Thursday, July 24, 2014

Guidance Confusion

From What We Get Wrong About Finding God's Will by Chandler Vannnoy at Relevant Magazine
God's will is not a mystery to be solved but a road to be traveled.
What is God’s will for your life?
This question tends to haunt us while we go through our college years. We struggle through it by choosing our major, deciding where we will spend our summer, figuring out where to go to grad school, and so many other decisions.
If you are like me, anxiety creeps up on you every time you think about your future plans.
But why do we get so anxious? For me, I start thinking about how I have one opportunity at every decision I make, and when I choose one path, I am saying no to another. But how do I know the path I choose is the right one?
The phrase we have all heard in answer to this question is we need to find God’s will for our life. And for the past 21 years, I thought I had to keep praying for God to open my eyes to the will he had laid out for me. That if I just kept searching long enough and hard enough, I would know exactly what I was supposed to do in the future.
But Kevin DeYoung blew up this idea for me while I was reading his book Just Do Something.
We Never Find God’s Will for Our Future

In the beginning of the book, DeYoung says, “We should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel.” This rocked my world. I always thought that if I made a wrong decision or took a wrong turn, I would be removed from God’s plan.
But what he is saying here is that we are free from the burden of trying to discover God’s will ahead of time. It is not a maze for us to perfectly navigate in order to reach our end goal, but instead, God desires for us to trust Him with all of the twists and turns.

Yes, God is sovereign over my life. Yes, He has specific plans for my future, but He does not expect me to find out the details of His plan before I get there. So this whole idea of finding God’s will for my life has been me searching for something God does not want to reveal. But why does He choose to withhold His plans from us?
An Unknown Future Leads to Faith in a Known God
If we knew every step and detail of our lives, there would be no reason for us to have faith in God. When times get tough, we realize we need someone greater than ourselves to direct where we are going. That’s why God doesn’t always want us to know the perfect road He has laid before us. It would be like someone spoiling the incredible plot twist of Fight Club or Inception. What makes the story great is the confusion and uncertainty, and then in the end, every puzzle piece comes together to create a beautiful picture.
Not only does God have an epic plot for your life, but He wants you to trust in Him. God has given us these tough decisions not to be stressed out but to make us realize we can’t do this on our own. He gives us more than we can handle, so we are forced to lean in on Him to find strength. Just as Provers 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” So instead of praying to find God’s will, let’s start praying to find faith in God’s guidance.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Repentant Heart

From Trevin Wax at Kingdom People:
The heart of flesh is a repentant heart. And the repentant heart is a renouncing heart.
The repentant heart renounces any attempt to justify its sin; it humbly acknowledges sin’s existence and its sentence.
The repentant heart renounces self-sufficiency; it knows its beating is a gracious gift of God.
The repentant heart renounces hate and vengeance; it meets its enemy with unfeigned love and unreserved forgiveness.
The repentant heart renounces the evil one and all his deeds of death; it follows the chariot of a resurrected King who makes all things new.
The repentant heart renounces the fear of falling out of favor with others; it rests under the ever-falling favor of God.
The repentant heart renounces the darkness of its past; though shadows of sin may linger, it looks to the light that will not stop shining.
The repentant heart renounces fear as the way to obedience; it responds to the kindness of God who leads us away from sin.
The repentant heart renounces self-congratulation for righteous deeds; it sees sinful traces even in the best moments and directs all glory to God for any spiritual growth.
The repentant heart renounces a spirit of condemnation; the grace that flows in is the grace that flows out.
The repentant heart renounces the world’s marching orders; its rhythm is to the beat of a different Drummer.
The repentant heart renounces the stepladder of superiority; looking up to God for salvation keeps it from looking down on anyone else.
The repentant heart is a renouncing heart.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't Short-Circuit Your Story


Via Twitter @LauriePShort

Idol Insights

5 Insights on Idolatry by J. D. Greear
There are certain themes in Scripture that tend to beat you over the head with their persistence. Idolatry is one of those. It’s such a prominent theme in Scripture that some have said it is the central theme of the entire Bible.[1] And when it comes to idolatry, we humans are endlessly creative. As John Calvin said, “The heart of man is a perpetual factory of idols.”Give us the chance, and we’ll replace God with any and every object, person, ideal, or dream.
Most modern people don’t quite get the Bible’s obsession with idolatry. We think of idolatry as an ancient problem for backwards people who bowed down to statues, not a relevant one for sophisticated folks like us. But we aren’t beyond idolatry. We simply dress it up in different clothes.
Acts 19 gives us 5 insights into the reality of idolatry for us today: 
1. An idol is anything that promises a life of security and joy apart from God.
In Acts 19, Artemis is described as the “protector” and “prosperer” of Ephesus. With her, the Ephesians believed, they were guaranteed security and joy. This false hope is precisely what makes an idol an idol. Idols are not usually bad things, but good things that have become ultimate things—things you believe guarantee you joy and security.
What is that in your life? About what do you think, “As long as I have this, I’ll have happy”?
What do you so desperately need that you can’t imagine a fulfilled life without it?
What makes these idols so dangerous is that they are nearly always good things. I have seen the good of desiring marriage become a false god. I’ve seen the good of wanting to provide become the idol of always needing to achieve one more financial benchmark. The problem isn’t the money or the marriage. The problem comes when we trust in those things to satisfy.
2. Idols engage the deepest emotions in our hearts.
When idols are challenged, people get violent. That’s what happens in Acts 19, when Artemis’ prowess is threatened. And it’s what happens in our lives when something we love is threatened, because many of our deepest emotions are connected to idols. Some of my deepest emotions are connected to worshipping the idol of success.
What is that in your life? About what do you think, “If I ever lost this, I’d never survive”? What possible loss makes you not only frightened, butdespairing?
The irony here is that idolizing something ultimately keeps you from being able to enjoy it at all. You panic and fret about losing something so vital that you can never rest. For instance, many of the wealthiest people are the most paranoid about their money. Gaining more of an idol only heightens that sense of fear, because nothing other than God can sustain the weight of your soul.
3. Idols need to be protected.
One of the craftsmen in Ephesus, Demetrius, was making a fortune on Artemis statues, coffee mugs, and bobble-head dolls. He wasn’t about to stand idly by while Paul undermined his entire financial enterprise with his “Gods made with hands are not really gods” message. So he gathered up an impromptu group of thugs to force Paul out of town.
Don’t miss the humor in this: Artemis was the protector of Ephesus. Yet when Demetrius’ skin was in the game—his cash flow—he immediately jumped up to defend her. That’s the absurdity of idolatry: what is supposed to protect usbecomes something we fiercely protect.
What is that in your life? What do you feel obsessive about protecting in your life?
Charles Spurgeon said the Word of God is like a caged lion. If someone threatens the lion, you don’t have to step in and defend the lion; you just let it loose and it will protect itself. The God of the Word can protect himself, but our false gods always need to be protected.
4. Idols demand sacrifices to keep them happy.
The whole system in Ephesus was built on appeasing Artemis and keeping her happy. That was no accident: idols will always make you sacrifice for them. If business is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your integrity to climb the ladder of success. If acceptance is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your honesty and lie to get affirmation. If romance is your idol, you’ll walk out on your spouse as soon as the “spark” seems to fade.
But an idol is like a fire. It never says, “That’s enough.” Instead, it just keeps asking for more. The altar of idolatry is terrifyingly insatiable: the more you sacrifice for an idol, the more it will demand.
What is that in your life?What part of yourself have you sacrificed on the altar of an idol? Where do you feel that “pull” to keep cutting corners or making excuses? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that this sacrifice will be the last one.
5. The gospel overcomes our idolatry.[2]
The idol of money says to us, “If you don’t do enough to obtain me, I’ll make you miserable.” The idol of family says, “If you lose me, life won’t be worth living.” The idol of comfort says, again and again, “Sacrifice your honesty, your integrity, your closest relationships, for me.”
Idols are harsh taskmasters. If you fail them, they make you pay. But in the gospel Jesus says to us, “You did fail me. But instead of destroying you, I’ll let myself be destroyed for you. Instead of demanding a sacrifice, I will become a sacrifice for you.” In Jesus, unlike idols, we find the only God that—when we obtain him—will satisfy us, and—when we fail him—will forgive us.


[1] Cf. Jewish scholar Moshe Halbertal, Idolatry, in which Halbertal claims that the story of the Old Testament is primarily that of the conflict between the true God and all false challengers.

[2] I am indebted to Tim Keller throughout this post, but particularly in this last point. For more on idolatry, see Keller’s Counterfeit Gods.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Restoring the Lost Years

Loved this hopeful piece from Colin Smith at the Gospel Coalition site:
Money can be restored. Property can be restored—broken-down cars, stripped painting, old houses. Relationships can be restored. But one thing that can never be restored is time. Time flies and it does not return. Years pass and we never get them back.
Yet God promises the impossible: “I will restore the years that the locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25). The immediate meaning of this promise is clear. God’s people had suffered the complete destruction of their entire harvest through swarms of locusts that marched like an insect army through the fields, destroying the crops, multiplying their number as they went.
For four consecutive years, the harvest was completely wiped out. God’s people were brought to their knees in more ways than one. But “the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.” God said, “Behold I am sending to you grain, wine and oil, and you will be satisfied (Joel 2:18-19).
In the coming years, God said, their fields would yield an abundance that would make up for what had been lost: “The threshing floor shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. . . . You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied” (Joel 2:24, 26).
This wonderful promise for those people meant that years of abundant harvests would follow the years of desolation brought about by the locusts.

But God has also put this promise in the Bible for us today.
Lost Years of Our Lives
What do “lost years” look like for us? Lost years (or locust years) are years that you can’t get back, and they come in many varieties.
Lost years are fruitless years. A lot of hard work was done in the years the locusts had eaten. After everything was destroyed, the people must have thought, All this work and what do I have to show for it? Some of you know this pain in the world of business—a failed venture, a bad investment, a misguided policy, and all the effort that you put in day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year led only to massive disappointment. You think, What has come of all my time and all my effort?

Lost years are painful years. I’m thinking of those who have lost a loved one. You had plans for the future, but now you fear the coming years may be empty. I’m thinking also of those who live with illness in the body or the mind. You assumed that you would always be able to do what you used to do. You have to find a way to live with the disappointment that you cannot.
Lost years are selfish years. Here’s a story that’s been repeated thousands of times. There’s a person (let’s call him Jim) who made a commitment to Christ, but it didn’t run deep. Faith in Jesus was a slice of the big pie of his busy life, filled with all the things that Jim wanted to pursue. Then one day, God gets hold of Jim. He is spiritually awakened. He says to himself, What in the world have I been doing? There’s no substance in my life. I really want it to count for Christ. I want to live in the power of the Spirit. I want to make a difference in the world, but the locusts have eaten half my life! I’ve wasted my years on myself.
Lost years are loveless years. A division comes to a family, alienating loved ones. Children grow up, and those years cannot be recovered. A marriage quietly endures in which love has been burning low for many years. You see a couple who are really in love, and you say, “I wish I could be loved like that.” Or you have not yet met the person you would like to meet. It feels like the years are moving on. You can never get them back. The locusts have eaten them.
Lost years are rebellious years. Perhaps you grew up with many blessings, but in your heart you wanted to rebel. You didn’t fully understand this urge, but you gave yourself to it. Instead of bringing you pleasure, rebellion brought you pain. Now you look back on those years with regret, the years that the locusts have eaten.
Lost years are misdirected years. The path you chose in your career or at college was a dead end. You just didn’t fit. Often in your mind, and sometimes in your conversation, you say, “How did I end up here? If only. . . . If only I had made that move. . . . If only I had taken that opportunity. . . . If only I had chosen a different path.” But the moment has passed. It’s gone. You can’t go back to it. You’re left with locust years.
Lost years are Christ-less years. All Christ-less years are locust years. This point is worth thinking about if you have not yet made a commitment to Christ. Ask anyone who came to faith in Christ later in life, and they will tell you that they wish they’d come to Christ sooner than they did: “How much foolishness I would have avoided. How much more good might have been done through my life.”
How God Restores Lost Years
Take heart! There is hope, because God can restore your lost, locust years. He does so in three ways.

God can restore lost years by deepening your communion with Christ. “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God” (Joel 2:27). These people, who have endured so much, enjoy a communion with the Lord that is far greater than anything they had ever known before in their religious lives. Christ can restore lost years by deepening your fellowship with him.
Why not ask him for this? Tell him, “Lord, I have spent too many years without you, too many years at a distance from you. Fill my heart with love and gratitude for Christ. Let the loss of these years make my love for Christ greater than it would ever have been. Restore to me the years the locusts have eaten. “
God can restore lost years by multiplying your fruitfulness. The harvests for these people had been wiped out for four years, but God restored the years that the locusts had eaten by giving bumper harvests.

This provision makes me think about the parable where Jesus spoke about a harvest that could be 30-, 60-, or 100-fold. There’s a huge difference between these three harvests. Three years at 100-fold is as much fruit as a decade at 30-fold.
Why not ask him for this? “Lord, the locusts have eaten too many years of our lives. You have called us as your disciples to bear fruit that will last. Too many fruitless years have passed. Now Lord, we ask of you, give us some years now in which more lasting fruit will be born than in all of our years of small harvests.” 
God can restore lost years by bringing long-term gain from short-term loss. The effect of these great trials in your life will be that “the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). The praise, glory, and honor go to Christ because his power guarded you and kept you through the hardest years of your life.
Thinking about “years that the locust has eaten,” years that have been taken, I think of something Isaiah said about our Lord Jesus: “He was cut off out of the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8).
Here was the Lord Jesus in the prime of life. He was three years into his ministry at 33 years old. You would think that a man launching a new enterprise at the age of 33 has everything in front of him. But Isaiah says, “He was cut off.” He was cut off because he came under the judgment of God, not for his own sins—because he had none—but for ours.
Our sins, our grief, our sorrows, were laid on him. Our judgment fell on him. Our locusts swarmed all over him. The life of God’s tender shoot was “cut off.” Then, on the third day, the Son of God rose in the power of an eternal life. He offers himself to you, and he says what no one else can ever say: “I will restore the years that the locusts have eaten.”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Foster Parenting - More Than A Home

Great Piece this week at the Pinelake Church blog about my good friends Howard and Stephanie Wilson and their adventures in foster parenting:
At 16 years old I found out I couldn’t have children, which wasn’t an easy thing to deal with. Then in 1993, when my husband and I were married, I learned he didn’t want children — another big blow to my desire to be a mom. But not long after, my husband and I decided to become foster parents.
Though I wasn't able to have children, God blessed me with more children than I ever could have imagined through foster care. We’ve fostered 19 children and have adopted two. I feel like it’s a calling to be a part of foster care and adoption, which can look different for everyone. We know it’s about helping others, but it also brings healing as we put our focus on these children and families and know we are helping.
"Our desire is to see these children learn that God’s love goes deeper than any person’s love ever could."They may feel abandoned but it’s important for them to know they have a heavenly Father who loves them and will always be there for them. We want them to know the number one relationship in life is the one with God.
Our oldest foster child just graduated from high school — the first in her family. Her life was changed, and she has a strong love for God and wants to adopt one day. You do get attached to the children you foster but that’s what that child needs. They need someone who loves them, someone who is stable and someone who will provide for them. When they leave your home, they often go back in to what they came out of, but you have to know that God has put you in their life for that season to care for them. You never know what that little bit of time, and the seeds you plant, will bring into their life.
Howard and Stephanie Wilson, Pinelake Reservoir

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shaped By Devotion

From A Lifestyle of Devotion by Paul Tripp:
If you were to outline the book of Hebrews, you would see that from 4:14 to 10:18, the author builds an extensive argument for the high priesthood of Jesus.
At the conclusion of that argument, he begins the next section with the words, “Therefore, brothers, since…” (10:19). In other words, here’s what the author is trying to communicate: “If everything I’ve said about Jesus is true, then you ought to live in the following ways.”
With that in mind, over the next four Wednesdays, we’re going to look at four different lifestyles described by the author of HebrewsA Lifestyle of Devotion bu . The first is a lifestyle of DEVOTION.
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22, ESV)
I’m very concerned with the way modern Christianity tends to think about our “devotional life.” It seems as if we’ve reduced these devotions down to five minutes of reading a Psalm and saying a quick prayer for the day, or, reading an e-mail devotional sent out by a pastor.
The Bible paints a much different picture of a devotional life. The author here uses the word “heart” twice in verse 22. For the Christian, a lifestyle of devotion shouldn’t be reduced to an activity or daily routine; a lifestyle of devotion is characterized by a heart that’s owned by Christ.
Your “devotional life” shouldn’t be slotted into your daily schedule after your morning workout and before you start your work for the day. No, your devotional life is meant to shape the way you think about your body, your job, your family, your social circle, your calendar, and your budget.
No one would admit this, but we try to cram Jesus into a heart already filled with selfish idols and personal hobbies. Even after 40 years in ministry, it’s tempting for me reduce my individual faith down to a daily routine instead of a heart captured by grace.
What’s the solution? It's not to restructure your schedule and free up 20 more minutes for Bible study, although that might be helpful. Rather, every morning, make a heartfelt confession that much of your devotion is still for the things of this world and not for the Lord.
God will give abundant grace to those who confess their desperate need for it. Lay down your pride; admit to the real devotion of your heart and watch the Spirit transform your soul.