Saturday, July 19, 2014

Unlocking the Door of Confusion

"But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that He be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will." Luke 23:23-25

Here, Jesus has just been examined by Pilate who has found no truth to the claims made against Him. Passing Him off to Herod, because He was a man from his jurisdiction, he comes to the same conclusion: Jesus has done nothing to deserve death. So Herod sends him back to Pilate.

Pilate, standing once again before and indignant crowd proclaims Jesus' innocence, but they just wouldn't have it! They raised their voices even louder and called for a substitute. They asked Pilate to release Barnabus, a known rebel and murderer, and kill Jesus in his place. Not only kill Him, crucify Him. (Bring Him to death by means of torment.) The Message version of the Bible says, "Pilate caved" under the pressure "and gave them what they wanted." He "surrendered Jesus to their will." (v. 25)

As I meditated on these verses such a clear application emerged. I noted that against his own convictions and inclinations, against what he knew in his heart to be true, Pilate handed Jesus over to the demands of the crowd. Their voices were louder and more pressing than the voice of truth he had based his initial judgement on. 

How often that becomes the case in our lives. We hear God's voice loud and clear speaking truth or direction into our lives. We know in our heart that He is right, and because of it we know what we are called to do. But then things like fear, doubt, selfish ambition, or feelings of entitlement raise their voice. The volume of their demands get louder and louder, insisting on their way. They unlock the door of confusion. Contending for the place of truth in our hearts we begin to dismiss Jesus. Lies of the enemy start to prevail. They demand their way. They shout at us from the crowd. Sometimes they are spoken through a trusted, God-fearing friend or family member. Sometimes we just plain get impatient. But whatever the case, they are ploys from the enemy meant to get us off track and doubt God. Meant to deter us from whatever it is God has clearly called us to do. But God uses them for good, to test our loyalty and the resolve of our decision; to see how firmly we believe what we say we believe.

This wavering is cause for self-examination. Questions like... Am I going to take God at His Word and believe Him? Trust Him? Or not? Am I believing Jesus, but willing to dismiss Him just the same? Willing to dismiss what He has promised, even momentarily to entertain the voices of fear, doubt, displeasure with His timing, or discouragement which lead to anything from lack of belief to acting irresponsibly to panic? Are lies from the enemy speaking louder than Jesus at that moment when I feel like giving up, giving in or turning back? Am I allowing truth or lies to prevail in my heart? Am I surrendering to Jesus, or surrendering Jesus to a lie?

2 Corinthians 10:5 says we are to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Father God, help me to rest in You even when my circumstances tell me to fear or doubt or panic. Help me as I strive to live surrendered to You, not from You. Help me to zero in on Your voice even when the crowd argues with insistence, demands and loud voices. I ask You not to grant their demands or turn me over to them. May Your will and Your will alone prevail in my life. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Call Me Out

"The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then he remembered the word the Lord had spoke to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly." Luke 22:61-62

Jesus has just been arrested and taken into the home of the high priest. Peter had been following at a distance. Now in the wee hours of the morning, he stopped outside and took a seat by the fire that had been kindled in the courtyard. 

To his surprise, over the next couple of hours three different people recognized Peter as one associated with Jesus. With Jesus now in custody, it appears that fear washed over him when questioned, and fear answered...with denial. Forgetting that Jesus was watching, and with increasing indignation, he flat out said he did not know Him. Not once, not twice, but three times in a row he disassociated himself and went into self-preservation mode, probably fearing the same fate.

After the third denial, a rooster crowed. At that moment, Jesus looked straight at Peter. Not a word was said. Jesus' look said it all. Then Peter remembered what He had said, "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." Peter's heart was no doubt stricken with grief, remorse and shame, so "he went outside and wept bitterly."

Peter was easily recognizable as a one who had been with Jesus. One who walks with Him should be recognized as one who walks with Him. Followers of Christ should take on His likeness. Such was the case with Peter. Such should be the case with every believer.

And just as with Peter, the Lord's eyes are ever upon us too. He knows our every thought, word and deed. He knows when we do not honor Him. And when He calls us out, when He gives us "the look", if we are truly followers of Christ we will respond as Peter did, with grief, remorse or shame that lead to a heart of repentance.

Father God, I am thankful that walking with You makes me look more like You as I apply Your truths to my life. I love that I have that family resemblance! Looking like You means my thoughts, words and deeds should reflect Your character. God, I ask that You call me out when they don't. I admit that as of late as I've been praying expecatantly, I've gotten weary in the waiting for the answer. Though undergirded with resolve and faith, my weariness has led to a bit of a funk at times, my words and thoughts sprinkled with questions and moments of worry. In so doing it means I am doubting Your character and that is sin. It doesn't please You, it pleases the enemy. Please forgive me, Jesus. I believe, please help my unbelief! I ask You to quickly convict my heart when I stray so that I can make right my standing with You. I want my words, thoughts and actions to bring You praise, honor and glory. May they reflect the faith I stand upon. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

In the Middle of Nowhere

"When Pharoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.' So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea." Exodus 13:17-18a

Archimedes once said, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line." But is the shortest route always the best route? That is the question this passage in Exodus leads me to answer today. 

In God's estimation, the shortest route or the path of least resistance is not always best. Such was the case for the Israelites, and often is the case for us today. When Pharoh finally let the people go out of Egypt, one would have thought the Lord would lead them to the land of Canaan by the quickest route, the shortest way. But God took them the long way around past the desert, through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Not because He wanted to make their lives more miserable, but because His ways are higher and better and serve a very specific purpose. 

I am reminded of Proverbs 16:9 which says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Matthew Henry says of this, "Man proposes, but God disposes, and in his disposal we must acquiesce, and set ourselves to follow providence." To "acquiesce" means to comply with God's will. That indicates a voluntary action, or an act of our will. No matter how hard we try, or how good we think our strategy is, God ultimately determines how things will go. We are masters at dreaming up all kinds of solutions to our problems, making suggestions to God to "help Him out" as if He needed our help. But we toil our minds for nothing because it is God that determines our course according to His providential plan, to serve His purposes, to bring Himself glory. More often than not, God's plan looks very different from anything we could conjure up. And 100% of the time His way is better.

So why does God often take us the long way around to get to our desired destination? To get to the answer we are seeking, or the one He has promised? Why doesn't God just quickly hand it over on a silver platter? 

Here's my take. Quick answers can lead to situations we are not yet ready to handle. Quick answers can lead to pride and distorted thinking, taking credit for good things thinking we brought them about when all credit is due the Lord. A better question might be, "Why does God lead us to new things before we are ready to take them on?" I believe the answer is, to give us the motivation and desire to press on through the preparation process it will take to get there. If we are truly submitting our lives to Christ, really wanting to be more like Him, then we must be willing to submit to His plan for bringing that about.

It takes time to make our rough edges smooth.
It takes time to prepare us to handle battles and blessings yet to come.
It takes time to get our hearts and minds thinking right.

Even though God is leading us to something or some place that we feel certain is His will for us, we might not be immediately ready for the answer; for it all to come to fruition. Most often God makes us ready as we walk toward it, letting Him light the way. Verse 21 says, "By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel by day or by night." No matter what time of day we are taking steps toward the new thing, God is there to lead us. He is our guide.

God led the Israelites away from the direct path which in modern times might be represented by a well lit, well marked highway. A travel route that represents safety. The straight road that gets you from Point A to Point B. Instead, He led them through the wilderness and off the beaten path. They may have felt like they were traveling through the middle of nowhere. Today that might look like woods and back roads. A way not marked. It might represent danger, uncertainty, difficulty, possible starvation. It is certainly the unpopular route. A way that would seem nonsensical to most. But a life of faith doesn't make much sense to the common world. 

An unmarked route requires a compass for direction. In that place, deep in the middle of nowhere, Christ is our compass. Travelers who want to reach their destination must be fully dependent upon Him to guide them.

Just because we are not quite "ready" for the next stop in life doesn't mean we should stop in our tracks or give up and return to Point A. No, we should put one foot in front of the other and by faith, walk in the direction God has told us to go, believing the path will be made clear, the answers and the provision will come, and the destination will be reached in due time when He deems us approved and ready. There is much to learn off the beaten path. Greater faith develops along the way.

Scripture says the Israelites were not yet ready for the war they were going to face. The Lord needed to prepare them and chose to do so in the place less travelled. Little did they know during this preparation that in their future they would lead the charge and God would drown the Egyptians in the Red Sea. In the wilderness God was proving their loyalty and making them humble. He was essentially preparing them for battle, something impossible to do on the path of least resistance. The last half of verse 18 indicates that they came out of the wilderness ready. "The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle." 

What might God be preparing you for? Are you submitting to His will in the wilderness? Is He truly your compass and guide?

Father God, as I put one foot in front of the other and walk toward the things You have called me to, I pray that You would make me ready for the answer. Make me ready for the destination Lord, that I might serve you well and bring you the most glory. Be my compass and my guide when I feel I'm going nowhere fast. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Permission Granted

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." 
Luke 22:31-32

Simon (Peter) had a bullseye on his back. Known as one of the disciples in Jesus' inner circle, he was a devout follower of Christ. Loyal. Trustworthy. Committed to the grave, or so he thought.

As much as Peter believed he was sold-out for Jesus and claimed in verse 33 he was ready to go with Him to prison and even death, he still had inner fears and doubts lurking about. Both Jesus and Satan recognized his lack of belief. Jesus knew that when tested, Peter would deny he ever knew Him. Not once. Not twice. Three times in a row.

What Jesus also knew, and Satan may not have, was that as a result of these trials Peter would repent and return to Him even more committed and determined than before. His faith would be redefined. We know this to be true from verse 32 where Jesus instructs Peter "when" you turn back, "strengthen your brothers". Not if you turn back, but when. He knew Peter was a man of faith and eventually, his faith would quench Satan's fiery darts. He would return strengthened in his faith, more solid in his beliefs, prepared for a higher calling and even greater ministry.

Merriam-Webster's defines sifting as this:

sift -- verb
1a: to put through a sieve  b: to separate
2: to go through especially to sort out what is useful or valuable

Satan has to ask God's permission to press on our lives. His purpose is to come against us with fiery trials and temptations to get us to turn our backs on God. But God has a greater purpose in the sifting. He uses it to sort out and remove unhealthy attitudes, fears, desires and agendas that are of no value or use to Him. To build unwavering faith into our character so that we completely trust in Him. To shape our hearts and lives in such a way as to make us willing and useful for His kingdom work. Such trials accelerate our spiritual growth when we turn to Him. They cause our trust in God's faithfulness and sovereignty to increase. They allow us to see aspects of God's character we might have never if things had always gone our way. And they bring about a process of pruning to make room for new spiritual fruit and growth. Sifting shifts our focus, our thinking, our loyalties, and makes us useful for God's greater purpose. 

Father God, I thank You for the nine years of sifting You have just allowed in my own life. I thank You for the spiritual growth, the testing and refining of my faith, the continued working out of ugly inner thoughts and selfish attitudes, the healing of my heart from things unthinkable, and the resolve to follow You and walk in obedience to Your call. I also thank You for Your abundant provision in the midst of terrible trials. You gave me a solid place to stand and eyes to see the blessing between the rocks and hard places. You placed me in a position to have immediate prayer support and encouragement when bad news came and tough situations came to a head. A place where I forged beautiful friendships, ministry opportunities abounded, and I managed to find my voice. Lord, You brought such increase to so many areas of my life. And where I was weak, You made me stronger. Though all of this was brought about as a result of some of the toughest trials in my life, I am forever grateful for the silver linings. I look forward to the new ministry opportunities that lie ahead and wait with great anticipation for the new season to begin! In Jesus' name I pray with much gratitude, amen.