God keeps His promises

Over the past few weeks, my heart has been breaking over the tragedies across our country and around the world. Closer to home, I have talked with friends whose lives and families are crumbling. I’ve got some fears and some doubts about things swirling around me, as well. We know that God is sovereign, but things, people, and life itself feels out of control.

Langford tornadoIf God is real, where is He? Why doesn’t He act? Why doesn’t He show up and make things right? Why doesn’t He change the hearts of people – including me? Right now!

 

As I was reading through the Bible (Joshua 21:1-22:9), I was reminded of the battles, both physical and spiritual, that the LORD required His people, Israel, as they entered the Promised Land.

While the Hebrews were still in Egypt, the LORD God led them out of slavery’s bondage and promised to give them possession of a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8, 17). After wandering in the wilderness  for 40 years because of their lack of faith and obedience, they finally crossed the Jordan river. But, even then, they had to take the physical land of Canaan and fight the people of Canaan by faith in God’s promises.

Storms of life
All photos by http://www.langfordphotography.com

In Joshua 21 we are told, “the LORD gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side according to all He had sworn to their fathers. None of their enemies were able to stand against them, for the LORD handed over all their enemies to them.” (Joshua 21:43-44)

The complete fulfillment of God’s promise was inseparably connected with the faithfulness of His people.

None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:45)

God keeps His Promises. All of them. Every one of them.

The battles that Israel fought were real. The doubts they faced were great. The complaining was pandemic. But Joshua was faithful.

Joshua’s challenge to God’s people in view of His fulfilled promises remains the same: “love the Lord your God, walk in all His ways, keep His commands, remain faithful to Him, and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Joshua 22:5).

Langford RainbowThis morning, nothing of significance has changed around me. The storms are still raging. Terrorism is still rising. Political arguments are continuing. People are still suffering. The world is the same — maybe even worse. The deep, lonely hurts of my friends, my family, and my heart are still there.

But, I am reminded: God keeps His promises. Trust in Him. Rest in them.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Rubik’s Cube

Rubiks CubeI’ve never been able to figure out a Rubik’s Cube. I know – you figured it out in elementary school. And yes, 30 years later there are You-Tube videos showing you exactly how to solve it. But it’s always stumped me. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve seen others do it. Hearing them say how easy it is never makes it better, either. Every time I’ve tried, and failed, I eventually just put it down and walk away.

Sometimes life feels like a Rubik’s Cube. I just can’t figure it out. I’m stumped. I feel that I can’t do anything right. As a husband. As a parent. As a pastor. As a leader. As a friend. As a servant. As a follower. As a child of God. There are times that no matter what I say or what I do, things or relationships only get worse. I want to do what’s right, but I lack the ability or the discipline. When I can’t seem to do anything right I’m ready to just throw up my hands and walk away…

Other times, I’m working through an issue that’s so confusing that I can’t even figure out how to do what needs to be done. If I could just figure out the right thing to say or the right thing to do, everything would be better. Right?

Still at other times, my heart has grown cold and I don’t even want to. I know what I should do. I just don’t want to do it. My pride keeps me from thinking of others. My stubbornness makes me dig in for the fight. My sense of control keeps me from forgiving. The mountain just looks too intimidating to climb.

That’s why Philippians 2:13 is one of the most encouraging verses to me in the Bible:

For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.

God promises to both motivate and empower us. Read that verse again — it’s amazing! God promises to give us the want to and the how to do what He wants us to do as we look to Him and depend on Him.

I can’t — but He can!

When I focus on my limitations that lead to endless frustrations, failure is inevitable with fatigue to quickly follow. But God must work in us before He can work through us. We must come to Him in total dependence that He is good, that He is in control, and that He can change our hearts. Then, and only then, will He begin to work through us.

This principle is seen at work throughout the Bible in the lives of men like Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and others. God had a special purpose for each one to fulfill, and each one was unique, but also has serious flaws. It took God forty years to bring Moses to the place where He could use him to lead the people of Israel. As Moses tended sheep during those forty years, God was working in him so that one day He might work through him.

rubiks-cube completedThe power that works in us to enable us is the power of the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:16–1726Acts 1:81 Cor. 6:19–20). Our English word energy comes from the Greek word translated “works.” It is God’s divine energy at work in us and through us. The same Holy Spirit who empowered Christ when He was ministering on earth can empower us as well. God’s divine energy is available to motivate and enable us to serve the Lord (Eph. 1:18–23).

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

Whatever it is you’re facing today, remember you can’t, but God can.

Look to Him. Talk to Him. Cry out to Him. Wait for Him. Trust Him to complete His purpose in you.

Follow meas I follow Jesus Christ.

Doubt and Faith

daysofdoubtThere are days that I have doubts…

There are days I question the goodness of God….

There are days I look around the world and wonder…

As a believer in God, a follower of Christ, and especially, as a pastor, I’m sure some think I’m not supposed to have any doubts. But the reality is that, at times, I do.

Why do we think that faithful followers of Jesus shouldn’t have doubts? We look at Peter and his faults and are encouraged that Jesus restored him and used him greatly. We admire Paul who was a persecutor (terrorist and murderer) of the church and celebrate how Jesus transformed him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). But when we consider Thomas, who doubted the physical Resurrection of Jesus until he saw Him and touched Him, we conclude that we’re not supposed to have doubts. But the reality is, we all have both believing and doubting inside us. And it’s during those days of doubting that we have a choice to make – to believe God’s Word or trust our feelings, observations, or circumstances.

Belief is only a necessity when we don’t know with certainty. Only when we have doubt is faith needed. Where there is complete knowledge, there is no need for faith. If I told you that I had a $20 bill in my pocket, would you believe me? Probably. If I showed it to you, would it still require faith? No. Seeing is not believing – seeing is knowing. When doubt is gone, so is faith.

“Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) It’s the uncertainty of “what is not seen” (doubting) that causes us to exercise faith (believing) and grow in our faith (maturing).

what do I believe?So a crucial question to ask ourselves is, what do I really believe?  There are great beliefs, great creeds of the church, that, for centuries, people have devoted their life to studying. There are beliefs that people have defended with their lives, sacrificed over, and even died for. In Psalm 73, Asaph begins with a statement of faith, “God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart.” He says that in spite of evidence to the contrary, God is good to those who are totally committed to Him. Like the psalmist, we all carry convictions about what we believe. We can talk about them in three ways:

  1. What I say I believe (publicly). These public convictions are the beliefs that I want other people to think I believe, even though I may not really believe them. For example, guys, if a certain someone asks you, “Does this dress make my hips look too large?” What you say you believe is, “No. I didn’t even know you had hips until you mentioned them.” We make such statements for “PR” purposes, regardless of whether or not we really believe them. We get frustrated with politicians for replacing truth with things that sound true, but the reality is that we all have an inner politician who puts in overtime and his main job is crafting and communicating public policies to help us look good and get what we want.
  2. What I think I believe (privately). These private convictions are the things that I sincerely think that I believe, but it turns out they may be fickle. When circumstances change, our private beliefs are revealed to be shallow. When our health, or jobs, or relationships change, what we feel causes us to behave, and believe, differently. When the going gets tough, we jump off the bandwagon for things we think we believe.
  3. What I really believe (personally). These are the convictions that really matter. Our personal beliefs are revealed by our daily actions – by what I actually do. I don’t have to wake up and say, “Today, I’m going to demonstrate my commitment to my belief in gravity.” My attitudes and actions are always the result of what I really believe. What I really believe is what I’m fully depending upon.

So we have three different kinds of beliefs, what I say I believe, what I think I believe, and what I really believe, and that’s were life happens. How do circumstances reveal what I really believe? In Psalm 73:2 Asaph wrote, “But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray.” Asaph publicly said he believed in God, but when he began to look around as his private circumstances changed, he began to have some serious doubts about God’s goodness and justice.

  1. Doubt begins with material envy. Asaph said, “For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:3). Later on he wrote, “Look at them—the wicked! They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth” (vs. 12). We see the rich getting richer. Cheaters winning. Liars are getting promoted. Everything seems to be going their way.
  2. Doubts surface with physical suffering. “They have an easy time until they die, and their bodies are well fed. They are not in trouble like others; they are not afflicted like most people.” (Psalm 73:4-5) When our wealth and then our health declines we begin to wonder, get discouraged, and doubt. Others who reject God altogether seem more care-free and don’t seem to have the same problems we have. They don’t have as much physical suffering as believers do. Their bodies are healthy and sleek (naturally—they can afford the best of everything). They escape many of the troubles and tragedies of decent people like ourselves. And even if trouble should hit them, they are heavily insured against every conceivable form of loss. Regarding the wicked, British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, wrote in the 19th century, “They have a quiet death; gliding into eternity without a struggle”
  3. Doubts are sustained from the verbal mistreatment by others. “They mock, and they speak maliciously; they arrogantly threaten oppression. They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues strut across the earth.” (Psalm 73:8-9) The wicked and the selfish boast proudly and act as if God doesn’t care how they live.
  4. Doubts are solidified from the personal afflictions we experience. Why do bad things happen to good people? Like the psalmist we question, “Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing? For I am afflicted all day long and punished every morning.” (Psalm 73:13-14) Like Asaph we begin to wonder, “What good has it done me to live a decent, honest, respectable life?” The hours I’ve spent in prayer. The time spent in the Word. The time and money I’ve given to the Lord. The active testimony for Jesus, both public and private. All I’ve got for it has been a daily dose of suffering and punishment. Is this life of faith really worth the cost? In the face of doubts, we have a choice to make.

I believeWhy should I really believe? I believe God during days and nights of doubt because things in life are not always as they look or feel. “When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless… until… I entered God’s sanctuary… then I understood their future destiny…” (Psalm 73:17-18). When we step back and get God’s perspective, then we realize the outcome of the deeds, the wickedness, the selfishness, and the faithlessness of those who reject Him. More importantly, when we step away from what’s going on and look up to God, we find He is good, He is loving, He is faithful.

Faith involves certain beliefs. Faith involves an attitude of hope and confidence. But at it’s root, faith is trusting a Person. Go back and read that again. Faith is trusting God and His Word. Only when we depend upon God and His Word can we understand life completely and know Him intimately.

Don’t miss how the psalmist repeatedly speaks directly to God with the pronouns “I” and “You” in the following verses:

When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded, I was stupid and didn’t understand; I was an unthinking animal toward You. Yet I am always with YouYou hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. (Psalm 73:21-25)

Asaph is dealing personally and directly with God. He was talking with God at the heart level. Why should we really believe in God? Consider the following:

Regardless of how we feel, God is faithful to us in our failures. Even when we have doubts, become bitter, or become totally consumed by envy of others, Jesus never leaves His followers. The Good Shepherd waits for us and often pursues us. We begin the Christian life by seeing God’s grace and love in spite of our sin. And as we try to live the Christian life, we sometimes have doubts – like the psalmist and like Thomas. When we come to our senses again, we realize in a fresh and deeper way His faithful love and forgiveness of our sin.

In spite of evidence to the contrary, God satisfies our deepest longings and supplies our greatest needs. When we’re struggling with life, the Lord wisely and tenderly lead us and blesses us. Sober reflection reminded the psalmist that God had not forgotten him but would one day provide the good things He presently withheld. God is faithful, even in times of doubt when I can’t see Him or feel Him. My heart may have doubts in the present, but God is the heartbeat of my future.

Why should we believe in God? Because He has rescued us from judgment and is our refuge from troubles. “As for me, God’s presence is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do” (Psalm 73:28). We once were far from God. We once were unfaithful to Him. We once were headed for eternal punishment. But God in His mercy reached down to us with the love of His Son, Jesus, and rescued us from His judgment. Those who do not follow God faithfully will suffer eventually. However, when we depend upon Him by faith we’ll experience His blessing in the end, regardless of our present circumstances.

There are times when a decision to believe requires commitment when we don’t have complete certainty. For the most important decisions in life, this is almost always the case. When a young, naive couple vows to love and honor one another for the rest of their lives, they have no clue as to what challenges they will face. What matters is not certainty, but faithfulness. When certainty is not possible, faithfulness becomes a choice.

TrustingThis is true about the most important decisions of doubt and faith. Trusting God can lead us to deeper faith in Him and greater dependence upon Him. Contrary to how things often appear, God is indeed good to those who are pure in heart, those who are clinging to Him and His Word.

Fully devoted followers of God’s Son are not people who never doubt. We are disciples of Jesus who doubt and worship, doubt and serve, doubt and forgive, doubt and help each other with our doubts. We completely depend upon God and His Word while we wait for our doubting to – one day– turn into knowing.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Being Green

Kermit the Frog Green
“It’s not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out
Like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky”

In one of his more melancholy moments, Kermit the Frog seems to capture how I feel about myself at times. When my faults, weaknesses, and mistakes seem to fly in my face, it’s easy to be discouraged. I sing along with my amphibious friend, “It’s not easy being… me.” When I see others doing extraordinary things, I feel so… ordinary.

Sometimes, it’s the comparison with others that gets me into trouble. As kids, we all grew up wanting to be super-heroes or policemen or Army Rangers or star athletes or famous musicians. We long to stand out and be recognized rather than blend in and be overlooked. Even during times when we feel like we’re appreciated by others, things can change very quickly. My friend, Monty Huffington says about a job layoff, “I went from a ‘Who’s Who?’ to a ‘Who’s He?’…and it takes about 20 minutes.”  Comparing ourselves to others or seeking approval from others can make us question whether we are really “remarkably and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) after all.

Looking at our world, or at others, may or may not be the only problem for moments of melancholy. Maybe it’s simply that we’re spending more time in environments, situations, or relationships that are draining our energy. When we’re unaware of who God made us to be, we find our selves trying to serve Him or others in a way He didn’t design us to serve.

Our Creator wants us to look to Him and see our selves as He sees us. His Spirit says to our Spirit  you’re incredibly important just as you are — a precious child of God (Romans 8:16). Recognizing that we were uniquely created by our loving Creator, He lifts us up from the dump and puts us on His Holy hill.  The psalmist says, “Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began” (Psalm 139:16). How we view ourselves is only part of the problem. How we are working to serve God may be a concern as well. The apostle Paul tells us, “we are all God’s creation ― created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). In order to have a deeper appreciation to God for how He made us, we have to have a greater understanding of what He made us to be individually.

A while back, some friends and I embarked on a great adventure of discovering the way God has uniquely created us by taking a personal inventory called “Servants by Design.” Without getting into all the details of the tool, I rediscovered the strengths that God has given me, insights into how I tend to view life, the people and activities that make me come alive, and the environments that help me best express myself as God made me.  I’m also refreshed with the reminders of the situations and conditions that cause considerable distress, fatigue, and difficulty. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do about my weaknesses but trust God’s grace in order for Christ’s power to work through me for His glory (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

I often talk too much. Most of the time, I’m too loud. Sometimes, I’m just boring. I’m still learning and growing, though, and must continue to remember, that God made me different from everyone else. He made you unique, too! And that’s a good thing.

Kermit the FrogAt the conclusion of his song, Kermit the Frog realizes,

When green is all there is to be
it could make you wonder why

But why wonder? why wonder?
I am green, and it’ll do fine
It’s beautiful, and I think it’s what I want to be.