“The Year of the Lord’s Favor”

Had an Unexpected Start

For Christmas, I gave Robyn, our kids and our sons-in-law, each a small smooth stone on which I’d painted a theme Scripture for the new year. Each one was different.

As I begin this post, it’s a little after 5:30 a.m. on January 1, 2018, so Happy New Year! Robyn and I have declared it the Year of the Lord’s Favor (from Isaiah 61:2), which was the verse I gave her.

We began the new year at Mercy Hospital. It’s a good name, don’t you think?

About a week and a half ago, we noticed Robyn was bruising very easily. Five days ago, she had an appointment with our family doctor who is also a dear friend. After reviewing her lab results the following day, things began to move fast. He immediately referred her to a hematologist. Later that day, she had a bone marrow biopsy. A follow up visit was scheduled for January 8th. We were told we’d get a phone call if it was serious, so we should hope to not get one.

Yesterday morning, we got one.

Robyn was diagnosed with a treatable and curable form of leukemia. Within a couple hours, we were checking in to the hospital to begin chemo. Because of the form of leukemia and the type of treatment, she will be in the hospital 24/7 for about a month. This is day 2.

It would be impossible to capture all that has led to this moment, but I believe God has been preparing us for this time throughout the past year and beyond. If you want to see how, I encourage you to read some of the recent posts from 2017.

I want to be clear that when I say God has been preparing us, I do not mean He has been preparing cancer for us. He has been preparing us for cancer. And He has been so good and so faithful to do so.

Robyn and I believe it’s significant that her diagnosis came on the last day of 2017. Leukemia will be a thing of our past. It will not be the defining factor in 2018. This is the Year of the Lord’s Favor, not the year of leukemia.

A number of months ago, I started to read an article in which the author said, “I don’t know why God gave me cancer.” I’ll be honest, I immediately stopped reading. God doesn’t give anyone cancer. It’s horrible theology to believe that. He gives life, not death. God is a good Father who delights in His children. He’s not handing out diseases to test our faith or punish us. Instead, He lovingly gets us ready for the tests He sees coming.

In John 10:10, Jesus gave us great insight into discerning His activity and the activity of the enemy…

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Difficulties will come for all of us, even in a Year of the Lord’s Favor. But God will not allow something into your life He has not already prepared you to experience. Of course, as I did for many years, we can waste the time of preparation.

For a long time, I doubted one very simple truth. I doubted God’s goodness. I wrongly focused on what He didn’t do for me, rather than all He did do. I based my view of Him on what I experienced, not what His Word revealed. Disappointments became evidence I could use to accuse Him of not being good or faithful.

Last year, a good friend was going through a confusing and difficult health situation. He told me he would read Psalm 46 and Psalm 91 everyday and God used those words to give him peace and get him through it. Last night, as Robyn was being prepared for her first chemo treatment, I read aloud those two Psalms. We are choosing to hold onto the truths revealed in those Psalms, not what we see or feel.

We invite you to believe God in your own life, not whatever you are seeing or feeling. Refuse to listen to the negative voices and discouraging circumstances. Choose to believe He is good. Trust that He is for you, not against you.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)

Robyn and I also invite you to believe God with us for her total healing. One of my ongoing prayers is for her and I to enjoy 60+ years of marriage and ministry together in good health. We’ll celebrate our 33rd anniversary this year, so we have a long way to go.

One last thing…I have to brag about how amazing my wife has handled everything that’s happened in the last five days. She has experienced some difficult stuff and hasn’t complained once. Her faith is rock solid and her joy is full. To say I admire her doesn’t even come close.

If you feel led, please leave a comment for her.

How to Know God’s Will for Your Life

Do you feel confident that you’re in God’s will? Do you feel good about the decisions you’re making and the direction you’re heading? Are you sensing God at work in you, through you and for you?

Or is there some doubt and confusion? Do you sometimes feel like you’re groping around in the dark hoping you’ll stumble over His will for your life?

Have you pleaded with God to reveal His will only to be met with silence?

I’ve been there.

But what if His will is right there in front of us? What if we’ve been praying for something He’s already revealed?

In Matthew 17, Jesus takes His three closest disciples up on a high mountain. Verse 2 says, “There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”

The Greek word for “transfigured” is “metamorphoo.” It’s where we get the word “metamorphosis.” It means to change into another form, like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly.

In Romans 12, Paul urges us to present ourselves to God as living sacrifices, to surrender ourselves to Him. It’s the logical thing to do based on all He’s done for us. Then verse 2 says:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The Greek word for “transformed” is the same Greek word used in Matthew 17 for “transfigured.” In other words, the result of surrendering to God and renewing our minds is to be changed into another form, the form of Jesus. The process of renewing our minds is something we do in cooperation with the Holy Spirit as we spend time in His word, but He won’t make us do it. We don’t have to change if we don’t want to.

Verse 2 ends with:

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Then. Not before. We discover God’s good, pleasing and perfect will after we surrender to Him and our minds are being renewed.

Paul says it like this in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18…

But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

The words “changed into” are again the word “metamorphoo.” God is making us more and more like Him, so that we can “see and reflect the glory of the Lord.”

Can I suggest that before we fret over knowing who to marry or what job to take or where to live or how we’re going to make it financially or how our difficult circumstances are going to work out that we instead focus on the main thing?

And the main thing is to renew our minds so that we’re changed into the image of Christ and can reflect Him to others. It’s learning to think like Him, talk like Him, love like Him, forgive like Him, give like Him, act like Him, plan like Him and serve like Him.

That’s God’s will.

For us to be like Jesus.

If that’s our priority, I promise all the other stuff will come into focus.

Are You More Amazed or Offended?

One of my most embarrassing moments ever happened almost twenty years ago. It was back in the days when the internet and email were still in their infancy.

I received an email from a friend. It was short and to the point. It said something like, “Check out these links.” Of course today, I’d be very suspicious of an email like that. Back in 1999, I wasn’t thinking about computer viruses.

So I clicked on one of the links and the virus immediately sent the same email to everyone in my address book. Hundreds of people where I worked got it. Then they clicked on the link and also immediately sent the email to everyone in their address book.

And the domino effect was on. Every person who opened it, immediately sent it to everyone else. It was a mess. And very embarrassing for me because I was the first person in the organization to click on the link and let the virus in. One little click was all it took to create a nightmare for the IT department.

A few weeks ago, I got a different type of virus. It was a stomach bug. My daughter and grandson had it. Then my wife got it. I thought I had escaped, but then I got it. Something completely invisible to the naked eye had the power to make us feel awful for two or three days.

In Mark 6:1-6, there’s another type of virus at work, one that’s more destructive than a few lines of computer code or a stomach bug.

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus visits his hometown and goes to the synagogue to teach. Jesus had wisdom like they’d never seen before and He could perform miracles. The people were amazed.

But rather than living in the amazement, they start to ask questions. Now questions aren’t bad, but when something doesn’t go our way or we encounter painful or confusing circumstances, we tend to ask questions like:

  • Why did God let this happen?
  • When are you going to do something God?
  • How is this situation going to work out?

I don’t know about you, but God doesn’t usually answer those why, when and how questions for me. That’s why it’s so important to have that rock solid foundation of trust in God’s character. If I know He’s good, then I can learn to live with the uncertainty of unanswered questions, as uncomfortable as it may be. Without trust in God’s character, questions and doubts become like a virus.

“Isn’t this the carpenter?”

Someone else chimed in, “Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?

Another asked, “Aren’t his sisters here with us?”

Amazement gave way to questions. Questions led to doubts about Jesus’ real identity. Those doubts led to taking offense at Him. And now they’re infected.

So what happened next?

Jesus could not do many miracles there, because of their lack of faith. Was Jesus’ power somehow limited by the people? Yes and no. No, Jesus did not cease being filled with the Spirit of God. He was still able to perform the miracles the Father called Him to perform in the power of the Holy Spirit.

But yes, their lack of faith was a limiting factor. God responds to faith, not to needs. God wants to be trusted. He enjoys it when we believe Him, not our circumstances. He rewards those who seek and believe Him.

If you’re not experiencing God’s work in and through you, then maybe you’ve allowed a virus in and have ceased to be amazed by Him. Could it be that you’ve allowed your questions to become doubts? And your doubts to hinder your faith…possibly to the point that Jesus would be amazed at your lack of faith?

The negative thoughts and questions we allow into our minds are extremely powerful. Like a virus, they infect us with doubts that can wreck our faith and even cause us to be offended by the idea of believing in or trusting Jesus.

I’ve seen it play out in the lives of people I care very deeply about. It’s heartbreaking.

What about you?

Are you still amazed by Jesus? Are you still in love with Him? Do you still seek Him? Do you delight in Him? Do you regularly spend time in His word to learn how He thinks and what’s important to Him?

Or have unanswered questions led you to doubt Him or even completely give up on Him or to be offended by Him?

It’s never too late to return to Him, but the longer you wait, the harder it will be as those viral thoughts continue to spread through your mind.

Can You Be Trusted?

There are times when I struggle with trusting God, so it’s something I’m constantly working to get better at.

I invest time in His word. I thank and praise Him for His goodness, faithfulness and generosity. I try to take every thought captive and hold them up against the truth of His word. When I feel myself getting worried or anxious over my circumstances, I re-focus my eyes on Him. I have a long way to go, but I’m getting better.

While learning to trust God is crucial, there’s another question that’s just as important: Can God trust me?

I personally don’t know anyone who wouldn’t like to have more money or more influence or more answers to prayer or more success. I wonder what would happen though if God granted us the desires of our hearts.

What would happen if God answered your most passionate prayers? Would the world be a better place? Or would you just have more stuff and be more comfortable?

How would you handle 10x the amount of money you have now?  It’s tempting to think we’d be wonderfully generous with a large amount of money, but if we’re not generous with the amount we have now, that won’t change if we’re given more.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

When we delight in Him, He shapes our desires to be like His. If we’re not delighting in Him, then more than likely, our desires are more selfish in nature. And those aren’t the desires He grants.

In 2002, a West Virginia man won the Powerball jackpot of $315 million. Ten years later, his daughter and granddaughter were dead from drug overdoses. He’d also been sued multiple times. And once while he was at a strip club, someone drugged him and stole over half a million dollars in cash from his car. He later said, “I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”

Unfortunately, that story is not unique. Many lottery winners, professional athletes and celebrities get into a great deal of trouble as the result of their sudden great wealth and fame.

Of course, our natural reaction is to think that wouldn’t happen to us. We’d be different. We could handle the fame. The money wouldn’t change us. We’d be generous. We’d use it for good. And I’m pretty sure that’s what everyone says.

Great wealth or power or influence without character to match will crush us. It will also make us even more accountable to God. There’s a principle in His Kingdom: Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 13:12)

If we can’t be trusted with what God has already given us, then why would He entrust us with more?

Maybe some of the answers to prayer God withholds are a form of protection, because He knows we can’t be trusted. We want a greater assignment, which requires greater resources, but we don’t have the needed character. Romans 5:1-5 says…

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Character development for God-sized assignments takes time. It requires persevering through times of suffering, pain or confusion. It means being faithful with what we’ve already been given. It means learning to think more like God does. It’s a process of bringing our values in line with the values of His Kingdom.

So how are you doing with what you already have?

  • Are you seeking God and delighting in Him?
  • Are you sacrificially loving your husband or wife?
  • Are you raising your children to know Jesus?
  • Are you using your current level of influence for the advancement of God’s Kingdom?
  • Do you honor God with your wealth by giving generously?
  • Do you treat those around you with love and respect?
  • Do you use your time wisely and make the most of the opportunities God has given you?
  • Are you grateful to God for what He’s already given you?

The question really isn’t: can God be trusted?

The real question is…can you?

Why Does God Test Us?

As followers of Jesus, we have become citizens of a new kingdom. Paul wrote, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

It’s important to realize, this kingdom operates very differently than the earthly realm in which we also live. When we approach life in God’s kingdom like we do life in the earthly realm, we will experience frustration and confusion. One very major difference between God’s kingdom and the earthly realm has to do with seeing and believing.

In the Kingdom of God, we believe then we see. Our faith perceives what is unseen and then we wait for God to bring it to pass. But the world system doesn’t operate that way; it says, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” To experience success in God’s kingdom, we must operate according to His values. And that requires intentional effort, because He has said…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

As we grow in our understanding of God’s kingdom-priorities, we can align ourselves with Him and experience the life He has for us. His thoughts and ways begin to take precedence over ours. Now we might not always like the way God does things, but that’s besides the point. This is His universe and His kingdom and He gets to decide what the priorities will be and how things will be done.

One of God’s major priorities for our lives is growing our faith, our ability to trust Him completely regardless of our circumstances or feelings. Hebrews 11:17-19 says:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

God tested Abraham. And it was a big one. He told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. I can only imagine what Abraham must have been feeling. He and Sarah had waited all their lives to have a son. And finally in their old age, Isaac was born. And now it looks like God is going to take him from them.

“Sacrifice my son, Lord? But why? How will I explain this to his mother? I don’t understand. You promised You were going to bless the world through him. There must be another way.”

God had no intention of letting Abraham go through with it. It was only a test of his faith. And Abraham passed. So how did he do it?

He “embraced the promises.” He knew what God had told him about Isaac. It would be through him that God would bless the world. Isaac would eventually become the father of Jacob. And Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, had his own sons who became the nation of Israel.

Abraham also reasoned that even if Isaac was sacrificed, God could raise him from the dead. The Hebrew word for “reasoned” means: to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over. In other words, Abraham took into account what God had said previously. He thought it all through very carefully. And he embraced God’s promises. The end result of his reasoning was that he knew he could trust God to come through for him. And God did.

Since God never changes, it means He will test us too. I’ve seen it in my life this summer. As God has been at work in me, teaching me and strengthening my faith, I’ve noticed He has also been testing me. Something will happen that seems to contradict what God has said in His word. My tendency has been to focus on the circumstances and doubt God. And that only leads to discouragement. But once I realized God was testing my faith, I chose to embrace His promises and reason that I could continue to trust Him.

So what are you facing today? What circumstances seem overwhelming right now?

Could it be God is testing you? Maybe He wants you to know He really will come through for you, just as He did for Abraham. But if your faith is never tested…how will you know? If you never feel the need to see God come through, how will your faith ever grow?

Maybe the challenges you’re facing today are the tests that are preparing you for what God has in store for you in this next season. What if He has great plans to bless you and use you in ways you’ve never experienced before, but first your ability to trust Him must grow?

Like Abraham, take some time to reason. Don’t focus on what you can see. That will only lead to discouragement and hopelessness. Keep your eyes on God’s character and His promises. You’ll pass the test, see your faith grow and move into a new season of fruitfulness.