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.

Anticipation

Do you have a favorite day of the year? Your birthday? Valentine’s Day? Your anniversary? Thanksgiving or Christmas? The opening day of deer season?

My favorite day of the year is December 23rd.

Why December 23rd?

It’s because of the anticipation. It’s all those magical moments leading up to being together as a family and opening those mysterious presents under the tree. I love the anticipation, the mystery and the surprises.

There’s something very powerful about anticipation. When we anticipate something bad happening, we call that worry or fear. When we anticipate something good and right happening, we call that faith.

So what are you anticipating for 2016?

To experience the best year ever in your life and in your marriage, it’s critical to begin anticipating it.

Now I’m not suggesting that we can simply create a new reality with our thoughts…however, it’s entirely possible that whatever we’re anticipating is what we’ll see occur. There’s something powerful about what we choose to think about and dwell on. Our thoughts fuel our emotions and desires. Our words and actions flow from what we’re thinking and feeling.

And before you know it, what we anticipated becomes our reality.

So what are you anticipating? What are you looking forward to in 2016? What are your thoughts already beginning to shape for you? Are you thinking about…

Getting in better shape? Growing your business? Getting a promotion? Growing closer to God? Building a better marriage?

My passion is to help you believe God and enjoy an amazing marriage. It’s what I want for myself and it’s what I want for you.

I’m 100% convinced that as you believe God’s Word and intentionally invest in your marriage, 2016 will become your best year ever.

Do you believe it?

If you do, then you’re who I created the 25-session video course, “How to Understand Your Spouse and Transform Your Marriage” for. It’s designed to help you experience a passionate and purposeful marriage. One that’s exciting and fulfilling…and full of adventure.

Currently, the price is $97, but if you order this week, you’ll pay just $48.50 now. I’ll bill you for the other $48.50 on January 15th. You’ll get instant access to all the content NOW though. This is a special offer just for my subscribers. CLICK HERE to learn more or purchase the course.

As an added bonus, I’ll also send you the paperback edition of “The Marriage Experiment: a 30-day intimate adventure” when it releases next month.

If your marriage isn’t everything you’d like it to be…if it feels like you’re lacking passion and purpose…if it feels like you’re stuck and things aren’t getting better…or even if your marriage is good and you want it to be amazing…let me encourage you to work through this course. The sessions are short and highly practical. You and your spouse can start 2016 with your marriage better than its ever been.

Last thing…if you’re looking for something fun to read over the next week or so, I’m offering the first two books in The Lakeside series for just $4.99 this week. CLICK HERE to get immediate access to The Lakeside Conspiracy and The Lakeside Confession in either the iBooks or Kindle versions. If you enjoy mysteries with a romantic twist, then you’ll enjoy these books. Book 3 is coming soon!

Merry Christmas!

The Chief End of Man

The nation of Israel was in slavery to the Egyptians for four hundred years. I wonder what the Jews who were born, lived and died in Egypt during those four hundred years thought. All they knew their entire lives was slavery. They never saw God’s miracles. They never made it to the Promised Land. Maybe Hebrews 11:13-16 was written for men and women like them:

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

If you’re like me, you want trials and difficulties to be over today. If not, yesterday. That doesn’t always happen though. Ten years ago at this time, my dad was battling through the last few months of his fight with leukemia. A year ago, a friend of mine was fighting through the final stages of colon cancer. My dad and my friend would have liked to survive their illnesses. They didn’t want to die. But for them, the trials didn’t end with deliverance, but with death.

Maybe you’re battling a chronic illness today like they were. Or maybe you’ve been trying to repair a marriage or find a job or get pregnant.

And you wonder where God is and when He’s going to help.

Sometimes though, He has something better for us planned than immediate relief. But I’ll be honest, it’s hard to write that or accept that. I don’t want to suffer any more than you do or the Jews in Egypt did. My hope is that your difficult circumstances will come to an end as they eventually did for the generation of Israelites who lived four hundred years after Joseph.

In Exodus 3, God appears to Moses and says, “I am the God of your father–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land.”

God was aware of what the nation of Israel was suffering. He saw. He heard their cries. And He came down to rescue them. He came down to fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

He may be coming to rescue you any day now. Don’t lose hope. Keep crying out to Him. Keep seeking Him…not just relief. Keep seeking Him. I too often have made the mistake of only seeking relief from circumstances I didn’t like. I wish I’d spent more time seeking His face. Because sometimes the trials don’t end when or how I want them to. So what I really need is peace and joy in the midst of the hardships.

Mostly, what I’m reminded of today is that life isn’t about you or me. Whether our trials end today or tomorrow or next year isn’t the point.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is a statement of beliefs completed in 1647 to teach the doctrines of the church. The first question and answer in it is:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

That’s why you and I exist. It’s why the Jews exist. It’s why they endured hundreds of years as slaves and were eventually led out by Moses. It’s why you are in your circumstances today. And why I’m in mine. If our current circumstances persist, it’s our opportunity to glorify God and enjoy Him. If He brings relief, it’s our opportunity to glorify and enjoy Him.

In the midst of whatever you’re facing today, how can you choose to glorify God and enjoy Him?