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God’s Will

Why God Would Never Use a Woman (or other misfits)

eye rollBut I’m Just A…

God has a crazy way of looking at things – a crazy way of solving problems. You would think that NORMAL people would encounter a problem and then find the best possible solution to overcoming the problem. Not God. God throughout history, rather than choosing the BEST possible solution to carry out the Divine Will, God seems to choose the less-than-desirable solution.

The minority.

The weakling.

The outcast.

The long-shot.

I once hear a song with the line, “He uses improbable people for impossible tasks.” That pretty much sums it up. He used a young shepherd boy to fight a giant and save a nation. He used a murderer with a speech impediment to go lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He used a woman to lead the Israelite army to victory over Sisera. He used a low-born peasant bastard (please excuse the harshness of the word, but imagine the reaction of ancient listeners finding out that Jesus had no earthly father) to be the Salvation of the world.

And those are just a few examples.

HOW CAN THIS BE?!? It doesn’t seem right. In fact, many of the people God uses are people we would tell to sit down and stop rocking the boat. That’s not how things are done. You can’t do that. You can’t say that. You’re just a…

And we buy into it. Many of us go through life believing, “I’m just a…” and we fill in the blank with whatever limitation fits our life.

I’m just a child.

I’m just a woman.

I’m just a minority.

I’m just a cripple.

I’m just a felon.

I’m just a….

The problem with “I’m just a” kind of thinking is that it means we’re putting ourselves in the driver’s seat and not allowing God to drive the bus. In the big picture, it isn’t about US. Whether you’re a superstar or a superdud, YOU are not the critical element in God’s plan. God can use whomever or whatever He chooses. This is what Jesus is saying in Mark 4:

26 Here is what the kingdom of God is like: a man who throws seeds onto the earth. 27 Day and night, as he works and as he sleeps, the seeds sprout and climb out into the light, even though he doesn’t understand how it works. 28 It’s as though the soil itself produced the grain somehow—from a sprouted stalk to ripened fruit. 29 But however it happens, when he sees that the grain has grown and ripened, he gets his sickle and begins to cut it because the harvest has come.

30 What else is the kingdom of God like? What earthly thing can we compare it to? 31 The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the tiniest seed you can sow. 32 But after that seed is planted, it grows into the largest plant in the garden, a plant so big that birds can build their nests in the shade of its branches.

33 Jesus spoke many parables like these to the people who followed Him. 34 This was the only way He taught them, although when He was alone with His chosen few, He interpreted all the stories so the disciples truly understood.

God’s work isn’t about the grandness or immensity of the event. God can use something itty-bitty and worthless to bring about something phenomenal. The farmer isn’t doing the work to make the grain grow. God does it. The mustard seed is tiny, but look at what it produces. God’s work doesn’t have to have the best and the brightest to have tremendous results. I’m sure this was a great comfort for Jesus’s disciples, who once or twice probably thought that their rabbi had lost it. While many people try hard to gain followers, Jesus often seems to intentionally repel them. “Go and don’t say anything.” “Go keep quiet about what I did.” “Demons, be silent!” Jesus is the complete opposite of a media hound. So his words can serve as comfort – God can work incredibly even through the small and insignificant.

Let us have ears to hear this message – we are called to follow and be his disciples. No matter how insignificant we might seem to the world (I’m just a…), God can utilize us for great things. We may not even know the extent of our work, but like tossing a stone into a smooth lake, the ripples keep going and going.

So don’t allow the “I’m just a…” label to stick. And believe me – people WILL try to stick it to you! But not God. God will make sure that His will is accomplished, and it’s very often done by the misfits and outcasts.

So if you’re one of the misfits and outcasts, the excluded and minority, the unlikely and improbable, you’re in good company.

Keep an open ear for how God might want to use you.

Fruity Christians

Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you want to discover what a person wants, what a person loves, look at what they do. It’s a simply fact of life that people do what they love. That is to say, what people do is an outward expression of their passions, desires, wants, and loves. If you love your kids it shows in an outward expression of taking time to go to their softball games or school plays. If you love your significant other it shows in an outward expression of taking her out to dinner or massaging her tired feet. If you love television it shows in an outward expression of working your DVR overtime. If you love social interaction it shows in an outward expression of wanting to be at every party or event you hear about. If you love private time it shows in an outward expression of avoiding every party or event you hear about. You do what you love. Jesus talks about this principle. In Matthew 7 he says:

16 By their fruit you will know them. Grapes aren’t gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. 19 Every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. 20 So by their fruit you will know them.

In this passage, Jesus is specifically referring to false prophets. The biblical prophet was not just someone who talked about upcoming events. Even though prophets sometimes told people about the future, the main role of biblical prophet is to be the voice of the Lord, to speak on God’s behalf. Jesus’ emphasis in this passage is saying that, even if people come speaking good words, words that sound like they are from God, words alone don’t mean much. In fact, he calls them wolves in sheep’s clothing. They may seem right, but the underneath doesn’t match up. Well-spoken prophets (and people in general) can still be counterfeits.

To know the true measure of a person, look at the fruit – look to their actions as the outward manifestation of their hearts. In other words, Jesus is saying, “You do what you love.” Ancient Rabbis often debated what was more important: hearing the law or doing the law. You can’t do without hearing. Hearing without doing is meaningless. Forget what people say – you can tell their hearts by what they do.

What you are on the inside – what you love – results in the fruit of your life – what you do. This is an interesting way of evaluating our lives. You can look at your own life and determine what your loves are by what you do. I’ve shared with people about my love of food and my struggle with my weight. In the middle of that struggle, when I was not practicing healthy habits, my wife said to me, “I thought you wanted to lose weight.” “I do, I really want to be slimmer,” I said. She replied, “If you really wanted it you would do it.” She was right – you do what you love, and I loved food more than the idea of being healthy.

You make sacrifices to do what you love. Given the choice of health/weight loss or eating whatever, whenever, I showed my real love by my actions. You can tell what you love by how you prioritize your life and the choices you make between one thing and another. You put aside other things to do what you love.

There are some great biblical examples of people who did what they loved. In Acts 6-7 we find the story of Stephen. When we talk about we do what we love, Stephen is a cut above the rest. He begins preaching to the Jews and religious leaders, telling them how all of Israel’s history points to the coming of Christ. The religious leaders get so upset that they start calling him names and they grind their teeth at him. But he continues to tell them anyway, so they take him out and stone him to death, and as the rocks are flying at him he prays a simple prayer, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, don’t hold this against them.” What did he love? He loved Jesus and telling others about Jesus. What was he willing to sacrifice to do what he loved? His own life.

It’s important that we know who we are – that we evaluate who we are. What do you love? What do you do? Look at that passage from Matthew again:

16 By their fruit you will know them. Grapes aren’t gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. 19 Every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. 20 So by their fruit you will know them.

You can’t fake it. You do what you love. In this passage, what you do is called fruit. Since some fruit is good and some is bad, Jesus would seem to be saying that what we love and what we do aren’t always the right things. The question, then, is this: since we do what we love, are the things we love the same things God loves? Are our values God’s values? Are our values influencing our behavior appropriately? What are our values?

Our values determine our distinctives. What sets us apart from others? The values of a Christian set him apart from a Buddhist who has different values. Values also communicate what is important – they signal my bottom line. “This is what I stand for.” Values influence my overall behavior and determine our direction. God has values, and His values determine His behavior. For example, look at His behavior in John 3:16 – He gave his unique son as a sacrifice for sin. This behavior reflects His values. What does God value? God values lost people. Look at His behavior in Genesis 11 – Humans try to build a tower to heaven and God confuses their language and scatters them abroad.

What does God value? God values humility – knowing your place before the Almighty God. These are just a couple of the things God values. When our values begin to mirror God’s values, what we end up doing is what God wants done. We do what we love. When we do what God loves then we are fulfilling His will for us. This is true in our personal lives and the life of our church. So what do we, as a church, value? Remember, you do what you love. What is the evidence that we value these things? Is there anything that we want to value but don’t yet evidence? Is there anything we should value that isn’t seen in how we act?

When I first realized that you do what you love it changed the way I looked at my behavior. I realized that I couldn’t be a victim of circumstance any more. Picture six birds sitting in a row on an unshielded power line with the power turned off. The first three birds decide that they’re just gonna sit there the whole day and not fly around. The last three decide think that they’re gonna take off and go fly. When the power gets turned on, what’s the difference between the 1st three birds and the 2nd three birds? No difference at all – they’re all toast, because deciding to fly isn’t the same thing as actually flying.

 

Image courtesy of pisitphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of pisitphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our actions need to be influenced by our values and our loves. Everything I was doing was the result of my own choice. I struggle with my weight, not because food is just too good, but because I love eating more than I love my health. I argue with my wife, not because she deserves it, but because I love defending myself and being right more than I love her feelings.

When I realized that you do what you love, I started to look at all of my behavior. I was motivated to let my actions reflect what I say I loved – to let my actions reflect what I should love – to let my actions reflect what God loves. I was motivated to change my own behavior, and if you know me you know that I don’t like new things. They’re scary. But God is saying, value what I value. Love what I love. Do what I do. When our lives begin to look like this, we start living in God’s will every day.

We may have to change some things in our lives. Are we willing to change/sacrifice to embrace God’s values and His loves? Can we sacrifice our comfort zones? Our time commitments? I don’t know what God will call us to change – maybe a lot, maybe not so much. But it’s time to love what He loves and do what He does. Are you ready to get on board?

 

How about you? What do you love? What will you sacrifice to do what you love?

That Voodoo that You Do: Getting Control of Your World

I had an interesting conversation today. Actually, it was a ministry first. Someone asked me if it was okay for Christians to engage in Voodoo if it was for good results. It was an ethics question: say a child is sick and medical avenues courses have been exhausted but a local voodoo practitioner claims he can heal the child. Can the Christian employ voodoo for the sake of healing (and thus doing good)?

I was taken aback by the questions because I simply assumed (naively?) that the answer to such a question was a no-brainer. Apparently it isn’t and still needs to be addressed in some areas, so here’s why I think the Christian should not use voodoo, magic, or any other type of art even for the sake of performing good.

First, the Bible flat out tells us to avoid pagan practices like sorcery, divination, etc. This isn’t even one of those passages that is open to the “context” debate, meant for one time and place but not meant for all time and all people. No – this seems to be one of those verses that God intended to hold for eternity.

Second, using sorcery and voodoo is an attempt to manipulate the world through supernatural means. It removes God from the driver’s seat and tries to force our will upon people, life, and circumstances. The Bible is clear that God is God and we are not. It is not our place to try to manipulate the supernatural for our own desires. It demonstrates an inability to trust God and yield to him. It says, “I’m in charge and this is what I want so I’m gonna do whatever it takes to make it happen.” Such an attitude is not the attitude of a believer.

Two examples come to mind. The first is Jesus. He knew the course that was set before him. He knew his path led to death. And in normal human fashion he was looking for a way out. He repeatedly prayed, asking God to change the path and find a different way so that he didn’t have to go to death. But his ultimate conclusion was this: Not my will but yours be done. It didn’t matter what Jesus wanted because his only aim was that the will of the Father was accomplished.

The second example is Paul. Paul had something he referred to as his “thorn in the flesh.” We’re not quite sure what that thorn was but people who are smarter than I am speculate that it could have been some sort of vision or eye problem (he references having to write in large letters in one of his letters). Paul tells that he repeatedly asked God to remove this problem from his life. God’s ultimate answer was, “No.” Actually – it wasn’t just no. It was, “You don’t need to worry about it because my grace is sufficient for you.”

If we take the object of our faith (Jesus) and the premier preacher of the faith (Paul) as examples, we should be content to pursue every natural means possible to alter health and wellness. We simultaneously pursue prayer until our knees ache and our hearts are ready to burst. But in the end it is God’s call, not ours. We should not attempt to circumvent God and wrest control into our own hands, and that’s all that voodoo and witchcraft do.

Third, the philosophical argument put to me today was essentially that “the ends justify the means.” I do not believe that to be a viable philosophy. While some ends are worthy, there are some means that are simply wrong – no question about it. This philosophy has been the excuse for many atrocities against people. It doesn’t matter who we hurt as long as we’re moving towards the desired goal. Bogus. People matter, and we cannot walk over people simply to achieve positive results. Now move that principle into this blog’s question. If the ends do NOT justify the means then, even if we have good intentions, we cannot act contrary to God – even if we believe we’re doing good.

In the end it comes down to faith that God is God and sees what we can’t. Are we willing to yield to him and to his will? Will we surrender control of our own lives or are we willing to do whatever it takes to force our own results?

What do you think? Do the ends justify the means? Where do we stop in our pursuit of “good”?

3 Keys to Opening the Right Door for Your Life

closeddoors-733902

I remember one time a year ago…I was feeding the baby oatmeal.

Morning time is our time together. I bathe her, let momma pick out the clothes (‘cause apparently I am physiologically incapable of picking out a shirt and shorts that are supposed to go together), and take the baby downstairs to make breakfast and feed her. We do this almost every morning. We have a rhythm. Anyway…back to my original thought…

There we were having breakfast like normal. At one point she opened her mouth and  I delivered a good sized bite of oatmeal (relax, I was using a baby spoon). It turns out that she wasn’t opening her mouth in an effort to say, My dearest Father, I am ready for more sustenance.” She was merely prepping for a sneeze…

Y                                                         S

U                                                         P

C                                                         L

K                                                         A

!                                                           T

All of which leads me to this little gem: NOT EVERY OPEN DOOR OR OPPORTUNITY IS A SIGN OF WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO DO! The converse is also true: Not every closed door is a sign that God wants you to give up.

But that’s often how Christians view circumstantial events. I call it “Door Theology.” If the door is open (Christian language for an opportunity has presented itself) then God must want me to walk through it. If the door closes (Christian language for the opportunity is no longer present) then it must mean that God wants me to go in a different direction. Door Theology is huge in the Evangelical church. Every week I hear people espouse this junk. DON’T BUY IT!

Sometimes you will have an open door in your life that God would NOT want you to walk through. And sometimes a door will close that God STILL wants you to pursue. You cannot estimate God’s will simply on your opportunities (or lack thereof).

Well, then, how do we determine and discern God’s will for our lives? Let me highlight three foundational elements that are helpful in discovering God’s will for your life.

1. The Bible – God’s will for you will NEVER contradict his words in the Bible. You never have to wonder if it is God’s will to leave your wife for another woman. It isn’t. It never will be. You never have to wonder if it is God’s will for you. God will not contradict what he has laid out in Scripture. Want to know what his will for you is? If you stay plugged into the Bible on a regular and consistent basis your picture will become more and more clear. The Psalmist writes:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

A WORD OF CAUTION – DON’T SETTLE FOR RANDOM ACTS OF WILL. Sometimes we go to the Bible and randomly pick a sentence and believe it to be God’s will for us. When we read the Bible we ought to do so intelligently. Some things are meant to be universal and apply to all times. Other things are specific to a time, people, and place and are not meant to be directives for us. Don’t read,” Judas went out and hanged himself” and think that it is God’s will for you to do the same. Be smart.

2. Your Conscience – The non-Christian world calls it your conscience. Those of us in the Evangelical movement understand and believe that God is present in this world through his Spirit (often called the Holy Spirit). It is the Spirit of God that speaks to us if we will simply ask and listen. What is the Holy Spirit trying to tell you? Have you asked? Have you been listening? The Apostle Peter was often directed by God’s Spirit and several times writes:

And the Spirit told me to go with them…

A WORD OF CAUTION – DON’T TRUST YOUR “GUT” ALONE. Sometimes we may “feel” that God is trying to say something to us when it is merely our own desires, passions, or even bad pizza from last night. You cannot trust your own feelings alone as God’s will. I knew a guy in college who decided after one semester that God was “calling him” to leave the school and go to a different university. Okay, how can you argue with that? Within a year he was back from the other school. I guess God was confused? Or maybe my friend was putting spiritual labels on his own desires…. Be careful.

3. Counsel – There is something to be said for good counsel and good counselors. Ask other people what they think about God’s will for your life. Talk to them about what you’ve read in the Bible and what you think the Spirit of God is saying to you. Bounce it off of other people and find confirmation. Or bounce it off others and end up rejecting the idea. The Proverbs say:

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

A WORD OF CAUTION – MAKE SURE YOUR COUNSELORS ARE GODLY PEOPLE. If the people you turn to for advice are dirtbags it’s a pretty good bet that they won’t give godly and stellar advice. Find people who care about discernment and doing right by God. Ask THOSE people. Get their input.

And one last word for people who are going through a real difficult time: When going through junk don’t ask, “Is this God’s will?” God doesn’t ever WANT you to go through garbage. Sometimes we go through garbage as a result of other people’s stupidity and/or sinful and evil behavior. Don’t blame God for other people putting you through hell. Instead ask, “How can I honor God even in this situation?”

It’s less about finding the one single path to walk than it is about being a Christ-follower whichever path you may take!

May I Ask Who’s Calling?

phone

I’ve picked up a pet peeve from my father. At least I think I got it from him. Let’s just say that it’s an annoyance we share. It really aggravates me when people call me and, as soon as I pick up the phone, launch into conversation without ever identifying themselves. I like people. I really do. But I find it impossible to memorize the voice of everyone I know. Actually, sometimes I even have trouble telling which of my brothers is calling me if he doesn’t identify himself.

But I don’t have any trouble identifying the voices of my wife or my parents. They are probably the three people I have spent the most time with and have the most intimate relationships with. In fact, I can hear my English professor mother’s voice correcting the previous sentence because I ended it with a preposition!

And that’s how intimate relationships work. Not only do you recognize the voice of the one talking to you but you get to the point where you can hear the other person’s voice commenting and talking to you without them even having to be around you.

Recently someone asked me how she could know the will of God for her life and how she could be sure that she was doing the right things to be in the will of God. I understand the difficulty of what she’s asking. Very few people I know have burning bush experience like Moses where God tells us unequivocally what he wants us to do. It seems that many of us have to go through life practicing discernment when it comes to God’s will. And sometimes it’s just plain tough to figure out.

We want the “Wizard of Oz” experience – Dorothy is given only one road to follow (the yellow brick one, of course). But I think the key is not in finding the one road God would have us take but in developing the intimate relationship with him that allows us to recognize his voice and to be able to hear his voice in our circumstances, know what he would say to us, even before he says it. This is the kind of relationship I envision the Apostle Paul is talking about in Romans 12:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The more we allow God to transform us, and the more we are like him and the less we are like the world, we are better able actually to recognize his voice and to know what he would say. But such intimacy only happens over time. Not just quality but quantity as well. Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Do you want to hear his voice and understand his direction? Have you put in the time and effort to build an intimate relationship with him?

Because when he calls, it’s not so great to stop him mid-sentence and ask, “May I ask who’s calling?”

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