Great blessing out of difficulty

“God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.”- Peter Marshall

Os Hillman applies the Joseph calling to the larger stories of Jacob, Moses, and Paul, respectively, in Chapters 14-16 of The Joseph Calling.  Next, in Chapter 17 (“Experiencing Your Larger Story”), Os reminds us how those six stages usher you into the larger story of your life.  Hence, Os defines that larger story as ” a life . . . filled with the activity of God and the manifest presence of his life being lived through you.”

In 1990, the author notes, Henry Blockaby developed a popular Bible study series titled Experiencing God.  The very first principle established that God’s always at work around us.  Thus, our responsibility involves joining in what God’s already doing.  Os explains:

“We are not to think up things to do for God; we are to join him in what he wants to do and what he is already doing on earth today.”

Furthermore, Mr. Hillman observes, one kingdom principle requires faithfulness in small areas before God entrusts us with larger ones. In the process God causes fruit to be born from our obedience.  Not from our sweat and toil.

In conclusion, Os offers these words of hope:

“I want to encourage you to be more aware of where God is working around you.  Ask God to give you more opportunities to share his love with those with whom you come in contact.  One of the easiest ways to minister to people is to ask to pray for them when you hear of a need they have in their life.”

Today’s question: What great blessing do you see rising out of your difficulty?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “What God calls us to – simply be His friend”

Something that requires an appreciation banquet

“When we truly grow, then obeying God no longer looks like something that requires an appreciation banquet.  It looks like what should come naturally, like something that needs to be done.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 6 of The Me I Want to Be with four stages of spiritual growth.

1.  Incompetent and unaware.  In this stage, not only are we incapable of doing something, but we’re not even aware of our incapability.  As Pastor Ortberg explains, “the first cost of incompetence is the inability to perceive incompetence.”

Thus, living in continued ignorance represents the danger in this stage.  Because pain brings awareness, pain = the cure.  When reality crashes into us, we experience pain.  With awareness, change becomes possible.

2.  Incompetent and self-conscious.  At this stage we remain incompetent, but now we know it.   However, the danger here involves giving up due to despair over our incompetence.  As a result, at this stage we need hope.

3.  Competent and aware.  Here we constantly think about ourselves and our efforts at growth.  Furthermore, like the prodigal son’s elder brother, we often compare ourselves to other people.

Therefore, pride represents the danger during this stage.  Hence, stage three lostness, John notes, carries its own blindness.  People rarely seek help for their pride problem.  As the author quips, no Betty Ford Centers for the Insufferably Arrogant exist.  But not because we don’t need them.  We need humility.

4.  Competent and unself-conscious.  Pastor Ortberg describes this final stage as a place where “competence not longer looks heroic- just sane.”  We naturally just do what needs to be done.  Therefore, the best version of ourselves lives in this quadrant.

In conclusion, John states progress through these four quadrants isn’t strictly linear or sequential.  We move back and forth all the time- and this varies from one habit to another.

Today’s question: Do you feel you’re deserving of an appreciation banquet for your efforts in ministry or vocation?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “You and your Like – o – Meter”

Learning to hear the voice of God

“In learning to hear the voice of God, one thing is certain — if you cannot hear a ‘no,’ you will have a hard time hearing from God at all or believing that what you think you’ve heard is in fact from God.”- John Eldredge

As John Eldredge begins the Winter section of Walking with God, he presents two crucial concepts necessary for hearing the voice of God.  John states that hearing God:

  1. requires surrender, giving all things over into His hands
  2. not abandoning your desires, but giving them over to God

Romans 4:21 tells us Abraham based his faith on a clear and specific promise of God.  John observes that the passage states that “God had the power to do what He had promised.”  Thus, John notes, when it comes to our faith, we must be careful that our earnest hopes and desires don’t lead us to claim a promise God hasn’t given.

Furthermore, no matter how hard our adversity hits us, those adversities don’t have to be brutal and lonely.  Most importantly, accept the grace of God when it comes!

However, we must remain aware that Satan loves to act as an opportunist.  Mr. Eldredge explains:

“He is always looking for open doors, opportunities, a chink in the armor.  He’ll seize what might otherwise simply be an event- an argument, an emotion, a loss- and he’ll use it as an entrée for his lies, deceit, and oppression.”

Thus, even in moments of tenderness and sorrow, we can’t drop our guard.  While that seems unfair, Satan never plays fair!   In that way, we remain free to bring our hearts to God sans Enemy interference.

Today’s question: What Scriptures assist you in learning to hear the voice of God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Worship language – or the living God?”

But even if You don’t, my hope is You alone

Mr. Henning’s first class, Grades 3-4, St. Paul (Dorchester), Chicago

“But even if You don’t/ My hope is You alone”- MercyMe

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods . . .”- Daniel 3:17-18

After graduation from Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, IL, St. Paul Lutheran School called me to teach grades three and four.  Sometime during the winter of 1974-75, I developed the worst sinus infection I’ve ever experienced.  Extreme congestion reduced my voice to a whisper.  Therefore, even if I reported  to school, I faced a communication dilemma.

As a result, my industrious students seized the day.  Presented with the opportunity to be my voice, they eagerly volunteered to read answers from the teachers guides and give directions for assignments.  Our cohesive classroom community carried through the next two days without a hitch.

Writing in Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, Timothy Keller notes a puzzling statement in Daniel 3:18.  The verse begins, “But even if he does not”.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego admit the possibility God might not deliver them.  Why?  Because they place their confidence in God.  They chose not to rely on their limited understanding of what God would do.  In other words, Pastor Keller adds, the three men trusted in God period.  Tim Keller explains:

“But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego really believed ‘all the way down’ to God.  So they were not nervous at all.  They were already spiritually fireproofed. . . . Their greatest joy was to honor God, not to use God to get what they wanted in life.  And as a result, they were fearless.  Nothing could overthrow them.”

In conclusion, Pastor Keller describes three lessons learned from the story of “The Fiery Furnace”:

1.  God is with us in the fire.  This metaphor means God understands the difficulties of living through the miseries of this world.  God walks with us.   However, the real question revolves around if we’ll walk with Him.  Life falls apart when we create a false God-of-my-program.

2.  We must treat God as God and as there.  Timothy Keller exhorts: “If you remember with grateful amazement that Jesus was thrown into the ultimate furnace for you, you can begin to sense him in your smaller furnaces with you (emphasis Tim’s).”

3.  You must go into the furnace with the gospel to find God there.  It’s most dangerous to go into the fire without the gospel.  You’ll be mad at God, mad at yourself, or both.  If you trust in Jesus, your furnace will only make you better.

Hope comes in two flavors

Brigid Bazlen, age 14, as the Blue Fairy on WGN-TV, 1958

“We all hope, but hope comes in two flavors- hoping  for something and hoping in someone.”- John Ortberg, Know Doubt

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump:  for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”- 1 Corinthians 15:52 (KJV)

It’s almost 7:30 pm on a chilly Monday evening in 1958.  While parents watch in an adjoining room, a studio technician escorts me and five other youngsters to our seats- oversized mushrooms in The Blue Forest.  At 7:30, The Blue Fairy, suspended by wires, flies above the forest, saying: “I’m the Blue Fairy.  I’ll grant you a wish to make all your dreams come true.”  Resplendent in her blue gown and diamond tiara, Brigid Bazlen clasps a silver wand.  After descending to the forest floor, she asks each of us a question: “What is your favorite zoo animal?”

In 1958, WGN-TV, then located in the Prudential Building, produced two color programs- The Blue Fairy and Garfield Goose & Friend.  Although only televised in the Chicago area, The Blue Fairy won the Peabody Award for best children’s programming that year.  The award catapulted the series- and Brigid- to national attention.  Brigid later appeared in King of Kings (1961) as Salome and in the soap opera Days of Our Lives (1972).

Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister George MacDonald (1824-1905) once wrote: “Anything large enough for a wish to light upon, is large enough to hang a prayer upon.”  Yet, as John Ortberg points out, we must recognize the truth that one day every thing we hope for eventually disappoints us.  That’s why hope comes in two flavors.  Therefore, through the power of the Holy Spirit, faith requires:

  • belief- what we do with our minds
  • commitment- what we do with our wills
  • hope- what we do in our hearts

Furthermore, Pastor Ortberg suggests, our wishes reveal something true about why we exist and the reason God created us.  And Frederick Buechner echoed these thoughts when he stated that “sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.  Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.”

Three-day stories-  Jesus’ death and resurrection, for example- demonstrate (1) desperate need and anticipation and (2) hope hanging by a thread.  Although that hope comes in two flavors, only one flavor transforms your soul, rather than reducing Jesus to a heavenly meal ticket.  John Ortberg explains:

“What got released on Sunday was hope.  Not hope that life would turn out well.  Not even hope that there will be life after death.  Hope that called people to die: die to selfishness and sin and fear and greed, die to the lesser life of a lesser self so that a greater self might be born.  And many people did.  This hope changed things.”

How long, Lord?- a powerful prayer of hope

” ‘How long, Lord?’ in the Bible is seen as a powerful prayer of hope.  Far from a complaint, this lament is a bold declaration that God is present, hears, and is powerful to act on our behalf.”- Esther Fleece

“How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?”- Habakkuk 1:2

In Chapter 7 (How long?”) of No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece stresses that, in Scripture, the expression “How long, Lord?” stakes our hope in God, the only One able to save.  Thus, Esther asserts, Scripture normalizes “How long?” questions.  After all, the alternative looks ominous.  Ms. Fleece explains:

“When we keep our laments locked inside, we bubble up with bitterness toward God.  We become buried under our own frustration and doubt.  But when we bring our concerns to God and ask Him openly, ‘Lord, how long?’ it opens both a conversation and an opportunity for us to be transformed in the waiting.”

Similarly, the author notes, we lament, mourn, and wail when God’s provision for us changes.  For example, at times it seems we don’t hear from God like we used to or He provides in an unfamiliar way.  This weaning process is:

  • a healthy and necessary part of growing up spiritually
  • painful

However, Esther encourages us to see weaning as something we celebrate because we’re confident of who God is.  Also, we know He always has our best interests in mind.

Yet, the minute things go wrong, we slip into default mode.  We question God’s care and provision for us.  Esther cautions:

“We mistakenly categorize God’s care as circumstantial rather than based on His character that has stayed constant and true throughout the ages.”

In conclusion, a shift in what God’s provision looks like doesn’t equate to the nonexistence of that provision.  Also, our dependency on God continues all our earthly days.  Esther observes:

“As we grow into older followers of Christ, our dependence on Him may look different, but is never goes away . . . . Each season holds a beauty that can be celebrated, and each birthing and weaning season can hold a lament.”

Today’s question: How do you use “How long, Lord?” as a powerful prayer of hope?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog; “Intent on reaching resolution”

God’s sovereign control and arrangement of life

“The word we use when we refer to God’s sovereign control and arrangement of life is . . . a word punctuated by truth and postulated by accuracy.  that word is providence.”- Dr. Tony Evans

” . . .. which He will bring about at the proper time — He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”- 1 Timothy 6:15

In Chapter 11 (“The Providence of Detours”) of Detours, Dr. Tony Evans stresses that we need to avoid the concept of luck.  The word luck has infiltrated our vocabulary.  Unfortunately, the term’s found its way into our mentality.  Hence, we begin to view things, Tony notes, from the vantage point of luck rather than divine providence.

As a result, we desire to have this force we can’t grab, hold on to, count on, or actually embrace.  When this happens, luck dominates much of our thinking.  Thus, luck becomes an idol Satan uses to move our faith, hope, and trust away from God.

Nor does positive thinking provide a solution.  Dr. Evans explains:

“Now positive thinking encourages the mind and the spirit, and it is a healthy thing to do. But when you put your faith in the basket of your mind’s power to work out your destiny, you’ve set yourself up as an idol as well.

When we read the Genesis account of Joseph’s time in jail, we find the account focuses more on God than it does on Joseph.  In fact, Tony believes, providence = one of the most important things you need to know in your Christian experience.  The gospel, of course, remains the most important thing.

Today’s question: What evidence do you see of God’s sovereign control in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Faith- the hallmark of providence”

Love knows no limits

“Grace has no gaps and love knows no limits.  Love endures all things.”- Judah Smith

Pastor Judah Smith concludes Chapter 5 of How’s Your Soul? by discussing the third and fourth characteristics of love, as found in 1 Corinthians 13:7.

3.  Love hopes all things.  Authentic God-love functions all the time.  As the author quips: “No exceptions, no disclaimers, no prenups.”  Love bears, believes, and hopes all things.  Therefore, a love that always hopes:

  • means that love holds on to eventual development
  • recognizes we won’t always be in our current situation
  • understands we’re on a journey and we’re a work in progress

As a result, Judah stresses, love must work with people in the rough.  At least on the surface, such people are anything but lovable.  Furthermore, since all of us travel a long journey, love needs to hope.  Just as someone believed in you at some point in your past and helped you get back on track, you possess the opportunity to pass it on to others.  Love hopes all things.

4.  Love endures all things.  Pastor Smith states that “to endure means you don’t retaliate or reject.  However, that doesn’t imply that we ignore sin, hurt, and pain or that we never confront it.  But, we must focus our efforts on communication and restoration.  We never withdraw our love, no matter what happens.

When people test our love and resolve, only God’s love enables us to endure all things.  Consequently, motivated and saturated by God’s love, no breaking point exists.  Because no matter what happens, God’s love is bigger!

Today’s question: What situations make it hard for you to apply the concept that love has no limits?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Inner tranquility”

Love is from God

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and  whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”- 1 John 4:7

In Chapter 5 (“Is Love God or Is God Love?”) of How’s Your Soul?, Judah Smith states that our souls yearn, search, and long for love.  Therefore, Pastor Smith takes a look at what he believes is the key to understanding and experiencing love.  The key to experiencing love focuses on:

  • the realization that God is love
  • knowing, believing, and living in the love of God
  • experiencing God’s love for us on a soul level
  • learning to love as God loves

Just as our souls need hope and stability, our souls fundamentally desire love.  Furthermore, ultimately our souls don’t have a home without love.  Unfortunately, Christians haven’t always represented God’s love to humanity.  Partly as a result of those misrepresentations, many people opt to disassociate human from divine love.  However, a “love is God” philosophy = an inherently disconnected philosophy.  As a result, Judah states, “when you replace a person with a concept, whoever defines that concept has ultimate authority.”

Removing human love from divine love leaves one with lawlessness.  Hence, God must define love.  Judah explains:

“God wants us to flourish.  He wants us to enjoy our lives — and he wants those around us to enjoy theirs as well.  That is why it is imperative that we not just understand how paramount love is but also define it in a heathy, God-inspired manner.”

Today’s question: Following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss, how have others witnessed “love is from God” to you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: He (or she) didn’t mean it”

God – the master architect

“God is the master architect of the complicated, confusing, and even contradictory constructs that we call our souls.”- Judah Smith

Pastor Judah Smith concludes Chapter 3 of How’s Your Soul? by noting that perhaps our souls surprise us- but they don’t surprise God.  The up-and-down tendencies of our hearts fail to shock or scandalize Him.

Thus, since God, the master architect, designed our souls, logic dictates He knows how to realign our souls.  Yet, embarrassed by our emotions and totally freaked out by our feelings, we often avoid the One who best knows our souls.

As a result, we resort to our own devices to fix our souls.  However, as Judah observes, usually the results are underwhelming.  It’s really quite difficult to feel better just because we want to.  Complicated and even subversive emotions make it hard for our souls to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

This, in turn, often leads to discouragement.  And that discouragement begets more discouragement.  The whole thing self-perpetuates.

Hence, Pastor Smith discusses two things that stand out in the psalmist’s journey (Psalms 42 and 43):

  1. The psalmist willingly questions his feelings.  He seeks to discover the source of his discouragement.  Therefore, to establish inner health we must question our souls and our feelings.  Inner fulfillment, peace, joy, and health often result when we do the exact opposite of what we’re feeling at the time.
  2. Hope in God.  Essentially, the psalmist presents two options: (a) life is meaningless, existence irrelevant or (b) God provides our only hope.  Most noteworthy, although our souls may surprise us, they don’t surprise God.  Even though our feelings come and go, God remains the same.  It’s only a matter of time until we praise Him again.

God provides the anchor for your soul- Jesus.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help secure your hope in God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Four inches from capsizing”