“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.

What to Do With Your Impossible Situation

I’ve been hesitating for several minutes before typing this first sentence. Do I really want to write this? Do I actually believe what I want to say?

In Matthew 15:21-28, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus and begs Him to drive a demon from her daughter. I think most of us would expect Jesus to do what she asked. Instead, it says, “Jesus did not answer a word.” Hmmm, not exactly how we’d expect Jesus to deal with her.

She doesn’t give up. But then Jesus tells her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” In other words, my mission doesn’t include you. I came to the Jews.

This woman won’t quit though. She’s fighting for her daughter’s life, so she continues to ask for His help. That’s when Jesus seems to act out of character again. He says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Um, did Jesus just call this woman a dog?

Actually, there’s more than one Greek word for dog. The word he uses here is the word used for “puppy.” He’s not calling her a dog. His point is the same as earlier; His mission is to the Jews, not to the Canaanites.

I love her boldness and tenacity. “Yes it is, Lord. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” She refuses to go away. The disciples have probably grown tired of her pleading, because they encourage Jesus to send her away.

I would love to have been there for this whole exchange. Jesus made it clear His mission was to the Jews, but she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. It’s a stand off. Now what?

The next verse says, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed.

Wait. What happened? Why did Jesus change His tune? We’ll get to that in a moment.

I think we can take away at least two key points from this encounter–one from the woman’s example and one from Jesus’.

First, great faith means not quitting. If our request is met with silence, we don’t give up. We seek God and keep on seeking. Hebrews 11:6 is clear: “…He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”

There’s a difference between seeking and earnestly seeking. The Canaanite woman was an earnest seeker and she was rewarded. We don’t see rewards going to the halfhearted, casual seekers.

The second point has to do with how Jesus responded. Even though Jesus was fully God, He had chosen to set aside His rights as God and lived as a man. Philippians 2:6-8 says, “…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Jesus took on the limitations of humanity, but He was filled with the Holy Spirit and He walked in intimate communion with the Father. Both of those are available to us as well.

John 5:19 says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

So I wonder if Jesus was in such intimate fellowship with the Father that when the woman kept insisting He help her, the Father whispered, “I’ve also sent you to her.” Could the same thing have happened at the wedding in Cana when Jesus’ mother tells him the wine has run out? He initially responded with, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”

Maybe for all His life Jesus had the sense that His hour had not yet come. He may have said this same thing many times. And He says it again at the wedding, but something was different this time. Maybe this time He heard the Father’s whisper, “It’s time now.” And then He turned the water into wine.

Without being in close relationship to the Father, Jesus would have missed the Father’s voice. The same is true for us. So what might God be whispering to you? What encouragement or instruction might He be giving to you today…that you’ll miss if you’re not seeking Him?

In John 14, Jesus goes on to say something even more incredible…

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Jesus modeled for us how to do life. He even said we would do greater works than He did. And that’s the reason I hesitated to even write this post. Greater works than Jesus? Really? What about the unanswered prayers? The people who weren’t healed? The relationships that weren’t restored? The bills that couldn’t be paid?

I don’t know.

I’ve seen God answer prayers. I’ve seen things that have no rational explanation. But I’ve also experienced unanswered prayers. So I have a choice. You do, too. We can set our sights lower and expect less, which I’ve written about before. We can conclude that God doesn’t do miracles any more and just settle for the best we can do. Of course, we’ll have to learn to ignore large portions of the Bible.

OR…

We can be like the Canaanite woman and be bold and tenacious. We can refuse to quit when the answer doesn’t come how or when we’d hoped it would.

AND…

We can choose to model our lives after Jesus and remain in intimate fellowship with the Father and believe and attempt things that seem impossible, because it’s the Father doing His work through us.

What are YOU going to choose?

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.

Dealing With Disappointment

Of all the negative emotions we can experience…fear, anxiety, worry, shame, etc….I believe disappointment is one of the worst.

We’ve all experienced it. It’s that feeling of sadness or dissatisfaction when things don’t turn out like we’d hoped or prayed or counted on.

You wanted a new bike for Christmas. Instead, you got a sweater.

You thought for sure this would be the month you’d get pregnant, but didn’t.

The interview went so well. You just knew you’d be getting the job. But someone else did.

Your spouse promised to do better, then failed. Again.

You prayed. Your friends prayed. You believed. But the biopsy revealed cancer.

After saving for two years, you take your dream vacation. And it rains.

Negative emotions can be paralyzing. Fear keeps us stuck. Anxiety robs our joy. Worry steals our peace. Shame keeps us from intimacy with God.

And disappointment can block us from experiencing the abundant life God desires for us.

A number of years ago, I fought a losing battle with disappointment. I was praying and hoping and believing. I was expecting God to come through. And when He didn’t, at least not when or how I’d hoped He would, I was disappointed. Unfortunately, I nursed my disappointment until it grew strong and became disillusionment, anger and bitterness.

My solution was to take what I thought was the safe course of action…lower my expectations. If I expected little, I would be disappointed little. If I expected nothing, then I could avoid disappointment altogether.

So for many years, my prayers were small. They were general in nature. I avoided specific requests to protect me from the inevitable disappointment that would follow.

But thinking and praying like that is offensive and hurtful to God. If my children ever told me they were afraid to ask me for something because they knew I wouldn’t come through, I’d be devastated. I would feel like I’d failed as a father. How must God feel when I intentionally lower my expectations of Him?

Luke 11:5-8 says…

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

Shameless audacity. I love that. It’s like God is saying, “I dare you to ask big and keep on asking until I come through.”

What if during the month of November, we were to replace our disappointment with delight?

Psalm 37:4 says…

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

To delight in Him is to make Him the priority. It’s spending time with Him. It’s talking with Him. It’s allowing His word to penetrate our hearts and renew our minds. It’s learning to desire Him more than we desire things or easier circumstances. It’s choosing to believe He’s good, no matter what happens.

No, it won’t be easy. It will require faith. We will have to choose to believe God, not our circumstances or feelings.

But if we will choose to delight in Him, He will begin to shape our desires to match His. He will put His dreams in us and give us the courage to reach for them. He will dare us to ask for not only what we need, but what we want.

John 16:23-24 says…

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

If you’re like me, you’ve wrestled hard with verses like these. What about all those times we asked and were disappointed?

I don’t have a magic formula. I can’t explain why some people are healed and some aren’t. I don’t know why a teenage girl gets pregnant the first time she has sex and a godly woman who has tried everything can’t conceive.

But I do know this…God is good. And I cannot afford to allow my disappointment to ever chip away at that foundational truth. Doubting His goodness will lead to lowered expectations. And when I lower my expectations, I miss out on the joy of seeing Him do things only He can do. Read the passage again. The joy is not in the asking. The joy is in the asking AND receiving!

So choose to delight in Him. Crank up your shameless audacity and pray big. If the answer doesn’t come, then keep asking, but while you wait, also thank Him for being good. Try that everyday for a month. See what happens.

“Lord, I’m asking You for ________________. And I’m thanking you for being a such a good Father that You always know what’s best for me.”

I’d rather ask God for too much and perhaps suffer some disappointment along the way than lower my expectations and miss out on all He wants to do in me, through me and for me.

What about you?

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?