Owned

This is a passage that, if you consider it honestly and seriously, will rock your world and radically change your priorities:

Luke 12:31-34 

But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  HCSB

I’m praying for the courage to take the hard look necessary to be a faithful disciple and change where change is required. 

Reflecting on a Purpose-filled Life

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

bowThere is something incredibly profound in the relationship Paul has with Timothy that speaks of Paul’s integrity as a follower of Christ. After warning Timothy about those who are not true followers of Jesus, he reminds him of what is true, encouraging him to remain steadfast because of what Timothy has seen in Paul. I find this incredibly challenging and convicting in my own life, desiring to be able to say this to my children and those I disciple. Paul seems to have gotten it all right:

Teaching – Paul is confident that all he has taught is right and completely in sync with all that Scripture reveals.

Conduct – This takes the teaching to the next level, because he’s confident to say that his conduct has matched up with his teaching. One never points this out unless it’s demonstrable.

Aim in life – Timothy can see what Paul sees as his purpose and what is valuable based on his priorities and goals. Again, this must match up with both teaching and conduct. If the teaching is not right, the conduct not in line with the teaching, then the priorities will be skewed.

My faith – Paul clearly believes what he says based on his actions. He truly trusts the Lord in all things as demonstrated by the way He lives His life. This is obviously more than lip-service.

My patience – Now he’s getting personal. If he believes and trusts Christ, he is content to wait on the Lord which includes showing patience for God’s work in others. Rather than trying to “fix” someone or manipulate a situation, Paul will speak the Truth, live the Truth, encourage growth, but leave the results to God.

My steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings – In the face of great suffering and challenges, Paul stays the course. His faith and belief in Christ and the Word of God motivates Him to persist regardless of the circumstances.In spite of the fact that evil will continue and even increase, Timothy is to continue to become more Christlike through what he has learned and seen and what he has read through Scripture, the very words of God. Because of his life and discipline, Paul has “street cred” and can encourage Timothy, with confidence, to persist. Paul need not depend on the “do as I say, not as I do” cop-out. Rather, he can simply say to Timothy, “Follow me.” What power that carries and what a difference it makes in a life!

Admittedly, it is so hard to live this kind of life.  Frankly, though, if Paul can do it, anyone can. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changed Saul, an enemy of Christ, into Paul, arguably the most influential of all of the apostles of Christ, and it is that same power of that same Holy Spirit that can do that in me!

Plan B

I like a backup plan.  Sometimes I feel I need a backup plan.  OK, I always feel like I need a backup plan.  Maybe you do, too.  After all, who’s gonna jump from an airplane without at least two rip cords, right?  

The question I want to ponder a little bit is this: Is it bad to have a “Plan B”?  Is it good planning or is there something deeper, at least for the disciple of Christ?  Is it sin?  Hm, that seems a little harsh, at best.  Consider something I ran across while reading in Ezra (8:21-23):

I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Let’s analyze that a little bit: Ezra proclaimed a fast for a specific reason…well, two, really, but one was primary (and it might not be the one you would think).  One reason was for their protection.  That’s important. It’s clearly not wrong to pray for protection on a trip, but that’s not the primary reason.  His greatest concern was his testimony before the king.  He had been declaring the importance of faith in God (notice the condition: “those who seek Him”), now if he calls for a plan B (“hey, just in case God doesn’t come through, could you give us a couple of escorts?”), it would totally undermine his testimony of faith in God.  In other words, Ezra saw the importance of practicing what he preached!

After fasting and praying (not just assuming God’s protection), he then declared that God heard their prayer…before they ever left! He demonstrated his faith in God at the onset, knowing he didn’t need a plan B.  Look at what he said again: “So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (verse 23).  Then they headed out.  

Now, skip down to verse 31 and see Ezra’s testimony of what God did after the journey:

31 Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way. 

I have to admit, there are many times I start off the way Ezra did, asking for God’s protection, then work out my contingency plan just in case.  That is nothing short of a lack of faith in God’s protection and deliverance.  Think about it this way:  What if by my disobedience, my plan puts me out of the will of God?  After all, is my safety the utmost in God’s mind?  What if, in spite of my request for safety, God is most glorified (which is my highest desire) by me not being delivered?  There are certainly plenty of accounts in history that demonstrate that.  The most important thing for me should be to be in the center of His will, so that whatever happens to me, I’m OK in His eternal care and He’s glorified.

So, do you find yourself looking for “Plan B”?  Do you trust God enough to pray for protection, believing that He will come through, but OK with whatever He chooses to do in and with your life?  That takes a lot of faith, doesn’t it?  My encouragement to the Christ-followers is to realize that faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that if you aren’t able to trust Him to that extent, start asking Him for it.

Planning isn’t a bad thing.  As a matter of fact, Proverbs teaches us repeatedly to do that very thing.  However, if our plans start undermining trust in the strong hand of the Lord, our trust in the “reserve chute” will lead us right into a deeper form of danger than anything we’ll ever face in our day-to-day lives.  That is living (and dying) outside the will and protection of God. It will be then that we find that pulling that second cord doesn’t work either.

Trusting When It Counts

Most of my married life has been one of uncertainty.  I’m not talking about my marriage, specifically, but rather the circumstances we have been in most of our life together.  Two years after Karen and I were married, we were called up to New England, uncertain of what we were to do, why specifically we were going or for how long we would be there.  I know that sounds strange, but it was a very Abrahamic experience: go and I will tell you later where and why.

As things turned out, it was the most incredible character-shaping and building eight-and-a-half years of either of our lives.  We were involved in so many different types of ministries and had opportunities to learn so many different things, that I can’t imagine life without that experience.  It’s where I finished my Master of Divinity degree and where, as a church-planter, I was specifically called as a pastor (though I was called into ministry at age 15).  New England is where I fell in love with cross-cultural missions and apologetics and worldview studies.  It’s where I began to understand what it means to be a real friend, investing in people for years in order to reach their hearts (New Englanders aren’t called the “Frozen Chosen” for nothing).

Our time in New England is also where we were the most financially challenged.  In spite of Karen and I working throughout these ministry years in the northeast, we were often wondering how we would make our next house payment, how the bills would be paid, and how God was going to see us through.  We didn’t always know…but He always did.  There were times when, literally, money would come through the mail the day before a bill was due to be sent (one with the exact amount plus the exact change for the stamp!).

The point I am making is this: Faith isn’t faith until it’s put to the test.  We never know, fully in our own hearts, that God can be trusted until we really need to trust Him.  That isn’t to say that we don’t believe God is faithful in our hearts and heads prior to experience, but it is still theoretical until we experience it.  Sometimes, we walk into those experiences knowing that God will have to deliver us if we’re going to make it while other times, God does the pushing and prodding until He gets us to a place where we have no choice, only to teach us what it means to trust and to allow us the blessing of experiencing His all-sufficiency.

Most of us are in a situation right now, where it seems hard to see where things are going, economically, in these downward times.  After years of plenty (which, ironically, was when Karen and I were experiencing the least we’ve ever had), the economy has taken a dive and it is affecting everyone.  The question is how is everyone responding?  More importantly, how will I respond and how will you?

Here is where the rubber of your faith meets the road of your experience.  Is God to be trusted?  Are you going to trust Him when there is no safety net?  Our we going to declare with the Psalmist, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Ps 91:1-2)?  Is He still God when the 401K dries up and the stock market ebbs and flows, when the savings runs out and when the bills continue to increase?

Sorry...couldn't resist. dp

Like John Piper recently expressed, I’m not one who puts much (read: any!) stock in the prosperity Gospel.  I don’t believe that God simply wants to punch your financial ticket so that you never have to experience want.  It is exactly those experiences that God most often uses to shape us into what He wants us to be.  Why would He short-circuit the process of preparing you for eternity just so you can experience the lap of luxury in this temporal environment?

So, should we expect more difficulty?  Probably.  Is God still in control? Definitely.  Will we learn through it? Hopefully.  I am praying for myself, my family and my friends and my church, that we will trust God when there is plenty and when there is uncertainty, just the same as though there is no different.

Paul said in Philippians 4:19-20, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Look at what that says:

God will supply (HE is the source and the provider).

all your needs (with the exception of nothing that you NEED, not necessarily want).

– according to HIS riches in glory in Christ Jesus (He has all of the resources that flow through our relationship with Christ)

– God gets the glory!

– Amen…so be it.

Trust is not easy.  I don’t like to put my hope in what I cannot see, but I’ve seen that that which I can see cannot always be trusted and God has given us His glorious promises to reveal to us that He will not drop us.  He can be trusted.  The question is will He be?

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