Monday, July 1, 2024

God's blessing?

There's a verse in 1 Peter that I hadn't really noticed before. It's funny how that keeps happening to me...books and chapters I've read many times, on pages with underlining or notes, but all of a sudden I read a verse that I've somehow missed. This time it was while we were studying at church Sunday morning:

"For the time for judgment has come,
and it is beginning with the household of God.
If it is starting with us,
what will happen to those who have rejected God’s good news?"

(1 Peter 4:17)

I've been listening to Pastor Allen Jackson a lot lately. I highly recommend that you do the same, but I'll warn you first--he's probably going to step on your toes. One thing he has been pointing out a lot lately? We as professed Christians can't blame the decay in our nation on "them". Our nation is in free-fall because we--those who claim to be followers of Jesus--have failed. We have let a nation founded on biblical truth and biblical ideals fall apart because we have refused to stand for those truths.

It is almost July 4th, so here in the United States that means we're about to celebrate Independence Day. For almost 250 years now, that has always included the words "God Bless America!" I saw those words on a church sign on my way to work this morning, and I have to tell you that I immediately found myself shaking my head.

It isn't that I don't want God's blessings. I fully believe that the wealth, prosperity, generosity, and peace that defined our nation for so long were results of God's blessing. Right now, though, our nation has no right to ask for His blessing.

 Instead, we should be falling flat on our faces before a holy and just God, begging for His forgiveness and mercy. We should be thanking Him for the blessings He has poured out on us despite all our failings, and we should be begging Him to show us how to turn back to His plan. We should be coming to God in humility, apologizing to Him for all the times we have failed to stand for Him, begging Him to give us the strength to stand for Him now.

And then, we should get up from the dust, wipe the tears off our faces, and get to work. We should stand up and speak up. We should be the salt and light we are called to be in a broken, dark, hopeless world.

"Elections are important, they have consequences. We need to participate, we need to be aware... all of those things. But at the end of the day, we've gotta stop waiting for the elections to fix us. If we will have a heart change, God will engage the elections. If we don't have a heart change, the deterioration will continue." ~Pastor Jackson

We may be too late to keep our nation from falling into the pit, but we are never too late to lead people down the narrow path that leads to eternal life.

For some final words of challenge, from the One we claim to follow:

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
and do not do what I say?"

(Luke 6:46)

Thursday, June 20, 2024

what if you aren't doing what you expected?

Growing up, I took French all the way through school and on into college. In elementary school it was because it was available--the high school French teacher would visit the elementary classes once a week and do mini lessons, mostly greetings and counting. In high school and college, though, I continued taking French for one very specific reason: it was a language spoken across Africa in many different countries, and I thought one day I would find myself in that mission field, living in a village way off the map, teaching about Jesus.

I loved missions. I drank up any story I could find about people who had spent time in missions. I loved when missionaries would visit our church. I loved hearing their stories about when they first realized God was calling them to the mission field, to a life following Him across the world. I just knew that one day I would stand before a church and share the story of how I was called and how I followed God on an amazing adventure to the middle of nowhere.

The thing is, that call never came. Despite my plans and all the hints I dropped to God, that is apparently not His plan for me.

For a long time, I've struggled with trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing for God. It's not because I think that works save us. I fully believe that salvation is a gift from God and doesn't depend on me. At the same time, though, I believe that our lives should show that we are followers of God. Our lives are supposed to produce fruit. As James wrote,

"In the same way, faith by itself,
if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds,
and I will show you my faith by my deeds."

(James 2:18)

Or from Paul's letter to the believers in Ephesus:

 "For we are the product of His hand,
heaven’s poetry etched on lives,
created in the Anointed, Jesus,
to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago."

(Ephesians 2:10, VOICE)

 I know God has a plan for my life, things He planned for me to do. I can look back on my life--on the things I see as failures--and see how God orchestrated even those "failures" to lead me to where I am now. I can see His protection, how He steered me away from certain things that would have made my life very different than it is today.

But there's still part of me that is afraid I'm not measuring up, not finding that thing that God has planned for me. There's a fear that keeps a hold on me, whispering in my ear that I'm missing God's will for my life, that when I stand before Him one day, He's going to ask me, "What did you do with the gifts I gave you?"

...and I won't have an answer.

Part of it is probably just the insecurity I've battled my whole life. If you haven't learned more about me through my writing than you would ever really want to know, here's another--I feel like I'm a jack of all trades and master of none. I will try just about anything new and I love developing new skills, but I can't remember ever feeling like I was truly good at any of them. I see the flaws in everything I do, even if someone else is telling me good things. I'm always trying to measure up to some invisible standard (usually one I've arbitrarily set for myself), some idea of what it means to succeed, and I keep falling short.

Another part of it, possibly the biggest and most frustrating part to me, is my own pride. I have a hard time with the mundane. I've watched so many people in my life do amazing things to further God's kingdom. I spent my childhood thinking I would follow in their footsteps, that I would be instrumental in leading people to Christ. I've written about this before; I obviously haven't mastered this lesson yet: this life isn't about me.

But if I'm not called to do what I see as mighty, amazing things to further God's kingdom, who am I to say that I'm not doing what God has planned for me?

There are a few verses I have written on index cards that I carry around in my wallet, verses that remind me of how I should view some of the things I struggle with. One of them is this:

"So the Eternal One, who is the Holy One and Maker of Israel, says,
'Are you really going to question Me about what will happen to My children,
or lecture Me about what I should do with the ones I made with My own hands?
It is I who made the very ground on which you stand,
I who shaped the human beings who walk around on it.
I pulled the sky and heavens taut with My own hands,
and organized the army of stars that march across the night sky.'"

(Isaiah 45:11-12)

So once again, and probably many more times because these lessons are hard for me to learn,  I humble myself before the King and pray:

"God, sometimes I forget that You are God--and I am not. I get so wrapped up in trying to do all the things to somehow show You that I'm worth the sacrifice You made. I try so hard to prove myself, to do something. So Eternal One, who is the Holy One and Maker of Israel, please forgive me for trying to tell You what my life should look like. Thank You for Your promises. Thank You for Your plan, and that You have said that You determined my role in Your plan long ago. Forgive my lack of trust, and help me to let go of the plans I have for my own life and instead follow You. Help me to stop trying to make sure I measure up to some earthly standard and instead to see that in Your mercy, You have called me to You. You--the Creator and Master of the Universe--have made me Your child, and You don't require anything in return. You know that I can never measure up to the standard of perfection, but You love me anyway. I'm sorry for continually trying to tell You what to do with me, for trying to control my life instead of leaving it in Your hands. Help me to trust."

Thursday, May 23, 2024

what I wish the pope had said

 Just a few days ago, the pope sat down for an interview with 60 Minutes. While I disagree with quite a bit of what he said (we could talk about his definition of "conservative" or his views on immigration into the United States here, but that would make for a long post), there was one question and response that really got to me:

Q: "When you look at the world what gives you hope?" 

The pope was given the perfect opportunity with this question. It's one he should have jumped on, an opportunity spoken of in scripture: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15) Norah O'Donnell tossed him a question that he should have hit out of the park! His answer?

A: "Everything. You see tragedies, but you also see so many beautiful things. You see heroic mothers, heroic men, men who have hopes and dreams, women who look to the future. That gives me a lot of hope. People want to live. People forge ahead. And people are fundamentally good. We are all fundamentally good. Yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good."

How disappointing and heartbreaking that, when asked what gives him hope, the pope pointed to mankind. This world has nothing to offer in the way of hope. It doesn't matter what dreams we have, or what heroic acts we carry out. It doesn't matter if we persevere through hard times. It doesn't matter that we want to survive or that we look to the future.

Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have no hope. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: 

"17 if the Anointed has not been raised from the dead,
then your faith is worth less than yesterday’s garbage,
you are all doomed in your sins,

18 and all the dearly departed who trusted in His liberation
are left decaying in the ground.

19 If what we have hoped for in the Anointed doesn’t take us beyond this life,
then we are world-class fools, deserving everyone’s pity.
20 But the Anointed One was raised from death’s slumber
and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.

21 For since death entered this world by a man,
it took another man to make the resurrection of the dead our new reality.

22 Look at it this way: through Adam all of us die,
but through the Anointed One all of us can live again."

(1 Corinthians 15:17-22)

I wish the pope had taken the opportunity he was given as a chance to point a broken, hurting world toward the only One who can give them hope. Yes, there are beautiful things in the world--but none of those beautiful things can offer hope to the hopeless.

The heart of man is not fundamentally good. The only good inside any of us is a reflection of God, not something in or of ourselves. The only way we can have a heart that is good is if we have a heart that has been made new by Him.

Monday, May 13, 2024