GOD’S WILL

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

 

What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions God’s will? What’s your first emotion? Do you cringe? Are you filled with dread? Do you wonder, “What’s he going to do to me?”

 

Even in Jeremiah’s passage (above) God says to his people that his plans are to prosper and not to harm… Astonishingly, it appears that God has to reassure his own children that he intends good for them instead of evil. What sort of Father do we envision him to be?  Must we be convinced that he’s not there to punish us or injure us?

 

Imagine going into your child or your grandchild’s room, and his reaction is to cower and visibly cringe before you. Surely, those we love don’t react to us in this manner. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. Just relax.”

 

And yet, when we contemplate the will of God, we’re sometimes filled with misgivings. If I abandon myself completely to him, what dreadful thing will he require? The truth is more like, “I will lead you in green pastures where there are still waters. You won’t need anything, and being with me will refresh you. Yes, you’ll go through times of difficulties, but there’s no call to be afraid because I’ll always be there. Not only will I meet your needs, but I’m the God of abundance. The cup-running-over God. And I’ve already prepared your place with me for eternity.”

 

Have you ever noticed the lies that are couched in fear? What if? What if I trust him with all my heart? What if I cast myself on him? What will happen? And the lies rush in filling us with dire images of anything but a loving Father. Away with them all. Move into truth.

 

“…whoever does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:17). Romans (12:2) describes the will of God as good and acceptable and perfect. Let us carelessly fling ourselves onto our Father relishing and enjoying his love and, in turn, giving him great joy in our abandon.

 

Father, with the psalmist, I delight to do your will. Your law is within my heart. Be exalted. Be blessed. In your Son Jesus’ name. AMEN.

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GETTING REAL

…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:16

 

If you’ve not read The Velveteen Rabbit, drop everything and go get a copy. It really is an allegory of life and love and authenticity. The little toy bunny in the story is told by the Skin Horse that he can become real through love. The poor bunny is outmatched by fancier and more complicated toys, and the possibility of realness seems remote. But suffering and near tragedy brings out something in him that was never there before.

How like us in our pursuit of spiritual growth. Our objective is clear: become the person God intended from the dawn of creation. And then we begin the process. We think study will move us forward. We fill our lives with books. We believe emulating Jesus’ good works will win his approval. We volunteer for every good deed on the bulletin board. We try to produce good fruit so that God will be honored and people will be blessed. All these things and more we do on our own.

And all the while, becoming is not our doing. It’s all of God. Yes, we can cooperate, but he’s the one who does the work. Like the clay under the potter’s hand, our job is to surrender and to hold still as he pounds and shapes and then reshapes and then spins us wildly on the wheel as his hands hold us lovingly, forming us as he will. And when he finishes, we are the work of his hands and the image of his making.

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil 2:13). Resting in God’s hands doesn’t guarantee comfort; it doesn’t promise ease; but it does ensure peace and warrants transformation. And all the while, God is bringing us into truth. We are becoming real as he cuts off the superficial and removes the phony props and takes away everything that is not of him.

Do you remember the story that was attributed to have been Michaelangelo’s explanation for his brilliant sculpture of David? It is said that he was questioned as to how he was able to so radically create David from the massive piece of marble that had been rejected by other sculptors. The simple response? I cut out everything that was not David. Perhaps that’s an apocryphal statement, but it is what God seems to be doing with us. He looks at the self we have surrendered to him, and he begins to chip and cut and file away according to his design. He knows what he intends us to be, and as we lie still, he perfects his good work in us.

Like that little fictional rabbit, we finally become real.
Father, we long to have your love shape and mold and make us. Take us and let your will be done. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

ADDICTION

…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. I Corinthians 8:6

 

Addiction: the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.

 

In the United States 115 people die every day after overdosing on opioids. The majority of people who transitioned to heroin misuse first abused prescription opioids (National Institute of Drug Abuse, March 2018). Opioid addiction is a well-known epidemic that is a public health crisis with devastating consequences—physical, emotional, and financial. We probably all know someone whose life has been touched by the effects of substance abuse.

 

But have we ever contemplated the effect in our lives of the polite addictions we all tolerate: overeating, workaholism, attachments to technology (think of hours engaged with social media or games), sleep deprivation, laziness, or any compulsion or obsession to which we are attached. Take, for example, a man I knew who was harsh on people who indulged in “social drinking.” However, on his back porch he had cases of Dr. Pepper stacked as high as they could go. He was “hooked.” And then there was the “night owl” who had as hard a time going to bed as some folks do getting up because of the fetish for the late hours.

 
I knew someone who was so attached to reading that she had no interest in cleaning the house or taking care of the children. And then, I suspect, we all know the hazards of getting involved with the Internet or certain television programs. They’re almost impossible to shut down, and yet they’re all socially acceptable.

 
The things I’ve mentioned are perfectly all right in our society. But what happens when they interfere with our particular calling? Henry Blackaby (Knowing God) has said that, “No, Lord” is a contradiction of terms. Jesus can’t be Lord when we say, “Wait,” or “Not now.” The only obedience we can offer is instant doing of our Father’s will. It’s the little things that keep us from pleasing our Father.

 
Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest) says, “We fail because we are ignorant of the way we are made, we put things down to the devil instead of our own undisciplined natures.” Just try a simple little test. Think about the things you look forward to doing. What happens if something (or someone) interferes with your “thing?” Is it almost impossible to delay or stop that particular activity or substance? Can you go a week without your favorite TV show or your favorite food or drink? You get the picture. Do you live with freedom or bondage?

 
To what do you say, “Yes, Lord?” Once we say, “Yes,” to God and set our wills to do his will, he gives us the strength to put away the distractions that keep us addicted. He can set us free. Do it now.

 

Father, we let little things rob us. Open our understanding of the vast, wide world of freedom to which you have called us as your children. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

 

GREAT EXPECTATIONS?

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple… John 20:1, 2

 

We are all familiar with this story. The title of this section in my Bible says, “The Empty Tomb.” Jesus had spent three years living with, teaching, demonstrating, and revealing Truth to his disciples. In very clear language he’d told them several times that he would die but that he would live again, and they would have great joy. If we’d had an opportunity to talk with them, I’m sure they would confidently proclaim their knowledge of God’s Son and his mission and assure us of his sovereignty. We would probably be impressed by these great men of God.
And yet, after seeing Jesus’ crucifixion, their primary focus seems to be preparing and preserving his body and hiding from the Jewish leaders. What had come of the three years of intensive discipleship? Of the signs and wonders? The time of testing had shown them all to be small in their faith, at best, and deserters, at worst. All that abiding had culminated in a ragtag band reconvening to mourn their mutual disillusionment. (Or lost ambitions…)
Remember the men on the road to Emmaus? “…we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21) All their dreams and expectations were dashed because of Jesus’ crucifixion. Although he’d predicted everything that would happen, even saying, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19) He’d indicated the way he would die with every reassurance that he would rise again. But it wasn’t what they expected. It didn’t happen the way they’d planned.
When they reached the Empty Tomb, the disciples—women and men alike—were disappointed because Jesus’ dead body was gone. I suppose there would have been a modicum of comfort in cleansing and spicing and wrapping a corpse—it looks like that’s what they were expecting. Instead, Jesus had a RESURRECTION. He undid death and its power, and he brought LIFE—so much more than what they could ever think or ask.
Do we ever get disappointed (even disillusioned) because God doesn’t answer our prayers in the same puny, insipid, unimaginative way we pray? Oh, bummer, the tomb is empty. I can’t clean up or anoint the dead body—when God is all about resurrection. He’s about creating new life. He’s about moving in ways that we could never envision. He’s all about BEING GOD.
It’s time to stop grieving over the empty tomb and start rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit who is on hand to transform and to resurrect. It’s time to kick out our starved imaginations and let God be God.

 

Father, open our minds and hearts to see you in your power and glory. Come with your resurrection life. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

REPLACEMENTS

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. II Corinthians 5:17

 

When I was a child, we sang a song in Sunday school, “I’ll tell you the best thing I ever did do…was to take off the old robe and put on the new.” There was a refrain that compared the old and the new assuring us the best thing was the new robe. Did any of you ever sing that little ditty?

 

Today as adults we’re still being asked to change and replace things in our lives. I have friends who hate change—“Don’t move that chair.” “I don’t want to have to relocate.” “Why do I have to get another doctor?” “But that’s my favorite sweater.” And so on. We seem to forget that change is one of the givens in life. Every day brings something new and different, and we either get on board with change or we get run over and left by the wayside.

 

God calls on us regularly to change. He gives us the opportunity to discover his power in a new way; he calls us to accept a challenge we’ve never considered; he urges us to replace old habits and methods with his new, fresh work in our lives. “The old robe was tattered, all dirty and torn; the new robe was spotless and never been worn. I’ll tell you the best thing I ever did do was to take off the old robe and put on the new.”

 

The Holy Spirit implores us to let go of the fleshly nature that inhibits our exploring new worlds with him. He asks us again and again to die to those desires and weaknesses that have so long identified us. We’re comfortable with our sweet old selves and forget that his promise is always new for old, good for bad, strength for weakness, joy for sorrow, beauty for ashes. We hand in our hearts of stone; he replaces them with hearts of flesh. We give him the dark places of denial; he shines light and sets us free. And on and on.

 

We are afraid of change. What will God do to me if I surrender the old ways, the old habits, the old attitudes? Nothing God gives us in exchange for the temporal rubbish to which we cling disappoints. How can we even begin to think that the God of the universe will replace garbage with something of even lesser value? Do we really expect our loving Father to treat us so unkindly?

 

We surrender to him ourselves, our natures, our attitudes, our preferences, our whole lives and intentionally reach out to receive all the life that he has promised in Christ Jesus. All the love, all the fruit for all of eternity. How can we foolishly cling to junk when he offers us the treasures of the Kingdom?

 

Take off the old robe and put on the new.

 

 

Father, thank you for your Spirit that keeps working and refining us so that we look more and more like Jesus. Don’t allow us to be comfortable with the slightest vestige of the old self just because we’ve always been that way. Replace all the flesh in us with your dear Son. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

MIND THE CIRCUMSTANCES

 

Even the things that seem accidental are really ordered by Him. Proverbs 16:33 (AMP)

 

Blackaby says (Experiencing God) we are to pray and then watch what happens. Stay alert to see what God will do next. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

 

When my friend Barbara, an international development consultant, emailed to say she’d be in my area and wondered if we could visit, I immediately invited her to stay through the weekend. Never mind that I’d been miserable with allergies for two weeks—this was a circumstance I couldn’t afford to overlook. I pushed aside thoughts of weariness and a pounding head. Barbara didn’t come my way that often.

 

I planned meals, weekend activities (oh, my aching head), and prayed for strength to embrace this opportunity. And then, the day before arrival, Barbara wrote to say she’d contracted a bad cold at one of her conferences. Did I want to cancel? So, was God giving me an out and an opportunity to get better? Should I give in to the temporary discomfort and miss the long-term gain?

 

Without hesitation, I told Barbara to come on. (What was I thinking? Oh, I know. I had prayed and was watching the circumstances.) Over dinner, Barbara and I discussed economic issues that plague most of the partners with whom we work in developing nations and how we can lovingly and effectively walk with them to become self-sustaining. Barbara told me about two men in a nearby city who might be the exact resources I needed and who worked in areas where we had ministries.

 

In discussing activities for the following day, I asked if Barbara wanted to rest and work quietly in her room or if she wanted to attempt the itinerary I had planned. She begged off asking if she could be still and work. Instead of racing around on Saturday, both of us used the time to recover and have the quiet time we both so desperately needed. Something I wouldn’t have done had Barbara not come.

 

Sunday was good with church and a beneficial lunch discussing further networking and brainstorming about mutual concerns. By end of the day, Barbara had arrived at her next appointment and had connected me with the two resources who appear to be exactly what I need for my international partners.

 

Coincidence? Or God tapping me to mind the circumstance?

 

Father, you are still in control. Even when things seem inconvenient or random, remind me that your ways are higher than my ways, and your plans are much more grand than mine will ever be. You are Lord. Have your way. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

SHAWN’S FOLLY?

 

And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Isaiah 58:11

 

I have a new gardener, Shawn, not to be confused with Mario who cheerfully blows leaves from one side of my yard to the other. Shawn comes to my house when the season changes, and I have the great joy of planning what seasonal colors will be added for the next few months. Shawn is a master gardener while I’m just an amateur who loves to see God’s handiwork up close and personal in my garden.
I’ve been anticipating spring long before the pecan trees began to leaf, a Texan’s sure sign that the frosts are over. I’ve tried to second-guess Shawn with ideas of what we’ll add this year. We’re working on what I fancifully call the Fountain Garden (you can imagine why), and much planning has gone into the flowers and foliage. Shawn listed columbine, shrimp plant, hosta, caladium, and many other favorites that I love.
On planting day, I could hardly wait to get home from work to see the scrubby little plot transformed into God’s Eden. But…what? Was I wrong? Was this NOT planting day? As I moved from bed to bed, all I could see were miniature ferns and things staked to the fence. There were tiny bits of foliage poking out of the ground in new places, and there were suggestions of color in other spots. What a letdown. Surely, this wasn’t what I’d waited for months to see.
About bedtime, when the disappointment had thoroughly soaked in, I began to reflect on the whole process of gardening: While the planting has been done, it doesn’t yet appear what the garden will be like. Only in my mind’s eye can I envision the promise that I’ve nurtured in my heart. All the dull hours of cleaning and pulling out dead matter were necessary to give new life an opportunity to thrive without pests and invasive plants. It would have been a lot more fun to just dig a hole and drop in a colorful plant, but—I’m in this garden for the long haul. The digging and harsh tilling were essential to remove the rocks and provide room for strong, healthy roots to develop. As for the smaller plants Shawn incorporated (while I hoped for big bursts of instant color), as they grow, they will combine to make a mass of texture and color and will prevent the weeds from penetrating and spoiling the effect I’ve wanted.
Perhaps the most significant thought was from Hebrews (10:36). I paraphrase: “For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the proper work of the gardener, you might receive the garden of your dreams.” I admit, every morning as soon as the sun is up, I go out to see if anything has occurred in my garden. I like to think that God is also walking about in my heart garden to see if any new fruit is beginning to bud. Might there be a tiny spot of self control in that corner? Or possibly a new bit of joy about to burst into full bloom? I’m hoping so…

 

Our Father, you speak so often about gardens in your Word. Life began in a garden, and Jesus went often to the garden to be with you. Thank you for digging and planting and nourishing your life in us. Let it blossom fully for your Kingdom and your glory. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.