The Dangerous Wrong Voices

If you took an inventory of your thoughts today…how many do you think would be negative and how many would be positive? How many are causing fear and how many are causing your faith to grow stronger?

I rarely watch the news or visit news websites. I also find myself spending a lot less time on social media. And I’ve “unfollowed” a number of people on Facebook.

I just don’t need the negativity. Life is tough enough without being reminded of it day after day.

Thoughts are powerful. I need to decide carefully which voices are bringing them to me.

Hebrews 11:6 says that, “And without faith it is impossible to please God…”

God wants to be believed. It pleases Him.

It’s not easy though. Especially when we get our eyes focused on our circumstances and listen to the wrong voices.

God had miraculously led the nation of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt. He brought them to Mt. Sinai where He gave them His laws. About a year later, they are camped just outside the land God had promised to give them.

He instructs Moses to send 12 men into the land to explore it. They return 40 days later. Ten of them are afraid of what they’ve seen…the fortified cities and how strong they think the people are. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” These men begin to spread a bad report about the land among the people.

Two of the men, Joshua and Caleb, do their best to convince the people they should go in and take the land because God is with them:

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

It’s too late though. The people have listened to the wrong voices. They’re convinced God wants to kill them. They talk of stoning Moses and Aaron. They want to appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt where they lived as slaves.

These people experienced miracles. They saw God do things no one had ever seen before. God was providing food for them daily. And yet, ten wrong voices swayed 2 million people away from believing God.

And it cost them.

The adults were not permitted to enter the good land God was giving them. Only their children would inherit it. And even they would have to wait 40 years.

Notice that Joshua and Caleb equate a lack of faith with rebellion against God. That’s what happens when we focus on our circumstances and listen to the wrong voices. Fear is the opposite of faith. And it causes us to rebel.

Who are you listening to?

The media? Even “your” station will fill you with fear.

Friends on Facebook? Even your “friends” will fill you with fear.

How about that negative, condemning voice in your head? The voice that reminds you of your failures and endlessly rehearses worst possible outcomes.

Listening to the wrong voices is dangerous. It fills us with fear and dread. It keeps us from experiencing God’s love and faithfulness.

The nation of Israel missed out on the Promised Land for 40 years. What might the wrong voices we’re listening to be keeping us from experiencing?

Today is the first day of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation for the celebration of Easter. What if you were to be intentional about believing God and rejecting the negative voices?

Tomorrow and Friday (March 2-3, 2017), I’m offering the eBook version of my 40-day devotional, “I Believe God,” for free on Amazon. What if you and and your spouse or a friend were to go through it together? Believing God is a team sport. It’s really tough to go it alone. You will need each other for prayer and encouragement.

Grab a partner and start believing.

CLICK HERE to get the book. Feel free to share the link with others.

 

Dreams, Desires and Divine Delays

Eight years at this time, I was asking God for something very specific. When it didn’t happen, I gave up praying about it. In the last eight years, I’ve rarely even thought about what I was so fervently praying for.

And then this morning, I asked again.

It didn’t take long to begin talking myself out of it though. After all, God just doesn’t work like that, I reminded myself.

But what if the desire I have really is from God? And what if it’s not my job to decide how or when God might choose to answer?

I started reading through the Bible chronologically a few weeks ago, so I’ve been in Genesis and Job. So far, no one gets what they desire right away. There’s always a delay. Sometimes, a very long one. Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 when she finally gave birth to the son God had promised them 25 years earlier.

Yeah, I don’t like delays any more than you do. When I want something, I mean really want something, I want it now. Not next year. Not in eight years. Certainly not in 25 years.

I don’t know what delayed dream or desire you have. Maybe it’s to get married. Or for your spouse to finally wake up.

Maybe you’ve been longing for a baby.

You might be looking for a job or a better job or a job that feels meaningful. Maybe your current job is fine, but you need a raise or more responsibility or some encouragement from your boss.

Maybe you’ve dreamed of seeing your family whole again, but your child continues in rebellion.

Or healing. You’ve endured 40 rounds of chemo or multiple surgeries or have seen more doctors than you can count…and yet there’s no end in sight.

I wish I knew when or if the answer to my prayer will come. I wish I could tell you that your answer is right around the corner. God usually doesn’t let us in on those things though.

So what are we to do? How do we keep believing? How do we keep pursuing our dreams and desires in the face of divine delays?

Let me suggest three things.

First, choose to believe God is good. Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.

Because our circumstances, our feelings and a thousand negative voices scream out that God is not good or loving, let me encourage you to meditate on that verse. Read it over and over and over. Think about it. Talk to God about it. Consider all the ways it’s true. And actually do it. Thank Him. Give thanks to Him for what you already have. Give thanks to Him for His goodness and love toward you.

Write that verse on a note card. Stick it on your mirror. Put a note in your phone and set a reminder to look at it. Do whatever you have to do to let it sink deep into your heart and mind. When difficult or confusing circumstances come, and they will, go back to that verse. It’s more true than anything you will experience or feel.

Second, during this season of divine delay, choose to delight yourself in the Lord. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

To delight in someone is to find your pleasure and enjoyment in that person. I delight in Robyn and my children and grandchildren. God wants me to delight in Him even more.

It won’t be easy, but try to focus on your relationship with Him, not the thing you’re desiring. A wife would naturally feel hurt if her husband only found enjoyment in sex, but not in the relationship with her. A father would be hurt if his children only wanted money from him and never cared about his feelings.

God is a person. He has feelings. He has desires. And His greatest desire is you and your relationship with Him.

Finally, trust God’s timing is best. Psalm 37:7a says, Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

Being still. Imagine your mind being still. No anxious thoughts running around getting you worked up into an emotional frenzy. No freaking out when bad news comes…or another disappointing delay.

Imagine your soul being still. Feeling content. Knowing you have no power to make this thing happen on your own…and being okay with it.

We might not think so, but God’s timing is always perfect. We may be desiring one thing, but God has a better thing in mind He’s bringing about. Maybe God needs to work on our character before the fulfillment of our desire. Or maybe we’re ready, but others involved in the answer to our prayer aren’t. We cannot possibly imagine all the factors that go into God’s good plans for us.

Of course, there is an alternative to believing He is good, delighting in Him and trusting His timing. We can get angry, disillusioned and bitter.

But since I’ve already tried that, learn from me and don’t make that mistake.

A Week After the Election…Now What?

If you live in the United States and have been displeased about the direction of the country over the last eight years, then you probably voted for Donald Trump. If you’ve felt good about the last eight years and wanted many of the current policies to continue, then you most likely voted for Hillary Clinton.

Depending on who you voted for, you’ve either been excited and encouraged by the results of last week’s election or you’re dealing with shock, anger and fear…the same feelings many of the Trump voters experienced eight years ago and again four years ago.

The above map shows the results broken down by county with Trump in red and Clinton in blue. Obviously, Trump has support in more areas of the country and Clinton supporters are more concentrated in certain areas, but the bottom line is this: roughly half the population supported one candidate and half supported the other.

At this point, despite the riots in various parts of the country, the election is over…the results are final…and in 66 days, we’ll have a new president. So now what?

Well, regardless of who you voted for, if you are a follower of Jesus, let me offer a few reminders…

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus is still seated on His throne. That hasn’t changed. The American president is not sovereign. He’s not all-powerful.

Let me suggest that to the degree you’ve been overly happy or overly angry this last week…you’ve placed your hope in the wrong person. I will guarantee this: if you’re feeling afraid, then know that most of what you fear will not happen. And if you are hopeful that everything will be better now, then you will be disappointed.

Jesus said, “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness…” If God’s goal was to simply take us to heaven, He could have already done it. His desire is for His followers to live on earth, walk according to His ways and advance His Kingdom. And the Kingdom of God operates according to different principles than the world does.

We live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We seek to give, not get (Acts 20:35). We don’t repay insults with insults, but with blessing (1 Peter 3:9). We don’t hate our enemies, we love them (Matthew 5:43-44). We don’t walk in fear and anxiety, but in peace (Philippians 4:6-7). We aren’t overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…” (2 Corinthians 5:20) As a follower of Jesus, your primary identity is not Republican or Democrat. Your allegiance is not to a political party or ideology. Your king is Jesus. You are a citizen of the Kingdom of God. And you are given the responsibility of being an ambassador, of representing the king to those around you. Let’s choose to love others well.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t care about government policies or who we elect, but those concerns should pale in comparison to what’s eternal…

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Where will you be fixing your eyes?

Are You Agitated and Anxious?

It’s sunny, very windy and 80 degrees in Fayetteville, Arkansas today. But 7 years 8 months and 3 weeks ago, it was a different story. A severe ice storm had just hit. Trees were down and power was out all across Northwest Arkansas. Lots of trees were lost in that storm. Trees that did survive lost branches.

This morning, as I sat on our patio, I heard a loud rustling sound and then a tree branch fell on the driveway about fifteen feet from where I was sitting.

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It’s not uncommon to find branches like this after thunderstorms or just a strong wind like we have today. These branches are the result of the ice storm in January of 2009 when they broke off from the trunk and died. It’s inevitable they’ll crash to the ground. It’s just a matter of a time. All it takes is some agitation from the wind. And yet the same wind that agitates the dead branches has no effect on the healthy ones.

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In the moments leading up to His arrest, the gospel writers tell us Jesus was “troubled” and “overwhelmed with sorrow.” The same Greek word is used in both instances, it literally means:

to agitate, trouble a thing by the movement of its parts to and fro, to cause one inward commotion, take away calmness of mind, to disquiet, make restless, to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread, to render anxious or distressed

Do you ever feel that way?

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The A La Carte Christian Life

As Americans, or maybe it’s just as humans, we like choices. We enjoy going out to eat, opening the menu and getting to decide what we want to eat. We get to decide whether we want soup or a salad and what kind. We can choose a baked potato, french fries or no potato at all. We can have our steak rare, medium or well-done. And if we don’t like anything on the menu, the chef may even prepare something special just for us.

To order “a la carte,” literally means “according to the card/menu.” It’s our choice. Not the server’s. Not the chef’s. Not anyone’s choice, but ours.

There’s another type of meal service though. It’s called, “Table D’hote.” It literally means, “the host’s table.” In this type of dining, the menu is mostly planned and our food choices are limited. Essentially, we eat what’s put in front of us.

Table D’hote dining isn’t worse than a la carte, it’s just different. It’s really a matter of expectations. If I sit down to eat and expect to have the freedom to order whatever I want, then I may be very disappointed by the Table D’hote experience. If, on the other hand, I know what to expect and know the chef is the best in town, then I can enjoy the experience and even look forward to whatever surprises may be served.

I think one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in life is thinking that the Christian life is similar to a la carte dining. Actually, it’s gotten me into a lot of trouble. It’s led to a lot of anger and disappointment. It’s caused me to become disillusioned and cynical.

It’s like I’ve sat down at the table, opened the menu and said, “I’ll have the large portion of peace and prosperity. And I’d like a side of pleasure. Bring me some meaning and significance, too. But leave off the pain and suffering. I’m allergic.”

It doesn’t work that way though. In Romans 8:14-17, it says:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

So I’ve been adopted as God’s child. As a child, I’m also an heir. So far so good, right? Then Paul adds, “…if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Yeah, I don’t like the suffering part. But it’s the suffering that allows me to also share in His glory.

The Christian life is not a la carte. It’s Table D’hote. I’m sitting at “the host’s table.” So I don’t always get to choose what I want or don’t want. The host plans the meal.

And that means that along with the blessings and joys also comes pain and suffering. There will be wonderful highs and some devastating lows. At times we will be wondering why we got served a plate of lima beans when the person at the next table is enjoying a medium-rare ribeye, a loaded baked potato and char-grilled vegetables.

Now I’m not suggesting our choices don’t matter and everything has been predetermined by God. I believe our choices do matter. The point is simply this…we don’t get to enjoy God’s blessings without also enduring trials and difficulties. When we think we can pick what we want and pass on the hard stuff, it only leads to feeling angry and disappointed with God.

It’s far better to know the “Chef” not only delights in serving us delicious food, but also knows what’s nutritious for us. And sometimes that means accepting what He puts before us even if we don’t always like how it tastes.