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?

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.

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.