“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.

How to Know God’s Will for Your Life

Do you feel confident that you’re in God’s will? Do you feel good about the decisions you’re making and the direction you’re heading? Are you sensing God at work in you, through you and for you?

Or is there some doubt and confusion? Do you sometimes feel like you’re groping around in the dark hoping you’ll stumble over His will for your life?

Have you pleaded with God to reveal His will only to be met with silence?

I’ve been there.

But what if His will is right there in front of us? What if we’ve been praying for something He’s already revealed?

In Matthew 17, Jesus takes His three closest disciples up on a high mountain. Verse 2 says, “There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”

The Greek word for “transfigured” is “metamorphoo.” It’s where we get the word “metamorphosis.” It means to change into another form, like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly.

In Romans 12, Paul urges us to present ourselves to God as living sacrifices, to surrender ourselves to Him. It’s the logical thing to do based on all He’s done for us. Then verse 2 says:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The Greek word for “transformed” is the same Greek word used in Matthew 17 for “transfigured.” In other words, the result of surrendering to God and renewing our minds is to be changed into another form, the form of Jesus. The process of renewing our minds is something we do in cooperation with the Holy Spirit as we spend time in His word, but He won’t make us do it. We don’t have to change if we don’t want to.

Verse 2 ends with:

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Then. Not before. We discover God’s good, pleasing and perfect will after we surrender to Him and our minds are being renewed.

Paul says it like this in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18…

But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

The words “changed into” are again the word “metamorphoo.” God is making us more and more like Him, so that we can “see and reflect the glory of the Lord.”

Can I suggest that before we fret over knowing who to marry or what job to take or where to live or how we’re going to make it financially or how our difficult circumstances are going to work out that we instead focus on the main thing?

And the main thing is to renew our minds so that we’re changed into the image of Christ and can reflect Him to others. It’s learning to think like Him, talk like Him, love like Him, forgive like Him, give like Him, act like Him, plan like Him and serve like Him.

That’s God’s will.

For us to be like Jesus.

If that’s our priority, I promise all the other stuff will come into focus.

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?

A Recipe for a Boring Marriage

On Thursday nights, I help lead a Young Life small group of college guys. Last week, we talked about marriage and I gave them the opportunity to ask questions. “Does marriage get boring?” was one of them. When I asked them what they thought, most of them seemed to think that it did.

How would you answer?

As I write this, Robyn and I are a little over 24 hours from hitting our one-billionth second of marriage. It’s fun that it just happens to fall on Valentine’s Day. (A billion seconds is about four months shy of 32 years for those keeping score.) So here’s what I can say about marriage becoming boring…if there’s some set period of time after which it happens, we’re not there yet.

Fortunately, our marriage is more fun and exciting and purposeful than it’s ever been. But can marriage get boring?

Absolutely. Here’s a recipe for growing a boring one…

Stop growing. Don’t read. Don’t listen to podcasts. Don’t expose yourself to new ideas.

Have no goals and pursue no desires.

Put yourself first and only meet your spouse’s needs if yours are met first.

Keep your focus on how bad your circumstances are and all the things that are wrong in your life and your marriage.

Constantly compare your spouse to others.

Go to any lengths to make your spouse understand you, but don’t try to first understand.

Live for small things like money, not great things like the Kingdom of God.

Let your appearance go.

Don’t seek help for the same negative emotions you’ve battled all your life.

If you must have sex, let it be infrequent and in the same way every time.

Let romance die after the newlywed phase.

Be serious all the time.

Be your spouse’s biggest critic. Most of your communication should be about what your spouse does wrong.

Hold grudges. Offer forgiveness sparingly.

Actually, this recipe is better for creating a marriage that ends in divorce. If, on the other hand, you’d like to create the marriage you’ve always wanted, download my complimentary eBook, “Friend and Lover.” You can get it here:

Friend and Lover eBook