay in the drivers seat and exchange the truth of God for a lie.  The lie might be that trusting in money is better than trusting in God.  Isn’t it funny that we have “In God we trust” on our money (when we really trust in money)?  A friend from college stopped in about ten years after and I asked him how he was doing spiritually.  He was an engineer in a glass company and was doing quite well.  He was shockingly honest and said that he wasn’t doing well spiritually.  He said he had the same attitude he used to have when he smoked pot, but now it was money that he was smoking.  I looked at him funny, and he said that he was embedded in materialism.  No one at church bothered him about it. He said it wasn’t like when he smoked pot, but it was the same rebellion.  The good news was when I saw him about five years later and asked him if he was still smoking money, he said he wasn’t.  I could tell he was much healthier spiritually.

 God isn’t always on our timetable so we get take matters into our own hands, just like the golden calf crowd and we turn to something we can control, says Bigney–even though idols serve us so poorly, and hurt us and cost us.  But we think they’re more predictable than God is, and they keep us in the driver’s seat.

2 Corinthians 5:7 says that “We walk by faith, not by sight,” but I think at core we wrestle with that most of the time.  The first thing Martha said to Jesus in John 11 was “You’re late,” when she had sent word to him that Lazarus was sick.  Jesus didn’t come right away and now he was dead.  Don’t we tell God He’s late a lot?    Jesus told Martha it was for the glory of God that He waited.  In chapter 2 of his book, Bigney says that “God is good, but He’s not safe. He will mess with your life–not just to be messing with it, but to conform you to the image of Christ.”

Jesus came late to mess with Martha and Mary because He had something so much bigger up His sleeve than just healing their brother.  He wanted to prove that He was the resurrection and the life and to give them a sneak preview of a huge coming attraction–His own resurrection.  And they got front row seats.  Wow.  Follow Jesus and that’s what He’ll do with you.  Put your life on the line and He’ll take your clean little life and turn it into a big, messy one.  Is it safe?  NO.  But like Mr. Beaver told Susan in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: “Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course He isn’t safe.  But He’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

Still in chapter 2, Bigney quotes Richard Keyes, from “The Idol Factory,” in No One but God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age.  Keyes says that, paraphrased, we make idols because we don’t want to face God himself and His holiness.  So rather than to deal with His lordship, we orient ourselves towards ‘creations,’ and kind of make up our own rules.

In other words, we have the evidence of God within ourselves and in the world, but it’s too demanding to play life by God’s rules.  So then we make up our own religion that looks kind of like God’s, but we’re the ones in control.  It’s too difficult to really draw near to God, because if you’re entertaining unconfessed sin, or flat out rebelling, you can’t be in the same zip code with God.  His holiness will consume you.  You’ll go nuts.

Keyes goes on to say, “Since we were made to relate to God, but do not want to face Him, we forever inflate things in this world to religious proportions to fill the vacuum left by God’s exclusion.”  That’s why we have elevated sports to such an over the top status, even in Christian families.  Bigney words it so well: “As Christians–lovers of Jesus Christ–we have a higher calling.”

As soon as we drift away from Christ and the centrality of the gospel, we start erecting substitutes for God.  That’s why our culture is so desperate to make heroes and celebrities our everything and everybody–because of our innate yearning for God and the freedom of His gospel, both of which we as a people have rejected.  And we try to fill the void with hero and celebrity worship.

The antidote?  Shine a light on your heart, but quickly turn it to Jesus.  Read the Gospels, delight in grace and what Jesus has done.  Don’t drift.  In Sunday School we decided to ask ourselves the question about what we needed to fast from that might have a foothold where it ought not have.  Bigney’s question in identifying idols is “Am I willing to sin to get it?”

Where have I exchanged God’s best for a lie, a cheap substitute?  Where have I caved to something that is easier than to walk by faith and have chosen instead to walk by sight?

We’re going on an archaeological dig straight into our hearts.  I’ll tell you what I find.


Spiritual Grit

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.  Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.  Micah 7:7-8

This is like the Christian version of “Fight Song,” by Rachel Platten. The chorus cries out “This is my fight song, take back my life song…”  I can almost hear it playing in the background as I read today’s verses.  When you feel like you are under attack and you’ve been buried under a load of defeat, this is your fight song.  I will look to the Lord, my God will hear me, when I fall down I will get up again, the Lord will light my darkness…

In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul describes the armor of God that we are to pray over ourselves to stand firm in the day of evil.  One of the pieces of the armor is the shield of faith.  We are to pick up this shield daily and stand on God’s promises.  There are days that I picture myself picking up the shield in my left hand and I quote verses out loud that declare my faith in the God who hears me and will save me.  “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” and “with God all things are possible,” and “by my God I can leap a high wall and bend a bow of bronze.”  That is my fight song.

Commit fighter verses to memory and call them out loud.  Pray them over yourself and others who you know that are struggling.  James 4:7 tells us to Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  2 Corinthians 10:4 declares that we have weapons of warfare that are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. Quoting Scripture out loud is one of those weapons. So is calling on the name of Jesus, prayer and singing praise and worship songs out loud when necessary.

In my position as principal, it is a convenient place for bashers to pop up on Facebook. It is almost always for unfair reasons and truth usually doesn’t have to be told in the posts. It’s kind of like a Jerry Springer show, where drama is daytime entertainment.  I’m not on Facebook for a variety of reasons, but one is that it is too tempting to enter into the fray and war according to the flesh. Instead, I claim Psalm 31:20, In the cover of Your presence You hide them from the plots of men. You store them in Your shelter from the strife of tongues. I also remember Romans 12:21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

gritMicah called out: “When I fall, I shall rise.”  This is Christian grit.  Researcher Angela Duckworth says on Ted Talks that people who are successful didn’t get to be that way from having family money, or good looks, IQ, or anything else.  She reports that the biggest determining factor is grit.   Grit is resilience, an attitude that will not give up, look back or turn away.  You might not have much bounce left, but with God empowering and equipping you, you can do anything.

Even if your fall was the result of your own stupidity or sin, God forgives. Confess what you’ve done, don’t repeat it and get right back on the horse. Though you sit in the darkness, the Lord will be a light to you.

To quote Dr. Seuss, from Oh, The Places You’ll Go! (1990, Dr. Seuss Enterprises)

“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.  Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.  A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!

Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?  How much can you lose? How much can you win?  And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…

or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?  Or go around back and sneak in from behind?  Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,  for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.”

There will be dark times and dark places, but never forget that even in them—God will be with you and He will be a light for you. And that is something worth hanging on to.


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.

 

 


In His grip—God’s righteous and powerful right hand

Is41.10.jpg

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

I remember years ago when I was in graduate school for Counseling. I had a professor who was quite difficult. She was prone to zeroing in on a student and then ripping him or her to shreds, seemingly out of the blue. It was my night, and rip she did. It was nearing the end of my program, and there had been many obstacles to my finishing. They seemed to be spiritual obstacles, and I was trying to march through them valiantly.

But this rip fest shook me. I got home and I fell apart. I cried out to God and I said something to the effect of, “God, I have to know you’re there. Give me something.” And this is the verse He gave me, this exact verse. He spoke it loud and strong to me. It meant everything to me. In that moment I knew He would get me through that battle and whatever battle stood ahead of finishing. And He did.

Fast forward almost thirty years later. I was praying with a woman in jail who had just been sentenced to 25 years in prison. What she had done warranted it. When she had come into the county jail, she was a mess. But she was leaving a new creation. Jesus had gotten a hold of her.

We had read and claimed this verse before she went to her sentencing and now we read it again before she went to prison. Does she still have a ways to go? Yes. But Jesus goes with her.  This verse has been a mainstay so many times!

Can you remember a time when you were truly fearful?  Where what faced you was way more than you could handle? To be dismayed means to be horrified, unnerved, filled with fear and distress and being at a loss at how to deal with something.   This promise is like Superman coming in for a rescue, but Superman isn’t real.   God is.  And that’s great news. God takes a hold of you with His righteous right hand.

Get this: The creator of the universe promises to subdue our fears, to strengthen us and to uphold us with His righteous right hand.  He was promising this to Israel collectively, but 2 Corinthians 1:20 tells us, All the promises of God find their ‘yes’ in Jesus.  That means God’s character and promises were fulfilled in Jesus for all of us.

What about God’s righteous right hand?  Exodus 15:6 reads, Your right hand, O Lord is glorious in power, Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.  And Exodus 15:12 goes on to say, You stretched out Your right hand; the earth swallowed them.    And check out Deuteronomy 33:2: The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; He shone forth from Mount Paran; He came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at His right hand.  

When John saw Jesus, he fell at His feet as though dead.  But He laid His right hand on me, saying ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last,’ as Revelation 1:17 reports.  Jesus strengthened John with His right hand.

Throughout the book of Revelation Jesus uses His right hand, like in Rev. 5:1, in the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.  It seems to symbolize strength, sovereignty and authority.

When you are in over your head, call on God, reminding yourself and God that you are His child and that He has promised to strengthen you, to help you and take a hold of you with His righteous, strong and ruling right hand.  Write this verse out and post it everywhere, quote it to yourself and tell Satan to get lost. You can take this promise to the bank.


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.

 

 


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.


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.