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.

What If This Isn’t Where I Wanted to Be?

About a week ago, Robyn and I were driving home to Arkansas after a wonderful time in New Jersey visiting family and friends. The plan was to stop for the night in Terre Haute, Indiana, so I made reservations at a hotel, entered the address into my phone and off we went.

Thirteen hours later, we exited the interstate as we followed the voice instructions to get to our hotel. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the middle of a cornfield with no hotel in sight. It’s not what you want after an all-day drive.

Robyn entered the address into a different map program on her phone and we soon found our hotel, which was miles from where we were.

Have you ever found yourself somewhere you didn’t want to be and weren’t even sure how you got there? Maybe you had a vision for your life. A passion. Something you believed God put in your heart to do. And you began to follow His instructions. Along the way, there were some setbacks, but you persevered, you continued doing your best to follow where He was leading.

“Turn left here. Go straight ahead. Make your next right. Make another left. Arrive at your destination.”

Huh? You look around feeling confused. This isn’t where you wanted to be.

So what happened?

Twice in the past few weeks, I have prayed for some very specific things. Later those same days, God answered me very specifically. Only here’s the thing, I didn’t even remember I’d prayed for those things until I went back later and read what I’d written in my journal those mornings.

I’ll be honest, it’s been mind blowing. I don’t even remember my own prayers sometimes, but God does. And He answers them.

One of the things I often prayed for in my young adult years was that God would make me the man He wanted me to be. Through the years, I’ve also asked God many times to do anything He wanted with me.

And…I sorta forgot I prayed for those things.

But God didn’t.

Now I wish that everything always going my way would be a good path to becoming the man God wants me to be as well as being someone He can use, but it’s not. My friend, Doug Daily, once said, “Growth is always preceded by pain or confusion.” He was right.

God has been about answering my prayers for the past 30 years. And that has meant things not always going my way. My pastor, Jody Farrell, says, “If things always go our way, then we’ll always go our way.” He’s right, too.

Abraham and Sarah had to wait 25 years after God promised them a child before Isaac was born. Moses had to run to Midian and hide out there for 40 years before God called him to lead Israel out of their captivity in Egypt. David was anointed king, but then ran for his life from Saul for years before he took the throne.

That’s not how they saw things going. It’s not where they wanted to be.

It may feel like God has led you into the middle of cornfield when all you really wanted to do was find your hotel. The truth is that God is at work making you the man or woman He created you to be. He’s making you into someone He can use to accomplish His purposes. He’s building your faith and your character to prepare you for the blessings and assignments ahead.

That’s what He’s up to, whether you prayed for it (and forgot) or not. Know this…if you’re surrendered to Him today, then you are not off course.

So now we get to choose how we will respond. We can grumble and complain about where we are and how unfair we think God is. We can get angry and bitter. We can accuse God of not being good or faithful. I’ve done all that. I can tell you it’s not helpful.

Or we can choose to believe God’s character is perfect. That He’s good. That He’ll never let us down. We can be grateful for the things He’s done for us and stop focusing on the things He hasn’t. We can commit to seek Him and trust Him. And we can anticipate the good He has planned for us.

And what we choose will determine our destiny.

What we choose will also determine our feelings today. You and I get to decide the emotions that will dominate us today. Focusing on our circumstances will often lead to fear, anxiety, worry, insecurity, doubt and any number of negative emotions. I don’t mean to make light of your circumstances, but if you’re in a panic today, it’s because you chose to be. I know. I’ve been there.

If we’ll get our eyes off what we see and focus on the Father who loves us, we’ll experience His joy, peace and confidence. And we can know that no matter where we find ourselves today, God is at work doing immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

 

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.