Are we there yet?

KIds in car 2Are we there yet? The very question from the back seat brings a smile to a dad’s face. Some things are so difficult to wait for. If you’re in the car on your way to grandma’s house, you should be there like…yesterday.

Any child knows that!

 

We all hate to wait.

Because of that, there is an entire industry of “fast food.” Why else would you eat something that can be prepared in 4 minutes and has enough preservatives to keep it safe for hours without refrigeration! We have 10-minute oil changes, call-ahead orders at restaurants, and (my latest find) apps for my favorite gospel bird restaurant where I can send my order in and walk to the counter to pick it up when I arrive!

Waiting is part of life, but we hate to do it.

Yesterday, in the opening message to our new Christmas Series, “Miracles of Christmas,” I shared from Galatians 4 about the Miracle of the Moment. One of the references I made was that the people had come through 400 years of prophetic silence…waiting on the Lord’s deliverance through His Messiah. I am still “chewing on” prayer going unanswered for centuries. We struggle to hold it together if our doctor’s appointment is delayed 15 minutes!

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son… Galatians 4:4.

Waiting is not always bad. (Ok, don’t stop reading because you saw that. Keep going…you’re almost there.)

Could you imagine asking for a piece of pie and then refusing to wait for it to fully cook? Tell the chef to bring it to me now in whatever condition it is in! Or, perhaps, a pregnant mom saying at the end of the first trimester, “I cannot wait six more months, give me my baby right now!” Or, opening a cocoon so you can see the butterfly today! These ridiculous examples are only ridiculous because we know that if you interfere with the process you don’t get what was designed.

If we trust the wisdom of design for a dessert recipe, or a pregnancy, or the metamorphosis of a butterfly, should we trust a Sovereign God less?

Don’t stop praying.

He hears, knows, and cares. (Exodus 3).

Don’t stop pressing forward.

That longing in your heart is by His design to keep you moving.

Don’t shortcut the process.

You ruin a pie when you don’t let it cook.

Don’t despise the process.

The Lord is working on a glorious plan if you’ll trust Him.

400 years was a long time to pray for deliverance to a seemingly silent God…but man…was Jesus worth the wait!

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The Value of Faith

lightDavid had enough. “That’s the last straw! I am sick and tired of hearing sermons and lessons and illustrations about money! It seems like all the preacher ever does is talk about money!” This outburst came from David, a man with a job and a family and expenses that seemed endless. He walked a tightrope between satisfying the obligations of his lifestyle and financial disaster every month.

Fortunately, David had a friend…someone who had walked in faith for a little longer season of life. His friend simply offered this thought:

“Perhaps it isn’t the preacher’s message but the Holy Spirit’s working in your life and conscience. It was that way for me…and I discovered that what I thought was a constant beating was actually God’s invitation for me to find victory over a stronghold of disobedience in my life.”

So, David decided to try it. Let me just see if I can be obedient. He looked at his bank statement, multiplied his payroll amount by 10% and made a payment to the church for the full tithe…right down to the decimals. $243.11. V.I.C.T.O.R.Y.!

Only what David found very soon is that obedience requires faith and faith is costly. All was good for a few weeks.

  • Then it was the washing machine. $155.00 unexpected expense.
  • Then the left rear tire of the car. $179.21.
  • Then the water bill arrived and was doubled because the toilet in the hall bath was constantly running.

David’s obedience had not resulted in a sudden windfall of money appearing in his account. Instead, there was an almost audible “sucking sound” as the account drained off his reserves. Then the next payroll period arrived. What do you do now? Replace the reserves? Cut back on that “outlandish commitment” you made to the Lord? This is the place where faith is exhibited and developed. Obedience requires faith and faith is costly.

My faith journey is pretty similar to this. Getting me to trust God with “my money” has been a difficult (from my perspective) undertaking, but God has patiently persevered in His role of drawing me to trust Him. For me, I decided to make the “tithe” to the Lord through my church and trust God for Discover Card. As a friend of mine counseled me in those days… “If you are going to owe someone something…do you want it to be Discover Card or God?” That has been more than two decades ago and we have never missed our tithe. Not because man inspected it but because I recognized the NEED to obey and realized that obedience required faith and faith is costly. By the way, I’ve never missed a payment, or a meal, or sent my children to school without shoes. There were many times when we chose to forego what my neighbors were “into” in order to be faithful, but I never missed one essential thing. What I gained though was invaluable!

I could hear other things in sermons and lessons than “money.” I learned about forgiveness, hope, joy, and purpose. I learned to default to prayer. I learned (and am learning) to rest in the Lord’s promise even when it was unreasonable to expect. I learned some empathy…since I came to recognize in others the indicators of strongholds that were true in my life…and knowing how difficult it was for me, I could pray for them and counsel them in better ways. I learned that God is and always has been faithful to Himself and loving toward His people. He really will provide all of our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

What work is God doing in your life to draw you toward holiness?

What stronghold exists that is impeding your growth in faith?

What area of obedience is difficult but necessary?

How is your faith “costly”?

Perhaps, like David, you just need to draw the line and step across. Real joy and peace lies just beyond the line of faith.

Trained at the breast

BF art“You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.” Psalm 22:9-10 (NASB)

“Just a little bit more.” This was the response of J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) when asked: “how much money do you want?” In modern dollars, Mr. Getty died with a net worth north of 8 billion dollars.

Now before you jump on the “1%” train and start to indignantly define Getty as a greedy miser, consider this: Perhaps everything is an economy of scale and his issue was not greed but fear. Amassing wealth, for many, is not so much about the number of zeroes on a bank statement, but the sense of security that a large nest egg brings. It is about how one can weather the storms of life and still come out on top.

In Psalm 22, a messianic psalm, David writes from a low point in his life. He cries out to God because of his circumstances and immediately answers his own cry with a call for praise. It is, as if, the difficulties of David’s life are instruments of God to train him to trust God in all things.

David reminds us in verses 9-10 that our training to trust God is both natural and intentional. It is natural for us as beings because we do not cause our own birth. No person wills himself into being. We cannot choose any part of our beginning. We exist WHOLLY as the result of another person’s choice. (This is a picture of grace). David goes a step further and declares that the ultimate One who makes the choice is God who brought him forth from his mother’s womb.

Not just in origin, but in sustainment, even as an infant, the lessons of trust are inherent. No infant prepares his own breakfast. If the child is to eat, he is to do so at his mother’s breast, by her initiative, and at her pleasure. The infant has no control yet there is rarely a more peaceful picture of trust and contentment than that of a nursing child.

David’s training was also intentional. His mother “cast him” upon the Lord even from birth. (Think of casting him as releasing him wholly to the Lord). She learned to trust the Lord with her child and thus taught her child to look to God rather than her for his daily needs.

Perhaps, the great enemy of our growth in faith is not the difficulties of life, but its excesses. Perhaps our self-sufficiency (or pursuit of it) actually moves us from peace to anxiousness, from potential comfort to perpetual longing.

Is there hope? YES!

Jesus, in the “model prayer,” to His followers to pray in this way: “…give us THIS DAY our DAILY bread.” (Matt 6:11, NASB. eEmphasis added.)

We find peace in the Person of God and in His provision, not in our ability to provide or store up for ourselves that which we anticipate needing. Further, in one of the most arresting proverbs in my life, we are told that this is the way toward true wisdom:

Proverbs 30:8-9 states: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”

Today, do not seek security but God’s sufficiency. He can be trusted. You can trust Him. Don’t let the wisdom of the world draw you away from the peace that surpasses understanding. Return to a daily dependence. This is more than ATTITUDE. It requires ACTION. If there is a point of security for you, a place you turn to for hope and comfort other than God…remember that no man can serve two masters. He must choose today whom he is to serve. As for me and my house…we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15).

child

Overcoming “Impulsiveness”

Bible, study (2)The Internet is KILLING US! (Not really…but it makes a good scapegoat and illustration).

I know very few people who set out with elaborate plans to sin. Rarely do I find a person who thinks through the entire process and plans every detail along the way. Listen to the planning involved with the woman of Proverbs 7. “I went to the temple and prayed, cleaned the house, took a bath, made the bed, sent my husband off on a business trip…and now I am out here on the street looking for a young, good-looking man like you as the answer to my prayers! Let’s sin together!” Most often, we are like the man in the story who is naïve and foolish…we wander too far into the wrong environment and linger too long once we get there. We listen too agreeably to the enticement and, then suddenly, we SUBMIT to the temptation (Prov 7:22). At other times, we are like the fish at the bottom of the lake on a warm day. We are just there waiting to feed in a few hours when the sun goes down and suddenly…along comes a lure and we jump on it. No thought…and no impulse control. Just attack…and we are hooked.

The truth, if we can stand to hear it, is that we lack the “Self-control” Peter commanded us to ADD to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7). We are too impulsive! We see it, want it, get it…and worry about tomorrow when and if it gets here! YOLO (you only live once) …we might say! The truth is though…YOLO is a lie! We don’t only live once. We live (in this line of thinking) TWICE. We live life on this earth and then we live forever with the consequences of choices we make HERE…either in presence of God and His grace or in absence from God under His righteous condemnation.

Self-control is about choosing the best path for our lives. I can have chocolate cake today and cholesterol medication from now on…or I can skip the cake and be healthy. I can buy the new shiny thing through Amazon Prime now…or I can sleep on it and maybe realize why I have made it all these years without it so far and save my money for something better later. I can pursue sexual temptation in front of me and deal with the consequences from now on…or I can honor the vow to God and my mate and live under His blessing.

Self-control is about choice. It is about deciding to discipline ourselves to choose that which is best, that which offers real promise, that which serves the greater good. Anyone can choose ONE-CLICK PURCHASE on their Prime account…but wise people take a breath and make certain that the long-term results are worth the momentary action.

Are you impulsive? Choose to control it. Seek God’s help in doing so. Beg Him to make you mindful of the choice and the corresponding consequence. Listen to His voice and choose to obey…even against your impulsive instinct.

“Best’s” best enemy…

open-bible 2John was on his way to his son’s ballgame and received a call. “Come to the church. The mower needs some maintenance.” John was no mechanic. In fact, he is a pastor. He does have “a particular set of skills” that allows him to eventually fix things because he can visually work through mechanical processes, but it is not his sweet spot. The mower is important. So is the ball game. Both are good but only one is best. “Best’s” best enemy is not some evil thing, but a good thing. There is a good thing to do and a best thing to do. Always choose the best.

In Acts 6, the ministry and influence of the early church was increasing exponentially. One of the main roles of the church was to care for the most vulnerable in society, widows and orphans. This is a good thing, and sometimes the best thing. In fact, it is always a “best” thing for someone but not always for everyone. The pressure was on by those who were concerned about the widows. The pressure was really on by those who were offended that THEIR widows were being neglected while others were being cared for and the only reason seemed to be racial bias. The call rose up to the Apostles… (Y’all) come fix this!

Now look at the response:

“The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables’.” (Acts 6:2, CSB)

Now I cannot speak for you, but as for me, even typing that verse made me a little uncomfortable. How can the Apostles reject a ministry opportunity in front of them for Bible Study and Preaching? Don’t they know that “pure and unfiled religion in the sight of God is this, to care for widows and orphans in their distress…” (James 1:27).

Truthfully, OF COURSE they knew this! For the Church (community as a whole) this is a non-negotiable but as for the Apostles, their calling was more narrow and specific. They obviously did ministry and cared for people. They also were charged with a specific task and calling that only they could do while others (who were not charged with the responsibility of the Word ministry) could easily care for the ministry to the widows.

The point is- God has gifted and called you to do certain things. Do that/those. Andy Stanley says (to pastors in the context I heard it), “Only do what only you can do.” The Apostles indicate here that releasing ministry to those who could focus their attention on widow ministry while they ministered the Word was the appropriate response. I have said it many times like this, “The NEED is never the Call…the Call is the Call.”

So, do what you are called to do. Don’t use this verse as “cover” for laziness. Work and work hard. If you can do something…do it…unless it interferes with Best. Then do Best and leave Good for the person to whom Good is Best. If you do, God will be glorified, the church will be encouraged, the needs will be met and you’ll not wear yourself out in the process.

The Proceeds of Diligence

open-bible 2“The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor…A lazy man does not roast his prey but the precious possession of a man is diligence.” Proverbs 12:24, 27.

One of the qualities that seems to be waning in our culture today is diligence. The perseverance of character that marked a generation not too many years ago seems to be lost on most in the current one.

The writer of Proverbs in this short section focuses on the wisdom of diligence. One who is diligent will have the responsibility to lead and rule, whereas the man lacking diligence will find himself a slave. In verse 27 we see the contrast of the conduct of the lazy and diligent man…the lazy man hunts and kills but does not see the task through to its intended reward…by cooking that which he hunted for so that he may eat. In contrast, the wise man sticks with the task to completion so as to enjoy the rewards of diligence.

The Hebrew word for diligence has a wide semantic domain (range of meanings based on context) but the picture formed in looking at them is consistent. Diligence is like one who keeps his blades sharpened and is precise in his labor. Diligence is the man who avoids distraction and who refuses to quit. The lazy man wastes all of his efforts in hunting by neglecting to finish the task of cooking the meat; whereas, the diligent man presses on to completion and is therefore rewarded by his efforts.

The analogies abound but what if Edison had quit one experiment before inventing the light bulb? What if Ford had backed away with only a set of drawings on a napkin of what a mass production assembly line process could look like? What if Ray Kroc had allowed his vision of franchised restaurants and systematized food preparation to die when rebuffed by the McDonald brothers?

The reason we have commercially produced incandescent light bulbs, an automobile or three in every driveway and can get a Big Mac in every major city in America (and throughout most of the developed world) is because of diligence.

  • What were you led to begin that is not yet finished? Resolve to complete the task.
  • What did you start that you let drift into oblivion that may need to be restored?
  • What commitment do you need to “shore up” in your heart in order to complete it?

Be diligent, and in so doing, fulfill the destiny for which you were created as a son or daughter of the King!

They heard of God’s concern, and…

open-bible 2This passage spoke to me today as I was reading in my morning devotional time.

“So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.”
Exodus 4:31.

The people of Israel were in Egypt for 400 years. The latter years were dramatically more difficult that the former because the leadership of the nation changed following Joseph’s death. (Never mind a sermon on how God has to, at times, increase our discomfort to get us to move on with the mission). Pharoah really hammered the people and the more he tried to break them physically, emotionally, and even spiritually, they grew increasingly desperate in their cries to God.

Then Moses arrives on the scene. He approaches the people, demonstrates, his credentials (which were nothing but the working of God through him…which is another sermon in itself), and the people saw a glimmer of hope.

They HEARD that God cared about them. This is an important step that we miss. Many of God’s people are busy explaining how God is angry with their conduct. The focus at times is on how God is concerned with everyone else BUT the people we speak to. What moved these people though was their understanding that God was concerned for them.

God had SEEN their affliction. What an encouraging thought that God sees every transgression, failure, victim, and perpetrator. He sees. He sees! There is nothing that you and I experience that God doesn’t see! Furthermore, He voiced His concern and demonstrated that He was seeking to rectify the matter. (It is why He raised up Moses).

And the people BOWED LOW and WORSHIPED. The response of the people upon realizing that God sees and is concerned is humility and worship. It was not God’s awareness fo their sinfulness and lack of faith that provoked worship. God met them exactly where they were. There would be many days ahead to address faithlessness, but today, what provoked worship, was realizing God’s concern.

For the preacher today…”Message received.” Perhaps you hear the same thing. Today, remind people that God is concerned. He sees. He is able. He is active. He deserves worship.

Blessings, CA