The Why’s and the What If’s

Life is an interesting experience. Trying to predict what life will bring is virtually impossible. We can plan and plot, but sure enough, something unexpected always seems to be around the corner. This can be good or bad depending on what happens and how we view things. One thing that I have learned, and continue to learn, is that things are often not how they appear on the surface or at first glance. I was reminded of this when seeing a photo from my senior year of high school.

I was a member of the varsity wrestling team at my high school. I was not a great wrestler. I was pretty strong from years of weight lifting, but I did not have nearly as much wrestling experience or skill as a lot of my team members. I also had an issue with endurance, which meant I rarely had matches that went the distance. I was a pin or be pinned kind of wrestler. This resulted in my mediocre record and a lot of quick exits in tournaments.

However, if you look at our senior yearbook, you might get a different idea of my success. I have two fairly prominent photos in the wrestling section of the yearbook, even though there were a lot of guys on the team better than me. This had more to do with having a friend that was a photographer for the yearbook than my actual success in the sport. The photo shown here is my favorite, especially the caption. It says, my opponent “bites the dust as Phil Hill out maneuvers him.” I still shake my head and laugh when I see it. It makes me look pretty tough. At the time, I was actually winning the match by something like 10-0. However, less than a minute later, the match was over and I had been pinned. I made a mistake, he reversed me, put me on my back and pinned me. It is quite a different result than the impression given in the photo.

On the other side of the coin, I also had a couple disappointing experiences. I will not go into details because I do not want to negatively portray someone in print who others might know. Let’s just say that there were other areas of my life and experience where I had more talent and abilities than were on display in my wrestling career. Not only was I passed over for awards or recognition, but, after the fact, I actually learned that a certain individual had gone out of their way to ensure that I was not even nominated for an award. When the individual spoke to me, they said that that they were unable to nominate me. What I learned later, through other individuals who were there for the nomination process, was that this person intentionally refused to nominate me, even when encouraged to do so by others at the meeting.

When I heard about this, it did sting a little. However, before much time had passed, I started to be grateful for that experience. In the end, it led me to devote more time towards interests and activities I might not otherwise have pursued. And those new pursuits are things that have helped provide a foundation for ministry opportunities I am involved in to this day. So, I am thankful that God led me through that time and showed me that disappointment does not have to be end. And that success in the eyes of God is not the same thing as success in the eyes of the world.

Like I mentioned at the start, life is hard to predict. You can plan, work, and strive to accomplish things, but it in the end, the results can be unexpected and even disappointing. You can give your life to something and yet not see the fruit of your labor. At other times, people can look at you and get a completely inaccurate picture of who you are based on the one snapshot they see of your life, for good or bad. It can make you wonder why things happen the way they do. It can make you wonder what life would be like if things were different.

God sees when no one else does. Does it ever seem that living the life of faith in following Jesus Christ has no impact on the world around us? I feel like that at times. I get to the end of my day and wonder what I accomplished that day to glorify God to those I encountered. But God sees all the small choices we make during the day in our goal to honor Him with our lives. As we seek to put our trust in Him, hold fast to His Word, and follow in obedience, God sees. No one else may notice, but nothing escapes Him.

God sees through the snapshots and facades. This is something we also need to remember. We can provide others with snapshots and phony facades of who we are. We can receive all kinds of awards, promotions, recognition, and engage in all the pleasures and rewards these things bring. But if our hearts are not right with God, it is all really meaningless. Read the book of Ecclesiastes sometime. It tells the experience of someone who gave themselves to every type of pleasure and pursuit, but in the end, it left them empty. The final conclusion was, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

God gives what is eternal and will never fade. The treasures of this life will all fade away. Only what God gives lasts for eternity. If we give ourselves to the pursuit of these temporary treasures and rewards, we will arrive at the end of life with empty hands and empty hearts. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

God calls us to be faithful, not successful. God does not call us to change the world. That is His job. We are called to have changed hearts by yielding our lives to the transforming power of Jesus Christ. We are called to follow Christ and to live our lives in obedience to Him in faithfulness. As we walk in faithfulness by the power of God, He can and will use us to shine the light of Jesus and the Gospel. We may be used to impact one person’s life. We may be used to impact the lives of many. In the end, that is really up to God. If we are faithful, then in God’s eyes, this means we are a success. That does not mean we are perfect. But we continue to pursue Christ and allow Him to demonstrate the power of God through us, whether we see the results or not.

Life can leave us with a lot of why’s and what if’s, at least from our perspective. If we let it, this can drive us nuts. It can leave us longing for things as we thought they should be or bitter because we did not get what we thought we deserved. God does not guarantee that things will go our way or that people will recognize us in the manner we think they should. God does guarantee that He is faithful. He guarantees that He will work all things for the good of those who love Him. He does not say how that will look or when we will see it. But nothing escapes God’s notice, and He promises to reward faithfulness, whether anyone else notices or not.

Together for His glory…

Be Still and Know that He is God

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It is over… finally. The marathon of the campaigns and election has come to an end. As I write this, I think of my family, church family, friends, and acquaintances. There is a mixture and wide range of emotions going on. Sadness, joy, anger, relief, worry and fear, expectancy, unsettledness, hope, doubt, smugness, disgust, and combinations of all of them. I have no idea what our future holds. But I do know that yesterday’s election was not the solution to all of our problems or the end of all of our hopes and dreams, regardless of how we now view the situation.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

God is on His throne. Throughout the insanity of the past year or two, God has not been wringing His hands, awaiting the results of our American elections. He was not troubled as to whether the outcome would derail or thwart His eternal plans. His ability was, and is, never limited by what a group of fickle, often self-serving, human beings decide to do. He uses all things and all circumstances to bring about His purposes and ultimate good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). God purposes will be accomplished – period. We may not understand the means or the journey used to achieve His ultimate goals. But we can believe that He knows what He is doing and, if we trust in Him, that He will work things out for our good and His glory.

God is not a Republican, Democrat, or any other political affiliation. I know that there are some of you who may think that a particular political party is endorsed by God Himself. I do not believe it. Let’s just take to two primary political parties as examples. There are policies or beliefs within both party platforms that reflect moral principles revealed in the Bible. There are also current stances or views within these two parties that do not reflect biblical principles, and, in some cases, are in direct opposition to biblical teaching. I am not going to get into specifics, but both parties fall short of biblical standards when held to God’s standards for righteousness, justice, showing kindness, and walking humbly before God (Micah 6:8). Neither party is exempt. Neither party is holy. Neither party holds the true and definitive solutions for the needs of this nation. And God’s requirements go far beyond and supersede those of any political party.

God, in Christ, is our only true hope. The ultimate solutions for what our nation and the world needs will never come through a political movement or government. Yes, God may, and does, use these means to accomplish some of His purposes. However, true change will only come in this nation when hearts change. When God reigns in our hearts, it is only then that our thoughts, actions, and words take on a different tone and purpose. Even when there is disagreement, our actions are governed by our love for God and our concern and compassion for our neighbor. Without this, it degenerates into what we had during the recent campaign. We are left with the fear and disdain that was, as is still, being expressed. Yes, we need to engage the political process to implement change, where possible. But our main focus, as Christians, should be to share the gospel and introduce people to Jesus Christ. Only He can truly change the heart and the direction of someone’s life.

Be still, and know that He is God. We need to take a step back, catch our breath, and we need to trust in God. We need to view things from the perspective of God’s sovereign, loving care for all that He has created. Even if things don’t go our way and the world keeps changing, often for the worse, God still has this world in His hands. No matter the circumstance or challenges this life brings, our lives are still in His hands. We can trust Him. He is on His throne. Trust and pray and seek His face. Delight in Him. Only God will always have our best in mind. We cannot say that about anyone else, any system, or institution, because they are all fallible. Only God is forever true and forever faithful to be Who He says He is and to do what He says He will do.

Throughout the centuries, those who have followed God have lived through all kinds of differing circumstances. Some enjoyed times of peace, but many also endured times of trial and suffering under a variety of unfavorable societal environments and governmental systems and reigns. Through it all, God was still with them and used them to proclaim His truth, and He used them in the lives of people and nations for change and transformation. We need to always be ready to go and do what God calls us to do. But in our hearts, we need to be still, and trust Him. We need to be still, and rest in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need to be still and know that He is God.

Together for His glory…

It’s Really Not About Getting What We Want

Blog_ThumbnailHere we are. It is Christmas time again. The craziness and busyness has been upon for several weeks now, and probably won’t subside until days after Christmas. Then, we all collapse and head back to work to get some relaxation. Sometimes, I wonder how it ever got to be this way. I am sure that it started out simply and sincerely. This is not to say that this time cannot still be filled with simplicity and sincerity. But the insanity and commercialization (to echo Charlie Brown) seems too often to leave the true message of Christmas in the dust.

We spend a ton of money, if we have it (and even if we don’t). We worry if our gifts to others will be liked and appreciated. We gather with friends and family. We worry about impressing people we don’t even like. If you happen to have the pleasure of working in a corporate setting with annual giving campaigns, you may get to hear the annual plea or arm-twisting, whichever you prefer, to give to causes that you may or may not agree with. We run from event to event, hardly stopping to breathe or reflect on the reason this season is celebrated.

In the end, however, this season is all about selflessness. It is about sacrificing on the behalf of others. It is the celebration of the greatest self-sacrifice that human history will ever know. And this sacrifice was made so that we might know God, and call on Him as Father, and be welcomed into His family and kingdom. This all happened so that we could place our faith and hope in God.

“…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:18-21

Though being in very nature God, Jesus took on the very nature of a servant and was born in the likeness of man (Philippians 2:6-8). He humbled Himself and became obedient, even to the point of death, by coming as a baby and living out His life, so that He could die – all for us.

Christmas is not about getting what we want. Christmas is about getting what we need. And we need Jesus. We need Jesus whether we are lost and far from Him or whether we have been walking with Him for years. He is our greatest need – each moment and every day. And God offers this hope freely through salvation in Jesus Christ, if we will just reach out and receive it.

My prayer is that, this Christmas, we will all know the hope and joy that are offered through Jesus. For those of us who already know Christ, I pray that we will be reminded again of the magnitude of the gift that brought us our freedom. For those of you who don’t yet know Christ, I pray that the knowledge of the love of Christ would find a home in your hearts this season.

For all of us, I pray that our lives would come to reflect the self-sacrificing life given so freely for us, reflecting the true meaning of Christmas. That rather than striving for position, accumulating more things we don’t need, and always trying to have things our own way, we would demonstrate the humility and selflessness of Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift, and the only true hope and joy for this world.

Together for His glory…

What Did We Expect?

These days, it seems to be coming like a freight train. Changes are coming at us from the left and the right, whether they are technological, political, or societal. Right now, for those who follow Jesus Christ and hold fast to the truth of God’s Word, the societal changes and realities seem to be smacking us in the face on a daily basis. The problem is this. Why are we surprised?

Jesus told us exactly what to expect in this world. He told us that we would face tribulation (John 16:33). He told us that we would be out of place and the world would hate us because of our association with Jesus and the truth to which hold (John 15:18-25). The apostle Peter said that we were exiles and aliens in a foreign land (1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 2:11). We are not in our homeland.

The problem for much of “Christian” America is that we became way too comfortable. For decades and centuries, the American society has been willing to go along with a “Christian” culture because it did not unduly inconvenience them. In fact, they received benefits and comforts from the generosity and good will of a “Christian” America. However, it no longer serves them much purpose, as far as they can tell. It provides them with no obvious benefit. In fact, in their eyes, all that Christianity seems to do is point a finger and try to restrain them from pursuing their desires. So, why hold onto the façade any longer?

The “church,” and those who still fill many of the pews or chairs on Sunday, doesn’t look any different from those outside the church. So, why should they bother? God and church don’t seem to have anything compelling to offer. Instead of the church of Jesus Christ impacting the nation, we have just kind of blended in. We don’t really live much differently than the “pagans” in our neighborhoods and cities.

Yet, there is hope. And it is not in political change. It is not in social change. It is not in economic change. It is the same hope that has been there from the start. It is the hope of Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:13-16

To be clear, I am not saying that we should sit back and let society just go its own way. This is our country too. But it is not our home or final destination. Changing society is not our major calling. Our primary calling is to follow Jesus. Our calling is to be prepared for action with our hope placed solely in Jesus Christ. We are called to be obedient children, not being conformed to the society around us, but living holy lives before God and those around us. We are called to shine the light of Jesus, to love each other, and to proclaim the Gospel with our lives and, if necessary, with our words. Because if our actions don’t set us apart as belonging to Jesus, nothing we say will either.

But if we seek God, pursuing Christ with passion, seeking to be filled with the fullness of God, He will demonstrate His power and ability to transform through us. He has said so in His Word. Many of us never expected to live in a time like this. We should have though. And we should expect nothing less until the day Jesus returns. Until that day, let us awake with a love and passion for our Savior and each other and see what God can do through us.

Together for His glory…

Planting Seeds

Note to Reader: A link to a video is provided below.  It is a tribute to someone who has exemplified a life of planting seeds, as discussed in this article.

Blog_ThumbnailBoom! There are times when we can see the impact of our actions instantly. I remember watching a friendly game of washers turn into a goofy and out of control game of basketball washers, where they were trying to block each other’s attempt to get the washer in the box. The problem with this was that there were cars nearby, and one of the washers went through the rear window of my car, shattering the glass all over the back seat. Not a fan of that version of the game.

There are other times when we don’t see the impact of our actions for a long time. Maybe we never see any during our lifetime. However, every action that we take, or don’t take, has an outcome, whether for the good or the bad. Again, some actions or events can have instant, large impacts. Other actions may result in small or even unseen impacts. A small, simple effort may not seem to have any effect initially, but, years later, could influence numerous people and events. In fact, these may end up having more long-term, lasting influence then events that seem to have immediate, blockbuster impact.

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” 1 Peter 1:10-12

There are many things that could be said about this passage. One of major points relates to the prophecy of Scripture. The Old Testament foretold the coming of Christ. Their prophesies not only indicated what type of Messiah the people should expect, but it even provided details about when he would be coming. In other words, the people should not have been surprised by Jesus Christ when He came. It is one of the ways in which God shows the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Word of God. I spoke on this last time, so I am not going to touch on it at this time. However, if you would like to study more on the topic of the reliability of Scripture, see the resources available from the 2015 EFCA Theology Conference which focused on The Doctrine of the Scriptures. This is excellent material from some leading evangelical scholars and teachers.

For today, I want to focus on one phrase in 1 Peter 1:12, where it says, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you…” These prophets were writing what the Spirit had revealed to them. However, in addition to the actual prophecies of the coming Messiah, it was revealed to them that they were serving a people yet to be born. They were told that they were serving the people who would come to trust and follow Jesus Christ. Long after they were dead, the writings of the prophets would serve the followers of Christ. Therefore, their faithfulness to listen and respond to God, served those who lived hundreds and even thousands of years in the future. And this includes those of us today who follow Jesus Christ.

What immediate results did the prophets see when they proclaimed the message given to them by God? Stephen, right before he was stoned to death, provides the answer. “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:52-53). The primary result the prophets saw from their faithfulness was persecution and death. And yet, the prophecies they recorded would serve God’s followers for years to come.

So, how does this apply to us? When we follow Christ, we are called to live our lives to give glory to God, faithfully serving through the opportunities that He gives us. Sometimes, we see the results of our efforts. Other times, we don’t see any positive results. If fact, there are times when it seems like the opposite. We give ourselves in service to God and others, and we receive criticism and opposition in return. Or, the recipients of our gift of service actually turn away and go the opposite direction, walking away from God. This can be confusing and even heartbreaking. So, how do we respond?

Be faithful and keep planting seeds. Whatever God has called you to do, continue to do it faithfully. Whether you are a pastor, executive, laborer, housewife, teacher, service provider, or whatever you do, continue to serve and take the opportunities that God gives you to plant seeds along the way. God does not call us to produce results. He calls us to faithfulness. That is a weird message for modern America. We can get instant anything.  We want instant everything. God does not operate on our culture’s standards. We should be thankful for this.

Be humble. Some “Christians” receive opposition and criticism simply because they are jerks. I wanted to use a stronger word, but that would probably get me in trouble. It is true that the true message of Christ will be offensive to many. However, that does not mean that we have the right to idiotic behavior that would be offensive regardless of what we were presenting. In Scripture, God continually calls us to humility and to have a servant’s mindset. Do the work God called you to do with humility and compassion as you seek to plant seeds of the Gospel. We need to leave pride and arrogance at the cross, where they need to die.

Trust God with the results. As I said, God calls us to be faithful. He is the One Who produces the fruit from the work that He does in and through us. God may allow you to see the fruit of some of your efforts. For other things, you may never see the results in this lifetime. A faithful act performed today may result in someone’s life being changed hundreds or thousands of years from now. You may plant a seed through your service that leads to impact several generations from now. Trust God, He knows what He is doing. He will be faithful to complete the work He is doing in us for today and for generations to come, until Christ returns.

The video I have linked below dates back 27 years ago, to April 22, 1988. The quality of the video is not great. It is probably a copy of a copy of a copy of an old VHS tape. I don’t share it in order to show what a great performer I am, because the performance is not that great. I don’t share it to show how high my vocal range used to be, how much thinner I used to be, or how much more hair I had then. I share it to illustrate a point. This event was held in a large auditorium in Kansas City. However, there were not many people in attendance, even though we had advertised the event through radio and other avenues. Several music groups performed and a pastor friend of mine provided the message. I remember the event date because it was his birthday.

I was on the stage that night because God had used him as a faithful witness in my life. It was this man who first encouraged me in leading worship, even though I always thought that he was far better at it and more gifted than me. For almost five years, this man had been my friend and planted seeds in my life, encouraging me to seek God. This was during time of great time of struggle with doubt and confusion regarding my faith. It was a dark time spiritually. I was lost and floundering. And yet, there I was, five years later, on that stage, back on the road of faith in God and His Word, and giving praise to God.

I can’t point to any one thing that turned things around, but there was finally a point where things clicked, and I came to a decision that, though I did not understand everything, I was going to put my full trust in the Lord. It has not always been a smooth journey. There have been ups and downs. But I can say that I am where I am today because God used a faithful man, planting seeds, to serve the needs of others. To serve me. I am forever thankful for his friendship and his faithfulness.

So, keep living faithfully for the Lord and planting seeds because God will use you to serve the lives of others, even long after you have gone to be with Him.

Together for His glory…