This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Forty-Five and Growing

I just turned forty-five. I've heard that the "hard" birthdays are supposed to be thirty and forty. As I recall, I was bothered just slightly by thirty, mostly because of hearing other people talk about the trauma of that milestone. Bigger life challenges swallowed up my fortieth birthday. But forty-five . . .

I'll admit I struggled with this one, more than either of those other monumental milestones. Why? In part, I guess it just seems like a big number, almost definitely more than halfway through life. More significant than where this year falls on my life's timeline, however, are the ideas of what my life has been so far and of what it is right now.

The longest I have been in any one place in my adult life is six-and-a-half years. That time frame (or shorter) isn't long enough for me to really become part of a place or to have a significant impact within a ministry. To put it bluntly, there is no unforgettable legacy, no legendary status, and no automatic linking of my name to a particular place. Added to that lack of continuity are the challenges of the past eight to nine years: significant and recurring health issues, job losses, relocations, and relationship struggles.

Currently I find myself still alone; I'm more restricted physically and socially than I would like. I'm working a secular job. My ministry in the church is in small areas - assisting in a children's class and helping with the nursery. My heart is to help people, and I long for that to be in teaching and sharing the Word with teens or ladies. I would love to see my devotional book ministering to many who struggle with illness. Those things are not happening, and I just learned this week that one opportunity I thought might be happening isn't.

I guess the bottom line of my struggle is that life seems somewhat empty. My impact in the past seems limited, and my impact in the present seems even more so. I suppose it is rather natural and all-too-human to face times like this of reflection and evaluation. It is also wrong to become mired down and discouraged in such times. How must I handle this challenge and others like it?

First, I must subordinate my emotions. They cannot rule. Focusing on discouragement, sadness, self-pity, sorrow, loneliness, unfairness, etc., serves no good purpose. Emotions are real, and they are part of how God made me. Emotional responses can be perfectly natural, but "soaking" in them can lead to sin. At other times emotions are inexplicable and mysterious; they can change with a piece of news, laughter with a friend, or a good/bad night's sleep. Emotions can provide necessary releases or helpful expressions, but they cannot be depended on. Life evaluations and decisions cannot be based on them, and I cannot dwell in them.

While I don't readily think of a particular Bible verse that says so, the concept of subordinating one's emotions is quite Biblical. The following verses come to mind: Psalms 42 and 43; Psalm 27:13-14; Psalm 73; Philippians 4:6-7; John 14:1; Hebrews 12:3. Each of these passages speak of an emotional response that is to be countered by or overpowered by truth. This doesn't mean that the emotions no longer exist, but they cannot be the master. They must be held in check by right thinking, which leads to the next step in dealing with struggles.

Second, I must take my thoughts captive. Not just any thought will serve for controlling my emotions. They have to be the right thoughts. It would be easy to think, for example, that my life is pointless, that I have no impact on others, that God has let me down, that my life has fallen apart, and so on. These thoughts are neither correct nor helpful. Dwelling on thoughts like these will drive me to wrong conclusions and wrong decisions. They will leave me miserable and without answers or hope. I have to think God's thoughts - Biblical thoughts.

What is right thinking for me? God is sovereign. He is and always has been in control of my life. God guides my steps. He has guided each step of my life, and I am in His will as much now as I ever have been. God is the master over all other rulers, so the fact that my job transitions were unusual does not mean that God didn't plan them. God works all things for His good plan. The reality that unpleasant things have happened in my life does not negate God's doing something good through them. God has superior wisdom. While my current job situation isn't what I've trained for, financially it is helping to make up for the times of unemployment that depleted my savings. While my ministry is currently not what I would like, God knows my physical and mental limitations. I could look at my life and consider it to be a series of failures and disappointments, but God does not fail. I am reminded of the life of Joseph. His life repeatedly took "wrong" turns, and God's hand seemed absent, but God was working through it all. God was accomplishing exactly what He wanted to accomplish, just as He always does. God does not intend for every person to leave an "unforgettable legacy"; He simply asks that I faithfully obey Him.

The wonderful thing about these thoughts is that each one can be supported by a verse (or verses) from the unchangeable Word of God. This makes the right thoughts infinitely better than my fickle emotions. These thoughts provide stability in the midst of struggle. They don't necessarily make the troubling emotions disappear, but many times they do. At the very least, my mind is now occupied by something positive rather than something negative.

In times of struggle I must subordinate my emotions rather than letting them be foremost, and I must control my thoughts rather than thinking what seems right to me or what first comes to mind. In reality, this is the essence of Christian maturity. Maturity, by its very definition, requires that someone start at a lower level than he will ultimately achieve. Maturity comes by working through life's struggles to learn things that were not known before and to increase growth that was started before. There is no shame in facing difficult times, most of which are completely beyond my own control. They are a platform for growth if I will seek God's help and God's answers in them. Maturity comes as I more quickly and more automatically begin to think God's thoughts and when I allow His truth to provide stability for me. Will I continue to face struggles in life? Without a doubt. My pathway to maturity can continue through them, however, as I purpose to fight within each new challenge to learn God's truth.

"We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." II Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

God of Power

Things do not always go smoothly in a believer's life. Situations don't always resolve themselves in the way that seems right. It may even seem that God has failed to act or that for some reason He was unable to achieve a more acceptable outcome. Human understanding is often incapable of knowing what God is doing, but one thing is certain: God's power is not in question.

By His great power, God created the world. God claimed, "I have made the earth, the men and the beasts which are on the face of the earth by My great power and by My outstretched arm" (Jeremiah 27:5). This was no small feat. His power did not create mere sculptures of man and beast, but moving, breathing life. Some of those animals are large enough to crush a man or fierce enough to tear him to pieces. God formed the earth out of nothing, with all of its mountains and valleys. He forced each river to follow His designed channel and set boundaries that the oceans cannot pass. He took the sphere called earth, weighing an estimated 6,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons, and hung it in the vastness of space. Earth is just one of the myriad planets and stars that He created and placed. That is power!

By His great power, God has control over nature and the weather. Man cannot predict the weather, let alone change it. Man facing a drought cannot create a needed storm, nor can he supply water by corralling the rains falling on another part of the country. With His power, God causes storms. His thunder is beyond understanding (Job 26:12). His power directs the winds (Psalm 78:26). By His same power, He can stop any storm, quieting the seas (Job 26:12). His power can cause the seas and rivers to dry up, no matter their size (Isaiah 50:2). One of the most amazing and concentrated demonstrations of God's power over nature was His bringing of the people of Israel out of their captivity in Egypt. Moses reminded God of "Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand" (Exodus 32:11). Far from a single amazing act, this was a series of phenomenal events that destroyed a great nation. With His power, God brought and removed plagues of frogs, lice, flies, and locusts at will. He turned the river to blood, brought disease on man and beast, caused a terrific hail storm, and created darkness so thick it could be felt. The culmination of these mighty acts was to spread apart the waters of the Red Sea (at eight pounds per gallon) and hold it upright in walls till the entire nation passed through. That is power!

By His great power, God controls governors and nations. Jehoshaphat declared this truth: "Are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You" (II Chronicles 20:6). God's power can scatter and defeat His enemies (Psalm 59:11). His power causes His rule to extend over all people and to last for all time (Psalm 66:3&7). By His power God destroyed the nation of Egypt while strengthening the nation of Israel (Psalm 106:8). He then led His people on a treacherous wilderness journey and provided a great inheritance for them, carving out a land that had been occupied by other nations (Exodus 15:13, Psalm 116:1). The Bible is filled with records of specific events making up Israel's saga. He caused the walls of Jericho to fall down for no apparent reason. He caused armies to turn on themselves or to hear frightening noises that caused them to flee. He destroyed entire armies with only His word. He caused foreign leaders to restore the captive Israelites to their land, even contributing resources for the reconstruction. He even caused a foreign leader to issue a decree that would bring the promised Messiah to the right town in which to be born. That is power!

By His great power, God intervenes in the lives of individuals. "God has the power to help and to bring down" (II Chronicles 25:8). He protects His people in times of trouble (Psalm 59:16). He can save the lives of those seemingly condemned to die (Psalm 79:11). God has the power to deliver from evil spirits (Luke 4:36) and to give physical healing (Luke 5:17). Again, the Bible is filled with these stories. God has the power to begin life even when it seems unlikely - Joseph, Samuel, Isaac, John the Baptist, even Jesus Himself. God has the power to preserve life when the situation seems hopeless - Moses, David, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. That is power!

By His great power, God redeems and sanctifies His children. Mankind is weighted down and condemned by his inescapable load of sin, but God has the power to forgive sin (Matthew 9:6). He doesn't stop there. God also uses His power to provide Christians with all the knowledge they need for the Christian life. He supplies all the provision for living and pleasing Him (II Peter 1:3). This is still not the end. God also exercises His power in keeping and protecting His children until the day that their final salvation is revealed (I Peter 1:5). In this spiritual realm, the most important part of man, God uses His power to do everything necessary - from the moment of salvation to the final consummation in heaven. Those who are powerless to save themselves can rest in the sufficient power of God. Even if every person on earth received this gift, God's resources would still be enough. That is power!

In fact, there is no limit to God's power. Even by examining the vastness of God's creation, considering all the incidents of God's power revealed in the Bible, and seeing His mighty hand displayed throughout history, man cannot imagine the extent of God's power. "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20). Nothing is too much for God. If God doesn't do something, it's never because He can't. It's because His love and wisdom have decided not to. God is able to accomplish everything that He determines to do, which is beyond human comprehension.

"O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours?" Deuteronomy 3:24 (NASB)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Until Then

"Until Then," a precious hymn loved by many Christians, was written by Stuart Hamblem. Stanza 3 states,

The things of earth will dim and lose their value
If we recall they're borrowed for a while;
And things of earth that cause our hearts to tremble,
Remembered there will only bring a smile.

This stanza presents two wonderful truths that have to do with a Christian's satisfaction in life; it speaks first of what a believer does want and then of what he does not want. Anyone, of course, is happy to have the things that he does want. The first two lines give the reminder, however that those good and pleasant things are only temporary. They are for the believer to enjoy for a short time, but they are borrowed. They pale in comparison to the good things that will be received in heaven and enjoyed for all eternity. No matter how good a blessing is on this earth, it is temporary. With no eternal value, that blessing is not so important.

On the other hand, a believer is often unhappy to have things that he does not want. The trials, fears, disappointments, and challenges of life are not pleasant. They might cause extreme pain or sorrow. These also are temporary. These difficult things pale in intensity when one realizes that they are only for this short time on earth. In heaven they will be forever removed and will be replaced by the glory and splendor of heaven. No matter how bad a difficulty is on this earth, it is temporary. With no eternal duration, that trial is not so important.

A heavenly view - a frequent reminder that heaven is coming - will do much to wean the believer's heart from dependence on the blessings of this world. It will also do much to put into focus and soften the difficulties of this world.

"While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are seen are eternal." II Corinthians 4:18 (NASB)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Inclined to Us - Part 2

After reading the previous post, most believers would agree with the concept that in general God loves His children and is inclined toward them. Many readers, however, would still protest regarding their own personal situations. They might say something like, "That's all well and good for church leaders and admirable Christians, but I'm not that. I've messed up too badly or too often. God doesn't love me that much." Such a protest cannot nullify the reality of God's positive inclination toward His children. It does not change the fact that a loving God wants a special relationship with "mediocre" and "failed" Christians as well.

There are plenty of Bible stories to support this truth. After David's sins of adultery and murder, he admitted, "I have sinned against the LORD," and Nathan the prophet responded, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die." (II Samuel 12:13). God forgave David, continued to use him, and called him a man after His heart.

Rahab the harlot simply admitted her fear of God and confessed, "The LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath" (Joshua 2:11). On that simple confession, God spared her and her family when He destroyed the rest of Jericho.

Nebuchadnezzar had refused to acknowledge God and became like a beast. When he humbled himself and "blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him," God was inclined to him. Nebuchadnezzar's "majesty and splendor were restored," he gained new respect and power, and "surpassing greatness was added" to him (Daniel 4:34&36).

These are just a few of many examples of God's readiness to turn to and embrace even those who have been far from Him. Whether that distance was due to profound ignorance of God or great sin against Him, these stories do not reveal that God was waiting to pounce on them and destroy them. Not at all. If God were vindictive, cruel, and demanding, He had ample reason to abandon or eliminate these people. Instead He accepted them, blessed them, and restored them to service.

God expresses His heart of loving inclination toward the wayward in both the Old and New Testaments. "And My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (II Chronicles 7:14). "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).

These are not the responses of a God who is scrutinizing to see the minutest error - who is waiting for the slightest excuse to abandon or punish - who is trying to rid Himself of troublesome people. By contrast, God is willing to put up with great offences and exhibit extreme patience for the opportunity to once again embrace those who have strayed. Over and over He has shown His willingness to restore at the slightest step on the part of His children. God doesn't require years of penance, substantiated proof, or great displays of extreme brokenness. He simply wants His children to turn humbly to Him. Regardless of what they have done or been in the past, His desire is to receive them all.

Lest anyone think these stories represent a few select people to whom God is loving, forgiving, and positively inclined, God purposefully reveals His heart desire and intention for restoration. Jesus stated these tender words to those who had rejected God: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling" (Matthew 23:37).

In the Old Testament, the story found in the Song of Solomon reveals the passionate and steadfast love that God has for His children. After a sometimes shallow and rocky beginning, the beloved has become the bride in chapter four; at the end of the chapter she declares her complete and willing surrender to her husband and her selfless abandon to fulfill his pleasure.

Shockingly, chapter five opens with her rejection of her husband's advances. She has shut him out and does not immediately respond when he seeks her. When she repents and goes out seeking him, she tells others how special he is. The townspeople's questions cause her to realize where she must go to find him.

As chapter six opens, she goes to that place that they have so often been together, and, sure enough, he is right there waiting for her. He is not waiting in anger or sullen displeasure. He does not avoid her or make her grovel. All he wanted was for her to seek him again, and his response is to overflow with declarations of love.

In the New Testament, the story designed by God to illustrate His loving inclination toward man is that of the prodigal son. This son grew up in a place where he was well provided for. He selfishly rejected his loving home and demanded wealth that was not yet his. He then squandered his resources by living in reckless abandon and the pursuit of pleasure, without a single thought for the home he had left. Then in desperation, he found himself at the bottom. He remembered his home and decided to return.

His father did not make him work as a servant as the son suggested. The father did not make him pay back the money he had taken. The father did not reject his son, scold him, or even require him to prove himself before he was received back into the household. Instead, the father ran to his son as soon as he saw him. He hugged him, kissed him, gave him gifts, threw a great feast, and gladly received him again.

These pictures wonderfully reveal the heart of God toward even His inconsistent and rebellious children if they will turn to Him. His is a heart overflowing with love, ready to embrace, anxious to forgive, and waiting to take back into His arms. This does not mean there will be no consequences or effects from the waywardness, and unfortunately the time lost cannot be regained, but God's heart is open to receive.

It is also important to realize that God knows the sincerity of the heart. The book of Malachi talks about people who gave an outward appearance of worship and godliness. God was not deceived, and He was repulsed by their emptiness. In Psalm 78:34, God's people appeared to turn back to Him, but their repentance was false (vs. 36-37). God knew their heart was not sincere; even so, He held His judgment for a time and gave them the opportunity to be true to Him (v. 38). Can there be any doubt that a God so gracious and longsuffering has a loving heart that is inclined toward His children? Can there be any doubt of His positive intention and disposition toward His own?

"That they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." Acts 17:27 (NASB)