hard choices & His faithfulness

There are times when we face decisions that are not exciting to make. I was faced with one today. I could have rationalized the situation and disobeyed the Spirit out of good desire to help someone in real need, or obey and trust God for both my help and theirs. I wanted to help and felt like I had power to do so, but I could not shake the Spirit’s persistent voice saying no. To do so was to sin.

This time, I chose to follow. It’s now in His hands.

On another note, God also continues to make unexpected provision. Today, I went to Panera for both lunch and a place to work between lessons. I ordered what I considered the best deal, splurging just a bit. Imagine my surprise when God picked up the bill. Never before has a free bowl of soup been on my Panera card, but it was today.

my day in the boat…

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One day the disciples found themselves in a boat, crossing treacherous waters and fearing for their lives while God slept in the boat. Today I was in the boat. I tried to play it off while I wrestled with worries and fears about money for bills and an up and coming trip, but I couldn’t see past the wind and the waves of circumstance. I don’t like being weak, but in that moment I was fragile. I couldn’t get through to faith.

Praise God! He reminded me that He is still in the boat. He rebuked my little faith, and though I was saddened by my lack I was overjoyed by His presence. Just as He did for His disciples then, He did for this disciple now and the storm became a calm. I am so thankful that this is the reality of the God we serve – He is here, He loves us, and He is able.

And though I hesitate to add more, it revealed a bastion of old man religion in my life. Money is something I’ve not handled well in the past. So when I face difficulty I always begin to question my actions in an effort to uncover the source of my discomfort. It’s one of those places where I’m still trying to bargain it out with God. “If I do this, then…”

He’s calling me into a difficult life. One that I don’t completely understand. I can only do my best to make the most of what He’s given me and trust Him throughout the process. Such is the life of faith. I don’t know what will come even day to day, but He does and I need to remember what He showed me today. He’s in the boat with me and He’s going to take care of me as He promised.

Thank you Lord for this, my daily bread.

world changers…

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This has been a joyous and yet challenging stretch of life. I mentioned before that the word of the moment seems to be “wait”. That’s not an easy thing to hear in a world of do, do, do. In the face of all the need in the world, and especially in light of how the church has often failed to act, it’s easy to feel guilty. Guilt, however, is never a good motivator to base our actions on.

Some time ago I read words from one of Elizabeth Elliott’s works that I believe carry the right message for me and for our day. In her work it was referenced towards marriage, but the underlying truth is the same. She counseled that the best preparation for marriage is doing what God gives us to do today. I would state the the truth expanded is this, the best manner of accomplishing anything is to do what God gives us to do today.

What makes it rough is the discovery that God’s will for our daily activities might not include what we want to do or think we should be doing. Good preparation for marriage might be a good job and a savings account (something I’ve often been told as a man). God may ask us to give that savings away or take a job that barely covers the bills. If marriage is our goal we might be tempted to disobey. For me, this is talking from experience. I am currently following God down a new path, one that doesn’t promise more than daily bread. I must trust that if He brings a wife, He’ll also handle the daily bread for both of us. My goal must be Him.

The same is true if we want to change the world. Being obedient to His daily commands is the way to do it. Even when that daily order is to be still. We need to remember that changing the world is beyond our pay grade. I can’t do it. What I can do is everything God reveals to me as my part in His greater plan for world healing. It’s His work. So whether my obedience keeps me quietly in His presence or out among the masses, whether it is a small and simple gift of change or the preaching of the word, whether it is simply doing the days chores with joy or building a house for someone in need, if it is obedience then it is bearing fruit towards God’s greater act of healing in the world. This brings another hard truth to light. We must be very wary of stepping out where God has not led. We may find ourselves not only working without His empowerment, but against His purposes.

I know from experience that this can lead us into paralysis if we’re not careful. How can I know God’s will then? In part, it’s written down and there are many things we don’t even have to question. Just act in trust that what He says is true is true. The rest falls to practicing the presence of God. We must get to know Him, spend time with Him and practice listening until we do hear Him. Then comes the hard part. No matter what He tells us to do, we obey.

Recently, God helped me out with yet another story of His faithfulness to those who obey. This story is of a man who while in Brazil felt God telling him to start an orphanage. He saw the need, felt God’s leading and obeyed. This was God’s call on His life and He obeyed. There have been times where He doesn’t have the resources for the calling, but God has always responded in faithfulness and the result is that his life has touched hundreds of children. His story reminded me in many ways of George Mueller, one of my heroes in the faith. But to remember the small as well as the large, another woman, a missionary in India, once found herself tasked with the delivery of a single egg. Every time I remember this story, I remember also that though that egg was a gift of daily bread to a woman, it’s greater purpose was the transformation of the woman giving the egg. She was made aware of a hardness in her own heart and the need of a woman she was judging without full understanding. It reminds me that I don’t know best and God is always at work.

So, I find myself believing that the best way to change the world is to spend time with God and do anything and everything He tell me to do whether I understand it or not. It doesn’t matter how large or small the task. If it is His directive then I am a part of the healing of the world. If it is not, then I am simply trying to bandage a wound I have no ability to heal and may find myself doing more harm than good. Cleaning a toilet may be empowered of God whereas preaching the word may be bereft of His power and presence. It all comes down to His presence.

I hope you are challenged as I am challenged in this to practice the presence of God and walk in obedience no matter the task set me. Even the smallest of things comes to have eternal significance. It is also a life of faith, trusting completely the God who is at work in the world. Every one of us will jump at those things that we consider to be the greater – large scale mission efforts, orphanages, fill in the blank, but we often chafe at the little things, the simple things of living. We are often poor judges of great or small, let God be the judge.

the implications of His face…

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While visiting with a good friend he shared a compelling thought in regard to Christ’s game changing declaration that ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you have also done unto me.’ When we face the least of these, in a very real way we are looking into the face of Christ. It’s a challenging thought.

You mean the homeless guy who approaches everyone at the gas station? Yes. Even if I’m fairly certain he’s working a scam? Yes. Anyone who falls into the categories of ‘the least of these’ – hungry, thirsty, naked…

I don’t always see it, but I believe it and it raises the bar. Just yesterday while waiting on my lunch order a man asked for money. I didn’t remember having cash so I told him I had nothing and turned back to the counter to wait. I was deliberately avoiding looking his way, even when I had to pass him on my way to the restroom. This was largely because I knew I was in the wrong, and God was dealing with me on it. The Spirit reminded me as well that today was one of those rare exceptions when I had cash so I dug in my wallet. Now I had a choice – $1 or $5?

I wish I could say I gave him the fiver. I didn’t. However, I realized something as I thought about it later. If he had been Christ literally, I would have given him the five without hesitation. I love him. That messed with me because He loves that man and when I see that man I’m supposed to see my Lord’s face. Like I said, challenging. I did well in giving and caring for another and I believe in the moment my heart was right towards him, but my generosity fell short. I could have done better.

Hopefully, this will set the groundwork for remembrance that in everyone who comes before me in need I will see my savior’s face if I look.

“Whatever you did to the least of these, you did unto me.” – Jesus

wait

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In a day of constant going and doing it is a difficult thing to hear but He often says it nevertheless.

“Wait.”

I’ve personally been struggling with this in light of all the possibilities surrounding me. The list of things I feel I not only want to do, but am supposed to do is fairly long, but the word from the Lord at this moment is wait. I heard it again today as I fought to linger in His presence rather than sprint off. It was a sweet time of prayer. It was followed by the reading of these words – a confirmation to be discovered in the testimony of another. It reads:

“Whenever God gives a vision to a saint, he puts him, as it were, in the shadow of His hand, and the saint’s duty is to be still and listen. There is a darkness which comes from excess of light, and then is the time to listen. Genesis 16 is an illustration of listening to good advice when it is dark instead of waiting for God to send the light. When God gives a vision and darkness follows, wait. God will make you in accordance with the vision He has given if you will wait His time. Never try and help God fulfill His word. Abraham went through thirteen years of silence, but in those years all self-sufficiency was destroyed; there was no possibility left of relying on common-sense ways. Those years of silence were a time of discipline, not of displeasure. Never pump up joy and confidence, but stay upon God (cf. Isaiah 50:10,11)”  – Oswald Chambers

Time is a thing of man. I am reminded that it is better for me to be in the presence of God and in His timing than being active for activities sake. It isn’t easy for me. Especially because I’m often guilt ridden in regard to inactivity. Note, I didn’t say convicted, but guilt ridden. Guilt is not of God. The point is, I need to trust God’s leading. When it’s time to wait, trying to do is counter productive and may even be hurtful. So for now my assignment from God is wait, to abide in His presence, knowing that He is preparing me and the ground for the work in its time.

Wait… stay in His presence… the move when He moves.

A Life of Prayer…

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These are some thoughts from my journal that I’d like to share with you. Thoughts brought on while meditating on prayer in light of Jesus gift to His disciples of a model prayer. A prayer we now know so well as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.

…in regard to intercession

“the most powerful commanded prayer – “Thy will be done”

where He leads, pray specifics; where He does not pray only these four words. To do otherwise is to place human desire and understanding in the place of God’s providential will and wisdom. This is an act of idolatry placing my own judgment as that of God’s… foolhardy to think I know best when I am so limited to see His plan. So I will seek to pray His revelation and at all other times believe, praying in trusting faith – “Thy will be done”.”

I might also add that life lived out in a living, breathing, obedient faith that acts on belief is a constant and unceasing prayer. It utters no words, but its actions are a constant submission to God’s will, a constant acknowledgement of His promises, a constant act of worship and saving belief. It lives in light of God and in His light it basks. A life of faith is itself an unceasing prayer.

A New Year’s Beginnings…

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By God’s grace yet another year is upon us and the first few days have passed. For me it has been an exceptional blessing as several responsibilities draw to a close and life drifts back to a more manageable load, and so I welcome the new year.

I wonder at how to begin this year with these pages. Thankfully it is not for lack of ideas. Life is generous with inspiration when we take the time to look on in wonder. That said, I would encourage you to make time with me to look around. It is a difficult task when all of life is but a blur of activity, a thing I can testify to from the experiences of the past two months.

So, let’s step out renewed into this world of wonder and be amazed!

a new motivation…

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Recently, an idea continuously returns to my mind. It returned again this morning courtesy of my dog. I love her, but she has a very irritating trait. She nips at anything that she feels threatens her position. I don’t mind it when she’s being protective, but more often it stems from an insecure jealousy. Though this is natural for dogs who would function under a pecking order in pack, it doesn’t translate well to my very human way of thinking. I can tell her that her position doesn’t matter. I can love her and the other dogs in our household equally, but this is something that she doesn’t understand and so I find myself correcting her every time she strikes out for the “wrong” reason, when she strikes out for herself.

I am realizing that we as humans really aren’t that different. Take a look at our society and you’ll find that we may be a bit more civil about it (at times), but we too predominantly follow a rule of competition. Envies that focus on self to both exalt and survive. Solomon mentions this in Ecclesiastes 4 when he says, “Then I saw that all toil and skill in work came from a man’s envy of his neighbor…” He goes on to call it hebel, emptiness, a “striving after the wind”.

In a world which sees its greatest discoveries come forth from competition I find myself saddened. I have come to believe that this manner of living is in fact a deprivation rather than generous benefactor. I believe it is keeping us from realizing our full potential. That is not to say that it is not effective, or that we have not experienced incredible discoveries in this manner. However, I do think it is a lesser motivation and one that cannot push us on to true abundance. Following are a few reasons I believe this to be true:

  1. Competition is divisive. Though a common enemy can unite us, we are still at odds with that enemy and too often our enemies are poorly chosen. A divided house cannot stand. Our greatest minds are often in opposition rather than cooperation.
  2. Competition is selfish. It may be a corporate selfishness that includes others of a like mind or kind, but it is exclusive of those not like the group. I am reminded of a favorite Greek proverb which reads, “A society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sit.” There is a healthier manner of living hinted at here. It is one that is other centered!
  3. Competition is often morally ambiguous. The more I process through these ideas, the more I believe many questions that begin with “Should I…” would find there answer in common purpose. Too many of our great discoveries and wonders are more destructive than constructive, fostered by the aforementioned division inherent in competitive efforts.

To put it simply, the presence of an us vs. them mentality brings about many ills. So long as it doesn’t effect our person or group adversely, then we aren’t too worried about the consequences even if those consequences cost someone else dearly. To point out one example of this in a word – nationalism.

It causes me to ask the infamous ‘what if?’ of story telling. What if mankind united in purpose? What if we treated all men as equals? What if we realized that we don’t have to perform or out perform in order to experience love and acceptance? What if we believed everyone to be an important part of the whole no matter what function they served, each one indispensable to the success of the whole, and rewarded them according to this truth?

It’d be Heaven. Really. Truly. So I probably won’t see it this side of Heaven, but I should see it among the church. Yet we are as divided as the world if not more. Eager to marry ourselves to one of many competing brands instead of marrying ourselves to the bridegroom Jesus Christ. Competition will never serve the body of Christ or mankind. We are called to be united as one in pursuit of the kingdom of Heaven, not divided by competing interests. We must be aligned wholly with Christ’s interests and His interests alone.

Too often I am like my dog, eager to make and hold my place in the pack. Eager to find approval by my actions and by outperforming other members of my family. This should not be. I was confronted by this today when I read of a hero who, when given the opportunity to gain an honor on the shoulders of another, stepped aside and allowed that man to ascend. If he had any envy in his heart he could not have done so, but he did and it proved to be an important decision. We will never reach the heights of common purpose by means of competition. We will only find ourselves standing proudly upon our hilltop when we could have scaled the mountain.

beyond the breakdown…

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Yesterday’s dance story began in a private lesson. My student asked me for a rule to abide by. She was in effect saying, “Tell me exactly how I’m supposed to do this.” I am careful about rules knowing both their value and their detriment, so I dawdled a moment as I thought up a more general rule that would address the trouble. I’m not sure she was wholly satisfied with the rule I gave her, but we began there and in time she was holding to it wonderfully. Then came the unexpected. She was keeping the rule so well and to such a degree that it caused a similar problem to that which started the whole request in the first place.

“What’s happening? Why isn’t it working?”

These are the questions we ask in moments like this. After all, wasn’t the rule supposed to fix the problem. If I do it this way all the time, then I’ll never be wrong. If only it were so! And so another principle I’m discovering was passed on. At some point, rules break down. At some point, they fall apart and become ineffective. They can only guide us so far on the path to Truth because Truth is bigger than the individual rule.

This is something of note for both the student and the teacher, the rule taker and the rule giver. The rule worked admirably in this situation even in its extreme application. It revealed a deeper truth and we reached our destination. Understanding blossomed. When it comes to teaching, I can ask for no more than that. I want no more than that.

How have rules manifested themselves in your life? Do you live or die by them, or are you learning to live from them?

a question of following…

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Life’s teaches us in process. The lesson seldom falls in a single class. I don’t know why this surprises me, but for some reason I try to divorce these lessons from the world of process and forget that it’s a journey.

All journeys involve going. A going that will take us through villages, town and cities; through open fields and dense forest; through celebrations and harrowing dangers. Travel long enough and we will all have tales to tell. Grand love stories, heroic epics forged in the fires of a dragon’s lair, and cozy evenings spent regaling friends with our glories while sitting in a plush chair, cup in hand and feet warmed by the fire. And in all of these, there is the making of a life. There is the shaping of a man or woman.

My journey has brought me to a dawning discovery. It is this I hope to share with you in light of the truth of the journey. If you’re anything like me, you struggle with the idea of knowing the will of God. I do think we make it far more difficult than it actually is. What I’m about to share is not definitive nor is it exclusive, but it is some of my experience along the path and I hope that it will help you to deepen your own understanding.

Let me begin with a dance. A lead and follow striving to be one with each another and the music. He listens to the music and begins leading a turn. She follows tracing a graceful curve through the space between them. All is well until he stops and she continues, and in a moment calm becomes turbulence and struggle.

What happened?

It was a case of anticipation. it was a case of expectation. She began well in light of the invitation he gave, but from that point she began to think about the future. She begin to dream about what would follow this turn. “What will he do?”, she asked. Unfortunately, her question finds answers in her own mind. Answers that lead to expectation and anticipation in lieu of discovery, and she acts upon her own answers and finds them at odds with the lead.

Why?

Because she strayed into the role of the lead. She began deciding the answers for questions that were not hers to answer. Sadly, it was only to discover that the two of them had chosen different paths in the same circumstances, and now they find themselves at odds.

Are walk with God is much the same. There are areas of His will that are not revealed to us. I tend to like spending my time in these areas most, trying to ferret out the answers to these questions. These are often “should I?” questions. Should I buy a house? Should I stay in Memphis? Should I ask this girl on a date? Should I date at all? Should I start a bible study? Should I find another job? Should I, should I, should I…

How many questions like this have been paralyzing to you?

Here’s the truth that struck me recently. I realized as I thought about buying a house that it was very easy to know what to do if I owned the house. I was freed to delve into the how and when of a practical, common sense walk found in the light of scripture. That was surprisingly easy. It’s very difficult for us when we are deciding if we should marry or not, or who we should marry, but it is incredibly clear about how we should live if we are married. That doesn’t mean there aren’t struggles. I’m just noting that those struggles become a matter of whether I want to do what he tells me to do or not, rather than a battle of uncertainty over what I should do.

So what do I do? I strive to follow. He is the orchestrator of the circumstances. He’ll take me where he wants me. My job is to be the best follow in the midst of those circumstances. If I’m married, He’s told me how to live as husband. If I’m single, He’s given me guidelines for living as a single. Whatever my job, He’s told me how to honor Him and bring Him glory in my work. Wherever I live, He’s told me how to engage with the people around me. Just like a dancer who knows how to turn, how to hold her posture, how to maintain her frame, I need to stick to the basics and do what I know to do.

So we live. We journey with our lead. Taking it one step at a time, living in the present moment only, we will find ourselves in step with the lead and able to devote our energies to the carrying out of his will in the present moment. It’s simpler that way and, in my recent experience, much clearer.

Where do you find yourself trying to answer questions of God’s will that aren’t yours to answer? Where are you walking in step with Him and finding clarity?