When God Says “Wait…”


waitingWe’ve all been in a situation, most of us a number of times, where we’re waiting for God to answer a particular prayer or deliver us from a difficult situation. Perhaps you find yourself in such a place right now.
         I have to admit that I have a really hard time waiting – even if it’s waiting on the Lord. I’m very much an action taker by nature and I like to get answers as quickly as possible, including answers to my prayers. I’ve found, however, that God often doesn’t give me a definite answer right away and that He tends to operate on a timetable that’s very different from mine. He is most certainly not in a hurry like I am.
         As I have matured in my faith, I have come to understand that what I perceive as the most pressing needs in my life are not always the most important needs in God’s eyes – this, because He sees the bigger picture that I myself don’t see. What may look like an urgent need to me may, in fact, only be a secondary issue to the Lord of heaven and earth who is able to make out the beginning, middle, and end of everything that is happening and is going to happen in my life.
         You or I may pray for our sick child to get well, or for the restoration of a broken marriage, or for help to get out of debt, or a number of other good things… God, on the other hand, although He very much cares about all these needs, may be even more concerned about using our circumstances to teach us patience, contentment, trust, love, and wisdom.
         If our desires are godly and otherwise in accordance with His will, we can be certain that God will meet them at the right time and in the right way, because “no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). However, God will sometimes choose to keep us in “the waiting room” for a season because He wants to accomplish something even bigger in our lives than what we are asking Him for: He wants to use our painful, frustrating, or confusing circumstances to teach us valuable lessons about ourselves and His character.
         What, then, should our attitude be while we wait on God? How should we approach Him while waiting for relief – or should we approach Him at all? And what can we expect from Him?
         For answers to these questions, let’s look to the fascinating account of Acts, chapter 16. Here we read that Paul and Silas were put in jail on false accusations after casting a spirit of divination out of a slave-girl – and they weren’t merely placed in a temporary holding cell; they were thrown into the inner prison where their feet were secured in stocks (v. 24)! That it would take big-time divine intervention to get them out of there is pretty clear!
         And divine intervention is exactly what happened next: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose” (vv. 25-26).
         These two short verses are jam-packed with valuable insights that you and I can apply to our own lives. Firstly, notice Paul’s and Silas’ attitude. They weren’t murmuring, complaining, crying bitter tears, or arguing with God. Certainly, if the two men had had a poor attitude, they could easily have justified it to themselves and each other. I mean, here they are out and about proclaiming the Gospel, doing God’s will, and delivering a poor slave-girl from a demon, and next thing they know they get dragged in front of the authorities and thrown in jail! What had they done to deserve such treatment? Where was God? Had He suddenly left them?
         How many of us, if in a similar situation, wouldn’t have either shaken our fist at God or hung our head in despair? But Paul and Silas did neither. Instead, while waiting for God’s deliverance, they prayed and worshiped! And, as they demonstrated trust in God this way, they were no doubt a powerful testimony to the other prisoners who were listening in on their prayers and praises (see v. 25).
         Then, while Paul and Silas were praising the Lord, “about midnight”, God came to their rescue. This is the second thing we should notice – that the deliverance came “about midnight”. In our modern day vernacular we frequently use the phrase “at the midnight hour”, meaning that something happens in the nick of time. Interestingly, as we search the Scriptures, we find that God often chooses to wait until the last minute to provide a solution to our problems. In fact, flip back just a few pages, to Acts 12:5-7, and you’ll read about how Peter, too, was in prison, and that while he was incarcerated and the church was praying for his release, an angel miraculously delivered him. His rescue, we’re told, took place on the very night Herod was about to bring him forward!
         Many of us have also experienced in our own lives that God will frequently wait until our circumstances look impossible before He’ll come to our rescue. Why is this? Well, it’s one of the ways that God builds trust and patience in us and really stretches our faith muscle. The longer the wait, the more of an opportunity we have to seek Him, pray to Him, learn about Him, and worship Him. If God always came through for us as soon as we presented Him with a petition, that wouldn’t give us much of a chance to grow spiritually, would it?
         The third thing we should notice is that God’s deliverance of Paul and Silas happened in a way that was absolutely extraordinary. Going back to Acts 16:26, we read that, “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” It was a full-fledged miracle: what happened was so supernatural that it couldn’t be explained in any other way than that it was the hand of God at work.
         The Lord, it seems, often chooses to put His glory on display this way. Certainly, He works through natural means as well; by sovereignty orchestrating all the “ordinary” little events in our lives in such a manner that our prayers are answered and His will comes to pass…  But He can just as well do something unexpected and remarkable as something that can be easily explained. He did after all create the universe out of nothing and raise Jesus Christ from the dead – is anything too difficult for our heavenly Father?
         So, to sum it all up, when life appears to be on hold and we’re waiting on God to give us answers, let’s remember the inspiring example of Paul and Silas. Like these two devout followers of Christ, let’s refrain from complaining or growing impatient, and instead try to look at our circumstances through the eyes of the One who sees the bigger picture. Let’s continue to sing His praises while we wait, because even in seasons of waiting God is working in our hearts – perhaps especially then. And what He wants to teach us during those seasons are important life lessons that are going to benefit us long-term.
         When, like Paul and Silas, there’s nothing we can do to change our predicament and all we can do is wait for God to act on our behalf, we need to make sure we have the right attitude while waiting. This is our responsibility! God, when He comes to our rescue, wants to find us waiting with an attitude of joy, trust, and faith.
         Also, let’s not forget that even if our situation looks “impossible”, with God, all things are always possible. We always have reason to be hopeful, and so we should continue to pray with expectancy, not allowing a delayed answer to dismay us. God can, at any time – even at the midnight hour – send a proverbial earthquake to shake the ground and make closed doors fly open. Therefore, we must not lose heart but should continue to press in in prayer for as long as it takes, until we get a definite yes or no.
         And friends – as with Paul and Silas – while we wait for deliverance, may our testimony before the watching world be pleasing to our Lord… May the world look at us and marvel at our inexplicable joy in the midst of our trials… May we keep our faces lifted toward heaven in praise and worship, knowing that God is always “working all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28)!
         Remember, God is good; God is wise; God is powerful…and God is for us!


When Pride Comes Disguised As Humility

Humility “Humility comes easy to me,” she said. “In fact, sometimes I think I’m too humble.” It was our weekly women’s Bible study, and the topic for discussion was unity. We were looking at Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Our group leader had posed the question of whether any of us struggled with humility, and she was going around the table, letting each woman share her experience. Yes, humility is extremely hard, one lady said. I have a difficult time being humble in my relationship with my husband, confessed another. I find it hard to admit to my children that I was wrong, said a third.
          Each lady’s situation was different, but we all had this in common: When in an argument with someone, or when confronted with personal sin, our natural response wasn’t to zip the lip, allow the other person to give us a piece of their mind, and happily acquiesce. We were a lot more likely to defend ourselves, talk back, and feel offended at the criticism – even if well-deserved. We agreed that trying to emulate Jesus, who was silent before His accusers, was very much a challenge.
          Then the turn came to the woman seated directly across from me. Unlike the rest of us, she said humility wasn’t hard for her at all, and she went on to give some examples from her daily life of how she often found herself being “too humble”.
          The room had gotten so quiet you could hear the proverbial pin drop. I don’t know what the other ladies were thinking, but our group leader seemed impressed. She excitedly thanked the young woman for sharing about her victory over pride, giving the rest of us hope that we, too, could win the struggle.
          I felt a bit uneasy. Was it really that simple? If you make the statement that you are humble, does that not nullify your claim to humility? Is it not, in fact, proud to declare that you are humble?
          Another thing: Whenever we feel that we have arrived in our Christian walk, isn’t this in reality because we fail to see ourselves the way God sees us? Isn’t it an indication that we need to venture much farther into the Holy of Holiest to get a better perception of God’s glory? The closer we draw to God, letting the brilliant light of His holiness shine upon us, the more clearly we are going to see our own sins for what they are. In the light of His splendor, all our good works – including our perceived humility – look like filthy rags. The more we focus on His fullness, the more we are going to recognize how much we are truly lacking.  
          As I listened to my sister talk, I felt a sudden urge to point out to her the fallacy of her statement (could it have been my pride?;-) but that would have meant embarrassing her in front of the the group. So I said nothing. Later, however, I thought about how pride often disguises itself as humility, and how, at those times when we feel resourceful and self-sufficient, we do well to heed the warning of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
          Satan loves to attack the unsuspecting Christian, the person who isn’t trusting fully in God and has failed to put on his spiritual armor. It’s when we think we’re being a “victorious Christian” that we’re the most prone to stumble. Those are also the times when God, in His loving discipline, often sees it fit to bring a test into our lives to show us what we’re really made of; that perhaps we aren’t quite as kind, patient, forgiving – or, yes, humble – as we would like to believe.
          I don’t know this sister’s heart. I don’t know how long she’s been a believer or how mature she is in her faith. I do think, however, that when a professing Christian claims to have won the battle with pride, it is cause for some concern. Because isn’t it true that if you truly belong to Christ, and you’re growing in your relationship with Him, you’re only going to become increasingly aware of your own sin? 
          Humility, the way I see it, is a little different than the other virtues and disciplines we pursue. You may say that by the grace of God you’ve conquered your fears or your lust issues, learned to forgive, or made radical improvement in the area of self-discipline. That’s fine. I take no issue with that. When it comes to humility, on the other hand, it seems to me that the moment you think you’ve got it, you’ve actually lost it…

God Is Speaking – But Are You Listening? (It Starts With Gratitude)

When was the last time you heard from God in a fresh way? Do you seek Him throughout the day, longing to hear from Him, and do you feel like He is giving you clear direction? Or has your relationship with Him become stale, your Bible reading unexciting, and your prayer life rather dry?
           If your walk with God isn’t vibrant and you’ve stopped sensing His presence, maybe it’s because you’ve stopped listening to Him (or maybe you never really started listening in the first place). “But I read my Bible,” you say. “He speaks to us through His Word, doesn’t He?” Absolutely. In fact, it’s the primary way in which He speaks to us. But it’s still very possible to read the Scriptures and not experience the depth of what God desires to communicate to us.
           Don’t despair – there are ways to hear God better. But first, let me explain what I mean when I say we can miss God’s voice… And let me share with you some changes I made in my own personal life which have completely transformed the way I relate to my Heavenly Father. These changes took my relationship with Him from lukewarm to a place where I literally can’t wait to spend time with Him each day. Having been a believer for over 20 years, I think I understand for the first time what it means to be truly in love with Jesus! And it’s all because I finally started hearing His voice. Mind you, it’s not that He was quiet before – God was speaking all along – it was me that wasn’t listening.
           Before, what I used to do, was that I’d dutifully say a short prayer and do my Bible reading in the morning – not so much because I longed to hear from God but more as a way of clearing my conscience. When prayer and a quick time in the Word were off my mental check list, I felt, I suppose, like I was being a good Christian. Naturally, I didn’t experience much spiritual growth during that time, and I felt as if God was very distant.
           But over a period of weeks and months, as I was going through some trials in my personal life and became desperate for direction, God showed me a new way of seeking Him. Most importantly, He showed me how to listen. He showed me how to come before Him in Spirit-filled prayer, with a humble heart, not asking for anything, not rushing before His throne with a long list of requests, wants, and perceived needs, but with wide open ears, just ready to listen… Listen to whatever He wanted to say to me.
           My living room sofa at night, about an hour or so before bedtime, became my private little sanctuary. It became the sacred time and place where I’d seek God every day. (I still do!) And oh how I look forward to this time with Him! It is just so incredibly sweet, so filled with peace and joy… I dim the lights, lie down, close my eyes, and quietly enter His presence. I always start by thanking Him. I look back on my day and thank God for every little blessing, anything I can think of, big or small… The more I count my blessings, the more of them I discover, and sometimes I don’t even get beyond giving thanks as I fall asleep with a smile on my face, relishing in the goodness of my Savior.
           Even if I fall asleep like this, I’ve done something very important: I’ve taken a posture of humility before my Father and opened myself to receive instruction from Him. And His instruction may come at any time during the day or night. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, hearing God speak loudly to me in my conscience. Other times, when I get up the next morning after spending an extended period of time in prayer the night before, some spiritual truth will all of a sudden hit me… It’s not for me to say when or where God is to speak to me, but speak He does!
           But, again, it always starts – at least for me – with thanksgiving. You see, when I come before Him with a heart filled with gratitude, what I do is I acknowledge who I am in relation to Him – merely a creature; an undeserving sinner. He, on the other hand, is beautiful, gracious, faithful, just, loving, and holy – the all-knowing, all-good, all-wise Creator of heaven and earth. Everything He does is good, and although I deserve nothing, He has given me so, so much. By humbling myself this way, agreeing to see myself the way He sees me, I open myself up to receive instruction from Him – because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
           If I come with pride in my heart, I’m never going to recognize my spiritual need. I’m not going to be receptive to God’s guidance, correction, or rebuke. If I approach Him with an attitude of humility, on the other hand, I’ll be teachable. And if I’m teachable, He’ll speak to me, and when He does, I won’t reject His voice.
           Of course, God does not speak in a random, confusing, or mystical manner. Nothing He ever says to our hearts through the Holy Spirit will contradict what He has said in the Bible. Our minds need to be properly informed by His infallible Word if we are to know whether it’s really God who is prompting us. That being said, when you are in the Word, the Word will be in you… You’ll know the truth instinctively when facing various situations in life, and you’ll often find yourself mind-blown at how God will speak to you at the most unexpected times – often as clearly as if He were standing right next to you.
           More on that later…

The Danger of Distractions (A Parable)

There was a mountainous coastline that was known to be very dangerous. Many large ships were wrecked on the rocks due to frequent violent storms. So the king of the land had a lighthouse built to warn the ships away from the coast, and he placed people there to work at the lighthouse to keep it in good repair. Amazingly, many ships were saved by that simple, non-impressive looking little lighthouse.
           As the lighthouse was maintained, the keepers decided to make some improvements. They added a kitchen so they would have hot meals and a furnace so the place would be warm. But as the years went by, some other, less fortunate, changes were made. News got out how the little lighthouse had helped save a great number of ships from crashing onto the rocks, and as a result, more and more visitors came to see the place for themselves. Many of these visitors were so impressed with what they saw that they wanted to work there, if only the working conditions were not so harsh. So, to cater to their wishes, the lighthouse keepers enlarged the facilities and installed wall-to-wall carpets. They also added brand new, comfy leather recliners, central air conditioning, a fitness club, a fancy big-screen TV, and a number of other features.
           Increasingly more people came to see the new and improved facilities. Now, of course, there are only so many jobs to go around at a lighthouse, so the keepers wondered what to do with all the other visitors. That’s when they came up with the idea of a lighthouse theme park! So, over a period of time, many rides and other attractions were built, several restaurants and a shopping mall were added, even an 18-hole golf course and a state-of-the-art country club.
           All the amenities were perfectly maintained and always got a fresh coat of paint every year, but the light itself had burned out a long time ago, and the ships were wrecked on the rocks regularly, just as before. The worst thing was that the lighthouse keepers weren’t even noticing anymore… They had become so focused on building, expanding, and improving things that they had become completely distracted from their chief mission – namely to save others from crashing and drowning.
           This little parable, which I heard years ago and has attempted to retell here as best I recall it, perfectly illustrates the danger of distractions. Satan, of course, loves it when we take our eyes off of Christ, and one of the ways he makes that happen is by giving our eyes something else to focus on. He has been studying human conduct for thousands of years and knows how to distract us away from God’s will. I’m convinced that when it comes to ministry, his goal is to divert our attention away from our primary mission and on to secondary, much less effective, man-made goals and methods. The result is that an alarming number of churches today have become “seeker friendly”, attempting to bring people to the house of God through clever gimmicks rather than through the faithful preaching of the Word. In the process, sermons have become watered down and the Christian message has become compromised.
           The commission Jesus gave the Church is very simple: Go out into all the world and proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them what He has commanded. Our task is merely to take the good news of the Gospel into the world, not to labor to try to increase church attendance. All we should be focusing on is the simple commission that the Lord gave us. When we do, we can trust that God will do His part and add to our numbers as He sees fit. Amen?

How To Conquer Your Giants

Remember Shammua son of Zaccur, Shaphat son of Hori, or Palti son of Raphu? How about Gaddiel son of Sodi, Gaddi son of Susi, or Geuel son of Maki? No? Well, not many of us do. But if I say Joshua son of Nun or Caleb son of Jephunneh, you instantly know who I’m talking about, don’t you? In fact, I probably only need to say “Joshua and Caleb”, and it will immediately bring to your mind the account in Numbers 13 where Moses dispatches twelve spies to scout out the Land of Canaan as the future home of the Israelite people. Of course, Joshua and Caleb were among these twelve men. The other names I listed are some of the other ten spies.
        There’s a reason why we don’t recall the names of the ten, but have no problem remembering Joshua and Caleb. Joshua and Caleb returned from the Land of Canaan, the land God had promised His people, with a positive report, firmly believing that God would grant them victory over their enemies. The rest of the spies came back with a doom and gloom report and discouraged the people from trying to conquer the land. In their mind, the obstacles were too great.
        The ten men reported that in Canaan they had seen large, fortified cities and scary looking giants. “The land we explored devours those living in it,” they said (Numbers 13:32). Devours? That’s pretty strong language. And they added, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (verse 33). Now, how in the world did they know that? How did they know what their enemy was thinking? It’s not exactly like they interviewed them!
        Of course, they didn’t know. The statement was based on a subjective, unfounded assessment of their circumstances.

How Big Is Your God?

        Obstacles are those frightening things we see when we take our eyes off God’s promises. When we forget how big God is, life’s challenges seem insurmountable and fear quickly builds in our hearts. On the other hand, when we consider God’s character, His goodness, His wisdom, His power, His undisputed faithfulness toward us in the past, the fact that He put the stars in their place and created the universe out of nothing, that He is the supreme ruler of all things, then suddenly our problems don’t look so big anymore.
        The twelve men all journeyed to the same land, but they didn’t see the same thing. This, because some looked at their circumstances through the eyes of doubt, while others – in fact, only Joshua and Caleb – decided to view them through the eyes of faith.
        If we’re honest with ourselves, we’d have to admit that we’re more like the ten spies who came back with a negative report than we’re like Joshua and Caleb. We evaluate things more on the basis of our circumstances than on God’s promises.
        For example, God says He has moved our transgressions as far from us as the East is from the West, yet we listen to our emotions instead and go around feeling guilty about sins we have already confessed. Or, God tells us we are perfected through patience, but we – because we have bought into the instant gratification mindset of our culture – grumble and complain when things don’t happen on our time table. And of course the list goes on and on and on.

Fearless Living

        Human beings are prone to be lacking in courage, so it’s no wonder the phrase “don’t be afraid” is the most frequently used command in the Bible (repeated well over 300 times). Also, it’s interesting to note that in the first chapter of the book of Joshua, four decades after the spy incident, when God instructs Joshua to enter and conquer the Promised Land, He tells him multiple times to “be strong and courageous”. Apparently, even an experienced warrior like Joshua needed this reminder.
        If we don’t make a deliberate effort to look at our circumstances through the lens of faith, all we will see is guilt that can’t be shaken, temptations that can’t be resisted, prayers that remain unanswered, and needs in our lives that aren’t met. We’ll be inclined to believe weak fellow Christians who come to us with doom and gloom reports and discourage us from taking hold of that which God has promised us. The mountains will appear too high to climb, the terrain too perilous to explore, and the giants much bigger than they really are.
        The Calebs and Joshuas of our time, however, understand that it is God who paves the way for His people, grants them favor, wipes out their enemies, and gives them the land. They know that as long as they just walk obediently with the Lord, they have nothing – nothing whatsoever – to fear.

The Link Between Obedience And Courage

        Right after God commands Joshua to “be strong and very courageous,” He adds, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7-9).
        Do you see the obvious link here between obedience and courage, between following God’s precepts and experiencing His favor, between cherishing God’s Word and succeeding in conquest? So often we pray for God to guide us, yet we haven’t yet responded to what He has already revealed to us! Why would He lead us and show us the next step if we aren’t following what He has already told us?
        Each time the Holy Spirit prompts us to move in one direction or the other, you and I have the choice to either obey or disobey what He is showing us. We can be faithful or we can be faithless. Any time we distrust God and reject the light, we experience more bondage. Any time we trust God and respond to the light, we find more freedom.

Put Your Foot In The River

        After Moses had died and Joshua had been given the task of leading the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, God also said something else: “It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap” (Joshua 3:13).
        Did you catch that? God didn’t tell Joshua He was going to lead them to the river bank, part the waters, and then have them walk across on a dry path. No, He said to first step into the river. The moment they did – in fact, the very moment the soles of their feet touched the water – the waters would part.
        God builds faith in us not by showing us His entire plan all at once, but by directing us, one step at a time. This is what it means to walk by faith. When we put our faith in Him, He is honored. In return, He honors our faith.
        Friend, God wants to take you across the river, to the Promised Land – a place of purpose, usefulness, fulfillment, rest, peace, and joy. It’s all there. You just need to trust and obey Him. So don’t stand there fretting at the giants. Put your foot in the river and the waters will part. Remember, the obstacles in front of you are never as great as the power behind you…

Right Now Counts Forever

Right Now Counts ForeverI recently heard a talk where a Christian speaker asked the following question: “What if you learned you were part of an experiment where the next 24 hours would determine the quality of the rest of your life? Everything from the job you hold to the neighborhood and house you live in will be tied to how you navigate a single day. How would you approach those 24 hours? Would you be intentional, or would you leave things to chance and hope for the best?”
          His point was that if you knew your entire life was going to be affected, for good or for bad, by the actions you took between right now and this time tomorrow, you would obviously consider every word you spoke and every move you made with painstaking caution. In fact, all you’d be thinking about for the next 24 hours would be that you were making wise choices – no matter the cost – so you could spend the rest of your earthly life reaping the benefits. It’s a no-brainer. Say you’re 35 right now and you expect to live until the average death age in the US, which is 78.8 years, that means you’ve got 383 688 hours left of your life. And who wouldn’t be willing to work hard, make sacrifices, face challenges, take risks, or do whatever else is required of them for the next 24 hours in order to make the remaining 383 653 hours of their life magnificent?
          It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see it. When you put a 24-hour time period against the backdrop of the rest of our life, those 24 hours are minuscule in comparison.

False Teachers And Vain Pursuits

          The speaker then asked another question: How long is eternity? Well, it’s a lot longer than 383 653 hours! Eternity is, well, eternity. It’s forever. And the Bible tells us that the quality of our eternal lives will be based on how we spent our earthly lives – our earthly lives, which we’d do well to remember, could be ripped away from us at any moment.
          Over and over, Scripture tells us to focus on the things above, not on the things of this earth, to store up our treasures in Heaven, to press on toward the finish line, to keep our eyes on the prize… Tv addictionHeaven is our home, it’s where we belong, and it’s where we have our true citizenship.
          And yet, in churches around America prosperity preachers continue to tickle the ears of their congregations, falsely teaching that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and problem-free. People come flocking from near and far to hear them speak while the pews of solid, Bible-preaching churches stay empty.
          We Christians know this world is not our final destination. Why then, do we invest so much of our time, effort, and money in it? Why are we for the most part chasing after the same things as unbelievers? Why aren’t we more zealous for personal holiness, more consumed by a passion to do the will of God, more on fire to reach the lost with the Gospel? Why are the teachings from our pulpits wishy-washy, compromising and non-confrontational?
          Why do we waste so much of our time on TV and movies and video games and computers and iphones? Why do we spend so little time thinking about, investing in, and longing for, our real home – Heaven? If we’re completely honest with ourselves, can we truly say with the Apostle Paul, “I’d rather be with Christ”?

When All Is Said And Done

          My purpose with this post is not to try to guilt you out but to make you ponder the brevity of your earthly existence. I want to encourage you to evaluate how you spend your time. Fact is, most of us go about living our lives as if we have all the time in the world. “Life always offers you a second chance. It’s called tomorrow,” says a popular adage. A cute, feel-good quote, but the truth of the matter is that one day you’re going to be out of tomorrows, and if you lived your life by the mantra that Dead End you’ll always get a second chance, you’re going to be looking back at a life of some pretty serious regrets.
          Deathbed regrets are a very real thing. Google the term and you’ll find several different lists that researchers have compiled from interviews with elderly and/or terminally ill people: “I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to take risks.” “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” “I wish I’d stayed in touch with family and friends.” “I wish I’d traveled more.” “I wish I’d taken better care of my health.” “I wish I hadn’t held so many grudges.” “I wish I’d known how to live in the moment.” I wish, I wish, I wish…
          It’s heartbreaking to read, but it’s reality: Way too many of us arrive at the end of our earthly journey only to realize we pursued the wrong things and didn’t take time for what was truly important.
          Now, if you were to conduct this type of survey among Christians exclusively, I suspect the number one answer you would get would go something like this: “I wish I’d lived more for Jesus.” Can you imagine anything more tragic than that – coming to the end of your life and recognizing that you never did much for Christ? That you never really used your gifts for the Kingdom, didn’t touch lives for eternity, didn’t do what you were created, and saved, for? Instead, you merely focused on being comfortable and having fun and accumulating stuff and trying to fit in…

Finding True Fulfillment

          I can think of only two things that we do in this life that have any eternal value: Proclaiming the Gospel to the lost through our words and good deeds, and help equipping fellow believers so they can grow spiritually. Only that which is done out of genuine love for God and for people is going to outlast this world.
          I hope this has given you something to reflect on. Worship JesusAs I get ready to step down from my soap box here, I want to leave you with some final thoughts: It seems to me most Christians in America today want a big helping of the world’s goodies with a little bit of Jesus on the side. At the same time they want to experience joy, inner peace, and lasting fulfillment.
          Problem is that as long as we pursue success the world’s way, true satisfaction will forever elude us. Because it isn’t found in what the world has to offer! Everything the world has to offer is merely pseudo… A fake, an imitation, a mirage… True fulfillment is only found in a deep, intimate, heart-felt, ever-growing relationship with Christ and by living out His purpose for your life. The only way to achieve real satisfaction, then, is to make your life more about Jesus and less about the world.
          Friend, the clock is ticking. As a mere sojourner here on earth, please, please be mindful of the choices you make, the voices you listen to, and the direction in which you’re going with the rest of your life.
          You have one precious life. Live as if right now counts for all eternity. Because it DOES.

When A Star Dies… (A Somewhat Different Perspective On The Passing of George Michael)

George Michael doesPop singer George Michael and Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher join a large number of famous people who died this year… Whenever I hear of a celebrity passing I’m reminded of the profound statement Jesus made in Mark 8:35-37: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the Gospel will save it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
          Jesus is saying here that you can win the world’s accolades and accumulate great amounts of earthly riches, but if your heart isn’t right with God, nothing you have achieved is going to help you when your life comes to an end and you stand before His holy throne. You can’t take your fame, your worldly goods, or even your charitable deeds, with you.

Who Can Forget Wham!?

          Like so many others, I owned several Wham! cassette tapes back in the 80s and enjoyed dancing to the beats of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Last Christmas” at youth clubs. And who can forget slow-dancing with your latest crush to the tunes of “Careless Whisper”?
          In the Wham! posters on our teenage bedroom walls fresh-faced George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley sported the latest 80s fashion while gazing at us, flirtatiously, from under fluffy, highlighted locks. How handsome they were! Especially Michael… With his leather jacket and beard stubble he was the epiphany of masculinity and melted thousands upon thousands of teenage girl hearts.
          Great was our surprise when Michael came out publicly in the late 90s and announced he was gay after having spent years “in the closet”. He was involved in several short and long-term gay relationships, and it was his most recent boyfriend who found the 53-year old Michael lifeless in his bed Christmas morning.
          Michael was a prominent gay rights advocate and raised a lot of money for AIDS research (one of his earlier boyfriends died of complications from AIDS in 1993). However, in recent years, the once dashingly handsome pop star was rarely seen in the public eye. In the wake of his death, neighbors have reported that he was a bloated version of himself and didn’t look like George Michael anymore. They saw Christmas deliveries arriving at his home, but no guests. He was also absent from the midnight service at his local church, which he had attended last year. The last time Michael was seen, he was watching the torchlight procession on Christmas Eve from his window, all by himself.

A Troubled Soul

          Michael is thought to have battled heroin addiction as well as an addiction to crack cocaine although this has not been verified. It’s interesting to note, however, that cardiac arrest – the cause of death according to Michael’s manager – is common among those who have used heroin. Either way, one thing we can say for certain, looking at the way Michael chose to live his life and at statements he made in candid interviews with the press over the years, is that he was a troubled soul.
          But to his fans he was the defining pop idol of their generation, to his admirers he had one of the most beautiful voices in British pop. His chart-topping hits earned him more than £100 million over the course of his career, first as part of Wham! and later as a solo artist. The day after his death, it was reported that Spotify streams of his solo music shot up more than 3,000%.
          Scores of George Michael fans went to pay respects to the late singer by leaving mementos, candles, albums, flowers and balloons outside his London residence as well as his riverside home in Oxfordshire, which is where he died unexpectedly earlier this week.
          A large number of celebrities took to social media platforms to express their sorrow. Super model Naomi Campbell, for one, spoke about Michael’s indelible impact on fans and, in particular, members of the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) community. George Michael“You will never know how many lives you touched with your soulful voice and your fight for LGBT rights,” she wrote. “Stand tall, George, the angels are awaiting you!!! May you rest in peace.” Former 1980s teen idol Rob Lowe tweeted, “Voice of an angel. Now he can sing for them,” while Boy George from the 80’s band Culture Club had this to say: “I hope the Buddha will hold him in his arms.”
          Not surprisingly, the sentiment was, across the entertainment industry, that George Michael – because he was talented, inspiring, and generous with his money – has joined the angels in heaven and is now in the presence of God (or the Buddha…take your pick).
          Michael achieved super stardom in life, and in the wake of his death he is being praised and worshiped perhaps like never before, by fans and fellow entertainers alike. Nothing new there… We saw the exact same thing when Michael Jackson died, at the passing of Whitney Houston, of Prince, David Bowie, Princess Diana, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe…the list goes on and on. It’s to be expected. When a star dies, the world stops for a moment. It grieves, it remembers their talent, their contribution, and their charitable deeds.
          But then the world goes on. Everything returns to normal. The memory of the star lives on for a while – the bigger they were, the longer they are remembered – but eventually, even the memory of them fades. Truth be told, a couple decades from now hardly anyone will remember who George Michael was.

The Only Thing That Matters

          When all is said and done, it won’t make an iota of a difference whether the whole world knows your name or only God knows it. It will be of no significance whether you were sought after and admired while here on earth or you lived your life in obscurity. The only thing that’s going to matter is whether you have received forgiveness for your sins through Jesus Christ and that you used your life to serve Him. The first saves you from hell and allows you to enter heaven, the latter determines your heavenly rewards.
          As someone rightly stated, “No matter how big your house is, how recent your car is, or how big your bank account is, our graves will always be the same size.” Indeed. Life is a vapor and then comes eternity. Let’s remember that. Let’s remember that God’s definition of success is radically different than that of the world. And let’s be careful not to read news accounts about the death of stars through rose colored glasses, or pay attention to the spiritual musings of celebrities who have no knowledge of biblical truth.
          No…it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul. Whether you’re George Michael or John Doe, ALL that matters when God looks at you – be it in this life or in eternity – is that He sees you clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Though Michael’s lifestyle may suggest otherwise, I hope that somehow – by the lavish, extraordinary, amazing grace of God – he repented and left this earthly life not covered in his own sin but in the holiness of the Lord Jesus… I hope that with all my heart.

The Cure For Fear And Doubt

PrayerI always have to chuckle a bit whenever I read in Acts 12 about how Peter, after his miraculous escape from prison with the help of an angel, shows up at the house where the rest of the church has gathered to pray for his release. When the maidservant, Rhoda, sees him at the door, she is so overcome with joy that she just leaves him standing there and rushes back in to the prayer team to announce his arrival. The rest of the group then argues over the truthfulness of her report: the very answer to their prayers is knocking, and they refuse to believe it. They declare Rhoda crazy – all while Peter is left knocking and calling at the door!

When Rhoda sticks to her story, the church members conclude that Peter’s guardian angel – who according to their Jewish tradition would take on his attributes – has arrived, either to bring good news or to announce Peter’s death. It seems that any other option is more feasible than that God has in fact answered their prayers and delivered Peter from prison! When they go to investigate, Scripture tells us they are “beside themselves in astonishment” as they open the door and see Peter standing there.

The narrative has comic irony, but when you think about it, isn’t it pretty illustrative of the way you and I often approach God? We pray without believing God and are astonished when He answers our petitions. We don’t come before Him with confident faith. We doubt His ability to overcome natural obstacles. We don’t believe His timing is perfect. Oh, we may say we have faith and that we believe in His power and His timing, but when we fret and worry and/or try to take matters into our own hands and push our own agenda, aren’t we proving just the opposite?

Jesus said that as believers we must become “like children” in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Childlike faith differs from a doubting faith in that children are trusting and ready to receive whatever they ask for without questions or fear. When a parent makes a promise, a child naturally believes. He or she does not worry about whether or not the parent is going to follow through (unless, of course, the parent has made a habit of deceit or unreliability).

Even when parents tell silly tales of the tooth fairy and Santa Claus, the child readily believes. When a little child climbs up on a ledge and his daddy tells him to throw himself off, reassuring him that “I will catch you”, the child does so gladly, shrieking with delight as he throws himself into his father’s arms. The child may experience some fear, but his trust in his parent – that he will be there to catch him just like he said – outweighs that fear many times over.

This is the kind of trust God wants from us. He wants us to trust Him with the innocent, believing heart of a child and without the cynicism of an adult.

Let’s also remember that doubt is a tool of Satan to make us distrust God’s Word. The natural mind tends to fear and to question what the Bible says rather than simply believe.

The remedy for fear and doubt is faith, and faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). God gave us the Bible as a testimony of His works in the past so we can have good reason to trust Him in the present and for the future. In order for our faith to be strengthened, we must study the Scriptures to know what God has said and done for His people throughout the ages, and also regularly meditate on how He has come through for us, personally, in the past.

This is how we reassure our doubtful hearts that He is, in fact, trustworthy. As a result, we are then better able to come before the Lord in expectant prayer, believing that He is going to act on our behalf, and when we honor God this way by placing confident faith in Him, He again honors our faith by proving Himself faithful to us and answering our petitions.

The Healing Power of Relationships

Healing handsIsn’t it funny how, if we’ve injured an arm or a leg, we understand and accept the fact that the limb isn’t going be restored back to health overnight, but when it comes to emotional injuries, we so often try to rush the process of healing? The one thing we don’t want to hear is that it’s going to take time!

But the reality is that just as we need to submit to the doctor’s prescription and give ourselves time to heal from bodily injuries, we need to let God – the Great Physician – use the Truth of Scripture, the power of prayer, and grace administered through the body of believers over an extended period of time if we are to heal from emotional wounds.

People do heal. People can change. But whether or not we stay stuck or move into a better future is a choice that lies with each individual. More than anything, it takes humility because the only way to do it is to admit we are helpless, surrender it all to God, and allow Him to show us how to go about the process of changing. An important part of this process is to properly plug in to the healing power of the body of believers.

Did you know it has been scientifically proven that when you lovingly hold the hand of someone who’s hurting physically, or you hug them, their pain level goes down? I find that so fascinating:) But it makes a lot of sense since God created us for relationships!

And relationships are to be more than just a context for ministry or activities. God’s people are channels of His grace. He administers grace to His children through the members of the body, and if we aren’t making use of this, we can’t grow properly. This is something I missed most of my Christian life: I tried to do Christianity all on my own, and the few friendships I enjoyed with other believers were very superficial.

Sadly, I think this is the way it is with a lot of people. We are too afraid to open up and too proud to admit we have problems. At church on the Lord’s Day, when someone asks us how we’re doing, we respond with our pre-programmed “I’m fine. How are you?”

We don’t talk about the fact that there are areas in which we struggle because we believe we’re “supposed” to have it all together. Christians aren’t “supposed” to be depressed or anxious or fearful…are they? So instead of talking about what’s really going on in our lives, we continue to suffer in secret. We act as if by pretending the wound isn’t there or that it isn’t such a big deal, it will go away.

It’s a lot easier to cover up, minimize, or deny our shame and guilt than it is to take a long, hard look at our lives and deal with the things that lie beneath the surface. The latter can be very painful, and by not admitting that something is wrong, we give ourselves permission to stay the way we are and we don’t have to embark on the difficult process of changing. But by not striving to make improvements in our lives, we miss out on God’s best. We miss out on the joyful, purpose-filled, abundant life He intended for us.

It’s only when pain is acknowledged and brought into the open that it can be healed through grace and truth. Because by bringing transparency back into our relationships this way, we’re returning to God’s original model for human relations. When we stop stuffing our feelings and instead bring them out and into the light, we’re doing relationships God’s way, the way He intended them to be.

God always meant for human relationships to be transparent and vulnerable. This is how Adam and Eve related to one another before the Fall. They lived in harmony and honesty. It was only after sin entered the world through their disobedience that they lost the ability to communicate openly and started hiding, blaming, pretending, and covering up.

God’s work in us is a life-long process, and it involves us learning, growing, changing, falling, confessing, repeatedly turning from our sin, and developing more and more holiness and wholeness over time. This is something we need to remember whenever we feel defeated in our struggle against sin or when painful memories come knocking: We’re a work in progress and none of us can expect to change overnight.

At the same time we can take great comfort in the fact that God has given us all the resources we need both to recover from past hurts and to grow in godliness. He has given us Jesus as our Advocate, the Holy Spirit to guide us, the truth of Scripture, and the body of believers.

God is actively involved in our lives and has committed Himself to our spiritual growth. In fact, He has promised that the good work He started in us He is going to complete (Philippians 1:6). Therefore, we can have full confidence that with each passing week, month and year, we’re going to be transformed more and more into His image, until the day comes that we stand before Him in glory. This, my friend, is our hope, our strength, and our victory!

Are You Looking For God In All The Wrong Places?

Looking for God Most of us know the parable of the Prodigal Son that Jesus told in Luke chapter 11. The forgiving father symbolizes God, the younger son is a picture of the person who lives in open rebellion toward God, and the elder brother is a symbol of the self-righteous, in particular the Pharisees and teachers of the law of that day.

Originating from this parable, the term prodigal has in our culture come to characterize anyone who has ever acted out, be it through addiction, rebellion, or any number of other destructive behaviors, and who has surrendered ownership of his or her life to an external, controlling influence. And by the way, more of us fall into this category than are willing to realize it.

That being said, at a recent conference I attended here in Southern California, Christian counselor Chris Williams had a rather unique and interesting take on this familiar parable that I’d like to share with you in this post. “Like the prodigal, we all have a distant country we go to,” Williams said, “one where we seek life and love apart from the Giver of life and love.”

Williams talked about how we humans – even Christians – so often go searching for happiness outside of God’s presence, in places where it can’t be found. We look for it in drugs or alcohol, in love or sex addictions, gambling, materialism, or the wrong type of relationships. Or we turn to people pleasing, compulsive overeating, excessive television viewing, and a host of other unhealthy behaviors. But it is not until we, like the Prodigal Son, come to our senses and return back home to our Father where we belong, that we’re going to find true love and joy.

“The prodigal,” Williams continued, “returned to his father empty-hearted and empty-handed. This took honesty, trust and humility.” He took the right actions, and when he did, he was restored back to the fullness of life.

Williams then talked about the older brother… He, too, could have received love from his father, but he blocked that love with resentment. He thought the way to get his father to love him was to earn it. Unlike his brother, he had been responsible and dutiful, and he expected to be rewarded accordingly. Now he was upset that his younger sibling was the recipient of such undeserved favor.

Truth is, the older brother was living in bondage to his own pride and sense of entitlement. He didn’t understand or know the heart of his father. And because he wasn’t willing to humble himself and receive his father’s love as a free gift, he missed out.

“We all have both the younger and the older brother in us,” said Williams. We have parts of the rebel in us but also parts of the do-gooder who tries to earn brownie points with God. Of course, we know we didn’t earn our salvation, and mentally we also know there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less. But in our hearts…that’s a different matter. We often act as if we believe God’s acceptance of us hinges of how well we perform in our Christian lives.

What is your distant country? Is it career? Achievement? Travel? Sports? Entertainment? Social media? You may not be struggling with an addiction or pursuing something that is sinful in itself, but any time you go looking for fulfillment outside of God’s presence, giving someone or something else precedence over Him in your life, I can promise you this: You are on the wrong path.

Whatever it is that has lured us away from the comfort of God’s embrace, the remedy is always the same: To realize that our Father still loves us; that He wants us to come home and stay home. “The addict who relapses,” said Williams, “needs to just keep coming home, over and over, as many times as it takes, until he stays there. This is what recovery is: You just keep coming home.”

The Prodigal Son expected judgement from his father but was met with nothing but compassion. It’s the same way with our heavenly Father: There is no shaming, blaming, or even explaining to be done. Our Father is always waiting, watching and hoping for us to come to our senses and come back home. In fact, just like the father in the parable, God isn’t just waiting, He is moving toward us, wanting to embrace us and celebrate our return.

The happiness we crave so much is not “out there” somewhere. No, it is right here, right now, right where we’re at. To lay hold of it, we simply need to open our hands and receive it. There is nothing our heavenly Father wants more than to show us how to live an abundant life at home, in His loving presence.