A Perfect Plan

I’ve been writing a lot lately about doubt, be it doubt in God’s existence, or doubt in His purpose for us. But that’s the doubt that comes from our own lives, when we struggle with failure or frustrated expectations and desires.

When we look into the lives of others, we face a completely different kind of challenge. What happens to our faith when we see suffering and evil? What are we supposed to make of God’s purpose when a newborn baby starves to death? What plan could God have possibly had for that baby?

That’s a tough question, and I don’t claim to know the answer. If we wanted to end poverty, we could. There’s enough money in this world to end it immediately. But we don’t do it. I don’t think it’s going to happen because sin is in the world. Selfishness will always keep us from eliminating poverty altogether.

When I get challenged like this, I think about the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” As ambassadors of Christ, we are called to help bring the redemptive love of Jesus to Earth. We are called to help bring God’s kingdom. We pray for it, we look for it, and we long to be a part of it. So we look for opportunities to be involved in bringing it.

I think God has a plan. I think it is a perfect plan. This is going to work out. And there’s a role for everyone. Look around you! There are so many incredibly talented people. They are everywhere. We have an abundance of incredible ideas for ending poverty. We have an abundance of energy and passion for the kingdom. With all that talent, all those skills, all those callings, and all those passions, we are overflowing with opportunities to bring the kingdom. No matter where we work, we can do so much. We can love so much!

I don’t really know how much I can or cannot do, but I intend to find out! I’m going to do as much as I can. My biggest fear is that I’ll sit before the throne of God one day and He will say to me, “You gave me 90% when I needed one hundred.” I don’t want Him to say that. I want Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I’m not working for my own salvation. I don’t have to. By the blood of Jesus, I am saved. No, what I’m trying to do is be a light. I’m trying to be a city set on a hill. (Matthew 5:14) I don’t want to be one of those cities that didn’t do enough to light up the world. God is calling! I want to make sure that I’m hearing Him correctly. I want to make sure that I’m doing what He wants me to do.

More on this next time. See you Friday.

When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Recently, I’ve been writing about doubt. I reflected on our all-too-human ability to create doubt. I showed how doubt is a normal companion of the faithful, especially when we’re facing failure. I marveled that our Biblical ancestors doubted, even though they were eye witnesses to God’s miracles, signs, and wonders. And I pointed out that the wonder of creation can alleviate doubt, since God’s sovereignty is so obvious within it.

But I’m not finished! There’s something else. Sometimes we doubt God’s purpose. Maybe we don’t doubt His existence. Maybe we don’t doubt His sovereignty. But we can still doubt that He knows what He’s doing!

Doubting God’s purpose is usually a result of trying to control our own lives. We might say, “Well, if I were God, then this is what I would do. So why isn’t He doing it? I don’t understand!”

I look back on my life, and I remember so many times when I wanted God to do what I wanted Him to do. I look at that now and say, “Well, now I know why He didn’t do that. How awesome has it been that I didn’t have my way back then! Look at how well everything turned out!”

God sees it too, and He says, “Yes, I know. I’m God, remember? You can trust me. My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways. My way is better than your way. I created everything. So I know best.”

Sometimes you just have lean back, fall into the arms of God and say, “Okay.”

Be like Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus. She just sat there and listened to Him. Sometimes it comes to a point where you just have to sit and listen. Sometimes you just have to trust and obey. Sometimes, as hard as it is, you have to simply believe that it’s all going to work out.

So just sit at His feet. Tell Him, “Okay. I’ll go with you on this. I’ll believe in this.” Then see what happens. All you need is the faith of a mustard seed.

Faith isn’t a matter of things going your way. God’s ways are not our ways. Sometimes things go His way, not yours. When things don’t go your way, that’s not evidence that God is not sovereign. God is everywhere, not just in your circumstances.

For evidence of His sovereignty, you have to look elsewhere. Sometimes that presents the greatest challenge of all. More on this next time.

See you Tuesday.

A Mysterious and Beautiful Creation

The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. (Romans 1:19-20, MSG)

The most common cause of doubt is frustrated expectations. Things don’t go the way we planned, and we doubt God. Or things aren’t the way we want them to be, and we doubt Him.  “If God loves me and knows my heart,” we reason, “He would give me what I need, or what I long for.”

We are God’s children. He is our Father. Do we give our children everything they want, just because they want it? We might want to, but we can’t. My sons want certain things that I won’t give them. I know what will happen if I do.

They don’t necessarily understand, because they can’t see the big picture the way I can. So sometimes they get mad at me! They don’t know I’m protecting them from a bad outcome.

The difference is that they don’t doubt me. They know I’m their dad because they can see me. It’s a little different with God. Believers are children who believe in something that we can’t physically see. That makes us a little more vulnerable to doubt. It would be nice, we think, if we could just see God. That would clarify things!

But you know what? We can see God. All we have to do is look around. Spend some time contemplating nature. Look at what’s around us, and you’ll be astounded. Look at the rock formations in Moab, or look at the Grand Canyon. Look at the clouds in the sky. Look at the moon and the evening star. The variety of amazing things that we can see is astonishing!

Do you want to see the sweet sovereignty of God? Look at your chest moving in and out. There’s something allowing you to breathe. There’s something that allows your brain to tell your lungs to suck in air and breathe out carbon dioxide. Our bodies work in such complex ways. Our brains! We still can’t figure out how the brain works.

Just look at how a leaf is formed. Think of everything that must occur in order for a leaf to grow and develop. Look at what a leaf does. It purifies the air! How amazing is that?

Science will show you that creation is very complex. There had to be a Creator. Look at how fish work. Look at how animals work. There had to be someone that developed this complex scenario and set it in motion.

There are so many things that can release doubt if we actually start thinking about them in a certain way. Look at the very nature of the Earth and know that there is a God.

Then look at us. Look at how human beings relate to each other. Look at how complex we are, and how our souls connect and disconnect.

More than anything, look into the faces of those who love you. What will you see? Nothing less than the very image of God!

See you Friday.

 

Signs, Wonders, and Doubts

Doubt was a big part of the experience of our Biblical ancestors. It’s so important for us to get this. They had so much evidence, but they had to deal with doubt all the time.

Consider the Israelites, our ancestors in faith. They were also our ancestors in doubt. Think about it. God rescued them from slavery, man! In their flight, God rescued them from one of the world’s mightiest armies! Right at the brink of the Red Sea, Moses told them, “Have faith.” He said, “God is going to give us the ability to cross this sea.” Then Moses smote the water with his staff. The waters parted, and the Israelites crossed safely to the other side.

Having seen it with their own eyes, they believed. They said, “This must be God!”

Well, how long did their faith last? Despite all the signs and wonders from God, they began to doubt Him. After forty years in the desert, wandering in circles, seeing the same thing over and over again, they doubted. They said, “Maybe God isn’t who we think He is.” And so they made an idol. They made a golden calf.

They made an image of the god they wanted, because they doubted the God who is.

Stories like this are everywhere in the Bible. People saw God work miracles, signs, and wonders, and they doubted Him anyway.

Consider John the Baptist! This was the man who prepared the way for God! Still, when he wound up in prison, he sent people to Jesus saying, “Hey, ask Him! Ask Him if He’s really the guy.”

John personally witnessed signs and wonders. John stood with Jesus in the Jordan River. John baptized Jesus and saw the dove come down from heaven. John literally saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus. Can you imagine that?

And yet, after all that, John asked, “Are you the guy?”

Faith takes trust. Faith takes so much trust! It’s hard for us, because we have to see something to believe it. We can’t help ourselves. We’re physical beings, so we rely on physical evidence. Suppose you tell me there’s a tree right in front of me. Well, if I can’t see it, I won’t believe it’s there. Would you?

I’ve had people tell me, “Well, you don’t see air, but you trust that you’re breathing.” Okay, true, but that’s not a good example. I can see my chest moving in and out. I can feel the air in my nose and mouth as I inhale and exhale. I may not see air, but I know I’m breathing because I can see it and feel it in my body.

Sometimes I suspect that the people with the least amount of doubt are blind people. They really have to trust. If someone tells a blind person there’s a tree in front them, they need to believe it. They have to trust that they will be safe when they hear the beep that tells them it’s okay to cross the street.

Jesus declared, “Let the blind see.” Why? Because he wants everyone to see the sovereignty of God. But can we? Or are we too dependent on physical evidence that will satisfy us “show me” types?

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

When Failure Causes Doubt

Last time, I wrote about how we create doubt. Because we do! But even if we didn’t, we’d still experience it. Doubt walks hand-in-hand with faith.

We know that God is the great I Am. We know that He is whoever we need Him to be. At least, we’re very confident about that when things are going well.

But something changes when it comes to failure. When we’re facing failure, it’s easy to doubt. We might even think, “Well, God’s not there.”

Even though we’ve never seen God, we depend on Him for everything. So what happens to us “show me” types when bad things happen? Doubt takes shape! Here’s a typical thought progression:

“I depend on God, who I’ve never seen, to get me through life. Now something bad has happened, and I don’t feel like He’s there. And if He’s not there, then who do I depend on? I have to depend on myself. And if I have to depend on myself, then why depend on God in the first place? If He’s even real, that is. I mean, I can’t even see Him!”

Sound familiar?

I’ve dealt with that. I dealt with that in baseball. Nothing’s a sure thing in that game. You don’t ever know. They say it’s a game of failure, but players make their living based on success. I had to depend on so many things to succeed. I had to depend on making the right pitch. I had to depend on the hitter to hit the ball to the defense. And I had to depend on the defense to make the play.

No matter what you do, you have to depend on so many things for it to go right. We really do depend on God for everything!

A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:9 tells it like it is, but sometimes it’s so hard to deal with. We have a certain way that we want things to go, and it may not be the same as God’s way. We know that God sees the whole picture, but sometimes it’s hard to accept His direction. If things don’t go the way we want them to, then we wonder if He’s even there. Some of us even stomp our feet and pout! We say, “I didn’t have it the way I wanted it.”

That’s when you start wondering, “Do I believe in a God who’s not there?” Or you ask yourself, “If He’s real, then why is this happening?” You get frustrated. You decide to be all about yourself. You quit leaning on Him. You doubt Him. You forget to depend on Him.

This kind of doubt is pretty common among God’s people. When you read the Bible, you realize that you’re in very good company!

I will talk about that next time. See you Friday.

The Creation of Doubt

I’ve been writing a lot about depending on God. You might ask, is it possible to have 100% trust in the Almighty God? Absolutely! But at the same time, I think humans are “show me” types. We like to see it before we believe it. That’s why the human journey will always include doubt.

What’s amazing is how much we humans create doubt. There have always been situations where people create doubt, especially among the religions. This has been going on throughout human history. As long as there have been people, there have been sorcerers, magicians, and psychics. There are even mediums who promise to call upon the dead.

We see them in the Bible! King Saul banned them, but when he was really, really frightened, even he visited the witch at Endor. She helped Saul talk to Samuel from beyond the grave. The witch didn’t want to summon Samuel, but she did. Then when Saul went into shock she tended to him. She fed him and restored his strength.

But these days, most of these people are just looking for your money. So they create doubt. They try to get power over you by making it hard for you to know what is true and what is not.

Look at the TV evangelists in the 80’s that stole money from people. Now when we see preachers on the television, we always have to wonder what’s true. Do they even believe in what they’re preaching, or are they just doing it for the money? Talk about creating doubt!

Honestly, though, we don’t need help. We can sow doubt all on our own. Think about those times when everything is going well. It’s very easy in those times to say, “God must love me.” You feel great! You say, “God is proud of me,” or, “You know what? God is shining on me today.”

Then things change. Times come when things aren’t going so well. Now we doubt. Now we say, “Maybe there’s no God. There must not be a God. God wouldn’t let bad things happen.”

I think God looks at that and says, “You’re not really looking at me as sovereign, are you? You’re just trying to make me what you want me to be. You’re trying to make me into an image, or put me in a box. You’re making an idol out of me. And you know what? I’m the living God. You can’t contain me in a box.”

I think this is what Romans 1:18-32 is about. When we ignored the truth of God’s sovereignty, our doubt and mistrust grew. God simply allowed us to experience the consequences. He said, “There’s chaos because you’re looking at me, but you don’t see me. You don’t see that I am sovereign of creation. Instead you’re saying, ‘Well, God is only real if things are going good. God wouldn’t let bad things happen, and since bad things are happening, there must not be a God.'”

I don’t think God ‘lets’ bad things happen. If that surprises you, good! More on this next time.

See you Tuesday.

Jesus the Lion, the King!

When you carry something on your back, it’s a sign of strength. I’ve cheerfully taken up my cross to follow Jesus. I’m glad to do it. I seek opportunities to serve like Christ served. I’ve learned that discipleship is a source of joy. It’s the truest joy! I’ve even literally put it on my back.

Paradoxically, though, there are those days when being a Christian itself feels like a burden. Sometimes we’re faced with challenges that seem insurmountable. We may not know what to do. We’re asking, “What does it mean to stand for Jesus?” And we really don’t know.

We might even ask, “Do I want to stand for Jesus?” As shocking as it sounds, sometimes we aren’t all that sure! Living like a Christian can be hard. It can be really frustrating. Sometimes we can be profoundly selfish. Even when our spirit is willing, our flesh can get rebellious.

What do you do when your heavy burden, the one Jesus offered to carry, is the burden of following Him?

Times like these do not feel good. You need courage, grace, and understanding while you’re asking, “This is so hard! How am I supposed to represent Christ today, when it is so hard?”

In times like these, maybe especially in times like these, our spirits long for Christ. We need reminders of who He is.

That’s why I got a lion tattooed on my shoulder.

lion-tattoo

You’ve seen a lion walk. He walks like he carries the world on his shoulders. But he does it with confidence. He’s strong. And when he looks at you, you see how brave he is. He’s full of courage. He is not afraid.

Why should he fear? He knows he’s the king of everything he sees.

Jesus is the lion. He’s the Lion of Judah. Jesus is the king! He’s the king of everything! And he gives us His lion mentality.

The lion mentality says, “You don’t have to fear. Don’t worry about what anyone thinks of you. Walk in who you are. Be who you are. You represent Christ! Be brave in that.”

Think about hanging out with lions. Watch what they do. Walking or laying down, the lion is very calm. He’s looking around. He’s just observing. But he can move into attack mode in the blink of an eye.

We need that calm, that strength, that ability to act in an instant. This is the lion mentality. Jesus is my savior who carries my heavy burdens and gives me rest, but He is also the lion. Sometimes I need that presence, too. Sometimes I need Jesus, my king.

There are days when I need a lion’s confidence, but I don’t feel it. There are days when I need a lion’s courage, but I don’t feel it. There are days when I need a lion’s strength, but I don’t feel it. Does it matter? No, because I know that Jesus has perfect confidence, perfect courage, and perfect strength. Always.

That’s why the tattoo says sola fide, faith alone, and sola gratia, grace alone. I know that when I need it, Jesus will give me a brave heart. He will give me the strength of a lion. And when I walk with the strength of a lion, so I walk with the grace of a lion. Jesus leads me to walk in His grace.

I know those days will come when it actually feels like a burden to live like Jesus. There will be days when the temptation to feel frustrated, angry, and selfish is almost overwhelming. I know. But when that happens, don’t surrender. Remember the lion, and receive Him.

Bless you. See you Tuesday.